Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A living wage may end the world?

Since the Minds at Missouri Medicaid decided that young children in poverty don't need access to individual counseling, the do-gooders at my weekday job have spent much time over the past fourteen months applying for and then begging for grant money so that we can get at least a few of our mental health providers to keep working with us. So it is not unusual for me, as the resident mental health chick, to have conversations with the woman who is the grant-writing guru at my agency.

Today she was talking about a recent meeting of non-profit agency administrators and folks from the Chamber of Commerce. When she mentioned that "they" were opposed to raising the minimum wage, I sort of sat there for while, processing that chunk of information. To check my reality, I asked: "you mean the chamber people are opposed?"

"No" she said. The non-profit administrators are.

What!? Aren't these the folks who're supposed to be trying to help the poor? Are they afraid that if they give people a living wage they'll run out of business? That people in poverty will, with a dollar or so more an hour, suddenly no longer need any help? And, if that were somehow to be true, how could that be a bad thing?

And, she noted, they said that really, no one is paid 5.15 an hour anymore-most folks get at least $6.00.


Apparently their argument is the same tired one I've heard every time the minimum wage has gone up. You know, the argument about how if you raise the minimum wage, everyone will expect a raise, and then everyone will lose their jobs, the country will fall to the communists (maybe now they say the terrorists) yadda yadda yadda. It is like the argument proposed by some rich people that for society to function we must have an underclass.

The minimum wage was something like $1.85 when I got my first summer job at age 13. A few years later, I remember thinking I'd hit the jackpot when I was paid $3.35 an hour to sell clothes at the mall. In the 90's the wage was raised again, and my boss's boss's boss, the honcho at the purple palace, joined with his peers to insist that it was the end of the world as we know it.

The world is certainly not the same as it was in the Clinton era, but raising the minimum wage oh-so-many years ago did not cause it.

I am still shocked to hear that people whom I assume are comrades in the war against poverty think this way.

We're losing this war, too, you know.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Interesting sites abound

Now that I have been introduced to the website, finding out trivial facts about the movies and shows I see is practically a requirement. So when I saw "Little Miss Sunshine" this weekend, of course I looked it up. The movie was great, BTW-- a darkly humorous caricature of dysfunctional family life.

After checking imdb, I went to the movie's website...where I discovered another nifty little use of cyberspace: After creating your log in, you can, gradually or all at once, make a list of 43 things you want to do with your life. The site will then (if you want) send you reminders on a schedule you determine. Folks have listed goals ranging from saving the world to getting up when the alarm clock rings (that should definitely be one of mine). Sometimes having your goals in writing makes them more likely to be realized, and sometimes putting your dreams in writing makes them more likely to become goals.

It is an interesting concept, and another twist in the blogging of life.

Friday, August 18, 2006


I clicked the "next blog" button at the top of this page and wound up with a glimpse into the life of an Israeli. (

There's no link that I can find to details about the blogger, but the images and comments are compelling. Click on the video link, and keep watching--there are images of what life is like there.

For me, seeing inside someone's experience gives perspective. A moveable, changeable perspective, for sure--which I guess is the point. RD Laing wrote that we can never experience someone else's existence, we can only experience our experience of their existence. True. But it is better than not being aware that there are other experiences than our own.

I've run across some interesting pages in my blog-surfing, including the blogs of Cambodia's famous King Sihanouk, lots of teenage girls living in Singapore and the Philippines and sites by bloggers in South American countries like Paraguay, Chile, Brazil. The actual surfing can be rough sometimes, like running into a page with no next blog link (click back and then next blog again-its different each time), or worse, getting stuck on an ad (close the window because there's no other way out), but the little glimpses make it worth the hitches.

And its a great excuse to say "gnarly."

Monday, August 14, 2006

"Lost" is lost!!!

Okay, I realize this is trivial and all, but what the heck happened to Lost reruns? For the last three Wednesdays I checked the DISH network guide in the AM to happily note the show would be on. By the time I get home from work, George Lopez or some such drivel has taken it's place! I am jonesing here, and to make it worse, I see a vid clip on that shows Jack walking from his trailer, and the caption says that there must not be much backstory left for his character since we already know why his wife left him!

I don't know why his wife left him! What else did I miss? When, oh when, will I get to find out? The DVDs aren't due out till September!

