Monday, December 29, 2014

Holiday 2014

Happy Holidays!!

I hope you were able to spend some time with your family, some time with less stress than normal, some time to reflect on the reason for the season.  As anyone who knows me personally, and/or those who have come to know me through my posts, I am not a religious person.  I don't belong to any particular church, haven't been in a church other than for the occasional wedding or funeral in many, many years.  Yet, I like to consider myself spiritual.  Over the course of my life I have had the opportunity, through formal education as well as through personal time spent "searching for the meaning of life" to have been exposed to the lessons of many of the great spiritual teachers of history, especially those of Jesus Christ.  Having been raised a Catholic, I suppose that is why I identify more with his teachings, although, like many a searcher for truth, I have been also drawn to the spirituality of the eastern cultures, Buddhism in particular.

So, it should come as no surprise that I laugh aloud when I hear certain political pundits claim America is a Christian nation.  Of course, I realize that we identify ourselves as Christian from the standpoint that the predominant religions that we claim affiliation to our based on His life.  But, as I have said more than once, and most recently to my brother-in-law, to believe that we act Christlike in regards to the issues of the day is ludicrous.  From our acceptance of violence as a means to address our problems to the all consuming emphasis on material wealth as a means to happiness and an yardstick for success, we behave as unChristlike as is possible. 

Turn the other cheek.  Love thy neighbor as thyself.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  Do we use these as guidelines in our national and personal relationships?

As a nation we spend more money on our military than the next dozen countries, and we provide weapons of destruction to friends and foes alike, friends through the mistaken belief that guns will provide peace, and foes through the avarice of men who are only interested in money.  Rather than rehabilitation, we incarcerate as large a percentage of our own citizens as any other nation on earth.  Even when it comes to situations where one citizen confronts another, we have Castle Doctrine laws that give the green light to shoot each other.  While the vast majority of our police hold true to their creed of protect and serve, the axiom seems to lose some of its power when men of certain color or religious beliefs are involved. 

From issues ranging from torture to health care, we seem to ignore the lessons of Christ when making our laws.   The recent debate on the investigation into the interrogations techniques used by the CIA seems to center on whether the torture resulted in viable information, and less about whether by using torture on our enemies we had lost another portion of our soul, another claim to be a Christian nation.  "I have met the enemy and he is us" never rang so true than when I hear Americans defend the use of torture against our enemies.  As for health care, we have finally made a step towards treating all Americans with respect in terms of providing access to affordable health care insurance, especially those who need it the most, ie, the sickest, the poorest, the youngest, and yet in the name of profit or simply because some believe in the one bad root of capitalism, survival of the fittest, there are those who vow the repeal of this new law.  I always think of that famous Scrooge line from "A Christmas Carol"  when told by the gentlemen collecting for the poor that some would rather die than go to a poorhouse when he responds - "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population".

Speaking of yearly, traditional Christmas shows, I am sure we all saw a few these past couple of  weeks.  Whether it be A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life, I am sure more than one tear was shed at the moments when Scrooge turns from humbug to happy and George Bailey's financial woes are solved by the generosity of his neighbors and friends.  We respond with tears and smiles because we know that Scrooge was not treating those in his life as Christ teaches, we know that George Bailey's rescue is the result of his lifelong mission to help his neighbors, to put people above profit.  And, hopefully, in both cases because we believe in the goodness of men.  Yet, we contribute to the cheapening of our beloved holiday season through our silence when the big retailers open on Thanksgiving Day, or stay open until 11:00 on Christmas Eve.  Or worse, by actively shopping at those times.  I happen to work in retail, and, for the most part, most of my customers are pleased that our doors are closed at the holidays.  They understand that they are happy not to work and so are happy for me that I am off as well.  Yet there are always a few who frown at the knowledge that they will have to complete their shopping before the holiday, that we are not open for them to be able to wait until the very last minute to shop; that we are not at their beck and call.  I usually ignore those frowns, feel a bit sorry for them, but every once in a while I will ask if they have off or must work.  Generally, my question is met with surprise, as if the person couldn't conceive of working on a holiday but never made the mental jump to realize that it was just as important for us to be off as well.  Almost as if being a retail clerk made us less than a person, or less deserving of the holiday at home.

Do unto others...  It is such a simple idea, this golden rule, but so very difficult to practice.  Hopefully, you had a chance to watch your favorite holiday show, and you found a moment to remember that the root of the word Christmas is Christ. 

Lastly, a correction.  I mentioned in my last post that I had finished reading the Laphams Quarterly Youth and was beginning Time.  I misidentified the issues however; Youth was summer, Time was Fall.  Winter, which I have not yet begun, is called Foreigners which should be interesting in light of the recent immigration policy change initiated by President Obama and the upcoming legislation that will be created in the new year when the next Congress begins its term.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Youth and Time

I've been singing "Winter Wonderland" lately, as we have had light snow falling since yesterday.  Not much accumulation but the song still runs in my head.  My favorite line is "walking in your winter underwear", which is, of course, not in the song, but is my Yankovich version.

I finished reading "Youth" the fall Laphams quarterly, and began the Winter edition called Time.  Not sure what the thinking was to have those topics back to back, but the juxtaposition seems appropriate. 

