Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Money Hoarding--Letter #85

Dear Governor Ducey,
            I assume you are rich. Poor people aren’t governors. You ran Cold Stone Creamery, albeit I understood, not that well. But still, you were an exec. You have wealthy friends. You must be doing fine.
            Most of these letters have been about money—how I am begging you, please, to restore the budget cuts you made to Higher Education in March of 2015. And, while you’re at it, why not fund K-12 at an amount that gives the dollar-per-kid-in-Arizona funding situation a bump out of last place?
            I have my own money situation. I’ve also been trying to get out of credit card debt for ten years now. Grad school is expensive and grad students are as good with money as undergrads—I’ll pay off those loans when I get a job! But then, you get a job and it pays less than you thought and everything costs more than it was supposed to, and while you are lucky lucky to have a job and to be paying off those debts, you still wonder, how is it that you are still not saving money? It’s like running on sand—you’re going forward but so slowly and my thighs are burning.
            I just don’t get how people amass so much wealth. Maybe they work at places that give raises?
            Thanks to my job, I have good health insurance (I guess I can thank you for that! Please don’t take that away), I have a house with relatively comfortable beds, good food—I’m making Orecciette with Kale and Breadcrumbs. Last night I made grilled turkey breast with buerre blanc sauce. Tomorrow, tofu Pad Thai—I mean, that’s good right? My car runs, my kids have piano lesson, my dogs get their shots, I have books to read, a computer that, although you can’t see the ‘n’ key anymore, still types. With what would I do more money (except pay off those loans?)
            But you, extra-wealthy one, must know something I don’t. That having extra money must let you feel freer? That, if you wanted, you could stop being governor tomorrow and move to Costa Rica? But you couldn’t take your whole family with you? You couldn’t take your comfortable bed with you. You couldn’t take your house with you. I mean sure, there’d be houses and beds there too but they’d be lonely. Even if you wife and kids came with you, it would be so expensive to fly home to see your mom. What about your friends who got you elected? I guess you can always make new friends. Maybe Costa Rica has a good and strong educational system you could gut?
            But really, people who have so much money, have thousands upon thousands of dollars coming in a month, all loans and mortgages paid off, with bedrooms they don’t sleep in and cars they don’t drive, what are they amassing for?
            One of your colleagues and party-affiliates, state legislator Steve Yarborough, called the recent legislation allowing public tax-dollars to be used as vouchers to pay private tuition a great success. It is a great success, especially to him. According to Laurie Roberts, writing for The Republic writes, “In all, Yarbrough's Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization has siphoned more than $116 million from the state treasury via individual tax-credit donations since 1998, according to the non-profit's latest IRS filing, covering the 2013-14 school year.” That money, that once went to all kids, now goes to a few kids. But not only those kids. Roberts continues, “By law, STOs get to keep 10 percent of what they raise in tax-credit donations. This, to administer the program. In 2013-14, Yarbrough's Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization collected roughly $17 million in tax-credit donations. That's a sweet $1.7 million for overhead….Of that, Yarbrough collected nearly $146,000 in compensation, according to his latest IRS filing.” So a legislator who is in charge of the public’s money not only diverts public money toward private enterprise but also to his own bank account.”
            In my understanding of wealth, the main reason to collect money was to provide for one’s family. As the state’s surplus grows and grows, I wonder why you’re hoarding instead of providing? What is the point of the money, why have a government at all, if not to help all the kids build a fruitful future? The kids are the ones who grow up to sustain the whole system but if the money to teach them how to build is tied up in your bank account and empty houses, from where will they get the tools?


