“Really, all of this speaks to the broader picture of how the middle class in America is struggling to exist.” ~ Bill Faith, from “Where the Tea Party Rules (Rolling Stone, 14 October 2014)

Saturday afternoon. Sunny, 76 degrees.

Date night tonight, two movies at one of our favorite places to see movies, Cinema Cafe; tonight’s selections—Fury and Gone Girl. Hoping the ones we chose this time are better than Noah and Oculus, both of which were a major waste of time and money.

Anyway, thought I’d share a few tidbits I came across in my perusing. It’s a theme—you know, Tea Party and Rolling Stone. Corey actually forwarded me the article below about his hometown in Ohio. Happy reading . . .

                   

From Rolling Stone article, “Eight Tea Party Morons Destroying America

This guy is my hero. No really:

Steve Stockman
State: Texas
Elected: 2012
Core Beliefs: A fierce defender of the petrochemical industry. Believes “the best thing about the Earth is if you poke holes in it, oil and gas come out.” Said president’s post-Sandy Hook gun-control push “reminds me of Saddam Hussein.” Invited rodeo clown who dressed in a racist Obama outfit this summer to be an honored performer in Texas.

But this one runs a close second:


And speaking of Rolling Stone and the Tea Party, here’s its article about Corey’s hometown—Lima, Ohio:

Lima Ohio
Abandoned storefronts, empty streets and rundown housing plague Lima, Ohio, once a manufacturing hub. Photo by Geordie Wood

Where the Tea Party Rules

Lima, Ohio, has been struggling for decades – and the GOP’s radical policies are making it even worse

By | October 14, 2014

Dewey Chaffins was 19 years old when he left Appalachia for northwestern Ohio in 1958. The youngest of 10, he’d grown up in Garrett, Kentucky, a hardscrabble coal town where his family had lived and mined for generations. During the 1950s, when the coal industry in eastern Kentucky fell into a steep decline, scores of young men packed up all they had and headed north toward the industrial Midwest. Chaffins found opportunity in the city of Lima, a manufacturing boomtown where there were so many factories, as one retired autoworker recently told me, ”you could walk into a place, get a job without even a high school diploma, and if you didn’t like it, you could quit, walk across the street and have another job that afternoon.” By the time Dewey and his 18-year-old wife, Linda, settled in Lima, seven of his siblings, their spouses and some of their in-laws were living in and around the city, where they quickly found work in the automotive plants or tire factories or steel mills, joined the UAW or other unions, and set about raising their children in a manner none of them had ever dreamed possible.

Dewey and Linda worked for Hayes-Albion, a Michigan-based company whose Lima plant provided Ford with chrome and trim. Their combined annual income was almost $50,000 a year, not a lot but enough at the time to buy a home in the middle-class suburb of Bath Township, just east of Lima. By the end of the 1980s, each of their four children had graduated from high school, and two had gone on to college. There was no reason to doubt that their family’s continued upward mobility was secure.

One recent morning, I went to visit Dewey’s son Scott Chaffins, who still lives in Bath, in a small three-bedroom house he shares with his wife, Lori, and their two college-age kids, Joshua, 21, and Alyssa, 18. Now 50, Scott is a burly guy who meets me dressed in long cutoffs, a blue polo shirt and flip-flops. He shuffles through his kitchen followed by the family’s big brown Lab, Brutus. Stopping briefly to say hello, Scott then excuses himself to lie down. “It’s his blood pressure,” Lori says, apologetically. A chemist and former college professor, Scott’s been out of work for six months. “Stress adds a lot of health issues, as you can imagine,” she says.

Photo: Geordie Wood

A short, round woman wearing a pink T-shirt and shorts, Lori Chaffins sits at a long, rectangular wooden table, drinking Dr Pepper. It’s a Friday afternoon, and she’s off for the summer from her job driving a school bus and working in the nearby middle-school cafeteria. The schedule isn’t bad, she says – working only nine months out of the year means she’s had more time to spend with her kids. On the other hand, her annual income is roughly $25,000, and she hasn’t had a raise in six years. Since her husband’s been out of work, they’ve liquidated Scott’s retirement and drained most of their savings, about $60,000 in total. Still, they have close to $160,000 in debt between their mortgage ($1,200 per month), car payments ($305), health insurance ($300 per month, with a $1,750 deductible per person) and the loans ($7,000) they took out to help pay for Joshua’s living expenses at Bowling Green State. Their home, which they purchased in 1999, along with 20 acres of land, for $170,000, has depreciated by a third, Lori says, ”and we’re still upside-down on our loan.” She shakes her head with the tight, exhausted expression of a woman who’s just barely hanging on. ”I mean, when a family can’t afford to buy steak at seven to 10 bucks a pound, that’s ridiculous. But ground beef at $4.99 a pound? That’s outrageous,” she says, her voice rising in frustration. Last year, their family had $18,000 in medical bills. ”And that was with our insurance,” she says. ”I just get so mad when people say the economy is turning around. Are you kidding me? I’m poorer today than when my husband was in college.”

