Thursday, July 6, 2023

The Writing Life


In April of this year I made a big leap from occasionally writing a sociological blog here on blogger that got viewed by one or two friends, to writing a sociological blog/newsletter on Substack. I did this to push myself to write more and to have a chance to reach a wider audience with the things I wrote. 

The result, so far, is that I am finding the motivation and interest in writing a couple of times a week, and am aiming for more as time goes by. As for readership, I currently have 20 subscribers and each post (which are all free) is read by not only subscribers but also additional casual readers. 

I feel like I am thinking clearly again, and having some small impact on the world again. 

I have discontinued my Sociological Stew blog, but plan to keep this one, Sunflower Roots, for more personal writing, memoirs, poetry, artwork and such like. 

If you are reading this and want to check out my Substack here is the link. There is no paywall, and the subscriptions are free (and always will be).

Monday, May 8, 2023

Everyone Has a Story

 Meditations upon reading Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr.'s Gay Poems for Red States:

Everyone has a story. Everyone has pain. Everyone has fear. Everyone gets scared. Everyone has doubts. Everyone has obstacles. Yes. Some people’s obstacles and pain are objectively, measurably worse than others. Being unable to walk in a world built for walking people. Being black or brown in a society so deeply based on whiteness that white people never have to think about being white. Being LGBTQ+ in a world where every religion every society is grounded in the idea of male/female dichotomies and relationships.  Being non-Christian in a society that is drenched in the forms (if not the deep ways) of Christianity. These are objective obstacles. But they are not the only obstacles. They are not the only pains.

Everyone has a story that should be heard. No one story should be privileged over any other story. Giving others the right to be heard, to be seen does not silence other stories. Stories can co-exist. So much of what we see now feels like people whose stories have been privileged for hundreds of years, are feeling that somehow their story will be erased by new ones. They won’t be. The fear is baseless. We are all richer by having more stories, more flavors, more colors, more modes of being.

The best thing about hearing more stories, is suddenly discovering that there are many, many people out there with similar (and yet unique) stories. Women discovering “me too” was a revelation. Adults finding similarities to others childhood stories and realizing, ah, that’s why I was different as a child (previously undiagnosed neurodivergence, or PCOS, or gender dysphoria, or many other obstacles).

We learn about others from their stories. We learn about ourselves by being free to tell our stories and by seeing little pieces of ourselves, our emotions, our fears, our anxieties, in the stories of others. Our enemies have stories. We need to hear our enemies’ stories too. We have to know them as people with stories. We do NOT have to privilege their stories over ours, but their stories have a right to exist.

Everyone has a story.

A good society is one that is open to all the stories. 


Friday, April 21, 2023

How grooming for motherhood backfired


My mother Josie was the fourth of six children. She had two younger brothers, but she never had the opportunity to help with their care. First, her mother (my grandmother Lillian) was not well most of her childhood and she had little patience with supervising a child caring for another child. The family was solidly middle class and hired in home help with cooking, cleaning and child care. The help, as was true of many middle class southern families, was black women, who left their own children at home, to care for the children of white women. Second, my grandmother Lillian died, probably due to complications of childbirth within two days of giving birth to her last child.  

The baby, Thomas, was immediately adopted (officially) by one of my grandfather’s brothers. He and his wife were childless. Meanwhile my mother, just short of her eighth birthday when her mother died, was quickly farmed out to live (not officially adopted) with her aunt Sue whose farm adjoined her fathers. Aunt Sue already had three children older than Josie. As a result, my mother never had any experience with babies and small children.

Josie’s lack of experience with babies and children, left her unprepared for motherhood. She was absolutely terrified to bring me, her first child home from the hospital. She spoke of this fear she had several times to me when I reached adulthood. I’ve also found letters and diaries that she wrote at the time, the speak of the overwhelming fear of making a mistake that she experienced. Consequently, Josie decided that I, her daughter would learn about babies and small children and how to take care of them while I was young. Something that she told me explicitly when I was middle aged. Oddly enough, however, she did not do that by expecting me to share in the care-taking of my two younger brothers.

While I did not know her reasons at the time, Josie’s approach to teaching me how to care for babies and children, was to start me in the babysitting business when I was 10 years old. She essentially began grooming me for motherhood. My first job, completely arranged by my mother, was with the family next door to us. They had recently moved in and were composed of a young couple in their early twenties and a baby under 6 months of age. The couple went out to dinner or a movie, not sure which, and were gone for at most two hours. I stayed in their home with their baby sleeping in his/her (?) crib.  I remember the awesome sense of responsibility I felt for this tiny thing in the white crib. But I otherwise remember very little about it. I don’t remember if I had any trouble, if I had to call my mother, or if everything went smoothly. I do remember how nice it felt to be given a crisp dollar bill (fifty cents an hour was my fee).

