What Should We Citizens Know About Our Place in Society?

What Should We Citizens Know About Our Place in Society?

Sometimes there are rewards when one goes into EVERNOTE and finds things. This was a response to a question that came in my email, but McSweeneys never responded. Oh well, dissed again…so I’ll share it with you…

 

 

 

Dear McSweeney’s, Here is my answer to: WHAT SHOULD THE CITIZENS OF THE US KNOW ABOUT YOU AND YOUR PLACE IN SOCIETY? 

It is always better to approach a fearful time with knowledge and understanding. We can downplay fear if every individual focuses on personal worth, yet believes in specific goals going forward.

Partisans who fight against a conqueror display a deep love and belief in the country they fight for. In this time of Coronavirus, our goals must be to save lives, but also to preserve positive elements of our culture.

STAY WELL; PRESERVE OUR CULTURE 

I value what the generations before me and my generation have brought to the foundation and advancement of our country. Turning against a particular group of people in a time of upheaval and fear is always misguided and can get out of control in the hands of overly frightened people. That’s called hysteria, and though we are not there yet, it would be so wrong to see older generations, people of color and newly arrived immigrants as sacrificial lambs. (rereading this maybe we are there now…at least in the minds of some.)

Now is a time for each of us, regardless of age, background and status to view life on a continuum.

GENERATIVITY: WHAT IS IT? DO I LIVE, BELIEVING IN THIS?  

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson wrote about generativity, stating that in the middle years of adult life we come to realize: I am what survives me.

Though giving birth is the ultimate act of generativity, it is a parent’s follow-through, his and her commitment to nurturing and growing this person, that truly matters. People of all ages experience generativity by creating: a business, song, piece of sculpture, the resolution of a problem, a scientific theory, recipe, article, novel, hybrid-rose.

Generativity means creating the very future itself through teaching, volunteering, voting, forming and helping social institutions—and by currently working to save lives in hospitals, community centers, churches and health centers. In each of these actions resides a part of us and the good in us—because what we generate moves into the future and provides for those coming after.

I am what survives me.

YOUR KEYS TO A HEALTHY LONG LIFE…

Psychologists confirm, that people who want to generate and create, do experience feelings of well-being and low levels of depression. And it is always true that if you are feeling sad or lonely, the best cure is reaching out to help someone else. (In our age of communication, many of us can do this without worrying about exposure to the virus.) And yes, there is some ego or need for power in our acts of creation, but when we generate for future generations, we cover over the power with love.

TAKE THE TEST BELOW

Erikson reminds us that our acts of having children and building societies indicates our “belief in the species.” Even though we know that horrific things can happen on our planet, like this virus, daily we forge ahead believing in our own generative powers and the goodness that can still exist on our earth. Let’s not forget that in these contentious times, if there is to be sacrifice—it should be the giving of time and energy, or of funding hospitals and health centers. This is not a time to distain a generation who has brought our people through other traumas and still have energy, knowledge and hindsight to give to all generations.

P.S. Below is a self-test that each of you can take to see if you believe in generativity. The test if from the Loyola Generativity Scale (LGS).

Read the following six items and mark:

O if the statement never applies to you;

1 if the statement sometimes applies to you;

2 if the statement often applies to you;

3 if the statement always applies to you;

Then add up your score.  Men, women in their 30s, 40s and 50s usually score 11.  Younger adults and adults in their 60s and older usually score slightly lower.

___ I try to pass along knowledge I have gained through my experience.

____I have made and created things that have had an impact on other people.

____I have important skills that I try to teach others.

____If I were unable to have children of my own, I would adopt children.

____I have a responsibility to improve the neighborhood in which I live.

____I feel that my contribution will exist after I die.

Thanks to Dan P. McAdams for the inspiration from his article GENERATIVITY:The New Definition of Success

P.P.SMcSweeney’s is a nonprofit publishing company based in San Francisco. McSweeney’s exists to champion ambitious and inspired new writing, and to challenge conventional expectations about where it’s found, how it looks, and who participates.

Revisiting Thoughts on Liminal Space

After 9-11 life was totally altered, for all of us. As a writer, I sat and stared at my manuscript wondering if anyone would ever read a novel again. My husband had been traveling—not to New York, but to Connecticut. When he finally got home late on Friday, there was relief. But normality escaped us. It escaped everyone.

Then in those next few days, a friend offered me some insight. It came in the words of Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest whose teaching is like that of the first St. Francis: empty yourself, be compassionate of others, especially those that are socially marginalized. Okay. How do I do that when I am angry and confused. 

TWENTY YEARS LATER 

And though time has passed, many of the same questions circle around us. So today, let me offer this…because the words that Father Rohr used to explain liminal space, will always be relevant and helpful when we find ourselves full of questions.

THE DEFINITION 

Liminal Space is:  a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be… It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else… It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer. If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run…or do anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing. 
- Richard Rohr

HOW WE REACT: COVID 19 and LIMINAL SPACE 

Many of us once again feel this terrible cloud of unknowing. Some of us are angry that our lives have suddenly changed, that we are struggling with loss, death, an alteration in social habits like wearing a mask, avoiding closeness to strangers, having to prove we are vaccinated…the list is long.

Families have been pulled apart, because some refuse to be vaccinated. Why? There are many excuses, some of which I find hard to accept when my generation and the generations of my children began with a series of vaccinations to protect them from illnesses that were not only inconvenient (chicken pox) but could also lead to blindness and deafness in their future children, German measles (rubella), and sterility in males (mumps). So it makes no sense to risk death, damage to one’s lungs, having to be intubated etc etc when many of the refuse-nicks started out their lives being vaccinated. And all they have to do now is WEAR A MASK. 

