Archive for the ‘Essay’ Category

Thoughts, This Holiday   4 comments

tumblr_mez5euB3zY1s0r8eto1_500This holiday season, I am reminded even more of the importance of exercising compassion and empathy.

I shouldn’t have to be homeless to imagine the bitterness of winter temperatures for those who have no roof over their heads and no bed with fluffy pillows and a down comforter to keep them warm at night. I don’t have to miss meals to feel the nausea, lethargy, and distraction from not having enough nourishment in my belly.

I don’t have to experience the anxiety of pulling out a bank receipt that shows a balance that won’t (in any stretch of the imagination) be enough to cover the monthly bills, or worse, seeing a negative balance to sympathize with those who are unemployed or still struggling in the current economy. I shouldn’t have to experience cancer to empathize with someone who’s going through chemo and radiation therapy.

I don’t have to care for an elderly parent, say goodbye to a friend struck down by disease, or bury a murdered child to have my heart break, or to reach out to comfort, hug, hold, and support a family member, a friend, or a stranger who has lost someone essential to their lives.

For Americans, our season of officially giving thanks begins on the third Thursday of November, Thanksgiving. Oftentimes, with the stress of planning and preparing feasts; purchasing gifts or stressing about finding extra money to purchase gifts or going without gifts; end-of-the-year additional work and subsequently extra hours at our jobs; attending holiday school performances, work parties and social get-togethers; dealing with family dynamics or having no family at all—it can be difficult to remember that this is a time for giving.

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This season, I am reminding myself to give—with consciousness and clarity, discharging my stresses and anxieties (even if temporarily), so that I may give freely and openly, without judgment or expectation.

When a friend’s stress is overwhelming, I tell myself, ‘Cut your errands short and lend an ear, turn off your phone, and pull your sleeve down over your watch face.’

Painting by Lisa Monica Nelson

Painting by Lisa Monica Nelson

When my eyes sting because they’re so tired and all I want is to get that next load of damn laundry folded and the dishes cleaned before I call it a day, and my child calls for…me, I let the laundry wait and leave the never-ending chores to remain undone a bit while longer. I go to my daughter, curl up in the bed with her, and release the day from my mind so that the only world of which I’m aware is the child right in front of me.

When a wee tiny wisp of an elderly woman spends 20 minutes mailing a package while the line at the post office extends past the door and down the steps, I tell the person in front of me that I like her intriguing coat and then we move on to how we will be spending our holidays and to whom we are mailing our packages. Finally, I simply wait my turn, mentally sending good wishes to the old woman with her cane, her hand shaking as she writes her check, her lips quivering as she tries to get her words out, and know that I, too (with luck), shall reach her age and deal with the consequences of old, old age.

This season, I remind myself to take that unwrapped gift to the local firehouse, take the end-of-the-day extra baked goods from my favorite bakery and drop it off at the food bank, and prepare to hand out lunch bags of turkey sandwiches, cucumber wedges and holiday cookies to my neighborhood homeless like my daughter, ex-husband and I used to do when we lived in Hollywood. Show people, tell them, ‘You are not alone; I see you.’

father-and-son-175x233Sometimes, the whys and wherefores don’t matter, the old baggage, the open wounds. Sometimes I need to push myself past what grips me in hurt and pick up the phone, call an estranged sibling and say, simply, “I love you.” Issues don’t magically disappear, but the freely offered sentiment can open a way forward, even if just for that moment.

The odds are, if we all give, then we shall all receive.

Give with a free, loving heart, and receive in the same way. I remind myself that when someone brings me an unexpected gift—a tin of holiday cookies, a card, a phone call, or even a hug—to receive that gift with a thankfulness that seeps throughout my every inch. Don’t flick it aside with, “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” or “But, I didn’t get you anything.” Welcome his gift and his thoughtfulness. Let it fill and soothe, nurture and replenish.

We need the love and compassion of others, especially when tragedy hits so close to the holidays. Let’s not shy away from it, from the pain and loss, but embrace each other and help each other stand up. We are only alone if no one reaches out, if no one offers a hand…or if the offered hand is not taken.

Let this holiday season be a time of selfless giving, true compassion and empathy, honest love and kindness, and altruistic benevolence.

