Work matters.

“All honest work is honorable.”  My Dad.

An area manager for a large insurance company tried to recruit me to be a sales agent last week. He kept talking about how my qualifications didn’t match my work history. “Whenever someone takes humbling work, it is usually because they are afraid to try for more.”

“Humbling work.” He stopped just short of saying that political phone work is menial labor.

It’s not. Not if you do it right.

Phone banking requires a specific set of skills. You have to have a skin thick enough to let the sometimes nasty abuse roll off your back and sensitive enough to be compassionate towards people facing tragedy and understanding towards voters struggling to figure out what is going on in their world. You have to read the unspoken echoes in a voter’s voice to see whether they meant it when they said yes or if they were just trying to get you off the phone. You have to have great customer service skills. You have to be able to explain why your candidate or your proposition will make the world a better place; most voters want their world to be a better place, even if they have different views than you do of what that means. You have to sell a person or a concept (and the person often represents a concept).

Calling for campaigns is sales plus. Selling in person allows the luxury of observing body language. And at the end of the day, the voters get benefits that however important are nebulous. They don’t end up with a timeshare in Hawaii.

A chunk of people we call think we’re helping the cause of representative democracy, a large chunk find us annoying but useful, a smaller but no less significant (and more vocal) chunk think that on the great taxonomic scale of life we fall somewhere between used car salesmen and pond scum.*  Each campaign I’ve worked I’ve talked to voters who fall into each of those groups.

The job is not for everyone. I still remember the woman who started work in one campaign, who quit at lunchtime her first day, saying “I don’t see how you people can do this.”

We can do this because what we do matters. I work local government issues, and as I tell voters, the President is important, but your city council can determine how bad your daily commute is. What I don’t say, or say only to people who share my political leanings, is that this is where change happens. This is where we start fighting for everyday people.

The rise of the Tea Party was not unforeseeable. Archconservatives started in city councils, and school boards, and county commissions, before they moved onto state legislatures and Congress. They played a long game; progressives need to do the same, rather than displaying the political attention span of a rabid squirrel.

A deeper issue arises from the insurance manager’s disdainful statement, however.

I risk alienating people by “admitting” that I do this work. I risk people thinking less of me. When I went to my law school reunion, I made a conscious decision to talk about what I do. I often started with “I’m a professional pest,” before explaining. Some people seemed a bit uncomfortable, but most let me rattle on about Santa Clara County politics. That I even considered lying about work, or skipping my reunion altogether so I wouldn’t have to, shows how much I have internalized societal hierarchies of labor respectability.

Simply because a job requires extensive training or pays a lot of money does not mean that the person performing that job matters more than someone lower down. The CEO may make a tremendous amount of money, but their Executive Assistant makes it possible. I have come to understand that, legal education notwithstanding, I am by temperament designed to be in a support role.**  Which does not mean I’m not smart, or resourceful, or talented, or creative, or able to manage people. Good support personnel are all that and more.

And I’m good.

No matter how I feel about it, I am not my job. Life is richer than the hours I spend at work. There are people who live for their job, and if they are happy that way, then good for them. We should not expect all of us to follow their example.

There is dignity in work. All work. Even “humbling work.” All work is honorable, and each worker who strives to do a good job, be that a bricklayer or the President of the United States, deserves our respect.

Competence should be celebrated, wherever it is found.

*One voter had the following voicemail message: “Hi, please leave a message. Unless you are a telemarketer or a political caller, in which case you really need to get another job.”

**Preferably a relatively high level support role. I may the only person I know who feels she was designed to be a middle manager. I have also been told I am a terrific Muse, but I can’t really put that on my resume.

Posted in Social Issues, Work! | Tagged , | 1 Comment


I do not know where I fit, religion-wise. I feel sometimes I have walked so long in the darkness that God has stopped looking for me. (Note to my more faith-filled friends: please don’t tell me how wrong I am. I know what doctrine says. This is how I feel.)

That said, I think hymns can be life-affirming and comforting. I have an entire playlist called “Spiritual,” and while it has a lot of secular music, it also includes “Be Thou My Vision,” “Seek Ye First,” and the sublime Cat Stevens version of “Morning had Broken.”  My favorite Christmas songs are religious: “Angels we Have Heard on High,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” and especially “What Child Is This?”

I have a new hymn: Jordan Smith’s version of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” from his performance on The Voice. His a cappella opening gives me chills. (Note: on his studio version, Smith accompanies himself on piano the entire song. It’s still really good.)

Although the fact-checkers on the show need to do a better job: “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” was written by Thomas O. Chisolm in 1923,. not by Selah.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise), God faith and theology, Music | 1 Comment

Cities of the heart.

The Hotel de Nice sits at 42 Bis, Rue d’ Rivoli, in Paris’s 4th Arrondissement. It’s a fashionable part of town, from what I’ve read; I just liked that it was easy to get to Notre Dame and the Musee d’ Orsay. The Rocket Scientist and I stayed there a couple of times, and we joke that it is “our” Parisian hotel.  When we went to Paris in 2008 with the kids, we stayed further out, in the 10th Arrondissement, near the Metro station. I spent my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary in Paris, eating dinner at a small bistro on the Left Bank.

