All You Sea

Speaking of large ships, in honor of World Ocean Day, which was June 8, I had planned to watch Seaspiracy.  A Netflix original documentary, this really is a must-see film.  Not to pass the buck, but I’ve long believed it will be the younger generation that will take the initiative to improve conditions on our planet.   I’ve seen my own insanely selfish and aging generation (with even more aged and selfish senators) continue to exploit this planet like there’s no tomorrow.  If you watch Seaspiracy you may see that it’s closer to true than you might think.  There may be no tomorrow if we don’t change our ways right now.  Borrowing its title from Cowspiracy, another important documentary, Seaspiracy looks at the fishing industry and its devastating effects on our oceans.

There’s a lot of sobering stuff here.  It begins with plastics.  Single use plastics, and even recyclable plastics, are everywhere.  They kill sea animals, they break down into micro-particles and infiltrate everything.  Chances are you have lots of plastic in your body just from living in an environment where it’s everywhere.  Ali and Lucy Tabrizi take you on a very disturbing journey where governments keep secrets about their roles in depleting the oceans and where large corporations kill observers at sea where there’s no chance of the truth being discovered.  They take you to the claims behind “dolphin safe” tuna and other fish.  They take you to where the market price on illegally caught blue fins can bring in three million dollars per fish.  And they’re caught in great numbers.

The oceans, according to current projections, could be empty in 27 years.  If current practices don’t change, there could be basically nothing left by 2048.  Why?  Because humans are hooked on consuming.  Some critics complain the date should be 2072, as if that isn’t just kicking the can down the road.  I became a vegetarian many years ago, after leaning that way many years before that.  It took Cowspiracy to make me go vegan. We eat without thinking about where our food comes from.  Our industrial food practices are literally destroying our planet.  Having given up fish along with other meat, I didn’t think much about fishing.  Seaspiracy shows why fishing is everyone’s concern.  It’s largely unregulated, unenforceable laws apply, and companies try to make consumers feel better in their acceptance that some fish is safe for endangered species.  This documentary shows once again how the price of eating animals, and doing so on an industrial scale, is simply not sustainable.  My generation is perhaps too lazy to change its ways.  Our only hope is that the younger generation takes the state of this mess far more seriously than we do. And perhaps thinks before putting things in their mouths.


Story Power

A story can change everything.  You see, we are story-telling creatures and if you want to sway someone a story is a far better means than a lecture.  I’ve been thinking quite a lot about this because a story, in the form of a movie (it doesn’t matter which one), has been on my mind quite a lot lately.  This got me to thinking about the ways stories we tell ourselves come to define our lives.  It happens on a national as well as an individual level.  We’re engaged by a continuous narrative.  Until some kind of resolution comes we wonder what happens next.  Since my research has lately shifted to popular culture and religion, I’ve had the excuse to watch lots of stories.  Some of them just won’t let you go.

To me there’s no comparison between a well-written movie and one thrown together only for box-office potential.  They do overlap sometimes, but a film where the story is central often has power to stay with you long after you’ve left the theater.  We make sense of life through story.  Our biographies are the stories we tell about ourselves from our own perspectives.  I love to listen to other people’s stories.  I suspect—no, I know there would be a lot less conflict in the world if belligerents would listen to one another’s stories.  The tragedy of politics is those driven to rise to leadership roles often have vacuous stories—the blind ambition to be on top is hardly a tale worth the telling.  We like stories of presidents born in log cabins who had to struggle to get to a position of influence.  They have compelling stories.

Quite often, it seems to me, world leaders today are cut from the somewhat sociopathic model favored by businesses.  No story need be told.  Success is measured by the numbers.  Metrics tell you all you need to know, never mind how your workers feel.  The workers, you see, are telling their stories.  Building their narratives.  It isn’t too difficult to tell story tellers apart from those who climb out of corporate ambition.  The story tellers are much more interesting to listen to.  Even politicians—at least those who’ve not yet lost their souls—can be affected by a story.  It seems strange to me that, given the obvious power of story, we don’t emphasize it more in education.  There’s more to life than getting a job and climbing to the top.  Those on the bottom often have the best stories.