My mother arranged a few more jobs for me, taking care of babies, in homes that were within view and earshot of our house – one of the advantages of growing up in a new suburb during the baby boom, lots of work for babysitters nearby. By the time I was 13, however, I was managing my own work. I was a popular babysitter, mostly for older children (2 to 8) because I liked playing games, singing songs, and watching kids TV with them. I began to work for families that lived several miles away (where either my dad or one of the parents would provide transportation before I got my license). I liked being with children. I liked the money I earned (officially still fifty cents and hour, but regular families often added a little extra). But most of all I loved being able to stay up late on weekends, and watch late night TV and late-night movies.  This was not allowed at home. At home we went to bed at 9, and the TV was never on in the evening.

In High School babysitting was a doorway to adult life, to money of my own, to being up late, to watching adult shows. While I liked children and enjoyed playing with them, that was secondary to the pay and independence babysitting afforded me as a teenager.

Continuing babysitting was not something that I had thought consciously about when I went away to college. However, when the directors of my dormitory turned out to be a young couple with an intelligent and interesting five-year-old, I volunteered to babysit. The dorm directors also had friends living within walking distance of the dorm that had small children and would refer me as a babysitter.

One family (let’s call them Goodfolks) in particular became regulars. Babysitting for the Goodfolks over the next four years offered me something that was the opposite of what I had found in babysitting as a teenager. They offered me a warm and welcoming family life and a respite from the “adulting” of college. I became part of the Goodfolks family, a bond that continued at least 15 years after I graduated. I would come back and visit them many times over the years as a family member rather than an employee.

I also continued babysitting as a source of extra income in college, and although I continued to state my fee as 50 cents an hour, the majority of families simply paid me a flat five or ten dollars per session depending upon the amount of work involved (more for cooking meals, getting kids off to school etc, less if I was just watching TV while the kids slept).

Then one summer I got a job as an au pair.  Another student who had worked for a wealthy family through an agency was asked by the family to find someone to work for them (they did not want to go through the agency again – I should have taken that as the red flag it was). She knew I did a lot of babysitting and recommended me. The family like my phone interview, and they liked my references. For ten weeks, I got an insiders view of the domestic life of the corporate elite. I spent most of my time in bucolic Greenwich, Connecticut. An easy train ride to NYC and art museums, although I only got two chances to go as my “day and a half” off, wasn't always honored (remember the red flag). The family also took me with them on vacation to Maine, and I have longed for the coast of Maine ever since.

Somewhere along the line, in college spending so much time with young families and their children drastically changed my own personal views about having children. It wasn’t that I came to dislike children, quite the contrary. But I came to be more and more cognizant of how hard it was to raise children in the modern world, and to balance family and career. I saw this playing out in the families for whom I worked. I began to question whether or not I wanted children of my own.

I made the mistake of bringing this up once with my mother while visiting during a holiday. That’s when I began to learn about how getting me started in babysitting had been her plan to groom me for motherhood. Now I was telling her that my experience made me question whether I wanted motherhood at all.

My babysitting experiences in graduate school expanded my doubts. In graduate school, I had a half dozen friends who were divorced, working (or grad student) mothers.  As a friend, I would look after their daughters (they all had daughters), to give them a break. Sometimes they paid me, sometimes they just fed me, sometimes I fed them. These weren’t jobs, they were expressions of solidarity among friends. They were also a telling insight what life as a single female parent was like, and how none of these women had gone into parenting with the expectation of becoming a single parent. 

Between all the years of experience with scores of children between 1 and 10, and multiple courses in development psychology and family sociology, I became quite the expert on childhood development and child behavior. I developed the confidence and knowledge that my mother had hoped for, but I also developed a healthy skepticism about my ability (and desire) to be a parent. My career seemed more rewarding. Some times too much knowledge is an impediment.

My first husband wanted children. His family was large and loving and very supportive. So we tried. But as fate would have it. I couldn’t get pregnant. The marriage ended within a couple of years before alternatives such as fertility treatments or adoption even became something to discuss. Had I gotten pregnant easily, then I would have become a parent, but I did not. I suspect that I would not have wanted to put in any extra effort to become a parent, even if the marriage had lasted. By the time I met my present husband I was already experiencing menopause, and he was not interested in having children.

