This week Life liked me. Gran’s neighbor went to take a shower and got shocked by the shower head. Not a little static shock. Not an electrocution. But more of “This is bad. I’m not adding water.” They called me to ask if we’d had problems. I said no. But, I told them it sounded like a loose ground wire and to get an electrician out right away. They did. It was. The cause was wind, and they thought Gran’s tree rubbing on the wire to their house. Thus opportunity arose. I agreed and told them of course we’d pay the trimmer.
Because a near death could have happened if our neighbors had just turned on the water and stepped in the shower, Gran was onboard with a trimmer. But ONLY for their side of the tree. I got a trimmer in right away. He did the tree, just on the neighbor’s side. But, while he was there, and Gran was napping, I had him pull down the widowmakers and the dead crow. Win, win. Gran never noticed they were gone. But I was glad. The winds keep blowing through a gale and knowing the tree won’t cut off anyone’s power (electrocute anyone) or set anything on fire, is a good feeling.
This week also, I got Gran’s and my taxes done. Win-win. I love forms. It’s one of my quirks. Anyone in the family needs a form filed out? I’m your gal. I’ve been doing forms for my parents since about age 10. I think I thought of it as coloring, in a specific way. It involved pens and paper. I was happy. Business permits, medical billing, building applications, if it was a form, I was on it. But I’ll admit, tax prep can be tough. Thank God for Turbo Tax. I love those people.
I always do family taxes early because who needs that hanging over their heads for months on end. Give my ability to procrastinate is a high art, you’d think I’d wait. But no. I want the government to have what I owe to fund all those things that make life good for people, or to get back what I overpaid (so I sort of loaned the govt money to do good things).The way 2020 went, I imagine a lot of people are going to be due a refund this year, thus getting taxes in early means beating the rush. Not that I think the IRS won’t pay up, but…doing it early is recommended and prevents possible tax return theft (so I’m told).
This week I’ve been looking at my planner, trying to decide what to do there. I think in January it did help. It seems to have made me a little more productive, but more important, less stressed about things I need to do. People don’t mention that when the talk about planners, but having and seeing a to-do list, a plan (even if it doesn’t work out exactly to spec), gives a sense of peace. It’s there, there’s a designated time to deal with it. You don’t feel hassled or harried about it. I like that. But planners don’t have to be for just that sort of thing.
To be frank, by February my planner, while having standard to-do stuff in it, morphed into a less plan-y planner. By that I mean, I started putting in things that were helpful and meaningful to me. Most people have habit trackers, to keep on track with exercise or diet. And those are great. But I veered off into keeping track of things I read, or wanted to read. And what I thought about those things, marginalia. Music I heard that moved me, that I might purchase. Quotes I liked. Creative ideas I had, that I wanted to pursue. People (or places) I wanted to reach out to and thank for making my life better in some way. Gratitude. Even if it’s just a tweet to some actor, musician, author whose work moved me or some aquarium or zoo post that made me laugh.
Personally I think this was the SO’s subtle scheme all along. I’m notorious for leaving my thoughts on scraps of paper everywhere. I mean every-where. The SO is forever gathering them up (because he knows they are important to me) and placing them in my overflowing In Basket on my desk in my tiny library office. Now these things end up in my planner. Or, the mostly do. And I find that really helpful. And I know the SO finds it really helpful not to find a haiku riffed on a newspaper margin, torn away and left in a random mug (for safe keeping, I knew it was there) when he sleepily pulls down a mug and splashes his morning coffee into it. (I used waterproof ink. And if he’d dried the dishes and put them away . . . .)
As we headed toward Lent, a friend told my about the Monk’s Manual. I was already planning to use the online daily prayer site Sacred Space (which has a Lent 2021 retreat section). But I checked out the MM. I’ll be honest, conceptually it’s a good idea. In its current format, it comes off as overpriced tat for navel-gazing rich white Christians. It’s really not. It’s more a Benedictine reflective, Ora et Labora. My friend was right to recommend it. I think it’s a really good springboard. But $38? For a leather bound quarterly? ($38 x 4 = $152!) If it’s really a good idea, for everyone, there should be a cheap $10 paperback version you can put (or not) in the sleeve of your choice. But I digress, conceptually, a planner can be a way of discovering yourself, and encountering God (of your choice or not), through your daily life.
I’m thinking about doing something like that with March, because it’s Lent all next month. I like Lent. I know that’s weird, but I think of it as Spring Cleaning for the soul. It’s a chance to get in all those dark corners and clear out stuff that’s holding us down or back. But it’s not only that. It’s a chance to adventure, to discover what’s really there. Sometimes, yes, it could be bad, and we must deal with that but often it’s good. There are forgotten wonders in the soul, waiting to be found and treasured again. People have a lot of fear of the unknown, within, but the soul is like the globe. You shouldn’t be afraid to sail out for fear of falling off the edge. Great continents of joy await. And you will eventually circle back.
A lot of people are locked in fear now. The pandemic has done a number on folks. But again it’s understandable, the uncertainty, the unknown, all that can create fear in people. And this is made worse when others, deeply damaged people with power, make it their mission to megaphone fear, instead of reality, simply to cling to power or financial benefit. Believers in such puffery can get stuck in a deeply fearful, childlike mindset. Religion, true religion, is often a way of liberation, a way out of that created dependence. Think how many times Jesus enjoined us to “fear not.”
Sometimes however, religion itself becomes means of staying stuck in a familiar fear rather than face truth. They call that spiritual bypass. It’s burying the truth under supposed religious devotion. A man goes to war, he returns to find his fiancée has married the local butcher. In response, he becomes a priest, moves to a very poor So American country, and sets up an orphan boys’ school. Spiritual bypass. On the outside, erudite compassionate priest. On the inside, unresolved emotional pain. That’s not helpful either.
