Workers of the World
"Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer."--Dorothy Day
I was listening to Dan Savage's podcast yesterday, and heard about a project that he has started, encouraging GLBT adults to make videos posted on YouTube for the viewing of gay teenagers who may be in despair due to bullying or bigoted actions of others in their community. The theme is simple. It gets better. This point that you are at right now, where you feel so alone and so hopeless for the future, is likely the hardest your life will ever be. In a few years, you will be free to leave that town/school/church/home that is making you so sad, and to live a wonderful, joyful life. The videos so far are wonderful to see, and hopefully will provide some hope to young people who feel so isolated and desperate.
As I am only an ally of the GLBT community, and I don't relish the thought of putting a video of myself on the Internet, there will be no video from me. But I want to offer something up. My high school years were not bad. They could've been much, much worse. I was for the most part invisible to the bullies and mean girls at my school. And I made friends with important people (i.e. football players, the girlfriends of football players, principals) and so was protected. (Also I was really intense, so people may have been afraid of setting me off.) But there were still points of despair, where I felt so out of place and like there was a boulder on my head, keeping me from being anything other than what I was then--someone who knew how to fly below the radar, who would do your homework so you wouldn't make fun of her or maybe would leave her friends alone, someone who lived everyday hoping that this was not it. And now here I am. I live a life unlike anything I thought possible for myself. I live in a beautiful city. I know the most interesting people. I do amazing work. I have a truly great life.
And so I offer this to you, anyone who may stumble upon me through a random Google search. It gets better. The day you leave home for college might be the best day of your life. It was for me. You can see it in the smile on my face on my University of Texas ID. I keep that card to look at whenever I get bogged down in the pains of the past. It is a photo of optimism personified. The wide smile and bad haircut of a new beginning.
[And to take the road of schadenfreude for a moment, all those kids who make your life hell today will never be anything other than who they are now. They will continue to live in that small town that smells of sulfur/pig poop/industrial run-off. They will work at gas stations and auto part stores and trendy mall shops, dressing far too young for their 30 y.o. body. They will spend their days remembering their teens and knowing that that was the best their life will ever be. And they will get bald, and fat, and at least one of the jocks that called you homophobic names will be gay himself. And you will be hotter than him.]
Dear Dr. Starner Jones (I doubted you were real, but you are. I looked you up. I still blame Sarah Palin for this.),
Your letter was enlightening. Thanks for putting yourself out there. But I have some questions/statements in response. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been a socialist-thinking type since long before it was all the rage. My degree even has the word social in it.
So with regard to your letter. I am bothered by the prospect of you working in the ER. I imagine it was not your first choice, that you were hoping for a match in Plastics or something a bit more glamourous. But while you’re there, please take it as an opportunity to see how the other half lives.
You cite this patient’s smoking, eating, drinking and dentistry habits as evidence that ‘Obamacare’ is unwarranted. Do you know how much private insurance costs? On the cheap end, it’s about $300 a month for a single person. And this doesn’t cover prescriptions or pay for a significant portion of any surgery or acute medical care one might need, if one were to actually get sick. It doesn’t include dental (thus addressing the need for ornamental dentistry), or nutrition, or smoking cessation services, or myriad other needs. And it costs $300 a month. Generally people like you and me, who have been blessed with good paying jobs, have health insurance given to them. I pay like $80 a month for mine. But the average American who has no insurance, works a minimum wage job, making at most $7.25 an hour. If you work two part-time jobs (as minimum wage jobs are rarely full-time), you make about $14,000 per year. This is just above the poverty line for a single adult. [And just so we’re clear, these people don’t qualify for Medicaid. To qualify for Medicaid, one cannot make more than $700 per month (in New York) and/or must have a very expensive chronic health condition (i.e. cancer, AIDS, etc.) and even then you are rarely treated appropriately for any acute illness.] So let’s think about that. You make roughly $1000 per month. You must pay for rent, bills and food (you don’t qualify for food stamps either). Very conservatively that’s about $975 per month—rent being $700, utilities about $100 and then $175 for groceries (see below). And then you have to pay for your really crappy health insurance. That leaves you with -$275 per month. So you use credit cards to cover that. But then you have to add that to your budget, and with interest you’re never going to pay that off. So that $275 per month ends up costing you thousands of dollars. And that’s without you ever having gotten sick. Hmmm…seems I’ve hit a dead end.
Now let’s talk food for just a brief moment. I, a single person living in an expensive city who tends to eat organically, spend about $200 each month on groceries. And then maybe another $100 on eating out (a girl’s gotta have a social life). But the average, non-organic-eating, non-New York-living, person spends a bit less. According to the USDA, in 2004, the average food expenditure per person per month was $125. But then food prices have risen significantly since then, so it would be more like $175 in 2010. And once again, our example person, who has no health insurance, makes about $1000 a month (see budget above). And our example person doesn’t even have children. In a very strange paradox, obesity and hunger have become linked. Hunger is no longer about thin frail children. It’s about children who eat only processed foods, because their families cannot afford fresh vegetables. Or even better, there are no stores nearby that sell fresh vegetables. So vegetables turn into canned corn, or white rice, or French fries with ketchup. But that’s for another time.
