therestlessnest

where life's not empty, it's restless.

Archive for the category “economics”

In Real Time

IMG_0188 - Version 2Home. I’m home. The #TravelBinge2017 Tourist has Halted. However: she lives on inside me, and she has given my brain a much-needed adjustment.

I don’t much like the word “tourist.” “Traveler” is the word I’ve always preferred, with its hints of Martha Gellhorn and Graham Greene. But in the eyes of the Chinese, Korean, French, English and Icelandic people who tolerated me tromping through their countries this past month, I was not fancy or special. I was a tourist. And that’s OK. No one would mistake me for a native in any of these nations, except perhaps Iceland. And being a tourist is not what it used to be. Or it doesn’t have to be what it used to be. You can break free of the pack, even in China, even without speaking Chinese. IMG_0372People are ridiculously busy in China these days, but if you flag them down, they’ll help you buy train tickets, or get off at the right stop, or order dumplings.

And sometimes, if they want to practice their English, they’ll flag you down.

IMG_0352      Outside Guangzhou–a city of 12 million in southern China that appears to be adding a skyscraper a day–my friend Lindsay and I were hiking up Baiyun Mountain when two young law students, Carry and Pelly (their “English names”) asked if they could walk and talk with us. It was a national holiday: Tomb Sweeping Day, when Chinese families gather to clean and decorate the graves of their ancestors. Carry and Pelly, both 21, came from a town three hours away and couldn’t afford to go home to their families, so they had joined the throngs hiking Baiyun. We ended up spending much of the day together, including a trip to their favorite tea and dumpling restaurant, which we never would have found without them.  IMG_0245

Their questions for us ranged far and wide: “Do you like ice cream?” (They told us that many Chinese people believe that chilled foods, like ice cream, are bad for young women, especially if they’re pregnant.) “Do you practice a religion?” (They don’t, but assumed that we, being American, might.) And, inevitably, “What is Donald Trump like?”

You can’t travel the world right now without talking politics in general, and Trump in particular. But here’s the larger truth: people outside the United States have a lot on their minds besides Donald Trump.

For example, when I asked Carry whether she worried about global warming, her cheerful face turned somber. She told me about China’s terrible rains and sandstorms in 2009. “It was the alarm of nature,” she said, “that tells us to protect the planet.”

IMG_0185         Where had I gotten the idea that Chinese people were too busy building their economy to care about protecting the planet? The earth’s troubled health is literally in their face, every day: donning a mask is something they’re already used to doing. Climate change is not far off in the future; it is happening in real time.

This morning, that phrase–“in real time”–popped up three times in thirty minutes of reading. Is it suddenly so popular because we experience so much of our lives virtually? Vicariously? Abstractly?

IMG_0137            I know this much: travel happens in real time. And though I’m happy to be home, reflecting back on my trip in nostalgic, not-real time, I already miss that bracing immediacy. I miss talking climate change in China, elections in France, Brexit in Britain. I miss seeing, right in front of me, the speed and scale of China’s urban growth, political posters all over Paris, and the global pageant that is London, where Brexit was rejected as resoundingly as it was embraced elsewhere in England.

IMG_0530            To be a tourist is to be constantly humbled, in real time, as your preconceptions are smashed and the limits of your knowledge become painfully obvious. To love being a tourist, you have to love that tourist learning curve. And on this quirky trip—which started with Lindsay asking me to visit China with her and grew to include an invitation to a small film festival in Paris, visits with friends in Korea and England, and that final, somehow irresistible “free” stopover in Iceland—there were learning moments aplenty.

IMG_0087            In a recent column, Condé Nast Traveler editor-in-chief Pilar Guzmán said this: “Travel confidence—and cultural fluency—come by way of humility.” Yes. And having to talk about Trump is this year’s blue-plate special serving of humble pie.

I don’t want to minimize the damage I believe Trump is capable of doing to the planet and to our fragile relationships with its nearly 7.4 billion inhabitants. But perspective helps. In China, in France, in the United Kingdom, he is but one of many looming challenges. I understand that better now, after my month of being a humble tourist, traveling the world in real time.