Candid Camera

Early on in the pandemic, various meeting leaders—whether Zoom or Teams—asked participants to put on their cameras.  The point was that, missing seeing other people at the office, the video feed was psychologically reassuring.  I get that.  I began working remotely before the pandemic broke out and I’m still reeling from being ahead of the curve for once in my life.  Does it always feel this giddy?  In any case, we’ve got to the point where many people simply do not put on their cameras, even in small meetings.  Since we are trained for diversity we know that some people simply don’t want us to know how they look on a certain day (or perhaps how cluttered their background is).  And that’s perfectly fine.  It does make me think how artificial work in the office is.

At least you could see this kind.

You put yourself together a certain way to be seen by other people.  In fact, we sometimes even put “dress codes” together for work.  I even had an employer once say dress was “business casual,” only wrinkles were unacceptable.  I don’t iron my clothes, so I guess that particular employer was warning not to let them sit in the clothes basket too long after taking them from the dryer (or clothes line).  In any case, now that we’ve come to realize we may not always look our best, we have an option to leave the camera off.  How many days commuting into the office did we feel this way but were given no choice?  Since leaving academia I’ve never had an office at work.  I was a midlife cubicle denizen.  I never liked the idea. Who looks their best after getting out of bed at 3:00 a.m.?

Being on view isn’t the same as working productively.  The pandemic has also taught us that going into the office is often not necessary at all.  If they supply the tech, which we’d need anyway, we will do our work without Big Brother watching over us all the time.  We’ve become, it seems to me, more humane.  Turning the camera off is a way of perhaps admitting I didn’t sleep well last night.  Or something’s really bothering me and I don’t feel like smiling falsely.  Or any number of other things that might put us in the place of wanting some space.  For once now we have it.  It is my hope that once things start to get “back to normal” that we will have learned some lessons.  We can treat people more like humans want to be treated and still contribute to the bottom line.  It’s amazing how much people will do if they’re treated like human beings rather than cogs in the capitalist machine.


Perhaps You’d Like…

Back in the early days of the internet I recall wondering how it could be used for research.  I was teaching at Nashotah House at the time and knew of no online resources that couldn’t be had in print.  All of that has changed, of course, with the web becoming the collective brain of humanity.  I tend to use it for research for my fictional tales.  Need to remember a detail about some obscure location you once visited in Scotland?  Check—either Ecosia or Google will take you right there.  Memory problem solved.  For some kinds of facts, however, it’s still a struggle.  There’s the infamous paywall, for example.  Your search brings you right to the info, but you have to pay for the privilege of reading it.  Commercial sites require a subscription that, although it has a cancellation policy, you know you’ll end up paying for forever.  University library websites are even more jealous of guarding their secret knowledge.

Fiction research often involves trying to find general information.  What some specific object is called, for example, or whether there was actually a Burger King in the location about which you’re writing, at the time your story is set.  Fiction writing is an exercise of the imagination, but verisimilitude can make all the difference.  Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it can’t be factual.  Here’s where another limitation arises.  If your query can be commodified, it will.  You’ll find yourself wading through pages and pages of vendors trying to sell you stuff, as if knowledge for knowledge’s sake is moribund.  Even WordPress gets into the act.  If your Premium plan fills up, you’re only option is to  “upgrade” to Business or E-Commerce, where you make money on your account.  (This blog remains free.)

I don’t make any money off this blog.  I use it to share the little I’ve figured out by looking deeply at the world—quite often involving observations about religion or books—over half-a-century.  Like many academics I believe knowledge should be free (ah, but they get paid for keeping it within the walls of the university with the occasional free cookie outside.  Or better yet, a paying engagement).  I don’t go to websites to be sold anything.  I maybe want to remember what a Quisp box looked like in 1969 without wanting to special order a box.  For sure, the web is a great place to buy the things you need.  At times, however, all you’re looking for is information.  At that point your price will be the time it takes to scroll through countless pages that assume you’re here to buy, not just to browse.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Our Stories

People’s stories are interesting.  The received wisdom is that if you wish to change a politician’s mind, tell her or him a story.  In fact, it seems that we’re hardwired to enjoy stories.  That’s why it’s so unfortunate that we seldom take the time to listen to other people’s stories.  We’re too busy.  For an organization to which I belong, I recently asked that five minutes of each agenda be set aside so that one member could tell her or his story at each meeting.  That way it’s possible to get to know who it is you’re working with, without the tired “one thing nobody knows about you” trope.  The idea was adopted and it seems a worthwhile use of agenda time.  I don’t know that I’ve ever heard someone’s account and found myself anything less than fascinated.

