A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
When it comes to believing official pronouncements about things that are happening right now, I'm a cynic. I don't think either political party is less likely than the other to manage the information it disseminates in order to cast the most positive light on its own actions.
It's just what they do.
About once a month I indulge in coffee, newspaper, and eavesdropping—I mean, information gathering—at a local coffee shop. One of the gifts of being unemployed is having the time to do this. One of the curses is not having the money to do it more often.
Since today’s visit was to the One Way Café, I’ll admit that a pecan roll was also involved.
At the long table near the front of the room, a small group of older men chatted. Cars, sports, the governor’s race. A brief homage to Charlie Sykes. Agreement that Obama will not be in office for a second term. A wish that Reagan were still around. A few mild and inoffensive barbs at Democrats. A little checking in on the whereabouts of old friends. In other words, the usual.
It seems they’ve lived most of their lives between St. Bernard’s and Christ King parishes. By all appearances, these are people who lead good and orderly lives, who’ve done the right things and been rewarded with long marriages, good enough health, and sufficient money for a pleasant retirement.
You can’t judge people’s inside lives by outside appearances, of course, but they look like they’ve succeeded in achieving the American Dream.
Change some details: Protestant, not Catholic; female, not male; liberal, not conservative, but I’d guess we share a similar sense of living a good and decent Midwestern American life. Still, they and I see the world and solutions in a very different way.
It’s gotten less complicated, figuring out what to wear to the job interview.
Good black suit and a white blouse, the heels that hurt my feet a little but not enough to make me limp. Not much jewelry, but then I don’t wear much anyway.
And contact lenses. My glasses are a little scratched, and contact lenses were cheaper than new glasses. I look presentable.
I remember fondly The Outfit that failed to get me jobs years ago. But what a great outfit it was. Fawn suede skirt, creamy silk blouse with soft ruffles down the front, those fabulous shoes with hammered copper heels, and the camel hair coat with fox collar and cuffs.
It didn’t work for the Eagles Club and whatever fraternal organization lived in the basement. I’d dropped out of college for a bit and needed a job, and I figured I could be a file clerk. But the room, or the women in it, grew noticeably colder when I walked in. Somehow, we all knew I wouldn’t be a good fit.
The next time I trotted out The Outfit, I was in Madison, much happier at school there than I’d been at UWM. I thought I’d like to work at Ella’s, the famous deli then on State Street. The owner didn’t even bother to interview me. He just raised an eyebrow, laughed, and said “not what we’re looking for, sweetie.”
Eventually I figured out how to look the part, whatever the part was.
But for one job, I decided to throw “Dress for Success” out the window. It was a warm day after a long winter, and instead of the navy blue suit, I put on the red polka dot dress with a white jacket and killer heels. I wanted to look like the first day of spring. After I got the job, the secretary told me she’d asked which of the interviewees the chairman wanted to hire, and he’d said, a little dreamily, “the one in the polka dots--the one who looks like spring.”
Needless to say, that was long ago. Now, I look like business. Of course, so does everybody else. We all go in with our suits, our SOAR and CAR stories--the little anecdotes that put your accomplishments in the best light--polished as well as our shoes.
I wonder how they can tell us apart. We not only look the part: we are the part. We’re all skilled and qualified. And then some.
These days, an employer can get everything on his check list and more. If you’re a sales professional with a Six Sigma black belt who speaks Swahili and has an MBA, you’ll find yourself sitting next to a Six Sigma black belt who speaks Swahili and has an MBA and EMT certification, and maybe a Doctor of Divinity on the side.
But I wonder if they’re doing a better job of hiring with all the software filters for resumes and Prove-it tests and group interviews.
In may ways, this has been the most difficult year of my life. Most of the ties that connected me to the life I'd lived for so long were cut -- the ones that tied me to the roles of daughter, mother, and employee. Freedom may be a blessing, but too much of it feels like a curse sometimes.
But even in the darkest days, wonder and gratitude rise, and often from the most unlikely places.
Yesterday afternoon, walking the County Grounds with Idgy and getting the last sunburn of the season, we ran into Dave and the airedales Zoom and Rosie. Dave and I talked about the Packers who had just won, his wife Carole and the horses. Idgy sniffed for prey, Zoom snuggled, and Rosie grumbled. Then the light from the setting sun glanced off of the long coal chute in the distance, and it seemed lit from within. We watched in silence and something like awe.
The energy plant is an odd blight on the landscape most of the time. But a moment of grace transforms it. Or maybe it transforms us, making us able to see in a new light.
One blessing of this year has been more time on those grounds. Quakers say there is that of God in everyone, but I think there is that of dog in everyone, too. And the more we are in touch with both of those aspects of ourselves, the happier we are. We all have a notion about how connecting with God, the divine, or some other form of goodness gives us happiness. The inner dog is ever in the moment, following what leads us, exploding with joy, forgetting harms, unconditional in loving.
Another blessing is that so much of the land is still there. It has avoided the hand of development a little longer.
This year, too, I've had the gift of going back to school. Recovery funds are letting me take the two courses I need to become recertified to teach. There don't seem to be more jobs out there, but it's another door open. And the chance to learn in truly diverse classrooms at UWM is an unexpectedly rich blessing.
Having my daughter at home for the semester has been the biggest blessing of all. She may not need a mother anymore, at least not in the way young children do. But the spaces in my schedule have given me some of the pleasures (and none of the irritations) of being an at-home mom, something I couldn't do when the kids were young. A life not rushed is a more graceful life.
And there's been time to heal the hurts in our relationship. Most of those came about when the kids were young, I was working and going through a divorce, and not handling well all the pressures. I was harsh too much, and I yelled. That hurts kids more than we know. Liz, who is an extraordinary young woman, is being generous in forgiving me.
Happy Thanksgiving to you. I hope your year has been as filled with wonder, learning, love, and forgiveness. If I could sing, which I can't, I'd sing you Mary Chapin Carpenter's Thanksgiving song.
Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table.
From far and near we travel home,
Blessed that we are able.
Grateful for this sheltered place
With light in every window,
Saying “welcome, welcome, share this feast
Come in away from sorrow.”
Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend and friendless;
All together everyone in the gift of loving-kindness.
Grateful for what’s understood,
And all that is forgiven;
We try so hard to be good,
To lead a life worth living.
Father, mother, daughter, son,
Neighbor, friend, and friendless;
All together everyone, let grateful days be endless.
Grateful for each hand we hold
Gathered round this table.
Oh! Children home, warm sleeping beds
I CHECKED. THREE TIMES! OH YES!! !
Oh! Boots-coat: OUTSIDE. Car. YES!!!
Oh! Deep earth smells, warm and wiggling things there
and digging dirt -- nose knows deep, deeper, deeper, DEEPER. . .
Downrunning places, uprunning places, zigzagging places and
tall grasses swish, swish, swish, run faster leaping now
jump walls, hiding brush and brambles
Oh! Others! Butts. Butts. Butts. Buttsbuttsbuttsbuttsbutts. . .
Sixty ducks: I made 'em lift and squawk, I, I, oh fill
my herding heart here, now, but geese are better: where?