The Library

I recently recommitted to staying up-to-date with the changing tech we use everyday. (Except for iTunes.) As I’ve said before, I want to remain current. There is a place that the fast pace of tech changes hasn’t made obsolete (a la public phones and supermarket cashiers). It’s the library. Fortunately for all of us, the U.S. public library system has kept up with change and has evolved to meet today’s needs. We can install library apps on our phones.  We can check online to see if a book is available at a local branch and hold it until we get there. We can borrow an e-book and download it to our e-reader without leaving home. Anyone can use the public desktops at any branch (albeit on unsecured networks). And we can check out hard copy books by using the self-service scanners. (These require a staff member nearby to help the tech challenged folks who still can’t quite get the hang of it, just like in the supermarket.) Yup, the library has kept up and it makes me happy because it’s been my solace for a long time.

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I remember the first time I went to a library.  I didn’t imagine the doors that would open once I reached the one leading to the front of the little branch in Medford Massachusetts. My mother dropped my sister and I off there on a Saturday morning in one of her attempts to find something “enriching” for us to do. She had papers to grade, so she needed to leave us somewhere that, in her mind, was more useful than the neighborhood playground. She had little discretionary cash so that fact it was free was a good thing. That was back in the days when parents could leave their kids in a place with strangers and not have a) the strangers call the cops or b) the strangers abduct the kids.

I remember the way the children’s room looked and smelled. The walls were bright primary colors with posters attached encouraging us to READ. Isn’t it funny, to this day I love the smell of books, the paper together with the ink. The first time I caught the scent it was better than that of the lilacs next to my house. My love of the library goes back to that day. I spent hours with my head inside books, close enough to read and inhale them.

I discovered a place that was more comfortable  than my home. My mother was a single parent who worked long hours so home was sometimes lonely, sometimes stressful. It was comfortable and comforting at the library. I was able to walk alone and undisturbed up and down the stacks, taking out any book that caught my fancy. I’d look at it, put it back or tuck it under my arm for later. I wonder what the adults thought who saw me, the little black girl in blue cat-eyed glasses talking to herself as she marched through the rows. I loved dropping my choices onto the little tables and chairs set out to enhance the pleasure of reading. And I appreciated the QUIET. It was unbelievable to me that everyone, even adults, had to shut up so everyone else could read.

I went to the library often after that first visit. As I still do now, back then I’d choose a secluded corner near the back, close to a window if possible. I sat at those little tables reading the variety of styles I’d delighted in trying. My interests ranged from juvenile biographies of Louis Armstrong and Sojourner Truth to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Although Charlie’s life was as mysterious to me as the factory.)  One of my favorites was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved books in which kids were stretching boundaries. My mother made sure we had books at home but I had to share with my younger sister. Those titles skewed younger. At the library I  stretched my own literary boundaries which made me feel more mature.

The library was the most civilized place my nine-year-old self ever experienced, and the library is still one of my favorite places. I wrote a blog post about using it as my writing office but I also still roam the aisles for comfort. Public libraries are wonderful resources for us and for many reasons. I hope we don’t decide we’re so advanced as to lose them.

 

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1968

So here I am on the last day of April trying to stick to my commitment to post at least once a month to this blog. It’s been a challenge to do it since the re-launch. I used to have so much to say and now apparently, I don’t.

Anyway, I’ve been watching some retrospectives on TV commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of the significant events of 1968. The year factors largely in a novel I wrote during my hiatus from blogging. (It’s unpublished which is why I haven’t mentioned it before now.) In one chapter the main characters talk about how they felt as children witnessing some of what was going on in 1968. I was a child then too and the TV programs reminded me of how I channeled my feelings into those of my characters. It was an impactful time, even for children. Since I can’t think of anything else to write about, I decided  I’d share a little of the chapter with you. If you like it, maybe I’ll post more from the novel later.