Sometimes I think about my mother who passed away more than a decade ago, never having any grandchildren.  She was so anxious for grandchildren that she began grooming me at age 10 with babysitting jobs, but she never did anything to prepare my brothers for parenthood. None of us had children.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

What Got Me Here


When I read Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild several years ago, it affected me as no other piece of writing had done before or since. There was one paragraph in particular that really struck me a chapter or two before the end of the book:

“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to fuck everyone one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?”

Except for the reference to heroin, everything in that paragraph struck against my mind the way a clapper does on a bell, causing my mind to reverberate for days, the vibrations echoing through my life in a way that changed the way I saw everything, felt about everything both past and present.

I had sex with a lot of men between the ages of 20 and 40. How many men? How much sex, well it depends upon whether you accept Bill Clinton’s definition (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman…Ms. Lewinsky”) or the definition of Bill Clinton’s detractors.  Until the late 90’s my definition of “having sex” was pretty much on par with President Clinton, but after his impeachment I found it necessary to revise my list of men I’d “had sex with” upwards by 3 or 4 names. And it wasn’t just the sex, it was the emotional attachments, the stalking behavior; the men, often friends, that I wanted to sleep with but couldn’t who sometimes got hurt because of my impulsive behavior. I am genuinely sorry for pain that I caused. Yet I’m still glad for the experiences, because they all taught me something. They made me into the person that has negotiated this wonderful yet turbulent, nearly 30 year marriage to my soul mate.


Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Getting Work Done is Hard These Days

The pump in our dishwasher died weeks before we realized what happened, what alerted me finally was noticing white hard water stains on the kickboards of our cabinets, where small, but daily overflows had been soaking in. Once we realized it on February 4th, we turned off the water and power to it and began hand washing. 

We had the plumbers come to diagnose whether we had leaky pipes or leaky dishwasher, and they verified our suspicion that the pump had failed.  I did some research on-line, decided on some highly recommended models and we went that weekend (February 12th) to Lowe’s to buy a new one. 

We did not realize the extent to which the pandemic had changed the way Lowe’s operated. We’ve bought appliances there before (most recently a new stove in 2021), where within a day or two a Lowe’s truck and Lowe’s employees would show up to install the purchased item, for little or no additional cost. Now Lowe’s contracts with a 3rd party installation company (which turns out to not be an installation company but a company that then hires 4th party local businesses/workers to do the actual installation). 

It was a week before we heard from the installation company, and then another two weeks before they could come and make the measurements (why they had to do this and could not trust us on the measurements I don’t know).  The (4th party) installer (a nice feller) told us for the installation contract (and payment), which Lowe's never did.  So I called them and discovered that because of an illness/accident the young man who sold us the dishwasher was out on leave, and no one really knew what was going on with our order.  It took 24 hours to find someone who could get access to all the documents and write up our installation contract, which added another $150 on to the original cost of the appliance (only 15% of the original cost but still unexpected). 

We had to wait again for the installment company to contact us with an appointment to actually install.  The first appointment we were given was March 15 (at this point we had been without a dishwasher since February 4). The day they were suppose to show up we got a call to reschedule, because the local (4th party) installer had one truck and it was broken, so they rescheduled for today March 21. 

First thing this morning the young man who was suppose to do the install called us from Lowe’s to tell us that the store had somehow misplaced/sold/lost/never gotten (??) our dishwasher and he had nothing to bring to install. He said the appliance department at Lowe’s would reorder the dishwasher and let him know when it came in and then we would get another appointment to install. 

This afternoon, someone from Lowe's installation department called us.  Now this is one of the things that really annoys me in all this. Lowe's has a department called "Installations" but they don't actually DO installations any more. They just contract with 3rd parties to do them. I realize that this has to do with protecting their workers from COVID or other things, and that it does provide jobs for small local businesses. But, often those small local businesses are overwhelmed with more than they can handle, and they don't get all the money paid by people, because Lowe's takes their cut first. And workers in small businesses don't have the same benefits or rights or opportunities that Lowe's workers do. 

The Lowe's installation department worker was very apologetic and promised to provide us with information within two business days about what happened to our dishwasher and when they would get one for us. But, in all likelihood, given how busy the  (4th party) installer is, things will be pushed at least two more weeks! Which means that we might end up with them wanting to install the same week that my husband has surgery. 

