What doesn’t come up in the political debates: “let them eat cake?”

This is the real story – told in Chrystia Freeland’s book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.  

In this video clip, Bill Moyers talks to the author, Chrystia Freeland, and Rolling Stone magazine’s Matt Taibbi. I’m going to vote for Obama – no question – I don’t want anyone as wealthy as Romney entrusted with my democracy. Can you say “let them eat cake” ?

This video was posted on Alternet – an independent source of news that I’m going to return to again.

“AlterNet’s Mission: AlterNet is an award-winning news magazine and online community that creates original journalism and amplifies the best of hundreds of other independent media sources. AlterNet’s aim is to inspire action and advocacy on the environment, human rights and civil liberties, social justice, media, health care issues, and more.”

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I can see the forest, but it’s a blur!

You know that moment when you’re riding a roller coaster and you’re poised at the top of the first rise for split second before the coaster releases and barrels forward?

Everest roller coaster, Walt Disney World, November 2009

Click, click, click … those few seconds of anticipation …  excitement and terror threaded together.

I know I’m not going to die, but as I slam through the turns, I feel like I might.

That’s the way I feel right now,  a few days away from the start of the fall semester.

The job search is over.  I accepted a position teaching communications full-time at Longwood University.     This fall, I’m teaching multiple sections of Public Speaking and Media & Society.

Meanwhile, my dissertation has been revised twice and is  ready to go to the full committee, with a defense planned for this fall.

It looks like I might graduate in December.

Oh yeah, and the ESVHS & I were awarded a second grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to continue collecting farm life interviews for the Eastern Shore Stories project.

There’s more, but I’m breathless.

Wheeeeee … here I go !

Does this mean if I look behind me I’ll see the forest now?  I think the answer is yes, but the trees are a blur ’cause I’m moving too fast.

still staring at the trees …

redwood forest in Northern California, summer 2011

I’m not seeing the forest yet – but May is looking more and more like a writing retreat. For which I’m grateful. I’ve got some pressing deadlines between now and May 3, when my semester ends with a stack of ten portfolios, but after they’re graded … woohoo … I can turn my full attention to finishing the dissertation, then working on other writing projects and maybe a book proposal for the Eastern Shore Stories project.

I’ve thrown in applications for many, many positions – mostly university teaching positions – but also a few university admin / communications positions and now a few secondary teaching positions.  Plan B is to adjunct another year.

As much as I like the crafted life I’m living right now, I’m craving the stability of a full-time position with benefits. Or a steady part-time position with stability. The downside of adjunct’ng is that some (not all) departments seem to assume adjuncts don’t need income for anything specific … like we’re just teaching at pathetic wages to get ourselves out of the house for a few hours? For the stimulation? Don’t know … I can do all the budget projections I want, but if I don’t get the classes or they don’t make … well, then I have to find another means to keep my growth-spurting 11-year-old in skinny jeans and eating her beloved mac & cheese.

Oh well … still wandering among the trees … hope I emerge in a clearing soon.  Today I’ve been working on a grant application. Which is going very, very well.   Work is the cure.

what would success look like?

To read last night, I picked up Julia Cameron’s book The Sound of Paper. A collection of essays about writing, she includes exercises after each essay. This morning I read the second essay and did an exercise about success. Or attempted to.

The exercise involved listing “twenty-five things that represent to you sophistication and success.”

What I found was that items don’t speak to me about success. I couldn’t think of 25 things to write down. I asked myself “what would success look like?” and wrote about feeling relaxed, about traveling and having two well-ordered homes (both small, one city and one in the country) and having an agent to sell what I write and having time to write.

Maybe the question is really “what would success feel like”? And maybe I’m already there, but don’t know it. I think the true measure of “success” is internal and personal. I’ve equated success with external markers like money or recognition. Those could come without any internal feeling of “success”. Some of the dictionary synonyms for success are “triumph” and “winner” – also “prosperity” as a trapping of success. Antonyms: “poverty” and “failure” As if “success” is a contest and money is the goal. But “failure” and “success” aren’t polar opposites. Failure, in fact, is frequently a necessary part of any journey worth taking. The ultimate goal, I believe, is spiritual.

