Bang bang…you’re dead

This past week has been fucking crazy in America, folks are just losing their ever loving minds. Last week and if I am wrong, please let me know..we had the fellow in  NY state who killed 13 before taking his own life. I was still reeling from hearing about that when I heard of the fellow in WA state who killed all 5 of his kids before taking his own life. Lastly there was the fellow who killed 3 police officers in PA.

Like many others, I fear that these acts of violence are so normal that deep down, do any of us care? Unless we have a personal connection, most likely not. I am just old enough at 36 to remember when this type of killing was not the norm, shit I remember the Columbine tragedy and how the nation was just blown away. Now its so normal that I swear the news barely keeps us up to date, since just last weekend a man in a southern state walked in a nursing home and shot up the joint. That story didn’t get much play…

What I find fascinating is that in many of the cases of the past several months in particular is that behind each killer is a human who suffered a loss, losses seem to range from jobs, to families and in the PA case some fear that guns would be taken away. While we are living in some crazy economic times, truth is we have been here before. I was 10 years old the last time the unemployment rate was this high and my dad had no job and we were real broke, so I know we have seen this before.  That was the year my parents got food from a food pantry and the beginning of my distinct hate for english muffins…the pantry had tons of those. I also remember the bottle of chocolate syrup that had expired, treats were a rarity at that stage so having that bottle of syrup be bad was a memory that I will always remember. My point in sharing this is not to make you feel bad for me but to remind folks we need to chill the fuck out. Rough financial waters are not a new thing, its just that its been a while since we have been here.

Problem is in the last decade we have created this fantasy that we can have it all, no longer is it enough to just have the basics, we all want to live like the rich, the famous, the powerful….our national religion became shopping, our center of worship was the mall. Yet its over…picnic in the park has been rained on. Its time for a new reality and we need it quickly, yet in addition to that new reality we also need to reach out and make connections.

Look, I’m just a chick in Maine who likes to run my mouth but the fact that since the mid to late 1990’s people have had less involvement im their communities (check out the book Bowling Alone), more involved online and a rise in the type of mass murders such as the ones this weekend. It does not take a Ph.D to say that maybe part of the issue is that folks no longer have the sort of relationships and connections that are valuable when facing a life crisis. Even in my own circle, I find it fascinating how little people discuss money even when folks don’t have jobs, folks put on the happy face. Well I will admit I have a tendency to let it out, I am already prone to stress, keeping it bottled up would do me no good.

No, in these hard times we need to rely on one another, I am not saying a friend would stop someone from killing but I have to believe that if someone had a support system, they would be less inclined to go on a killing spree. If we were able to talk openly and honestly, maybe fewer of us would reach our breaking points. Sadly I see more of the type of senseless killings happening in the future and not less.

Not to step on the toes of the NRA, but maybe we as a nation need to reevaluate our love affair with owning guns. I know…its allowed in the constitution and while yes guns can serve a good purpose when we are hunting for food and stopping intruders and those who mean us harm, how many more lives would be saved if no one owned guns?

After all lets not forget the bang bang sound of our youth while harmless when playing with our toy guns didn’t lead to the ,the reality is that real guns have the capacity to harm real people.

Driven to steal

I hesitate to post this because while I am not breaking any issues of confidentiality, as the director of the center I work at, I should probably keep my trap shut. However we are living in difficult times and well I think as times get rough we will see folks doing some desperate shit despite whatever the fallout may be.

My center serves low income, at risk kids and their families. The primary program we offer is an after-school program along with some other programming, its really a safe haven in an area that lacks for quality kids programming for the low income crowd.

We have a family, that has been involved for a while, several of their kids attend our program, on the surface the family seemed like good folks. I had no reason to have an unfavorable opinion about that, I know they struggle financially but truthfully considering that the area we serve has poverty rates that start at 50% and up depending on the block you happen to be on, its safe to say that most of the families we serve are struggling to make ends meet.

