The Value of Human Life

There is a reason that serial killers often target women, prostitutes, indigenous people, drug addicts, and the elderly. It’s because they can.  Just as predators often go for the weakest, slowest, or least supported or most isolated members of a herd, killers tend to go for what society deems to be the low hanging fruit. After all, who will care?

Well, I care. These people were daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, and friends. They lived and loved and laughed, and yes, screwed up, just as much as any other person has. They have just as much value as any rich, beautiful, blonde girl in this world.

I’m outraged at how often these cases go cold based on the “value” of the person who went missing. I guarantee you that if Ivanka Trump disappeared, the case wouldn’t go cold. Ever. And yet, according to this article, more than 2,000 indigenous women in the US and Canada have vanished without a trace in the past 20 years. Poof. Gone. And most of us have not heard of a single one of them. This is unacceptable.

We seem to devalue human life more and more. Hate is gaining a newfound acceptance in this country. What the hell is wrong with us?

We are all so hellbent on being at the top of the pecking order that anything that makes you stand out is a good way to classify you as a “them” instead of an “us”. Are you different than I am? Then you must be less than I am.

Is your skin color different? Yay for me! That makes you easy to eliminate. What if you don’t speak my language? Another thing that’s hard to hide and easy to discount. Is your gender or sexual orientation “questionable”? Are you deformed in any way? Too old? Do you have breasts? Do you wear a turban or a hijab or any other clothing that makes you stand out?

Then you are out, my friend. Way out. So far out that if you disappear, no one will miss you except the people who love you.

Something has to change, folks.

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Yard Sales

About once every 15 years, I put myself through the torture of a yard sale. You’d think I’d have learned by now. They are an exercise in frustration, and unless the Yard Sale Gods are smiling upon you, these events tend to be a monumental waste of time.

I will say this, though: yard sales are an excellent way to discover just how worthless your stuff is. Every single “priceless” possession you have used to be money. Now you’re going through everything, trying to decide which items are more valuable to you if you convert them back into money. All the while, you are emotionally struggling with the fact that in the vast majority of cases, your financial return is going to be much less than your original financial output.

And I’m always shocked at the amount of man hours that have to be put into simply preparing for a yard sale. I’d say that for every hour of the sale, you put in an additional two hours in gathering the stuff, cleaning it up, pricing it, finding tables, making signage, advertising, getting cash in small denominations, schlepping your stuff into the yard, and creating an enticing display.

And if you’re like me, you overestimate how much people will be willing to pay. At first. Then, after being faced with an indifferent wave of lookie-loos, you drop your prices. Probably a couple times. At a certain point, you become convinced that you’ve priced things as low as you can possibly go. And yet, people will still bargain shamelessly. Will you take 10 cents for that autographed first edition instead of 25 cents? Can you part with Aunt Mabel’s complete set of porcelain flatware for a dollar instead of ten?

I can understand the bargaining instinct, but at a certain point it becomes insulting. And then, as the sale is winding down, you look at all the crap that has been left behind, and you know you’ll have to deal with it by putting it back in the attic or hauling it to the junk yard or to Goodwill, and you consider paying people to take it off your hands.

Bottom line: After about 20 hours of preparation and 10 hours of yard sale, we came away with $160. In other words, $5.33 an hour. Minimum wage. 15 years ago. Or today, if you live in the Bahamas.

But on the other hand it is a great way to meet your neighbors and sit out in the fresh air. And it does motivate you not to spend that 160 bucks on bringing more junk into your house. And you can catch up on your reading. So there’s that.

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What’s in a Name?

Has this ever happened to you? You run into a friend that you haven’t seen for a long time. You’re happy to see him because you have fond memories of laughter and camaraderie. You’ve always enjoyed his company. You have no idea why you grew apart in the first place. But you can’t introduce him to your significant other because… his name is on the tip of your tongue… what is it again?

Awkward.

We place so much value on the naming of people, places and things. It’s as if we must be able to pin things down, validate them, make them a part of our world by calling them something. The right thing. The proper thing. It’s important to name things to prove you know what or who they are. Why?

Is the accurate description of a thing what causes it to be real? Like Schrödinger’s cat, can a thing’s state of existence only be locked in when it’s observed? Is calling you by name the only way to prove that you are truly alive?

When land is colonized, the place names often get changed. For example, Mount St. Helens used to be called Suek by the Native Americans who lived there. Names are powerful things. Renaming says, “Your sense of the reality of this mountain isn’t valid. We take ownership of this place and its history is now our history. Nothing else counts.” It’s the ultimate violation.

And yet, the mountain itself is still the mountain. But even calling it “the mountain” is a sort of naming, is it not? That tall mound of… oh, bother. Everything is a description. You could keep an image of it in your head, but you’d have no way of discussing it with others without some commonly agreed upon name.