Let our humanity excel and radiate—in the way we give and receive, share and comfort, support and love our children, family, friends, and neighbors, as well as our beloved towns, cities, country…and our precious world.

Every stranger is a potential friend.

Open your heart.

Love is essential.

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Copyright © Kat Ward, 2012 at Hometown-Pasadena.com

Mind Numbing Days – Ebook Formatting   8 comments

I think my ankles are swollen—probably because I haven’t stood up in five hours—calves are a bit sore, thighs a bit numb.

But—Oye Vey & Hallelujah—I’ve managed to upload my first novel Amy’s Own as an ebook on Smashwords.

I began 6 days ago by printing out their 75-page style guide because I best absorb information holding something tangible (printed material) and while sitting and reading out in my petite patio.

Note: the guide states that some people can format and upload their manuscripts in 2 hours. I understood immediately that I would not be a member of the “some” club.

It was evening in lovely South Pasadena, California. I turned on the Christmas lights that are tacked to the worn wood enclosing my patio and gave a nod to my Chinese warrior statue (an imitation of the famous Terracotta Army) that I use in place of a buddha. I sat in my much-loved, soon-to-trash old camping chair, the material having stretched and aged to the point that the seat has lowered to the perfect height for my short (not petite) legs. I read the guide with my yellow highlighter sliding along line after line, page after page. When I went to bed around 2 a.m., I was semi-understanding the dumbed-down language for non-techie beings like me and felt as though I was making progress (though with my brain being so tired by this influx and overdose of new info, I couldn’t be quite sure).

Mind-numbing Day 2: I opted for the Nuclear Method (evaporating all previous formatting from a manuscript) from the get-go as I knew I had made simple indents and centered things via the icon on the Word doc and that was repeatedly, emphatically stated in the guide as a no-no-NO! I was forced to learn about paragraph styles in detail, hyperlinks, appropriate copyright and licensing statements, “front matter,” and the typography term pilcrow. A slight PITA, but I’m happy to know this now, since I’m typing up my new work Keeping Sane, and Other Aspirations.

Mind-numbing Day 3: Downloading Adobe Digital Editions and going through the whole manuscript of Amy’s Own page by page, looking for mistakes. The hardest part was not going through the pages too quickly. I just wanted to glance and say, “That looks great! Moving on!” But I found a place where a line of dialogue jumped up to the line above. That screeched me to a halt, and I started looking at every single paragraph. I found three other times where the same thing happened (I’m assuming as a result of the Nuclear Method), so I’m glad I slowed down, even though I had to continually squash my impatience.

Mind-numbing Day 4: Bleary-eyed, stiff, and tired, I quadruple-checked everything out of absolutely heart pumping paranoid-anxious-doubtful-tense-amped up uncertainty. Then—with a deep breath, fingers crossed, swollen ankles crossed, and an excited flutter in my stomach—I clicked “publish.”

It may only be noon, but I hear a celebratory cocktail calling my name.

Note: Amy’s Own is free for download until July 13, 2012 at Smashwords. It’s a commercial drama with comedic and romantic elements. Visit Smashwords for a complete story description and access to multiple download formats. Feedback welcome (no holds barred!).

Hèctor Tobar Speaks   4 comments

Photo by Doug Knutson

An interview I conducted this week for  Hometown Pasadena.

Not surprisingly, as the son of Guatemalan parents, a L.A. native, a former Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Buenos Aires, and a weekly local columnist, Héctor Tobar’s fiction is infused with the desire to illuminate the complex layers, significance, and consequences of cultural and ethnic differences and conflict.

His latest novel, The Barbarian Nurseries, is an incredibly dense reveal of the city of Los Angeles. Within the details of the varied sections of this metropolis, he has created a story that focuses on Araceli, a Mexican maid, who after four yours of service is suddenly thrust into the additional role of nanny when the parents, Scott and Maureen Torres-Thompson, make the executive decision (independently of one another) to give themselves a “time-out” from their suddenly taxing lives. The ensuing adventure, and clash of class and culture, reveals the abundance of deep-seated issues at play, and a mistrust and misunderstanding that can relegate society to stagnancy.

HP: How did the title Barbarian Nurseries come about, and what were you hoping to convey by this title?