When we reflect back over our lives, we do it in narrative format.  We tell ourselves a story about our life.  And these stories intersect with other people’s stories.  Some of those people may be famous or wealthy or ordinary, but each is unique.  Considering that there are billions of us on this planet, that’s a lot of tales.  There’s not so much a lesson to be learned from this than there is a simple reminder—it is worthwhile to listen to others.  I’ve run into a few people who are household names in my time.  Some of them are routinely criticized in the media, by people who never met them.  Who don’t know them.  Who don’t know their stories.

Much of our time at “work” is really time trying to earn money for a company.  It may involve dealing with other people, but not closely enough to really know their story.  I think of this every time an author and I could engage in a conversation about our experience of the academic life only to have to keep the discussion to “the business at hand.”  The human element, it seems, is unimportant.  I would read other people’s stories all day, if I could.  We crave a narrative, but getting one’s not a paying position.  How have we come to this place where we have time for only disconnected memes and not the stories behind them?  Bookstore owners know a perennial selling genre is the biography.  We’ll pay to know a famous person’s story.  The fact is each of our lives is also a tale worth telling.  We would all benefit from listening to each other’s experiences.  Tell your story, I’m listening.


Considering the Time

Does anybody else find the name “Office 365” ominous?  Perhaps I’ve been reading too much about Orwell, but the idea that work is waiting for you every single day of the year is worrisome.  The way people unthinkingly buy into technology is a way of being used.  Like Cassandra, however, I get the feeling I’m just talking to myself.  365 could simply mean it’s always available.  For me, however, the PC is symbolic of corporate America.  And corporate America wants everything thing you have, at least if it can be liquidated.  That includes your time.  Now that the weather’s improving I spend beautiful days sitting at a desk behind a screen.  Before I know it that beautiful day’s gone for good and I’ve not stepped outside once.  I’ve been 365ing.

An organization I know has a dysfunction.  It keeps trying to plaster on technological bandages to solve its problems.  Such bandages only pull the wounds open again when they’re yanked off.  It’s the latest thing, the new communication technology that “everyone will use.”  Only it never is.  It’s just one more app that I’ll have to learn and yet another way to invade my private time.  Time I might otherwise spend outdoors.  Look!  The sun is shining!  All day long the birds and bees fly by my windows, celebrating.  I’m sitting here scratching my head.  Yammer or Slack?  And who comes up with these stupid names?  And are they available 24/7?  Do they even take into account that human beings have to sleep?

Studies now show that people my age who routinely get less than six hours sleep a night have a greater risk of developing dementia in their seventies.  Yet Office 365 will be waiting even for them.  Those whose retirement funds were never as secure as they hoped or thought they were face a future at the Office.  It will be there, always waiting.  Like Winston my time comes at a cost.  It’s the chill, early hours of the day.  Even as I work on my personal writing (which is not even done in Word, thank you very much), I know that the Office—which now includes Teams and even holds my calendar in its icy electronic fingers—is waiting.  Perhaps, if it’s a weekend, I’ll be able to stave it off a bit.  Even if I can, however, it will be waiting 24/7, 365.  Only time outside those parameters can be called one’s own.