SO ARE WE AGAIN LIVING IN LIMINAL SPACE?

Let’s look at that definition again. “You have left the tried and true, the familiar, but have not been able to replace it with anything else. Being under a terrible cloud of unknowing.”

SUGGESTIONS…

Having been a healthcare worker, the first thing I would suggest is to work against that vacuum, that feeling of unknowing. Examine questions–can we go out; will we be safe; will my children be safe and still get a good education; can I go back to work instead of working from home? will life ever be normal again? YES TO ALL THESE QUESTIONS. IF YOU ACCEPT THIS NEW REALITY AND GET VACCINATED–and during this interim time, WEAR A MASK.   

THOUGH LIMINAL SPACE IS ONGOING… we must accept it. The feelings that are part of liminal space are common to daily living. We are always waiting for something: a job, a pregnancy, a graduation, a diagnosis, an acceptance letter, even a death; or a yes from someone whose yes might change our lives, and until we get that yes, we feel like someone else is holding the rest of our lives in his or her hands. IT’S NOT EASY. Liminal space brings frustration, depression. We hate living under that cloud of unknowing.

Thus we must look for the good news. It was true post-9-11, that we saw, heard and felt the warmth, love, understanding and giving of many Americans who did whatever they could to help those who had lost someone. Later it was young men and women who joined our volunteer army, feeling that was the best way to give.

Certainly liminal space always challenges us. We are rarely free of the unknowing—because we are mortal and have no knowledge of the date of our demise. That’s a given. But it can be used to power our love of self (taking care of our bodies) and love of those we live and work with (getting vaccinated so that we don’t get sick and infect others.) For how much better to offer understanding, honesty and friendship on a daily basis—because who really knows what the next hour will bring.

You’ll find examples every day of folks who have conquered the awful questioning of liminal space: 

the cancer patient who goes into remission and dedicates her time to helping other patients; the teacher who takes extra time to work with the very student who upsets his classroom; the doctor or nurse who enters the clinic every day, even when Covid death stats are rising; the cop who does all he can to make certain-sure before using deadly force; the mother, father, neighbor, citizen who listens and evaluates any situation before making a judgment or rising to anger.

THE CITIZEN WHO FINALLY REALIZES THAT GETTING VACCINATED IS GOOD FOR HIM/HER BUT IS ALSO A WAY TO GIVE BACK TO THIS GREAT COUNTRY. 

After 9-11 Richard Rohr reminded us that both Christian and Muslim mystics preferred the language of darkness. That is: they were most at home in the realm of not-knowing. In such darkness, Rohr writes, things are more spacious and open to creative response. We are more open to letting in God or blessed, positive thoughts–just like the cancer patient who is grateful for every day and turns darkness into light.

This from the Persian mystic Hafiz:

Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly.

Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you

As few human or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft.

My voice so tender, my need of God, absolutely clear.

In this time of questioning, where we find ourselves often divided, even from friends and loved ones who feel and think differently than we do, try to accept and live in the cloud of unknowing. Try to move a bit closer to the other side or try to find something they share with you. It can be very challenging and just downright hard. But remember, you are both in liminal space, not truly knowing all. And if you have time: watch the film The Hundred-Foot Journey which underlines that people and cultures that are vastly different can cross the threshold and come to a place were there is not only knowing, but sharing and love.

Truly, we have no choice but to live on the threshold, uncertain of which path to take. We exist in this liminal space, a new normal that we must accept and work with so the cloud of unknowing will be transformed into one of understanding.

Thanks always to Father Richard Rohr and the art of Charlie Bowater 

Why Biden’s New Ruling Dates Back to 1990’s

Why Biden's New Ruling Dates Back to 1990's

Barbara Fassbinder, one of the first health care professionals to be infected with the AIDS virus while on the job, died on Tuesday at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. She was 40 and had lived in Monona, Iowa. Barbara Fassbinder died in 1994. 

BUT WHY TELL ME THIS?  Because this was the headline in an Iowa newspaper that hospital staff at all levels will never forget. It was a headline that became national news and changed hospital practice. 

Because soon after Ms. Fassbinder’s death (and others that followed, a patient of a dentist in Florida etc) radical changes were made as to how doctors, nurses, nurses aids, and people who cleaned OR’s and patient rooms–anyone working near blood and body fluids would practice their skills.

Below is an excerpt from an article that eventually appeared in the NY TIMES. 

In 1986, Mrs. Fassbinder was infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, while helping treat a patient in the emergency room of Memorial Hospital in Prairie du Chien, Wis.

While pressing gauze on a needle puncture, the patient’s blood apparently mingled with her blood through small cuts on her hand from gardening, she said in 1990. The young man died, and an autopsy showed he had AIDS. But it was not until January 1987, when she tried to make a blood donation, that she discovered she had been infected.

She and her family kept the infection a secret until she decided to speak out in 1990. “My biggest fear was how the community would react to me and my kids and my husband,” she said at a news conference in Iowa City in which she told her story in the hope that it would warn other health-care workers. The 1,500 people of Monona, a farming community in northeastern Iowa, gave her family “nothing but support,” she said at the time.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an AIDS expert and epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health who became a friend of her family, said she “helped bridge the gap between the worlds of the health care provider and the AIDS patient in need of competent and compassionate care like no one else could.”

Mrs. Fassbinder traveled extensively, talking to people about AIDS and how to prevent infection by H.I.V.. She testified about AIDS before Congress, and in 1992 she was recognized by the Surgeon General and the Department of Health and Human Services for her work. A native of Marion, Ohio, she also served on the National Health Care Reform Committee set up by Hillary Rodham Clinton and was a member of the Iowa State Commission on AIDS, Dr. Osterholm said.

