distal muse

observations, opinions, ephemera, and views


January 19, 2017

What A Year: A Personal Assessment

Here it is, middle of January, and I haven’t done a wrap-up of 2016.   Well, what can be said of such a year?

Politically, I think I have said enough.  You can revisit if you wish, especially via the links to my favorite posts back just a little way.  Personally and professionally…

I finished a new novel.  It is currently in the hands of my agent.  As time passes and I hear nothing the usual swarm of doubts begin to devil me.  It’s probably not as good as I hope, possibly not as bad as I fear, but if things run according to form it won’t much matter.  I continue to write in a manner that I’ve long characterized as half a bubble off.

Which has me contemplating where to go.  I’ve decided to devote 2017 mostly to short fiction.  I have one more novel to finish, the final in a trilogy I feel I’ve been living with forever, which my agent feels very positive about.  Since the first two books are done and have not yet found a home, I’m not in as huge hurry to complete the third one, although of late I’ve been having some stray thoughts on where to take it that are the beginnings of an itch to finish it.  Regardless, I am committed to short fiction for the time being.  I’ve already written two new stories and I am working to complete a novelette that’s been sitting stewing for a bit over a year now.

I declared a goal to myself.  Before I die I want to have published 100 short stories.  Which means I have about 40 to go.  It’s as arbitrary as any goal, I suppose.  I have roughly 20 stories in my files in various stages of completion, and maybe 10 more that are done but require revision.  A few have been the rounds and not found homes, so maybe I should take them apart and put them together again, only better.  I have one I know that I have written four versions of to completion and can’t decide which one works best (or at all).

All of which prompts contemplation of the worth of doing what I do.  Yeah, I tend to do that a lot.  But one reality (out of many) is the fact that I am now 62.  Figuring out what I want to do when I grow up has become somewhat problematic.

Along those lines, I had a small revelatory experience in 2016 that has been working on me since.  I have been privileged to work (day-job) with some extraordinary and talented people.  One of them is a new novelist, her first book came out last summer.  It’s a terrific novel, I recommend it (Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own), and she and I have had many conversations about writing and publishing.  One day when I was complaining about the dismal condition of my career, she brought me up short by telling me she thought I was very successful.  “You have twelve books out.”  It caused me to reassess my own metrics regarding “success.”  I’m still reassessing, but I have decided to stop sulking about it.  These things really are relative outside certain narrowly-defined parameters.

It helped.

When I attended WorldCon in Kansas City last August, I did so with a different attitude and enjoyed the whole thing much more.

My main concern now has to do with finishing the work I want to do.  I’ve got that one more novel I mentioned above, but I also have one great big epic I want to write—it’s all in the back of my head, waiting for me to get around to—and a few ideas for other books I’d like to do.  Setting the 100-story goal is part of that.  Finishing.  Leaving a legacy.

No, I’m not dying.  I in good health.  I had a whole round of tests last year.  I’m fine.  Still going to the gym, still doing my 100-push-ups-a-day, still being a taunt to the young guys at the gym.  (You’re how old? No!)  But I’d be a fool to look at life the way I did 30 years ago.  I don’t have time to waste.

Of course, I will waste time.  It’s built in.  Humans do that. We should learn to enjoy it.

Along those lines, though, things have gotten to be  a bit better in that we can waste time on things we like more than in previous years.  The situation that has bogged us down for the last four (which I won’t discuss here, but my close friends know about it) has reached the point of being naught but an occasional annoyance.  We’ve been cleaning house, relaxing, getting to the point where we are allowing ourselves to do things like go to the movies if we choose or just sit together reading.  The pressure has eased.  Life seems a bit broader.

As long as we don’t obsess over the news.

No politics here, I said.  Although just a comment, that the way things have come to pass, we seem to have witnessed a nationwide example of the efficacy of Dunning-Kruger.  (I’ll just leave that here, unexplained for the time being.)

Culturally, I feel beaten about the head and stomach with all the deaths.  The two that hit me hardest were Keith Emerson and Greg Lake.  They, among others, provided the soundtrack of my youth.  Their music still thrills me.  Much imitated, but nothing to compare.  I wasn’t happy when Umberto Eco died.  David Bowie didn’t go down too well for me, either.