Ahhh – but I still want that agent. Money buys time to write.

on appraisers and old houses

I thought I would spend the month of May working on my oral history project – but have instead spent the month taking care of household business. Our dining room is now a beautiful shade of green – with creme woodwork. We hired an acquaintance who is skilled with plaster work to repair some walls and ceilings in our vintage 1930’s house. The kitchen is now a joy.

The appraiser who came to determine the house’s market value repeated a couple of times “this house is in its original state – and that’s a matter of personal taste. I have friends who would come in here and gut it” … I translate that to mean that people with money who move into old houses want those houses to feel new?

Well – we’re not moving and we may decide against the refinance, so his opinion is largely irrelevant. He also has no idea of the house’s “original state.” I know because I hired someone to strip ugly wallpaper off the walls when I bought the house and had to undo some ugly 1970’s renovation projects to return this house to its “original state.” These pretty plaster walls are a testament to how beautiful the house can be.

My anger continues to simmer, however, at banks and markets and especially executives and loan officers and appraisers who make more in an hour than a teacher makes in a week. Foxes in the henhouse – that’s what Jim Hightower calls the finance executives who keep finding their way into “public service” to create the policies we’re living with. Hightower stokes my populist furor – gives it voice. Anger, unfortunately, makes me inarticulate.

Here’s a good Hightower piece called Death by Pie about the unsafety of food from corporate conglomerates. I don’t think I’ll be buying Banquet pot pies anytime soon.

next year finally in focus

I’ve accepted a graduate teaching assistantship in the dean’s office for next year, one that takes me out of the classroom. Since I won’t be teaching, I’ll have time to concentrate on the development of my dissertation proposal and bibliography, to prepare for comps, and to finish my coursework for the PhD. By next year this time, I’ll have the dissertation to do – with an oral defense of a substantial proposal and two additional comp exams to pass – but I’ll be closing in on ABD status. Not bad for someone who in May 2008 was just saying “yes” to this PhD journey.

The income from a GTA is less than half of what I make as a full-time teacher … not nearly enough. Now that I know I’m not teaching next year, I’m more serious about marketing and building my tutoring business, PirateMom Tutoring.

Here’s an excerpt from my PirateMom Manifesto: I careen around town in my aging Saturn station wagon and teach reading, writing, academic survival skills, and standardized-test-taking strategies for a fee. I hope, through working one-on-one with students, to earn some booty and to re-ignite my students’ inborn love of learning. I’d like to set them free to love reading and writing and thinking for its own sake and not for where it will take them. I’d like them to figure out who they were born to be and how reading and writing can help them get there.

Okay – probably not appropriate or relevant marketing material – but true to my values. I love reading and writing and that’s what I share with students. Doesn’t matter whether I’m in a classroom or working one-on-one with someone. I don’t really care if their SAT’s go up … but I do care if they can pursue their dreams. If getting a good score is necessary to get there, then that’s why it matters. It’s about having choices and pursuing dreams.

does "let them eat cake" ring a bell?

Coming up for air from the semester tidal pool has meant looking at our household financial reality … and beyond our depressing microcosm economy to what’s going on in the US. I think corporate greed and the loss of a sense of civic responsibility are two big reasons why so many people in the US are in trouble.

Some actions and attitudes are just wrong. From a Buddhist perspective: they are karmically wrong – and, from a Christian perspective: sinful. Our grandparents knew better – they knew it was good for everyone to take care of one’s neighbors. They used to say “a rising tide lifts all boats” … did the Reagan and Bush disciples repeat that one while they laughed all the way to the bank? Let’s redistribute wealth to our wealthiest friends and who cares about the losers we leave behind?

Dante would say there’s a circle in hell for the folks who think it’s okay to make $30 million a year while 18 percent of US children grow up in poverty (according to the National Poverty Center at U Michigan). The numbers are actually worse than that. Children make up 25 percent of US population, but 35 percent of those kids are growing up poor. If you’re a Black or Latino child – the numbers get worse. With poverty comes hunger and lack of basic education or job training skills and possibly despair.