Thursday, July 14, 2016

A two-parter letter to Governor Ducey--now here in one location

The Good Part of Getting Lost—Letter #84 to Governor Ducey

I have hiked a lot around Flagstaff. Remember the Sandys Canyon trail lettter—where I told you how Zoe and I made it from nearly Lake Mary to nearly our house? The metaphor then was sand—how some people/governments are destructive and some destructive and how the attempt to outlaw cities from making their own ordinances—like prohibiting plastic bags—can, by acting like a stranglehold, backfire.
            Unlike that hike, the hike I took yesterday backfired fully. I’d heard Picture Canyon was fantastic. A waterfall made completely from treated wastewater. The only perennial stream in Flagstaff is that which is made by effluent. Still, it’s beautiful. Grade A+. I’ve interviewed the manager at the Wildcat facility. He said he would almost drink the water straight from the facility, they did such a good job purifying it. He didn’t drink it, but he said it was almost good enough. It’s better if it runs through the natural filtration system of river, ocean, clouds, rain, treatment, tap but this waste water? He’s pretty proud of the work he’s done.
            I parked by the treatment plant and started off with my two dogs, on leash. A collection of informational kiosks told me about volcanoes and the Sinagua Indians and water treatment and what birds I could expect to find in the man-made marshes. I marched forward. Two signs pointed—one to the left, one to the right. The Loop Trail. I swear it said it was a mile long. A mile was just right for a short walk. Then, I’d go to the library to study prairie dogs and bubonic plague and communication systems for my next project.
            I hiked to the waterfall. I hiked behind the waterfall. I hiked down the once-volcano, along the cinder cone hill. I walked under the trees and crossed a bridge. I ended up by some guy’s house and another sign that read, “Picture Canyon Loop Trail.” But this wasn’t the end of the loop. I was pretty sure I’d gone one mile. No matter. I’ll keep heading back around. I have a good sense of direction.
            I walked for a while. A lot of while. I didn’t see any more signs. I didn’t see anymore houses. The dogs were thirsty. I was thirsty. I didn’t bring any water for a well-marked mile-long hike. I wouldn’t let the dogs drink the mostly-perfect water in case the most wasn’t mostly good enough for dogs. The storm clouds were gathering. (Side note—the monsoon has begun but, again, they’re unpredictable. My neighbor says in the olden days, the monsoons came at 1:00 p.m. and were over by 2:00 p.m. Not these climate changing days.) I walked and walked. I climbed a hill and tried to see where I was. I got out my phone to see if I could see where the Wildcat Water Treatment facility was. I got a map to the mall. I got a map to I-40. I wasn’t lost lost but I was not where I wanted to be.
            I retraced my steps back the bridge and saw where I’d gone wrong. A hidden-ish sign for the loop trail! Well, then. I’ll go forward, I told myself. I must be close! A mile is not this far.
            I hiked on. The dogs followed. We watched for signs more closely this time. It seemed like we were on the right path. But the path was long. And it started to rain. Just a little at first. And then more. Zora the dog sat under a tree, trying to stay dry. Bear the Dog kept looking at me to say, “You know I don’t like the rain, right?” I remembered the last podcast I’d heard about being struck by lightning. I tried to stay near a copse of trees. I heard thunder. I jumped. It rained harder. Then it started to hail. I still saw signs but they didn’t say Loop Trail anymore, now they just read Arizona Trail. Great, I thought the Arizona Trail goes all the way from Mexico to Utah. I love Mexico. I love Utah. Heck, I’m from Utah. But as much as I love it, I do not want to walk all the way there.

            I was soaked through to my underwear which I knew because I tried to stash my phone in my pants to try to keep it from getting wet. The screen blurred. The battery went from 80% to 15% . If I was going to call Erik to get me home by using Find My Phone, I had better hurry. I had to pick Zoe up from camp at 3:00. My hopes of writing about Prairie Dogs had turned to hopes of burrowing in with them to keep dry.

Next week, in Part 2, we find out if Nicole made it back from Picture Canyon or if she’s still out there, looping and looping in a corkscrew kind of path, never quite completing here mission. Somewhat like her letter’s to Governor Ducey.

Part II 

In Part I, Nicole is lost in Picture Canyon on the East Side of Flagstaff. She thinks it’s east, anyway, but even with her compass, isn’t quite so sure.

            I heard a ruckus. Big trucks. Maybe I was close to the Treatment plant which is close to the quarry where I’d bought rocks for my yard that’s right nearby where they drive big trucks. I rushed to sound, ran up the hill to see not a bunch of dump trucks but a bunch of regular trucks. I’d found the freeway. No no no. That’s not right.