There was no ill intent or willful stalling involved here. Some of the problems arose because a key worker got ill, or a key piece of equipment (truck) broke down. These are things that happen. What is problematic is that current business practices involve skimping on redundancy in labor and equipment, there are few if any backstops. Ground between the demand by stockholders/owners for more profit and the demands of consumers for cheaper goods and services, the costs of doing business are pared to the quick. So it is not surprising that it takes one persons illness or one truck breaking down, to cause the hold structure to come to a stand still.

Monday, January 2, 2023

I Secretly Love Global Warming

 In recent weeks I have been thinking a lot about why we as a society are so reluctant to seriously fight to eliminate carbon emissions. I am an environmental voter. I look for and vote for candidates that take environmental science seriously, who appear to understand climate change, and understand that the only real solution is to dramatically cut emissions of green house gasses, and that our carbon economy. As an individual I purchased well insulated housing, use energy efficient heat pump, keep my thermostat at 67 degrees (60 at night) in the winter and wear extra layers. We bought Priuses more than ten years ago, and before that sought out the most fuel efficient cars possible. I recycle, reduce, reuse. Never replace items (including electronics) until they completely give out. As both and individual and a citizen, I try to be environmentally conscious about all my decisions. knew there was a but coming! But, I love having 60 degree weather the first week in January. I love that our winters here in eastern Kentucky are overall so much warmer and milder than they were twenty-five years ago. Yes, I absolutely know all the reasons why this is problematic. I understand how extremely mild weather in January, creates problems for plant life cycles, and how plant cycles can get out of sync with animal life cycles of hibernation, migration, mating and new generations. But I love it. My nearly 72 year old, arthritic joints love it.

I also know that we are not only getting warmer winters, we are getting hotter summers (which I don't like quite so much). Moreover, we are getting much frequent weather extremes, including the horrific flooding event that devastated eastern Kentucky in July 2022. I know all this. I know that the long term problems are going to be even worse. That the underpinnings of modern agriculture and modern society are threatened by climate change. Yet I still love these mild winters, I find myself cheering when I see that the NOAA three month climate predictions show high chance of warmer than usual weather this Jan/Feb/March. It also shows higher chance of precipitation, but as long as it's not snow...

All this suggests to me that the crusade against climate change has a significant problem, because I can hardly be the only person who intellectually grasps the problems of climate change, yet still on a personal day to day business enjoy its fruits especially in winter time. Which means that there are many of us, regardless of well we understand the problems created by climate change, might balk about making real  sacrifices in the comfort and convenience afforded by a fossil fuel economy that are really needed in order to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

New Things

    I started writing journals when I was 12. I had read The Diary of Anne Frank and decided like her to create an imaginary friend that I wrote to regularly. My friend was named Margie. Like Anne I wrote a lot about my feelings. Unlike Anne I did not do a very good job of describing what was actually going on in my real life. No one reading those "Margie letters" today would learn much about what life was like in suburban California in the early 1960's. 

    The "Margie letters" were written on binder paper, making it easy for me to write the letters during class periods when I was bored. I stored them all in a large three ring binder. I started in 1963, and continued that practice through my sophomore year in college. I still have the binder with all the letters packed away in a box somewhere.  They may have been cathartic to write, but they hold little content of interest to me as I aged.

    At the end of the summer of 1971 just before my junior year, I made a change. I purchased a hardbound record book, 12" x 8.5" format, and began writing a different kind of journal.  There was still a lot of internal emotional reflection, but I began to write much more about  the world around me, observations of the world, people, events, and activities. Writing in a bound journal seemed to me a much more serious undertaking than my "Margie letters" had been. It suggested permanence and the possibility that others somewhere in the future might read what I had written. 

    That December (1971) in my first bound journal I began what became an annual tradition that lasted for the next two decades: my firsts or new things list. Each December I would think back over the year and write down everything that I had done for the first time, every new experience I had encountered. In my twenties, thirties and even early forties, my lists of new things were quite lengthy. I traveled quite a bit in the U.S. visiting far flung friends and relatives, attending scholarly conferences, doing research. I moved from one state to another, from my parents home in California, to college in Ohio, a summer job in Connecticut, graduate school in Kentucky, professorships in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. I worked a variety of jobs, went to graduate school, started a career, got denied tenure and started career jobs. I married, divorced and married again. 