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“I’ll tell you, it was some year, sixty-eight. Crazy. John dying in his crib like that.  Mom and Dad both wildin’ out and on top of all of it, half of Baltimore burning up in the Holy War Uprising. Yeah, it was crazy.” As Thomas gestured with his drink in his hand, his eyes filled with long past images. He, Junior and Judi thought back to the Baltimore riots of 1968 and their collective memory was one of fire. Memories of the glow of the TV screen in the living room of the homestead as David Sr. and Ella sat on the sofa, watching the pictures of everything burning. They remembered the way Ella, her pregnant belly touching the cushions, squeezed David’s hand and whispered, “Damn, that’s right where your cousin lives.” The kids had turned and looked at Ella wide-eyed because cussing was their father’s forte, something in which their mother rarely engaged. But it frightened them the most when David said, “It looks like hell.”  After a solemn dinner that night, the three siblings had huddled together in the playroom wondering which sins had caused the troubles and whether the hell fires would get them too.  The memory faded and the spell was broken by David Jr’s deep voice.

“Ain’t that much different around here now Tom, and um, you’d know if you didn’t live in a gated community.” Thomas was ready for his big brother’s taunts.  To him David Jr. was like Baltimore City, still vital but a little rough around the edges. The oldest sibling wasn’t the big, bad brother he’d been when they were younger. He hadn’t been since Thomas entered the meat and potatoes of his adulthood, the years that had brought the reality of negotiating a good career, marriage and parenthood as a middle-class black man. Thomas set down his glass and scratched the hair on his chest through his starched blue business shirt and undershirt.  

     “Ok, that’s true Dave but back then black folks weren’t just rioting because they were mad like they do now.  Everybody in this neighborhood and for that fact in black neighborhoods around the country were talking about Black Power. And it was all over the news so we saw all those pictures of raised fists on the TV when Mom was trying to herd us up to bed after dinner, remember? Matt, we know you and Ruth were too little to remember but I’m telling you it felt like something real would jump off at any minute.  Even at five I knew something big was going on.  It scared me, it really did,” Thomas said.

##

(Photo by Ivan Cujic from Pexels)

 

Why Did They Take My Music Away?

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So some time ago, I updated my iTunes. I don’t remember how many versions ago it was because I haven’t updated it since. The experience caused havoc and a paralyzing fear of “improved” apps .

I know I sound dramatic but I lovingly and carefully curated my music library over a lot of years. (Yeah, it began with vinyl but we’re talk about my age later.) It started with Solomon Burke and ended with Kendrick Lamar. The bits and pieces in between told my story through artists inspired by a universal vibe. There were songs that represented every journey I’ve been on in that library. Most of that’s gone now. When I ran the update, almost half of my favorite songs disappeared. Where was my Taj Mahal, Van Morrison, Wu Man and Soweto Gospel Choir? Bambino, Buckwheat Zydeco, Yo-Yo Ma and Miriam Makeba were all missing. It took away my beloved Curtis Mayfield. And the song I associate with my husband’s passing was deleted. “…It’s so strange but true, can’t believe I’m still in love with you…” Yup, iTunes even took my James Hunter…So, I asked my audio engineer son to explain what happened. Here’s what he told me:

“with the release of Apple Music, (deliberately or not…) Apple made the access of traditional iTunes Music collections burdensome. While they shifted the focus of their platform to streaming, many users reported major glitches and missing music (they have never confirmed or denied this). In addition, many users had to re-download entire music libraries from difficult to find iTunes Music backup files to restore their original music collections.”

BURDENSOME? For real. I had to download my entire collection from an old laptop to a hard drive. Now I have the music but can’t transfer it to my phone from the drive. Oh sure, I can plug the drive into the cheap laptop I have now but the library won’t download (error message) and the speakers are shit  inadequate. And forget “difficult to find…backup files.” If I needed to call someone to explain what happened, I definitely don’t understand enough to re-install it.

My love of music started in childhood.  In church, even if the service bored me, the choir could make me both cry and shout for joy. I begged my mother to buy gospel records. Later, my music kept me company as I contemplated the context and complexities of my youth. (I’m looking at you Santana.) And then I danced to favorite songs with my children as I taught them to dance on the beat.