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Stay Hungry

img_28372016 was a hungry, hungry year. Month after month, we hungered for justice and peace and hope, and we just kept getting hungrier. We thought November 8 might take the edge off; might give us a little encouraging broth for the journey. But no. Now we’re more famished than ever. And it’s very easy to feel like the best solution might be to simply curl up in a fetal position and hoard what little energy we have left.

But we can’t, can we? We owe it to ourselves, our children, our neighbors down the street and around the world, to stay hungry. To feel that driving bite in the gut, that ache, that howling growl that demands attention.

We are going to be offered pablum and junk food and we’ll be tempted to take it. We’ll be told to eat this, calm down, stop your bellyaching. But we can’t. We’ve got to stay hungry.

Yes, 2016 feels like the Worst Year Ever. But as one friend brooded on Facebook, what on earth makes us think 2017 is going to better?

Lest you think my only goal here is to write the most depressing post in Restless Nest history, I offer this morsel of optimism. Here’s what could be better about 2017, if we all stay hungry: this could be the year that we all do more than we ever have to make the world a better place. Instead of giving money to presidential candidates, we can give it to the people who are in the trenches, working against hate and for human rights; against climate change and for clean air, water and wilderness protection; against violence and for peace and reconciliation. Instead of talking about Nate Silver’s latest election prediction or Hillary Clinton’s email server or the latest egregious revelation about Donald Trump’s past, we can talk about what we can do, today, to protect vulnerable people and places and rights. We can volunteer to help immigrant children with homework, or help their parents gain citizenship. We can volunteer for medical research. We can rally. We can march. We can write letters and emails. We can support local and state politicians who are working for change. We can follow Senator Patty Murray’s lead and ask each other what we’re doing, not how we’re doing. Because we mostly know how we’re doing: we’re hungry. And we’re going to stay that way, for what could be quite a while.

img_2838Need some ideas of who to support? Here you go: ACLU, SPLC, Planned Parenthood, IRC, NOW, Emily’s List, LCV, NRDC, Sierra Club, Democracy Now, The Alzheimer’s Association, Seattle Globalist, Casa Latina, and Global Washington. Seattle-area friends: volunteer opportunities include Casa Latina, Refugee Women’s AllianceHorn of Africa Services (after-school tutoring) and the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

 

 

 

 

 

How Trump Made Me Love My Day Job

th-3       As I write, Donald Trump supporters are lining up outside a stadium about thirty miles north of here for a rally that begins many hours from now. This is confusing to me. Lining up for Trump? Who are they?

Yesterday, my husband and I met an immigrant family of nine and talked to them about how a local non-profit is helping them through their grief over the death of their baby girl. Last week, we visited an Adult Day Health Center that serves people who have dementia or have suffered brain trauma. We talked to a woman in her fifties whose face lit up with joy as she described how the time she spent at the center had given her the courage to go back to work after a stroke. The week before that, we interviewed a Seattle teacher who found an affordable apartment for herself and her son, with the help of a housing non-profit.

This is our day job: making short films for non-profits to help them raise money and spread the word about what they do. August is always a busy time for us, as our clients get ready for their fall events.

We feel very lucky that we get to do this work for a living. That we get to hear, and tell, stories about people helping people. Stories that debunk, over and over again, the American myth of rugged individualism; that show how much we Americans can do, when we pay attention to one another’s needs. When we are able to truly see each other, and recognize that we are all connected.

Which is why it is so hard for me to understand the Trump supporters who are standing in that line. I wonder who they are, and how it is they came to actually support this candidate who stands for slammed doors and high walls and connections based only on hate and fear.

The people I meet in my work are not the West Coast bubble-dwelling limousine liberals Trump loves to disparage. They are people who have rolled up their sleeves to actually find solutions to the toughest problems we face: homelessness, affordable housing, how to help vulnerable people weather trauma, loss, illness. How to make our schools better. How to protect our wild places for the next generation. If I dwell in a bubble, it is one in which compassion and inclusion are the norm. It is one in which people are allowed to be poor, or new to this country, or different in abilities, and dignified at the same time.