            I went back to the last sign I’d seen. This one I thought had said go forward but instead it said go west to the Wildcat Treatment Plant. I hadn’t even seen the sign or the map. It also said go east to the outdoor classroom. Maybe I was between the treatment plant and the kiosk that told me which way to go. I should go toward the treatment plant. I walked that way. No. Wait. This isn’t the way. I just came from here. How could I walk the way I came? Did I miss the water treatment plant? I went back to the sign. Maybe I should go the other way, toward the outdoor classroom. I looked at my compass. It said go west. Oh, duh. West is THIS way. I started walking. I walked and walked and was back at the Freeway. There was no Wildcat Water Treatment plant. The outdoor classroom was not the row of kiosks. I did not see a row of desks or a chalkboard. All I saw was I-40. I was not that lost. Obviously, I wasn’t going to die except of hypothermia and embarrassment. But I was so frustrated that I couldn’t figure this out. Where the hell did the river go?
            I tried to get it together. I tested the compass. Now west was the other way. I must have read it wrong. Or was reading it wrong now. Who knew? Compasses aren’t so helpful in gauging the spin of the poles when you’re spinning in circles yourself. I started running. The dogs were ahead of me, in the bushes. I was moving moving moving and then across the trail. Is that a…? I’m already leaping. The snake hissed and struck at me. I made it over his head before he could strike again. I started to panic. I might have called out for my mom. Here I am stuck between I-40 and a rattlesnake and no way to get home.

            Eventually, I made it. I gave up on the “loop” signs and followed the sign that said Wildcat west. I reorganized my compass and my brain and said to myself, don’t stop going southwest. Follow your compass. Don’t think just because it’s not over the hill that you’re not going the right way.
            In the distance, I saw a greenhouse. Maybe it was just someone’s greenhouse, but, I thought I recalled seeing a greenhouse from my tour with the city manager.  And then a pipe from the methane recapturing system. And then some more pipes and then the Rio de Flag—which I thought I should have been following all along. The tanks. The filters. The kiosks noting types of birds, volcanic history, human history. I saw my car. My pants were almost dry.
            I told my friend Jon that I was going to write you a letter about this and blame you. I was joking. It’s totally not your fault I got lost. I mean, it would be nice if you could foot the bill for a little better signage but truly, this was all my fault. I thought I knew where I was going. I thought I saw a sign that said one mile. I thought the compass pointed west. I thought the outdoor classroom might have been the kiosks. I thought I was closer than I was. I had to calm down and keep walking.
            The point of writing the letter to you is this: It’s a good thing, although scary and full of snakes, to get lost. It makes you reconsider your suppositions, your prejudices, your assumptions. What I wouldn’t give for you to spin around, mentally, as I did, when you look at the funding situation in our state—when you look at the kids who want to come to NAU from out of state and who would be twenty-thousand a year to attend. Look at the kids from in state who will pay more than ten. Forty thousand dollars is so much money. Prohibitive for so many. The idea that maybe everyone should have the opportunity to have the same as others is a disorienting one to you. But just think of the things the world could accomplish if everyone could write well and speak well and argue well, and, with practiced deductive reasoning, learn to find their way back to the water treatment plant well and learn to treat the water well and knew how to be sure they read their compasses right.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Dear Gov. Ducey: I Am You

