Early Childhood Education: Then and Now

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Back in the ’80s, I edited a magazine called Early Childhood News. It was aimed at owners and operators of day care centers (as we called them back then), though there was content that was of interest to employees as well.

Times have changed. But how much? A lot of what concerned early childhood educators back them reverberates through the field today, although sometimes in slightly altered form. Here’s what the experts are saying now.

Abysmal Economics. Back in the ’80s, child care worker pay was a big concern, as was the cost of child care. Government subsidies to child care centers and workers seemed like the answer but went nowhere aside from Head Start. Many mom-and-pop child care centers popped up in homes around the country, a good number of them unlicensed; they were the only kind many parents could afford. As low as teacher pay was in accredited centers, professional child care was out of reach for the poor and even for large parts of the middle class.

Not a lot has changed. Government being largely unresponsive on the subject, and child care tax credits making little actual difference, parents began to turn to employers as sources of care. Alas, only a few forward-thinking companies provided any on-site care for their employees’ children. The Baby Boomers were aging out of the parenting years and, as good a benefit as it seemed, child care in the workplace never took hold.

One thing that hasn’t changed as child care workers morphed into early childhood educators is the fact that salaries remain so low that such work cannot provide a living wage. NPR had this to say about salaries for a typical worker:

Why would she teach preschool when she could make a heck of a lot more money teaching kindergarten? … In some places, we pay early childhood teachers less than fast-food workers, less than tree trimmers. As a country, we’ve acknowledged the importance of early learning and yet, when you look at what we pay those educators, it doesn’t add up.

This despite the fact that preschool teachers are increasingly well educated – NPR reports that 24 state preschool programs require a bachelor’s degree for the main teacher in the classroom and 45 percent of preschool teachers working with children ages 3-5 have a bachelor’s degree. Even in a credentialed center with educated teachers, salaries still put early childhood workers below the poverty line.

Still, parents find it difficult to pay for child care. Care.com’s 2018 Cost of Care Survey reports that:

One in three families (33 percent) now spend 20 percent or more of their annual household income on child care. Seven in 10 families report paying rates higher than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ definition of affordable care, while nearly one in five families spends a quarter or more of their household income on child care.

Yet child care is a service that few can do without:

American families will go to great lengths to pay for child care. In fact, 26 percent would put themselves in debt or further debt to pay for child care, and parents report they’ve saved less money (54 percent) and made major budget cuts (41 percent) to pay for the rising cost of care.

Even family planning is affected. The same study finds that “one in three families (33 percent) say the cost of child care influenced their family planning, in that they either waited longer to have children or had fewer children than they would have liked because of child care costs.”

Education versus play. The term “child care” seems to be fading out in favor of “early childhood education.” Along with that change comes an increasing focus on academics.

While it is true that many children come to kindergarten unready to learn, a debate still rages about what the role of the child care center is – early education versus play. “Academic” centers abound, to the extent that some of them appear to be mini-kindergartens. Some parents apparently eat this up, perhaps thinking that for the to-them-exorbitant price of child care, their children had better be learning something.

PBS, in a focus on teachers, had this to say:

“Most kindergarten teachers will tell you what they really value is the opportunity to teach kids when they show up at school prepared and ready to learn. It’s not so much that teachers value that the kindergartner can read or write. They value that the children enjoy learning, have a set of experiences that got them used to a classroom setting, and know how to engage adults and kids in another setting,” [Dr. Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia] says.

Play-centered environments have their champions as providing that kind of readiness. They say that play-centered learning is more than mere play. In play-centered (or as they often say, “child-centered”) environments, children can learn not merely socialization skills, but preparation for learning without all the academic trappings. Preschools that feature exploratory science equipment (such as water tables and sand tables), well-stocked libraries of good-quality children’s literature (and story time to go with it), art areas, and other manipulatives and play centers are actually imparting valuable lessons about the way the world works. The NEA is a particular champion of play-centered care.