If a name is what defines something, shouldn’t people choose their own names? I have never felt like a Barbara. No one could ever know me as well as I know myself. And yet, the name I would choose for myself now is probably not the name I would have chosen 20 years ago. I am constantly changing. But my name stays the same. I kind of feel as though I should be able to shed it like old skin. But there’s no cultural mechanism in place for that.

Words have value. They help us connect with each other, and with the wider world. But maybe we need to find a way to work on our interior sense of who or what constitutes the true essence of things, before we lose the ability to do so.

Suek
Suek

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Just Because It’s Yours Doesn’t Mean You Have to Keep It

I used to know a guy who had a photo of a cat. “Cute cat,” I said, “What’s his name?”

“I dunno. A pen pal sent that picture to me 30 years ago.”

“Are you still friends?”

“No.”

“Then why are you keeping the photo of a long-dead cat that belonged to someone you no longer know?”

“Because she sent it to me.”

He also keeps every gift he was ever given, including clothes that he never liked that never fit, and toys that he never played with that he’ll never sell. It’s a thing with him. He’d rather be a dumping ground than hurt someone’s feelings.

Personally, I can’t remember the vast majority of the things that I’ve given to people. So unless something is outrageously expensive or a family heirloom, if I’ve given you something that you don’t like, use, or need, feel free to get rid of it. You were not put on this earth to preserve my psyche. If it’s that fragile, then your hoarding my tchotchke isn’t going to keep my morale intact anyway.

We place entirely too much emotional value on “stuff”. I guarantee you that there are very few possessions that are worth your life. If your house is engulfed in flames, I doubt you are going to run back inside to rescue that cute pair of shoes.

Now that I live in a tiny little house, I’m trying really hard to pare down. It’s teaching me to be selfish and cold-hearted. In a good way.

If I’m reluctant to part with something, I examine that instinct closely. Why am I keeping it? Am I doing it for me or for someone else? Because here’s the thing (yes, there’s always a thing): No one else has to live in my space. I’m the one who has to dust, maintain, trip over, and be irritated by the stuff I choose to keep. George Carlin made a very good point when he talked about our houses being very big boxes with lids.

The older I get, the less I’m willing to deal with the detritus of life. My time is even more limited than my energy. It’s a safe bet that when I die, 95% of what I own will wind up either in a landfill or in the hands of complete strangers. How’s that for perspective?

Incidentally, this theory works for emotional baggage, too. Food for thought.

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Your Good Opinion

The other day, I wrote a blog post entitled “A Surreal Encounter”. After a friend read it, she said, “You did the right thing. And your response was good, too. Proud of you.”

Of course I thanked her and told her that that meant a lot to me, but I don’t think that adequately puts across just how much it means to me. It brings tears to my eyes, just thinking about it. Everybody appreciates positive feedback. I think that most of us, deep down, wonder if we’re doing a good job in life. And for some reason, compliments are thin on the ground these days, so when you get one, it’s delicious. Savor it.

Personally, one “I’m proud of you” from someone I respect is worth more to me than gold. Because of that, I try to say that to people when I genuinely feel that way. They aren’t mind readers. They deserve to be told. And it’s so easy to do.

I don’t understand why people don’t realize what a precious commodity their good opinion is to the recipient thereof. I mean, it has become increasingly obvious in a general sense. We like to be “liked” for our Facebook comments. Everyone loves to be “swiped right”. So you’d think we wouldn’t be so hesitant to say, “Good job!”

If you haven’t given someone a sincere compliment in the last 24 hours, you may want to sit down and think about why that is. Do you really have such a low opinion of the people around you? If so, poor you. It must be a miserable world that you live in.

Or do you think that your words won’t mean anything to others? To that I say poppycock. And even if your compliment means nothing to the recipient, it’s not like you have a limited supply and you need to use them sparingly. It’s good practice. How hard is it to say, “I like your shirt,” or “Well done!”

If we all committed to giving one extra compliment per day, I think it would make a palpable difference in this world, which currently seems to be so obsessed with hate and division. Give it a try. What have you got to lose?

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Greed

I’ve been learning a very unpleasant economics lesson lately. Attempting to buy a house in the Seattle, Washington area is leaving a bitter taste in my mouth indeed. This is the most booming seller’s market in the entire country, and therefore I’m experiencing cutthroat competition.

I’ve seen house values nearly double in the three years I’ve been here. There’s a good reason for that. Seattle is issuing 200 new drivers licenses every single day. That’s how many adults are moving to the area. And the number of available housing units isn’t even coming close to keeping up with that pace, so everyone, including me, is getting desperate.