On a different note, since there've been no Lost shows to watch, I've seen lots of rented DVDs--my thoughts:

After the Sunset
(Pierce Brosnan, Selma Hayek)--not so great, not even worthy of the Palace.
(the original)--always good for a laugh, especially when watched with a teenager who is seeing it for the first time.
Inside Man (Denzel Washington)--Dog Day Afternoon 21 century style and a Spike Lee Joint, it is exciting and engrossing.
The Interpreter (with Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman)-good stuff, maybe even good enough to watch twice.
Spy Game (Robert Redford, Brad Pitt)--worth it, if only to see how much they look like father and son, and to realize that Robert Redford just turned 70 and he is still gorgeous. Pitt should be so lucky.
V for Vendetta--
good stuff, even at the new release price.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

To sit is to be kind


A little white clapboard house sits behind the high school. The neighborhood is full of these little homes, most with pretty flowers in the yard, a big wheel or bike temporarily abandoned on the driveway.

I'd been invited along to visit the man who lived in this little white house. He had schizophrenia, and had been living on his own for a long time.

The issue was this: Should this man be placed in a nursing facility or board and care home, or should he be able to stay in his little white house.

Even though it was about 15 years ago, what happened on this home visit was a lesson I'll never, ever forget. The social worker that took us to this little house would, without meaning to, show me what "unconditional positive regard" means. He would demonstrate a level of caring and concern that I'd never experienced before.

Here's the story:

There were three of us--two young women, both with the ink still drying on our master's degrees, and one old social worker, John, who spent most of his days helping folks at the local homeless shelter/hotel. Our knock was answered by a stooped-over elderly man who ushered us into his dark, cool living room. The social worker had us take a look around the house. We started in the tiny bathroom. Never before or since have I seen a dirtier bathroom. The toilet bowl was stained a tobacco brown, and dark, thick mold crept up the walls around the shower. My co-worker went into the kitchen, I walked back into the living room.

Where I noticed that the walls were alive.

The brown panelling was literally covered with roaches. My co-worker came out of the kitchen like a shot, all wide-eyed, and whispered that the countertops were covered with bugs, and the sink was full of dishes and bugs. She was ready to bolt.

With roaches I'm like Winston and the rats in Orwell's 1984-- just typing this gives me the willies, okay? So standing there in that room was more effort than I can describe.

But John, he just sat right down.

He sat down on a chair in that living room. He leaned forward and talked with his client with as much respect and caring as he would have with his boss or his best friend. He gave this man the respect and kindness he deserved.

This is what it means to do good. To put aside your own heebie-jeebies, or prejudices, or fears or pridefulness, and just be there with someone. To sit down and have a talk even when the walls are undulating.

I've been in lots of bug-infested homes since then. And other situations which were pretty awful by most standards. But I sit down.

I've brushed the bugs off my notebooks, taken cups of kool aid from little hands that had just been scratching the lice in their hair, but when the urge to bolt comes, I remember John and his calmness as he chatted with the old man. I remember how they connected with mutual respect. And I know what needs to be done.

I don't know what happened to the old man. Did he stay in the house? Did they decide to give him a guardian and move him to a clean home? I don't even know which would have been the right answer.

I do know that John didn't think he'd done anything special. All he did was sit down.

Yeah. He sat down.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Bake sale for bombers

It is officially back-to-school season. Crayons and glue, spirals and backpacks crowd stores aisles and bring back memories of school supply shopping. That was always the best part of school--buying the shiny new supplies was a lot more fun than using them.

For the Young One, just the word (school) is off-limits from June through August. Its the "s-word" and the ultimate in foul language. Heaven forbid one should use such language around a young, impressionable mind! For parents, though, the s-word reminds us that some semblance of sanity is just a few weeks away. This sanity is limited, of course, to the fact that s----l brings structure. Structure is good. In fact, as I tell folks on a daily basis: Structure and consistency are the best gifts we can give our children.

But with the structure of the s----l year also comes stress. The Young One has had homework every day since kindergarten. Dear Mrs. Schumaker (the World's Greatest Kindergarten Teacher Ever) taught the kiddos well. Every night, even if it was just for five minutes, there was a little assignment. Her assignments were always worthwhile and supplemented her curriculum. Assignments have not always been so logical over the years, but Mrs. Schumaker instilled a desire to succeed that stuck, and was augmented by other great teachers like Mrs. Sauer and even the infamous Mrs. Johnson.

This year begins "our" odyssey into high school and with it a new set of stresses reaches far beyond starting the rigorous academic work of international baccalaureate preparation. High school means new friends, new routines, new school building, new expectations, even driving.

It slays me, I have to admit, that at PTA meetings we spent time trying to figure out how to raise money to buy books for the libraries. Schools on all sides of the city are sorely lacking in adequate library resources. Library resources! I mean, we're not talking about adding air conditioning, or new building funds. To me it seems like a no-brainer--schools need good libraries. You know, libraries with books and computers, and study areas, and newspapers and magazines--the stuff of learning. Even in this age of technology, ebooks, internet searches and homework sites, people still use books. And it just blows my mind that we have to have a bake sale to buy books for the public school libraries.