Lori grew up in the nearby town of Elida. Her father, a nonunion carpenter, made less than $4.50 per hour, when he worked at all. ”We had an outhouse in the 1970s,” she says. ”I mean, we were dirt-poor. I refused to raise my children like that.”

Scott, who has a chemistry degree from Ohio State, was the first member of his immediate family to go to college, which at the time cost him $1,500 per year in tuition. While he was in school, Lori helped pay their bills by waitressing at a Pizza Hut, and she kept working as they moved from Columbus to Bowling Green, where Scott studied for his master’s, to Cincinnati. They had no intention of returning to Lima to live, but after the kids were born, they began to think it would be good to be closer to their families. So in 1999, Scott, then 34, went to work in the oil industry, managing 30 other chemists at the city’s large oil refinery, the longtime anchor of the community. Depending on his bonus, Lori says, he would go on to make between $100,000 and $125,000 a year, a small fortune in an area where most people earn less than $60,000 annually.

That was a good period, Lori says as light streams in through sliding–glass doors and reflects on a series of wall photographs: Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Pacific Coast. Scott took those, she explains, back in the days when they could afford to take family vacations. Today, she says, they can barely afford to go to the movies. ”The last movie I saw was Harry Potter, in 2011,” she says. ”We had no idea it would get as bad as it did.”

Click here to read the rest of the article.

“I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life.” ~ Fernando Pessoa, from The Book of Disquiet

William Ascroft Sunset in June after Eruption of Krakatoa c1880 pastel
“Sunset in June after Eruption of Krakatoa” (c. 1880s, pastel)
by William Ascroft

                   

“When you feel perpetually unmotivated, you start questioning your existence in an unhealthy way; everything becomes a pseudo intellectual question you have no interest in responding whatsoever. This whole process becomes your very skin and it does not merely affect you; it actually defines you. So, you see yourself as a shadowy figure unworthy of developing interest, unworthy of wondering about the world—profoundly unworthy in every sense and deeply absent in your very presence.” ~ Ingmar Bergman

Sunday, early evening. Partly cloudy and cold, 35 degrees.

No snow. Not a drop. No galumphing for Tillie, and no snow photos for me. Oh well . . .

So I’ve been thinking about clouds, not in a scientific way but in a philosophical way. Let me explain:

William Ascroft Amber Afterglow with Crepuscular Rays 1885 pastel
“Amber Afterglow with Crepuscular Rays” (1885, pastel)
by William Ascroft

When we look up at clouds in the sky, they seem to be buffeted along by the wind, without having any momentum of their own. They bump into other clouds along the way, sometimes just touching the sides, sometimes merging, sometimes completely obscuring. Clouds can be massive puffs (cumulus), multilayered (stratus), or wisps (cirrus), and all of the variations in between.

Now I know that in truth, clouds are propelled and formed by many factors: wind, gravity, moisture content, solar heating, etcetera. Yes, I know all about low level and upper level winds, jet streams, and all of that, but I’m keeping it basic as an extended metaphor for my life.

I realized that I am very much like a cloud: My life has moved along many paths, some of my choosing and others due to circumstance. Often I have felt as if I have had no say in the directions I seem to be traversing. Along the way, I meet people, some who seem to swallow me with their big personalities, and others who I tend to overshadow because consuming them is easy, and then there are the people who I meet in passing who may or may not leave me with any sort of lasting impression.

“After the cups of tea, coffee, public conversations . . . I want to sit down with someone and talk with utter directness, want to talk to all the lost history like that deserving lover.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from Running in the Family

Now if all of that sounds like some kind of new age bullshit, well, what can I say? I’m certain that I’m not the first person to have used this metaphor for life, nor will I be the last. I can only say that it occurred to me this morning as my consciousness was coming into waking, and I decided to go with it.

William Ascroft Sustained Light after Sunset 1886 pastel
“Sustained Light after Sunset (1886, pastel)
by William Ascroft

As children, we put our heads on our arms as we recline in the grass, and we look up at the clouds and try to make out shapes—bunny rabbits, cats, dogs. As adults, sometimes we see other things in the shapes—an arrow, a mass like a mushroom cloud, Richard Nixon (okay, maybe that one is just me). When do the innocuous shapes we see as children morph into things more reminiscent of our waking nightmares?

I couldn’t tell you. I only know that at various point in my life I have been content to be bounced around by the winds, landing wherever and whenever. I suppose it’s part of the overall adventure. But at other times I have felt indignant at having so little power to control my path, which reminds me of a particularly crass simile that I have heard many times: It’s like pissing into the wind.

Fate. It’s tricky, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s somewhere in the middle.

“I go, we go. On the way we keep a log-book, the book of the abyss and the shores. Everyone does. My books are thus like life and history, heterogenous chapters in a single vast book whose ending I will never know.” ~ Hélène Cixous

I know. Pretty flaky, and I couldn’t really tell you where any of this came from. Just thinking about life, my life in particular, life in general, and the fact that no one really has control, no matter how much they may think they do.