The interviews we do are my favorite part of the job. I love to listen to peoples’ stories. I love it when they surprise me, which they nearly always do. What’s much harder is what comes next: going back through those interviews, selecting the very best bits, and laying them out in an order that makes sense. It’s so important to me to get their stories right, especially during a year when slandering whole groups of people has become the Trumpian norm.

So I’m going to get back to work now. Thanks, Trump, for inspiring me to appreciate my day job even more. And I think we all know your rally is not going to make a difference in how our state votes. Because not very many of us live in your bubble. Thank God.

Here’s some inspiration to put on your calendar: A reading by writers who have experienced homelessness, September 12 at 7pm at the University Branch of the Seattle Public Library. Check out  Nicole Brodeur’s Seattle Times column about the Mary’s Place writers and their writing group leader, Julie Gardner.

 

 

 

Mangers Everywhere

DSC01536Two days shy of the darkest day of the year, silhouetted against a rainy twilight sky, I watched a young woman emerge from a tent, tugging a stroller behind her. A young man followed. They turned the stroller around and bumped it down a muddy knoll, lifting it over a ditch and onto the sidewalk. Their tent, pitched next to Interstate 5 at the 50th Street exit in Seattle’s University District, flapped behind them, sagging under the relentless rain, leaning half-heartedly against the wind, ready to cave in to the next good gust. As we waited for the light to change, all I could see of the baby in the stroller, across the two lanes of traffic that stood between us, was that at least she or he was covered with a blanket.

My husband and I were on our way to see the latest movie version of Macbeth. The very first shot in the movie is of a dead baby. And the weather in medieval Scotland, as seen on screen, was only slightly worse than the weather outside the theater in mid-winter Seattle. I shivered at the thought of living in such brutal conditions: no heat, no light, mud everywhere. But that is exactly how the young couple I’d seen coming out of their tent were living. Right here in my own high-tech hometown. Right now, in 2015.

As we drove home, we took in the sparkling lights of all the construction cranes in South Lake Union and downtown. It’s as if they’re competing this year for the most festive displays: long strings of brightly colored lights, even trees and Santas perched high above the city. And why not celebrate the ongoing construction boom? Five years ago, Seattle was dotted with half-dug holes, half-built buildings, half-done projects halted by the recession.

But the young couple with the stroller haunts me. How do two young people come to be so desperate that they pitch a tent on the edge of the freeway? And they’re not alone. The tents are everywhere. It seems that for every new crane hanging over another new construction site, there are dozens more tents popping up a few blocks away, often in places we haven’t seen them before.

It’s not my imagination. The Seattle Times reports that as of late November, 527 unauthorized homeless encampments were shut down by the city this year. 527. Those are just the ones that were actually shut down. That’s up from 351 in 2014. 131 in 2013. Eighty in 2012. On November 2, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray declared a homeless emergency and authorized five million dollars to be spent on shelter and services for people found sleeping outside.

Meanwhile, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal, nearly 21,600 rental units are currently under construction. But the Journal is also reporting an “alarming deterioration” in the local apartment rental market. Deterioriation! What could this mean? Here’s what it means: rents have dropped an average of $59 a month in the last quarter, in all neighborhoods except South Lake Union. Twenty percent of landlords are even offering “incentives” such as a month’s free rent. The vacancy rate is up from 4 percent to, wait for it, 4.3 percent.

Is this really how we define “alarming?” The fact that rents have taken a baby step backwards, towards actual affordability, is “alarming?” And you can bet rents are still so far from the reach of the people in the tents that they may as well be millions, not thousands, of dollars per month.

I don’t know what to do about the young family I saw coming out of the tent. Should I have pulled over, that evening, and given them whatever crumpled bills were in my purse? How much longer can I rationalize that doing the same small things, over and over again—volunteering when my church hosts homeless women and children overnight, buying diapers and toys for the families we sponsor at Christmas, giving coats and sleeping bags to the neighborhood kids who are collecting for their school, handing energy bars to panhandlers—is enough? And yet we, I, can’t not do these things. How could we not?

Mayor Murray is promising that the city will find shelter for the tent people. But is it? Are we? What’s going on in Seattle? Where and how are we going to find room at the inn?

