Category Archives: Soapbox

Up is down and black is white

16387180_1421681164510932_5298060078422853795_nI cannot even begin to tell you how I feel these days. Off-kilter may be a good descriptor. Or how about on edge. Nervous. Keyed up. Obsessed (with the news, at least). Angry.  Defensive.  Inspired. Hopeful. Determined. Renewed. The last few words come courtesy of what I’ve seen happening around me, on the Mall, at airports, in public squares. same-shit-different-centuryPeople becoming more engaged in the process. Millennials taking to the streets and making their voices heard. Journalism has been reborn and invigorated (when’s the last time you heard about a Kardashian?)  recalling its roots and the First Amendment. I mean seriously, who’d have thought Americans would experience a  world we previously imagined only in dystopian  fiction? But it it’s real, and if you think it’s not happening, look bb3a45f3e53c9fe73cda179e97775d9b around and see the signs invading our daily lives. I can even give you an example of how it’s affecting my writing.  My work-in-progress features a man who’s in the U.S. armed forces. I like this character, he’s smart and funny and charming, and has all the qualities–and foibles–I’d expect from a fully functioning rational human being. But since he’s an officer in the service, I can’t help thinking how he’d view his commander-in-chief, how he’d react if he were sent to engage in a military action he’d find indefensible. Would he let his moral compass guide him? Or would he blindly obey orders because that’s what all military are supposed to do? I just don’t know. We are living in extraordinary times. I told a friend the other day this is what it must have felt like right before the Civil War. maxresdefaultOne thing I do know is I’ve never felt more patriotic, and that’s not just jingoism, kids. I’ve never believed in the wisdom of our founding fathers more. Because their true genius lay in the fact they knew their experiment in democracy was flawed, trusting in future generations to pursue a more perfect union. Which is why we need to keep working on it going forward, and never ever back, never again.

Resist.

The mindset of a writer, the morning after

trump-family-portraitSo the election’s over and Donald J. Trump won, even though at this writing, it’s looking like Hillary Clinton,  may come out winning the  popular vote, much like fellow Dem Al Gore in 2000.  All over the Blue States people are clutching their heads and wailing, and I must admit I lost some sleep last night too, staying up late to watch the returns and laying awake wide-eyed, contemplating what it all means. The end of the two-party system? The return to institutionalized racism? The acceleration of global warming? Another stock market convulsion? The collapse of democracy and the world economy?

The improbable has suddenly become possible. How could a country that has elected someone as elegantly intelligent and steadfast as Barack Obama spin a one-hundred-eighty and end up with someone as bombastic and narcissistic as the thin-skinned Trump? You ask me, it was inevitable.

Hello–American and French Revolutions. Hello–American Civil War. Hello–Brexit. People pushed down, can only take so much pressure.  It’s not that I agree with the method, but Trump is only a symptom, not the disease. There is a real income inequality in not only this nation, but in all of Western Civilization, and the Middle Class, once the shining symbol of our economic affluence, has contracted to the point of breaking.  Like a bridge without suspension, its collapsed under its own weight.

But like Barack Obama said last night, “the sun will rise in the morning.” But it’s a cloudy day in New Jersey, and a little while it started to rain. Still, I’m not losing hope. Not completely, that is. Being a bit of an optimist, I’m trying to remain so.  The comedians will have at least four years of good material. Alec Baldwin must be especially happy.  The Republicans won’t have the Dems to blame anything on now, and they’ll have to perform. Here in New Jersey, we have a new governor to elect next year. Perhaps we’ll get the chance sooner if Christie finds a place with the new administration. (Fingers crossed.)

As for me, I have a new book to write. I’ve been zipping right along with NaNoWriMo, making great word count, and the ideas have just been flowing.  It’s set in Atlantic City in 1983, back when the new casinos were rising, back when The Donald had two of them and Ivana was doing the decorating.  If anything, the A.C. of then and the A.C. of now makes great copy, and being a veteran of the casino scene of yore, I have some of my own truths to tell. You see, with distance come clarity and back then, as with now, once you sift through all the noise, the flotsam and jetsam, the hyperbole and the shouting you can get at the truth. Things always get clearer in the light of day, after the sun rises in the morning.

Been a bit occupied, but better late than never.

mess-with-me-and-youll-get-what-forYes, it’s true. I’ve been a bit preoccupied this week. I mean seriously, with all that’s going on with the election season, I’ve got to be a writer and a college professor, too? Boy-oh-boyo — there’s just too much to comment on this cycle. Since I can’t, I’ll just sit back and let this shitstorm roll over me. Makes for great media, though, no matter what side of the aisle you sit on. One thing’s for certain, if I were ensconced in that particular House, I’d know what side of the aisle I’d WANT to be on.  and laughing my ass off, for sure.

