Monthly Archives: February 2017

Willful Ignorance

Synchronicity, serendipity – whatever you want to call it – is real.  My early notes for this week’s blog post read, “Not sure what I want to blog about this week but I had an idea – maybe the Willfully Ignorant, or Willful Ignorance, or something like that.”  Mere moments after writing that in my journal, I came across multiple articles and quotes that echoed that very thought.

First was a post on Facebook by my friend and fellow resistor (the master resistor, actually) Chris Cangeleri of an opinion piece from the Miami Herald called “In Trumpworld, it’s OK to be ignorant” [Leonard Pitts, Jr., MiamiHerald.com, 2/17/17, http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/article133497824.html].  A great quote from the piece, which almost exactly captured what I had been thinking to write, was:  “It’s time we talked about the most consequential political divide in this country.  That divide is not between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is between the ignorant and the informed, between those who have information and can extrapolate from it and those who do not and cannot. There is an education gap between left and right, and it poses a grave threat to our national future.”

I’ve written about this before and I likely will again, because it’s something that troubles me very much about my country.  I’ve never considered myself one of those “Rah-Rah-U.S.A.!” people.  As much as I grew up loving the Olympics, it was the sportsmanship among athletes rather than the competition between countries that appealed to me most about them.  I’m part of a generation – the Baby Boomers – that has witnessed a time of greater prosperity than has ever been known in the world, and the United States has had the most respect it has ever had (or may ever again have).   I’ll save the history lesson for another day, but the bottom line is this:  I can never remember a time in my 50-plus years of life when there was such a sharp gap between the educated and the willfully ignorant in this country.

And there is no greater evidence for this than the results of the 2016 presidential election. During the campaign, whenever I listened to Donald Trump speak (and how could I NOT?  The mainstream media, which he now deems them “the enemy of the people,” gave Trump so much free TV time, we couldn’t escape him), I would hear nearly nonsensical strings of fourth-grade-level vocabulary words in run-on and incomplete sentences that wouldn’t be conveying ANYTHING, really, and he would punctuate his every line with “Believe me!”  or “Am I right?” and a wave of his signature stubby-fingered OK sign.  (What a tell!  Every time Donald Trump says “Believe me!”, he is clearly lying.)  And I would say to myself, “How could anyone in their right mind think he’s making any sense whatsoever?  What is he SAYING?  Does he even listen to HIMSELF?”  Yet so many people – none of my close friends (with whom I am universally politically aligned) but certainly many people I know, who I consider at least semi-intelligent – were hearing something completely different.  What they were hearing was what they WANTED to hear.  It didn’t matter if it didn’t make a lick of sense; they wanted to hear it, so that’s what Trump was saying.

In considering this week’s post, in addition to the Pitts article cited above, I also serendipitously came across a couple of pithy quotations.  One was posted by another one of my fellow resisters on Facebook, from an American abolitionist and vocal supporter of women’s and Native American rights back in the mid-19th century named Wendell Phillips (who was also a contemporary of Frederick Douglass, who still has definitely NOT done any great things lately).

The Wendell Phillips quote:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

Heavy stuff, but the bottom line is this:  In a free country, the people have to be vigilant about their rights because once they hand over their power to the elites in control, it is damn hard to get back.

We’re a nation of sheep, as Trump’s election has proven:  ignorant people being led by the nose by Fox News and con men and people with money who control the people who don’t have money.  The populace is woefully ignorant – and willfully so.  Organized religion contributes to that, and also a lack of respect and support for teachers and public education (as evidenced by the ability of the thoroughly unqualified Betsy DeVos to not only buy her position as Secretary of Education but also to make noise about eliminating public education entirely, to be replaced by some mishmash of home schooling and charter schools and God in the classroom – egads!).  Sometimes I think people are happier to be told what to do rather than to think for themselves.

I’ve written about this before in a broader post about public education [“An Ideal Education,” 7/6/16].  It troubles me that so much focus in schools is on teaching to standardized tests and not teaching youngsters how to think for themselves based on their powers of observation and critical analysis.  That kind of emphasis is sorely lacking in schools until college level education, and by then most of the folks who need to be critically thinking about their roles and responsibilities in this country and the world have essentially dropped out of the system.

The founders set up the U.S. Constitution as a blueprint for governance of the people, by the people, coming as it did out of the fight for independence from a controlling monarchy.  Today’s sheep give lip service to patriotically living up to the standards of our forefathers but they’re not willing to question authority and get involved in their own governance.  It’s an awesome responsibility, and what’s happened is that large numbers of people (perhaps a majority of us, and I include myself in that number) have abdicated their power to such a degree that they allowed a con man to be elected by a bare majority of the bare majority (57.9%) of eligible Americans who actually bothered to vote in a damn presidential election, let alone mid-term or local elections, when you can have the most access to the governing power that most affects you.

