The Broad is Back!

July 6, 2016

Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night

Today I am broken-hearted. I was upset about the state of humanity this morning, but this afternoon is when the blow came. I lost a former student.

I hate that euphemism. He died. Ethan Taranto-Kent, a young man I taught in 2007-08. Thanks to the internet, we stayed connected and got to know each other as people. He was a fine one.

ethan pawla truck

He was also a young story teller, author, director and lead of the web series Mad Nation, which you can watch on his YouTube channel, Pernicious Paradise.  A post-apocalyptic action/adventure/rumination on humanity, he had hopes of growing the show. Now that will never happen.

Ethan and I would talk a lot, chat online more, about all sorts of things: humans, responsibility, politics, art, the Constitution, guns, knives, dogs, LA, acting, people. I really enjoyed out chats because Ethan was a thinker. He was serious and he cared. He never let me give the blithe answer–the joke. He pressed me to be serious, not something people commonly do these days. At his heart, he was serious and talented and deep.

He was also sweet and loving. I’ve digitally met his fiance Nikki. My heart grieves for her, too. Just a few months ago, Ethan was griping about something and said it was what he lived for. I said, no, Nikki and Pawla are who you live for, and if he and Nikki broke up, I would cry. Today I cried for her. Pawla is their rescue dog. If you want the essence of Ethan and Nikki, watch their beautiful video about Pawla’s adoption.

ethan and nikki

Ethan’s not the first student I’ve lost, but that doesn’t make it any easier. There have been cancers, accidents, suicides, the usual suspects that take young lives. I don’t even know how Ethan died, only that it was sudden and totally unexpected.

But if we love people, we’re probably going to lose some of them, and that’s the price we pay for loving. As with most people, it was totally worth the price of loving this young man.

Ethan, I will miss you. Thank you for being my friend, for pushing me when I didn’t want to be pushed, for living your dream, for loving Nikki and Pawla, for letting me into your world and sharing your loves with us, for being a Light in the world. That Light is gone, but the art you leave behind you and the memories you leave those of us still here will keep you evergreen.

ethan peeingethan and pawlaethan in costume

June 24, 2016

Southern Hospitality

So yes, I’m back in the US, but I still have some culture shock because now I’m living in Tennessee, in an area some folks refer to as “the buckle of the Bible Belt”. My mom’s dad was a Southerner from Virginia, but as he lived in NYC and I lived in NYC, there’s very little Southern influence in my upbringing.

We see America becoming more and more homogenized thanks to television, the internet and less poverty. But there are still regional differences.

Southerns are polite. Southern hospitality is a real thing.

People take the time to say hello to strangers. I am addressed as “ma’am” by strangers and even by acquaintances. People use please and thank you on a regular basis. And instead of calling each other “idiots,” “jerk-offs” or “stunad” (I come from the NYC area so lots of Italian influence), it’s “bless your heart”. Basically, it means the same thing (geez you’re being an idiot), but it’s so much nicer to hear. To be fair, it’s also used when people are overworked or doing something difficult, but I get it a lot at work when I trip over something or break something.

My students are polite and helpful. The young couples living on both sides of my Mom have offered to help her if she ever needs it, and I have yet to encounter someone surly behind a counter or serving in a restaurant.

Now, before you tell me that people in other parts of the country are polite, good to elders and all the rest, I actually agree with you. I’ve always encountered great folks and had good neighbors in NYC. My students were a mixed bunch, but if I ever asked for help, someone would help me. I think New Yorkers would give the shirt off their back to help people–but we can be curt, rushed, and sometimes even potty mouthed. Imagine that.

Down here, I’ve never felt rushed (of course as a  New Yorker, it’s pretty difficult to make me feel rushed. I’m usually the one doing the rushing. And I don’t hear much cussing at all. Even I’ve cleaned up my act and only drop the F-bomb around my family. And some people at work. And some young people. Mostly.

I find myself constantly trying to slow down my pace. It’s not easy, but I realize that I unintentionally fluster folks when I move or talk or speak my thoughts too quickly.

This slowness in Southerners has led to the stereotype that they are not so smart. One of the easiest ways for an actor to portray “dumb” is to assume a Southern accent. Well, bless your heart, you just go right on and believe that one. Southern folks encourage it. The easier to pull the wool over your eyes and fleece you.

The smartest person I ever knew was my grandfather, the southerner, so that’s not something I’ve ever believed. And I’ve taught local students long enough to know that there are sharp brains here. Polite and slow speaking, but never confuse that with slow thinking. I mean, really, think of all the brilliant American minds that have come from the South. Google if you must.

