Monthly Archives: January 2012

From Poverty to Prosperity

A group of eight people got together one day a couple weeks ago at George Washington University to talk about poverty. C-SPAN filmed the symposium and made it available online. I saw the link to it on twitter, but put off watching it because, holy guacamole, it’s 2-1/2 hours long and who has that kind of time? Well, I made the time over the weekend and I’m telling you, it’s definitely time well spent.

The program is titled Remaking America: From Poverty to Prosperity and is moderated by PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley.

The panel is diverse and features some familiar names as well as some I’d never heard before, all of whom have impressive credentials. They are (alphabetically): Majora Carter, Roger A. Clay Jr., Barbara Ehrenreich, Vicki B. Escarra, Michael Moore, Suze Orman, Tavis Smiley, Cornel West.

I can’t remember when I’ve heard a more intelligent, articulate and passionate group of people discussing issues of great importance without the entire thing devolving into petty argument and one-upmanship.

Yes, there are a few odd moments when you have to ignore the egos and overblown rhetoric and just focus on the content. I think that’s to be expected with a group like this. I mean, c’mon, Michael Moore and Cornel West on the same stage? But those moments are rare and Smiley as moderator does a masterful job.

The focus is on how we got here and what we can do about it. They discuss the demonization and criminalization of poverty, the inescapable downward spiral of debt, the peril and permanence of student loans, the connection of food stamp application information to criminal databases, the impossibility of improving a bad FICO score, the implications of poverty on hunger and malnutrition and obesity, the effect on education and innovation. On and on, connecting one issue after another like dominoes on a giant game board of failure. The discussion is fascinating and sobering.

Some of the facts are shocking. There are currently 150 million people in the United States who are living in or near poverty. That’s half our population. Half. How can that not be at the top of our list of concerns? How can that not be at the forefront of national debate? Yet it’s a problem that is largely ignored. The poor and near poor are a group that always has been and still is marginalized. Allowing, expecting them to struggle daily, perennially, hopelessly, with the crushing debilitating effects of poverty verges on criminal negligence and it is indefensible.

Yet the composition of that group who are poor, especially the racial makeup, is changing. The middle class is disappearing and poverty is fast approaching a tipping point where it will no longer be possible, or politic, to ignore the problem. How shameful for us as a society that this problem might now gain wider attention and perhaps attract solutions simply because it currently affects more white people than ever before.

This discussion is frank, if unfailingly polite, and might make you uncomfortable. That’s a good thing. Probably it’s a necessary thing.

I don’t want to debate politics here. This shouldn’t even be a political issue. It’s an issue of social injustice. A matter of human decency. Poverty is a huge festering sore that we must address, regardless of political leanings.

Watching this symposium and digesting the facts and opinion presented by the participants is a damn good place to start. Yes, it’s 2-1/2 hours long. So bookmark the page and pause and re-start as you are able.

If you’re like me and find articulate thoughtful discussion to be compelling and can’t hit the pause button in spite of your best intentions to do so, I suggest you not start watching it at 2:30 AM. Really.

But given what’s at stake, I don’t think any of us can claim we are too busy to give this issue a mere half hour of our attention every day for a week. That’s the least we can do.


Filed under deep thoughts

The sounds of silence, they echo

My DD and her BF and their dog and cat left early Friday morning to drive back to New Orleans. I miss them horribly. After ten days of noise and commotion, of various people coming and going, cooking and eating, talking and laughing and sleeping over, my house is almost spookily quiet.

Part of my brain apparently thinks they’re still here. I’ve had to stop myself three times now from getting up to let the dog in from the backyard. Their dog loved my backyard. Well, she loved the sticks. Which she piled up on the deck, right outside the door, like an offering to the tree gods. Or a barricade to keep us in.

I find myself waiting for the escalating volume of the spit-hiss-growl that meant the cats were having another close encounter of the curmudgeonly kind. And I swear I can still hear the faint chiming riiiiing of that Civ5 computer game — not quite a bell tone, more like someone running a wet fingertip around the rim of a wine glass. Over and over and over and over. Bells bells bells.

It’s not just me. My cat enters every room with extreme caution, not convinced the enemy has abandoned the field. She’s still spending the entire night snuggled up to my side instead of resuming her duties stalking odd noises in the night. This morning she hissed at a pair of shoes. Poor thing, she’s half-blind with old age and has to get right up next to a piece of furniture before she’s sure it isn’t occupied by The Intruder Cat, who is sort of like the Spanish Inquisition of cats. As you can see below. Totally unexpected.

I’ve been trying to get back into writing the past few days [yay. go, me] but the silence is distracting and I’m having trouble concentrating. Even as I sit here writing about how they’re gone, I half expect to hear the whir of a hair-dryer or the slam of a closet door or the sound of my DD yelling from upstairs, “Mom? Is there more laundry detergent somewhere?”

I know, wishful thinking on my part. But as much as I miss all that noise, I have to admit, the silence is rather . . . blissful.

Probably I’d enjoy it more if I weren’t suffering miserably with this sniffling sneezing aching shivering head cold from hell.

I’m telling you, allowing people to invade your solitude has consequences.


Filed under just for fun, parenting

A few words about courage

I had intended to write a post about the things I learned in the process of self-publishing my book. And someday I will. Once I figure out what those things are and what they mean. And how to say them.

But that’s for another day. I’m sure you all are as tired of hearing about it as I am of telling you about it. Even so, this post is related to that effort.

Every year, Neil Gaiman writes a wish for the New Year. These posts are unfailingly excellent, in their simplicity and honesty and charm, but also in their ability to inspire the artist in each of us.

Drawing attention to something Gaiman wrote on his blog feels as absurd and presumptuous as re-tweeting something he said on twitter. I mean, really, the man has 1.67 million followers on twitter. Probably more than that read his blog. Is there anyone who hasn’t seen this?

Actually, yes. I suspect there are a few people who read my blog who don’t read his. Who might not even be entirely sure of who he is. In other words, people who don’t read any of the forty-billion genres in which he writes and people who are not writers.

There are two or three. And yes, they read my blog. Probably.

But the main reason I want to share a part of Gaiman’s 2012 post over here is because it struck a very personal chord with me this year, more so even than other years, and that’s saying something. Because this is something I decided for myself last fall. Not to set out to make a mistake, necessarily — I doubt anyone intends to do that — but to be willing to do something that might be a mistake. And do it anyway. With the intention that if it turned out to be a mistake, it would be the most awesome and remarkable and unique mistake in the entire history of– well, of all my mistakes at least. So far.

Hell, Gaiman says it better:

And for this year, my wish for each of us is small and very simple.

And it’s this.

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.

Feels amazing to realize Neil Gaiman finally caught up with me. [I’m kidding, people] But it does feel like a small benediction. And sometimes that’s all we need.

The rest of his post — yes, there’s more to it, including wishes from past years — can be found here. Go read it. There’s a reason he has all those followers.

And then go out and make some mistakes of your own. Because I could use the company. But mostly because it feels incredibly good to Do Something.


Filed under creativity, deep thoughts