Back to Macbeth for a moment. In this latest interpretation of Shakespeare’s 400-year-old play, director Justin Kurzel and actor Michael Fassbender as Macbeth are unflinching in their portrayal of a warrior who could have been a true hero and leader, if only he had found the strength to resist the temptations of power and greed. And we know where those temptations got him: to one of the most cynical, sad moments in literature, when he pronounced life “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But life is not that. If it were, the couple in the tent would just give up. Instead, they went out in the rain, presumably in search of food and help for themselves and their infant. Because, as theologian Henri Nouwen wrote, “we are called to be people of hope.”

But Nouwen also said this: “we cannot go around despair to hope. We have to go right through despair.”

There are mangers everywhere, in this Advent season.

Hot Water, Big Boxes: Workplace Nightmares

IMG_2052It’s the yelping that comes back to me across the decades: the sound of an old man yelping after I spilled hot water in his lap. I was the greenhorn waitress, the clumsy college girl, always several steps behind the professionals. I was working the breakfast shift in a busy hotel restaurant in downtown Seattle. It was the late 1970s, a time when busloads of tourists—who all wanted breakfast at the same time—were a new phenomenon in our city. I was rushing, of course, with too many plates in my hands, of course, and as I reached in to set down a tiny teapot full of hot water on the table of a solo diner, I fumbled, somehow, and the water poured into his lap.

He yelped, loudly, several times, as he tried to push his table out from the wall so he could stand up. All I remember saying is, “Oh! I’m so sorry!” as I helped him squeeze around the table from his bench sit to a standing position.

The manager came rushing over.

I tried hard not to cry as I explained that I had just poured scalding hot water into a customer’s lap.

She fixed her eyes on him. “Sir, would you like me to call a doctor?”

“No, no,” he mumbled. “I’m all right. I just need to go to my room and change.”

I watched as she escorted him to the elevator, her arm lightly around his shoulders, her voice soft and reassuring. She didn’t stop talking until he got on.

“It’s OK,” she told me. “I told him we would pay to get his suit cleaned immediately and that we would send a doctor if he changed his mind. He says he thinks he’s fine—he was just startled, not burned. I’ll tell the people who were sitting near him that he’s OK and I’ll comp their meals. Meanwhile, better get back to work—a lot of them have to get on that tour bus at eight.”

This all happened in about two minutes. But it was an important two minutes. I learned that in any future crisis, I wanted to be just like my manager.

I thought of those two minutes the other day, when an employee at a big box store dropped a big box on my chin. He was getting the blender I wanted down from a high shelf. Just as I had fumbled the teapot, he fumbled the blender, and the corner of it hit me hard on the chin.

I yelped. A little.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“I think so,” I said. But as I started walking towards the cash register, I put my fingers to my chin and felt blood.

“Excuse me,” I said, walking back. “Actually, I’m bleeding. I think I need a bandaid.”

He gave me a panicked look. “Just a minute,” he said, as he trotted away from me.

I tried to follow, but I couldn’t keep up. He disappeared behind a door. I stood awkwardly near the cash register. I pulled out a mirror and looked at my chin. It was bloody. I didn’t want to frighten other customers, so I stood there and tried to block my chin with my pocket mirror.

Finally, the young man returned with a bandaid, a packet of antibiotic cream and a paper towel, and pointed me towards the bathroom.

When I came out, with a big bandaid on my chin, I picked up my blender and got in line. The young blender-fumbler was nowhere to be seen.

“Did you find everything OK?” the clerk asked, as she rang up my purchase. I knew she had seen me standing around awkwardly near her cash register as I waited for my bandaid.

I laughed. “Sure,” I said. “Except for the injury I incurred in the process.”

“I’m going to give you an in-store coupon for 20 percent off,” she said.

And that was it. The employee who clipped my chin was, apparently, in hiding—perhaps along with the store manager, who I never saw—until I left. He never apologized. I understand he was probably terrified that I would formally complain. I did get his first name from the cashier, but that’s as far as I went.

But I have to wonder: are employees now advised to never admit fault? Is the customer, who was once always right, now always wrong?