Graphic courtesy of Periods for Politicians, formerly Periods for Pence. I mean come on. Why should he have all the fun.

Where the Eff is Autumn?

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One of the nicest things about living in the Northeast is the stunning weather we enjoy each fall. Sunny, crisp days, cool, sleepable nights, it’s a welcome respite after the hot, sweaty summers. We get to wear our new sweaters and boots, festoon our homes with bright mums and pumpkins, go apple picking and lose ourselves (and occasionally our kids) in corn mazes, grab a mug of hot and liberally-spiked cider, ooh and aah over the changing leaves, while the scent of wood-smoke settles like incense over our towns. But guess what? Here it is, nearly the middle of September, and I’m still wearing sandals, the cicadas are still chirping and I’m still running the air conditioner.  What is this–Miami?  Christ- this is New Jersey! What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on?

Look, I totally believe in global warming–not that it’s a belief system as some deniers swear it is–and I’m almost convinced carbon dioxide is the New Oxygen. But I want Autumn. I want Autumn so bad, I’m willing to give up my $65 pedicures until next spring so I can bring out my boots.  I’m willing to stand atop a mountain and screech Al Gore invented the Internet! if it’ll bring it any sooner. I’ll bury my swimsuit in the back yard and break my beach umbrella over my knee if the temperature will drop twenty degrees. I want to make pot roast and chicken soup and hot cider because I can’t stomach any more Caesar salad and iced tea. But most of all, I’m sick to death of bugs, moths, spiders, and mosquitoes, and the fact their very existence keeps me from entering through my front door when I’m out after ten PM because they’re flash-mobbing around my porch light.  There used to be a bat hanging from my awning taking care of those bastards, but I haven’t seen them in a month. They’re probably so sick of summer too, they’ve already gone into hibernation.

Damn, I’d be happy if I could just blow-dry my hair again.

I know why this is happening.  I know why Summer can’t make peace with Fall and give up the whole thing already. I’m fairly certain one or the other has dug in on the opposite side of the aisle and is refusing to budge.  Apparently, yielding to Fall will look like they’re “cooperating,” and we just can’t have that, no way, no how.  So don’t expect Christmas or Hanukkah this year, either. Unless, of course, it comes with sunscreen.

The Writer Entitled

img_13631Dear Deadbeat Writer: Who do you think you are?

You get up at the crack of noon, saunter to your desk wearing nothing but your PJs and that smug expression, munching on multigrain pretzels and bouffe from Trader Joe’s. While the rest of us actually BUILD something, you’re hoisting your feet atop your desk to “ponder” and “plot,” your baby-soft fingers tapping the laptop with Call me Ishmael, or It was the best of times, it was the worst of times or other such blather. Instead of putting those keys to work by shaving some stock and buying on margin you’d rather “create,” not even bothering anymore to print your “genius” and pack it into a respectable manuscript box to ship off USPS. Even ink and paper are too much trouble for you anymore! Now we’re all about “attachments,” and “uploads,” and “streaming,” even calling “creative” such linguistic aberrations as blogs and podcasts and tweets. And in your ennui, you can’t even bother to bind your books anymore, leveling them to some ethereal creation called an e-book, packing them on a virtual bookshelf while your compensation floats through cyberspace to directly deposit itself into your bank account.

Oh it’s the life, fooling us all, and getting money, it appears, for nothing.

Be warned: we are so onto you.

My Case for Hillary

slide_hillary-convention_2If you’re a writer, then it’s no secret that unless you’re J. K. Rowling or Stephen King, or well on your way to becoming either, you’re  probably making part of your living doing something else. For me it’s teaching college. It’s a profession I came to by default, after being laid off after many years in the corporate world. Luckily, I had already secured my Masters of Fine Arts degree, which enabled me to jump right into teaching. Nothing I’ve ever done has given me more of a sense of accomplishment and worth than seeing students benefit from what they’ve learned in my classes, and after five years, I’ve come to love it. And I’d better, because I’m sure not in it for the money.

