Wishing and Hoping

We know better. Outdoor party plans don’t guarantee sunshine and soft breezes. We can hope for the best, but best be prepared for rain and thunder. We can wish that just this one time, the weather gods will spin the right number so our guests can enjoy walking and talking in the gardens.

Feels like wishing and hoping might be what’s left as what regular people can do about more and more truly large decisions or actions that impact their lives. With masks and vaccinations, many hope to escape sneaky Covid variations.  Powerful men chose to scrape other people from the face of the earth although everyone hoped the threat was just that. Partisan hatred locks decision making amidst the people we elected hoping they might work together. They tie up the executive branch where folks are wishing things would start improving. Then what was once the most solemn of our nation’s institutions spits out a hateful decision on all those who hoped the laws of the land would be upheld or wished for a miracle from the stacked bench.

Sure seems like miracles have followed the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to fantasy land. Appeals for contributions to protect the environment, protect freedom of speech, protect women’s health, or many other threatened values mostly keep people employed in the gigantic rat race called the great democratic experiment with no guarantee of positive results. 

So many groups stand outside, disenchanted and disenfranchised, hoping for a sunny day in Washington, D.C. when the politicians and policy makers might come out of their buildings, shake off whatever protects them from the stuff normal folks deal with and breathe in some real air. 

I’m wishing they would come live with regular people for a couple of months, sit in a public school classroom for a full day, plan two weeks of meals before grocery shopping on a budget, deal with the endless impersonal bureaucracy everywhere from making a doctor appointment to asking about a bill. That’s just a start. And hope they could walk city streets safely among those tired of disappointment in government and feel the strength and anger of their action. 

Not hoping for daily sunshine and soft breezes or wishing for more than our fair share. Just reminding those who govern that it is at the will of the people who expect some respect for what we hold as truth. 

In Any Way You Can

“The war. What is more opposite to music? The silence of ruined cities and killed people…Our parents are happy to wake up in the morning in bomb shelters—but alive. Our loved ones don’t know if we will be together again. The war doesn’t let us choose who survives and who stays in eternal silence….Fill the silence with your music. Fill it today to tell our story. Tell the truth about this war on your social networks, on TV. Support us, in any way you can. Any – but not silence. And then peace will come.”

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Grammy Awards Speech

A hand in its winter glove. Shoes and ankles poking from the earth. Blocks of a modern city reduced to rubble. Couples saying good-bye. Mothers, eyes devoid of emotion, carrying babies and leading tiny children wearing bright snowsuits across miles of empty streets. Old women crying.

Baby Boomers grew up reading about WW II and the Korean conflict because fathers, uncles, or grandfathers would not talk about what their experience. Pictures from the concentration camps and what we were taught was so vivid, I thought Anne Frank was a contemporary. Evening news in the 1960s and 1970s carried pictures of body bags, scorched lands, a young girl running naked through chemical-filled air in Vietnam. While the first wave of Boomer males received draft numbers and one-way tickets to Vietnam, many of their generation took to the streets to demand no more war.

But men in power can’t seem to walk away from using weapons and terror to grab a piece of land, access to a bit more wealth, deny the right to life for people from different nationalities or faith. Their march of destruction and the death of innocent fellow humans screams evil. For the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, today’s television triggers memories of skeletal survivors walking Europe’s burned fields, of staggering death tolls on Pacific islands, a mushroom cloud over Japan, young vets missing limbs. I had not heard the language of genocide until watching interviews with Russian citizens who spoke about the need to wipe Ukraine and its people off the earth. I cannot forget it.

As regular people, we are played by the intellectual powers of all sides. Russia probably claims success for each person frightened by images from their brutality in Ukraine.  Our government probably balances the need to keep Ukraine’s misery in citizens’ minds while controlling fear. No matter who manipulates the message, the Ukrainians own it in their daily fight for freedom. 

Gung Pao Chicken #2 Spicy

Gung Pao Chicken #2 Spicy is written on my desk calendar, on a piece of scrap paper in my bag, at the bottom of our grocery list. My husband’s favorite order from a small Vietnamese restaurant we like. Okay, a place where we ate so often that the servers know us. 

It is a neighborhood eatery where we could relax after a busy day or before running errands. Carry out orders flew from the kitchen. Tables were filled with college students, young families, parents with grouchy high school kids, retirees. Large fish tanks amuse young diners. Food came fast. On rainy or winter nights the crowded room felt cozy. 

When curbside carry out became available, we called our place. The first night, part of our order was missing when we got home. Two weeks later my stir fry had little flavor and the rice needed warming. We noted the slip-ups, but didn’t dream about trying another place or dropping Vietnamese from our carry out rotation. They know who we are when we walk in. I know the person who says it is good to see me. They prefer cash and I understand how credit card fees eat into small business sales. 

The food is good, but not great. It is truly all about the people and setting. And we want to keep their kitchen busy and their staff working until that atmosphere can be restored and there is time to talk about the world as water glasses are filled. We have a connection. In cities that builds neighborhood.

Storefronts and restaurants have already closed on their block because of seven months without stable sales and the whammy of riot damage. Social distancing outside the watch repair place, there are no lines next to me at the theater where a new release is showing. No patrons sit around tables at the tea shop. Inventory looks low at the corner gift store. What will the holidays look like for these small merchants? How will a tenuous consumer economy support neighborhood places? 