The other quote I came upon was from George Orwell, whose classic 1984 is undergoing a rediscovery because of its prescience.  Said Orwell, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  This is so, evidently, because it is so easy to believe what you want to believe, especially when people in power are pushing it on you, despite the actual FACTS in front of your face.  The denial of the FACTS in front of one’s face has become alarmingly common, and the people in power are doing nothing to change that (and, in fact, are unabashedly promoting such denial).

That George Orwell quote was cited in a transcript of the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture at the UCLA given by Bret Stephens [“Don’t Dismiss President Trump’s Attacks on the Media as Mere Stupidity”, Feb. 18, 2017, Time.com, http://time.com/4675860/donald-trump]. Following on Orwell’s quote, Mr. Stephens said, “We each have our obligations to see what’s in front of one’s nose, whether we’re reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity. Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognize and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we’d like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology.  To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won’t waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavorable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.”

I could go on – I haven’t even touched on the absurdity of the accusations of “fake news” by Trump and his minions against established and reputable newspapers and media conglomerates with extensive fact-checking teams and decades of public trust.  Certainly, the big ones are controlled by a few powerful (wealthy, white, male) people, but I think, if Big Media is guilty of anything, it’s of trying too hard to be fair and balanced, to the point where they’re almost afraid to call bullshit when they hear it.  Not to mention the free publicity they gave (and evidently continue to give, since Trump is still campaigning even after winning) the Trump campaign.

But I’m preaching to the choir.  It seems highly unlikely that I will change anyone’s mind or convince them that they need to work a little more on their critical thinking skills because they’ve been bamboozled bigly by a con man.  I go to sleep every night hoping that, when I wake up, it will all have been a bad dream.  But perhaps one good thing has come of this horrible political nightmare:  The outpouring of protest and public outcry will maybe, just maybe, cause some of the previously willfully ignorant to do a little more digging, get a little more involved, and start seeing clearly what’s been in front of their own eyes all along.

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Lethargy

This past weekend, I was extremely wasteful.  I stayed in bed until after 11 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, and then got lost down the Facebook wormhole for hours at a time.  Together with the constant stream of posts on Facebook that generate outrage and foment revolution (interspersed with much-needed cuteness and laughter breaks), I also get an overwhelming number of daily emails from a whole slew of politicians, local and otherwise, and organizations like MoveOn.Org and Global Citizen.  I try to quickly read them and delete them, but I’m so far behind at this point, I don’t know if I’ll ever get through them all.

The two things I fear most when it comes to our resistance to all things Trump are (1) fatigue and (2) missing something.  There’s been such a bombardment, so many distractions and misdirections, who can be sure that they’re not sneaking things through – bad, destructive things, even worse and more destructive than the horrible stuff we KNOW about –without the media or the watchdogs knowing?  I think we can pretty much guarantee that that’s what they’re doing, and I don’t think it’s paranoia speaking.  But the fact remains that I spend far too much time occupied with it, to the exclusion of other important things that need doing in my life.

I don’t know why I can never tick off every item on my daily “to do” lists.  Are my expectations too high?  Am I just too slow and lazy and easily distracted?  I get down on myself about it, but is that self-denigration justified?  Should I push myself more or give myself credit for the items I am able to cross off my list?  I spend the bulk of my waking hours engaging in this kind of self-dialogue:  beating myself up for not achieving what I set out to do, alternating with letting myself off the hook with platitudes like “I’m doing the best I can (which has to be good enough)” or “Hey, I’m only an imperfect human, after all.”  It’s a constant battle between feeling like I have to be harder on myself to do what needs to be done versus treating myself with a little more kindness and patience.

Take, for instance, getting out of bed in the morning (or, more accurately, NOT getting out of bed). I don’t even get an early start on those days when I have nothing scheduled, as was the case this past weekend.  It’s such a waste of precious time, languishing under the covers when I’m not even really sleeping anymore.  But clearly, I prefer staying in bed to doing ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE.

Sometimes I wonder, if I ever did win the lottery and was able to quit working for a living and could do as I pleased every day, would I still waste so much time in bed?  I like to think that I would not; that, freed of the work shackles and possessed of a new outlook on life, I would leap out from under the blankets at first light, ready to take on whatever the day might bring.  I’m pretty sure that’s a fantasy.  Part of the reason I stay in bed is because I don’t go to sleep till 2 a.m. most nights.  Eight hours of good sleep brings me to 10 a.m., so I’m already losing the bulk of the morning just by virtue of my circadian rhythms.