Artificial Priorities

Maybe it has happened to you.  Or perhaps it only affects ultra-early risers.  I’ll be in the middle of typing a blog post when a notice appears on my computer screen that my laptop will be shutting down in a few seconds for an upgrade.  Now, if you’re caught up in the strengthening chain of thinking that develops while you’re writing, you may take a little while to react to this new information.  If you don’t respond quickly enough, your computer simply quits and it will be several minutes—sometimes an hour or more—before you can pick up where you were interrupted, mid-sentence.  Long ago I decided that automatic updates were something I had to do.  Too many websites couldn’t run things properly with old systems.  It’s just that I wish artificial intelligence were a little more, well, intelligent.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I keep odd hours.  I already know that.  I’ve been trying for years to learn to sleep past the long-distance commuting hour of three a.m.  Some days I’m successful, but most days I’m not.  That means that I write these posts when computer programers assume everyone is asleep.  Doesn’t it notice that I’m typing even as it sends its ominous message?  Is there no way for automatic updates—which send you warnings the day before—can do their work at, say, midnight or one a.m., when I’m never using my computer?  Ah, but the rest of the world prefers to stay up late!  I need the uninterrupted time when few of us are stirring to come up with my creative writing, whether fictional or nonal.  So I have to tell my electronic conscience to be patient.  It can restart at ten p.m. when I’m asleep.

Wouldn’t it be easy enough to set active hours for your personal devices?  After all, they pretty much know where we are all the time.  They know the websites we visit and are able to target product advertising to try to get us to buy.  They data-mine constantly.  How is it that my laptop doesn’t know, after many years of this, that I’m always working at the same time every day?  Is there no way to convince it that yes, some people do not follow everyone else’s schedule?  What about individual service?  You know what brands I like.  You sell my information to the highest bidder.  You remember every website onto which I’ve strayed, sometimes by a poorly aimed click.  I could point out more, but I see that my computer has decided now is the time to resta


You Are Data

The dark web.  The very idea conjures up images of extremely seedy technophiles with ambitions that run from illegal to just plain inhumane.  It’s a place I never want to go.  Still, it was brought to mind by a recent article in Threat Post.  (If you ever want an excuse to unplug and curl up with your head under the blanket, Threat Post might be a good place to start.)  The particular story was about the theft of millions of users’ data from LinkedIn.  This followed shortly after major data theft from Facebook.  In the world of the web-addicted the hacker is king.  Data are used for who knows what nefarious purposes, but primarily, I suspect, to try to sell you stuff.  Anyone who’s produced something (such as, say, a book) knows how difficult it is to get that product noticed.  Forcing it into someone’s inbox is one potential way.

What bothered me the most about this story was a line from an official in cyber-protection research (not a choice of major when I was in college).  It was noted there that although the data contained no financial information, it does contain information of value, “which is why it’s not published it for free.”  Those last two words: “for free.”  Data are, apparently, available for sale.  The computer people I know (all of whom are younger than me) tell me data mining is common on everything from social media to web browsers.  When you choose to go online you’re offering information about yourself to others.  Some of them dwell in the dark web.

Personally, I don’t know what they’d want from me beyond the scary thought of getting ahold of the digits that define me.  I’m not a fan of shopping and tend to buy only what I need.  (Yes, books are a necessity.)  I have probably succumbed to purchasing something seen in an online ad once or twice, but it is generally only if a holiday’s approaching or if it’s something I’d already thought I needed.  The fact is we can get along with a lot less.  If only we knew how to grow our own food.  Which is something, I suspect, that we could look up online.  But beware, your agricultural interest will be noted, and likely sold.  There’s money to be made on the web.  And before long you’ll end up with John Deere ads tailor made to suit your interests, and liquid assets.


Holy or un?

It’s either brave or stupid.  Maybe both.  Writing about a movie you haven’t watched, I mean.  Multiple people (do I have a reputation, or what?) have pointed out to me that Good Friday (for some) is the release date for The Unholy.  Since Good Friday’s a week away I guess we’re getting an early start this year.  The Unholy is a new horror movie and although I try not to watch trailers before seeing a movie—too many of them show too much in advance—I already have a sense of what it’s about.  This post isn’t really about the movie, however.  It’s about the bigger issue.  The concern many have is that it’s being released on Good Friday.  One thing I’ve learned is that to get attention you have to shock people, no, Donald?  Getting noticed is difficult and outrage generally works.