These two trends, the economics of child care and the push-pull between academics and play, are likely to continue. Absent better salaries for both workers and parents, early education centers will have to choose between offering learning and play if they cannot convince the public that they are two sides of the same coin.

 

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Gaslighting America

Gaslighting appears to be the latest “trend” in emotional abuse. Articles abound on the subject, from definitions of the term to checklists of signs to analysis of the abuser and the abused. I’ve written a number of times about gaslighting, in particular how it relates to mental health.

The next topic that has been appearing under the headline “gaslighting” is whether the American people as a group are being gaslit. Let’s take a look, shall we?

To start with a definition, gaslighting is a form of emotional abuse in which the gaslighter denies the other person’s perception of reality, with the intention or the effect of making that person think that she or he is crazy. There are a number of classic emotional abuse techniques involved such as isolation, projection, dehumanizing, and others. It is usually an intensely personal interaction between two people, though it can also happen when more than one family member “gangs up” on a relative, for example.

But increasingly now it is being said that an entire group – the American people (or some subset of them) – is being gaslit by another group.  Call them the Powers That Be or more familiarly the Government with a capital G.

Let’s take one example, climate change. We know, according to almost every climate scientist, that climate change and global warming exist. Yet the Government has instructed various of its agencies to remove any mention of climate change from their documents and websites.

Is this gaslighting? No. The statements that deny what we know to be happening do not lead us to believe that the Government’s version of reality is true and that we might be crazy. We merely believe that the Government is wrong. These are examples of obfuscations, misstatements, hiding information, or outright lies. But they are not gaslighting.

Take another example of denying reality, statements by politicians. Some of these are untrue (that is, lies), but in many cases, video or audiotapes exist that prove them wrong. Either the politician did not say what she or he claims was said, or has changed stances since the original statement.

Is this gaslighting? No. We either believe the original statement or we believe the new statement. At no point do we consider our beliefs, our perception of reality, to be crazy. We believe either the old statements or the new statements, but they conform with our perception of reality and we resist believing the statement that denies it.

What about general statements about reality? Suppose the Government says the economy is booming, but all you see around you are failing businesses, people out of work, people working multiple jobs to get by, or working people living below the poverty line. The Powers That Be are denying your perception of reality and they usually have statistics to “prove” it.

This may indeed be gaslighting. We are left to wonder which is true – our perception of reality or the Government’s. The Government has an ulterior motive for denying our perception of reality – to put forth their own vision and say that theirs is true and ours is wrong. We might indeed be tempted to doubt the evidence of our own perceptions and wonder: Is that true? Is the economy really in great shape? Maybe I’m mistaken. Maybe I’m crazy to hold the view I do.

The antidote to this kind of gaslighting is to do work that few of us are inclined to or able to do – our own research. Most of us are unequipped to do in-depth research on economic theory and the sociological implications. All we can do is rely on the perceptions of others, perhaps people we consider to be experts or people who share our perception of reality. Support of this kind is one of the ways to defeat gaslighting.

The temptation here is to pinpoint one specific area of the Government – one politician – and claim that he is gaslighting us. I won’t go into specifics because I fervently dislike diagnosis as a distance (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-AT). But let’s say that a politician denies nearly every perception of our reality and calls the people who disagree crazy.

This is only gaslighting if we are tempted to believe that we are crazy. The essence of gaslighting is that the abuser replaces our perception of reality with his or her own. There may be people who disagree with said politician, but few of them are tempted to abandon their own views of reality in favor of his.

I would call what is happening in these cases “attempted gaslighting.” If we do not give in and accept or consider that the other person’s point of view is or might be valid, we cannot be gaslit.

Strength, support, and the light of day are the antidotes to gaslighting. As long as we keep a firm hold on our reality, or belief in our own sanity and the validity of our perceptions, we can resist attempts to gaslight us.

 

Holy Bathroom, Batman!