2017 doesn’t seem to be starting off too well itself, but…

All in all, though, 2016 has turned out to be a year in which I began to be comfortable with what I’ve done, who I am, and where I might be going.  It helps to have a good partner, and I have that.  Donna and I celebrated 36 years together last spring.  Between us we have tackled the many-hued exigencies of timeless conundrums and come out the other side of various rabbit holes with our fluffy whites intact (if a bit rumpled and smudged).  I appreciate her, in the full meaning of the word.

I have no idea where this year is going.  I feel we have gotten onto a space mountain ride. We may come out on the other side of the galaxy.

One thing, though:  there will be more stories.  It only ends when the stories stop.

Onward.

So What Do We Do Now?

It has been clear for all of the campaign season and is now becoming clearer that Donald Trump should not be president.  He is temperamentally unsuited to the position, he does not have the working knowledge of how things work in a government, and he is wildly unpredictable.  He is also as thin-skinned as they come.

But so what?  He has been elected.  For better or worse, unless something remarkable happens, he will be president for the next four years.

By remarkable I mean any of several possible legal scenarios.

There is a petition circulating to request the Electors of the Electoral College change their vote. This is possible and, as previously noted, not only perfectly legal but one of the reasons the College was established to begin with.  It is also possible Trump will decide this is a bad move for him and resign.  It is questionable whether this would leave Pence in place. After the inauguration, it is possible congress could impeach him.  There is ample in his background that would seem sufficient.

Addressing just one of these, I could suggest that the Electors do something even more remarkable, and that is to nullify their vote entirely.  Give it to no one.  This would likely force a new election.  We would have to do the whole thing over.

I do not believe we have ever had a nominee winning the Electoral vote with such a gap in the popular vote before,  As the ballots continue to be counted, it is clear that among those who actually went to the polls, Hillary Clinton is the winner.  It would be ethical and legal for the College, on December 19th, to change their votes to reflect this reality.  Will that happen?  I rather doubt it.  I do not believe there is sufficient moral fiber extant to take that kind of a position and it may well be that most of them, aligned with Party the way they seem to be, want this.

Which means the elephant is loose in the china shop.  This is going to hurt and hurt a lot.

So what are our options?

It has been suggested we abolish the Electoral College.  It is, however, in the Constitution, so getting rid of it requires a constitutional convention, which means opening the whole thing up to revision.  I personally don’t trust that we have on hand the wisdom to do that.  We see all the time other countries that continually rewrite their constitutions and it rarely ever comes out well.  We might pass a new amendment to nullify it, the way we did with Prohibition, and that would avoid putting the whole thing on the surgeon’s table, but that would also require an enormous consensus across the country, something we’ve been lacking of late.  I don’t think that would work, either.

So here’s a thought.  There is no reason to have the Electoral vote announced at the same time as we’re doing the popular vote tally.  As we are now painfully aware, on that day, the votes just aren’t all in.  Expecting this big complicated mechanism to do all this fairly and honestly in one day may be too much.  Had we not locked in those ballots on the day and waited for the balance of the vote count, we would not have a fait accompli the undoing of which could cause a violent ruction.  Since it is the case that they meet for the final vote on December 19th, we should simply wait till then for any kind of announcement.

There was a time I hated the idea of term limits, but I’m coming around to the notion.  The real damage of this election is in the fact that through negligence and apathy we returned a vast number of incumbents who are set on undoing so much that mitigates the reality that we have been on a course of public pillage which has cost us jobs, savings, security for millions of people who simply do not have the resources to hire the kind of legal help to protect themselves.  Supposedly, that has been the task of our government.  But how can the government do that without some sense of what its constituents want?  We do not vote in sufficient numbers, regularly enough, to place representation in Washington that reflects the reality of our lives.  For whatever reason, Americans have traditionally disliked politics and whenever an excuse presents refuse to participate, even at the most basic level of exercising the franchise.