Here’s what Jim Hightower had to say today about corporate compensation packages: “Finding Ways to Perk Up CEO Pay”

This is funnier – but even darker – a mock reality TV show from The Onion: “Autoworkers Compete to Keep Jobs”

I can understand why CEOs feel they need bodyguards now … the gates in gated communities may not be high enough. History has lessons for this … does “let them eat cake” ring a bell?

the injured dog still sleeps

Ruby’s getting better – the doggie Advil and rest are doing the trick. That’s especially good because the last month of the semester is a lousy time for distractions like dog surgery or broken limbs or spousal crises … really, everyone should just chill out and not demand a lot of attention until I’m done with the semester, Okay?!

I’m waiting to hear from scholarships / fellowships and other funding-related stuff for next year. Only one fellowship is substantial enough for me to only go to school. The MATX director is still looking for an appropriate GTA placement for next year – otherwise my funding runs out in September. Too bad the economy’s so poor; otherwise I’d probably have funding from the University by now.

I did, however, get funding from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities to do my Eastern Shore oral history project. Huzzah, Huzzah! More on that in a later post.

Meanwhile, I’m redesigning my website and moving deadline by deadline through assignments. First, there’s the Sunday deadline to post something for Thursday’s workshop. (hence the work on my website) Then … there’s a substantial amount of reading to finish for Monday’s seminar, plus the final artist statements for a Tuesday morning meeting.

Ruby just got up from her nap in the comfy chair in my room and has raided my daughter’s bedroom for something to chew. She must be feeling better – she grabs stuff to chew and runs when she wants us to play with her. She didn’t bolt down the stairs, however … that’s what she would do if she were feeling 100 percent. Instead, she’s settled back down for a nap in the hallway. Back to work I go.

scholarships, fellowships, applications, ho!

I’m an applying fool … scholarships, fellowships … if it seems close, I’ll go for it to help fund my PhD and my projects. Today I finished two small scholarships that are administered by the university … I’ll hand-deliver them tomorrow. I squeezed in a scholarship application for a summer audio institute at the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. And I found a lead on a teaching job.

Wonder how it’s going to feel to strike out on most of these applications – because that’s the reality of applying for scholarships and fellowships. They mostly go to other people.

Okay, I’m a little gloomy because I overheard someone talking yesterday about getting the Graduate Teaching Assistantship I was hoping for. There were only two of us competing for it, as far as I know, and I think he was offered it. I’ve really got to grow a thicker skin re: rejection. If I didn’t get offered it this time, it’s okay … one thing I have learned is that not getting a position is sometimes a rich blessing. In my lifetime there are a few that I’ve been happy not to get and a few that I’ve been sorry I accepted. So there.

A photo from Big Picture.com to cheer me up.

money in the new year

Staying positive while I work on fellowship applications is a challenge. I had to call and verify what I already knew – that my troubled bank sold its stock to another bank for a fraction … my 250 shares are now 56 shares in the new bank. And the value has dropped more than $5,000 in less than a year.

Meanwhile our personal debt climbs and what little equity we had evaporates as I go to school to get the credentials to teach at the university level for a living wage. Adjunct salaries aren’t a living wage – they’re a joke. What I don’t understand is where the money for the course I teach goes – the 25 kids sitting in my classroom have each paid about $1,000 to be there, some have paid more. That’s $25,000. Of which I’m paid a tiny fraction. It doesn’t cost that much to run our share of the lights or the library.

For some reason, however, writing down what I know to be true – how little I have in the way of wealth – is a comfort. It feels like coming off a binge, like coming up for air after swimming underwater, like walking out into the light and warmth of a spring morning. There’s so much I’m grateful for. We have a safe, warm place to live. My daughter goes to a safe and well-run school. My husband and I have educations that continue to enrich our lives. We all have health insurance. We have extended families who love us. We have friends who like spending time with us. Our lives are free of addiction and domestic violence. Both my husband and I like what we do. There’s more than one way to count wealth on a balance sheet.