And that is why, this Labor Day week, I just want to say thank you to my long-ago manager at that hotel restaurant. She was so good at her job.

Registration is open for Introduction to Memoir Writing at Seattle Central College. Starts November 2, 2015. Six Monday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress!

HBBfinalcoverBuy Her Beautiful Brain from the small or large bookstore of your choice. Find a bookstore here. Order the Kindle version here

Race: a work-in-progress

DSC00865Race, as a concept, is hardly a work-in-progress in the construction sense of the phrase. On the contrary: the concept of race is in what you might call a state of rapid DE-construction. Debunking, Demythification, De-pseudo-science-ification. What I’m working on is copping to how little I understand, how little I have ever understood, about white privilege and the way it has shaped my life.

If you missed the Pacific Science Center’s recent exhibition called RACE: Are We So Different?, make sure to visit the exhibition’s provocative website. A project of the American Anthropological Association, RACE: Are We So Different? has traveled, or will travel, to more than 30 venues in the United States. That adds up to a lot of conversations about a subject none of us are very good at talking about.

If, like me, you’re white and over 50, or even 40, you probably didn’t grow up talking about white privilege. It was just there, so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives as to be invisible. To us.

If you are not white, you might have had “aha!” moments of a very different kind as you walked through the show. Maybe you nodded your head in recognition, anger, sadness. Maybe you looked around at all the white visitors and thought: at least they’re learning a little about my reality.

Here’s my easy example of how white privilege works: so easy it embarrasses me. When I travel, I’m always on a budget, but I have perfected the art of strolling into a five-star hotel anywhere in the world and finding and using the bathroom. I have actually taught this travel “trick” to my children. You just walk in, look confident and keep going until you see the discreetly placed sign. Would this work if I was not white? Not everywhere, it wouldn’t. And at some level I’ve always known this. But I still do it.

I thought of the 5-star bathroom stunt when I read an anecdote at the RACE exhibition. It was written by a non-white woman married to a white man, who learned one day that the corner store in their neighborhood always took his checks, even though it wouldn’t take hers.

I thought of it as I read about the history of racism, the shameful, long-discredited yet persistently believed “science” of racial categorization, the naked fear behind all of it; the policies this “science” supported, from apartheid in South Africa to real estate red-lining in our own city. On the “here in Seattle” wall was a quote from the original Broadmoor neighborhood covenant, explicity forbidding African American, Asian, Jewish and Southern European residents, unless they were employees, from living in this gated community that borders the Washington Park Arboretum. But it wasn’t just enclaves like Broadmoor (where my grandparents lived for more than 30 years and my father and stepmother for ten) that had these kinds of rules. Queen Anne, Greenwood, Capitol Hill and many other Seattle neighborhoods used racially restrictive covenants to keep out non-white residents.

The neighborhood I now live in is about as different from Broadmoor as it can be. Many of my neighbors come from east Africa. And yet the divide persists. Most white families in our neighborhood own their homes. Most non-white families do not.

The list of benefits of being white in America is long. So many are so ingrained, so obvious, we can’t even see them. What the RACE exhibit asks us to do—some of us for the first time in our lives—is to question, rather than accept, what is obvious about race in America.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

 

Impatience

DSC00865“Patience is a virtue.” Who first said that, and why? A quick Internet search points to a few “medieval poets.” Let’s leave it there—in the dark ages—and move on: to why patience is on my mind, and not in a virtuous, well-behaved way.

I just spent an evening at Seattle’s Town Hall listening to five dynamic women speak at an event, sponsored by the Women’s Funding Alliance, called “Fresh Perspective: Women Lead a Changing World.” Good title; wish it were true.

The speakers had some good news to share—the dramatic increase in the numbers of women obtaining bachelors, masters and PhD degrees; the previously unheard of opportunities for women in government, science, technology, sports.

But “Women Lead a Changing World?” No. Not very many of us are leading. Not by a long shot. And the world may be changing, but it sure is taking its time. And we’ve been far too patient.

It is time we made a virtue of impatience.

When eight of every ten corporations in Washington state have fewer than three women on their boards, it is time to be impatient.

