Another Extinct Job

One of my sisters is 9 years older than me. When I was little, I watched her grow up and enter the working world. I think in her first full time job she earned a hundred dollars a week, and I thought she was rich beyond my wildest dreams. That should give you some indication of how old I am.

I always admired her so much. She was beautiful, and cool. I tried to dress like her. And she had a cool job.

The first job I remember her having that I had any understanding of whatsoever was for our local newspaper. She was a Paste-Up Artist. She went on to do that job for a variety of newspapers in three different states.

The job no longer exists. That makes it even more exotic in my memories. It’s so exotic, in fact, that it actually merits its own Wikipedia page.

Basically, she would design the layout of the paper from day to day. Sometimes she just created the ads, choosing the borders, and making the art the proper size to fit the column. Other times she designed the whole page, choosing the font, getting the set type and pasting the type in, breaking the columns in appropriate places.

I got to go see where she worked at the Orlando Sentinel a couple of times. She had her own workspace. She knew her way around. People knew her name. It was exciting. I wanted to be her.

I thought it was cool that she got to earn money from being creative. She would often bring the paper home and show me what she had done. I was very proud of her. I remember that she took pride in making all her borders meet at perfect 90 degree angles. She even let me choose the border once. It made me think of a newspaper as a thing of beauty, and my very own sister was the one to create that beauty. People looked at her work every day. She did that.

Now, of course, all that work is done on a computer, almost as an afterthought. In fact, here I sit, laying out my blog post every day.  Everything is automatically at 90 degree angles. I hope she’s proud.

Most people today probably don’t even realize that once upon a time, someone sat at a drafting table and used an exacto knife, sometimes drawing blood, and glued things together to create what they read. It’s weird to think that the job you do, the job that allows you to live and eat, the job that causes you stress and/or makes you feel glamorous for having a talent that others don’t have, might someday disappear like the dinosaurs.

paste up artist

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Not Cut Out for Grit Labor

When I was 19 years old, my eldest sister was in the Air Force, stationed in Holland. Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, she invited me to go there for the summer. What, are you kidding? Of course I said yes, with visions of jet setting around Europe dancing in my head.

Upon arrival, she mentioned that, oh, by the way, she had gotten me a job on the Air Force base. I was to mop floors and stock soda machines all summer long. I could hardly complain, could I? She had brought me to Europe, after all.

So, after pretty much zero training, I was sent off to fend for myself. And the verbal directions I was given as to the locations of the various vending machines was sketchy at best. To say I got lost is putting it mildly. That base was huge. A job that should only have taken a couple hours took me all night.

The next night, I was to mop the floors, using one of those metal industrial rolling buckets and a heavy stringy mop. I was a skinny little thing back then. At one point, I knocked the full bucket over in a hallway and flooded the place. I spent the whole night desperately trying to sop up the gigantic puddle. When my boss came in the morning he was furious.

I’ll never forget this. He called my sister and told her that I was “not cut out for grit labor”, and that was the end of that summer job. In retrospect I should have been a lot more insulted. At age 19, he was writing me off for life. And it turns out that the bulk of my career has been all about grit labor, so poo poo on you, bossman.

There were no other civilian jobs that I qualified for on base, and I had no work visa to work in country, so guess what? I traveled around Europe for the rest of the summer. It was great.

I swear to God, I didn’t do it on purpose.

Mop Bucket

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You Just Got A Lot Less Free

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled against you, me, and everyone else in the Janus vs AFSCME case. Now, everyone in the public sector, regardless of the state in which he or she resides, is in a “right to work” state.

Basically, it means that people in union jobs in the public sector no longer are required to pay union dues, and yet they will get the benefit of union services. That sounds great unless you scratch the surface. If fewer of us pay union dues, the unions will spend more time financially struggling, and less time protecting workers.

Why should you care? Trust me, I lived in Florida, a “right to work” state, for decades. For the past 4 years, I’ve been in Washington, a collective bargaining state, and the differences were blatantly obvious.

For starters, I am now earning 3 times as much for doing the exact same job. In Florida I was barely making more than minimum wage, and had no benefits to speak of. Here in Washington, I get holiday pay and sick leave and have medical and dental and vision insurance. I have retirement. In other words, I can survive.

In Florida, when we were exposed to lead paint, our supervisor told us to drink more milk. That was supposed to take care of lead poisoning. Here, our health and safety is so focused on, it’s the opposite extreme, meaning I have to wear a hard hat every time I step out on the sidewalk. But at least I won’t be hit by a low flying plane!