Friday, for many, is movie night.  Good Friday is, for some Christians, a day for church.  I’ve yet to have an employer (other than Nashotah House) that recognized it as a special day at all.  Easter always falls on Sunday so there’s no need to give time off work, at least in this capitalist, Christian culture.  But if you try to release a horror movie that day, people notice.  Mel Gibson knew that crucifixion could make the basis of a horror film, and people noticed.  Sitting over here in the backwaters just outside academe, I took to horror as a means of keeping my book writing active.  One reason was that horror gets people’s attention.  (It also helps if your books are reasonably priced.)

As a young man I used to spend a good deal of Good Friday in church.  Since I was serious about school I’m thinking we probably had the day off in my district.  Attending a Christian college, followed by seminary, I suspect these also paid attention to the liturgical year.  Then in the real world I learned the truth—it’s just another day.  A day for going to work and increasing the profits for whatever company may have hired you.  When the day’s over you’ll be inclined to relax, and perhaps watch a movie.  Right now going to a theater opens the possibility for horror itself so I won’t be there on opening night for The Unholy, but I think there was some savvy thinking going on, in any case.  And it may just be that the movie was titled specifically to fit the occasion.


Being Equal Again

Things creep up on you.  Like the equinox.  It really should be a holiday, but then again today’s already Saturday.  And from today, for the next six months, there will be more light than darkness.  It was an occasion ancient cultures marked and celebrated.  For us, unless it happens to fall near Easter (it’s still a couple weeks away this year), it’s an item in the news feed and nothing more.  It is, however, an opportunity to celebrate our place in nature.  The temperatures are beginning to warm just a bit around here, despite the flecks of snow in the air just three days ago.  The more tenacious of the spring perennials have already begun to shine green.  Things have begun to come back to life.  That’s why Easter is always in the spring.

Today it will be light as much as it is dark.  Balance.  Our old wobbly earth strikes this metaphorical fulcrum twice a year, giving us a glimpse of what lies ahead.  Birds, those great prognosticators, have been showing up to let us know things are about to change.  Finches, robins, starlings, and mourning doves have been conspicuous the last few days.  Even as the dirty, icy snow piles continue to hold on in their private mountains, they too seem to know time has come to be moving on.  Change is the way of nature.  This just happens to be the half of the year when we can see what we’re doing.  At this great balancing point of the year we should take the opportunity to ask if we like where we’re heading.  Do we welcome the light?

Soon enough we’ll begin to take it for granted.  Life will continue its busy ways even as we tell ourselves summer is the time for vacations.  Perhaps so.  But let’s linger in this moment.  Take a few minutes to ponder what it means to be in balance.  Equality.  It feels like something worth celebrating.  Corporate American parsimoniously counts days that might be considered grudging respites from trying to cop a profit.  Although we’re given Christmas off it can’t abide that moving target called Easter, which always comes on a Sunday anyway.  Here in that calendrical holiday barren zone between Presidents’ and Memorial days, we’ll always find spring, if we look for it.  It’s evident in the changing of the light, even if there’s still a chill in the air.  Even as our bosses ignore it, the red buds begin to appear on the trees.


The Spiritual Life

Genuine spiritual experiences don’t sit well with a nine-to-five job.  When something truly profound happens to a person s/he requires time to think about it.  Ponder the experience.  If such a thing occurs on a Sunday (imagine that!), the next morning, still reeling, you need to go to work.  Perform duties that no longer seem significant.  And continue to do so for four more days, until the fire has gone out.  This paradox has plagued me for some time.  Perhaps it’s the fate die cast for an editor who can’t just read submissions for their financial payoff.  Who asks, “What if she’s right?”  Doesn’t that affect everything?  Especially in the case of a religion editor.

Blown away.

I first noticed this in college.  Even there the schedule was quite flexible, according to classes you had to take.  The professors were sincere in their presentation of ideas you should take seriously, but then in the work world your boss indicates that you’re not being paid to do that.  You’re being paid to produce.  Contribute to the machine.  Cogs and sprockets don’t think.  They do.  Then a significant weekend would come (or a holiday, say) where the message would really speak to me.  Change my outlook.  Until Monday morning.  The outlook would still be changed, of course, but the demands on routine would not also be changed.  It’s quite a dilemma.  As the great contemplatives throughout history have known, these ideas must be wrestled with.  Conversed with.  Tried on for size.  Walked with.  Such things can’t be done in the context of what you’re paid to do.  “Do it on your own time.”