I get it. All the music services have changed the delivery model and they know some of us are slow (or old) so they’re prodding us along. But here’s the bottom line, the best of my music is gone.  I have the music that iTunes left me, the music I bought from them but resent because what’s left is their choice. And I will not pay for Apple Music because I resent that it feels like they’re trying to force me to opt in. I’m not going to re-buy music I legitimately owned but don’t have because I didn’t buy it from them. That only leaves me with free but commercial laden streaming services and radio.

I try to stay current and update devices to keep them and myself up to date. But c’mon, I’m not young and I’m not savvy so I can’t play these digital games. It’s okay because I’m grateful to still be in a position to take advantage of the benefits of modern times. I need to finish my life’s soundtrack though, so I wish I had my music.

Please Don’t Call Me Grandma

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My daughter called me a few days ago laughing. A family friend welcomed her first grandchild last month. My daughter was laughing because the friend told her she wants to be known as Neena to the baby. My daughter said, “All you baby boomers have different grandmother monikers and none of them is Grandma.”

Damn right. I have three grandchildren and I  dare any of them to call me Grandma. My chosen grandmother name is Memu. I love it when the middle one sees me at her preschool and says in her little New York accent, “I’m going with my grrrranmaa…” but I don’t want her to introduce me that way. I cringe when her teachers call out, “Nyla, Grandma’s here.” Is it crazy that I correct them sometimes? Her teachers are young so I’m sure they think, “Whatev.”

Is my daughter is right?  Do you think it’s because we’re boomers? If it is, maybe it’s the second stage boomers, those of us who came of age during the nineteen sixties. Our frame of reference developed during an era of major changes like the Voter Rights Act and the Equal Rights Act. We were empowered by its ethos. We define ourselves by that time and we think we’re cool. You’re more likely to see most of us in jeans and T-shirts than in black pants and Alfred Dunner blouses. You probably won’t find us with glasses hanging from chains around our necks. We turn our Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison up loud in our cars and we rock it like we know how. I don’t dye my grey hair but I do wear it in long braids, thank you very much. Many of us use social media. Interestingly, I know a few women born at the end of WWII who, although they like Facebook, won’t do Twitter or Instagram. I both tweet and ‘gram, much to the chagrin of my grandkids’ parents. I was told explicitly by one of them NOT to get on Snapchat. (Truth be told, I tried to post my first Instagram story recently, but I sent it to a young acquaintance by mistake. I could almost hear her saying to herself, “Why is this old lady texting me a video of her car window?”)

That brings up another point. I’ve had conversations with other grandmothers my age about how our adult children don’t like our attitudes. They would prefer it if we “acted our age” which I guess means old. I was told I’d be selfish if I let my social life impede being a good grandmother. I don’t understand what that even means. It’s not that I don’t like being with my grandkids. I look at their faces and my heart sings. They are my best friends. Their presence enhances my life for real. In them I have love to the second power…I just don’t want them calling me Grandma.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny my age. In fact, I embrace it. I’m fortunate to still be here. Several of the folks dear to me are gone now. And often I feel my age. I feel it when my knee doesn’t want to get out of the car with me after a long ride, when I fill my weekly pill case, when I catch myself eating dinner at 4pm and I feel it when the grandkids ask me to push them on the swings for what seems like days. But maybe my daughter is right. Maybe it is my attitude.  No matter how achy or tired I feel I’m always in the mood to put on my suede booties and go out to see what else there is for me to discover and enjoy.

So like all the other Memus and Mimis, the Neenas and Nonas and Nikas, I’ll be there on the school playground to pick up the kids and push them on the swings like the good grandmother I am. But please don’t call me Grandma and watch out for me when I leave. I’ll be the one tearing out of the parking lot with my music turned up, bouncing to the boomer beat.