The literary journal “Creative Nonfiction” just came out with a book, “Show Me All Your Scars: True Stories of Living with Mental Illness” and I thought, why don’t I have an essay in this book?
Here, I admit to a little narcissism as well as a little mental illness.
I do not in anyway want to undermine the seriousness of mental illness in this country. The depth and breadth of suffering of those dealing with severe mental illness cracks my heart. The healthcare industry that neglects those with diagnosed mental industry cracks my heart. The fact that there is an extreme narcissist running for president also cracks my heart. But, there are degrees: severe and extreme seek to distinguish “us from them” but there is no us and no them. 
After the domestic terrorism, the massacre, the 998th mass shooting since Sandy Hook, we must realize that even those of us who decry the deaths, the bigotry, the hatred, have become inured. It takes some number of days for us to recover: four people killed, we get over it in half a day. 50 people killed, might take us a week, but no matter, we rage on Facebook and like each other’s enragements and then go to the pool and swim laps or the park and swing on swings or back to work where, at any of these places, a man with a machine gun could walk in and blow us to bits. We watch shootings on TV. We can picture Al Pacino waving his machine gun at us saying, “Say hello to my little friend.” We think we know what it means to be at the wrong end of the gun. Maybe we also think we know what it’s like to be on the “good” end of the gun. We’ve pictured ourselves shooting the guy who cut us off at the intersection of Fourth and 22nd Street. Maybe we can see ourselves as the “good” guy, who, with his gun, takes out the “bad guy” with our ever-faster bullets or better targeting scope.
            This ability to picture ourselves on the big screen, at the center of the battle, is a kind of narcissism. Thin and pure mirror. Two dimensional.
            The flipside of narcissism is empathy. Picture yourself on the ground, the police trying to identify your body. Picture yourself with a bullet shot through your spine.  Picture your mother getting the phone call that you were in the club that night. Picture your mother’s cheeks, the way they collapse into wrinkle. Picture your mother’s eyes, clouded. Picture your kid waiting for the kind neighbor to pick him up from school because you’re no longer around to pick him up. Or take him to taekwondo. Or make him lunch. Or sing him to sleep.
            Narcissism is like watching yourself on a picture screen. You get labels like Good Guy and Bad Guy and Hero. With empathy, things aren’t so two-dimensional. Even the police hero who shoots the shooter is still the shooter. At night, you don’t sleep, seeing the surprise in the eyes of the man who was the shooter but, in the moment that you shot him, became a shocked kid who wondered what the hell he was thinking. Shot out of his craziness for the moment. Shot out of himself into the momentary empathy, now that he has been shot, that he too is just like them. A victim of a bullet.
            We all must be a little crazy—still able to go swimming, go to the movies, to the park to the club—in the aftermath of this bigger craziness. Maybe we think by writing our senators and congress people we have built a kind of prophylactic. “I wrote my representative,” as kind of bullet proof vest.
            It is the provenance of the truly mentally ill to walk around as if they are someone else: schizophrenia, Messiah complex. Maybe the devastatingly mentally ill have something to teach us. Maybe, like reading books and learning history, extended periods of imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t only crazy but is a kind of crazy that can get us out of this mess to learn there is no us versus them. There is us in Kindergarten and us in the movie theater and us on campus and us at the gay bar. We are simultaneously pulling the trigger and in the line of fire. Only we, by recognizing we are an ‘us’ and not a they, can put the gun down.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Dear Governor Mom

Dear Mom,

Happy Birthday! I was getting ready for this day, thinking of you and what to get you. I cam up with the Collected Works of ee cummings which will be released on July 12th, which made me grateful that you don’t mind waiting a little bit for your birthday present, as usual. And, as I was thinking of you and reading the news about how Hillary Clinton seems to have clinched the Democratic Nomination for President, I thought to myself, it’s all over. The glass ceiling has broken. And, of course it hasn’t, just as the racists came out in force when Obama was elected, so will the misogynists come out for Hillary. But, like maggots exposed to sun, the racisms and sexism, exposed to light, will eventually whither and die, I believe. Or at least I hope. I didn’t think I was that invested in this election. I love neither Bernie nor Hillary like I love Obama. They are not in my heart like he is. But I was near tears, thinking, 56 elections, only 23 in which women could vote, and this is the first time a woman has been nominated to run for president.  And, as I thought to myself, “we did it,” I meant, in a lot of ways, that you did it, mom.
            There were the overt ways you made sure me and Paige and Valerie knew we could achieve whatever we set out to achieve. The shirt you bought me that read, “Anything Boys Can Do Girls Can Do Better.” Maybe it was a little “neener neener” but I never played four-square better than when I wore that shirt.
            Yesterday, Max and Zoe were playing baseball with Erik in the backyard. Zoe can hit like mad. I wasn’t as good as she at sports but that never stopped you and dad from enrolling me in t-ball and softball and Paige and Val in soccer. You played catch with us in the backyard. You took me to fancy dinners when I swam hard and when I got good grades. You made me mow the lawn, like any regular son.
            You were on the board of League of Women Voters. You hosted book clubs where mainly women authors were read. You watched Connie Chung on the Nightly News. Murphy Brown on Prime Time. You bought me a copy of Our Bodies Ourselves. You let me choose what college to go to. You never once let me think I wouldn’t go to college or grad school or get a job or be a professor or write books.
           You pointed out injustices. Friends of yours whose husbands divorced them, left them broke. You made it clear that no matter how tough I felt I had it, I had two parents growing up and plenty of food and clothes. You made it clear from your own mother and grandmother’s experience that poverty is often a mom and kid problem and that feminism meant working to raise everyone up.  Feeding your kids took all of your time and most of your attention. You also made it clear that even though there was injustice and too much work, there was time to dance and sing. Remember the time we painted great-grandma’s house? You and me and Paige and Val, my cousins and Aunt Sue. We all know the lyrics to “Baby, you can’t love one.”
            So, it’s not like it’s all over. There’s work to be done for everyone. But mom, you were a big part of making it clear how to understand what it means to be a woman. I am on the lookout for injustice but I’m also noticing that I am part of the singing and dancing world. You made me believe I could have kids and raise a boy and a girl to each believe they were equal in each other’s eyes. You made me think I could rise up as far as I wanted, even as far as Hillary Clinton, if I so wanted.
            The world’s perception has shifted. It’s not just tokenism or chance that made it possible for a woman to get this far. It’s people like you, who, although raised in a patriarchal culture that presumed your role was to support a man, thought differently. You have a lot of opinions. You don’t mind making them known. You worked so hard to give me and Paige and Val extraordinary lives. It’s thanks, in part to you, that we are living in extraordinary times.