SO WE ALL KNOW ABOUT AIDS, WHY FOCUS ON THIS DEATH? 

MY ANSWER, OSHA, The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was Mrs. Fassbinder’s death and the subsequent deaths and illnesses of other healthcare workers that revolutionized the practice of dealing with blood and body fluids in hospitals.

All of this was done to protect doctors, nurses and anyone working in a hospital from contacting AIDS. The stringent regulations offered other benefits to hospital personnel who for years treated patients with bare hands and were exposed to bacteria and viruses, which they could then pass on to other patients and their families.

THE BIG RED OSHA bags became standard use in hospitals as a way to bind up materials that carried viruses and bacteria.

When you are admitted to a hospital today, you take it for granted that anyone entering your room will be using hand sanitizer. That’s not because of Covid. That’s because of Mrs. Fassbinder contacting AIDS.

MORE DETAILS ON THE LATEST NEWS CONCERNING OSHA  (NY TIMES)

The Biden Administration, in its efforts to combat Covid 19 has tasked the United States Department of Labor with writing a regulation that will force tens of millions more workers to get vaccinated—or to produce weekly negative test results. This move will test the agency’s legal power and could draw a legal challenge. 

The Labor Department will issue a regulation requiring companies with 100 or more employees to follow the above directives….Although the agency’s ability to meet legal thresholds necessary for such a forceful intervention into the private sector remains unclear, some in the business community who’ve been wrestling with how to increase their employee vaccination rates without controversy are indicating support for the move.

Some of you reading this post will have worked in healthcare. And you know and many people who have been hospitalized and even visited an ER, know that people who work in healthcare believe in and must comply with certain health requirements.
Currently those include inoculations for: Hepatitis B, Annual Flu, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) Varicella, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis) and Meningococcal. And all healthcare workers should be screened for Tuberculosis. 
Copies of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard are available from the OSHA website.
Why Biden's New Ruling Dates Back to 1990's

Why Biden’s New Ruling Dates Back to 1990’s

Medical Dramas: They Can Educate

Medical Dramas: They Can Educate

I like reading and sharing pieces I find in the NYTimes, Chicago Tribune, WSJ. THIS IS ONE OF THEM… the title of the piece:

IN A TV SCRIPT, I CAN REWRITE A PATIENT’S FATE  by Daniela J. Lamas  

Dr. Lamas is a writer and co-producer for the television medical drama, The Resident, though her main employment is that of a pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham Women’s Hospital in Boston. 

MEDICAL DRAMAS AND REALITY 

In her piece in the NYT, Dr. Daniela J. Lamas is very aware that she straddles two worlds, finding the writing gig an uplift from the death and dying she sees in her hospital’s Covid unit. When she can retreat to her messy call room, she uses Zoom to join a group of writers struggling with a scene, another medical emergency for Conrad Hawkins (Matt Czurchry), the eponymous hero of the The Resident.

Lamas never works in a vacuum, taking with her the image of the older female patient who now has Covid, her pastor having insisted she not get the vaccine. Dr. Lamas presents this situation to her writing team, hoping they will change the story line. Example: the pastor visits, sees his parishioner suffering and begins to preach from the pulpit that all his people need to get vaccinated. (But like Dr. Lamas, this story line is my creation. Will the writers group accept it?)

Dr. Lamas writes her reality: …though her lungs are slowly improving, her kidneys are worsening, and she is profoundly delirious, not waking up. We stand at the bedside and call her name, her eyelids flutter.

Down the hall, we titrate drips and manage vent settings for a man whose stem cell transplant cured his leukemia but ravaged the rest of his organs. His wife would be at his bedside, but she is at her father’s funeral.

And though the article does not say, I imagine this elderly woman did die from Covid, an unnecessary death.

STORY LINES THE WRITER’S ROOM REJECTS

Dr. Lamas writes: I used to want to show the hospital as it truly exists, to reveal the humor and tragedy and grace that characterizes my world. (She explains with the following examples.)

  • The family that came to say goodbye to a dying woman, a misplaced ID card leading them to believe, wrongly, that she was their mother.
  • A patient’s brother, with skull tattoos on his shaved head, who told us he could not be in the room when we took his brother off the ventilator. So when he left, we thought we would never see him again, but were surprised when he returned, not to sit by his dead brother, but to collect the man’s prosthetic leg. Another nurse said he spent the rest of the day in the hospital chapel with the leg beside him.

Dr. Lamas writes that even producers and writers for The Resident say such stories are simply too grim. The public does not need or want to be reminded of how quickly things can go bad, how families fall apart, how doctors do their best but patients still die.

Especially now, viewers want to see their doctor as heroes, to follow a formula that has doctors saving lives more than losing them.

IN THE WORLD OF THE TV HOSPITAL

Dr. Lamas writes: “During my first experience on the set…I learned that when things went wrong (a medical word being mispronounced) I was assured, “Don’t worry. We can fix it in post.” She underlines that she loved that phrase, one she wanted to say to her patients over and over. “…to be able to have another chance, to treat the sepsis earlier, to stop the pastor form advising against vaccination, to fix it in the post.”

Dr. Lamas reminds us that during the pandemic, her roles as a critical care doctor and a television writer are often in conflict. Though she wants to honor and remember every patient who died, she also yearns to tell stories that are hopeful, where there is always the chance for recovery, no matter how dire the diagnosis.

“It’s a tension I am still learning to navigate. How do we tell stories that feel true while also keeping viewers engaged? What kind of cheats are acceptable, and which are irresponsible?”

Dr. Lamas then makes a particular reference to the struggle that often ensues when the team is trying to save a cardiac patient. She reminds us that TV characters survive cardiac arrests far more often than people in real life do.