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Just the other day I went to a bathroom in a public building and noticed a sign on the wall by the door. I thought it was an odd place to put the “All employees must wash hands” sign. Besides, this was a hospital and you’d think all the employees would already be doing that. I would hope, anyway. But the sign should have been over the sink if that were the case at any rate.

So I looked closer at the sign. It read: This room has been dedicated by prayer to the ministry of healing.

I was taken aback. I had never heard of anyone blessing a bathroom before.

Later I learned that this was a religious-affiliated hospital and that all the rooms had been prayed over before they were used, not just the ubiquitous chapel. One employee told me that the hospital encouraged prayer. She was glad because she didn’t have to sneak around and pray with a patient surreptitiously, with an eye on the door or the door closed, which I didn’t know was the case in other hospitals. I guess in some hospitals only the official chaplain is supposed to address the Almighty.

I have used a variety of bathroom facilities over the years, from a two-holer outhouse on my Uncle Sam’s farm to a squat toilet in Croatia’s Roman ruins.

But never have I peed in such a holy restroom.

(I will refrain from making any joke here about sprinkling or anointing the facilities. You’re welcome. And if you want to read my further musings on the topic, go here for “What Were They Thinking? (Toilet Edition)”: https://wp.me/p4e9wS-6T.)

The Great Meal Kit Experiment

We have had trouble with our meals.  Well, that’s not quite true. We’ve had trouble with our grocery budget. Actually, both those things are true.

The first part of the problem is shopping. My husband works in a store that sells, among other things, groceries. And he just can’t resist meats which, while on special, are still so expensive I’m tempted to take out a meat loan to get them. Plus, he’s unable to resist the Manager’s Special, Close-Out, and Day Old tables.

That might seem like frugal shopping, but it results in a variety of bizarre foods that we would never otherwise have purchased. Vanilla butter. Bourbon-apple salsa. Snacks that taste like sesame-flavored cardboard. And the “reduced” prices don’t mean they’re cheap. You should have seen the price tags the week the store cleared out the “Imported from Italy” section. Imported pesto isn’t cheap, let me tell you.

Our next problem is waste. We waste a lot of food. Our refrigerator is so unreliable that it regularly freezes any produce we buy and turns it into unidentifiable slimy green goo. This is good neither for our budget nor for our appetites. We are reduced to buying prepared deli salads – which are hideously expensive but can be eaten the same day – or getting bags of cole slaw mix that are hideously expensive but can be eaten with my special slaw dressing (mayonnaise and pickle juice) which my husband loves. That we devour in a day or two. Frozen peas and corn and canned tomatoes are the most vegetable-like things we can keep on hand. And sometime V-8 juice.

Anyway, our food expenditures are outrageous. I’ve tried setting a budget, but my husband does the shopping and is unable to understand the concept. I’ve tried splitting the shopping with him, but every night when he gets off work he picks up a few more (or even more) items that he seems psychologically unable to resist.

So, in the hope of reducing both the amount we spend and the amount we waste, I have decided to try an experiment. Those meal kits we hear so much about on TV and online promise solutions to budget, preparation, shopping, and variety of meals. They are said to provide good nutrition, reduce waste, and be ever so yummy.

So each week for the next six weeks, I am ordering one of those yuppie, home-delivered meal kits. I am taking advantage of special promotional deals, as there is no way that paying the full price would produce any actual savings. I am not receiving any freebies or reduced prices by promising to blog about any of them.

The services I have chosen for this experiment are:

Home Chef

Blue Apron

Hello Fresh

EveryPlate

SunBasket

and Dinnerly.

Each week will receive three recipes and sets of appropriate ingredients for the making thereof. My husband is dubious of this experiment, as he claims (rightly) that the portion sizes they will deliver will not match the portion sizes of meals that he prepares. I try to point out that this is not necessarily a bad thing and that we can always supplement with appetizers, yogurt, pretzels, or popcorn should we feel unsatisfied.

I am trying to select a range of meals that will be filling yet different from our usual fare, involving ingredients we don’t usually have on hand and international cuisines we don’t make at home.