    Then at some point in my fifties, I stopped doing this recording of new things. Part of it was because there weren't as many new things. As we age, we generally have fewer novel experiences, things we've never experienced before. Moreover, the new things I began to experience in my fifties and sixties were generally not fun things: hysterectomy, cataracts and surgery, developing rheumatoid arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. I got out of the habit not only of my annual new things list, but of journaling in general. 

    This year, however, was an eye opener. A very big "new thing" happened, not just to me but to all the people around me: a great flood that devastated vast stretches of eastern Kentucky. While this is not a "good" new thing, it is important, significant, and affected us in profound ways, even those of us who lost little or nothing directly in the flood. It has made me want to pay closer attention again, journaling again, even my year end chronicle of new things. 


Friday, December 9, 2022

Christmas/Holiday Cards

 Well I did it. I set out to send a Christmas/Chanukah/holiday card to every single person in my address book before December 15. I completed that task yesterday (December 8) and put the last batch of cards in the Jenkins, KY post office. Now oddly I'm feeling a loose ends.

When I retired I thought that I would have the time to get back to keeping up with correspondence, like I did in my twenties and thirties. Back then I wrote letters every month, had dozens of people that I corresponded with regularly. These days there's only two people that I correspond with regularly, and they (my brother and an old college chum) vastly prefer to use e-mail so that what I do for them. There are two or three others who e-mail a couple of times a year. My oldest friend from junior high prefers Skyping for communication, so we do that at least once a month. One sweet college friend is very good with cards and notes on all the major Jewish holidays. But no one writes letters like we used to do. 

So it all comes down to Christmas/holiday cards, which I had gotten lax about for the last decade or so of work life. But it turns out that having plenty of time in retirement, does not translate into have "wherewithal". I have struggled most of the past five years to just simply reply to everyone who sent me a card. So I made this promise to myself, and back in October ordered two types of cards, matching stickers and address labels, and set to work on the first of December writing cards. 

I've gotten to an age where I don't know if all the friends and family whose addresses I have are still alive. Most are in their 70's or older. The ones who spend time on Facebook I know are still there, but with some of the others our only contact is holiday cards. 

Facebook gives us an illusion that we know what is going on with each other. But I know I don't post much about what is actually happening in my life, and I suspect that most people leave lots of stuff out of their social media. All the details of life that we used to share face-to-face, or even in letters, gets washed over. 

I may never do this again, at least not at this level. It was expensive, and it took almost two weeks of working on it for several hours a day. At least I can say I did it once. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Give me that old time mountain music

This past August 2021 marked the 85th annual Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax, Virginia. The Galax Fiddler's Convention is the oldest and largest music festival of its type, celebrating traditional mountain music. Galax is an incorporated "city" at the southeastern edge of Grayson County. My father was born about 20 miles away, in the small town of Troutdale, also in Grayson County. He grew up in Troutdale and other Southwest Virginia communities. As a child we frequently spent summers in Troutdale, visiting with Aunts and Uncles. 

Oddly, not once in all my childhood and adolescence of being around my father's family and being in southwestern Virginia did I ever hear traditional mountain music or even bluegrass or country music. I have concluded that this was a social class issue, my grandfather was a shopkeeper, a politician, battling to make his family "middle class" and above the "riff-raff". He once castigated my eldest Aunt Mary for her association with Sherwood Anderson (the great American author, who also lived in Troutdale in his last decades) because Anderson wrote scandalous tales about moonshiners and hillbillies in his newspaper, and my grandfather did not want his daughter associated with "ruffians". So my father and my aunts all listened to classical music and big band music, and never once that I knew of listened to traditional mountain music, bluegrass or country music.

It was not until I was a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Kentucky that I heard and fell in love with traditional music. My first introduction to it was in the winter of 1977-78, at a fundraiser concert for the union coal miners of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia who were engaged in a major strike against the Bituminous coal companies in Appalachia.  From that moment on I was in love with the music of the mountains. 

One of my most precious memories from grad school came during the August of 1978, while I was living and researching my master's thesis in my father's home town of Troutdale. A group of friends piled in the hay-filled back of a farm truck and drove to Galax for the Fiddler's Convention. Some of my friends were musicians and they also knew many of the traditional musicians in the region. While we spent a little bit of time in the arena listening to the contests, we spent most of that very long night wandering about the campsite, where dozens of small jams of musicians occurred. 