“…and the nurse left alone to clean up after the death…” If our viewers could see that, “they would change the channel.” She is right. I still remember during my Cardiac rotation, watching a team try to save a patient, the family waiting in an adjoining room. The man died. And yes, the floor was littered with medical pads, bottles, wipes, tubing…

IN THE REAL WORLD

Dr. Lamas is right when she stresses that medical dramas are important, that they can provide escape, but also education.

“In the writer’s room, we have a change to …offer a different ending to the story. And in doing so, we can sneak in potentially lifesaving education—early warning signs of certain illnesses, the dangers of overtreatment or the impact of inequities in access to care…television dramas have an unparalleled opportunity to educate and even to change behavior…I have come to believe that it is worth glossing over the facts IF we can weave a story that encourages viewers to trust science, to get vaccinated, to look differently at disease. When I find myself fact-checking what I see on the television monitors, I remind myself of this more important goal.”

Dr. Lamas ends her piece, mentioning a patient that she met one morning on rounds, asking him to mute the TV show he was watching, a medical TV show, as she needed to listen to his heart. He seemed surprised that he had to miss something, explained that medical dramas had been his one constant. The plots reassured him, taught him what might be ahead in his own medical story, while helping him feel less alone on his own medical journey. Dr. Lamas smiled. She understood.

(I confess that one of the reasons I became a nurse after having my three children—was my propensity to be gripped not only by books and articles about medicine, but by watching television medical dramas. I’ve written about that before. I was an avid ER fan. Now it’s New Amsterdam, Chicago Med, and of course The Resident.)

Why Do Men Want to Control Women?

Why Do Men Want to Control Women?

Charlotte Gray, while reviewing Amy Sohn’s THE MAN WHO HATED WOMEN, writes in the Wall Street Journal: “In 1873, a new federal law prohibited the distribution and promotion through the U.S. postal service of ‘obscene, lewd or lascivious’ material. The legislation covered not only dirty postcards and sex toys, but also pamphlets about contraception and sexual health. A booklet about marital relations or an abortifacient powder was now considered as indecent as an advertisement for a brothel.” The question: who caused this to happen: The answer: Anthony Comstock.

Amy Sohn describes in her book, The Man Who Hated Women, how Comstock’s forceful move to pass this federal law dealt a severe blow to information that women needed to care for and understand their bodies.

The law profoundly affected women’s health. It not only supported a prudish misogyny that harkens back to Puritan history, but aspects of it can still be found in laws that prevail today in parts of the U.S.

WHO WAS ANTHONY COMSTOCK?

Certainly he was a woman hater, also a Congregationalist, who believed in the Victorian ideal of womanhood: the woman should only be “the angel in the house.” Born in 1844, Comstock went from being a store clerk to turning to anti-vice activism. He was offended by what he called the moral corruption of the Gilded Age in New York City.

WHY TAKE IT OUT ON WOMEN?

Like some of our cities today, New York during the Gilded Age was the center of huge wealth but also abject poverty. Wealthy men were eager to take advantage of poverty stricken women who walked the streets of New York as prostitutes, and who had nothing to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and the dangers of childbirth.

Sohn writes in her book: “…Comstock lumped women together with “sinful” practices.” He got the YMCA to form the Suppression of Vice committee and to make him their lobbyist in Washington. This allowed him to push for harsher penalties against obscenity peddlers. Then, to convince the male representatives in DC, “Comstock organized the most vivid exhibition of sex toys the capital had ever seen.” Congress members handled the toys and other articles, saying they would pass the law he wanted.The result: The Comstock Act of 1873. Other states went on to pass similar laws.

Don’t We Often Say: When someone is obsessed with something, he might actually like it.  

Comstock could not keep the dirt out of his own eyes. He began seeing pornography everywhere, started lawsuits that tried to subdue materials “as diverse as lottery tickets, pornography and medical books written my physicians.”

Being unable to quell his own urges, and hating women, Comstock, decided to fight EVERYTHING and everyone, especially women. Gray writes that he hounded “sex radicals” the eight women who were caught up in sex-oriented movements of the time. Those included abortion, spiritualism, atheism and anarchism.

THE WICKED EIGHT

In her book, Amy Sohn focuses on eight women Comstock went after, sexologist Ida C. Craddock getting the most attention. Unable to attend the University of Pennsylvania because of her gender, Craddock studied comparative religion and developed a passion for sex and symbolism.

At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Craddock watched a belly dancer, then later wrote that dance utilized an ancient religious rite, symbolizing self-control of sexual pleasure. But Comstock was also watching. He called the performance obscenity, and wanted to jail the performer.

WOMEN AND MEN IN THE BEDROOM 

Ida C. Craddock fought for women, argued against marital rape, telling women they had a right to enjoy sex. Craddock printed business cards that read: Scientific Motherhood, Prenatal Culture, Right Living in the Marital Relation. She sent information through the mail: “putting herself right in the crosshairs of the Comstock Act.” Comstock won that battle, having her arrested in 1902 for being “lecturer of filth.” Eight months later, unable to face prison, Ida C. Craddock committed suicide.

THE AFTERMATH… The early 1900’s was a time when newspapers pulled in readers with wild tales of sex and sin. But gradually, Comstock’s harsh beliefs no longer coincided with the growing power of women. Though he died in 1915, his law continued to stay on the books for many more decades, inciting women to claim their power, speak out for their rights and needs. Year to year this fight intensified, encouraging “transformative feminist activism.” Comstock might actually have helped the feminist movement, helped women see the need for more agency in their own lives.