For the rest of the meals for the week, hubby can shop for whatever he chooses, though I fervently hope he will stick to staples like chicken, ground beef, fish, rice, beans, canned tomatoes, mushrooms, frozen vegetables, potatoes, pasta, eggs, bread, and the like. He makes an awesome frittata, an amazing shepherd’s pie, and a killer deconstructed mac-n-cheeseburger.

At the end of this experiment, I will report back on the results. My goals are variety in cuisine, reduced waste, lower grocery bills, and fewer odd ingredients that go with nothing else.

Our first delivery is arriving on our doorstep Tuesday.

Wish us luck.

Death by TBR

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When it comes time to write my obituary, I am certain that it will read: Janet passed away after being crushed to death by the pile of books beside her bed that she was planning to read. In other words, death by To Be Read (TBR) pile.

Why do I have such a potentially fatal TBR pile? Because it is my nightmare to be stranded somewhere, at some time, without anything to read. At the least I want a bedside book, a purse book, a bathroom book, and a car book. And I read so voraciously and so quickly that the books are now stacked on shelves to the ceiling in my study, bookshelves and dressers throughout the house, and even in closets, where most sensible people put shoes.

I would rather read a ketchup label than do without entirely. (Food labels are far more interesting than they used to be, now that they include nutrition information as well.)

But now that I have an e-reader, my TBR pile is actually a TBR list, and less likely to be a squashing hazard. But it’s just an electronic version of the same old story. There are over 700 books (and a few magazines) stored on it, but I still feel panicky at the thought of nothing to read. I can – and do – reread my favorites (some of the best-loved once a year), but I still feel the need, the craving, to buy more.

Back when I read dead-tree editions, I haunted used bookstores where I could swap my discards for other cheap paperbacks. Back in the day, there were even secondhand bookshops that paid you actual money for your rejects. They weren’t idiots. They knew that I and my fellow bibliophiles would turn right around and spend that money on the spot. It was so much more personally satisfying than getting store credit, though the effect was virtually identical.

But with e-readers, used editions are no longer necessary, or even possible. Instead I now haunt the discount book purveyors, several of which send me every day a list of titles that range from free to $3.99. I’ve encountered some real clunkers that sounded good from the blurb (well, to tell the truth, that used to happen with paper books as well). But several times a week I see a book I haven’t read by a favorite author or a book I read decades ago that I get because I want to see if it still holds up.

At the moment, I try to keep a steady diet of books going – two fiction and two nonfiction. Of course I have to choose carefully. It wouldn’t do to be reading two mysteries at the same time, or two travel books. No, I have to make sure that each is of a different genre or topic. Then I rotate them, reading a few chapters of each in turn until I fall asleep at last, my e-reader slipping from my grasp.

At the moment, my four books are Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson and Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky; and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick and The Egg and I by Betty McDonald. (That last is one of those read-long-ago books that seems likely to make me squirm now because of the racist attitude toward “dirty Indians.” I can’t imagine how that escaped me at the time. I guess it was before I was “woke.”)

Next in line, unless their places are usurped by other compelling titles, are Again, Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, and Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh. And there are backups to the backups, I assure you.

There’s a word for people like me: In Japanese it’s tsundoku, or “book hoarder,” though I dislike the implication that we merely want to have books, not to read them. Open Culture understands my plight and recommends that the Japanese hurry up and invent a word like e-tsundoku. When I was growing up, the word was “bookworm,” which has the unwelcome denotation of being something that destroys books. (Not that I haven’t read the covers off some of my favorites.)

Will I ever get rid of my TBR pile? Not in this life. I may be less likely to die of the electronic version, but there will always be a raft of books ready to take me away from this life into another.

 

 

 

Beating the Rejection Slip

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Writers fear them, yet they are inevitable: rejection slips. I’ve seen many a one in my life as a writer. (That’s what good about blogs. You never have to send yourself a rejection slip.) They can be cruel. They can be perfunctory, mass-produced and not even signed by a human being. An actual rejection slip may never arrive at all, leaving a writer to wait in anxious hope forever.

