Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

worker bees and labour unions

bee on flowerI am a worker bee. Never been a real ‘queen’ of anything (don’t tell my husband & sons — they might disagree). Even when I was a director, I did the trash jobs: paperwork, payroll, receipts and mileage and complaints and… :)

I’ve never really been ‘the boss,’ despite what some may think about teachers. (Aside: Teaching really isn’t about being the boss; it’s more like good coaching.) I taught for more than 20 years at the college level, not including stints as an artist in the schools (at elementary-high school levels), and as an educator of other teachers.

The few times in my life when I didn’t have an outside-the-home job, I was running a co-op daycare w/ several other mothers. Or volunteering at an international school overseas. Or teaching photography at a Saudi girls school. Or going to graduate school and single-parenting, while my husband was overseas. I come from a long line of worker bees.

labour unions strike Lawrence_Textile_Strike_1

Labour union demonstrators held at bay by soldiers during the 1912 Lawrence textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

My grandmothers both worked, one as a professional — she was the postmistress at her small-town post office — the other as a night cleaning lady at a bank downtown. My great-aunts worked: as retail clerks, as teachers, as cleaning ladies. My mother worked from the time she could carhop, until she retired from her job in sales. All three of my sisters have held numerous jobs, none as bigwigs.

So Labour Day is a big deal to me. My 3rd sister received her cancer benefits because of someone, a long time ago, fighting for them. My youngest sister received her tuition benefits for her children (she works at a university) to compensate for the truly horrible wages she earns. My 2nd sister served in the Army until she retired, then went to work for our city. She is beholden to unions for her pension there.

I have no idea why ‘union’ has become a bad word, but we might want to remember something: between 1900 and 1979, there was a 96% drop in work-related fatalities. By 1980, non-farm workers earned about 4 times what they had in 1900. As one article notes, in the 19teens, the U.S. was considered “among the most dangerous places to work. American workers were two to three times more likely to be injured or killed than their European counterparts.

child labourThese kinds of changes didn’t happen because profit-based companies suddenly came down with strong consciences… I wish! In most cases, such changes were wrested from cruel labour conditions by men & women (& sometimes children) who endured dangerous retaliation when they refused to continue working under horrific circumstances.

This weekend, I’ll be honouring the women in my family who ~ contrary to cultural memory of the ‘good old days,’ when mothers stayed home ~ had to work to make ends meet. Women like my Grandma Skidmore and my Aunt Bonnie, two char women, as the Brits call them: cleaning up banks after all the employees had left for the day. Without their unions, neither would have received even the pittance pensions they used to live on. Both worked well into their 70s, needing the income.

Are things better now? Certainly. But as my next post hopes to show, we shouldn’t get too smug. We’re still in 1937, in some ways ~

Happy fish cake …

image

from m.imgur.com/mqMgN

Today is my nephew’s birthday. We’re all going out to dinner. And although only a couple of us are involved in that decision, it’s taken HOURS. Which leads me to: Why are human beings so weird??

There were only TWO suggestions, both local & non-chains. One Mexican, one Asian fusion. Both nice.  But here’s the catch: my husband LOVES Mexican food, and doesn’t care much for this particular fusion place. The birthday boy also probably prefers Mexican. However, the Mexican place doesn’t have dessert, and the drinks aren’t as fun, for the drinkers.

Is any of this making sense? And (you may well wonder…) what the HECK does it have to do with beginner’s heart? Or a picture of a walrus receiving a birthday fish cake? I was hoping you’d ask…

I can’t imagine receiving a fish cake. YUK. But if you’re a walrus, obviously it’s an overwhelming gift. A thoughtful, ‘what would s/he really enjoy?’ kind of gift. As dinner for Jesse should be. It shouldn’t be about what my husband likes (even if I think my husband deserves to ALWAYS be pampered :)), or what I like, or even what the rest of us like. It should be about Jesse.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if most of my day — at LEAST 86%, anyway! — was spent in this mindset? Wondering how I could offer what my beloveds want/ need, and now just what I want and/or need?