With that in mind, two things we could change that might make it easier.  First, make election day a national holiday.  That would be simple enough.  Secondly, do what Bernie Sanders suggests, make registration automatic, a birthright.  When you turn 18, you’re registered to vote.

Of course I can see obstacles.  Certain parties have always tried to tie the right to vote to property.  The resistance to things like Motor  Voter registration demonstrates that.  But dammit, that would settle it.  At the time of your majority, you would also receive a federal ID, good for all manner of thing.  If you can’t get to the place to do so, then we should have mobile registration units that will come to you to secure that ID.  I think voter ID laws as they stand are there simply to bar people from voting.  We saw this in Wisconsin in a pronounced way.  So simply make it law that at 18 you are automatically registered to vote and at the same time you receive your federal ID.  In fact, it could be done as part of the whole senior high school process, folded in with yearbook photographs.  Done.  Turning someone with such an ID away from a polling place would then be a violation of federal law.

Another issue is this whole nonsense about third parties.  Here’s a reality.  Third parties have never gained traction in this country.  There are many reasons for this.  Firstly, because it was never intended that there be parties as such, but secondly because we do not create coalition governments as are done in many places where having three, four, even five parties is normal and the winning party must create a government from proportional parts of all parties.  Here, with the winner-takes-call method we have, third parties do little more than muddy already murky waters.

But a more trenchant reason is that the two parties we do have take in and absorb viable third party concepts and people.  One or the other morphs into what becomes effectively a new party.  Which is one reason talking about what either party was like half a century ago is absurd.  There may be some continuity but rarely consistency.

Given that, what I would suggest right now is for Bernie Sanders, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Barack Obama to form a coalition to essentially invade one or the other party and begin to transform it in accordance with whatever program they devise between themselves.  We cannot ignore Stein or Johnson or at least not what they represent, they made substantial showings in this election.  But they will never, at this rate, achieve the kind of authority to challenge either major party, certainly not soon enough to do much good.  But by forming a nexus of change within one or the other, they could remake one of the two major parties.  Rather than let it happen as it does by accident, it should be done consciously and directly.  These four represent the chief aspects of what might make a responsive party.  Together, they could be amazing.

Finally, given that we are likely stuck with the situation at hand for the next four years, two more ground level suggestions.  The first, the people in congress are supposed to represent all of us.  Whether you voted for them or not, by law they are still our representatives—our employees, basically.  Treat them that way.  Don’t leave the conversation because they’re not your guy.  Flood their offices with your input.  Tell them what you want.  All the time.  Burn their ears.  They must represent you, that’s how it is supposed to work.  Act toward them as if you had put them there.  You can still work to unseat them and put someone more to your liking in their place, but while they are there make them do their job.

Secondly, since it would seem civics is rarely taught in school anymore, maybe we should start local classes in it to acquaint people with how all this is supposed to work.  Bring the kids.  It has become obvious that too many Americans don’t understand the first thing about the way the government works—or could work if people did their part, which they can’t do if they don’t know how.

We are possibly about to lose a great deal.  We have a government in place that won by a minority of voters.  That is not majority rule it is minority veto.  It may be that such things must happen before we act.  Secession, a Great Depression, the Cold War.  If true, it does not reflect well of us.  The tools are there but we have to turn the dials.

Lastly, there are many people in this last election who were turned away from the polls.  Voter suppression is very real.  But many more just opted out.  They were discouraged, perhaps, by their choices, but that’s simply not good enough.  You play the hand you’re dealt or you end up barred from the game.  Stop waiting to be inspired.  Inspiration is not reason, it is not logic, it is not a substitute for dealing with reality.  It’s not sexy, but when you vote, the fact is you’re hiring an employee to do a job.  The only factors that matter are “Is he/she qualified” and “Do they support the things I support?”  Everything else is a bonus and that merits reelection.  If they fail in their job, your fire them at the next election.  But being swept off your feet by bold rhetoric and substanceless campaign slogans and baseless judgments of “personality” is a sure way to be disappointed—even badly betrayed.  But significantly, keep that in mind—at the end of the day, the president is an employee.  He—or she—works for you.  Handing over your conscience because they dazzle you with promises of brilliance not based on ability or sympathy is irresponsible.