I must say that I found myself distracted/less interested as I read Youth.  While there were many interesting essays, poems, stories, I was not as engrossed in the overall collection as usual.  Since my drive to work is only 30-40 minutes now, I have a bit less time to myself in the car, but during a recent commute, I thought about why Youth was less appealing to me.  The obvious is, of course, that I am not young anymore.  That in itself is a disturbing concept, and can very readily lead to a reluctance to read about the wonders of youth. Also, as I may have mentioned in a previous post, I also tire of the those past their prime who bash the young at every turn, as if the next generation is the worst to ever set foot on the planet.  Reading tirades such as these that date to the seventeenth century, the 9th century, and times with BC after the date, confirm my suspicion that youth is one of the most envious attributes, and the one which inspires a myriad of attacks from those who have lost theirs. 

Do I wish to be young again?  I don't think so.  Certainly I wish to have more energy, i.e. feel less tired.  And, if you haven't figured it out yet, I sometimes wish I had pursued writing at an earlier age, had went all in rather than writing as an ancillary aspect of my life.  But, if we knew now what we didn't know then .....  I certainly don't regret the main decisions I made in my life.  Marriage to a wonderful woman, two tremendous children.  Perhaps a writing career would not have lent itself to a more traditional life, and, were I to be a writer, I would be wondering if I missed out on the joys of a family.  As the song lyrics go, "It is not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got".

As for Time, I certainly do hope I have a fair amount of time to come.  More time to continue writing, more time to spend with family.  We all know that life is uncertain, that the car on the other side of the yellow line can come head on to yours due to a bee flying through an open window, or the scent of a flower that makes one sneeze, or merely due to a day that was too long with too little sleep.  We all know that ultimately, our time is limited.  Yet we spend so much of our lives looking past the present, wishing to be older, wishing for the weekend, wishing to be young again.  We seem to spend so little time in the present, then wonder why the presents have not added up to happiness.

Youth and Time. 

Here's hoping that you enjoy both!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

To eat or to work

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope your holiday was pleasant.  For those readers not from America - yes, my readership from Norway continues to surpass the US - we traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving to mark the mythical meal which occurred in the very early days of European settlements in America between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans.  A meal demonstrating that people of different cultures could find reasons to gather, share, and give thanks for the fruits of the land, and family.  I imagine that most countries have some sort of special day to celebrate and give thanks as we do on Thanksgiving.   

Sadly, the day after Thanksgiving in America has also been the starting point for the holiday shopping season, Black Friday, so named because it begins the time of the business cycle when so many companies move out of the red (losing money) and into the black.  Years ago, this shopping season was moved to begin at 6:00 AM, then 4:00 AM, then midnight in the last few years, and finally, recently, some large retailers decided to open on Thanksgiving itself, at 6:00 PM.

That being said, in the past week, just before and right after the holiday, I made a point to comment to family, friends and co-workers how disgusted I was with this newest development.  Most of those who responded did so in agreement.  I only recall one or two people saying that they had shopped that night, although there may have been more who did not want to admit it.  In scanning the news of the retailers reports of their Thanksgiving evening and black Friday shopping numbers, it appears that business was less than expected, in general.  Of course, this could reflect the continuing economic struggles of the average American family, but I would like to think it may also reflect a growing realization that profit is not more important than people, and, perhaps, a groundswell of condemnation that big retailers are taking Americans from their homes to work on the holiday.  Most likely it is a bit of both.

While I am sure that there are those retailers who requested volunteers for Thanksgiving evening before requiring others to work, there are certainly many who scheduled their labor without any give and take as to who might want to work and who might prefer not to.  Also, I would hope that some employers may have paid overtime to some employees, but I suspect that many of those who worked Thanksgiving evening were part time employees who did not warrant holiday pay, and may not have received any additional salary differential. 

Additionally, some smaller retailers who may not have planned to open Thanksgiving evening reportedly felt forced to do so to avoid losing out on the money which was potentially going to be spent.  As many of those smaller retailers represent the small businesses of America, it is a good bet that many did not have the resources to offer additional compensation, perhaps even promising to make it up to those who worked in the future based on sales of the evening, or after the season.

For those who were interviewed at the malls on local news channels either Thanksgiving night or early the next morning, the reason for leaving one's family that night or at 4:00 AM was simple - cheap prices.  The good news is that we all still want to provide our family and friends with thoughtful gifts on Christmas.  No one wants a barren Christmas tree come December 25th.  We are even so generous as to fill those Toys for Tots boxes and Salvation Army kettles in hopes that by sharing a little during the season of giving we might bring a smile to someone in need.

The bad news is that by participating in this rush for everything cheaper we are providing grist for the cheap prices requires cheap labor circle.  As the growth of the Dollar Tree and Bottom Dollar like franchises continues, so too does the prevalence of salaries below $10 per hour.  And, since somewhere between a fourth and a third of all American jobs are at such low pay rates, more people, more households exist at or below poverty levels, and more government assistance is required to feed, clothe and shelter our citizens.  To put it bluntly, every dollar you spend at the lowest priced establishment you can find, is another dollar to an overseas exporter, another dollar to a corporation with zero affinity to America, another dollar on the ever growing pile of dollars being siphoned from the American working family to the coffers of those individuals and corporations that believe in America only so far as their money can buy tax breaks, watered down competition and laws that favor business interests over employee rights.

In the end, what galls me is the lack of outrage by the conservatives who espouse family values in their daily diatribes against gay marriage, welfare programs, school lunch programs, and any government handout that doesn't go to the business community.  Where are they when families are forced to decide between work and celebrating the holiday with their families?  Where are they when the wealthiest in our country decide to spit on the tradition of Thanksgiving by forcing people to choose between work and food?