I will leave you with a personal story of the woes of the badly insured. My second year of graduate school, I started having debilitating headaches. Anyone who knew me during that time would say that I was teetering on the edge of something really terrible. But I was insured through my university and thus went to the student clinic. I was seen by urgent care, referred to my regular doctor, sent to three specialists and physical therapy, and found no relief for months on end. I spent a night in the ER when it go so bad that I couldn’t swallow, and then two days of my life waiting for clinic appointments and being told these headaches were all in my head (in a metaphysical sort of sense). In the ended, I elected to have surgery to fix my wonky sinuses and received amazing relief for a couple of years. But my insurance only paid for 60% of the surgery and hospital costs, leaving me with a bill of about $15,000. And this was for a day surgery. Very thankfully, my doctor was a very kind gentleman and didn’t charge for his portion of the fees, about $12,000, and the rest went on my credit cards. A good portion of my debt comes from this incident and a couple years later when I had just changed jobs, and was thus without insurance, and my headaches became acute again. And I have since age 18 been gainfully employed, and insured, responsible with my ER usage and hospital choice. And here I am, with millions of other Americans, carrying large debt in the interest of my health, hoping that I can forgo another crisis.
Working in social services, I know very well that there are people out there abusing the system. People who could work but don’t. Who fake illnesses to live a life on disability. Who always choose the easy way. Or make vastly irresponsible life choices. But these people are few and far between. What we’re talking about here is families becoming homeless because one of their members needed life saving medical treatment. Or even worse, people dying because they can’t afford to see a doctor and wait until it is too late. I have seen this with my own eyes. No one should die because we have judged them unworthy of medical coverage.
Brooklyn, New York
(1) The ridiculously awesome people I've met here. Actors, dancers, academics, doctors, lawyers, activists, radicals, writers, designers, moms. Whether known for a minute or a lifetime, they are game changers.
(2) Public transportation and all of the convenience and entertainment it daily affords me.
(3) The knowledge that though I have lost many battles in/with this City, I am winning the war. And creating a peace agreement. And setting up a humanitarian alliance of states. And installing a puppet government. And throwing huge independence day celebrations complete with beer and meat and fireworks.
(A) A few months ago when I was at the conference referenced in the post below, someone asked me about my blog. My response was “I used to write a lot, but since Barack Obama was elected, I’m not as angry. I have nothing to say.”
(B) Barack Obama…I am undeterred. I still love him without condition. There are many things I wish were different. I wish that Guantanamo was actually closed. I wish that the war would actually be over by 2011. I wish that there were more jobs, and less debt. I wish that I didn’t see so many new people on the street each week. But I am confident, for the first time in my adult life, that my president is doing all that he can in the best interest of the country. And yes, there are daily things that go horribly wrong. Slow response to the flooding in Nashville. Massive oil spill days after the approval of off-shore drilling. The State (and state) of Arizona. But if we actually pay attention, we will see that things are changing, however slowly. You just have to pay attention.
(C) Attention….I got an iPhone back in October before I started my new job. I needed constant map access so I don’t get lost and murdered. : | I love her (my iPhone). Her name is Imogen. But one of the things that Imogen has brought into my life is a constant stream of media. Book reviews, restaurant reviews, movie reviews, blog and FB comments—all brought to me by way of app. With this flood of information, I’ve begun to notice that we, the young Internet users of America, are a hypercritical, snarky bunch. All books are dull. All restaurants are slow and bad. All movies are lame and unrealistic. All posts are stupid or fake or an opportunity for misplaced criticism of ones president/first lady/mayor/university/TV show/Ryan Seacrest. And so I wonder, how is it that we have so much time on our hands to read and comment in so many places with the sole intent of being nasty? Is it really so important to be the first commenter? I’m hoping that the revolution will include reading books. Positive, well-written books, with correct spelling and punctuation.
(D) Punctuation…I’ve got nothing to say about it. I just really like it. No, love it.
(E) Love…So in November, I took a new job. It was a job I’d had before, but part-time. I’m back homeless outreaching in Bklyn, full-time. I’m the clinician and supervisor for the overnight team. I love this job. Not always the actual job, but the potential of it. I often feel like I'm spinning my wheels, fighting against the currents of bureaucracy and staffing silliness. But the job has renewed my faith in good work, and good people, and has given me a bit of head space to think and plan and read and move forward. I struggle each day with my fatalistic tendencies, cultivated over many years of trying to not be disappointed by life. But there are times when I feel like I come out on the other side, and meet the day with hope. And compassion. And optimistic expectation. Ready to make a better world. And to do it all on about 4 hours sleep. Hardcore.