Of Love, Loss and Storage

Like most folks, I have my guilty pleasures when it comes to TV. You know, those shows you don’t readily admit to watching and that you try to justify by likening them to car crashes from which you simply can’t look away. I’m sure you have yours and I’m sorry if I’m holding  up an uncomfortable light in the darkened room where you indulge in your decadent viewing. In fairness, I’ll tell you that mine are (cough, cough) “Bring It” or as I like to call it, “Why Are We Teaching Our Girls To Be Strippers” and Married At First Sight (how old am I again?) Much as I’d like to say otherwise, you can find me sprawled out on my bed, chip bag in hand (if I’m going to be bad, I believe in going all the way) eyes glued to the TV when those two shows are on. I also read the live tweets while they’re on although I don’t tweet myself out of the fear one of my 10 followers will find out that I’m a trash TV watcher.

 

Funny I should call it trash TV because the kind of “reality” shows I can’t watch are the ones about the buying and selling of storage units. I think the philosophy behind these programs is supposed to be “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” but that’s not how it feels to me. When I see the ads the tag line I come up with is “pricing peoples’ memories” and it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because I took a trip to Boston last January (just ahead of the hundreds of blizzards) specifically to empty out my storage unit and it made me sad. I’d been paying to store my stuff from other life for over five years. I no longer live in Boston, my kids are grown and it was time to move on. Plus I was anxious that I be the one to determine what happens to my things, not the storage company or mother nature. The junk people stood by as I opened each box and decided which of my memories to keep and which to throw into the dumpster. I had to touch each one of my children’s old toys and my late husband’s golf trophies then let them go. I kept the tears at bay for the sake of the junk folks and for my granddaughter who happily ran up and down the long corridor of doors, making a new memory of her own.

The snake lamp I couldn't throw away.
The snake lamp I couldn’t throw away.

 

That’s why those shows seem cruel to me. I can’t believe none of those buyers feel empathy for the people whose belongings are in those units. If they do, they don’t display it for the cameras. They paw through the discarded, abandoned, forgotten items making callous remarks like “Chump change,” and “This is nothing but a dump.” Surely they have keepsakes of important times of their own. Surely they have experienced the loss of a possession that was special to them. Perhaps they lost a loved one and hang on to a material object as a way of hanging on to the person. I think if I were in their position, the first time I saw something that even remotely reminded me of a time in my life, evoked a memory from my own experience, I’d have to pull down the heavy steel door and walk away. I feel the least they could do is talk about it on camera. They could allow the viewer the real emotion in wondering out loud about the circumstances around each unit owner losing their belongings.

 

But they don’t. At least, not that I’ve seen in the half minutes I’ve been able to stomach watching a couple of episodes. Instead they greedily assess the contents, then scurry to the nearest dealer or retailer with anything deemed valuable to sell the goods for the best price. Big red plus or minus numbers appear in the corner of the screen to let the viewer know whether the buyer was a “winner” or “loser” on any given unit. But isn’t the underlying understanding that the unit owner is the ultimate loser? Then again, maybe not. After all, those buyers also get the karma attached to disposing of other’s possesions without knowing the provenance and good luck with that. Anyway, I threw my junk in a dumpster. Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to throw in my TV.

Out of The Mouths of Babes

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Two-Nine-Year Olds’ Magnificent Open Letter to Disney About Racial and Gender Stereotypes.

I wrote my previous post as a humor piece with the sharp end of a stick aimed at Disney. These two third graders however,  explained the unsettling aspects of Disneyland/World better than I did. Please click on the link above and read their  letter to the chairman of Walt Disney Parks. It’s lucid and heartfelt, pointed yet respectful. Maybe if my generation had been as wise at nine as they are, I wouldn’t have a problem with the idea of taking my grandkids to Disneyland today.

(Big snaps to Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org)

 

Why You Won’t Be Seeing Us Real Soon

 It’s been a little while since I posted.  I have a few pieces in the pipeline so I  hope to post more during the summer. But there’s been a lot going on around here, the best of which was finishing the first draft of my first novella, “Ties That Bind”. I ‘ll talk about that experience on my other blog,  BusyWritingLife.