What is your own time?  The weekend, essentially.  Work expands to fill the quiet times of weekdays.  Your time is owed to somebody who pays you less than the national average to do something any nonspiritual person could do.  Such is the danger of being open to new ways of looking at things.  Vacations need to be planned.  They are rejuvenating, but spiritual experiences can’t be planned.  They just happen.  HR has no algorithm for them.  Not exactly sick days or floating holidays.  And what if you need more than one day?  That meeting that was scheduled for Tuesday, what about that?  As if such things were really important.  Perhaps you too had the professor late for class because s/he was struggling with an idea, an experience that fit her or his specialization.  There were always office hours to recover.  That’s all fine and good, but it’s time for work.


Getting into SHAPE

The British Academy, in cooperation with a publisher or two, has taken the initiative to promote SHAPE. Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy (SHAPE) may never match the steam of STEM, but the idea is an important one.  Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics have driven society (and the job market) for many years now.  It’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re human beings and we act irrationally from time to time.  (Consider the last four years in these Untied States.)  Higher education was founded on the premises that the Humanities wouldn’t get studied on their own.  Business keeps us too busy.  Either that, or the egos of rulers lead us into war after war.  What gets left behind is the study of what makes us who we are.  The liberal arts college, learning for learning’s sake, has fallen on hard times.  What’s the profit in it?

SHAPE suggests a society suffers if it doesn’t promote social sciences—the so-call “soft sciences” that state humanity the proper study of humans—the humanities, and the arts.  The acronym itself contains a lesson “for people and the economy.”  The dismal science does, in some sense drive the initiative since we live in a world where tech does most of the work we used to.  We’re left with the non-paying business of being human.  Caring for an aging population where people live longer but aren’t given jobs that pay well enough to retire.  Looking in the mirror to see that the economy’s fruits go unfairly to those who already have too much.  The rest of us, are left to survive as, well, humans do.  Why not celebrate—and better yet, value—what people do?  Or humans for humans’ sake?

I’ve long felt that the priorities of capitalism are badly skewed.  The value of gold is artificial, one assigned by human beings and their love of shiny metals.  Our entire society is set up to, as we’re told, pursue wealth.  There is far more to life.  We humans, we love to create.  We love to socialize.  We love to help one another out.  These aren’t paid activities.  They don’t have to be commodified.  The one who goes home with the most stuff isn’t always the winner, especially when the majority of humans are left without enough.  It’s too early to tell if SHAPE will catch on, but I applaud the effort.  It is time we stopped exchanging the warmth of being human for the coldness of numbers and calculation.


International Women’s Day 2021

Changing one’s way of thinking is difficult.  So difficult that we generally don’t try it unless we’re compelled to do so.  One such compulsion is education.  Cultures that have embraced education are those that have led to great advances.  In this context it’s more than a little surprising that women’s rights are still held to be less important than those of men.  More education is required, it seems.  Today is International Women’s Day.  Of course it’s not a day off work because capitalism is all about men’s need for endless acquisition.  At least we can pause and consider for a few moments that life itself wouldn’t be possible without women, and justice, nearly worldwide, is represented in feminine form.  What can we do to make the world open its eyes to the obvious?

I read a lot about religion.  While I post here about the books I read, they are really only the tip of an iceberg.  My job largely consists of reading.  One of the themes that constantly runs through my own personal continuing education is that religion has indelibly changed our ways of thinking.  Even strident atheists today announce their stridency from a context formed by religion.  I’ve pointed out on this blog numerous times where even scientific thinking is mired in a wider context that has been constructed by religious thought.  One of those larger contexts is the subordinate role of women.  It is likely no coincidence that matriarchal cultures developed where there wasn’t a religion devised by men to impose a patriarchal governance on the world.  It’s so obvious once you learn to see it.  We need to be educated.