 HT: It’s a play on the two meanings of the word “nursery” as a place where plants are cultivated and as a place where children are cared for and raised.

Both of these jobs are performed in the U.S. by Latino immigrants to a large degree. Mostly people from Mexico. And in talk radio and right-wing commentary, Mexico especially is considered a place of barbarism, a place without civilization; people think of it as a place dominated by drug gangs and lacking in culture, a perverse and inaccurate vision of what the country is, to be sure.

HP: How did you start writing this story, was it with this particular theme in mind? Was it a discussion you wanted to start, continue, or contribute to?

HT: I started off more than a decade ago, and wrote a first draft of a novel that was a response to the growing anti-immigration movement in the U.S. and a response to this rhetoric that sees the newly arrived immigrant as the dangerous ‘other.’

The initial inspiration came from  the protagonist of Camus’ The Stranger and from the idea of the first image in my novel: a man trying to cut his own lawn without a Mexican to do it for him.

I didn’t really want to start a discussion, as much as I wanted to write an artistic and intellectual response to the moment in which I was living as a native Californian and the son of immigrants.

H-P: Right from the start, you set up the divide and distinction between employer and employee. Could you comment on that?

HT: A big part of the novel is how social class seeps into everyday actions in the home. This is deliberate, of course. It comes from having crossed the class divide myself, or, rather, from having seen my family cross that. We come from Guatemala, a country that’s synonymous these days with service work here in L.A. My father parked cars, worked in hotels. We ascended to the middle class. At one point, I lived abroad as a writer with servants in my home. So I’ve been lucky enough to see that class divide in my own life from both sides.

H-P: Even secondary characters get back stories, even if they’re mini ones, such as the young woman of whom Araceli asks directions in the fashion district. What was the aim in doing this?

HT: I’ve been privileged to be a journalist and writer in L.A. for a long time. I’ve been to many different kinds of neighborhoods, rich and poor and in between. So I figured I had the chance to share with the reader a real tableau of the social differences and gaps and the variety of experience in the metropolis.

H-P:  We have to say, we thought the most alarming part of the book started on page 241 and lasted a mere 38 lines.

HT: Yeah, I was a reporter for a major newspaper covering crime many years ago. I saw firsthand the way the media can assemble melodramas from complex, ambiguous human events. It’s become a big industry in the years since, but the basic manipulation of the truth is the same: take complicated lives and boil them down to issues of good and evil.

H-P: Was the ending of the book, the way the three main characters head off in new directions, just the way the story came to you, or was it a conscious decision?

HT: Maureen and Scott at the end are being set up for another fall. They’ve been humiliated, and forced to lower their expectations. As for Araceli, I wanted to leave her in an in-between state, her story leading to either Mexico or to the U.S., because to me that’s what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S. This country changes you, you can’t go back home and be the same, while at the same time living here can be a fraught experience, as Araceli has learned.

H-P: From the very beginning, we were drawn into the story by your wording and the images you create with your words.

HT: Thanks so much for the kind words. Yes, I’ve spent many long years working on my prose style, trying to develop something that’s evocative and accessible. I’ve had a lot of influences, from short story writers such as Nadine Gordimer and Sandra Cisneros, to novelists like Gunter Grass and Don DeLillo. I like to think of it as reaching for a kind of accessible transcendence, if that makes any sense.

Photo by Elena Dorfman

H-P: In reference to being a writer, how do you know when a manuscript is finished?

HT: When your editor pries it from you hands. I think we are perpetual tinkerers. The real question is: when does the writer stop working on his manuscript and show it to his agent/editor? That’s hard to answer. Personally, when I feel nauseous just looking at it, I know I’m done.

H-P: Do you have a particular connection with Pasadena? We know your children attend Sequoyah School, but is there anything else?

HT: One of the final sections of the novel takes place in the Arroyo Seco, in that hazy area near the border between South Pasadena and Pasadena. I use the Craftsman architecture, with its Midwestern influences, as a symbol of Maureen’s desire to return to the values of openness and simplicity of her youth. Also, there are a couple of Sequoyah parents and their kids who served as inspirations for characters.

