Monthly Archives: April 2015

Rebranding Selfish

Paul PierceIt gets under my skin when I hear people justifying a choice they’ve made, or a way they’re living, with the phrase “I’m just too selfish right now”, implying that selfishness is at the core of doing what’s best for themselves. Selfish means lack of consideration for others, at root. It’s one thing to claim yourself selfish, it’s entirely another to have the word leveled at you by another. It means self-involved, self-centered, narcissistic, even. In our image-obsessed (see: selfies and humble-brags) current cultural moment, selfish is still a put-down. A pat, negative dismissal of a person and their ability to choose a life or way that’s right for themselves, by implying it’s done at the exclusion of, or detriment to others. I reject that. Continue reading

Overheard Through The Wall

wallI was sitting at my dining room table when the voices on the other side of the wall went from a murmur to a sharp, clearly audible argument. In this apartment complex the walls are made of kleenex and spit, which means privacy is often at a minimum, especially if you’re unselfconscious in your own home. Which really, you should feel you can be. But the reality is that builders use cheap materials and what you’re doing and saying next door may be on aural display for your neighbors. In three of the many places I’ve lived as an adult, fights have erupted on a consistent basis on the other side of a shared wall. In one spot the walls were thick and it was the routine slamming of doors, kitchen cabinets and drawers that served as an indicator. In another place it was the shrieking of accusations by a woman to a man with a low voice, altercations that always ended in her bitter weeping.

Yes, I listened. Continue reading

You Are So Fucking White, Pt. 2

jay iiContinued from Tuesday

Jay began to lecture me on white people and their uptight ways, a stream of consciousness flowing into rants about The System, legalization of marijuana, discreet drug use so as not to expose the kids, defense of her parenting and her philosophy of personhood in general. Her speech was pressured and confident, her total self-assurance evident. I sensed she was looking for some sort of validation, a reaction from me, despite her conviction. She wasn’t going to allow me to withhold my personality much longer. No neutral, passive research attitude would be tolerated. I caved as much as I could. “Jay, you are by far the most interesting person I’ve interviewed,” I told her, placing a light hand on her shoulder. We shared a smile. Continue reading

You Are So Fucking White

jayJay had been sitting in the middle of my stack of files for several weeks, below the hot prospects who had agreed to interview appointments, above those that had proved to be dead-ends, all contact information bad. Her phone had been disconnected from the first time I called but her address hadn’t been explored. (We found out at the end of the study that the Department of Social and Health Services had fucked up, providing us with months-old information for a largely transient population, and oh my god was that the only information they had? How were they reaching their clients to provide services?)

Once I had several addresses prove to be the only means of contact for multiple respondents, I made a trip down I-5 for a series of drive-bys, an unscheduled, unannounced pop-in. The best-case scenario for a drive-by was gaining access to the respondent and completing the interview. Often times drive-bys led down a rabbit hole, as the respondent no longer lived there, or wasn’t crashing there anymore, or the place was vacant. This time I was headed to a suburb south of a city, not far from a joint Army and Air Force base. Lots of stripmalls, lots of hourly rate motels, the overall impression of low-rent squalor shaded by massive, densely growing Evergreen trees. Continue reading

Contemporary Entitlement

entitThe word entitlement is thrown around a lot these days, and often it’s used as a pat definition for an entire generation, by a generation that struggles to understand an attitude and way of being that differs from theirs. Yes, I’m talking again about the Boomers fighting the Millenials. We are accused of acting entitled because what we want and how we act varies widely from their experience. But I’d rather hear what we have to say about it. I recently read an article about the comedians Key and Peele who explore contemporary entitlement, defined as “concern with one’s personal rights combined with non-interest in one’s duties.” It feels familiar. Aziz Ansari’s new special features him doing a bit about how we’ve become an exceptionally rude group of individuals, valuing our needs and wants and time over that of our community. Perhaps our brightest comedians (usually some of society’s sharpest critics, if not visionaries) are warning us that the social fabric is breaking down around us, and we’re the problem. Continue reading

Loyalty Ain’t A Thing

loyalLoyalty was a quality largely absent (hidden?) both in relationships and the broader societal context, so much so I barely noticed. In fact the concept had become so distant and shallow I began to think of it only in the context of consumerism–brand loyalty. And even then, I was really only out for the best deal, most of the time. Could the same be said of my relationships? I’m not sure I even understand what loyalty truly means anymore, in practice that is. So I crowd sourced via social media for some thoughts on why loyalty has become both under-expressed and undervalued in the modern age. Understanding I’m part of the shift, if for no other reason than that I’m alive at this time, I wondered what I could do to bring it back. Because didn’t life feel better, less treacherous or unstable when we knew for sure we had people, communities even, behind us? Continue reading

The Setup

cps 1I had claimed the south west region as mine for the study, meaning I was responsible for interviewing all respondents within that Child Protective Services jurisdiction. A lucky thousand or so parents with active CPS cases had been randomly selected to participate in a quality control measure to determine if a new state social work practice methodology was proving effective. Almost all respondents were women, many single moms, some of whom had had their children removed during the course of their case, some living at in-patient drug rehab centers, almost all living in poverty. I wanted south west because my fiancé was working as an attorney in that jurisdiction—representing the very social workers our study would QC–in their child abuse cases. While we swore we wouldn’t trade names or other identifying details, I figured it would be fun to have lunch with him and all our friends who worked in his office a few times a week, and get a peek into their professional world. And the mileage checks would be great.

Were we research interviewers concerned about venturing into the homes of people who were in the middle of child abuse allegations and investigations? Continue reading

Oh, The People You’ll Meet

oh peopleThe job was data collection for research studies related to mental health and drug addiction. My role was to go into various communities to survey research respondents, armed with a laptop and some sort of cash incentive. We were surveying high school kids about sexual behavior and drug use. We were surveying adults about various health-related behaviors. We were surveying parents about their child abuse cases. We were surveying elementary school kids about bullying. A field period of one project was always beginning, another ending, another smack in the middle, meaning sometimes we were on multiple projects at a time, cleaning up and finishing one, gearing up for another.

At the beginning of a project we were handed a stack of folders with the respondent’s contact information on the front, a contact log and notes field printed on the pages throughout. Many of our respondents were dealing with poverty and lived a transient lifestyle, phone numbers and addresses gone disconnected and cold almost upon our receipt. You started by dialing the numbers, hoping to make contact and schedule a time to meet them for an interview. Continue reading

High Hopes In A Dark World

hopesThe power of a voice and the distance it can travel is astonishing. One simple post on social media can leave the world with numerous meanings. Just the other day, I posted a photo with the caption, “High Hopes in a Dark World”, and the feedback I received was very diverse. Most were wondering if something was wrong, or simply admired the creativity and perspective. Continue reading

The Greatest Joys Will Never Be Material

Corn_husk_dollThe American Girl Doll catalog arrived every season in all its over-sized, elegantly-laid-out, colorful glory, featuring three dolls, each of whom had a unique wardrobe, sets of accessories and a book series. The dolls represented a different point in American history, as reflected by her story, period clothing and accessories. I would spend hours poring over the catalog, marveling at each girl’s school lunch, bedroom set, play clothes and formal wear. The dolls themselves were displayed like Playboy centerfolds–spanning two pages, you had to turn the magazine ninety degrees to behold her full, upright glory, the artificial gleam in her eyes, her glossy hair and sweet smile, replete with two tiny front teeth poking out. I wanted one. I needed one. I suppose you could say the American Girl catalog was porn to my elementary school sensibilities. I spent hours alone in my room with it, engaging in endless fantasies about possessing the dolls. Continue reading