Many folks from other parts of the country often stereotype Southerners as “hicks” or “rednecks” or ünsophisticated or flat out ignorant and violent because many have guns, support the 2nd Amendment, hunt and fish. Many are also religious, conservative, and patriotic.

I have no problem with hunting and fishing, and many of the folks I know who engage in those sports eat what they catch and appreciate the lives they are taking. Guns are tools, not toys or weapons to be used during crimes. Is there gun violence? Yes. Are there accidental shootings or intentional murders? Oh, yes.But it’s a small portion of the gun owners who are shooting and killing.

I’m no NRA member, and I support tighter controls on who has access to guns and what type of guns people have access to. One of my favorite lines in film is spoken by Samuel L. Jackson in Tarantino’s Jackie Brown: “The AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every m—–f—– in the room, accept no substitutes.”

It’s a rare situation when one has to kill everyone in the room. And I understand that if we ever need to overthrow the government as a militia, an AK-47 would be handy to have. There is a conflict there for me. But then there’s Orlando and and and. I know guns don’t kill, but people do, but we allow some crazy people to have those guns. It’s a conundrum, but I don’t think it’s just a Southern problem.

I grew up in a very patriotic family. Anyone who’s read my blog in the past knows that I love my country deeply. That doesn’t mean I follow my government blindly. Being around patriotic folks doesn’t bother me. Being around blind followers of anything does. And I have seen that attitude on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

I can be conservative about some things, but I’m incredibly liberal about others. I do believe very much on self-reliance, but I also believe in safety nets and social programs to help those who need it. So again, this isn’t something that bothers me. Some of my own New York relatives are conservative Republicans. As long as people are respectful and open to learning facts instead of soundbites, we’re good.

When it comes to religion, I have no problem with people’s religion. I have no problem with people asking me where I worship. I have had fewer problems dealing with my Christian friends questioning my beliefs than with my atheist friends questioning my beliefs. Most Christians pray for me. Most atheists mock me. Guess which I’d prefer?

I have a problem with people’s religion being codified into restrictive laws, and that’s something I’v had to deal with here, but only tangentially.I don’t teach young people, and I refuse to teach young people because of the things I’m not allowed to talk about. That’s something that bothers me, I admit.

I currently work for a domestic abuse and sexual violence prevention organization, and the folks who do programs in schools are not allowed to use “gateway words” like sex, alcohol, drinking and so on. It frustrates them and makes the kids laugh. “Gateway words”? Seriously? Religion getting in the way of science is something the rationalist in me can not understand and will not accept.That’s a big culture shock for me.

Overall, though, I enjoy the slower pace, the friendlier faces, the openness. The guns were prevalent where I can from, too, so nothing new there. Even concealed carry permits don’t really bother me. It’s not like the armed folks in NYC were wearing the guns on the outside of their clothes.

In upcoming blogs, I want to look at some of the things that flummox me and have my students laughing at me.

June 12, 2016

Broken Country, Broken Heart

When did it become ok to kill people we disagree with? Whose choices we disapprove of?

Oh, never?

People aren’t getting the message.

We’ve been beating and killing folks in the LGBT community for eons, and even here in America, where people are free to choose, where freedom is an enduring ideal, we don’t allow people to be free to be who they were born to be.

Most religions are hetero-normative. Fine. If your religion tells you that being gay is a sin, you deal with it. I hope you weren’t born gay, though.

Because people are. They just are. It’s not a learned trait. No one can “turn” someone gay just as no one can “turn” someone hetero (I dislike the term straight because it implies something else is crooked or off).

Someone can learn to unpeel the socialization that makes us behave in a certain way, that makes us hide who we really are. Then when someone comes out, some may think “they were ‘turned'”.

Today our country suffered the worst mass shooting in our history. The first reports didn’t even mention that it was at a gay bar.

But 50 people were killed because of who they were and because someone thought gay people are evil. A kiss disturbed him is the going rumor.

Some are saying “oh, he’s Muslim, that’s why”. No, that’s not why. He was a selfish, mentally unstable person with a gross sense of entitlement.I know many Muslims. None of them are killers. They might think gayness is a sin, but they don’t kill people for it. Nor do they condone Islamic countries that do. They consider it barbaric.

My heart is broken for all those lives lost, for the fears that my LGBT brothers and sisters are facing. All people are my brothers and sisters, and I am called to love them. I don’t  hate the shooter. I pity him his twisted mind that drove him to kill and be killed. I hate what he did.

In the coming days, let’s see what we can do to help the survivors heal, the mourning be comforted. It’s time to reach out in love, not anger or hatred.