Ms. Sohn ends her book with a warning: “Wombs are still a battleground because of what they represent.” Then she then quotes Ida Craddock: “I would lay down my life for the cause of sex reform; but I don’t want to be swept away, a useless sacrifice.” Craddock died, was forgotten, but Sohn and others have successfully resurrected this amazing woman. 

Ida Craddock’s manuscripts and notes are preserved in the Special Collections of the Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Her battle with Anthony Comstock is the subject of the 2006 stage play Smut by Alice Jay and Joseph Adler, its world premiere at Miami’s GableStage in June 2007. 

Amy Sohn’s book is THE MAN WHO HATED WOMEN  Farrar, Strauss and Giroux Publishers. Artwork: The Gilded Age, Central Park New York City 

You might also like. https://boomerhighway.org/books-that-pave-the-way-for-lifes-journey/

Celebrating the Positive

Celebrating the Positive

 

 

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY, Dear Reader. And when you read this, I hope you will feel some sense of peace and some happiness.

I’m not counting on OUT AND OUT JOY! That’s a big hope. It’s a word I use to describe my wedding day, the birth of my children and grandchildren.

But this year of 2021, we have certainly BEEN THROUGH IT.

Some of you have lost family to Covid19. Many of your know neighbors, work partners and friends of friends who have lost someone. And loss has trickled down: loss of jobs; loss of investments (that trip you couldn’t take); loss of friendships, because of the turmoil in our government, the splitting apart of relationships because “I don’t need to be vaccinated.” Well, if you are going to be around me and my family, YES YOU DO.

I can deal with this stuff as it relates directly to me. But I get in the major “MOTHER BEAR” mode when I think that people against the vaccine, for whatever reason, might infect MY FAMILY. THAT MAKES ME CRAZY.

So on this FOURTH OF JULY weekend, I am wishing your health and safety, joy in family and friends. I also support each and everyone of you who decides to CHANGE IT UP. Maybe that family gathering isn’t for you this year. Maybe you are against fireworks, especially if they could cause fires in our “getting too warm” climate.

The one thing I might suggest, especially if you will be staying home this 4th of July: that you reach out to your neighbor. You know the one. He always helps carry in a heavy package, sometimes shovels your walk or let’s you know your car has a flat tire; she is kind to your children, arranges play dates, abides by your rules as to sweets and is always there when you need a friend or a mother, because yours lives miles away. It is that community that is built from house to house, street to street. It is that community that will do much to heal our American wounds.

Small starts are good. They will make each of us better. They will heal us.

Peace, Everyone, and a Happy Fourth of July.

JANE ROSENTHAL’S DEL RIO: AND THE SEEDS OF A FICTIONAL WORK    

JANE ROSENTHAL’S DEL RIO: THE SEEDS OF A FICTIONAL WORK

I met Jane Rosenthal during a Women’s Fiction Writers (WFWA) retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We were both living in California at the time, enjoyed each other’s company, our love of writing, and discussed the inevitable struggle of getting published.  

And today, I’m pleased to present to you, Jane’s second published work, DEL RIO, a Novel. I hope you will enjoy reading about Jane’s process and how personal experience contributed to her vision for this story.

Jane’s Voice: My novel Del Rio is set in a fictional town in the Central Valley of California, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Central Valley is a place made up of small towns, near where I lived, towns so accessible that they were where I went to get my hair styled, grocery shop or go to the bank. This particular town, Del Rio, doesn’t really exist, except in my imagination.

One of the best compliments I ever received for my manuscript occurred when I was pitching the book at a conference. An editor, looking over his glasses at me, pronounced: “Wow, so do you live in Del Rio?”

The place seemed that real to him. And in a way, it is. Writing is a journey, and this book took me on one.

JANE’S REALIZATION THAT MUCH OF DEL RIO WAS NORTH OF THE BORDER …

Jane says: One Saturday a few years back, something happened that changed the whole trajectory of the book. I’d gone into town to do errands. But when I got to Wells Fargo Bank, the line was out the door. That had never happened before. But I’d never been there on a Saturday, mid-month, payday for the farm workers. It didn’t take long before I realized I was the only native English speaker in the entire line.

A lightbulb exploded in my head. I didn’t need to go south, at least in the book, to be in Mexico. I WAS on the west coast of Mexico. Right then, right there. After I made my deposit, I headed to my office, to sit down and write the first sentence that would become Del Rio.

That sentence came easily: Fletcher wanted me to meet him at the Starlight Lounge, an old roadhouse set on the banks of the San Joaquin River, a few miles south of town.

This was the voice of Callie, my protagonist. And even though Del Rio starts and ends in California, Callie travels to the west coast of Mexico, to a fishing village called San Benito, a place that is Night of the Iguana on steroids. Her mission: to search for a killer.

Then Jane reminds us: You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens once Callie gets there!

FICTION THAT SHOUTS FOR ACTION

Jane’s book is a fascinating read. She tells us: I’d intended when I first started on this Mexico Trilogy to set the second book solely on the west coast of Mexico. I’d been to Mexico’s Pacific coast many times and loved its “Night of the Iguana” feel. I wanted to give the reader that atmosphere, but a totally different feel and cast of characters from the Mexico City setting I had recreated in Palace of the Blue Butterfly. (get it on Amazon)

But then she saw that the seeds of her story were literally planted in the United States.

CENTRAL VALLEY, CALIFORNIA WORKERS–WHAT THEY NEED AND DON’T HAVE: BACKGROUND INFORMATION….