Rejection slips can be devastating. They can be empowering, too, in a strange sort of way. I’ve known writers who’ve defiantly papered their walls with rejection slips until they got a book contract. Once in a while a rejection slip comes that makes it clear the editor or agent has actually read the proposal or sample chapters. He or she may even provide helpful comments that can lead to improving your writing. Or the editor may say that your writing is good, although the book is just not for them. Those desperate for validation (most writers) treasure the first half of the evaluation.

Short story and nonfiction article writers and certainly poets get rejection slips, too. But the book rejection slip can be the most devastating because you may have spent literally years preparing your manuscript.

But here is a tale that may give you hope: I just beat the rejection slip. I have been offered an author contract.

How did I do it? I followed the rules. I gave up. Then I got lucky.

Since my book was a memoir (non-fiction), I knew that I had to prepare a proposal with sample chapters. (Fiction requires a completed manuscript, not just a proposal.)

Then I combed the Internet for agents that were accepting new clients and publishers that would accept proposals directly from authors. I sent out my query letters or proposals. I was very careful to send each recipient what they preferred and to make it meet their specs: query only, proposal only, proposal with three sample chapters, or ten pages, or whatever. I attached my proposal or pasted it into the email, whichever they wanted.

I tried to be at least a little sensible. I looked for people who wanted the kind of writing I was doing – nonfiction or memoir or mental health. I looked over their websites to see if there was one particular agent/editor who was more interested in my genre and addressed my query to that person. I never sent a “Dear Agent” or “Dear Editor” query.

I did this dozens of times. I kept a list of where I sent each and crossed them off when the rejections came.

And after a number of years and rejections, I gave up. I decided to abandon my book (by that time it was completely written) and move on to another book-length project in another genre.

While I was struggling with that manuscript, however (I still am), I noticed a new independent publisher who was looking for nonfiction books on mental health issues. So I said, what the hell? I was pretty much inured to rejection by then. I sent a query letter.

And I got a reply, within days. Did I have a proposal or a completed manuscript? Encouraged, I said that I had both. They asked to see the manuscript. And within a week, I had an offer. Given the length of my rejection list, I jumped at the chance.

I was a little wary of throwing in my lot with an indie publisher, and a start-up at that. But the founder was someone I had heard of, someone who was a noted expert and activist in the field of mental health. It was not a vanity press.

And now I have signed my author contract and been assigned an editor (I look forward to many fruitful conversations with him). They also introduced me to the intern who had picked my manuscript out of the slush pile, to whom I am eternally grateful.

I’m not a novice at writing. In addition to these blog posts, I have written and published nonfiction articles and children’s stories. But being a BOOK author is the best! The day I get my 25 printed copies I will indeed squee, long and hard.

Say hello to the next author from Eliezer Tristan Publishing – me!

 

The Death of Humor?

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When I was younger and Saturday Night Live was just getting its start, I thought that the show marked the death of humor in America.

Yes, it was funny and yes, it introduced lots of fine new comedians who went on to brilliant careers.

But what bothered me was that as it filtered down to the general public, all people seemed to be doing were reciting lines and discussing skits from the show, not making humor on their own.

I’m pleased to say that I was wrong. Mostly. There is now the phenomenon of people passing along funny memes on Facebook, seldom taking the time to make their own. These floating bits of humor make their pervasive way into all our feeds, but our reaction to most of them is a snicker, a groan, and a click on the share button.

(Who makes all those memes anyway? If you look closely at who originated them, sometimes the answer is a radio station you never heard of. These businesses are trying to increase their interaction numbers by “click-farming.” Having a very responsive audience means more advertisers, which means more money. Simple as that.)