 

 

May 31, 2016

So Two Years Later…

In August 2014, I posted what I thought would be my last The Broad is Back when I moved to Dubai. Once I left, I wrote A Broad Abroad Again, which chronicled my life in Dubai and 10 days in the UK. Last summer stuff happened, as it does, and I ended up not going back to Dubai. And I also ended up an adjunct in Tennessee, living with my mom and my ill son. I have not blogged since the last “A Broad Abroad”.

A dear friend kept asking me if I was going to start up again, but I was swept up in other things, and this year’s presidential race has left me disenchanted with American politics, and frankly, with many of my fellow Americans. We are more polarized than I ever remember, and yes, I do remember the 1960s. Politics today is striking me as much closer to the brash irrationality and power mongering of the 19th century, so I refuse to blog about that.

I am, theoretically, working on a novel, the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever written, about being an under-employed academic in America, caretaking for the generation above and the generation below. Seriously, it’s a comedy. That’s fulfilling many of my writing needs, but obviously not enough.

I’ve been wondering if I should restart this blog, observations on American culture, or if I should retool and reboot my other, daily blog, Patchouli Haze. It’s been two years since I’ve written for that one. It’s more thoughtful, more didactic, but neither are what I am feeling now.

Living in America’s South, in the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” has been an interesting experience, and I don’t mean interesting as a pejorative. I definitely find things of interest. Something tells me that the The Broad is going to be back. I’ve spent a year observing a different culture, so perhaps it’s time to start writing again.

Did you miss me? Probably not. But yes, I admit, I have missed you.

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Tears

One of the guys I went to HS with, Anthony Tormey, who, after a career in the military went on to found and currently is CEO of the Leader Development Institute, did a post on facebook of the young men from our hometown who died in Vietnam.

One of those young men, who died in 1968, is buried right next to my dad, who died four years later.

As an 11 year old girl, who was pretty much traumatized by war reports and body counts on the nightly news, seeing that white military headstone, alone on a gentle hill, made me sad. I realized he was only 19. That was “grown up” to me, but still I knew it was too young to be dead.

And so every time I’d go to the cemetery to see Dad, I’d say hello. He was PFC Kenneth R. Totten. And every Memorial Day I pray for him, this unknown young man.

I soon grew older than he ever did. Now my own son is older than he ever was, but still I pray, and still I say hello when I am back in my hometown and go visit Dad’s grave.

Today Anthony said he googled about the local men killed in action, and only found a picture of one, Capt. Edward Starr, a handsome young man, also too young to die, not yet 30.

Then I googled, too, and found a memory page to young Kenneth Totten. His friends and relatives had posted–they called him Kenny. Makes sense for such a young guy.

But then I saw a picture, and all of a sudden, this young man who had been a part of my life for 44 years, sprang into focus. I burst into tears. Now he is a real person to me.

He’s so handsome in his Marine blues. So damn young.

Kenny, your sacrifice is remembered and praised and mourned.  When I pray for your eternal rest, I add my prayers may no more babies have to die in war. A futile prayer as long as humanity stays the way it is, I know, but I am the eternal optimist.

Rest in peace, sweet boy. And thank you for your sacrifice.

The picture is from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

 

August 20, 2014

Good bye from the Broad

Filed under: New Broads — by maggiec @ 10:11 pm

I’m officially out of the country now and working on my new blog: A Broad Abroad Again. I hope you join me there!

Someday in the future, I may get back to this blog when I return to America. Might be in three years, might be more. If I really hate this new gig, it could be sooner, but so far, I’m quite happy with my decision.

Thanks for your loyalty and your support. It has meant a lot to me. At heart, I’m a writer, and we like nothing better than to be heard. You’ve listened. I hope I’ve said something that has had resonance for you.

Godspeed, my friends!

Love from the Broad

August 16, 2014

Gearing Up

Filed under: ex-pats,New Broads — by maggiec @ 3:08 pm
Tags: , , ,

Well, I leave tomorrow.  My bags are packed, waiting for the trip to the airport. It’s the same two I returned to America with seven years ago. They weren’t new then, and if they could talk, they could tell a million stories, those bags. They need replacing, but I’m reluctant to lose my faithful traveling companions. Trying to cram as much as possible into them this morning brought back memories. At the end, that’s what we have. That’s what we are, I think, our memories.

I’m realizing that the leaving this time is much harder than it was when I left America the first time in ’95. Then I was taking my son. Now I have to leave him behind. He’s a grown man now, but he’s still my favorite person on earth. I’m going to miss him.