 

 

October 14, 2016

62

62-2016No comment.

May 30, 2016

Nature’s Flags

For the day at hand, no polemic, no politics, no studied responses. Just…these…

Japanese Maple Leaves, May 2016Larkspur, May 2016Larkspur 2, enhanced May 2016

May 05, 2016

Make America…Again

Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican candidate.  One may wonder how things have gotten to this, but it’s not that hard to understand, just hard to accept.

There is a good side to this.  Ted Cruz will not be the next president.  We may see him try again, but not this time.  All the rest of the slate that began last year has fallen by the wayside and rarely have we seen a scarier bunch of potentials.  It’s not even so much their policies as that they seemed so incredibly unintelligent and uninformed.

But this is America and if it’s one thing we have plenty of it is unintelligent and uniformed people.  Someone has to represent them, I suppose.

Not that Trump is any better.  In fact, he’s become representative of the fact that for some people the less substantive content you put out there, the more you’re liked.

His tag line has been Make America Great Again.

I hate that line.  We’ve seen it before, it’s not like Trump is doing anything original here, but it doesn’t matter who uses it, I find it offensive.

Not, for anyone who might challenge me, because I wish my country not be great, but because that line is a fraud.

First, it assumes we’re not.  Great, that is.  In order to make that claim you have to define what you mean by Great. Right there we run into a problem.  Great by what metric?  According to who?  In what way?  Define your terms.  What do you mean when you suggest that we are not great?

And you then run into the million-issue problem.  What I might mean by the term is not what you mean.  And what you mean might be cause for me to reject that definition.

But set that aside for the moment.  Assume your terms.  Next, you have to explain why we are no longer that.  Why aren’t we great, even according to your values?

Then look around and see how true it is, what you believe.  Don’t rely on that guy behind the podium to tell you what’s wrong, go see for yourself.  If you know how to google at all, do some research.  Or go to some community center meetings.  Or, for the love of the future, read something other than the usual feel-good screed.  Stop watching Fox news.

And get some perspective.  History, oft-neglected and painfully necessary, goes a long way to bleeding off the panic of current-affair myopia.

But I suspect the people really supporting Trump will not do that.  If it was in them to do so, they would not be supporting him.  They would recognize the jingoism, the empty emotionalism, the patriotic deceptiveness.  But it also means they have no idea what he’s actually saying that is getting them so pumped.

Replace one word in his tagline and it makes perfect sense.  He’s not challenging his base to Make America Great Again, he’s challenging them to Make America White Again.

Several years ago I wrote an essay about the blowback on the part of the extreme Right against social change.  I asked what it is these people are so frightened of and I suggested that what really bothers them is that they don’t like the way their country looks anymore.  It’s pretty much that simple.  They don’t like gay people living right out in the open, they don’t like women holding certain jobs and having their own lives, they don’t like the fashions, the food, and they certainly don’t like the banners raised protesting what they never thought were such bad things—like big banks, segregation, and constant war.

They certainly don’t like the complexion of the country these last few decades.  It’s why they often can’t tell the difference between a citizen and a terrorist when their skin color or choice of attire is at odds with what they think America ought to look like.

I’m simplifying, of course, but only in the details.  As individuals, everyone has their own trigger for intolerance.  But when you look at Trump’s rhetoric and the things he gets cheered about and the reactions of his fans, it’s fairly clear that, however one might dress that pig up in pseudo-intellectual drag, it comes down to white people scared of colored people, be they Mexicans, Syrians, Asians, Africans, or Native Americans.

So Making America Great Again seems to be code for making things so we don’t have to pay any attention to Other People—their rights, their cultures, their privileges, their needs, or how they might have reasonable grievances against Business-As-Usual Americanism.  It’s code for trying to make the country resemble what we think it was like just after World War II, with Frederick March coming home to the wife and the picket fence.

