Do What You Love

A very long time ago, I read a book entitled: Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. I’m a firm believer in following your passion, but practically speaking, I can’t say that I agreed that money will necessarily follow. Has my passion for dance, writing, or foreign languages led to a career? Okay, I have used my knowledge of Hebrew to make money teaching and tutoring. Perhaps, the problem is that I have too many interests (I haven’t actually listed all the things that spark me).

Due to some recent experiences, however, I am discovering how money might follow. If you follow your passion, you will want to spend a lot of time doing it. For the last few years, I have pursued my desire to create a website that fills a need for people who have left their orthodox religion (i.e. have gone Off the Derech). I jumped at the chance to work with other OTDers up the coast (in New York) and across the pond (in Europe) to make a professional looking site, despite the fact that none of us were web experts. With young kids and one with special needs, it was hard for me to find the time to contact and collaborate with my compatriots. Despite the length of time it has taken (and we have not yet reached our goal) we have persisted.  

That great cliche, practice makes perfect, is quite true, and in fact, despite a lack of formal education in the subject, I am starting to see myself as technologically adept. This improvement in my abilities has resulted in a certain pride in my work. Thanks to this growing confidence, when inevitably faced with new challenges, I was not afraid to try new tactics and seek out more information.

I can see how through multiple such experiences and expansion of one’s knowledge, one will start to identify oneself as an expert in an area. It might take years, but eventually, with that confidence and expertise one will be ready to market one’s skills, and yes, money might follow.

In the last few months, with my kids finally in school full-time [last year was hard because my son had to be home-schooled half the year, till we found a suitable educational environment; having a special needs child means that I am always on call, and I could go on, but that is for another post], I have been increasingly looking for fulfilling work outside the home. Money alone will never be the motivating factor, though, at least for me. Humans seek many things, and survival, attaining basic needs, is primal. But beyond that, motivation comes from the pride of a doing a job well, and the dignity of knowing our own self-worth. So yes, I have looked at job listings, in all sorts of fields, that I am somewhat qualified in, but finding that spark of motivation to pursue a job, that hasn’t been so easy. I did not feel the synergy of pride with the skills required to do a particular job.

[As an aside, money is in a sense a social representation of the value of your pursuits, and yet we can be paid far less than our labors’ real worth, and still feel fulfilled.  I won’t deny, though, that at some level, the lower wages of child-care workers, as opposed to a business executive, for example, can affect one’s own sense of value.]

A week or so ago, I decided to help out with a new organization’s website. I’ve written about attending the local meeting of this organization and my timid acknowledgement that I might like to run for office. Beyond that, however, I have become increasingly relied upon to edit and upload content for their very professionally done website. I had some self-doubt at first, but I was reassured that I knew more than enough to get started. Along with restarting this blog and maintaining my commitment to self-expression, I am starting to identify myself as a writer and web content editor. I am fascinated by this new perception of myself as a professional. It took many years, persistence, willingness to practice skills, but slowly, I see how at some point, yes, if I do what I love, the money will follow.

Policy position #1

A few days ago, I admitted I might like to run for political office. So if I am to run for office, I will need to put down on paper exactly where I stand on the issues. Of course, my current stance might change as I learn more about how things work in our particular community. However, I will at least attempt to delineate my core values, while also learning about what is important to my constituents.

I am going to begin with the issue of housing. I have stable housing: I own a house, albeit with a mortgage, so the bank can claim ownership if I fail to pay down my mortgage. Not everyone is so lucky to have this stability when it comes to shelter. Reliable housing requires reliable income, something not always available for various reasons. One’s ability to save money determines if one can save up for a mortgage, or will need to rent. Then based on one’s regular income, is determined the affordability of various options.

Right now, the options available, particularly for those who are unable to save money to obtain a mortgage, are severely restricted, if not non-existent, if one has a low income. In our area, the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is about $1,000. In addition to simply covering the amount of at least $12,000/year, many landlords require the renter  to have an income considerably higher than their actual income, so assuming roughly 50% in their income goes to rent, now we are talking about needing to verify income of at least $24,000/year. Of course this assumes that $12,000/year is enough to cover food, clothing, transportation and utilities that are necessities. Oh, I haven’t even included basic health care or child care costs ( or higher education costs, if you went to college and have a debt to pay back).

So let’s think about it. Let’s say you are a single parent, with two kids and work a minimum-wage job, 40 hours a week. You make $15,000/year. In our area, few if any landlords would accept your application, your children would probably go hungry and you would probably not even be able to afford child care to work those 40 hours/week. Now, if you are a parent with school-aged children, available hours to work would go down even further, but with no money left for food, clothing, and all the other necessities mentioned above.

So what do people in that situation do? Well, housing gets crowded and sometimes illegal. Desperate families move in with their relatives, who may not even legally be allowed to take in additional residents (many landlords and city regulations have restrictions on occupancy).  I know personally of such a case, and I tried to help by searching for local rentals, even tried to imagine how I could rent out a portion of my own home, but that would mean either lack of privacy for my own family, or allowing someone to take up residence in a basement without easy outside access and no bathroom or kitchen. So it could be done, if I had a walk out basement with at least a bathroom, which I don’t. This family is currently on a two-year waiting list for an affordable housing voucher, and meanwhile, would be homeless if not for relatives willing to risk their own housing by taking them in illegally.

If we go to the next level, a family that is making enough to afford basic housing, they are still unable to ever save up enough money to put down a mortgage for their own home. In the past, the American dream of owning one’s own home, was much more attainable, but no longer.