I will be missing the rest of my family, as well. No one is getting younger, and I’d like to be here to enjoy this time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to the adventure. I always love a good adventure, me. I just wish I didn’t feel as if this was not a choice.  It is, of course. I could stay and adjunct, keep looking for work in the US, but the decision is made. This will be amazing, I know. But right now, with less than a day left before I’m out of America, it’s the heart tugging part,

Saying good bye is hard.Or maybe it’s just a little harder as we get older. Young people don’t worry about endings as much, or at least I didn’t. Who will not be here when I return? Morbid thoughts, perhaps, but I know from hard experience, not being here when someone passes is the hardest part of being away.

Missing good times is a bummer, but missing the hard times is heart breaking. Perhaps this is a bit elegiac in tone, but I think that’s why this goodbye is harder. I see things differently than I did when I was 34 and leaving. I’m 53. Still young (at heart) but over the hill of middle, I think.

 

 

August 8, 2014

The End is Near

I am writing this with something of a heavy heart: this is one of my last The Broad is Back columns. Faithful readers won’t be shocked to learn that the Broad is going to be abroad again. After seven years back in the US, I’m leaving again for a job.

My heart is heavy because I don’t really want to leave. Once again, I’m being pushed to leave my family, my friends, the familiar, but I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. I don’t have much of a choice, because since I’ve been back in the US, I have not been able to find full time work. I’ve been working two, three, sometimes four jobs at a time trying to make ends meet. There have been a few “flush” times, but for the most part every year I’m back in the US I fall deeper and deeper into debt.

Luckily, much of that debt is to the National Bank of Mom, so the terms are easy and it doesn’t impact my credit rating. The only other debt I have is my student loans, another debacle facing Americans. Every time I have to get a low income payment adjustment or that double edged sword, the deferment, the interest added to my debt goes up and up and up. In fact, my debt is now twice what it was when I graduated, purely on fees and interest. I paid for years, but then hit a stretch, going on 10 years now, of financial difficulties. I could pay off the principle, but the interest and fees are killing me.

Full disclosure: I have to admit that I did get two job offers, both in the NYC area, where I am from and where I’d theoretically like to stay. Both offered salaries that would have meant my rent would have been over 50% of my gross income. A doctorate and experience were required for both, but neither was going to pay a living wage. I had to turn them both down for economic reasons.

The dean at one school, a publicly funded one, mind, actually admitted in the interview that their salaries were geared for people who were in a dual-income situation—someone’s spouse or partner. I had a teenager and a husband working on getting a visa with no promise of a work permit for at least nine months. That’s just bad policy. I should be paid what I’m worth and what my job is worth. I have a doctorate; fewer than 3% of Americans have that degree. Tells you what Americans value, doesn’t it? We say we value education, but we don’t. I didn’t go into teaching to be rich, but don’t insult me. If I can’t afford to house, feed and care for my family in a reasonable commuting distance, I can’t possibly take the position. This past year, I commuted 20 hours a week, so my idea of reasonable is rather generous.

Again to be frank, if I were offered a position at that salary now, I’d take it and moonlight. But why should I have to? My doctor keeps telling me that I am destroying my health working 60-80 hours a week. And I am, so this must change. But if I worked less, I’d be homeless.

So I applied to a position in Dubai, and three days later was given an interview. A few interviews later, I was offered the position with a salary and package that blows away anything I’ve been offered in the US. I won’t be anything like “rich,” because I’m still a humanities professor, but I’ll be able to pay bills and support my son.

To be brutally frank, I feel like I’m being exiled from my country. I’ve applied for US teaching positions all over America, so it’s not like I didn’t try. I’ve sent out over 300 applications in the past seven years, and actually had a number of interviews. I’ve been a sub a few times and a visiting professor, but nothing permanent. I’m an award winning professor with 25 years of experience and a PhD from a very highly regarded school. I’ve done scholarly work, as much as I can, while teaching seven to eight courses a term, usually 11 months a year. Believe me, every term, I turn down adjuncting work because I’m that good at what I do. That’s not hubris. It’s the truth.

Am I angry that I can’t get a full time position in this country? Of course I am. On some levels, I’d even say resentful of a system that is destroying higher education and taking advantage of people who have a vocation for teaching. I am not a nun! I’m not a missionary! This is a profession, but I’m certainly not being treated like a professional. I’m not alone in this. It’s a national disaster that I’ve written about many, many times.

But there’s no use crying for water from the moon.

I’m off to start another adventure. I’ve never lived in the Middle East before, and now that I’m reconciled to leaving behind my family and friends, I’m looking forward to new exploits. Nothing beats living somewhere for learning about the culture. And Dubai is a very international place, I hear, so I’m sure it will be exciting and vibrant.

