Thursday, March 30, 2006

EPA Under Fire for Inaction on Katrina Cleanup

New Standard has the story of the letter sent to the EPA by a number of humanitarian groups, demanding a clean-up of the toxic contamination of New Orleans and the greater Gulf Coast region incurred during the storms last year. Finally some groups with clout, or at least the power to command attention, are forcing authorities and the media to start addressing the issue of the toxic residue coating all of New Orleans and much of the coastal regions inundated by Katrina and Rita last year. I blogged about this several times last September (see here and here) and intended to make it an ongoing project before life forced my attention elsewhere for awhile. I was shocked then and continue to be amazed that there is so little attention being paid to this issue in the MSM and that what there is of it tends to promulgate official obfuscation and misdirection.

This is a scandal in the making that could rival Chernobyl for the toll of death and disease it could take over the next several decades if it continues to be ignored. But if science can, for once, trump politics and the prophets of profit, the tragedy could be hugely ameliorated as most of the contaminants in the storm-ravaged region are much more amenable to clean-up than radioactive contamination. But it would be costly. So many politicians and corporations are probably banking on the fact that most of the death and disease these toxins will be responsible for will be slow in developing and difficult to attribute to them.

Thus, the attention focused on this by groups like Oxfam America, the National Black Environmental Justice Network, ACORN and the NAACP when they sent a letter to the EPA earlier this month urging a ‘‘careful and prompt clean-up” is crucial to the cause of raising awareness of the situation, even if it has little hope of moving the government to prompt action. These groups all have reputations for doggedness once they have identified an issue to be deserving of their attention. They will not be easily dissuaded from pursuing the story and pressing for action. They all have large memberships noted for their humanitarian concerns. This is encouraging. It is at least a start.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Expecting Respect? Then Demonstrate Respect.

How many times must I re-learn this simple lesson? If I don’t demonstrate respect for myself, my work, my dreams and goals, then how in the world can I expect anyone else too? And how can I expect to realize my dreams and goals, accomplish any meaningful work or even hold my head up while meeting my own eyes in the mirror if I am accommodating disrespectful attitudes toward my work from self or others, when I allow irritants, ill-manners or random temptations to derail my focus? In the post Breaking the Ice last week, I listed a number of irritants that kept me distracted including a ‘blue funk’ but I did not mention the one thing that was doing the most damage and that was the frequent interruption of my work by IM from someone very dear to me who was going through a rough time. Her story is not mine to tell so I am spare with the details. Besides, her story is not the point of this post. My story is. And more specifically it is the perennially relearned lesson that dreams cannot be realized without specific goals, goals cannot be reached without work, work cannot be accomplished without a significant investment of time and energy. But that time and energy must be set aside and treated as sacred, as not available for other use. When I allowed this person to monopolize my work-session time and energy night after night, I was disrespecting my own work and teaching her that it wasn’t worthy of respect.

Would I have allowed such intrusion if I were working for wages? Would she have even considered intruding then? Likely not. Would I have called my husband at work to fill his ears for hours with my angst? Hardly. That would be considered quite rude, not to mention a fire-worthy offence by any employer. So why did I let it continue for weeks, to the point that I dreaded and then avoided going online? Because I was buying into the theory that because my work was not yet making any money, it wasn’t worthy of the same respect as my husband’s job. Because I cared so deeply and empathized so profoundly with her and thought that it was my duty to ‘help’ her. And the impulse to retreat felt selfish. Until I realized that the more attention I gave her, the more she demanded and I suddenly understood that, far from being part of the solution, I was actually part of the problem. She had become addicted to my attention as to a drug and I had become addicted to offering her compassion and advice. But even after I realized this it took me awhile to put a stop to it because I was afraid to hurt her feelings, to make her feel abandoned, to doubt my love.

I should have given her more credit. As she is the only one among my family and off-line friends who shows any real interest in my work, who ask questions as to how it is going, who even holds me accountable for tending to it. She is the only one who reads my blog, the only one who pesters me for another of my stories or poems, willing even to see them in rough drafts. I should have known she would understand. But it took me a long time to confront her. When I finally did, over the weekend, she took it well and apologized sincerely and promised to respect the boundaries that I set. One of which was to treat my work-hours between 10pm and 5am as inviolable. I enforce this by turning on an away message on the IM that auto-responds to her IM that I am working and need peace and privacy for reading, writing and thinking. In exchange I tell her that I welcome as many emails as she wants to send and promise to reply if only briefly to at least one of them before I sign off at 5.