This video, from August of 2021, reminds me so strongly of that wonderful night and how much amazing music could be found just wandering from campsite to campsite. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Being Political

My parents were fairly political, especially for a working class family. I doubt that they made many political donations when I was a child because money was very tight, but they discussed political and social issues a lot, wrote letters to their representatives, signed petitions and voted in every primary and election. I can remember going to the polls with my mother or father and standing along side them when they pulled the various levers on the big mechanical voting machines that were used in California in the 1950's and 60's. 

The issues that my parents cared about and talked about constantly with us included civil rights and racial equality, economic inequality and workers rights, and in the 1960's they were opposed to the Vietnam war. So it seemed only natural that when I started college in 1969, that I would march against the war, engage in sit-ins at a selective service office, and work for anti-war political candidates. 

The voting age was still 21 when I started college, but that did not prevent me from working for a political candidate. The house director for my freshman dormitory was married and her husband was the areas' elected Democratic representative to the Ohio House of Representatives, and I worked on his re-election campaigns in both 1970 and 1972, doing things like stuffing envelopes, and making phone calls.  

Back in the 1970's voter registration rules were specifically designed to keep college students from voting in the communities where they went to college (unless of course their families lived in those communities). So when I first registered to vote in 1972 at age 21 (the same year that the voting age got lowered to 18), I had to register from my parents address in California. Through an interesting quirk of the times, I actually registered the first time as a Republican. 

In 1972 Richard Nixon, whom I hated with the white hot passion of youth, was running for his second term. The local Congressman for San Mateo, Paul Norton "Pete" McClosky Jr. was a liberal Republican. I know, a liberal Republican seems crazy these days, and in fact, according to Wikipedia Pete McClosky switched to the Democratic Party in 2007. However, back then, such a thing was actually fairly common. McClosky stood up and opposed Nixon and the war in Vietnam, and decided to try and "primary" Nixon in 1972. So I and all my family registered as Republicans so that we could vote for McClosky in the primary against Nixon. Of course, that challenge was unsuccessful, and in the summer of 1972, I was "clean for Gene" and voted for Eugene McCarthy in my first presidential election. 

Between 1972 and 1975, I voted by absentee ballot as a Californian in every primary and election, but was not engaged in other ways in politics. Then I moved to Kentucky in 1975. As a graduate student living year-round in Lexington, and considered an "in state student" by virtue of my assistantships and researchships, I registered to vote in Kentucky.  

I still remember the conversations. All the life-long Kentuckians made it very clear, that if one wanted to have any real say in elections in Kentucky one had to register as a Democrat regardless of what one's political leanings actually were. Kentucky had been and continued for some decades still to be so dominated by the Democratic party that all the real political decisions for local offices, state offices, and federal representatives like senator and congressmen, were made in the primaries rather than the elections. We can still see the effect of that reality in Kentucky in 2020, where registered Democrats still out number registered Republicans, even though both houses of our legislature are dominated by Republicans, both Senators are Republican, and the state went overwhelmingly for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. Yet in eastern Kentucky, most of our county and town leadership are still Democrats. Politics in Kentucky have always been "the damnedest." 

Professionally and personally I became much more interested in local politics in the late 1970's and early 1980's. As a sociology graduate student I was reading Floyd Hunter's Community Power Structure, John Gaventa's Power and Powerlessness, Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz Power and Poverty, Arthur Vidich and Joseph Bensman Small Town in Mass Society, and  Robert Dahl Who Governs?  All of which  used community politics and decision-making case studies to develop theoretical perspectives about the exercise of power.  I was doing my own research on political conflicts in southwestern Virginia (my father's home community). My dissertation focused on conflicts between local  communities and the U.S. Forest Service over recreational developments in the Jefferson National Forest region.   Also during that same time, I had a paid job as a research analyst over two years on a huge community survey of Kentucky municipalities. Personally I was also paying more attention to Kentucky's gubernatorial races and Lexington school board issues. Nonetheless, I was more observational than participatory during those years, limiting my participation to voting in every primary and election, but did not work for any candidates or make any donations. 

After graduate school during the 1980's, my first full-time professorial job was in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I paid close attention to national politics. I raised money for Mondale and Ferraro, and helped the local democratic party plan a visit by Ferraro who did a press conference at the local airport. The idea of a female VP was intoxicating.  Four years later, I fundraised and worked for  Michael Dukakis who visited Johnstown on a cross country train stop. During the same years I donated to and worked for Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, probably the last of the great liberal Republicans.  However, I am ashamed to say that I have no idea who was mayor of the city, or how the city was governed, and I paid little if any attention to who were my representatives at the state level, or even my congressional district. 

