A New Chapter

Photo by Mwesigwa Joel on Unsplash

It’s been a big September for me. My tutoring job is back on campus for the first time since March of 2020. I got a new job as a permanent building substitute teacher in a middle school. And I started taking classes to get my teaching certification. It’s going to be a busy nine months. People who have known me as an adult for a while probably think it’s about time. I should have done this years ago. People who knew me when I was a student are probably laughing at the irony of me being a teacher. Either way, it’s a big change. The change feels even bigger because of COVID. I interacted with more people last week than I had in the last year and a half combined. We’re wearing masks, I’m vaccinated, and all that, but I’m still hyper aware of it.

I’m not even sure why I’m telling you about this. I have no real idea what my daily life will look like for the next year. I’m hoping I find a groove by the end of the month. I want to continue writing. I think the baseball writing has been going well. (If you haven’t yet, check it out. I’d love some feedback.) And I’m still submitting things, so maybe more stories or essays will pop up soon. I guess I’m mostly just looking to mark my beginning. That way, I can look back next year and see how far I’ve traveled.

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Quick Questions: Never Forget

Every September 11th we are told, quite adamantly and passionately, to “Never Forget.” Barring severe injury or illness, it is very unlikely that we would ever forget a day like that. That raises the question, when they say, “Never Forget,” what is it that they want from us?

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Labor

Photo by Joshua Olsen on Unsplash

The current conversation around labor is odd. Many (most?) labor advocates still talk about their fight in Marxist terms. Never mind the more theoretical aspects of Marxism, his views on history and progress, etc., and just look at labor. Labor, in this view, is the foundation for all value. Capitalism developed when labor was commodified, allowing the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, to exploit the labor of others to steal that value. (I know this is a gross oversimplification. There are plenty of places to get a more detailed and nuanced view. That’s not my point here, so please bear with me.) They did this through the control of the means of production. Since people first read Marx, there has been debate about the validity of this view. What I find odd is that with all the changes the world has seen in the last 200 years we are still using the same terms in the same way for the debate.

How elastic should the definitions of labor and value and capitalism and means of production be? When I listen to, and read, these debates, I find myself wondering if we even live in a capitalist society anymore. Capital used to be used to exploit labor to make commodities that were sold in markets to enrich the capitalists. That does still happen, but many of the ultra-wealthy no longer participate. They don’t worry about selling commodities in the market, they trade financial instruments with each other. Add to that the fact that they have discovered that they can make a fortune by allowing the workers to own shares of capital. All of these concepts have become muddy, to say the least. You can contort them to fit the modern world, but is that the best way to move forward?

I do not believe it is. By framing the debate with such old-fashioned notions, it is limiting our options for solutions. In the old way of looking at things, where labor is the source of all value, but capitalists exploit labor, people feel like they need to keep labor. Otherwise there would be no value for anyone. The trick is to let labor keep its value instead of being exploited. Ideas for doing this range from collective ownership of the means of production to minimum wage laws. Overtime, social-security, welfare, the weekend, and many other things have been used to work towards the goal.

We need to be bolder. Labor and value need a divorce. We’ve been operating under the assumption that work is good and it’s the exploitation we need to fix. In fact, work is bad. It has been a necessary evil for a good chunk of human history, at least since we decided to stop being a foraging species. We have moved past that. We’ve reached a point of abundance. The goal can no longer be to keep labor and end the exploitation. We need to abolish labor.

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The Sixth First Day of School

Photo by Anton Sukhinov on Unsplash

Each year, I mark my daughter’s first day of school with a blog post. (You can see past ones here, here, here, here, and here). She started fifth grade today. Her last year of elementary school. That’s crazy. But, much like last year, school and grades and things like that aren’t uppermost in my mind as she starts the year. Instead, I’m dwelling on the fact that we’re starting our second full year of Pandemic Schooling. Oy.

On the positive side, the kids are used to masks and social distancing and all the protocols by now. Last year, starting school during a pandemic was big and scary. This year, it’s kind of ho-hum. On the negative side, many adults are not being as vigilant as they were a year ago. It can be hard to get kids to do the right things when we’re not setting a great example.

There has been less communication from the school and district than I’d like. I suppose there are probably parents who think there has been too much communication, so maybe I should be thankful for what I get. And, the communications I do get feel like they’re hemming, hawing, and hedging every chance they get. There’s a simple rule when dealing with kids (or customers or voters or anyone really), it is easier to start off too strict and then relax things than it is to start off too lax and then tighten them. It shouldn’t have taken weeks for the Governor to decide that masks were necessary for a month. Go into things assuming it will be the whole year. If we can take the masks off early, good for us.

Hopefully, when they approve the vaccine for younger kids, I’ll be able to relax myself. I might even get curious about whatever math, history, and science my daughter is learning about. Right now, I just want her to stay safe. I really, really, really, really hope that this isn’t even a concern when she gets to middle school.