It seems that this act of respect for my work has invited it to bloom again. The words are flowing better already as are the ideas and the energy. I expect that I am going to be a bit rusty at technique and organization for awhile but I trust those to smooth out as I practice my craft and regain confidence. Meanwhile I am looking at other areas to see where else I am disrespecting my work or accepting the disrespect of others. Should I, for example, break my resentful silence at the dinner table where my husband and his mother regale each other with their exploits at work and grumble and gripe incessantly about their co-worker’s incompetence and their boss’s demands? Should I stop waiting for them to ask me about my work and volunteer a comment once in awhile? Is it possibly time, after twenty-seven years of marriage to her eldest son and four years of living in her home, to ask my mother-in-law, who is an avid reader herself, if she is interested in reading something I’ve written? Would she find that a gift or an imposition? How can either of us know before the offer is made and accepted at least once? Surely, after all this time and exposure to my eccentricities, she is at least curious. Nor do I need to fear offending any political or religious sensitivities as I do with my own family. Why does contemplating this make me so anxious? Is that evidence of disrespect for my work? Or simple fear of rejection? Is there a difference?

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Attitude, Not Cost, Barrier to Disabled Workers


This article (linked in this post's title) by Catherine Komp at the New Standard confirms for me the sense I was getting, that the ADA has not created the hoped for environment of acceptance in the workplace for the disabled. Her additional comments relegated to the New Standard’s collective blog--because the material was a tad off topic--was even more meaningful for me as they spoke to the catch-22 that disabled people on SSI or SSDI encounter when they do attempt to add to their subsistence income with a workforce paycheck: they risk loosing the medical care that in some case their very lives depend on.

I have lived this. I have 90% vision loss and 50% hearing loss accompanied by a panic-anxiety mood disorder which can be managed with meds when I can be under a doctor's care. I have not been employed since 1987. Being married, I cannot be on SSI as long as my husband is employed and this once factored into his employment options--whether to take a job or not if it didn't provide health benefits for a spouse, for example. Currently he is employed but the hours fluctuate seasonally. A significant percentage of his earnings are sunk into the benefits package, including health care but during the slow months-which is three quarters of the year--we can't afford the co-pay. Thus I cannot get the minimal medical support I need. I would need to divorce him or be legally separated in order to get back on medical coupons. So much for family values. Ha. Ha.

There is another issue which she did not touch on and which I cannot find any information on and I think it is a glaring omission in the field of employment opportunities for the disabled: I was so excited by my introduction to word-processing when in college in the late eighties. My productivity increased by several hundred percent. When the internet was added to the mix in the mid nineties, I was thrilled as I saw it as the means to work at home where I could control my environmental needs. I do not understand why this has not caught on.

My skill set in the area of information accumulation and manipulation is extensive. Including but not exclusive to: word processing and database management, writing, reading and summarizing, researching--accumulating and organizing information and extrapolating insight from it. And I am a self-motivator. But because I have no degree and no work history this is all discounted. My expectation that having a computer and internet access would make me employable has been disillusioned and after reading this article I guess I understand why, tho I can't say I agree with the reasons: if most employers are leery of depending on disabled employees who are under their watchful eyes, why would they be eager to trust them under self-management at home?

I am convinced this evinces a lack of imagination, creativity and flexibility of mind. All of which, I would think, any employer who is worth his own salt in the corporate world should have in abundance. But what do I know about the corporate world. My only exposure to it, other than my husband's after work grumbling, is through books and articles like this one. I am currently reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch, which is completely disillusioning me of that assumption. Apparently, imagination creativity and flexibility of mind are the last things the corporate world wants of their workers. Most disturbing of all is Ehrenriech's discovery that ANY gap in one's employment history makes one unemployable. Where does that leave people like me?