William Ascroft Sunset and Afterglow 1883 pastel
“Sunset and Afterglow” (1883, pastel)
by William Ascroft

Presbyterians believe in predestination, as in the idea that when someone is born, his or her life is already planned out, from start to finish, as willed by god. I always found that concept incredibly troubling. John Calvin contended that some people are born already condemned to eternal damnation, while others are slated for salvation. Think about this for just a moment: No matter what you do, you are damned if that is what god decided for you before you took your first breath.

Sucks.

I remember learning about this concept when I was about 10 or 11, and even then, it really bothered me. If one holds to predestination, then why try? I mean, if you have a run of bad luck at one point, is that god shaking the omnipotent finger at you, saying, “Tough luck. But this is your road, and you can’t do anything about it”? And if so, should you just give up because, well, what the hell? What’s the point?

“You know, maybe this is how your concerto ends. I mean, not a big end with trumpets and violin. Maybe this is the finish, just like that suddenly. Not sad, not happy, just a small room with a lamp, abed,a child sleeps, and tons of loneliness.” ~ Eran Kolirin, from The Band’s Visit

My awakening cloud metaphor stayed with me even as I read an article in Rolling Stone about Aaron Swartz (The Brilliant Life & Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz). You may not know the name, but Swartz was a brilliant Internet pioneer, helping to develop RSS and reddit, and he committed suicide in January of this year. Swartz was being charged with theft for downloading documents from the JSTOR system of MIT. JSTOR is an online repository of articles for which colleges and universities pay access.

William Ascroft Sky Study 1886 pastel
“Sky Study” (1886, pastel)
by William Ascroft

Swartz, who was a child prodigy, was also plagued by personal demons, including depression and a sense of isolation. What does this have to do with what I’ve been saying? A lot.

Swartz, even though he could create code like others brew coffee, wanted to be a writer. He often felt as if he had no control over the direction his life was taking him. That he committed suicide is sad for all of the obvious reasons, but also because society lost a bright star, one who contributed to much but felt as if he had contributed nothing. When he died, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, wrote that Swartz was “blazing across the dark sky of ordinary people, broken systems, a shining force for good, a maker of things.”

What touched me about this story was how this genius man-boy was so self-doubting, so insular, so afraid, yet others saw him as this fierce fighter for access to information.

We never see ourselves as others see us.

“The time of departure is not mine to choose; I must find my way alone in this darkness. With the shadow of the moon at my side, I search for traces of wildlife in the white snow.” ~ Wilhelm Müller, from “Good Night”

I have spent so much of my life drifting aimlessly, it seems, yet you tell me otherwise. I have spent so many years lost, but not really.

I have had the pleasure and pain of encountering kindred spirits and malevolent spirits, all of whom have helped to build me up and chip away at my soul. I have merged, dissolved, grown layers and lost parts along the way.

William Ascroft Sunset and Noctilucent Cloud 1885 pastel
“Sunset and Noctilucent Cloud” (1885, pastel)
by William Ascroft

I have been soldiered on by winds that were warm and comforting, and I have been tossed about without any ability to tether myself to something solid. If have felt spun, blown, thrown, carried, cajoled and heaved. I have lost my way and in being lost, have found other paths.

All of this is to say that in this third act of my life, I am older, wiser, and still thrashing about completely without a clue.

Just before waking, a woman in my dream said this to me: “Century, century, 25.” I had no idea what it meant, which is to say, business as usual. And all of this brings to mind that completely sardonic Yiddish proverb: “Men tracht und Gott lacht.” (Man plans and god laughs).

More later. Peace.

(All images are by British artist William Ascroft, who drew hundreds of pastel sketches following the eruption of the Krakatao volcano on a small island in Indonesia.)

Music by Mikky Ekko, “Feels Like the End”

                   

The Dumka

His parents would sit alone together
on the blue divan in the small living room
listening to Dvorak’s piano quintet.
They would sit there in their old age,
side by side, quite still, backs rigid, hands
in their laps, and look straight ahead
at the yellow light of the phonograph
that seemed as distant as a lamplit
window seen across the plains late at night.
They would sit quietly as something dense

and radiant swirled around them, something
like the dust storms of the thirties that began
by smearing the sky green with doom
but afterwards drenched the air with an amber
glow and then vanished, leaving profiles
of children on pillows and a pale gauze
over mantles and table tops. But it was
the memory of dust that encircled them now
and made them smile faintly and raise
or bow their heads as they spoke about

the farm in twilight with piano music
spiraling out across red roads and fields
of maize, bread lines in the city, women
and men lining main street like mannequins,
and then the war, the white frame rent house,
and the homecoming, the homecoming,
the homecoming, and afterwards, green lawns
and a new piano with its mahogany gleam
like pond ice at dawn, and now alone
in the house in the vanishing neighborhood,

the slow mornings of coffee and newspapers
and evenings of music and scattered bits
of talk like leaves suddenly fallen before
one notices the new season. And they would sit
there alone and soon he would reach across
and lift her hand as if it were the last unbroken
leaf and he would hold her hand in his hand
for a long time and they would look far off
into the music of their lives as they sat alone
together in the room in the house in Kansas.

~ B.H. Fairchild