Héctor Tobar, author of The Barbarian Nurseries
He will be reading at the L.A. Central Library
Thursday, January 26th, 7 p.m.
630 W. 5th Street, L.A., lapl.org/central

Rose Parade “Occupy”ed   12 comments

A phone call. My third one in this new year 2012. The first one was an inquiry into the opening I have for a new member at my photo studio; the second was a solicitation. So, the first call, if it pans out, would end up putting money in my pocket, while the second call was trying to snatch dollars out of it. I was quite eager to find out what lay behind call #3.

“I’ve got two extra tickets to the Rose Parade. Do you and Bella want to go?”

Hmmm. This opportunity wouldn’t be putting much-needed shekels into my pocket, but neither would it be siphoning them out.

“Absolutely!” I said.

The hour was early—a 5 a.m. alarm and I needed a shower; I needed coffee. The roads were congested; it was the busiest Sunday of auto and pedestrian traffic that I’ve ever seen. Did I say it was early? Like, still dark out?

Once we were dropped off and walking towards Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard (the main route of the parade), I kept wondering where our seats would be—looking to my left, looking down at my ticket, looking right—until my friend stopped in front of a security checkpoint where tickets were acknowledged, bags rummaged and conformists flagged through. It was like being allowed to walk the red carpet—very exclusive.

We also flagged a little humping our holiday-heavy arses up the subsequent hill, but imagine our early morning, bleary-eyed reaction when we saw that our seats were right on the street—in the front row.

After inundating my friend with much kudos, I paused; I could hear money disappearing from my pocket. I now owed her a steak dinner in return for these rockin’ seats and her generous last-minute invitation (though, if I was the second or third call she’d made, can a $23 steak become a $6 burrito?).

Our two girls went up to their fourth row seats (backrests; thumbs up) while my friend and I set up camp right across from the main grandstand and the t.v. announcers. If you watch the replay of the parade on t.v. and see the big brown Norton Simon Museum in the background; if you use your remote to go frame-by-frame; and if you have a seriously expensive high definition television, you can periodically pick out my daughter’s pink jacket and my blinding white shirt with a black blob up where my eye should be which is my camera. There it is for all to see: My 15 Minutes of Fame (it actually adds up to a total of approximately 4.23 minutes, but who’s counting?).

So, with our feet on the street, the rising sun to our left and the swiftly moving parade to our right, I finally had my first Rose Parade experience. Well, no—all right—my first time was about six years ago when it rained during the parade for the first time in fifty years. We were up off a side street at the very end of the parade route behind masses of early arrivals. Though the floats were incredible, with our rain-soaked shoes, the raw and chilly air, and our distressed (okay, persistently whiny) friend’s child who only wanted to go home, the experience was not one for the books—so nah, I’m not counting that one.

This year’s event was held on a cloudless day, the temperature rising quickly from “pretty damn chilly” to “yes, we’re all getting burned only on the left side our of faces cuz our heads are looking right towards the oncoming floats”. But being so up close and personal was mesmerizing. The choice of Grand Marshall, J.R. Martinez, an Iraqi vet who suffered burns over 40% of his body and that disfigured his face, was inspiring, and I’m sure he rode the tide of our collective emotions for the entire 5 1/2 mile parade route. Two hours flew by. Amazingly, my camera battery held out despite the 712 images I shot; that evening, it took me a second or two to connect the dots when I realized how stiff and sore my shoulders and arms were.

As the official Rose Parade float came towards us and unknown persons announced “That’s all folks! Thanks for coming!” the stands began to quickly empty—about 10,000 people in need of a potty break.

But then, lo and behold, another parade came along. Yes, it was pushed to one side by the uniformed sherriffs and didn’t have fancy floats or a gazillion tubas, but the signage was compelling. “Occupy” had arrived. I thought, Now we’re talking!

Well, the second they could be seen by the grandstand occupants a rain of boos were hurled down upon them and I thought, the 99% is booing the 99%!

So, of course, I climbed up onto my seat and started clapping and hooting and hollering my support (much to my daughter’s chagrin). This parade was not to be dismissed. I forced my now rebellious burning muscles to raise my camera once again and began snapping shots. Sure, some of the marchers looked a tad on the fringe, maybe a meal or three short, a car away from calling a box a home, a week or so away from a hot shower, but as far as I can figure that doesn’t exclude them from being part of the 99%.