(Most of this after the first paragraph was first composed and published to the comments section of Catherine Komp’s blog entry)

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Vicarious Joy

The event most responsible for snapping me out of the state of paralysis I’ve been in was the local breaking-news story on Tuesday that transmogrified a local tragedy-in-process into a joyous miracle that has since made national headlines and created a media frenzy. I had been following the story of the missing Ashland family with great heaviness of heart. The Higginbothims and Stivers--six members of three generations of one family had left in an RV for an overnight camping trip to the coast the first weekend of March, the weekend that major winter storm hit all the passes surrounding our Rogue River Valley, dumping snow and ice and blasting the higher altitudes with hurricane strength winds. Two children, their parents and their grandparents disappeared. Last weekend, after two weeks of intensive searching had garnered no sign of them, the search was called off and my heavy heart sank even further. I did not know this family and yet I was haunted by the images of those two children’s faces and the face of their anxious and grieving grandmother waiting in her Ashland home for news. My mother-in-law, who works at a motel in Ashland, told me of her co-worker’s concern for her own young daughter, distraught over her close friend’s disappearance. This reminded me that there were numerous such connections from peripheral to intimate that weave individuals into a community--from blood-relatives to best friends, from teachers to preachers, from store clerks to librarians, from doctors to garage mechanics, from classmates to co-workers--my heart was breaking for all of them. Six members of an extended family cannot be surgically removed from a community without leaving behind a festering wound.

After two weeks of them, I had gotten used to the frequent news-breaks and news-teasers for the five o’clock and eleven o’clock news programs that mentioned the missing family’s name and flashed pictures of them on the screen--the same handful of still shots and a few frames of a video of the children’s grandmother waiting anxiously at home. I had stopped expecting any actual news--as in new information--so I only half listened and seldom glanced at the screen for these interruptions in my regularly scheduled programs. So I almost missed the significance of the breaking news story that was delaying the start of Oprah on Tuesday. I was only looking at the screen because I was checking out the quality of the picture to see if Oprah was even going to be worth watching that day. Before I heard the announcers words and registered them, I noticed that the video shot of the grandmother was different--different angle, different configuration of faces surrounding her--and then the roomful of people erupted from their chairs and collided in a group hug. Only then did I register the announcers voice explaining that KDRV’s cameras and news crew had been present, conducting an interview, when the news reached the family that morning that their loved ones had been found and all six were safe and sound. My heart burst into galloping beats and my eyes welled with tears. It felt much like a panic attack but I realized that what I was experiencing was a profound emotional rapture as my heart was lifted out of despair into hope, out of sorrow into joy.

Briefly I wondered why it seemed so much easier for me to experience the emotions of others vicariously than to experience my own. But then I realized that vicarious emotion was just empathy by another name and I knew that empathy was rooted in ones ability to translate one’s own emotional reaction to events onto another, to recognize that ‘my’ pain and ‘your’ pain are the same. Thus, no one ever experiences a vicarious emotion that they have not experienced for themselves at least once. As the evening wore on and the emotional glow I felt did not wear off, I realized that the joy I was feeling had come full circle. It was no longer simply vicarious joy, it was pure and simply my own joy and it trailed veils of hope and infused me with an energy I have not felt since last summer--since before Katrina and the three personal grief-whammies I was hit with between
late September and early December. I feel like I am waking up and for the first time in six months I feel like awake is where I want to be.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Breaking the Ice

The longer I go without posting, the harder it gets. It's not that I have nothing to say, it's rather that I have too much to say on too many different things. But I'm having trouble staying focused on anything long enough to compose my thoughts let alone coherent sentences. Forget paragraphs. The excuses for not posting have been myriad--a series of migraine headaches, serious eyestrain, pressing library due dates, a cold snap with night temps in the twenties which made typing masochistic and an exercise in futility, toothaches that rival migraines for pain intensity, sinus headaches ditto, a drastic cutback in my husband's work hours which not only creates anxiety about money but reduces my access to privacy for thinking, writing and the day-sleeping that makes my online night session possible. Yes, myriad. But the one factor that gave all these irritants the power to freeze me up when similar events have not even slowed me down at other times is the seriously blue funk I've been in for well over a month now. I'm hoping it is just the winter blues and I will snap out of it as the days lengthen. Meanwhile, I hope this brief babble will serve as an icebreaker that will make it easier to babble again. Sooner rather than later.

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