Well we have had a fund-raising activity going on, I can’t describe it since it would give away too much information but lets just say its a big activity and respective families can sell a certain product and raise a lot of money. Money that goes towards a really great cause. Well this family I noticed had not been around for the past few weeks, which I thought was strange but knowing how transient low income folks can be, it really did not register as strange on my radar. That was until yesterday, when it was brought to my attention via the group we are partnered with, that this family seems to have raised a lot of money in the name of the cause but have yet to turn in the money, folks are mad because they have not gotten the product and coupled with the fact that the kids have been MIA from the program, you can see where I am going with this.

So I called the family and basically was given a convoluted story that sounded crazy, but the bottom line is they don’t have the money and there are a lot of folks who spent money to get a product who won’t be getting. From my professional perspective, I have no idea how we will handle this. On the other hand from a personal perspective, I see a family that most likely started out with good intentions, the money started coming in and temptation arrived at their door.

I was reminded of a time many years ago when I was married to the now former spousal unit when we made some less than correct choices in order to stave off the collectors, buy Pampers, etc. Times when I stretched the truth and did what I had to do to survive. Its one of the reasons that when I heard this situation, I just wanted to talk to the family because I have been poor and I know lack of resources will make you do some really questionable shit including stealing from a kids group. Thankfully I never did anything on that magnitude but the line between this family and where I once was 15-16 years ago was not that great.

I think that as the economy spirals out of control, good people may find themselves tempted to do all sorts of shit they ought not to do and I am not talking taking a few paperclips from your job. However these same hard times while they can bring out the bad in us can also serve as a way to find the good in ourselves and we need to seek that good at a time when we can no longer count on the mall trips and other things to make us feel good about ourselves.

As for the family, well…I don’t know what will happen. If their kids come back they will be welcomed since its not my policy to turn away kids but I wish the parents would come clean.

A New Reality

I had not planned on blogging this weekend but reading this piece in today’s NY Times really left me needing to vent. In this piece the Times spoke with former executives who were used to earning decent salaries (70K and up) who now are having to take on survival jobs.

One fellow went from earning 70K to now making $12 an hour as a janitor, albeit he is working for a friend and still has health care benefits, something the average Joe who has been a janitor generally does not have. The piece showed the very human toll the current economic crisis is having on middle America. Yet while many folks may be thinking this is all new news, truth is there are many out there including yours truly who have been caught in the under-employed no benefit having world for quite a while.

Barbara Ehrenreich who is one of my favorite authors wrote about this phenomenon in her 2005 book “Bait and Switch: The Futile Pursuit of the American Dream”. For a good part of the last decade the number of folks who used to live solidly in the middle class with good jobs has been shrinking, of course thanks to easy credit it was still easy to keep up appearances and pretend you belonged even when you knew deep down you didn’t.

In the Times piece though one woman spoke of how her current loss of income and lower status job were actually harder than dealing with the loss of her mother. I will admit that this statement not only stood out to me but almost rubbed me the wrong way. Over the past 5-7 years the Spousal Unit and I have seen our own income drop lower and lower, I suppose when we get around to our taxes, we will only be a few thousand away from being eligible for low income tax credits such as Earned Income Credit, won’t be there just yet, but its ok give us another few years and we will be.

During this time I have  lost my beloved Mom and Grandma and while losing our income has been hard and at times devastating, nothing comes close to where I was 5 years ago when my mother died. Nothing. I suspect the only things that would ever be worse would be to lose my husband or kids.

In fact to equate the loss of jobs and money with our loved ones speaks volumes about us as a nation and judging from some of the heated comments that followed the NY Times piece, I am not the only one thinking this.

Look, it sucks donkey balls as my kid would say to go from a 6 figure salary and full benefits to living hand to mouth, shit I have been there, hell, I am still there. However the truth is these times reveal a lot about us and what we are made of, and in many cases out of what seems to be tragedy can come amazing growth potential.

As we move ahead as a nation in these unprecedented times, I suspect the emphasis will shift from going back where we were which I don’t see as sustainable to creating a new way of being, a simpler version of our lives yet there is potential for greater connection and inner growth.

America its time to wake up and face our new reality. Gone is $4 lattes several times a day and regular jaunts to the mall for the latest and newest gadget, instead we will spend our time chilling in the garden growing useful things and connecting to our fellow human in more meaningful ways.