The vast majority of the marchers looked like people you see all day as you go around running errands, stopping in shops, asking for assistance, and exchanging pleasantries. They were White, Black, Latino, and Asian. They were Lacoste wearing conservative-types; overweight suburban mom-types; very thin suburban, tight yoga leggings, mother-types; groovy haircut, rockin’ leather jacket creative-types; neatly groomed, button-down shirt tucked in grandfather-types—America’s melting pot—all right there as you please.

I jumped down to walk into the crowd for a few more shots and walked right up on the last “floats” of the parade—riot police riding shotgun on their armored vehicle. Now, they received a HUGE round of applause from the crowd still in the bleachers. Once again, I’d like to point out that the 99% were responding to the 99%—simply another category within the 99%. Because the last I heard, cops (short for constable on patrol; not a slur) aren’t millionaires. I think it’s safe to say that more than a few officers have lost a home to foreclosure in the last five years, are worried about having to declare bankruptcy because of exorbitant health care costs despite having insurance, or saw their savings or pensions wiped out during the financial collapse.

Happily, the officers didn’t look interested in having any sort of a confrontation—their two vehicles simply slogged behind the pack in the background.

It was rather odd, though, to see one segment of the 99% booing another segment of the 99% which was being followed by yet another segment of the 99%.

The last segment was simply ignoring us all, clear in the knowledge that they had a mile to trek to get to their car and they were busy calculating the time it would take to stand in line at the nearest porta-potty versus kicking it into high gear, making it to the car, then sitting in a traffic jam of 1,000’s, all before they could relieve themselves in the comfort of their own commode.

My personal posse (a percentage of the 99% that’s such a speck I can’t even begin to calculate that in my non-mathematical mind) stood patiently by, letting me enjoy the moment—and for that I love them 100%.

* And my friend’s getting the dinner of her choice.

© Kat Ward 2012

Thank You, Mississippi, Ohio, Arizona & Maine!   8 comments

I was up until 1 a.m. on Tuesday night, not following the various vote counts like a socially, politically invested person should. Instead, I was writing posts, researching, reading sites, and taking a walk around the block; writing another scene for my new novel, typing it up, printing it out, and immediately marking it up with pen (I hate to waste paper, by god, but I love holding my work and reading it—I think I edit better that way, for whatever reason. Sorry, tree).

I woke up on Wednesday, the alarm invading my skull precisely at 6:30. Luckily, that morning my daughter was none too communicative, so I could remain in my muy cansada fog and hope that grinding the coffee beans would rattle me alert, ’cause the sound usually really pisses me off (for no rational reason). No. It didn’t wake me up. Yes. It did piss me off.

I barely managed to pack my girl’s lunch—fruit, veggies, sandwich, yogurt. Hmmm…no yogurt. Oh, yes, there’s one far in the back past some sticky stuff on the shelf that I really should clean someday. Greek yogurt with açai and blueberries. Expired three weeks ago. Hmmm…well, it is yogurt. Isn’t it naturally sour and kind of funky on a good day, anyway?

Bowl, spoon, Cap’n Crunch Berries. Glass of milk. All thumped onto the coffee table to await above-mentioned daughter. I keep saying that we need to find something different for breakfast. She says, Nah. Since she started her gluten-free diet because of stomach pains we couldn’t explain, she has hooked on to the Cap’n ’cause she says it’s gluten free. For some reason, “gluten-free” made me think “healthy.” Hmmm. Mom’s learning curve. Behind the curve. I did make gluten-free pancakes last weekend. They were tasty. Rather more crêpe than traditional American pancake, which made me feel that maybe I’d lose a few pounds, as long as I discounted the slab of butter melting in my pool of warm syrup. Yeah, my daughter licked her plate; she promises me that she doesn’t behave like that in public. I said, thank you. Better a Neanderthal at home than a Neanderthal in public. Plus, I was too tired. I licked my plate, too.