So much is unknown because most of us haven’t experienced circumstances so forbidding. This has been described as the worst economy since the Big Depression. Hopefully there will be enough folks in the neighborhood, with resources, ordering Gung Pao Chicken to keep owners and employees of small businesses intact. In the meantime, let’s keep safe and watch out for each other.

Dear Dr. Rajender . . .

Dear Dr. Shyamala Rajender,

The University of Minnesota and the Rajender Consent Decree are probably far from your thoughts. Most of the time they are far from mine, too. However, recently I realized that it’s been 40 years since the decree bearing your name helped me.

I’m writing to thank you.

Your courage fighting gender discrimination changed my perceptions of the world and set me on a feminist path that informed the rest of my life—how I see myself and thought about my career, how my marriage works, and how I raised my sons.

Forty years ago, I was a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Minnesota-Morris, my first professional job. In the spring of 1980, I got in trouble with the all-male senior faculty in the English department, because I wanted to present a noncredit lecture about women’s literature for a Continuing Education series.

Several of the senior faculty reacted with a policy that stated, “. . . instructors in English should not participate in off-campus events, either formal instruction or informal presentations, which, in effect, call for a person who has been judged expert in the teaching of English literature.” In other words, I wasn’t supposed to talk about literature even though I had an M.A. in English Literature. The policy was odd and confusing. Several of the literature professors at UMM had been tenured with only a Master’s degree. But my credentials—which were the same as what some of them had—were suspect.

At first, I was more scared than angry (anger came later). The Continuing Education director and the EEOC officer knew I was afraid I’d damage my career by fighting the policy, so they informed the academic dean about my dilemma. The dean and others were aware of your gender bias case against the Chemistry department on the main campus. Consequently, the dean insisted the English department rescind their policy, and I was allowed to give the lecture.

Later that year, a number of faculty members, including me, received a $2,000 raise as a result of the Rajender Consent Decree. It’s hard to imagine now, but increasing my salary from $12,000 to $14,000 per year was a meaningful raise then. In general, it’s hard to convey to younger people just how crazy the late 1970s and early 1980s were for professional women.

Your decision to fight the University of Minnesota had a lasting impact on my life.

At 25, I learned gender discrimination was as real and insidious as the fatherly men in the English department, who didn’t see me as their equal and wanted to limit my opportunities. That experience didn’t drive me away from academia, but like you, I left the academic world several years later.

Your career was exemplary (first a Ph.D. in Chemistry, later a law degree). Mine was much more ordinary, but I was always aware of the example I set as a woman in the workplace. Your determination to fight gender bias had a far-reaching effect on me and so many other women. I want to acknowledge your heroic contributions.

Thank you again for your courage.

Sincerely,

Ellen Shriner

Interviewed by a 17-year-old

I got this all wrong from the get-go. I had prepared answers for how to begin a career in human resources. What special characteristics and capabilities are needed in HR? What are my favorite components of the HR role? Describe the HR functions that are under your leadership and control.

The teenager, a friend of Crystel’s, started her questioning easily enough. She asked me about my past. I immediately thought this was an interesting technique. Maybe the teacher taught this method to loosen up your interviewee. Ask the people something they know well. Soften them before the meat of your inquiry.

“What is the most significant event in your life? An event that changed you?”

This was my first inkling that my assumption about this interview was off the mark. My career in human resources was certainly not the most significant event in my life.

How easy it would have been to lie. To not give her true and honest answers. To keep this interview on the surface.

And, wow, how unsatisfying that would have been for the both of us.

I was surprised how easily the answer came to me. How it was right there, bubbling just under the surface, a living certainty.

Without hesitation, I said, “Same-Sex Marriage.” On May 14, 2013 Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota. The new law went into effect on August 1, 2013.

This law legitimized me, my partner, and our children. I was no longer afraid to talk about Jody at work. I didn’t have to hide. It was okay for two women to be raising children together. I could have a family photo on my desk.

“How did you come out to your parents?”

I had to think about this answer because overshadowing everything, greater than having a same-sex partner was the sexual abuse in my family. It would have been so simple had it just been about choosing a life with a woman. Mired in all this muck was the fact that I wouldn’t stay quiet about sexual abuse. I wouldn’t back down from my truth. Telling my parents about same sex marriage paled in comparison.

“Are you happy where you are in life?”

I thought I’d be dead by the age of 25 either by drugs, alcohol or suicide. And, I would have been dead because of secrets. Not having secrets changed the trajectory of my life.

I told her all of this and more. About having an abortion when I was 14 years old and a baby when I had just turned 17. The same age she is.

“Are you happy with your children?”

Crystel was not just a fly on the wall during this interview. She sat right next to her friend. She watched as I cried. Because of course I would cry. We were talking about my children.

Her friend should get an A+ for this interview, I thought. Same-Sex marriage, sexual abuse, abortion, a baby, and now tears. This might have been more than she bargained for.

I wasn’t done. I asked her to include, if even as a footnote, that teenagers need to use birth control. Condoms are not 100% effective.  Birth control pills plus condoms increase the effectiveness in preventing pregnancy. I wasn’t sure if I was stating this for her teacher’s benefit or the millions of teenagers, including my two, who might read this paper. I told her that I didn’t want Juan and Crystel to be faced with the same decisions that I had to make.

There were more questions. More tears. Through it all, the interviewer was present, serious, and professional.

I didn’t realize until later that this paper was a history project. I’m history. Or, herstory. A study of past events, particularly in human affairs.

My interviewer was rad. The interview wasn’t awks. It was dope, very possible GOAT and I’m HUNDO P.

The Gen Z’s are alright.