In Florida, I could be fired for no reason at all, and it happened to people all the time. In Washington, even the people who should get fired almost never do. But at least you can sleep at night, knowing you’ll have a job tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong: They still try to screw you over in Washington State. They just don’t succeed as often. Thanks to unions. And that’s something to hold on to. But now, that’s gone. Greedy people will stop paying their union dues. (I’ll keep paying. They’ve saved my bacon too many times to stop supporting them now.) Without our support, the unions will get stretched thinner and thinner until they break.

And that’s what the conservatives are counting on. You elected them. Now look at what is going to happen to you. The statistics in the image below are all too true. And the crazy thing is, even if you aren’t in a union job, these statistics trickle down to you as well.

Okay, I’m not explaining this well. (I tend to be less coherent when I’m upset.) Check out this video and you’ll understand. It’s 3:35, so only a few minutes of your time to realize just how screwed this conservative-packed supreme court just made you.

Welcome to our new reality. Think about that next time you enter the voting booth. And happy 4th of July.

#UnionStrong #FreedomToJoin

RTW-Is-Wrong

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The Ingredients of Happiness

It always comes as quite a shock when someone famous commits suicide. Hearing on the radio that Anthony Bourdain chose to take his own life nearly caused me to swerve off the road. This is someone I’ve envied. He got to travel. He had crazy experiences and met fascinating people. He won countless awards. No doubt he also made a boatload of money.

This was someone who was successful, rich, and had an exciting life. Three things many of us strive for, and yet, now he’s gone. On the surface, you’d think that his was a life worth living. But to make this permanent choice, he must have been in a great deal of emotional pain. He must have been suffering. Surrounded by all of us, who admired him, he must have been all alone. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I doubt any of us will ever know the full story.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I am happier than Anthony Bourdain was. I would never have guessed this a week ago. But there’s incontrovertible evidence of this now. I’m still here.

So, what constitutes happiness? One thing is for sure: it isn’t money. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

I know someone who is a millionaire, but he’s also a divorced, estranged father and a raging alcoholic. He’s one of the most miserable people I have ever met. Money does nothing to solve your problems when all is said and done. Most of us know this, and yet so many of us still seem obsessed with filthy lucre. It’s such a waste of time.

As far as I can tell, the two things you need to be happy are connections and purpose. Humans are social animals. They need community. The more you surround yourself with people you love who love you back, the happier you will be. And having a purpose, such as a job you love, or a goal to strive for, or even a hobby, makes life worthwhile. If you have none of those things, I encourage you to become a volunteer. Helping others is the noblest of purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can be happy all the time. People who are happy all the time are mentally ill. It’s how we cope with the rough patches that truly defines us. But there’s a lot that you can do to make your life satisfying overall.

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Here in the US, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. Please, just do that one last thing before taking any steps that, once done, can never be undone. Surely you owe yourself that much.

Anthony Bourdain, I hope you have found the peace you apparently could not find in this life. I wish you had made a different choice.

Anthony Bourdain

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“I Can Do It Myself!!!”

According to family lore, that was one of the first full sentences I ever uttered. That does not surprise me in the least. I’ve always been very independent.

I started working when I was 10 years old, growing house plants and selling them at the local flea market. My first major purchase was tickets to Disney World for me, my mother and my sister. At the time we could all go for a total of twenty dollars. That tells you how long ago that was.

When I got my first car (which I paid for myself), the first thing I did was learn how to change the oil, and I took pride in doing it. Nowadays I’d rather pay someone else than get all dirty and stuff, but it still makes me smile that I know how.

I also did a great deal of the remodeling of my first house. I learned how to plaster and paint and grout and construct and shingle. I attribute my confidence in these areas to my summer job with the Youth Conservation Corps.

Many people seem surprised that I bought a house on my own, but the fact is, I’m on my second one. If I had waited for some Prince Charming to come along and foot the bill, I’d have been a renter for life. What a waste of money.

I also moved all the way across the country on my own, even though I didn’t know a soul on the West Coast. I don’t think I really thought that one through. If I had, I’d probably still be in Florida. But it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, so three cheers for flying by the seat of my pants!

I’ve done a great deal of traveling on my own. It wasn’t as fun as it could have been, but it sure beat staying at home. The world is an amazing place, indeed, and those travel experiences have shaped who I am.

Doing all those things myself has made me the person that I am today, and I’m rather proud of that. But here’s the thing: The older I get, the more I want to do things with someone. I don’t want to do it myself. I want company. I want someone to share the experience with, someone to laugh with. I want someone to help me find my way if I get lost. I want feedback. I want a hand to hold.