Back to Wednesday (see, I’m still tired and rambling). Finally, I have to throw on clothes, make a pass at my face (eye-crud, drool cake, etc.), brush my teeth, give three brush strokes to the hair (sides and back), grab the keys, remember my purse, switch out glasses for sunglasses and go take my daughter to school—officially stepping into the day. Sometimes, my daughter will start to open up, talk a smidgen, I figure out how to put a sentence together and within three minutes we’re laughing and having the a.m. sillies. I like that.

Many times, my morning fog takes a while to lift, which is okay since many mornings, my girl listens to her music with her headphones on and we’re quiet. Sometimes, the start of the engine sets off an assault of left-wing talk radio, which transports me to my happy place; her, not so much. She’ll snap off the button and race through the FM dial (which feels a bit like hearing the coffee grinder). If she stops on a country song or some techno beat, I gauge how far we are from school. If I only have 60-90 seconds to go, I’ll sweat it out. If I have 91 seconds or more, I quite clearly and succinctly say, “Uh-uh.” She may throw me a look, even pop the dial to turn it off, but she won’t fight me (and that’s all that matters in that time and space continuum).

Either way, her school eventually appears. “Goodbye” is thrown both ways, sometimes with spring in the delivery, sometimes as flat, heavy and dull as a cast iron pan. Sometimes I get an “I love you” from ten feet away and I smile that she’s not too self-conscious about letting everyone know it and hear it. Yeah, I may be sluggish, sloppy, groggy bear-mom this morning, but that pretty and bright girl right over there (see, that one there), she loves me, and let you all know it. Ha! Okay, getting loopy. I need more coffee.

Home. Coffee in hand. Warming hand. Yummy, strong and creamy. Click on main page. Whaaa…wait…huh?…whoa…you have got to be…Holy Crap City…really? Really, really? Oh, yes! Thank you, thank you, America, thank you! Adrenalin is spiking, caffeine is coursing, fingers now flying, eyes now consuming, body tilted forward in full engagement mode—bring it! Feed me! This is delicious!

And what was creating this reaction you ask?

Mississippi voted down the “personhood” amendment to their state constitution that would have declared that the millisecond a human egg became fertilized it was to be considered a real person and as such was guaranteed all the rights and protections afforded actual real persons (who actually have brains, heads, limbs, nervous systems, beating hearts, breathing apparatuses—and not just the potential to have them). The amendment would also have banned abortions even in cases of incest and rape. I believe in the right of a woman to have a choice, even though I’m not sure I personally could make the choice to have an abortion. But, I’ll be damned that if my girl gets raped and becomes pregnant as a result, that she’s going to be forced by law to carry it to term and give birth. No effing way. Ain’t happening.

Ohio restored collective bargaining rights for 350,000 of their public employees. Yes, I think we should let the men and women who chase criminals, race to save our lives, race into burning buildings, dedicate themselves to teaching our children—yeah, I think cops, medics, firemen and our school teachers deserve the clout they can achieve as a group to negotiate the best salaries, contracts and pensions they possibly can. When we live in a capitalist society that’s like Pavlov’s dog when it comes to profits, we need something in place to level the playing field. So, thank you, unions. Thank you, Ohio.

Arizona, for the first time in their history, recalled a state senator. Russell Pearce is the “lovely” gentleman who authored S.B. 1070 which was passed in 2010 (prompting a lawsuit from the federal government) and would have allowed the police to stop and ask for someone’s immigration papers even if there was no overt sign of a law being broken. The prerequisite used for this was “Goddammit, I wanna stop every brown person as far as the eye can see and see if we can kick their butts to the other side of our border cuz that will solve all of our problems.” Oh, no, sorry, that wasn’t it. The prerequisite was “reasonable suspicion.”

(Psst, my daughter’s pretty mocha-colored. Thankfully, we’ve seen the Grand Canyon as I’ve been adamant that Arizona will not get on my short list of holiday destinations anytime soon. Hopefully, this recall is a sign of sanity restored because, well, I kind of dig AZ.)

Maine restored same-day registration voting. Ah, good ol’ Maine. Hail, rain, sleet or snow, ya can’t stop them folks from casting their vote. Thank you for coming out.

Faith restored, my adrenalin-caffeine buzz leveling out, my quiet joy and satisfaction held the corners of my mouth in a pleasant place for hours and hours. It was a good day.