I don’t mean I should deny my own wants & needs — folks who know me will tell you I’m not that kind of girl. :) I mean what if I listened more? What if I didn’t assume I know what my sons still like, or my nieces & nephews enjoy? What if I listened for the fish cake wishes…?

humility, gratitude, and keeping on…

I have a dream markerIt seems almost a sacrilege to write anything about the “I Have a Dream’ speech. What is more compelling? I’ve used that speech so many times to teach writing, to teach how to marry passion and political practicality. My students have memorised it. I’ve internalised it. And now, 50 years later, we need it more than ever.

If you are one of those Americans who believe that all people are equal now, and that race is a problem of ‘then,’ not ‘now,’ you might as well click elsewhere. I don’t share your optimism. My own experiences — often recounted in this space — show me that racism and lack of opportunities based on racism are alive and doing very well in America today.

So I’d like us to take a moment to really READ Martin Luther King’s momentous, historically profound speech. Here it is, in its entirety. Read it, and remember: 50 years ago, and it is as necessary a speech today as it was then.

more everyday magic (on the road) -

imageThis is what you see when you leave home: familiar scenes (twilight, for instance) with new eyes. Because everything old is new again, on the road.

It’s trite, I know. But when I travel, everything — even pizza, which I normally don’t much care for! — is new, and made wonderful with that newness.

And yes, the Blue Ridge Mountains are deeply beautiful. And they really are this blue, once the sun drops below the horizon.

But there are other sights that surprise, and even astonish: a sign to Hungry Mother Park (what a name!); a billboard beside the road painted sky blue, with clouds shaped exactly like fluffy buffalo on it, and nothing else;  buzzards patrolling for speeders; the Brown Squirrel Furniture Warehouse (WHO would want squirrelly furniture??); alien monsters clothed in kudzu green. imageA huge truck rig pulling a tiny UHaul trailer.

I like to believe that I would notice these tiny moments even in my hectic normal day, without the benefit of large windows and no distractions. The truth is, I’m really not sure. The simple tasks of life can be beautiful, certainly: who hasn’t set a table and taken joy in it? Found comfort in sheets warm from the dryer? But how many times do I nit-nit-nit about the very minor glitches in my days?

My hope as I return from the seductive baby smiles of my grandson, to the mundane world of my own home & life, is that somehow I can sustain the wonder of a road trip. How every corner brings some new vision, framed by wide sky and cloud mountains. And how mindfulness is like that frame, bringing beauty to every new moment.

 

Previous Posts

choosing happy
Someone in my family -- probably either Aunt Bonnie or Grandmother Britton -- used to say that you choose to be happy. Each morning, she told me, you make that choice. It's a decision. So today? I'm choosing

posted 3:50:11pm Jan. 30, 2015 | read full post »

some periods you just breathe through...
At times like this, I don't know what I'd do w/out tonglen. When I'm grieving for a loved one's unhappiness, or breathing through my own, I remember: all over the world there is suffering. I know - how hokey is

posted 4:20:37pm Jan. 28, 2015 | read full post »

the fragrance of peaches
I wish I could send out, over the ethernet, the fragrance of the peach tea I made today. I wish there was a way to bottle the steam spiralling from the cup, comforting on a worrying day. Often when I worry, it

posted 12:11:07pm Jan. 26, 2015 | read full post »

with a little help from friends
You know that saying 'it takes a village'? Well, it does. For any endeavour worth remembering, it takes collaboration. Varied viewpoints, multiple hands, and a LOT of coordination. Witness my niece's shower. W

posted 5:00:00pm Jan. 25, 2015 | read full post »

talking to strangers
I know, your mother told you not to. But now you're a grown-up, and I beg you to reconsider. You're sooo missing out! Yesterday I had the loveliest conversation with two strangers -- two of the many I meet daily.

posted 10:30:46pm Jan. 23, 2015 | read full post »


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