I have walked streets in a lot of different parts of Paris. It is a badge of honor to me that I have driven in Paris, too, the reputation of Parisian drivers notwithstanding. (In all truthfulness, I find the drivers in Madrid to be crazier.)

The Alexander Bridge and the Eiffel Tower figure prominently on my sidebar.  I didn’t just put those pictures up this week, either.

Paris, as a city, matters to me. The attacks of last week hurt, because it was Paris.

All of us claim cities in our hearts. In some cases, it’s because we have lived there, in some cases because our memories of that place bring us happiness or insight.

On my Facebook page, I have friends who decry people, like myself, who are more upset about the terrorism in Paris than the suicide bombings in Beirut or Baghdad. We’re Eurocentric. We’re racist.

Maybe. Part of my reduced interest in Beirut and Baghdad comes from outrage fatigue: although the loss of lives there is tragic, and all lives lost to terrorism are to be mourned, the Middle East is an unsolvable, violent, puzzle. Yes, Lebanon has been relatively stable, but still, Beirut is a lot closer to the epicenter of all of this than Paris is. Am I being ignorant? Probably. Eurocentric? Possibly. Racist? Maybe.*

But … Paris. Paris has become a city of my heart.

Terrorism occurring in Paris makes me sad in a way I would not be had the terrorists attacked Vienna or Berlin. I would have been almost as sad had the attacks happened in Amsterdam. (I was sad when London was bombed.) I would have been sadder had they happened in Seville.

I would have been absolutely devastated had a terrorist attack of this scale happened in Madrid.**

It is the same in the United States: I was heartbroken by the Boston Marathon bombing, but I would have been very much less upset had the bombing happened in Dallas. I have heard about Dallas; I have lived in, and loved, Boston.

I would feel the same pain about an attack in San Francisco, or D.C., or Atlanta. Or New Orleans. Or anywhere in the state of Florida.

Cities of the heart claim us. Paris has claimed me.

And so, I stand with the people of France, because you have given me the grace of your great city. May God bless you and keep you.

*The Paris attack reminded me of the attacks in Mumbai, which filled me with absolute horror. Like Paris, there was a feeling that “these things don’t really happen there.” So, it is not merely a matter of skin color.

**The Atocha train bombings happened in March, 2004. I first visited Madrid in September. The bombings made me sad then, but if something similar happened today my heart would break. As bad as the Paris terrorist attacks were, the Madrid attack eclipses them: 191 dead, 1,800 injured, the worst terrorist bombing in Europe since the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.


Posted in nothing special, The World, Travel (real or imaginary) | Tagged | Leave a comment

Pandering sometimes works.

I love going to the farmer’s market on Sunday morning. I spend more than I usually would for the same produce as in the grocery store, but that’s only because I don’t buy organic at Safeway. Organics at the farmer’s market are cheaper.  And I can’t get Rainbow Farms fresh apple cider or Acme bread* at the supermarket. (I can’t get the cider for half the year at the farmer’s market, for that matter: they only sell it during the fall and winter.)

But most of all I love to people watch. All sorts of people go to the market; all ages, all enthnicities. The market gives a snapshot of the diversity which I love so much about this city, which is being eroded by insane housing prices and low wages** for non-tech workers.

Best of all are the families with small children. Four-year-olds with huge eyes holding tight to their dad’s hand while tasting a strawberry or sample of persimmon. Babies in strollers looking bored with the market but fascinated with their own toes.

The farmer’s market always has a musician playing. I usually tip buskers on general principle, but for whatever reason (probably because I usually do not go past where they are set up) I don’t often tip these guys.  The guitarist who was there this morning was pretty good, and was set up right near the Acme truck, so I was going to toss a little bit his way, when I was through standing in line to get my pain epi and sourdough loaves. (Long lines, but so worth it.)

Then a little boy who appeared to be about three showed up. The musician smiled warmly at him, talked to him for a minute, and then launched into one of the best versions of “Wheels on the Bus” I’ve ever heard, which was broadcast through the market. I mentally decided to double the musician’s tip for being so sweet to the little boy. Until he got to the last verse, which he sang as  “[spoken]This is totally shameless , but… [sung] when the people get off they tip their musician, tip their musician, tip their musician…”

I quadrupled his tip. The man deserved it.

*You can get some Acme bread at the local Costco, but not the particular varieties we eat.

**I am happy to report that the Mountain View City Council voted last week to have a $15 city-wide minimum wage by 2018.

Posted in nothing special | Leave a comment

Gaining time. Gaining serenity.

Tonight the clocks are turned back. In a few hours, we will gain the sixty minutes we lost in March. It’s not much.

It’s one of my favorite days of the year.

Night is gentle, closing around like a cape full of stars. Daylight hurts, sometimes physically, always mentally. Summer makes me crazy — I do not have enough dark to recover from the light. Winter makes me calm.

Which is not to say, I don’t feel sadness, or pain, or depression during the winter. I do. But being able to walk open-eyed into my yard and not feel my skin crawling, as I sometimes do on the hottest and brightest days of summer and fall, makes everything better, more manageable.