Thank you, Kelli, Aaron, Jenn, Ben, Greg, Christiana, and Wayne for putting on a great event.
(1) Reading back and finding beautiful things from the past 3 years, that continue to be beautiful. (ie. Barack Obama, Fun with friends, Weddings!, etc.)
(2) The opportunity to negotiate.
(3) The beginnings of chilly-but-not-quite-cold weather season.
Tonight I went to see Michael Moore's newest liberal propaganda piece. I heart liberal propaganda...for real. Toward the end of the film, he talks about the success of the labor movement during the Great Depression, and the supportive response of President Roosevelt. In his last State of the Union Address, he spoke about the American government's responsibility to support its citizens in their pursuit of happiness and the right to equality in all aspects of their lives. It is a simple statement, but something that is sadly so, so far removed from where we currently reside. But we have Hope for tomorrow. Read on....
Excerpt from President Roosevelt's January 11, 1944 message to the Congress of the United States on the State of the Union:
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;The right of every family to a decent home;The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.
From my earliest memories up until a series of unfortunate grades my junior year of college, I always saw myself being a school teacher. First elementary school and then, as the sarcasm and cynicism took hold, a high school English teacher. But as I finished my BA in 2001, I began to rethink and embarked on a period of corporate work as a book copy editor. So when I moved to NYC in 2002, it was to do this. And certainly my year at the college newspaper and some time textbook editing were enough to get me a stellar job during a recession when most publishers were laying off the majority of their workforce. Of course. So after about 6 months in the City and about 15 temp jobs, I began volunteering on the days I wasn’t working and to rethink my rethinking. My volunteer job was with the GMHC, where I still volunteer today, and I was one of the people in charge of intake there. I would gather each new client’s information and discuss with the person what services were available to them, and then bring this to the social worker in charge, who would assign them appropriately. This social worker and some friends I had made at Manhattan Church were my advisors as I decided to embark on a new career.
Even as a child I had a strong sense of justice and a powerfully empathic heart. This led to a wicked combination of tattling and friendship with the weird kids, which made me very popular. This has followed me and probably led me to some strange life decisions, and to what can some days be called a successful career.
Since I’ve started officially social working, I have worked with a day program and a food program for people living with AIDS; with a home visiting program for the elderly; in a public hospital as a social worker for people with HIV and in supportive housing for people with mental illness; as an outreach worker for people living on the street and as an administrator for a program for people with mental illness who are attempting to move their lives forward. In these jobs, I have been a party planner, a surrogate grandchild, an advocate, a good, impartial friend; I have put on talent shows and fashion shows and planned memorial services. I have purchased cigarettes, coffee, sandwiches, donuts, shoes, soap, medications and once a big TV. All these things in an effort to better someone’s life situation, to bring them stability and joy and safety and understanding. To fulfill the basic human need of love and belonging.
The job is obviously challenging. In my profession, it is a sign of burn-out if you begin to find the work mundane. I have found, as I have been doing this for about 5 years now, that I reach a point every so often when the weight I bear for others becomes too much for me to bear myself. I am learning to carry less and am finding ways to cope with the frequent times when my work seems futile, and my valleys are becoming less frequent and not as deep. And faith is one of the things I’ve learned to turn to.
In preparing for this I was trying to find scriptures to go with what I was saying here. I searched ‘refuge’ and ‘justice’ and ‘poor’ in the online Bible. And then I went to my own, real-time Bible and looked at the things I have marked and underlined in it. And some of those were the scriptures read today. I have always had great difficulty separating religion from life experience. I was reading an editorial about the career of Senator Ted Kennedy this week and it said that he had an “insistence that politics be grasped and administered through the prism of human needs.” At this point in my life, I feel the same way about work and faith. In seeing each person as a child of God, the person is no longer just a client, a number or a statistic. They are a human being in need of, and deserving of, dignity and compassion.
In my work, there’s a very thin line between brilliant success and utter failure. Dealings in the human condition sadly complicate things. A person knows that they are better off living inside, but finds themself afraid and claustrophobic when they are finally moved off the streets. And it becomes easier for them to live in the park during the summers. Great strides might be made toward health and stability for a person with mental illness, but regardless of resolve, the mysterious nature of brain chemistry may still land them in the hospital every 6 months. And so compassion is our highest goal. Seeing the face of God in every man, woman and child, and knowing that they are worthwhile regardless of the hate they may spew or the seeming wickedness of their behavior, and being an example of love in their lives. That is all we can do some days. And I believe that this is enough. For “what does the Lord require of us? To do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”