Sunday, April 17, 2011

On The Rocky Road to Authenticity

Spring certainly is beautiful in Eugene. Many trees have positively exploded into bloom, and there are wildflowers - mostly bluebells and tiny daisies - in people's front yards, on the right-of-ways and the broad lawns of Monroe Park. Hell, even the dandelions look good.

One of my reasons for moving here was to use public transportation on an everyday basis. Eugene has one of the best bus systems in the country, and I want to really work at seeing how much I can curtail taking my own car on the road. Besides, I live three blocks away from Eugene Station, a main transfer point.

I have managed to land another temp gig, and this one is very close to a bus stop (unlike the last one, which was all the way on the outskirts of Springfield, and nowhere near a bus stop). So I decided to take the bus to work a couple of days a week. I can either walk to Eugene Station or take the 43 bus, which has a stop directly across the street from where I live. Once at Eugene Station I take the 66 bus out to the office park where I work; going home it's the 67 bus back to the station.

I am happy to say that it worked out well: I don't have to get up that much earlier, and as long as it's not raining the walk to Eugene Station is quite pleasant. I also like taking the bus, like not having to think about driving or traffic and just enjoy the ride. I find I arrive at work much more relaxed and ready to face the day. However, I haven't come close to my goal yet: on Wednesday, I drove my car because I do laundry right after work (and I can't really have my dirty laundry hanging around at the office); on Thursday I do grocery shopping at the cheapest place available which unfortunately is all the way on the other side of town; and on Friday I needed to get home in time to pick up my son.

Two days out of five; it's not perfect, but it's a start. I realize I have a long way to go. And this is just one aspect concerning how often to use the bus system. There are many changes which need to be made - or at least start on the road to making - before I come anywhere near living what I would call an authentic life. I have to learn to balance time constraints and expediency with a real desire to reduce my own personal footprint.

In viewing the larger picture, we as Americans are also flailing about, attempting to reconcile what we know in our hearts to be right with what we are taught to want by the corporations who are only looking at their bottom line. Public transportation and indeed many crucial public services are being gutted in favor of tax giveaways to wealthy individuals and corporations. Yet we are bombarded with all kinds of exhortations to buy, buy, buy; marketing and mass media pound the airwaves day and night trying to convince us that we certainly can't be happy unless we own a 60" flat screen television, or a brand new truck, or a piece of expensive jewelry.

Americans have been reduced to the level of "consumers"; these corporations and those who control and profit by them WANT us to be up to our eyeballs in personal debt, they WANT us to accept any crumbs thrown our way and be grateful for it. All our high ideals of equal justice, equal rights and a government that truly serves the people (instead of the other way around) now reads to many as just archaic words in a dusty history book. We have been betrayed on all levels by many of our own elected officials; as evidenced in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states, politicians who ran on one set of values turned round completely after taking office into ideologues with an agenda their constituents certainly did not vote for. Many of these politicians are now involved in bitter recall elections, which may be good for the long run but the problems they have created will take years to iron out.

That's why the idea of a Second Constitutional Convention appeals to me greatly. It's a uniquely American solution to the real problems of societal decay and disconnect. What was done once can be done again, and whatever our faults (and there are many), Americans do have the ability to build a consensus out of many disparate groups. Sometimes fragile and tense, but a consensus nonetheless. And most importantly, one major reason why this worked in the past was due to working folks' realization that together they were stronger than the moneyed elite who only thought of exploitation.

A Second Constitutional Convention could provide the framework for a sincere, robust national conversation about the future path for us as the United States. There have been some who say that this could also be the opportunity for the succession of a few states whose politicians have blowviated about it for years. There are others who say that this could possibly lead to the United States breaking up into regional entities, rather like city-states in a loose confederation.

Let it all be on the table. We need to get the word out, confront our problems boldly, without fear, and look clear-eyed into these knotty and seemingly implacable dilemmas we face. This Second Convention will NOT be made up of well-heeled businesses and corporate lobbyists but will be an accurate reflection of our citizenry, i.e. blue collar, pink collar, white collar, middle management, trades of all kinds; farm workers, domestic workers, all service sector workers; nurses, teachers, cops, firefighters, municipal workers like trash collectors and meter readers. There will be unemployed, retiree and poor delegates. Watching the process will be open to anyone and everyone. It will be raucous, messy and somewhat frightening; it will also be courageous, compassionate and forward-thinking.

No matter what the ultimate outcomes are, any change done in an organized fashion is far better than chaos and wanton destruction. Besides, for all their talk of succession, I believe that the "lower 48", at least, will realize they would be much better off together than apart. If any group can pull off a bloodless revolution, Americans can.