  • Farmworkers are not protected under the National Labor Relations Laws (NLRA).
  • Farmworkers are exempt from many protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA). Exempt from most minimum wage and hour guarantees.
  • They are not entitled to overtime pay or mandatory breaks for rest or meals
  • There are few labor protections for farmworker children.
  • Most farmworkers are excluded from federal minimum wage laws and other labor protections, including the right to overtime pay for workers that work more than 40 hrs./wk.
  • FWs are not protected from retaliation by federal law when engaged in labor organizing.
  • They are not entitled to receive attorney fees under the Migrant and Seasonal Ag. Worker Protection Act.
  • Many FWs on small farms don’t even have access to toilets and hand-washing facilities and drinking water.
  • There is a Lack of Transparency in the Food system.

The Fair Labor Standards Act is supposed to protect all workers with respect to the federal minimum wage and overtime pay, even undocumented workers.  However, workers have little or no way to enforce their rights.

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Read Del Rio for a great story, as well as a look into the dangerous games being played, the innocent lives being risked. Because it is happening, right before our eyes.

And if moved by Rosenthall’s experience, the words in her book, the information I have provided here, please go to https://farmworkerfamily.org/information  and donate. For more information that conflicts with above, go to: http://www.lacooperativa.org/farm-workers-know-your-rights-in-the-workplace/

P.S. California produces over 350 commodities; including 1/3 of the nation’s vegetables and nearly 2/3 of the nation’s fruits and nuts. California produces 90% of the strawberries grown in the U.S. Between 1/3 and 1/2 of all farmworkers in America reside in California, or roughly 500,000 – 800,000 farmworkers. Approximately 75% of California’s farmworkers are undocumented; 83% in Santa Cruz County. Approximately 1/3 are women, and they range in age from their teens to their 60s. In addition, there are 400,000 children working in U.S. fields;

TALKING TO STRANGERS

TALKING TO STRANGERS

Malcom Gladwell has so impressed the reading world with his analysis of life, that the term “Gladwellian intellectual adventure” has been coined.

But though I confess to not have jumped on his bandwagon before Talking to Strangers, when I saw he had written about Sandra Bland, I had to know his thoughts.

We now go through life with cable news. And then it was July of 2015. I’m white, Black Lives DO Matter, but hearing of a Black woman who had just arrived in Texas for a new job, a new life, had been arrested for a traffic stop, and then hearing just days later, that it was assumed she had hung herself in her jail cell—I was angry, had many questions, that to this day and even beyond this book, have not been answered. Why? Because we are still living in a time when these questions challenge us to give answers we don’t want to face. 

HOW TALKING TO STRANGERS IS ORGANIZED 

Gladwell starts with Sandra and ends with Sandra. In between, he works to reveal the disconnects in society, by exploring, as only he can, history, psychology and the roots of evil in our society. Oh, he wants to come to some conclusion about Sandra, but before that, he explores how often we just don’t have the big picture. Why? Because we ARE often STRANGERS to each other, and that means there are no exact rules to govern human interactions.

He attacks the problem in sections: some being Default to the Truth where he exams in detail the Sandusky (sex with a child) Case. Another being Transparency which includes the Amanda Knox case and a fraternity party sex case.

COUPLING 

But the most interesting section is Coupling,where Gladwell makes the case that often two things that go together are hard to separate. Suicide is often coupled. Suicide and the Golden Gate Bridge; Sylvia Plath and how gas was delivered to  homes before safety measures were introduced; preventive police patrolling in Kansas City, Missouri and the interrogation of Blacks. 

Gladwell concludes the coupling section with this: “There is something about the idea of coupling–of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context–that eludes us. It leads us to misunderstand some of our greatest poets (Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), to be indifferent to the suicidal, and to send police officers on senseless errands. (Sandra Bland.)

SANDRA BLAND Note: All parenthesis are mine. 

Then Gladwell asks, before the last chapter, when he discusses the Sandra Bland case…

“So what happens when a police officer carries that fundamental misconception– (that people are going to break laws, do wrong, especially if the are Black)–and then you add to that the problems of default to truth and transparency? (That by their very nature, police can make us feel afraid, feel wrong when we are right, liars when we are truth tellers, especially if one is a person of color) YOU GET SANDRA BLAND.”

YES, SADLY. You get that two personalities who view the world differently, should not be thrown together in a tense situation. And, unfortunately, as a reader and a human, we are left with this: “If you are blind to the ideas that underlie our mistakes with strangers—and to the institutions and practices that we construct AROUND those ideas—then all you are left with is the personal…and now Sandra Bland, who—at the end of the lengthy postmortem into that fateful traffic strop…somehow becomes the villain of the story.

READ THIS BOOK. TALKING TO STRANGERS

Original Sketch  artist not listed

Police: And My Interactions With Them

Police: And My Interactions With Them

Traffic tickets. What did I do wrong? Wanting to immediately defend myself. Not knowing how to act, what to do. I don’t have a weapon; I’m a female driving a car!

I’ve had four encounters with police and none of them felt comfortable. Why? Well it’s the police. Okay. The police make me nervous. But some of you reading this might have fathers, husbands, sisters, brothers who work in law enforcement. So, what’s my point?

Actually, it was made this morning in a column in the Chicago Tribune. Columnist Eric Zorn writes about his encounters with police and how we can improve things. But first let me tell you about mine.

FIRST: It happened on a circular drive in a shopping center in Matteson, Illinois. A policeman pulled me over. I guessed I was going 30 in a 20-mile zone. I immediately dialed my husband on my cell phone; he actually answered. Now the policeman is at my window, yelling at me to get off the phone. So, I did. FIRST ENCOUNTER, not going well.

He told me I had gone 30 in a 20. There was nothing more to say. He wrote out a ticket. I went on my way.

SECOND: I am now an RN, working at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Around noon, before my shift, I drive to pick up my son at grade school. I pull up in my car along the schoolyard fence. Just as I do, a child FALLS of the swing that is at a great height. I leap from my car and go into the school yard to help this child. He is shaken, bruised, but he is okay. While I am caring for him, a policeman pulls up behind me and starts writing me a ticket. WHY?