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Some Thoughts About Protesting

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

I recently started working for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England as a writer. Due to the pandemic and the nature of my work, I’ve been working from home for most of the last three weeks. I did go into the office once though, to get my laptop and meet with my new coworkers in person. That’s where I encountered the protesters.

It was a small group of people, maybe three or four. I’d already been informed of the company policy: we do not engage with protestors. So I kept my eyes squarely focused on my phone as I approached them. At first, they thought I was simply a passerby, and offered me some pamphlets about the evils of abortion. I said no thank you, and turned towards the building’s entrance. That tipped them off that I worked there, and their demeanor instantly changed.

“How can you support what they’re doing?”

“Abortion is murder!”

“Don’t you know they’re committing Black genocide?”

That last one almost got a response out of me, but I decided that I wasn’t ready to get fired on my third day on the job. After I calmed down a bit though, I realized that this was my first time on the other side of a protest. I was the one who was being morally admonished for participating in an unspeakable evil.

Here’s the thing though- I don’t think I’m doing something evil. I think that women should have the right to an abortion if they want one, but even that’s not typically at the front of my mind as some moral lodestar that guides me every day. Mostly I’m just thinking that I’m going into work to do what my boss asks of me, and I wish these people weren’t here yelling at me. It’s not an enjoyable experience.

It made me think of the conversations I’ve had with my old roommate who works for Homeland Security. The federal building in downtown Hartford consistently has protesters out front, and they’d yell at him as he went into the office. He had a pretty good sense of humor about it, but he also made it clear that it would be better to not get yelled at just for doing his job.

I’ve stood outside and yelled at people doing their jobs. Having the shoe on the other foot really makes me reconsider my own sense of moral righteousness in those moments. It really all is a matter of perspective, and as morally unsatisfying as that is to say out loud, I can’t help but feel that way now. If I extend the same level of thoughtfulness I have to the people I’ve protested, then no, they’re not going to willingly commit acts they know are bad. They either don’t think what they’re doing is wrong, or they don’t think about it at all. They’re just going to work, like me.

I’m not arguing for moral relativism where we all just agree to disagree and let everyone do what they do. But I do see that the same moral imperative that has motivated me against others now motivates others against me. It is what it is, even if it sucks to experience it.

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Quick Questions: Language and Measures

It’s common to hear people complaining that America doesn’t use the metric system. It’s easier, it’s universally understood (outside of America), it brings the scientific community together, and on and on. Do these same people believe that everyone should just start speaking the same language? If not, what’s the relevant difference?

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Quick Questions: Retribution

There was a bombing in Kabul as America is trying to evacuate people from Afghanistan. At least 30 people were killed. President Biden said, “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” I know that’s the type of thing that presidents say in these circumstances, but I can’t help but wonder: Why? Has any good ever come from retribution? Isn’t forgiveness a good thing?

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Quick Questions: Climate Change

Does anyone else remember a while ago when they were saying that an easy thing we could do to help mitigate climate change was paint our roads and roofs white? They said that more of the sun’s energy would be reflected back into space, slowing the rate of warming. Whatever happened with that? Why didn’t we do it?

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Damn, Things Cost More Money!

Photo by Frederick Warren on Unsplash

The first time I became aware of inflation was when the price of a Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie jumped from 25 cents to fifty cents. I loved the pies when I was a kid, and I especially bought alot of them when I was visiting Georgia and lived right down the street from a corner store. It was easy enough to scrounge up a quarter, and I had a snack that lasted for the afternoon.

But 50 cents? That’s a little harder to come by. It’s like the difference between a $1 lotto ticket and a $2 one- I sometimes found myself with an extra dollar in my pocket and would play for the hell of it. But $2 is much more of an investment. I rarely have two lose dollar bills at the same time, and it seems like a foolish choice to break a five, or God forbid a ten, to play a game I’m virtually guaranteed to lose. Similarly, I just never seem to have two quarters at the same time.

These are innocuous examples of inflation, the bane of all our existence. Our homes and cars all cost more, and we don’t seem to be making enough money to keep up. I find myself looking at apartments for the first time in over a decade, and I’m genuinely surprised at how expensive decent housing is. I want to get a car soon too, and I can see that I’m going to be squeezing every penny to try and make those things happen together in a short period of time.

A friend of mine remarked on how expensive oxtails had become recently, reflecting general increase in food prices too. The pandemic seems to have kicked inflation into overdrive, and while the causes may be short term, it seems unlikely that these price increases will come all the way back down in the long term. The only somewhat positive outcome from the changes is that I can now legitimately say that things were cheaper “back in my day,” without sounding ironic about it. As a writer, I’m always looking for new phrases I can use.

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Quick Questions: Vaccines and GMOs

Before you get mad, try to think about this in the abstract. Don’t worry about what’s happening in the world, your political affiliations, or anything like that. What’s the difference between being anti-vaxx and anti-GMO?

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