I didn't change much when after seven years in Johnstown, I moved to Wise, Virginia to teach at another branch of a great university (this time UVA). I put my focus on presidential politics, senatorial politics, and maybe on the governorship, but not much else. I did at least know who my local congressman was, but that was about it.  I was taken by surprise when my blue district "suddenly" went red, in the 1990's. 

This I believe is the great failing of liberals of my generation. We looked at the big issues we felt were important, such as the environment, civil rights, reproductive rights, and we decided that the best way to attack those was at the federal level and through the courts, rather than trying to fight in each and every statehouse. Most of us failed to think about the role of the statehouses in controlling access to voting, to defining districts, and setting the ground rules.  We never thought about a day when the Supreme Court would strike down major parts of the voting rights act giving free reign back to the states. The Republicans never made that mistake. They worked the local and the state offices and came to dominate state politics even in states where ostensibly the majority of voters were liberal, and elected Democratic presidents and Democratic senators. 

Part of the problem comes from the fact that many highly educated liberal voters of my generation (Ok Boomer), held jobs that often involved major moves. In academia, I taught at three different institutions. People in business and finance often had to make major moves to advance in their careers. Local politics is so much about who you know and how long you or your family have been in the community that it is hard for more transient residents to get to understand how it works. 

Moving to Kentucky for my final academic position (that I was in for more than 21 years), finally gave me the roots to get firmly involved. I know who all my county and community leaders are, I can stop them on the street and talk to them. I know who my representatives in the Kentucky legislature are, and feel free to chat them up when I run into them in the grocery store, or the local farmers market.  I know the people in my community, not just those that I worked with at the community college. I know the sheriff and many of the deputies and town police in the county (many are former students).  The local level is far more important than I realized when I was younger, despite the fact that as a community sociologist I should have recognized that. 

A Panic over Memory

One of the things about aging that scares me is that I will lose my mind the way my mother lost hers, becoming entirely delusional and thinking that it is the rest of the world that is crazy.  The day I wrote the material below (April 7, 2021) was one of those scary days. However, it turned out there was nothing wrong with my memory at all. Instead I had stuffed my drawer so full that several shirts, including the one that I was looking for had fallen down behind the drawers and then under the bottom drawer. My husband figured it out and rescued my missing shirts, and I calmed down. It is useful for me to remember this, so that I don't panic the next time something goes missing.

Yesterday was a difficult day. Early in the morning, I went to my dresser and pulled open the drawer with all my graphic t-shirts to get the newest art tee that I had purchased last week. It wasn't there. I pulled everything out of the drawer and it wasn't there. I looked in every other drawer in the bedroom and in the closet just in case I had hung it up. I searched all the laundry baskets, and went through the trash. I l looked on the shelves with the towels and in the containers where the sheets are stored. No art tee. 

Next I completely tore apart my office, moving boxes and books, checking the drawers where art supplies, tools, and medical supplies are kept. I looked in the sewing box and the art project box and the bag of knitting. Then it was on the kitchen, where I checked cabinets and drawers and shelves, trash beens and garbage. I went outside and pulled bags from the trash cans and searched them.  In the living room I shifted through all the blankets and pillows and baskets where things are stored.  

Then I involved my husband, and we checked his study and his closets, his laundry baskets, his drawers. He went with me and we went back again over the bedroom and all the dressers, pulled clothing out of all of them, both mine and his, unfolding and refolding every black t-shirt, to make sure it wasn't the missing one. 

At the very beginning when I first opened the drawer to get the tee, I had been certain that it would be there. As the day went along, I became less and less certain. I could remember the box arriving and opening it. I could remember getting the shirt out and showing it to my husband. He could remember me showing it to him. But now I was no longer certain that I actually could remember taking it in the bedroom and putting it in the drawer. 

Every few hours throughout the rest of the day, I would go through the search process again. There was no sign of the tee anywhere. It caused me to think that I had done something irrational like put it in the garbage. Even on the very rare occasions that I throw away any clothing, I always put it in the trash cans, not in the garbage - i.e., food waste and used cat litter. But since the shirt had vanished and I had searched the trash both inside the house and in the outdoor cans, I began to think that some how I had walked into the kitchen and thrown a brand new t-shirt in with the wet, smelly and disgusting garbage. This was so out of character that it was disturbing. 