Anyone wanting to read a great article on getting free of fear, might want to check out Dr Aura Glaser‘s Into the Demon’s Mouth. Yes, it’s in Tricycle, a Buddhist magazine. Yes, Dr Glaser is a TB. Yes, it’s a TB story. Just read it. But I digress. For March, I’m thinking of using Jim Manney‘s, 2011, A Simple, Life-changing Prayer. It’s in the Ignatian Jesuit vein. I ordered a copy of the slender 96-pg book to review. We’ll see if it makes it into the planner. It’s arriving today. This was my last order from Amazon.com. In future, I’ll be ordering from Barnes and Noble or other resellers directly.
I’m appalled by all the anti-union activity Amazon has got going on in Alabama. Paying bonuses to people to quit, so they lose their union voting rights. Putting up fake boxes to trick workers into losing their ballot. Harassing emails and texts. Even in the bathrooms. It’s just too disgusting. It’s frankly massive voter suppression and intimidation — of the GOP kind. So, no thanks. Can’t support your company until your workers are able to FREELY exercise their right to form (or not) a union. I don’t care what the people in Alabama choose, but the choice must be freely, fairly, totally theirs.
I’ve never been a union member. My grandfathers were both in unions. I never thought much about them, unions, till last week, when I was talking to a friend in the OC. She was telling me people at her company were thinking of starting union. I was surprised. It’s a big company, pretty good reputation, and a non-profit. I didn’t know a non-profit could unionize. When I asked what had led to this thinking, I was deeply shocked, because I have a long-standing membership with this company. She said at first things were fine. When the pandemic hit, they were all deemed essential workers, so they kept working, mostly from home. And the company kept everyone on.
The company always ran a very tight, hired only when absolutely necessary, and stopped hiring and didn’t replace anyone who left or retired or … died of covid. So, all good, for awhile. Then things opened up and case loads began to go up, way up, to normal levels. But they didn’t have normal levels of staff. So cases backed up. Customers complained. Managers said, “let them.” The company wasn’t hiring till it knew the pandemic wasn’t going to cause another shut down. So case workers worked as hard as they could. Doing up to 3x their normal, expected, required load. And then came the employee reviews.
Employees were told they would not get their expected annual increases, despite doing way more work, because of poor customer service, ie , “customer complaints.” Yeah. The company caused the complaints, then used the complaints to deny workers annual pay raises. That was bad. A lot employees were very upset and began calling in sick. I could understand that. I think it was made worse by the fact this nonprofit company has like $20 billion in assets, and made $2 billion in profit in the past pandemic year. So union talk began. And then things got worse.
The terrible winter storm hit Texas. Since the company works with Texas as well as California and other states, the company went into catastrophe mode. She told me the company offered overtime to everyone, last weekend, to help Texans out. But, after the company offered the OT, the managers turned around and told employees that they should use that approved OT to clear up their California, backlogged cases. Say what now? People asked. They’d bill OT, used for California cases, under the Texas catastrophe.
People didn’t want to do overtime, clearing California cases but charging it off to the Texas catastrophe. A) It was wrong. B) It wouldn’t help Texans. C) This would make it appear that California managers had gotten more work out of their California employees to close California cases without it costing California’s budget any extra money. So, the only end result for the already maxed out employees would be getting told the company didn’t need to hire more people because clearly the current staff could handle things, without OT. That staff were lazy and not doing enough. While at the same time, managers would get their annual increase for “motivating their lazy teams.”
This brings me to Texas. However despicable you think the Amazon in Alabama, or the company in California, remember ERCOT in Texas. They failed to do basic things to prepare for a terrible storm, in the face of knowledge the storm was coming, and then when grids failed, they charged the remaining connected people exorbitant amounts for power, even though it was ERCOT’s poor planning and decisions alone which created the conditions that caused the grids to fail and that triggered the price spike! They literally killed their own customers. Then turned around and charged them thousands of dollars. Level of disgust, 10 out of 10.
So why am I bothering to tell you these tales? I guess because I want people to know that the United States are all interconnected. We Americans are all interconnected. Bad laws in one state, impacts the lives of people other states. Bad treatment of employees in one state, impacts the lives of people in other states. Poverty in one state, hurts all states. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Martin Luther King, Jr). The $15 minimum wage, the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the ERA, Climate Change bills, universal healthcare, these are good for all Americans. Government regulation, unions, they’re public goods.
Those that squawk and cluck, are just not able to grasp reality. Remember when Papa John’s founder John Schnatter said he’d close all his pizza stores if Obamacare passed? That he’d have to do it because he couldn’t afford to do right by his employees and give them health benefits? That was just a load of bull pucky. PJ’s has 300 more US stores now than it did before Obamacare. And Schnatter’s worth $1 billon today. Obamacare didn’t hurt him at all. But it did help millions of Americans.
Joe Biden ran as a pro-union candidate. His response to Amazon’s union-busting tactics? Crickets. It’s very disappointing. But, I will do what I can to remain supportive of those democratic efforts of others and positive about the outcomes for all Americans. It’s the best thing anyone can do right now. I get pizza from anywhere but a Papa John’s. I get books from B&N or other retailers. I send my friend in the OC links to how to start a union (but she said they’re afraid of company reprisals, for now.) Most of all, I live in hope.
I get up everyday. I make my bed. And I sing a riff of Scrooge, “I love life, life loves me. I want to live to a hundred and three.” Life is a gift, but you can only benefit from it if your present. This Lent, makes some time to be present in your own life. Once you do that, you just might be surprised how much Life likes you.