Personally, I’d sit back a few years until this foolishness dies down, except that rents are going through the roof (pardon the pun), as well. I’ve had more than one friend experience a $500 a month rent hike when they went to renew their leases. If that happens to me I’ll be sleeping on a park bench, in the rain, using my dog Quagmire as a pillow.

The frustrating thing about this is that the “value” of these houses is hyper-inflated simply because it can be. I saw a little 900 square foot house with a tiny yard, built in the 1930’s, and the seller is asking 2.5 million, and will probably get it. Location, location, location.

But what is this city going to turn into if only the type of people who can pay that kind of money are able to live here? In terms of quality of life, it’s been my experience that any city is better off without an overabundance of rich, insufferable, entitled assholes. You need people like me to scrub your toilets and flip your hamburgers. You need diversity and culture to be a really stellar city. But that’ll only work if we have a place to sleep during our off hours.

A lot of sellers aren’t even bothering to tidy up their places before listing them, because they know they don’t have to. Somebody is going to buy it regardless, and probably for 75k above the asking price, so why waste your energy?

Recently I saw my dream house, and the asking price was within my range, so I bid on it. But 8 other people did, too, increasing the price so much that I couldn’t come close to competing, and the person whose bid was accepted not only waived the inspection, but paid cash. Cash. There’s no way I can keep up in this market. I’m going to wind up in a hovel right on the end of the airport flight line, or in a dangerous neighborhood, or with a 2 hour commute each way.

There is something wrong when a 52-year-old woman who has worked steadily since the age of 10 cannot afford to live anywhere within 50 miles of her place of employment. Did I pull the wings off flies in a former life, or something? This is a truly messed up situation.

Everybody knows that their houses aren’t “really” worth what they’re getting for them these days. But they’ll take it, by God! Greed trumps everything in this country. Granted, a lot of them kind of have no choice if THEY are trying to buy another house in this area. Some people are born greedy, and others have greediness thrust upon them. It’s not a good look either way. Sometimes “because I can” is not the best reason to do something.

If I were selling my house, I don’t think I’d take the very top bid. I’d also take into consideration if the person will continue to make the house a home, and be a good neighbor, and really loves what I’ve tried to do with my abode over the years. Better yet, I wouldn’t put it on the market at all. I’d find a deserving person and work with him or her to make it possible. I wouldn’t sell it to an investor or someone looking to turn it into a rental property, or worse, tear it down and put up a high rise, for Pete’s sake. Because avoiding that is the right thing to do. The decent thing to do. It’s the thing to do if you have any integrity at all.

But that’s the nasty thing this home buying experience is teaching me. People, as a general rule, do not have integrity. Their moral compasses are spinning in lazy circles.

The only way I’m going to find a home around here is if someone gives me a little bit of a freakin’ break. And here’s the thing. No one is going to do that.

So there you go.

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My Very First Royalty Check

When I wrote my book and created the website for it, I had to rent a post office box. I didn’t want to put my home address out there for the whole world to see. Granted, the odds of my acquiring a stalker based on a book about gratitude are probably pretty slim. (It’s hardly a controversial subject. Delightful, yes. Divisive, no.) But hey, you never know what is going to stir someone up.

But now I have this post office box, and the subsequent guilt that comes along with it. I chronically forget to check it. (I don’t like to neglect things, even if they are inanimate.) When I do get around to paying it a visit and peeking inside, it’s generally full of junk mail. I almost find this to be a relief. I’m not being rude to anyone except advertisers, and they don’t count, right?

But the other day, nestled among the discounts for the roof repairs on a home that I don’t own and the pleas that I bundle my television services when I haven’t had a TV in years, was an important looking envelope. It had probably been sitting there for weeks. It turned out to be my very first royalty check for my book. I have no idea why, but I wasn’t expecting it.

My first paid writing gig. I’ve been published many times before, in newspapers and magazines, and I have even been included in an anthology, but there was never any compensation involved. And now here was this check.

It felt like vindication; like the thing I love to do finally has value. But that’s kind of silly, because I’ve gotten so much value from the feedback of readers, and from the pride I feel when I publish a particularly well written post. The ability to express myself is also priceless. But these things are intangible. Here was this check. In my hand. Right here.

I took it home. I sat with it for a long time. I crowed a tiny bit on Facebook. Then I set about giving a fair share to those who had collaborated with me, and donated a dollar for every book sold to StoryCorps, since they’re the ones who sent me on this amazing journey in the first place. And what a wonderful journey it has been!

What was left of the check won’t even cover the rental of that aforementioned guilt-laden post office box. But just holding that check in my hand… that was an amazing feeling.

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My piece of the pie.

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