But then a lot of disturbing things have been happening with my memory in the last few years. I have always had a poor memory. When I was in the first grade, my teacher Mrs. Davis, repeatedly told me, and not in a kind or kidding way, that "Sue Greer, if your head wasn't screwed on tight you'd forget that too." I was an absent-minded and disorganized child, but I wanted to do well in school and I was disciplined so I taught myself a whole host of tricks and techniques to remember and keep track of things. I lived by lists even when I was seven years old. As a college freshman I immediately realized that without a system I would always be looking for my keys and my id (essential if one wanted to eat). So from the time I was 18 I always had a clearly specified place for keys and other essentials, and always made sure that I left things in that place. To this day I do not misplace my keys because they  belong in one place and always go in that place.

Growing older is not for the timid, it is a scary country! 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The End of January - almost

 It is closing in on 1 am, my husband has been asleep for hours, but my brain won't shut down. I worry about getting up in the night, it might disturb the doggies, and if they get restless they would wake my husband, and he needs his sleep. I can always take naps in the daytime, one of the many benefits of retirement and aging. 

snow and trees

It is cold tonight but not so cold as to require a trickle to be run in the tub. The thermometer on the back porch read 25 degrees F, when we went to bed at ten. There is still snow on the ground from Wednesday night/Thursday morning, but not much. We have not had any long stretches of deep cold this winter so far. Only two nights in December when the temperature dipped into the teens, and exceedingly few days when the afternoon temperatures have stayed below freezing. Just Tuesday the afternoon high was 62 degrees F. 

I am very ambivalent about this. There was a time when I loved winter. When I walked a mile from graduate housing to the Patterson Office Tower in 20 degree or lower weather and found it exhilarating. I had a whole hierarchy of clothing depending upon temperature. Below 20 degrees I set aside the jeans and got out ankle length lined wool skirts with long johns underneath.  Age, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma triggered by cold air, make walks in temperatures below 40 degrees no longer feasible. I no longer enjoy the cold weather. But I know that these milder winters are not a good sign. No one mild winter of course can be blamed on climate change, but the pattern of milder winters that we've seen in the last couple of decades most certainly shows the influence of global warming. 

Moreover, while winters have become more pleasant and less harsh, spring and summer have become hotter and more humid. The fleas and ticks have boomed in recent years with mild winters. As a family with dogs and cats this has become a major expense issue. We can no longer stop flea treatments in the winter months, with so much mild weather. The lower costs for heating do not offset the higher costs of flea treatments when one has 11 cats. 

Eastern Kentucky, on the northwestern flank of the Appalachian mountains, is well situated for a changing climate. While our summers are definitely getting warmer, we are higher in altitude, surrounded by forests, and living in hollers which provide shade. The prevailing winds bring eastern Kentucky plentiful rainfall, rainfall that has been increasing over the past couple of decades. While there are occasional periods of drought (in late spring or early fall), they are both rare and short. 

The population here is declining and aging. The coal industry has been in decline since it peaked in the 1920's, but it has become nearly non-existent in the past decade. Environmentally this is a good thing, but little has replaced those jobs, so communities and families are struggling. The biggest employers in most eastern Kentucky counties are hospitals and schools. However, I suspect in the long run, if we manage to maintain our society (and I sometimes have my doubts about that), eastern Kentucky is likely to become a very desirable place to live, not too cold, not too hot, and plenty of fresh water available. I do not know if I will live to see that day. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

What is old?

 I keep waiting to feel old. 

I'm not talking about my physical body. That's been aching and creaking, and dysfunctional since my early 50's. Between osteo-arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, type two diabetes, asthma and obesity my health has been rocky for some time. 

But my spirit, my being doesn't feel old. I thought maybe when I reached 65 and got on Medicare I'd feel old. Nope. Or when I retired a few years after that, but no. Nor do I expect turning 70 in less than two weeks will make me feel old either. 

I spent most of my life working with young people, college students (most, but not all, younger than myself). I always felt more akin to the students than the "grownups" I saw around me. Took me some time to realize that many of those "grownups" really were not, any more than I was. There were some faculty, almost always men, who seem to have completely lost touch with what it was like to be 19 or 20 and in college. Who were always grumbling about "what's wrong with kids these days." So maybe some people do feel old, and lose touch with their young selves. 

But I think that maybe I'm never going to feel old, never really going to feel like a "grownup," and never really going to know for sure what I'm going to be when I grow up. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

This Day

 This feels the beginning of the new year to me, January 21, 2021. This is the day I feel like making resolutions, starting fresh, shaking off the doldrums of the past 10 months; to do more than just float through the world on a sea of anxiety.