© 2011 article by Kat Ward

Dear America: Do You Know Me? I’m the Working Poor   15 comments

I have a friend named Grace. She’s 52-years-old. She’s a professional make-up artist. Then she went back to school and became a licensed aesthetician. Today, she has four more classes until she gets her AA degree. She has ten dollars in her pocket.

Politicians, activists, commentators, and pundits talk about big business, conglomerates, multi-nationals, millionaires, and billionaires. At a drop of a hat, they’ll talk about the gravity of maintaining America’s middle class. One group I never hear discussed—the working poor.

I met Grace eight years ago when she was hired to work for the company I was studio managing. I worked Monday through Friday, 9-5. I was divorced and had a two-year-old daughter. I was hustling my girl to a 9-hour shift at daycare, then going to work, then hustling back before overtime kicked in for the daycare worker, then hustling home to make dinner, bathe my daughter, read her stories, etc. My ex-husband helped out when he wasn’t on a minimum 12-hour commercial shoot. Or, on location.

Grace and I became friends. A year later when I started my own business, I hired her to do make-up and hair for my clients during the week (when I had clients) and we both worked for my old company, and then another company, on the weekends.

Jin Young Yu - Invisible People

Thankfully, I had friends who said, “Oh, yes!” when I asked if they would look after my daughter for eight hours on a Saturday or Sunday, or Saturday and Sunday. I paid them back by looking after their kids when they took an evening out. I didn’t have evenings out. No time. No money. Grace didn’t either—and this is her story.

After some years, Grace and her husband (a teacher, studying to get his degree) decided they wanted to go home. This sounds overly dramatic, but she pined for her city by the bay—with its rain and fog, hills and views of the water everywhere you looked. Her old car wouldn’t make the 6-hour trip on the highway that takes you inside the middle of nowhere, so they towed it on the back of their tiny U-Haul. She was thrilled to be back home. Then, she spent the next six months commuting back down south (and sleeping on my couch) to do a wedding, fashion shoot or work with me because she couldn’t find any work back home. Her husband couldn’t find a teaching post; couldn’t even land a job in a painting-store chain. It was on Grace to earn all of the money, to pay all of the bills.

Her mind was a hive of anxiety, her body granite with tension, her stress level beyond maximum capacity.

She finally landed a job back home as an aesthetician at a salon. Because of their convoluted payment scheme, her hours could not support her and she had to find a second job at another salon. New clients. Happy clients. Still not enough clients.

One of the salons at which she works is part of a huge chain, internationally known and respected; Grace has to bring in her own products. Executives flew in to commend the staff, telling them that their department had the most service sales and was selling the most products nationwide; they fired the woman who washed the towels to save money. Managers don’t know how to manage. Higher-ups don’t bother to listen to the employees down on the ground. Grace keeps on, though she’s increasingly discouraged about the inefficiency, the infighting, the accelerating shabbiness of the salon, and her paltry bi-monthly paycheck.

Grace only has health insurance because her husband has finally landed a teaching job. He also goes to school, though some semesters he can’t because the state college isn’t accepting anymore students due to budget cuts. Grace often talks about giving up her health insurance since it’s costing her $324 a month and she gets so tired of having to—one more time—call their kindly landlord and ask for a week’s extension. Well, maybe ten days. Yes, that would be great. Thank you so much. (Pride trampled; ego obliterated.)

Like so many politicians and economists recommend, Grace went back to school and learned a new trade (at which she is quite talented). Now, she’s four courses away from completing her Associates Degree. She buys textbooks used because she can’t afford them new. Sometimes she attends classes for over a month before any used texts are available to purchase. She has to take two buses to get to the college library to type her papers, signing in for half an hour at a time because she and her husband can’t afford to get their hand-me-down computer fixed.

She declines friends’ invitations because she can’t afford a whole meal out. She can’t go to a club that has a two drink minimum. She and her husband treat themselves to their favorite taco-stand burritos once a month. They haven’t had a vacation in seven years.

Grace is one of the hardest working people I know. She doesn’t know the words “stop,” “slow down,” or “take a breather.” But she has come to know the meaning of exhaustion, anxiety attacks, depression, and despair.

Grace has a lovely face and a brilliant smile. She’s intelligent, reads the paper, is up to date politically, and is socially conscious. She’s interested in, and can hold her own, on almost any topic. She loves good food. She misses traveling.