He’s ticking me for leaving my car running….I am about 10 feet from my car, we are on a leafy street with no traffic. I go out and argue with him. It makes absolutely no difference that I was leaping out of my car to help a child. None at all. It would have been nice to just get a warning. But I don’t appeal the ticket. I’m too damn busy.

THIRD: In this same neighborhood, we have moved, remodeled a very old home from the 1920’s. New roof, windows, doors, newly poured patio. New gardens, not to mention every room in the house has new plumbing and we have a new boiler etc etc. BUT…

While purchasing wallpaper in the community, giving my address….the woman waiting behind me says right out: “Oh, you’re the house with the bush that grows over the sidewalk.” I look at her. Turn back, pay, leave the store. Thinking, what a b…..

We contact the village to pay for new sidewalk squares (it’s a corner house) so that people don’t trip while they are walking near our house.

But then it happens, the same policeman who ticketed me for helping a child, pulls up, rings my bell, writes me a ticket for the bush growing over the sidewalk. AND HE ISN’T EVEN NICE ABOUT IT, when I show him how we have improved THIS house, even redone the public sidewalk.

FOURTH: This last is the least of all three, yet in some ways it might have turned out to be the worst. It all depends on the person you are dealing with. 

Here’s why, and remember, no one has ever told me the rules. I am driving through the streets of Des Moines, on my way to pick up my son from his music lesson. I notice a police car is following me. Well, it’s not me, I tell myself. But when I pull into the parking lot, he does too, it’s me. I pull into a parking space, he pulls into the space behind me. So what do I do?

I do the exact wrong thing that I don’t know is the exact wrong thing, I get out of my car and walk back to him. His window is down—“You need to get back in your car.” I don’t think he yelled, but he’s angry. And it’s me, Beth Havey, who hasn’t done anything wrong. “Officer, what have I done?”

He gives me the same answer, get back in your car. I do. I wait. About five minutes later, he walks up to my open window.

“Your registration is out of date. You don’t have your sticker on your plate.”

“I’m so sorry,” I tell him, “I must have left the notice in a pile of mail. I will take care of this immediately.”

“And he, nods, walks away, so that after I get my son, I drive oh so carefully until I can get home and hide my car. I won’t drive it again until I have my NEW STICKER.

LOOKING BACK and FORWARD 

I’ve been driving for YEARS. For my 3-11 shift at Mercy Hospital in the city of Chicago. Back and forth from Des Moines to Chicago, alone. Many times to Iowa City, alone. Across country to California, with my husband. I’ve navigated the 405, the busiest road in California. BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN TOLD THE RULES. I learned them through negative experience, and by reading the paper, watching video of others, watching police deal with Black men, Black women, young kids,  etc etc. Don’t get out of the car…Get out of the car!!

NO ONE TOLD ME THE RULES when I first got my license. And not when I renewed. The tests in California are always about SIGNS and more SIGNS. Same in Illinois.

ERIC ZORN writes that a new measure in Illinois, co-sponsored by three African American lawmakers, requires that the RULES OF THE ROAD manual include instructions on “appropriate interaction with law enforcement officers” during a traffic stop. They claim that these instructions are in the booklet. I don’t remember being tested on that point. Signs, all the tests are about signs. 

CONCLUSION: the following should be front and center:

  • If you can’t quickly pull over, activate your hazard lights to signal your intent to comply.
  • Don’t rummage for your license, etc don’t make a quick phone call about anything. These movements can alarm the officer, especially with the prevalence of guns in society. Instead, turn on your dome light if it’s night and put your hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.
  • When the officer asks for documents, tell this person where they are, move slowly.
  • Don’t argue with the officer. That never goes well. If you get a ticket, sign it, avoid arrest. Save your argument for the judge.

Zorn then says: But we as drivers should also know our rights. Such as:

  • The right not to answer questions about where you’re going, where you live or your immigration status as well as the right not to respond to accusations or insinuations of wrongdoing.
  • The right to deny consent to a search of your person or of your vehicle (though officers may conduct such a search anyway, if they claim probable cause.) This happened to a person I dearly love and he was arrested.
  • The right to learn the officer’s name and badge number.
  • The right to refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test if you are suspected of impaired driving (though such a refusal is almost certain to result in a one-year license suspension.)

My final thoughts are like Eric Zorn’s: courtesy and respect during a traffic stops can be and should be a two-way street. Lawmakers ought to put that in their guidelines as well.  

Also, I’ve been damn lucky! I was in a bad accident years ago. I made a bad turn. My daughters were injured. They are fine now, but it took me months to forgive myself. But that’s another blog post. https://boomerhighway.org/reclaiming-motherhood/

Please share your interactions with the police and how you handled them. 

THANKS to ERIC ZORN Chicago Tribune

photo  I Stock

 

BACK IN CHICAGO…

BACK IN CHICAGO...

The ability to love everyone starts with children. We are blank slates. We see the world bathed in equality—until, as we grow, we begin to become aware of differences. Or they are pointed out to us. Regardless, there is always hope.

In a world where we are truly now a global nation, where we could look like the United Nations, differences should not be an issue.

But there is something in an individual’s DNA that makes them cling to those first times when we see differences or feel different or are taught to claim a difference. Why? I don’t have an answer. 

EVERYONE HAS SOME PREJUDICE 

There are people on this earth who claim that they have no prejudices. That everything in their purview is equal. I say, that’s impossible. Maybe you are or have always been comfortable with the differences that exist in humanity regarding skin color. Awesome. Wonderful. But I proport there isn’t a person walking this earth that isn’t prejudiced in some way. And it may be as simple as food choices.