But truly, SNL marked the renaissance of comedy in America. Comedy clubs and ensemble comedy teams like Second City grew from humble beginnings into forces to be reckoned with. Stand-up comedians got their own Broadway shows and movies and HBO specials. Improv comedy became a thing. From this flowering of talent and innovation we got Whoopi Goldberg (remember when she was a comedian?) and Ellen Degeneres and Drew Carey, movies like Airplane! and TV shows like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?,” books like Christopher Moore’s Lamb and David Sedaris’s works, cartoons like The Simpsons and King of the Hill and (for those who liked that sort of thing) South Park. Even MAD magazine and The National Lampoon added to the mix. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and John Oliver and Samantha Bee became late-night staples.

But where, you may ask, is local humor, from people that you know personally? Local people, not Hollywood’s cream of the crop?

Just look around. Plenty of bars and comedy clubs have open mike nights that welcome not just singer-songwriters, but comedians as well.

And what about those singer-songwriters? Plenty take after Weird Al and make comedy music. Oddly, one place to find them is at science fiction and fantasy conventions. There they practice a style of music called “filk” (yes, it was once a typo, but now it’s not). Although many of the songs are about space travel and such, plenty of songs are humorous, such as Michael Longcor’s “Kitchen Junk Drawer” and Tom Smith’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day” (the official song of a yearly celebration made famous by humorist Dave Barry).

And written humor? You have only to look at past and present attendees of the Erma Bombeck’s Writers’ Workshop. There’s a book of essays by various participants called Laugh Out Loud (see http://humorwriters.org/2018/03/05/lol-2/). Past attendees have written and published books, including If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? by Gina Barreca, Who Stole My Spandex? by Marcia Kester Doyle, Are You Still Kidding Me? by Stacey Gustafson, and Linda M. Au’s Secret Agent Manny. Their books are available on Amazon, even if they don’t yet have the following that their patron saint Erma had.

Even I have attempted humor at times. (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-Gc, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-5I, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-8W, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-7E, https://wp.me/p4e9wS-yn). I bet you can too, if you give it a try.

My specialty, though, is puns. Once when having breakfast with a friend I almost got thrown out a window. She had complained that her Eggs Benedict was taking an awfully long time.

“They probably had to go out and find a hubcap to serve it on,” I said.

“I know I’m going to hate myself for asking,” she said, “but why?”

“Because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.”

Okay, I didn’t make that one up, but I knew the perfect setup for it when I heard it. They say that in comedy, timing is everything.

Even if she had thrown me out the window, it would have been worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

The Artist and the Art

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How much do we owe the artist for creating art? And when I say art, I mean not just paintings and sculptures, but music and lyrics and books and films and podcasts and TV shows and more – you know, the things we can’t live without, according to a recent meme. What do we owe the people who create?

Respect. First, we should acknowledge that what they do is worthwhile. Life would be a lot less interesting – and meaningful – without all those things I just mentioned. And I’m not just talking Art with a capital A here. I’m including people who write trashy novels and sing pop songs and paint sad clowns. There are people who like those things and enjoy them. Who am I to judge? (I don’t include people who script so-called “reality” TV. Those people aren’t artists, even if their audiences love them. So I guess I do judge, some.)

Money. Making art takes time and as we all know, time is money. Making art takes skill, and we pay for that too. Making art takes practice, which is another expenditure of time.

Too many people try to cheap out on art. They try to haggle over price, or claim that they (or a monkey) could do it as well (then why don’t they?) or offer to “collaborate” and split the proceeds with the artist who does the work. Do you haggle with your plumber? That takes time and skill and practice too and makes your life more liveable.

Funding. Sadly, few people make a living making art. (I am lucky to know a few who do.) For the rest, there are few sources of income, other than a “day job,” which saps one’s energy and the time needed to make art. There are some sources of funding, such as the National Endowment for the Arts and not-for-profit outlets like National Public Radio and PBS. But when budget cuts need to be made, these public- and government-funded efforts are usually the first to be gutted. Let’s acknowledge that they serve an important purpose and need our support, even if pledge drives are annoying.

Absolution? Here’s the question. Do we owe an artist our attention if he or she has a quality or does something in personal life of which we don’t approve?