The other stuff is mainly around family, some good, some bad which are the subjects I’ll be sharing this summer. And speaking of which;

 

Yeah, Disney, about that…..

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We’ve been thinking about doing a family vacation this summer. There are young’ens in our clan so, naturally, when I threw out the vacation idea, Disneyland was mentioned by their parents as a possibility. I grew up in the counter-culture days and tend to think of myself as a social reform type so at the Disney suggestion the only response that came to my mind was, as one of the other family members says, “hashtag, I can’t”. But I was pointedly reminded by one daughter that as I was bringing her up, I pushed Disney like a Oxycontin dealer.

I admit it’s true. I enjoyed a lot of Disney movies, both as a child and as an adult. When I became a mother, the memories of feelings I had as a child for Snow White and Cinderella overcame my supposed highly developed social sense. My emotional need was to share those memories with my kids. I wanted them to give them what I thought I’d gotten out of the films. It was a knee-jerk response to parenthood. And, truth be told, I continued to get with the Disney program. As a matter of fact, The Little Mermaid was a special bonding experience for me and that same daughter. Her favorite song was Part of That World and mine was Under the Sea. Some things never change…

…And some things do. So, I changed my mind. Sue me. (Oh that’s right, daughter can because she’s an attorney now. Take that Arial!)  It was right around the Aladdin years that I noticed a change in my attitude toward Disney films. I was starting to become bothered by the things like historical contexts and language. Why is a princess using an expression like, “at your service?” And why a princess? Why always a princess?! By the time Pocahontas was released I was suspicious of all the basic Disney themes. (Actually during one point in that movie, in a theater, my sister and I both stood and shouted, ‘Oh c’mon!”)  I started questioning what it was I actually did get from those old “classics” in terms of gender roles, class distinctions and cultural perspective. I realized that as an evolved, modern, African-American woman, I needed a new cartoon vision that matched my mood. (Haha.) That’s when I started boring my kids with “responsible” TV shows like Captain Planet. We stopped going to Disney movies and instead I brought home videos like Ferngully, The Last Rainforest”. The only Disney distributed movie I let into the house was The Brave Little Toaster. It scared the shit out of them and began the “reading era” of their childhood. As a result, when they criticize me about that time, as they still do, it’s in very literate terms.

Did I do the right thing by casting a jaundice eye on Disney and sharing my misgivings with my kids or was I the throw back hippie hypocrite they feel I was? I’m not sure but I’m still going to take a pass on dunking the grandkids in the Disney kool-aid as our summertime fun. Maybe I’ll suggest a hiking trip in the mountains instead. Now, please excuse me. We have a birthday party this afternoon and I have to go wrap an Elsa’s Frozen Palace play set.

I Love Being Skinny, Period!

The title of this post is the verbatim text I received from a loved one when I suggested to her that overall health is more important than being thin. What was I thinking? This person is young, female and lives in Manhattan. Every woman she comes into contact with is either skinny and/or obsessed with her weight.

Did I really think she'd listen to a middle aged woman from the land of grits n' gravy?
Did I really think she’d listen to a middle-aged woman from the land of grits n’ gravy?

Besides, we all know our culture in general likes it thin. No matter where we look, big or small, still or streaming, paper or digital, the images underscore that truth. The message is always the same; desirable women are thin. The only overweight woman we see are talking about their weight in shame or are being shamed for their weight, like the TV commercial for a diabetes med that is rife with larger women. Apparently, those fatties bought their disease for the price of a candy bar.  Every once in a while there will be a portrayal in the media of a heavier woman who valiantly overcomes her weight to live a happy life. But the point is always that being over 120 pounds is unhappy and more than likely unhealthy. Have you noticed that on the rare occasion that a heavier female is highlighted on a TV show as happy with herself, at some point down the line she loses weight?.(Hello Jennifer Hudson, Oprah Winfrey, Rosanne, I’m looking at you.)