Tuesday, June 07, 2016

A Ducey Vacation

Dear Delta,

I've been flying with you for over 30 years. Since I was eight years old, I flew Delta back when it was Western Airlines. My grandma always booked the seats in the bulkhead and would take me with her to Las Vegas. My mom and dad took us to Hawaii with frequent flyer miles. When I left for college, I flew Delta back and forth from Portland to Salt Lake. I could lie across a row of seats.  Once the wheels didn't come down and that was scary but it was nothing compared to flying with you these days. I’m scared for my life because turbulence is getting worse with climate change and I am scared for my life because I read the article about low-cost maintenance plans used for most aircraft and I’m scared for my life because of the pilots salaries you continue to cut and the occasional pilot who goes nuts and crashes the plane into the mountain. I am not so scared of terrorists but I am scared of TSA. I’m scared for my life because the captain rarely turns off the “fasten your seatbelt” sign and my bladder is going to explode bacteria throughout my body and I’ll go septic.

I also fear the psychological ramifications of flying with you. I do not blame you for the baby screaming. I don’t even blame the baby. The baby just vocalizes what we all feel on the inside: the understanding that catapulting the body 500 mph, 30,000 feet in the air is unnatural. It's not so much the dying, I don't think, as the falling. Who wants to watch the ground rise up to meet them at force times mass? Although flying is a million times safer than driving, we’re spending our karmic luck here, holding the plane up with our panicked, though mostly silent thoughts. The baby hasn’t learned that it’s silence that buoys airplane culture as well as airlines. I do hold you accountable though for the catatonic state I will be sent into from the claustrophobia. The taste of the seat in front of me because I didn't pony up for "comfort" seats on the way home was bitter--maybe a little mildewy. Cotton in the mouth goes well with the pretzels we were offered to make up for being an hour late.

Still, that wasn't your fault. I presume the air traffic controllers in Iceland put Delta at the back of the take off order because you won't pay to dock at the airport. We took a bus from the terminal to the plane. We walked up stairs in cold Icelandic rain and wind to board. If only I were a little older this would harken back to times long gone--romantic times when planes took off when they said they would and the seats weren't deemed edible.

How sad I was to see so many seats in first class empty. The one percenters must have been busy raping and pillaging to leave those seats so open. In days past, because I was a loyal (over 30 years!) customer, I might have been offered an upgraded seat. But these days, my class of ticket says strictly: back by the toilets with you!

On this trip, you changed my itinerary 3 times. You booked me so I had an additional stop in Detroit. On the way there, I had to leave at 4:30 a.m. to make it to the airport when before I had bought a ticket that would let me leave at 7:30 in the morning, that would let me take my kids to school, that would have let my kids sleep next to me one more night.

Oh Delta, how I once loved to fly. How I always argued that you were at least better than the others. But, with the bitter taste of blue nylon still in my mouth, my knees bruised from the back of seats, my blood pressure permanently increased from the running from customs back through security past three terminals down 45 gates to catch my almost-departing plane, I fear I cannot argue that at least you are better than the others any longer.