When women in Washington* earn 75 cents for every dollar men earn—73 cents, if you have kids; 60 cents if you’re a single mom—it’s time to be impatient.

When Washington slips from first to eighth in the nation for female political representation, it’s time to be impatient.

When 415 thousand women and girls in our state have no health insurance, when reproductive rights are under assault, when one out of four children in our state don’t have enough to eat—impatience. Please. Now!

Kristin Rowe Finkbeiner of MomsRising.org nailed it when she said that what we have here is a “national structural issue, not an epidemic of personal failings.” We women are far too expert at blaming ourselves for problems like finding high-quality affordable childcare in a country where it is nearly impossible to put “high-quality” and “affordable” in the same sentence.

All of the speakers dealt deftly with the recently published elephant in the room: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Finkbeiner urged us to “lean together.” Award-winning Seattle Art Museum educator Sandra Jackson-Dumont praised Sandberg for igniting important conversations at a crucial time for women.

Full disclosure: I haven’t read Sandberg’s book, but I will. If she is igniting conversations, that’s a good thing. Conversations have a way of triggering collective impatience.

Women are more than half the electorate and, for the first time in history, half the paid labor force. We make 85 percent of purchasing decisions. Collectively, our impatience could have an impact.

And there are so many ways we could put it to work.

We can encourage each other to run for office, to seek out board positions, to stretch ourselves towards leadership by learning the skills we think we might lack and daring to use the skills and wisdom we know we have. We can go beyond simply voting and send emails, make phone calls, write OpEds and letters to the editor about the issues that matter to us.

I’m speaking in particular, here, to my age-mates. We know how busy women who are juggling work and child-rearing are because we were just there. Now, it’s our turn to lean together, work together. Get usefully, virtuously impatient. Together.

 *Research cited in this piece was provided by Lori Pfingst of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of MomsRising, Ada Williams Prince of One America and Jennifer Stuller of GeekGirlCon.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

 

 

Foiled Again

DSC00853Wow, there was a lot of gray hair at the Oscars this year. Kidding! Sure, George Clooney’s silver head was in every other cutaway shot. And French best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva looked fabulously un-dyed on this, her 86th birthday. But even Jane Fonda and Shirley Bassey (75 and 76 respectively), do not dare bare their true hair. Barbra Streisand (70), Meryl Streep (63)—no way.

I thought of them all as I sat in a salon chair, 50 or so squares of foil shooting out from my head, flipping through More magazine. Looking like an extra in a low-budget sci-fi film. Feeling morally deficient. I really want to be the kind of woman who can own the gray: Emmy Lou Harris. Jamie Lee Curtis. But I’m not. I’m just not. Not yet.

I tried. I stopped coloring my hair for about two years. I thought I was doing OK with the gradually emerging, real, salt-n-pepper me, until I saw a photo in which I resembled my grandmother. Not my stylish Seattle grandma: no, I resembled my dear, frumpy Finnish-American grandma, whose hair was the same steely gray I now saw on my own head. And what is so wrong with that, you might ask? What’s wrong is that I often work with people 10, 20, even 30 years younger than I am, and I can’t yet afford to frighten them away by resembling their grandmothers. I literally can’t afford it: in the often arbitrary world of self-employed creative professionals, the wrong first impression could cost you the job.

This is what I tell myself. That it’s not about me not accepting my age, it’s about our culture, our society, not accepting my age. But how am I helping if I capitulate and pour expensive chemicals on my head? I’m not helping, not at all. I’m contributing to the never-ending silliness of our age-allergic age. And I know this.

And I know that serious people who I respect will judge me, rightly, for my vanity.

However. There really is a however to this story. It’s about the self-knowledge that you start to bank as you age: about knowing what works for your self-esteem, your ability to get up in the morning and seize the day.  And we’re all wired a little differently. For example, it doesn’t bother me that I can’t afford to buy my wardrobe at high-end department stores. I like treasure-hunting at consignment shops. But hair is different. Your hair frames your face, which means when you greet yourself in the mirror at 7am, your hair is part of the package. And when my hair was gray, I looked in the mirror and I felt old. And—this is the interesting part—I think it made me, ever so subtly, act old. Old-er. You know: Oh that achy hip; oh I’m tired; oh let’s not go out. That sort of thing. This might not be true for you, but it was true for me.  And it bothered me.