Women, it is obvious from an unbiased point of view, are equal to men.  As we educate ourselves further about gender and how religion has informed its perception, we come to realize that even binary assumptions—either male or female—are premature.  Underlying it all is humanity.  Human lives.  Those of men are no more important than those of women, or of those between.  Religions often like to make sharp distinctions.  Those distinctions are more abstract than reality.  The world is made up of real people and roughly half of them are female.  Today is set aside to recognize and celebrate that fact.  To recognize the contributions women have always made to society and civilization.  Let’s take the opportunity to educate ourselves, and  let’s be conscious of the fact that women are just as valuable as men and their foibles.  More than that, let’s put this truth into practice.


Ode to Snow Days

Once upon a time there were special gifts called “snow days.”  On these special days no one was required to report to school or work.  It was a caesura to late capitalism, albeit a brief one, in which the forces of nature triumphed over making everyone “go out” to work or school.  The pandemic has, of course, eliminated snow days.  Never again will there be the excuse of “I left my laptop at the office,” or “the roads are unsafe.”  The evil monster that enslaved all mortals of a certain class had won.  No brave knight, wearing mittens or not, dared face this great beast, and so nobody lived happily ever after.

There is a moral to this story.  Well, not so much a moral as an addendum.  During snow days we had time for our civic duty of clearing sidewalks of snow.  I begin work before the sun comes up, and consequently I don’t stay awake very late.  Over the past few days we’ve had several inches of snow.  It began falling Sunday morning, and it fell through Tuesday morning.  I had to take time out of my usual work schedule to shovel in the morning.  By that point it was already six inches at least of the kind of snow that’s so heavy that it starts to turn blue beneath the surface.  I hurried back to work since I had a couple morning meetings.  The snow continued to fall.  I normally don’t take a lunch break, but I had to on Monday, just to stay ahead of the snow.  After work, just before dark, I was out in it again.

The snow day, in other words, isn’t just about time off from work.  It’s also about taking care of things that need to be done in a weather emergency.  The idea of remote work being work without ceasing has really caught on during the pandemic.  Without office walls to constrain it, capitalism is free to take over our private spaces—and our civic duties—as well.  The dearly departed snow day was more than just a lark.  For younger couples it meant being home to take care of the kids when school was cancelled.  In other words, it was a day to acknowledge that weather is still in control.  We do need that reminder once in a while.  The snow out there is pretty.  It’s also deep.  More than that, it is even a symbol.


Mothers’ Instinct

Maternity leave (not for me, but still) demonstrates just how sexist capitalism is.  This becomes very clear in publishing where schedules are reinforced by incentives (instead of paying properly) for meeting agreed-upon deadlines.  If an author gets pregnant while writing a book—not an unusual situation—it can throw shockwaves all through a book’s schedule from production all the way back up to editorial.  Why?  Because incentives are on the line.  It’s possible to counter with what if an author falls sick?  Or dies?  Yes, these happen too, but pregnancy isn’t an illness and isn’t infrequently a biologically constrained event—there is an age at which it ceases to become an issue.  So incentives, which are based on schedules drawn up before an author conceives, put the capitalist machine into a tizzy.

If employers didn’t rely on incentives, but paid better wages, this could make the issue less acute.  The entire system is devised from a male perspective.  Sickness and death do occur from time to time, but the invariability of a schedule (which ironically takes about nine months) is based on a view that doesn’t account for the somewhat likely event of a pregnancy.  I often think about this.  The corporate structure was made by men, for men.  We now give lip-service to equality while refusing to change the masculinist structure that underlies it.  By doing so the valuable contributions and improvements that women might make are kept under the standard business model.  No wonder it feels like we’re stuck in a rut.

Societal change is generally slow, and that conservative tendency preserves our property and our means of making a living.  If we gave women more prominence in leadership I would hope that this would start to change.  The male-oriented viewpoints of the capitalist entrepreneur, the stolid religious leader, and the halls of government, and even education, are reluctant to let people think differently.  We want to move forward, but we’re afraid of losing what we have.  This is why the conversation needs to widen.  Maternity leave reminds us that some things are more important than work.  Care for a helpless human being is something nearly all people would support.  It’s when they grow up that society feels it can safely ignore their needs.  We need a mother’s wisdom here.  Every time a pregnancy sets publication schedules in a frenzy I ask myself why we have to rely on incentives beyond just being the most human that we can be.