The Broad is Back is a reference to my original blog, A Broad Abroad. I will be starting A Broad Abroad Again in order to record my adventures overseas, and I look forward to seeing you there. I will post the link when it’s up and running!

I came back to a very different America, and sadly, more and more I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Sometimes it’s easier to feel like that when I truly am the stranger.

Thanks for your time and your faithful reading!

May 19, 2014

Thinking About Free Speech

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.” ~ Benjamin Franklin in “On Freedom of Speech the Press,” Pennsylvania Gazette, November 17, 1737

Nothing we like better in this country than to expound on what the “Founding Fathers” wanted for our country. We talk about what they would have wanted, but really we should spend more time reading what they wrote. We pay attention to myths and apocryphal stories as if they were gospel truths and largely ignore large bodies of published materials.

Saw this today and it made me think. Hard.

Freedom of speech and the press?  Slowly but surely being eroded, not just by the government, but by the government in complicity with the corporations that are now running America.

This information is a little out of date, but in 2011, six corporations controlled 90% of media in the US. You can find the nice little chilling infographic here.

A little something to chew on this Monday morning.

May 3, 2014

It’s the Worry that’s Killing Us

“Work is healthy, you can hardly put more upon a man than he can bear. It is not work that kills men; it is worry. Worry is rust upon the blade.” ~ Henry Ward Beecher, quoted in The Teachers’ Institute, Vol. 18, No. 1 (September 1895)

I used this quote today in my inspirational blog, and as I was writing, I knew I had to come over here, because this reflects something that’s been on my mind a while. Of course, I don’t have a lot of time to develop it today, but it’s a taste

I’m one of those people who works on weekends–that’s when the majority of my grading gets done. So work is on my mind today. I saw this quote, and it resonated greatly.

I do love my job, and even the grading doesn’t bother me overly much. I’d rather have fewer classes or the same number of classes with fewer students, and that’s where the worry comes in.

Am I spending enough time on each student’s paper? Will I get it done in time? Will I have time to spend with my son? Will I have time to sleep? Probably similar questions to what others have.

Education has changed in America, especially public higher education. As teachers, we know that the optimal number for a composition class is around 15 students or so. You want enough for a lively discussion but few enough so that the professor has time with each student. Depending on where I’m teaching (as one of America’s permanent adjuncts, I teach at up to three different schools at a time), I have between 29-45 in a composition class. Most of the time I have to teach six sections at a time to make ends meet.

So on average, I have about 150-170 students a term. And every one of them writes a paper, usually one a week. And some of those papers are 1200-1500 words. So in a heavy week, I can read 238,000 words. But I also grade them. Each paper takes me 10-20 minutes. Sometimes it’s longer if I have a particularly weak student; sometimes it’s shorter for a brilliant job. But even if I average 15 minutes a paper, that’s 2550 minutes during a heavy week, or 42 hours or so. I’m in the classroom 18 hours, have four hours of office hours (where I can often get some grading done), and so there you go. Welcome to the life of a composition adjunct.

So that worry about my students? I think you can see where that’s coming from. I went into this field to empower people with communication skills. That’s the theory, at least. How much am I really teaching them?

And like all positions, I worry about work related things that have nothing to do with my job. Because I’m not a permanent worker, every 15 weeks, I worry whether I will have work in the next term. Summers and January are the hardest times as jobs are scarce but the rent is still due. This is my reality. The vagaries of the student population and the state budget impact whether or not I’ll have work, but my friends in all fields face similar worry. I don’t think I have a friend who hasn’t either been laid off or had a spouse laid off in the seven years since I’ve been back in America.

Many have gotten new positions, but always at lower pay with more hours and no job security.

No wonder we are a nation of obese, unhealthy people. Our stress levels, worry levels, are off the charts.

Beecher is right. It’s the worry, that’s getting to us.

As a nation, we say we want to combat our national poor health and obesity, but we have created an employers’ paradise in which individual Americans have fewer days off than workers in most other industrialized countries. The Far East Asians beat us on hours worked, but they are about the only ones.

If we all just died from stress-related illness, that would be bad enough. But mostly we don’t die. We’re left on medications, or medically handicapped, and that is where it starts getting expensive.  According to Cornell University, obesity accounts for 21% of US health care costs. Now there are many reasons for obesity, but stress is a major factor, as is eating junk food or fast food as it’s called, which many who work long hours rely on.

I know that this term I have packed on pounds because I don’t have time to cook all the time, so dinner is often a peanut butter sandwich or two. I don’t like to eat fast food, so as a result, I eat far too many carbohydrates because they are quick and easy. No time to eat? Grab a bagel and go. Not the best of diets for a woman of my age, let me tell you!

So just putting this out there as some points to ponder.

 

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