In a lovely, wrenching, Oscar-nominated documentary called Mondays at Racine, women with cancer talked about how losing their hair was one of the hardest things they had to deal with.  Because, whether their hair was short and spiky or long and lush, it was the frame around the face they saw in the mirror. Without it, their faces looked as exposed and vulnerable as their cancer made them feel. Many of them learned to own the baldness, to embrace it as part of their new survivor-self. But it was not ever easy.

Men’s hair is, of course, a whole different subject. Barack Obama, George Clooney? No career problems we can pin on their heads. But that unlucky guy who is balding at 30? I bet he can relate to the way women feel about going gray.

Back to Emmy Lou and Jamie Lee: I admire them so much, just as I admire every woman I know who is not hung up, like I am, on hair color. That list includes my sister and sister-in-law, who both look gorgeous and youthful and ought to be an inspiration to me. And they will be, when the time comes. But I’m just not ready yet. Are you? I would love to hear why or why not.

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Generation Squeeze

DSC00853This just in from The New York Times: the “sandwich generation” is now also the “squeezed generation.” Visualizing this is making me feel very claustrophobic. But boy, do I get it.

The “sandwich generation” years started early for me. Just as I began having babies, my mother began losing bits of herself. Bits of memory, judgment, common sense, intuition, drive, mojo; all her legendary coping skills, honed through three marriages, six children, a decade of widowhood—all of them began to peel away like old paint. Now, it’s easy to look back and see it was the disorienting (for all of us, not just for her) beginning of her long Alzheimer’s-induced crumbling. Then, I was deep in the trees and had no way to see the forest with any clarity. I only knew I was sandwiched between the needs of young children and of my mother, who wasn’t even old—early sixties, that’s not old-old! And my own parental coping skills were forming in what felt like a funhouse mirror: no day ever the same, what with Mom’s escapades—losing the car, locking herself out—mixed in with the usual preschool zaniness: why can’t I wear my tutu to school in this snowstorm?

So: I know, I am, the sandwich-generation. I’m just not in the thick of it right now like so many of my 50-something friends are. Mom is gone. My dad and step-mom, still in their late 70s, are doing generally well. Ditto my mother-in-law, who’s 82.

Meanwhile, baby boomers have been awarded a new moniker—the “Squeezed Generation”–that makes being the ham in the sandwich sound cozy. Picture yourself squeezing the last drop of Dijonnaise out of the bottle: that’s the squeezed generation. Economists say workers in their fifties and sixties have lost more earning power, since the recession, than any other age group, with incomes now a full ten percent below what they were three years ago. They—we—are squeezing ourselves dry, post-Recession, not only to get our children through college, while retirement looms, unfunded, further and further down the road—but just to get by. If our parents need our help too, well then we’re really in trouble.

And when older boomers are laid off, things can go south very quickly, especially if they were employed in downsizing industries like manufacturing. One 62-year-old woman interviewed by the Times is working 3 part-time jobs, uninsured, crossing her fingers she’ll make it to the Medicare threshold without a major health disaster. Another, age sixty, has been looking for a job for five years since she was laid off by a mortgage company. She is convinced that prospective employees view anyone over fifty as a health risk. And she may be right: new research suggests getting laid off in your late fifties can shave three years off your life expectancy.

This may account for the creep of the word “great” in front of “recession.” For many, many Americans, this was no small-R bout of the financial flu. The Great Recession, like the Great Depression before it, has become a chronic, life-altering illness. Welcome to Generation Squeeze.

My flicker of hope is that the Great Recession will shift us away from our dog-eat-dog competitive individualism and toward generosity, sharing, caring about the common good. Community gardens, home exchange vacation sites, car-sharing—all great trends boosted, rather than broken, by recessionary times. Let’s keep the innovations coming: it’ll make us all feel a little less squeezed.

Grist has been running a great series on the sharing economy. Claire Thompson has their latest take.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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