Of course, for example, if you don’t approve of swearing, you can choose not to give your money to novelists or filmmakers or comedians who sprinkle f-bombs liberally in what they create. You don’t enjoy that and that’s cool.

But what if you disagree with an artist politically, socially, or religiously? Does that make their art any less valid? Some of the people who make glorious, memorable art have done vile things or hold beliefs repugnant to some. How do we measure that against their art?

If an artist indulges in hate speech or racism or homophobia, that’s a perfectly valid reason to dislike him or her. But is it a reason to say that the person’s work no longer has value? Should a person’s vile behavior toward women or gay people (to use but two examples) end his or her career? Maybe. But does it devalue the work already done? There are certainly differing opinions and of course we must make our own choices about whom to support with our money or votes.

But is left-wing or right-wing ideology enough to make us boycott a person’s art? Do you go to see a film that has a person in it who disagrees with you politically?

Personally, I can no longer view the movie M*A*S*H with the enjoyment I once did because of the infamous shower scene, and I even squick at certain scenes in Young Frankenstein, one of my favorite films, because they make light of rape. But I can’t deny that they are great films and I don’t boycott the works of their creators.

What should we think about the flawed artist? Do we call them out for racism or sexism, for example, or continue to enjoy their art? Or somehow manage to do both? Perhaps we can no longer enter into that person’s art with the joy that we once did, or perhaps we might prefer not to expose children to such ideas (though they will surely encounter them in real life). But do we give a pass to someone whose work means a lot to us? Or do we hold everyone to the same ideal standards?

I think that it’s good that we are reexamining and discussing our attitudes about art and artists in the larger world, and examining our feelings about their behavior. But I still think that local, regional, and unknown artists deserve our support. We generally know nothing of their private lives and can’t judge them that way. Does the guy who plays guitar so well at open mike night cheat on his wife? Does the local food blogger sneer at her trans neighbor? Our communities don’t have the power of Hollywood’s searchlight. All we usually know of local creators is their art and whether we find it great, good, mediocre, or bad.

Even the making of mediocre or bad art is worthwhile. One can always get better with practice. And sometimes people can become better human beings with practice. Not often, perhaps, but I’ve seen it happen.

 

Someone You Know Is Mentally Ill

Do you have ten friends, family members, and co-workers? If you do, then two of them are experiencing a mental health condition this year. And of the 20 people around you, at least one has a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder, which is what I live with.

Despite those numbers, a large part of the population knows little to nothing about mental illness except what they see in the news, on television, or online. And, as you might guess, those portrayals are largely inaccurate.

What we see in the media teaches us to fear and hate the mentally ill. It says they are violent, incurable, homeless, suicidal, and dangerous. They are terrorists and mass shooters and need to be locked away for the rest of their lives.

Now think again about those ten or 20 people in your life. Do any of them fit that description? Probably not.

Those impressions are the result of stigma regarding the mentally ill. Here are some of the facts that can counter the stigma.

Anyone can have mental illness. From the woman who has PTSD after the trauma of a rape to the man who has depression that lasts years after his mother dies, to the person born with a tendency toward bipolar disorder (me), mental illness can be simply a fact of a person’s life that you most likely don’t even realize.

You can’t recognize the mentally ill just by looking at them. The wild, staring eyes, grimacing, and random outbursts are not the symptoms of most mental illnesses. Many people hide their conditions because of these stereotypes or the jokes told about “crazy people.”

Mental illness is often a lifelong condition. There is no “cure” for these conditions. With therapy, medication, and support from people like you, people with mental illness can achieve stability and relief from their disorder. But they will not “just snap out of it.”

Mentally ill people can live productive, useful lives. Many of them have friends, marry, have children (or not), work, go out in public, just like you (and me). Some may have difficulty with some of these activities, but they’re not always incapacitated. That’s another reason you can’t tell who’s mentally ill just by looking at them.