Grace has two vocations. She works six-day weeks. She has $300 in savings. She has no retirement account. She still rents. The shoes she wears to work make her feet cold as she walks because they have holes in the soles. She hasn’t bought a new bra in a year and a half.

You wouldn’t realize looking at her that the jeans she’s wearing are one of the two pair that she owns. You wouldn’t realize as you’re talking to her that her underwear is slipping off her thighs because they’ve lost the elastic but she can’t afford to buy more. As you’re discussing politics with her, you’d never guess that she watches the news on a small, bunny-eared 15” t.v. As you moan about the bad economy and complain about being broke, you’d never believe that you have no true idea what broke really means.

You’d never guess that at this very moment Grace’s savings account balance is zero, it’s another nine days until her next paycheck, and she has a ten dollar bill in her pocket.

Grace has ten dollars to her name.

So, Mr. President, Senators, Representatives, and Americans: may I please introduce you to Grace. Do you recognize her? Have you seen her before? Have you smiled and had a bit of a chat? Never guessing, never knowing that…

Grace is a member of a substantial but invisible group in this country.

She’s the working poor.

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©2011 Dear America: Do You Know Me? I Am the Working Poor by Kat Ward

 

Will I Ever Be a Bona Fide Grown-Up? Part III   9 comments

Nasturtims Giving Homage to Georgia O'Keefe

Image by garlandcannon via Flickr

My depression and anxiety is held at bay with a daily dose, but meds are no wonder cure. Most people would never guess that I am a depressive. I like to socialize. I love, love to laugh. I adore my daughter, my family and my friends (even my ex-husband!). But, the depression hovers. It’s tiring. Exhausting. Many days, I feel that all I can manage is to be a good mom. Nothing else. Love my daughter. Accomplish that in a day, stay focused, create quality time and check the “task completed” box. Because, I actually love our life. I love her smile and her laugh and how she expresses her creativity on a daily basis as we make up chapter stories every time we buckle up in the car, how she devises dance routines, plays in three acts and performs cooking experiments in the kitchen (without a recipe) that are actually edible. It’s all a tremendous wonder. I’m still in awe that she is my child, that I was lucky enough to be rewarded this exact being.

I remind myself that I am indeed a good photographer. I’m good at taking kids’ headshots. I can tap into their ability to allow their inhibitions to melt away and bring forth their full personality. So, why can’t I make a decent living? And, every day I vow to not give up on my dream to be a published writer who can actually sell enough books so that I can write full-time. But, is this delusional? Parents aren’t supposed to be delusional, are they? Chasing a pipe dream is not the best example for a child. (Though, it IS if you succeed.)

I can taste success. Some nights, it seems so close. When I finished my second manuscript, I gave it to four very different friends, and completely different readers. I received great constructive criticism and I returned to editing feeling invigorated and re-energized. I finally have a query I like and a synopsis that recaps the story in four pages, reflecting the novel’s voice and style (Oiy!). I drift off to sleep, imagining an agent signing me, a publisher wanting me, believing so much in my work that they give me a good—great, incredible!—advance and I’m strolling the streets of New York City after my first amazingly successful book signing. Then, my adrenalin surges and I’m wide awake. (At least it wasn’t an anxiety attack. Progress, no?)

Well, I’m still here in my sweltering second-story Hollywood apartment (down on the flats, not up in the coveted, moneyed hills). The wall-to-wall carpeting incessantly draws in the heat; the fan blows hot air around. My daughter’s asleep next to me in the bed (she’s going through a bout of fearing the dark—every shadow, every darkened doorway, even the lovely moon outside her window). I stroke her back, happy that she’s calm now, sleeping without fear. She even laughs in her sleep (I hope she never stops doing that!).

I am typing on my laptop. It’s ten to one in the morning. I love the stillness and quiet. The peace. The contentment I am feeling is enough to help me through one more day.

A grown-up? A full-blown adult? I hope to be one some day. It’s a worthwhile goal. A worthwhile dream.

 the end

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© 2011 Will I Ever Be a Grown-Up? Part III by Kat Ward

Posted September 14, 2011 by Kat Ward in Essay

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