Because life is about choice and within each of us is some small voice telling us that THIS is better than THIS. It just depends on what we are talking about. But we must be honest.

HOW PREJUDICE BEGINS 

As a child, I lived on the southside of Chicago. But—in a neighborhood that was all white. The people of color I knew were few. There was Jenny, the Sioux Native American who cared for us when we were very young. (read here). And there were the two Black women who cleaned and ironed for us. (read: here.)

OPENING MY EYES

But what did I notice as I grew up in Chicago? (I am doing my best to be honest.)

  • That all our neighbors, the people who worked in stores, the kids in school, the people in church, our doctors—they were all white.
  • That when my mother drove me through neighborhoods to downtown Chicago (before the city built the Dan Ryan Expressway, which was geographically laid out to separate many Black neighborhoods from white ones) that the sidewalks were crowded with people walking; that there were people missing limbs, people in wheel chairs, maybe even people who had lost hope. READ: people who had to rely on public transportation; people without good healthcare. People who lived in food deserts and healthcare deserts. Please note that in certain decades THE CAR was everything. This was before we began to look on public transportation as a positive way to travel. I did live three blocks from the Rock Island train that zipped my mother into Chicago for her job. From that train, I could look out upon housing, old apartments, yards bare of grass, sometimes filled with trash… Okay—poverty.

What did I notice during my years of education?

  • Well, I’m certain I would never have looked around for a Black child in my grade school. That possibility wasn’t even on our radar. There were two girls in my class whose skin was actually tan all year long: read, darker than mine. Damn, that I noticed that. Is there something in our DNA that points that out?
  • But after high school, working in the city every summer in downtown Chicago, the variety of people along the sidewalks was fascinating.

What did I notice off and on just living and working in Chicago and its suburbs?

  • That even though I was white, there were sales women in high-end stores that were not interested in helping me return a blouse or search for a size. Because prejudice can move through all tribes—I obviously wasn’t dressed in a way that indicated my buying power. That memory still stings. But GET OVER IT, You Privileged White Woman.
  • That working in an integrated high school in Chicago Heights, Illinois and then much later working as an RN at Mercy Hospital in the Bronzeville area of Chicago, were some of the best years of my life. If there was some ignorant, leery, unsure person hidden inside me—those career choices made me push her aside.

MY FIRST JOB INTERVIEW 

“Some of our students have knives,” the Superintendent of the high school where I was interviewing told me. I needed the job. I said that was okay. I spoke out of ignorance. What did I know about dealing with a student who might be carrying a knife? I learned to be open and caring of all my students. Was I lucky? Yes. But there were so many students throughout my teaching years that showed me their humanity.

It was the same at Mercy Hospital when I first started working in maternity. I might be nervous walking into a room to help a stranger deliver her child. But the bond of the female species, of motherhood, of helping someone in pain—damn, humanity was flowing through those rooms and continued to do so.

NOTE: It is 2021, and thank God, Mercy Hospital, that will always serve minority families, was saved from the wrecking ball. But close by in Bronzeville, Michael Reese Hospital did not survive. (read: Life and Death in Englewood by Linda Villarosa, New York Times.) 

WHEN THINGS CAME TOGETHER–FOR ME

“Gresham went over night.” You would have to live in Chicago (or maybe a different urban city) to know what THE HELL that means. Translation: the white folks moved out and the Black folks moved in. THIS IS OUR HISTORY. It’s Chicago’s history and it is the history of many cities in this country. It is wrong. 

Other terms are contained in one blistering sentence (a friend said this): “Yes, for sure there is gentrification going on in that neighborhood, cause they are getting rid of the slum.”

Definition of Slum: a densely populated usually urban area marked by crowding, run-down housing, poverty, and social disorganization. 

Actual Definition: an area of a city where people unable to find good-paying jobs are forced to live. And regarding history, people of color are forced to live there, a place where houses are abandoned because of job loss; stores and hospitals close. When I grew up, the hospital where I was born was a quick drive away. I took that for granted. Again, from a recent article in the New York Times: Now you drive through communities like Englewood and see empty lot after empty lot…  And I recently learned that the south suburbs of Chicago do NOT have a trauma center. They have hospitals, but not a trauma center. The trauma center is   Christ Advocate Trauma Center which is three miles from me, within the city limits. 

EDUCATING MYSELF BY READING…

There was James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker. But now there is Ta-Nehisi Coates. Thanks to my daughter-in-law, I read BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME. Then I read WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER, which wasn’t just about the Obama era, but about Reconstruction, the freedoms initially given to freed people of color and then taken away. The continuation of brutality, of lynching and home burning. The device of red-lining which is to refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk. Short version, because they are Black. 

When Black folks left the South, looking for employment and better lives for their families, white men devised ways to isolate them in run-down neighborhoods, to prevent the breadwinner of the family from getting ahead. White people have always been able to get ahead by buying a home for their family, which provides them with shelter, but also the possibility of increasing their initial investment.

Getting ahead is the key to everything, for everyone. In America, each one of us should have that chance.

But could a dream send up through onion fumes
Its white and violet, fight with fried potatoes
And yesterday’s garbage ripening in the hall,
Flutter, or sing an aria down these rooms

Even if we were willing to let it in,
Had time to warm it, keep it very clean,
Anticipate a message, let it begin?              

From Kitchenette Building by Chicago Black poet, Gwendolyn Brooks

PS Fighting prejudice must be an ongoing but oh so worthy effort. 

Photo: Monument in Bronzeville, Chicago, Illinois. Honoring the World War I 8th Regiment of the Illinois National Guard.