You may think I’m being facetious, but I’m not.  As Tom Brokaw showed us, there is a Greatest Generation aspect to that entire period.  It was one time in our whole history when we seemed to be all on the same page and everyone pulled together and things were simple and when the War was over we were “blessed” with an explosive economy and just gushing oodles of righteous purpose.  WWII and the Fifties are this monumental epoch that we worship, idolize, and compare ourselves to constantly.  If only we could return to those days, when everything was so simple and we knew who we were.

That is the image, I believe, intended by all the politicians who use that line and accepted by all the people who swallow it and follow along.

There was something special about that era.

But we can’t have it anymore.  We aren’t those people, the world is not that place anymore, and things aren’t like they used to be.

In short, we have to find a new standard for Great.  That one was used and belongs to another time.  And forcing the country into some kind of mold so it kinda sorta resembles that just because the future frightens you is, well, infantile.

Besides, it wasn’t all that great then, either.  It was just that certain issues were so big as to dwarf the other things that needed fixing.  We were segregated, civil rights were not equally distributed or accepted, many women lacked the opportunity to be their own selves, and poverty still clung to vast areas,mainly in the South.  We had problems, some of them the same ones we have now.

Things aren’t like they were in the “good ol’ days”—and they never were.

But myth has momentum (and creates inertia) and we take from the past what we need to dream a new future.  That future, no matter what, will be different and many people will be afraid of it, no matter how shiny it looks.

You can’t maintain a civilization based on fear of change.  Change happens whether we want it to or not.  We have one choice—be part of it or try to stop it.  If we’re part of it, we can help shape it.  If we try to stop it, we will be run over and forgotten.

As far as I’m concerned, what’s great about this country is that we can, if we want, make a wonderful and wonder-filled future.  We’re not bereft of talent and imagination or resources.  We have everything we need to build a really cool tomorrow.  What makes America Great is what has always made it great—the potential of its people.  I get up in the morning and I can live and work with great people.  I can find and enjoy great art, music, I can eat well, I can think crazy thoughts and sometimes do something amazing because that’s the heritage I choose to recognize.  In that sense, we don’t need to be made Great Again—we are, have been, and will be.

But some people seem to believe that greatness is measured by military strength, social conformism, high-minded bigotry, and constant paeons to nationalistic bombast.  They believe it’s us bullying the rest of the world and telling poor people to just get a job.  It’s size and influence and the ability to order other countries around.  It’s a willingness to reach for a gun at the first hiccup in diplomacy.  And it’s inculcated in nurturing a wealthy class that has no regard for anyone else anywhere else as long as the GDP keeps going up, in spite of the consequences to the environment and working people.

That’s not greatness.  That’s just size.  And arrogance.

So I’m not inclined to accept Mr. Trump’s challenge, because on the one hand it’s without meaning to me.  On the other, I’m not sure we could survive being that great.

 

April 27, 2016

April Morning

I went outside this morning and found one of those scintillant ‘scapes after a rain that seem to just glow.  So, since it’s time for new images anyway…

Whiote Iris and Raindrops, April 2016Violet Iris, april 2016White Iris, morning, april 2016

Of Course This Is My Opinion

At the gym this morning, listening to the news while doing treadmill, I learned that, quote, it is official, the Rams have filed to move back to L.A., unquote.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised that I am fine with this.  Go, leave.  Aside from one season and a surprise upset, allowing St. Louis to claim a superbowl win for its archives, the Rams have been…problematic.  We built them a dome.  We have suffered through the hissy-fits of their owner(s).  We have been held hostage by Rams management over the issue of building yet another dome in order to keep a team that rarely (ever?) fills the seats at the stadium they already have.  They have been a drain on the emotional (and fiscal) resources of this city and to no purpose.

Do any fans really care about seeing them in a new arena?  Other than the ones with stock options involved?

Be that as it may, I understand.  This isn’t about money.  It’s about a devotion with which I have some understanding but no connection.  And it would not bother me in the least if the only money involved were private money.

But somehow these uber-rich owners keep demanding municipalities pony up a bribe to keep these teams local, as if they have a right to expect us to pay for their profits before, during, and after, so that a minority of people can go to a handful of games that could be watched on television—in which case it really wouldn’t matter where it was played, you could green-screen any venue you wanted—and task the resources which could well be spent on something vital, like schools or poverty programs or that aquarium proposed several years ago which keeps being ignored but would actually serve a purpose, namely education.