There are places where the mentally ill can get help. The mental health system, even more so than the regular healthcare system, is flawed and difficult to navigate. It is particularly difficult to find help in isolated, rural areas. There are not many beds for inpatients, emergency room treatment is often lacking, and the cost of treatment is prohibitive for many, especially those with no insurance. But community mental health centers with sliding fee scales do exist.

Stigma – false beliefs – about mental illness make people less likely to get help. If someone is mentally distressed but fears the stereotypes, he or she can be afraid to ask for help from a friend, relative, or even a doctor. The disorder may become worse, not better.

Just like the stigma regarding the homeless, the foreign-born, or the poor, mental illness stigma is pervasive and can be removed only by thought, discussion, and education.

Think about the people in your life. Might one or more of them be suffering in silence? Read books or magazines or newspaper articles or blogs (mine is bipolarjan.wordpress.com) about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, bulimia, or other conditions. Visit the websites of organizations that spread the word about mental illness and its treatment. (Some of them are listed below, along with some articles about mental illness and stigma.)

Most of all, talk to people. Some of us are open about our mental disorders and willing to help you understand yourself or a family member or friend better. Talk to the person you think may be in distress. He or she may share the false beliefs about mental illness. That’s right – the mentally ill themselves may give in to the stigma.

Care and improved treatment for the mentally ill – including the people in your life – will come only when we have erased the stigma that surrounds the topic.

Talk.

Educate.

Do your part.

 

References

https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477
https://www.yahoo.com/news/stigma-mental-health-care-reduced-194144320.html
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1489832/
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brick-brick/201405/the-stigma-mental-illness-is-making-us-sicker
https://www.nextavenue.org/stigma-mental-illness-small-towns/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/25/stigma-of-mental-illness/9875351/

Retirement: Small Change for a Freelancer

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When I retire – very soon now – it will make very little change in my life as a freelancer.

I’ll still be able to write my blogs and articles for support groups, which pay nothing, but allow me to stretch my writing muscles and speak about issues that I care about.

Nor will it be “small change” in the sense of being very little money. I worked enough years in Corporate America (editing, writing, and proofing) with freelance writing as my side gig to have made my 35 years of higher income. Even my first dozen years as a full-time freelancer went well enough to make a contribution to my accumulated earnings. The amount I’ll be receiving will be enough to pay the mortgage. My husband’s income will pay the other bills if we’re careful. (And don’t think he isn’t jealous that I can retire soon and he has to wait a few more years.)

No, the small change will be that I will have a steady income while still pursuing freelance work. And that will be sweet.

For while freelance work has fallen off for me of late, it hasn’t disappeared completely. I still write occasional articles or stories for paying markets and am working on a novel and a memoir. (Who isn’t?) And I’ve recently picked up a gig as a transcriptionist and proofreader.

The point is, I’ll still be able to do freelance work – up to approximately $17,000 a year – without reducing my Social Security benefits. For me at least, that total will be a healthy sum. Not a stunning one, but healthy. (And if my mystery novel takes off, who knows?)

So what is the small change I mentioned in the title? A steady income. We all know the ups and downs of freelance life and lately I’ve come to hate them. It’s not an adventure, I don’t know where the next check is coming from, and at this point in my life I need to. A steady income combined with the ability to keep freelancing will bring some much-needed balance into my life.

It’s kind of like when I worked 9-5 and freelanced as a side-gig. The difference is that the steady income will come not from work that I’m doing, but from work that I’ve already done. That Social Security money is mine. It was merely lent to the government to invest in whatever they wanted and to pay for things I don’t necessarily approve of.

Now they have to give it back. (At least until and unless they gut the fund to do away with Social Security or do something else I won’t like. Then I’ll get to be the boomer version of a Gray Panther and write in protest of their actions.)

And with that steady money coming back to me, I will have a cushion and an opportunity to concentrate more on my freelance writing (transcribing, editing, proofing, blogging, writing my novel, whatever) – the freedom of the freelance life without many of the hassles.

I’ve checked with my accountant and we concur. Even my husband agrees.

I’d be a fool not to do it.