People seem confused when I celebrate the summer solstice with gladness (the days will be getting shorter!) or the winter solstice, as beautiful and spirit-filling as it is, with a vague sadness, knowing that before too long the sunshine will stretch across the sky from early to late. Everyone seems to understand being depressed in the winter; they seem to reject the notion that summertime is just as bad for me.

I have friends who will be turning on their light boxes next week. They’ll be trying to recreate the sun they so desperately need. For some of them, November and December brings the same sort of pain that I feel in July and August. I’ll remember that. I’ll be sympathetic as they strive to cope with the winter nights.

I only hope they’ll do the same when I struggle with the summer days.

Posted in nothing special | 1 Comment

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I despair of my country.

I have great hope for my country.

I despair of a country where two leading Republican candidates for President demonstrate a manifest unsuitability for that position, and engage in fear-mongering, misdirection, and outright falsehoods to bolster their popularity.

I hope for a country where the two leading Democrat candidates for President seem to understand the issues facing us, and offer solutions instead of blaming outsiders.

I despair of a country where guns are cheap and easily obtainable, and where when a mass shooting occurs our only response is to call for increased mental health services (all while mental health services across the country get cut).

I have hope that most of us have hit a breaking point, and that both gun control and mental health will get the attention and funding they deserve.

I despair of a country where forty-two percent of the populace do not believe in evolution.

I have hope that the increasing numbers of STEM graduates can make headway against the ignorance.

I despair of a country where young black men and women get harassed and killed by police officers all too frequently.

I have hope for a country where the Black Live Matters movement flourishes.

I despair of a country where a state can go to desperate lengths to get drugs just so they can kill somebody.

I have hope for a country where a state as red as Nebraska can decide that the death penalty is in no one’s interest.

I despair of a country that imprisons more of its people than any other in the Western world.

I hope for a country where calls for dealing with mass incarceration seem to increase daily.

For all our fear, for all our insularity, we have within us the promise that we can be great again. Not in the jingoistic, bullying way that Donald Trump would have us be, but as a good and ethical people who no longer shy away from our history.

I despair. I hope.

Posted in nothing special | Leave a comment


Dear New York Mets:

Thank you thank you thank you thank you. Even if the whole country wanted the Cubs to win the NLCS, you are still my Mets and I am very happy you are going to the World Series.

Just four more.


Maybe your only fan in Silicon Valley.


Dear AirBnB:

Corporate taxes — and hotel taxes fall into that category — are not donations. You don’t get brownie points for actually having paid them, especially since you fought for years to avoid doing so.  The billboards passively-agressively hinting so are obnoxious.

Also, the fact that you ran these while in the middle of an election that could have a large effect on your bottom line showed …. incredibly poor political judgment. Don’t you have consultants who vet these sort of things for you?


Someone who has a lick of political sense, unlike you guys.


Dear Sean Hannity (and, by extension, Donald Trump):

For heaven’s sake, check your sources. Repeating statistics off of fake news websites just makes you look like an idiot.  Although I’m not sure I care….

….except there are far too many people who rely on you for their world outlook. Stirring up resentment against the administration for things they’re not even doing may be par for the course with you, but it’s bad for the country.

Not that I think you care about that.


A person who actually knows how to read stuff on the Internet.


Dear Ben Carson:

Stop using the Nazis rhetorically. It’s offensive, and you have your facts wrong to boot. The Nazis did not restrict gun ownership except among Jews; in fact, they loosened the gun regulations that existed before Hitler took office. 

Somehow, I don’t think you’ll care much about that.


A history major.


Dear Hillary:

I have not always been a fan, but I have to say you were mighty impressive in the ten-hour circus that was your grilling by (half of) the Select Committee on Benghazi. By staying calm, no matter how ridiculous and repetitive the Republicans’ questions were, you gave a master class in political cool.

I’m still rooting for Bernie, though.


Not quite won over.


Dear Tammy Duckworth:

Wow. You managed to wrap a softball question up in tough sounding words so it actually looked like you were going after Clinton. I am assuming that her hitting it out of the park was your intended result.


Someone who would be very happy to have you as my representative.


Dear Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney, and everyone else who doesn’t know how the tax code works:

Stop using “taxes” when you really mean income taxes. Even people you despise for not paying income taxes are on the hook for payroll taxes, and excise taxes (not to mention state and local taxes, which are generally regressive).

And, even if what you said was true, and the top one percent paid forty-five percent of all taxes, I’m okay with that; they possess as much wealth as the bottom 90%.




And finally…..

Dear CSI: Miami* writers:

No one, but no one, who lived in Miami would ever use the phrase “down to St. Pete.” St. Petersburg is over 250 miles northeast, taking I-75 across Alligator Alley and up the west side of the state. Next time, either say “up to St. Pete” or “down to Key West.” Sheesh.

I guess that’s what you get by being based in L.A.; still, given how many years the show was on before this episode, you could have looked a map sometime.


Someone who lived there who knows basic geography.
*Yes, I know, CSI:Miami went off the air in 2012. I still watch episodes, in no small part because I like the stock shots of south Florida. (The interiors are all shot in California.)

Posted in nothing special | Leave a comment