Then, once I finally do manage to rouse myself out of bed – usually because I have to pee, or the phone rings, or Mimi is making a racket in the litter box – it’s time to slog through my seemingly endless morning routine:  shower, brush my teeth and put in my partial denture (which I used to be able to get away with not putting in but now it’s a necessity given that I’m missing a front tooth and I look like a hillbilly grandma when I don’t), take my pills, scoop out the litter boxes and pick up the wee-wee pads, take the dogs out, and feed everybody.  Last to be fed is me, and then I sit my fat ass in front of the computer and just STAY THERE ALL DAY, sometimes working but most of the time just trolling the Internet, trying to clear out my email inbox and keep up with all the reprehensible behavior of the Trump administration and the Republican-dominated Congress that does nothing about it (which has the effect most days of making me feel physically ill, and yet I can’t stop).

I really need to make some changes in my life.  I know I’ve been using my pending move/transition back to my house as somewhat of an excuse to remain in my rut but there’s no real reason not to make some adjustments starting right now.  Money, weight management (food intake and exercise), getting organized, writing more consistently, thinking about my job/career/future – all very important things.  I’m 57 freakin’ years old and it’s time to be a grown-up and get my act together.

There’s a blog I follow called Seeds 4 Life that sends inspirational emails every day.  A couple of days ago I got an email that said, “Today we will decide WHY we have unrealized dreams.  What excuses have we made?  Why have we allowed dreams to stay dreams?  Time?  Finances?  Fear?”  My response?  YES.  The post goes on to say that we have to DECIDE:  If what we want is important, we’ll find a way.  If not, we’ll just find excuses.  The idea is to change “one day . . . “ into “Day One”.  [Lily Daub, “One Day or Day One. You Decide – Unknown”, The Seeds 4 Life, http://www.theseeds4life.com/one-day-or-day-one-you-decide-unknown]  That advice resonates with me, but so far I’ve remained stagnant and continue to make those excuses, so clearly changing my life is not that important to me at the moment.  Of course, a perennial excuse is that I lack a clear vision for my dreams for the future.  I mean, I DO know what I want my future to look like but I don’t know how to get there from here, especially since the future I envision involves living on a lot less income and also requires me to be braver about putting my work (and myself) out into the world.

I wish I could end this week’s post on a more positive note.  Perhaps it’s just the winter doldrums getting me down, or being so close to getting back into my house and yet still not there.  Maybe it has something to do with my suddenly all-too-real job insecurity (see “Job Insecurity”, 2/7/17).  Maybe it’s Trump.  Who knows?  I guess I’ll just have to keep focusing on (and being grateful for) the little joys in life (Learning that my friend is cancer free!  Buying new music!  Kitties at home and at the shelter!  New York Rangers on a winning streak!  Chicken souvlaki from Abe’s Pitaria and Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt with all the toppings!  Watching the hilarious mocking of Trump from all quarters and knowing it’s making him furious!)  Once the seasons change and the sun gets warmer and stays out longer, maybe then I’ll be ready to make those changes I keep going on about.

POSTSCRIPT:  According to WordPress, this is my 100th post!  Whee!  I’m kind of proud of myself!

Job Insecurity

I’ve been stressing for days about an annual job evaluation that I am scheduled to have next week with the new head of my department.  He is a partner I’ve known for many years, but his home base is on the opposite coast so we don’t often have an opportunity to work together.  Up till now, for the entire time I have worked at my firm , my trusted boss of long standing – a lovely man about whom I’ve written before (see “The Blizzard of 2016 and Some Thoughts About My Job,” 1/27/16) – has been both my direct supervisor and my evaluator as the head of the department.  This will be my first evaluation that isn’t with him.

[An aside:  The firm, for some reason, believes that associates need their assigned “mentors” (regardless of the extent to which such person has served as an actual mentor) to sit in on these evaluations, ostensibly for the protection and support of the associate.  I have assured the powers-that-be on numerous occasions, especially as I’ve become more senior and more separate, that I don’t need my “mentor” – a female partner with whom I have had a long, tumultuous and somewhat passive-aggressive relationship – to attend the evaluation on my behalf, but to no avail.]

My boss is well aware of the rationales for having cut back on my workload, and in fact is solely responsible for my special work situation.  I know he values what he calls my “institutional memory” (I have been there for nearly 15 years, after all), my responsiveness to the clients and my ability to handle the workload he sends my way largely autonomously.  But he also realizes that my evolution as a structured finance lawyer plateaued at about the equivalent of a mid-level associate.