This is not to say it will be easy. There are many details to thrash out. But this is what a Second Constitutional Convention can do. We will disagree, we will shout and demonstrate and, hopefully, have massive rallies in the streets. But we will finally be engaged in that long-overdue debate as to who we really are, and in which direction we need to go.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Missing Sarasota - But Only Just A Little

The term "homesick" is a misnomer; sometimes the place you are yearning to revisit was left voluntarily, no tragedy involved, no drama. You like where you are, but you haven't quite settled in, you're still in a state of flux. "Home" is now both where you are and where you were.

I lived in Sarasota, Florida for 23 years, from 1986 to 2011. I arrived in Venice just as the Challenger disaster happened. I remember people clustered around the televisions in the Electronics Department of Kmart, wondering what the hell was going on. I moved to the city of Sarasota in October 1988, right after my first husband divorced me. I lived downtown until I left in February 2011.

My first place was in the Ringling Trailer Park. It's original intent was to help the circus performers find places to stay in town. Sarasota was the official Winter Quarters for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The land at that time was adjacent to a golf course, I think, and had been put aside for the circus folk to park their trailers when they weren't touring. They were close enough to downtown to have all the amenities, like electricity and indoor plumbing, yet far enough away so as not to bother the tourists and paying customers. The trailers are gone now, and the place is called Payne Park. It's a nice park, with a skateboard ramp on one side of it and fountains in the front. But I often thought how much more interesting it must have been back in the days of circus folk and their tales of the road.

I liked the circus-kitschy feel of Sarasota. I liked seeing hints of circus all over town, like the beautiful tiled mosaic of a circus parade on a building on Route 41 that last housed a bank, or the Sailor Circus, a yearly event of high schoolers who want to have their time under the Big Tent. There had been a big to-do about a huge statue of a sailor kissing a nurse, that famous photo from World War II, being displayed on the waterfront. But kitsch won out, and I was glad for it; some people take themselves FAR too seriously, and the concept of what is "art" is so subjective and deeply personal that who really can define what is "good' art or "bad" art? Many people enjoyed this particular statue; it became a local landmark and off-beat tourist destination with a steady stream of visitors taking pictures. But it wasn't all kitsch; Sarasota also has the wonderful Opera House, built at the height of the Roaring 20s, and the more modern Van Wezel Performing Hall, which some called the Purple Cow, it being painted purple and lavender, but I liked it: it looked like a giant shell that had washed up from the Gulf.

Make no mistake, this was no tropical paradise. The town was originally a mosquito-infested fishing village; speculators at the turn of the twentieth century inflated property values by calling it the "Riviera of the Gulf." When John Ringling bought hundreds of acres of Gulfside land, quartered his circus there and persuaded his rich friends that Sarasota was the place to be (at least in the wintertime), the land grab was on. By the time I got there, nothing had changed: on almost the entire Gulf coast of Sarasota, huge towering condo buildings, where many of the "mature" moneyed residents lived, lined the shore of Longboat Key like jagged teeth. The median age in Sarasota is about 85.

My second and last home in Sarasota was a house built in 1925. It had been a part of the original Gillespie Park, named for Colonel John Gillespie, leader of the original band of Scottish pioneers who were persuaded to emigrate to what was a brackish swamp in the 1880s. For all the history of the place, Gillespie Park was a shabby, working class neighborhood whose original residents were probably the servants of the people living in the expensive downtown hotels and beach houses, or they worked in the restaurants and salons where tourists drank and gambled. Oh yes, gambling was legal in Florida then. The old Lido Hotel, which doesn't exist anymore except in archival photographs, was a hotbed of sin and vice.

I lived in that old house on Tenth Street from 1992 through 2010. There were huge live oak trees around it that shaded it from the blazing Florida sun; I never used air conditioning the whole time I lived there, just fans: ceiling fans, floor fans, window fans. It had windows literally all the way around it, so there was always a cross-breeze. The building was made of cypress, the roof of lob lolly pine. It had withstood the powerful hurricanes of the 1930s and 40s, and I believed it could probably withstand any storm.

Any storm except the breakup of my second marriage, apparently. Economically, it couldn't have happened at a worse time; after everything dropped off a cliff in 2008, my ex was in prison, I had lost my job and my house was deteriorating badly due to lack of funds for maintenance. however, I was determined not to lose it to foreclosure, and managed to keep my head above water (barely!) by the time it sold in February 2010.