Did you see the TLC show, Fat and Back, in January? It was about the painfully skinny British correspondent Katie Hopkins who gained and then lost over forty pounds to prove that “fat” people lack discipline. Granted she admitted to gaining a deeper insight into weight issues after the experience yet at the end of the day, she came away still feeling superior for being underweight. The program was fascinating in an uncomfortable way to me. (Click on the above for more info on Katie and the show. Let me know what you think.)

I worry about how young woman in this country fare in all this. They have to negotiate the landmine ridden landscape of body image. C’mon, those of us females brought up in this culture live the body dysmorphic disorder story: we are bombarded with the message that thin is best from childhood and when we get to the angst filled adolescence ages, our self-esteem is inextricably tied to how we think we stack up to the physical ideal. Coming to sexual maturity when you already have a distorted body image is a recipe for long-term agony. And it’s not just a psychological problem. How can we tell a teenage girl it’s her imagination that boys aren’t asking her out and other girls are being mean to her because she’s packing extra pounds, when we know it’s not her imagination? By the time young women reach their twenties there are two groups; one group obsesses over being overweight and feels miserable and the other, of which my loved one is a member, obsesses over staying skinny and feels relived yet constantly fearful. Both groups spend an inordinate amount of valuable time thinking about how much they weigh and that’s sad. Vinita Nair of CBS This Morning did an excellent piece last month on the ideal body image as it is manifested in models and how that affects what young women see in themselves. Nair states that there is a “push to regulate appearance and size in magazines” but juxtaposes that with stats on eating disorders. She also asks the question, “what size is realistic?”  Good question. Realistic for who, where and at what stage in their lives?

I’m not thin and I’m not a kid anymore. I’m also not naïve. I know that its human nature to make assumptions based on how a person presents physically. So I know that we older women don’t get to leave the problem behind once we reach a certain age. For a long time I wondered why I wasn’t  getting any hits on the old folks dating sites. It finally dawned on me that even the few older men who want older women want beautiful and skinny older women.  Also, I talked in my last post about losing my primary care doctor. She admonished me at every visit about my weight and sternly ticked off the health problems my extra poundage would cause. I always felt that I was being finger-wagged by a skinny woman. My new doctor didn’t mention my weight once at my first appointment. Instead of fat shaming me, she talked to me about the medical issues I already have, like high blood pressure, and how my weight factors into addressing them.She is not as thin as the other doctor but she isn’t overweight either. Interestingly, she is African-American and I wonder how much cultural factors play into ideal weight perception.

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In this society the prevalent standard of beauty is of a Caucasian. The blond, blue-eyed, thin women were the cream of the crop for a long time.

 

Blond and blue-eyed is not naturally achievable in some ethnic groups India_-_Faces_-_village_women_1_(3342548984)

 

and neither is being rail thin. IMG_3022

 

 

After all this thinking about it, I’ve decided to leave my skinny-and-loving-it girl alone because she’s just calling it the way most people in this country see it. And, full disclosure, I’m on a diet right now. I’m using one of the many fitness apps designed to remind me of what my ideal body should look like . I tell everyone I’m doing it for my health.

 

It Rises

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by the National Museum of African-American History and Culture that included the exhibit “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals At Talladega College. It was held at the National Museum of American History because the NMAAHC building isn’t finished yet. It’s slated for completion in 2016.

Smithsonian via Google Plus
Smithsonian via Google Plus

One of the many benefits to me of moving to the Washington DC area has been the excitement of watching the museum’s development. As I passed on my way to the event that Saturday, Maya Angelou’s powerful poem Still I Rise came into my head. The image of that beautiful building rising out of the ground at the corner of the National Mall  seems like the embodiment of the words to me.

When I was a little girl, the biggest public symbol of African-American life that I saw regularly was a giant fiberglass washer woman dressed like Aunt Jemima which stood on top of the roof of the local laundromat. She was mechanical. and moved up and down in a never-ending task of washing fiberglass clothes in a big tub. I asked my mother more than once why “they” put that big, ole lady up there like that. Even at that young age I knew it wasn’t a flattering image of black womanhood. My mother’s answer came with a sigh and was always the same, “I don’t know, honey. I don’t know.”