So I’m dreading this evaluation with a virtual stranger, accompanied by a so-called advocate who has often been a harsh critic in the guise of “making [me] a better lawyer” whether or not I’ve asked for the feedback.  The thing that frightens me most is that I won’t be able to justify my half-time, work-from-home arrangement and, as a result, will bring about the demise of my cushy employment situation.  I fear it is much more likely that my evaluator (who is a very nice and fair man but who is trying to establish himself as the new “leader of the pack” following the long and successful tenure of my boss) will decide that I really no longer have a valid function within the group, I’m merely dead weight and I’m incapable of developing beyond my current status (the latter of which I freely admit).  Why would they possibly want to keep me around?

This raises two alternate streams of thought in my addled brain:

  1. I need to come up with a way to justify my existence at the firm, at least for the next year or so.
  2. I need to start thinking about a “Plan B” employment strategy that will prevent me from becoming homeless. This is further exacerbated by the fact that, thanks to my house elevation/renovation, I am in the deepest depths of debt and I’ve decimated my safety net.

Out of an abundance of anxiousness, I had a brief conversation with my boss last week to kind of toss out some buzz words that might satisfy my evaluator that I actually do bring value to the firm.  We came up with the following:  (a) Certain clients of long standing actually come to me directly with work and questions, often bypassing the billing partner.  (b)  I am responsible for numerous “one-off” and recurring deals that might fall through the cracks when the rest of the group is busy with large-scale transactions.  (c)  I can be relied upon by my superiors to complete work on time and correctly when asked to do so (although I only really get assignments from my “good” boss and my “nemesis” boss), and I am responsive to and dependable for clients.  (d) I don’t require a lot of administrative support, given that I have a certain depth of knowledge about common issues we frequently encounter in our line of work just by virtue of having done it for so many years (and I know enough to consult with the boss when I don’t) and facility with document manipulation, drafting and editing (I am a former word processor, after all).  (e) Finally, there’s the old stand-by economic argument:  At my level, they can bill the client much more for me per hour than the hourly wage they actually pay ME.  I am, therefore, a cash cow.  And even though I have a designated office in the city, I’m pretty easy on the overhead because I’m only there once a week

Who knows if it will work?  Perhaps I can just charm the fellow.  [LOL]

But this may be the wake-up call I need to give some serious thought to wage-earning- life-after-law-firm that will enable me to maintain my (and my daughter’s) lifestyle and simultaneously dig myself out of debt.  Truth be told, I really have no Plan B.  None at all.  And it is especially troubling considering that I’ve become basically a hermit who spends all her time sitting in front of her home computer, trolling the Internet and waiting for work requests to cross her inbox.

I saw something on Facebook today that listed 30 or so simple ways you could earn extra money doing things like being a “mystery shopper,” watching TV through a sort of measuring device to help market researchers figure out what people are (or are not) watching, or participating in focus groups.  You could be a bookkeeper (even if you’re math-challenged, like I am) or a proofreader for, like, $17 an hour without having to leave the confines of your home.  I could maybe try to do some writing-for-cash (it worked for Neil Gaiman, after all), although I don’t really have any marketable expertise.  I also looked into an online transcription company – I could maybe revert back to my old “profession,” although I can no longer type quite as fast as I used to.  A friend of a friend who abandoned the 9-to-5 world to become a freelance writer and jack-of-all-trades picks up paying gigs of all types by tapping into a sort of “service provider exchange”, and he seems to have found a reasonably happy balance in his life that I envy.  Then again, it’s just him and his dog that he has to support; he doesn’t have a college-age kid who thinks he’s a bottomless pit of money.

When looking for apartments last May, I mentioned to my realtor friend that I would be interested in learning how to do residential closings, because my years doing aviation closings might actually be translatable to closing on houses.  She said she could probably hook me up with some local lawyers who might need a hand, so that’s another possibility.

But there are three basic problems with all my “Plan B” ideas:  First, even if I did manage to string together three or four different freelance jobs, I would only be making a fraction of what I make now, and I’d still be responsible for paying for my health insurance and now taxes, too, which I currently get deducted from my monthly paychecks even though I’m paid as an independent contractor.   Second, the thought of submitting my resume and going on interviews petrifies me.  There aren’t too many jobs out there that I can just get without an application and interview process, and I am in no frame of mind to “sell myself” in ANY job market at the moment.  And finally, I have become so spoiled working from home these past few years that – shocker! – I only want to work from home, on my own schedule, wearing what I want and taking fridge-visit, local errand and dog-walking breaks whenever I need to.

I’ve had so many other things to stress about these past few months – my house, my lack of money, my downstairs neighbor, getting my daughter through school, not to mention the nightmare of Trump – that the job insecurity has been pushed to the back burner.  I’ve always known intellectually that my “good” boss was not going to be around forever and that, when he left the firm, I would probably be asked to leave the firm as well, but I was sort of in denial about it.  Now I am beginning to get more and more worried.  Next week’s evaluation will offer some clarity but, no matter the outcome, I think it’s definitely time for a Plan B.