If the powers that be in St. Louis can come together to bypass the right of the citizens to vote on an issue and allocate many millions for a purpose which, as far as I can see, is nothing but the real world equivalent of an XBox thrill, then why can’t they do the same for something that actually benefits people?

The Rams matter to me not a bit.  Stay, go, I don’t care.  But the politics around this do matter because they are indicative of skewed priorities and a mindset that finds it easier to throw bread and circuses at people rather than do anything constructive that might improve lives.  The Board of Alderman and the local courts have demonstrated an ability to act on something relatively unimportant only because money is involved.  They can damn well do their jobs and act on things that pertain to the commonwealth and stop assuming our tax dollars are well-spent on distractions and short term diversions.

Let the Rams go.  Now, can we have a serious discussion about that aquarium?

December 28, 2015

Best Posts of The Year

We Prospered

Getting Out of Your Own Head

Old New Work

It’s Been HOW Long?

Update and So Forth

Passing of Giants

A Few Words About Unpleasant Realities

“That Guy”

I Don’t Read That Stuff

Dear Anonymous

Peak Experiences

December 27, 2015

Post Xmas

A lazy, restful day. A walk with the dog, a nap, then later in the evening time with good friends.  Next few days I’ll be doing my year-end summaries.  Meantime…

Christmas Still Yard Weathering and Latch, 2015 Xmas, Donna & Coffey, 2015

Work History, Wages, and Doing The Things

The other day I was taking with friends about that pesky subject, wages. Minimum wage is in the news, a big argument, and the politics are necessarily touchy.  Comparisons were made and my own situation caused a bit of raised eyebrows and “What’s up with that” detours through personal histories.

According to some, among people who have known me a long time, I have always been seriously underpaid throughout my working life.

Before we get into that, though, I would like to reference this article, written by my boss, Jarek Steele, about the current anxiety-laden question of raising the minimum wage.  Go read this, then come back here.

First off, I would like to say that I work at a wonderful place.  Left Bank Books is now family.  As you can tell from the essay, they are thoughtful, concerned people with no small amount of brainpower and good bead on life as it is and a solid moral sense.  I’m lucky to work there.  I’ll come back to that later.

Now. Most of my adult life I have been relatively unconcerned about my wages.  I don’t know where I got this from, but I’ve always felt they were secondary to several more important factors.  Some of this is naïveté, but some of it is a result of early on making a choice between security and fulfillment. For many people, money serves as fulfillment, and for some it genuinely is.  They work to have.  I offer no judgment here, everyone is different, and it’s all a question of degree anyway, because we fall along a spectrum.

For myself, I’ve always worked to Be.

Perhaps a small difference to some, but a huge difference over time. I came out of the box, as it were, with intentions to be a certain kind of person, to do certain things, to make a crater in the world that looks a certain way, and if the pursuit of money got in the way of that, then I ignored the money.  Not consciously, because I always just assumed that somewhere along the way I would have it, mainly as a consequence of having done all the stuff that fulfilled my requirements of Being.

Now, if this all sounds a bit zen and possibly foolish, so be it. I’d be willing to bet many if not most of us have career-type dreams at some point that focus mainly of what we’re doing and not how much money we’re going to make doing it.  But this is America and identity is conflated with owning things, so it becomes very difficult to tease apart the doing from the reward.

Which brings me to my rather jagged career path, which saw me graduate high school intent on a career in photography, which I pursued as an art first and foremost and, in the end, only.  I never figured out how to make it pay.

So I worked for a major photofinishing chain, then a period as an in-house commercial photographer for a marginal advertising company, then as a delivery driver for a custom lab, and finally as the darkroom jockey of one of the best camera stores/black & white labs in town.  That last for 20 years.

I never became the photographer I thought I’d be, at least not commercially.  I did all the things.  Portraits, landscape, art and abstract, architectural.  Occasionally I did them for clients, but mainly I did them because they were cool to do and they produced images I wanted to see.  I was Doing Photography and that was the important thing. I was fulfilled.