Exterior from Mall nma_a100621_f

So for me, watching the NMAAHC building go up has been cathartic. It has exorcised some of the many shame demons who taunted me in childhood. I’m thrilled to witness the progression of an emblem of the contribution of African-American culture to the country, as it expands upward toward the sky. As Ms. Angelou so pointedly yet eloquently put it:

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Hale Woodruff's murals exhibit
The Hale Woodruff’s murals exhibit

Old Myths and New Narratives

This morning my doctor’s secretary told me she doesn’t take my new insurance because it’s an”ObamaCare” plan. Really?
I had gone in for my regular BP check so I could get my prescription refilled. (My doctor requires that I do so every three months before she’ll call in the script.) The insurance I bought through the government exchange took effect on 1/1. I arrived at my doctor’s office a few minutes early so I could give them my new insurance information. It was then that the secretary looked at my card, turned to a co-worker & said, “Is it the QHP we don’t take?” The co-worker nodded & the young woman said she was sorry. I told her I’d checked the insurance carrier website and had seen my doctor listed as a provider. She said, “They must have some misinformation. We just had a big meeting about these plans. She doesn’t take any of the “ObamaCare plans….or Medicaid.” Incredulous, I walked out of the office of the doctor I’ve had since moving to Virginia over two years ago.

I don’t have insurance through an employer. I’m employed but like many folks these day, I have a job that doesn’t come with benefits. I was 50 years old when my husband died and just before he passed I asked him if he thought I’d need to go to work. (I’d been caring for him pretty much full-time for the previous two years.) He said I might need to in order to get insurance. He had no way of knowing then that the economy would crash soon after, that thousands would be laid off and that it would become nearly impossible for someone over 50 to get a job. I, like other people my age, finally got two part-time jobs, neither of which offer benefits but that together just barely cover the cost of my individual health insurance. I’m grateful to be working and consider myself lucky because my daughter, a lawyer with crushing student loan debt, has a full-time “consultant” position which doesn’t offer benefits either. And all of her co-workers are in the same boat. At least I’m not young, trying to raise a family while facing years of loan payments.

Walking back from my doctor’s office I was thinking about our national narrative, the myth, in its most basic form, that this is a country that is good to you and for you if you work hard. I work hard, my daughter works hard and so do all our friends. My husband worked hard and thought he had prepared enough to provide for me. But let’s be honest, the truth is the narrative has really always only applied to some people. For one thing, this economy favors business owners, small and large. The right of small business owners not to pay for employees insurance is championed more than the right of employees to have insurance. Additionally, there’s been a paradigm shift in this country that we have to acknowledge. There used to be a middle class that worked for the large businesses. The most recent recession pared off many of the workers in the middle class for a variety of economic reasons I won’t go into here but all of which involve corporate bottom lines. So big business is healthier, and the economy is improving but who paid for it?

Mario Cuomo’s funeral was today. I remember as an idealistic young woman being absolutely mesmerized by his 1984 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address. He spoke so eloquently about the U.S. as a country that is like a family that take’s care of its members. He said:

“…we can make it with the whole family intact, and we have more than once….wagon train after wagon train…the whole family aboard, constantly reaching out to extend and enlarge that family; lifting them up into the wagon on the way…”
Sure, he was a smart politician who understood that the American Dream, land of the free, ‘anyone can succeed on their own merit’ was a myth but he believed in a real middle class. In that speech he also said:
“…if we do not forget that this entire nation has profited by these progressive principles; that they helped lift up generations to the middle class and higher; that they gave us a chance to work, to go to college, to raise a family, to own a house, to be secure in our old age and, before that, to reach heights that our own parents would not have dared dream of.”
We have always been sold, by politicians and advertisers, a vision of an America that doesn’t exist. But today we are a nation of haves, have-nots and a lot of people struggling with student loan debt, poor employment choices insecure employment situations, ridiculously expensive health insurance premiums and leaders who tell us anything but show us no compassion. I wonder if that’s what my ex-doctor’s group talked about in the big meeting.