You see, I’m an adjunct professor, who is a contractual, contingent teaching professional with same level of education as “full-time” faculty, often with the same accomplishments and experience.  The quotes are my own, not to denigrate those who are permanent, but to distinguish them from the adjuncts who more often than not, work twice as much and sometimes three times as long to earn less compensation. That’s because adjuncts often have to travel to multiple campuses to teach, as most higher ed institutions will not give them more than 9 credit hours, and the usual full load of 12 would then compel them to pay our health insurance.  Contingent faculty now comprise close to 70% of all teaching professionals on college campuses nation-wide, deeming us one of the most educated workforces toiling for poverty wages, with thirty-one percent of part-time faculty living near or below the federal poverty line. To add insult to injury, we’re not even considered “part-time” employees, so we’re routinely denied unemployment and disability benefits when both are deducted from our pay.  This is because we’re lumped with full-time educators, who traditionally receive a year’s worth of pay on a ten-month schedule. State governments don’t seem to recognize if we don’t work, we don’t get paid. 

After working within this reality for many years, I felt I needed to do something about it. But what? I could bitch on social media, complain to my friends and to my fellow professors, write comment after comment on articles on adjunct unfairness. But how would that affect a practice so ingrained and only getting worse? I realized if I wanted to bring about real change, I needed to get off my ass and work within the system, or no one would ever listen to me.  So when I saw the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) local adjunct union was having an election at the main college where I teach, I entered my name in the ballot for the executive board.

And hot damn–I won.  And just in time too, as our current contract was set to expire. I and my team are now in the process of negotiating our new two-year contract, and for the first time in my new-ish career, I’m actually helping to bring about real change. So what does all this have to do with my case for Hillary Clinton? Lots, because it’s taught me two things: the world is a cruel, unforgiving place. But nothing beats the power of negotiation.

This is really, really important in light of what’s going on in the Democratic Party right now. I was raised as a progressive, and I’ve always been proud to call myself a liberal, no matter how much conservatives like to make a dirty word out of it. And because I am a liberal, I’ve been a fan of Bernie Sanders for years, long before many of his supporters caught their first viral video about him. I admired his stance on almost everything–the big banks, free college tuition, the Trans Pacific Partnership, universal health care –but mainly because  he speaks truth to power. It impressed me he ran one of the most successful and honest campaigns in history, shunning PAC money for the average $27 donation. What’s not to love?

Yet I didn’t vote for him in New Jersey’s June primary.  I voted for Hillary.

Why? Because I thought she was the best possible candidate? No. (That’s Cory Booker, yo!) Look, I’ve had my problems with the Clintons way back to Bill’s first presidential election. (Yes, I’m old enough to have voted in that.) As a staunch disbeliever in capital punishment (New Jersey has since abolished it), I still can’t get over his flying back to Arkansas from the campaign trail to sign the death warrant for a mentally-impaired man.  And the whole Monica Lewinsky affair–not the impeachment which was bullshit–still sticks in my craw. But Bill isn’t Hillary, and at times, I find the connection unfair. And even if it isn’t, she has long had her own history of social service and activism, way before she ever met Bill, in children’s rights, civil rights, and women’s rights. She’s been a First Lady not just content “stay home and bake cookies,” but also a Senator, a Secretary of State, and the first woman to win a major party’s nomination — which if you think isn’t significant, just goes to show you how far women have come to make it almost seem routine. Hillary’s smart, savvy, worldly, and quite frankly, knows her shit. But none of that’s why I voted for her. I voted for her because I knew the numbers were with her, and she ‘d win out over Bernie in the end.

Reality — check.

Now that Hillary’s got the nomination, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to vote for her in November. Why? Because I’m a realist, because she’s capable, because I’m not caught in a cult of personality, because party platform is bigger than any one candidate, and hopefully with her comes a slate of change down-ticket. And to all you Bernie-or-Bust holdouts, who think that a vote for Hillary is a sell-out, that a vote for the Green party will somehow make a statement, that voting for Trump will bring on “the revolution” sooner, that a single vote can’t matter, that Bernie didn’t do something significant by forcing the MOST progressive platform in the DNC’s history, that one sweep of the convention floor won’t tell you how much the Democratic Party stands for inclusion, that don’t know a roll call on the convention floor is the way a convention is supposed to work, that all politics is local and real democracy ENDS at a presidential election, that shouting someone down and not allowing them a voice only creates dissonance, that government works best when both sides come together and work it out, that the DNC doesn’t get it. Really? Then what other party currently competing has a real chance to actually affect change for you? I mean–seriously?

Get over yourselves.

The United States, my friends, is a Work in Progress, not perfect, but certainly worth perfecting. Again, Hillary’s not perfect, but she’s not intractable either, and if you think electing her opponent would be better, or that sitting the whole thing out will leave you pure so you can stand on your principles, well, let Sarah say it for you.

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