All the while I drew my wage from my job, which supported the art and all the other stuff.

Then I picked up the writing again.  Time passed, I learned my craft, started selling stories, and then that 20 year stint of a job ended with the close of the business. Two years later I applied to and got another lab job, at which I worked for 11 years, most of them rather unhappily.

(And here the concerns over money enter in the most annoying way, because money would have been the means by which I would have been able to just write instead of having to work at something I no longer loved in order to eat.)

The story sales never added up to enough for me to quit that job.

But I was getting published.  I was fulfilled, at least in the desire to Do The Thing.

Age does force one to confront certain realities.  Looking back, I realized that I had never pushed for more money.  I never once, in all the years of “working for a living,” asked for a raise.  Somewhere in the back of my head there floated the assumption that good work brought remuneration, so if the people I worked for chose not to give a raise, then it was due to my lack of good work.  I could maintain this attitude largely because, with one exception (that first job right out of high school) I have never worked for a large corporation.  Never.  I have spent my employed life working for small local businesses, the health of which I could see, right in front of me.  They all struggled.  I was part of that struggle, so adding a burden to them was not in my nature.  I never asked for a raise.

Instead, I lived a life that fit with my earnings.  One could do that at one time.  And I did get raises, so it’s not like I’m talking about trying to scrape by on minimum wage.  (Which was, btw, right around two dollars an hour when I graduated high school, and I worked for Fox Photo over a year before they granted me a ten cent an hour raise.)  But I never asked.  I was always grateful when they came, but I never asked.  The people for whom I worked were usually close enough to the ground to show appreciation when they could.  For a while I made a decent living.

Donna and I, however, had no children.  That one fact explains a great deal about how we could opt to work for who we chose (often) and live as we pleased without overly worrying about income.  We were careful.  When we bought a house, we paid it off early.  We carry no balances on our credit cards.  We owe no bank anything.

And we realize how unusual this makes us.

But it also points up the major disconnect many people suffer in their lives in terms of employment and compensation.  I never asked for raises because, by and large, I never had to.  Had we lived a more traditional lifestyle, money would have been the single greatest driver of all our choices.

However, my comment above about being underpaid…

Several years ago an opportunity opened for me to possibly take a job as an editor at a local magazine.  I’m not familiar with the task, but I’ve always been a quick learner, so I had no doubts about my ability to come up to speed, and I could offer myself for a bit less than others might.  I went over the requirements of the position with a friend who had been in this end of the industry.  She remarked as one point that the salary would probably be X, which was low, but in a couple of years I could probably come up to standard.  I laughed and told her I’d never made that much in a year in my life.

She was flabberghasted.  How, she wondered, could someone with my abilities have been so undercompensated?

Because it had never occurred to me for a long, long time that I had been.  I’d been Doing The Things, and wasn’t that what mattered?

No.  At least it’s not the only thing.  Money is the means by which we live the kind of lives we wish to.  I want “success”—monetary success—as a writer so that I can do that and nothing else.  But I’m not good at that kind of success. I’ve never been adept at parlaying skills and artistic ability into money.  Whatever it is that allows some people to be skilled at getting compensated, I’ve never been good at it.

And the owners of corporate America know that most people are like that.  They depend on it.  The main reason unions were so important is for that reason and that most people need someone who is good at understanding that game to struggle on their behalf.  But the fact remains, most people take what they can get and then worry about the shortfall.

Because we have consistently misunderstood the relationship between, in the classic terms, labor and management.  As the economy has changed, that misunderstanding is becoming critical, because we are collectively faced with the consequences of our failure to address it.

Business knows average people aren’t either interested or especially adept at Doing Business.  That alone gives business—and I’m talking business at the disembodied corporate level here—an advantage because they take it.  They can shortchange employees because they know how and their employees don’t know they have either any power or can find the means to engage management to worker advantage.  Had we kept abreast of the changes to labor’s benefit these past 30 years when we shifted predominantly from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, then the present strained issue of raising minimum wages would not be so traumatic.  The problem of catching up is putting strain on small to mid-level businesses that they should not have had to bear.  Because we’ve been underwriting cheap product and services for decades by a disproportionate-to-reality compensation formula that treats people like parts.  Read Jarek Steele’s breakdown above.  Numbers, folks, and realities.