The fact that I have that now is the best gift the universe could have ever given me. It only took me 53 years to figure that out.

stubborn-kid2

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Mental Health Days

Raise your hand if you’ve NEVER, not even once, called in sick to work or school when you’re weren’t technically sick. Anyone? Anyone? (I didn’t think so.)

Back before I was a bridgetender, I pretty much hated every job I had. And I called in sick a lot. Of course, I was younger then, and believed I could get another job quickly and easily, even if I pushed my luck. It also never occurred to me that catastrophic health problems could ever be in my future, and that it might be a good idea to hoard my sick days.

But every once in a while, you just need a break. You know? (Of course you do.)

I think the need for mental health days has increased over time. The world is just too crowded and there’s too much information flying at us from every direction. The pressure is building. It becomes increasingly impossible to keep up, emotionally, financially, politically, and culturally.

Sometimes you just need to push the reset button. Sneak out and see a movie. Or sleep in and hug your dog. Or take a walk in the woods. Or read a good book.

And that’s okay. If you checking out for just one day means the world will stop spinning, then you seriously need to learn how to delegate. Just sayin’.

slow down, relax, take it easy

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An Open Letter to White Supremacists

First, let me give you my “bonafides”. According to Ancestry DNA, I’m about as white as a human being can be. That always has, and probably always will give me a leg up in society. I won’t even try to deny it. I also won’t deny that I’ve done little or nothing to earn this leg up. I was born into it, and oh, do I ever take advantage of it.

I can go weeks, months, even years not having to think about pesky racial issues if I so choose. I can live in a white bubble and have absolutely no contact with any minority for days on end. I don’t have to watch “them” on TV, or listen to “them” on the radio if I don’t want to. I can simply close my eyes and clutch my pearls. If I so desire, I can shop exclusively at white-owned stores without putting forth much effort at all. I probably do without even realizing it. I have the luxury of not having to care one way or the other.

People assume I’m law-abiding and honest. People assume I’m non-violent. People assume that I’m supposed to be wherever I happen to be, any time of the day or night. I’m a harmless fat old white woman. I’m as likely to get shot as I am to be struck by lightning. Most people don’t even look at me. I can become invisible. I often feel invisible. It’s lonely, but it has its advantages.

No, I’m not rich. I’m barely middle class, and I’ve only clawed my way up to this precarious and ever-shrinking perch in the past 3 years. I know what it’s like to be down there in that bucket of crabs, where everyone is scrabbling to get out, and just when you think you’ve made it, the other crabs pull you back down. I was there for 50 years. It’s frustrating. It’s heartbreaking. I understand that despair.

But here’s where you and I part company: I don’t assume that all the crabs that have been pulling me down are non-white. I don’t even bother to blame the other crabs regardless of their color. If you’re caught in a crowded, desperate bucket, it’s only natural to want to get your crabby butt out of there. It’s not the other crabs, guys. It’s the freakin’ bucket. There shouldn’t be a bucket.

That bucket was made by rich white people.  It’s the corporations and the politicians and the institutions that are your biggest threat. It’s the military-industrial complex that is using you as cannon fodder and replaceable cogs in the machine.

Railing at your crab-mates is a mere distraction. Glorifying Confederates, who lost for good reason, and Nazis, who lost for good reason, makes you look like fools. Being violent because you’re angry does not further your cause. It will never bring you respect or support or dignity. It won’t get you out of the bucket. Fascism has never benefited the masses, and like it or not, we are part of the masses.

I know it sucks that we’ll never have a delightful and stress-free retirement. I know it’s scary that things are getting more crowded and therefore more competitive. It’s high time you realize that automation is a much bigger threat to your job than other humans are. And most of those machines, by the way, are owned by white people.

If you honestly think for one minute that your crab-mates are out to destroy you or your way of life, ask yourself this: why are all of us striving for the same things? We all want a decent, safe, secure life. A way to feed our children. A roof over our heads. Peace. We have a lot more in common than you seem to think.

Don’t you get it? We are all in this together. And together we are stronger. The very fact that we are a mass is the one thing we have that those bucket manufacturers do not.

The reason you have the day off today is thanks to the labor movement, a movement of the masses. We can do great things if we stand shoulder to shoulder rather than turning our back on each other, or even worse, locking ourselves into mortal combat with each other while the bucket manufacturers gleefully watch from a distance.

Turning on each other is the last thing, the absolute last thing, we should be doing. Don’t be a pawn.

crabs

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