Unfortunately, the new owner had no intention of repairing the house. He had bought it mainly for the land, prime real estate in downtown Sarasota, and demolished the house soon after taking possession. I had moved into a little rental just down the street, and every day, twice a day, I drove by the now-empty lot on which once had stood one of the original Gillespie Park houses. Tabula rasa. My house too, now, is just an image in archival photos, some of which were taken by the talented photographer Brian David Braun, and also through Google Earth (enter 1632 10th St., Sarasota FL 34236: if you see a lavender house with purple trim and an antique Volkswagen in the driveway, that's it.) It could be said that my Sarasota house only exists in cyberspace anymore.

And the people - I cannot even begin to describe the incredible, talented folks I knew in Sarasota. I was honored to know some of the finest musicians anywhere, and was blessed that a few of them also called me a friend. The thought of leaving them made my stomach go into free-fall, but there I was, saying goodbye to them. But not goodbye, das vidanya - till we meet again. And crying on the drive home, knowing that that empty ache would not be going away soon, but still determined to leave.

I acquired as many CDs of their music that I could. Through Facebook I can even order the new CD from World Collision, a fabulous original soundtrack to "Nosferatu", recorded live when the movie was shown on the side of building in downtown Sarasota during Halloween of 2010. If I can listen to their music they don't seem so far away, and I remember them with joy and not sadness, and that's only what they deserve after everything they've given me.

Many things ended for me in Sarasota, but when it came to leave it still wrenched my insides out. I have not turned my back on it; instead, I have carried the best of it with me to this new place.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Here In Eugene

I've been in Eugene, Oregon for little over a month. I like it here, so far. Mostly.

Went to my first ever Saturday Market last week. Nice, a little overwhelming, hemp cloth, good music, over-priced items - especially at the Farmer's Market. But nice.

This place is not at all like the East Coast, and on a number of subtle levels, which is going to be challenging as hell. I'm a "big-picture" person, one drawback being that while you're staring up at the universe, you're tripping over your own feet here on Earth. You bumble, you stumble, you shake your head and say, "What was that?" I'm not very good at subtle, and I've been blindsided more than once. Most women, gay or straight, completely baffle me. Men - gay or straight - can also be baffling, but I've had more success with them, two ex-husbands notwithstanding.

But back to Eugene: the uppermost thought on my mind since I hit town has been finding employment. I've registered with all the temp agencies who'll have me and answered every likely ad I've found. There have been a few interviews, and this temp gig at ServPro, but no real BITES. Once again, I go over in my head why someone WOULDN'T want to hire me: old, fat, unattractive, talks funny and (the latest) hands knarled like an old tree root. Whew. With assets like that I should throw myself off the Willamette Bridge, eh?

But it's NOT all like that, not really. When I find an ad for a job I really believe I would do well in, I answer it as best I can, I still have hope that I at least have a chance. But then I read Paul Krugman or Slavoj Zizek or Naomi Stein or Noam Chomsky or Joseph Stiglitz or. . . . . And I wonder if I really do have a chance, if the people I sit before at these interviews (mostly women - yikes) see only my age, my out-of-date clothing, my twisted, swollen fingers, my sometimes-halting speech, and mentally throw my resume in the trash while smiling pleasantly at me and quickly thinking of devices they can use to cut the interview short. After all, there are supposedly six people out there for every job, that's six women (I can't imagine a man going after one of these office jobs) who are probably younger, better dressed and better-spoken than me. Even though I have enough experience to work in just about any office, these interviewers don't see that; due to my age and appearance (albeit professional), I'm not a good "fit."

And don't even get me started about these "pre-employment" drug tests. Peeing in a cup: they want you to pee in a cup so they can decide if you "deserve" a job. The insurance companies, everybody says, the insurance companies require these drug tests. Really? The insurance company requires that some back-office secretary, with no access to cash, get a drug test to get or keep her job? Why? What one did on one's off-time used to be a matter of privacy; now the insurance companies, not local government or individual businesses, control workers' private lives. Ronald Reagan - the so-called "small government" president - made sure of this travesty of democracy. As he did many others.

How long it will take the people of this country to figure out they've been manipulated to vote against their own best interests, taken for a ride by the rich elite (no matter what political stripe), been brainwashed to fear the words (and concepts) of "socialism" and "common good" (even though banding together is the only thing that will save us), wonder how much damage has to be done before revolution breaks out. American revolution: sign waving, million marching, capitol-building occupying, REAL American revolution, not just in a couple of states but throughout the ENTIRE country.

We need another Constitutional Congress (or something on the order of that), this time with no corporations or representatives of corporations, with proportional representation (NOT gerrymandered districts), mass movements in the streets, partnering with and strengthening the unions. We need to create an American socialist democracy, based not on discredited Marxism, not totalitarian communism, but a uniquely American version of social democracy based on the American ideals of true equal opportunity, economic and social justice and sustaining the commons.

And here I am, gazing up at the universe; I still need a job.