Drastic measures become necessary only because of indolence in the system.  As long as the numbers of people receiving poor compensation for work that has become increasingly primary were low, the problem could be ignored.  It’s not even so much that so many are trying to make full livings on minimum wage but that all wages are commensurately constrained by the growing imbalance in consumer ability to pay for what we need and want.

Then there are people like me, who frankly have never known how to care about the money.  Or at least never felt the freedom to demand it, because we keep getting sidetracked by Doing The Things.

Because Taking Care of Business consumes the one thing that art demands—time.  I loved doing photography.  I hated running a business.  I love writing.  Paying attention to marketing and sales is frankly loathesome.  I wish sometimes (lately more than ever) that it were otherwise, that I had that ability to engage promotions and negotiations, but I am who I am and do it only because if I don’t then some day I won’t be able to do the art anymore.

Which, by completely unconscious intent, has caused me to work locally, for people I see everyday and can talk to as friends more than as employers.  I think this is a good business model, but because it is not primary in this country, because people who think very much differently set the parameters of what constitutes “business practice” for so much of the country, this is not the business model that trumps treating people like parts.

We’ve been arguing about this since the founding of the Republic, since the idea of the yeoman farmer and the independent artisan was turned into a romantic myth by the privileging of corporate giants saw a massive culling early on, when it became harder and harder for the independent owner to function in the face of cheaper prices and savage competition that stripped people of their own labor by turning them into wage-slaves.  The argument went on and on, the battle raging for over a century and a half, until finally the Second World War, the Cold War, combined to usher in the era of corporate hegemony that, while not eradicating the small business managed to place the entire economy in thrall to the requirements of giants.*

Hyperbole?  Consider what happens when a large corporation closes a plant or leaves a market and dozens of smaller, local businesses—those that survived the initial arrival of that corporation, at least (mainly by learning to service it)—find their customers drying up because so many of them are unemployed.  Taxes dry up as well, so relief doesn’t stretch as far, and we no longer have an economy that will support a regrowth in a timely manner.  Towns have been abandoned due to this cycle.

Doom and gloom?  No, I think there’s enough latent ability and power in local, small business to still have a good chance at not only holding its own but of succeeding and altering the standard model.  Because there is still value in prizing Doing the Things over Making the Buck, and compensation can flow in those directions.  We’re looking at a crucial time where those kinds of choices are more important than they have been in a long time.

Which leaves me back at where I started, admitting to a kind of aphasia when it comes to this money thing and by and large, as inconvenient as it is, still not much interested in changing who I am in order to meet some mogul’s notion of success.  I work where I work and do what I do because I can decide that “career” is not a synonym for sheer acquisitiveness.

I am lucky, as I say, and do not in any way offer my life as an example of how to do this.  I might well have ended up in much worse places.  But it’s the people around me who have made the difference.  They all ought to be better off, but we’re all Doing The Things and making the world, at least around us, better off.  Meantime, I am grateful.  I can still Do The Things.

It would be good if more of us remembered or realized that that is why we work so hard.

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* Consider further the completely bass ackwards relationship between large corporations and local communities wherein the community is required by circumstance to bride the corporation to set up shop—a bribe done with tax money, which means the community starts off impoverishing itself for the “privilege” of hosting an entity that will then extract profits from that community to distribute among people who do not live there.  And when the latent wealth of that community has fallen sufficiently that the profits to the corporation are less than deemed desirable, they then close up shop and leave, the community having grown dependent to such a degree that, scaffolding removed, the local economy collapses, partially or completely.  What should be the case is the corporation ought to pay the community for the privilege and the relationship should be one where the community as host is a primary shareholder and gets compensated first.  Unworkable someone in the back says?  Not so.  Alaska did this will the oil companies decades ago and every Alaskan since gets a stipend from Big Oil.  Or did till recently.

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