So what do we do about housing? First of all, half of the funds currently being spent by our government towards affordable housing subsidies are in the form of mortgage deductions. I don’t know about you, but if I can afford a mortgage, I can probably still afford to live in my house without that deduction. It doesn’t make housing more affordable for those who do not have reliable housing. If we got rid of the mortgage deduction, that money could be put to doubling the amount for housing vouchers. That would possibly cut my friend’s wait time in half, from 2 years to 1 year.

The next thing to be aware of is where these housing vouchers end up being used. If one lives in my area, it is likely that section 8 is looked down upon (landlords are not required to accept the vouchers), and therefore almost unusable. This has the effect of segregating low-income families to certain areas that have fewer economic opportunities, fewer well-paying jobs, struggling schools, less opportunity for upward mobility.

So what is the way forward for housing vouchers? Official public housing projects have been plagued by problems, but still there is a need. Public housing needs to be integrated into local communities in a way that doesn’t create problems for the neighborhood. One way of doing this is to require new housing developer to set aside a certain percentage of the development for affordable housing. This is being done in individual counties in Maryland, such as Montgomery county and needs to be a part of all city and county planning.

Okay, I’ve talked my head off about one issue that I am very concerned about. Many other issues such as income, education, child care, health care are intricately bound up with the issue of housing. So there really needs to be a comprehensive plan covering all these issues, but I will start by trying to address individual issues, and hopefully, over time a thorough, integrated plan will developed. For now, I would appreciate any thoughts and experiences that you would like share.

Some References:

Affordable housing program in Montgomery county: http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dhca/housing/singlefamily/mpdu/program_summary.html

Mortgage deduction reform: http://nlihc.org/article/letter-editor-how-make-housing-more-affordable

Rent affordability: http://money.cnn.com/2016/06/22/real_estate/rent-affordability-housing-harvard/

40 times rent rule:

http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/011916/i-make-50k-year-how-much-rent-can-i-afford.asp

2.5 times gross income qualification : http://www.cbtownandcountry.com/rental-qualifications/

Waking Up to Racism

Liberal white people, that includes myself, we have been asleep. We proudly voted for Obama, shared the hashtag #blacklivesmatter with our friends, and now we wear a safety pin and pat ourselves on the back for being anti-bigotry. Yet, racism persists, and incomprehensibly, appears to have a resurgence.

Subtle racism has been all around us, but too often we chose to ignore it. Now, we hear Trump supporters or others from the alt-right being less than subtle, and are appalled. But have we consistently challenged their racist thinking? When faced with inappropriate behavior towards people of color, did we keep quiet, so as not to make waves, and inadvertently approve this behavior?

Our time to be an ally is not just for the most obvious times, when we are called upon, to make a public show of our righteousness. We need to be actively planning and discussing how to confront racism aggressively wherever it may be hiding, even behind our own closed doors.

Now we are talking about different cultures, one that likes to brush things under the rug, and one that opens the rotting can of worms. When Obama was elected president, I believed we had reached the point where we would no longer have to actively eradicate racism, it was going to disappear naturally. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

When I walk into a store and hear white people talking shit about some black people gathered outside, and I don’t say anything, then I am allowing that racism to be. Unfortunately, I am ashamed to say, that I may have slunk out of a store, my head steaming with anger, but not saying anything.

It’s time to stop the pussyfooting around, and not be afraid to confront and challenge these assumptions. This is a wake up call, because the ones who need to speak up have been sleeping far too long, while our black brothers and sisters have been losing sleep and lives and are justifiably weary.

Stepping Up

I never would have thought I would be raising my hand in a room full of political activists and saying, yes, I would like to run for office. But here I was, the only one raising their hand.

A week ago I attended a meeting of a local chapter of Pant Suit Nation, who were deciding that they wanted to do more than tell their stories.  I had not even heard of Pant Suit Nation till after the General Election, probably because I was a Bernie supporter and I had been inactive politically since the primary ended and my favored candidate had lost the nomination.

Back in February, I had joined a local Bernie 2016 group to canvass and call our neighbors. That was the highlight of my year, feeling like I could make a difference. I was thrilled to meet kindred spirits who shared my passion for Bernie’s ideas. I had read everything I could about his positions on issues and when I knocked on the door or made phone calls, I felt prepared and more confident than I had ever been discussing politics.

From as far back as I can remember, I have always disliked politics. I saw it as something others with bigger egos and more polished personalities, those natural born leaders, got involved with. Perhaps I felt helpless, that no one listened to me or the average person anyway, so why bother. Perhaps, it was the lack of a major candidate whose ideas sparked my desire to get involved.

On occasion, I did actually make an effort to support a candidate. The first time I did this was in the 2000 primary, I was enamored by Bill Bradley, and both my boyfriend and I were eager to join a student run group to help him. Then, before we even got started, he dropped out of the primary. After that we were behind Gore, but not with the passion needed to get out the vote for him. The next 8 years were depressing and I felt alienated from the whole political process.

But then, in  2008, a turning point, the democratic party nominated an incredibly dynamic eloquent person to run for president (I had voted for Clinton in the primary, but was perfectly content that Obama won). Obama’s campaign encouraged grassroots support and people like me started changing their perception of politics. I considered going out to canvass door to door, but with a newborn baby, it was easier for me to make calls to voters. A new innovative technological tool, the dialer, allowed me to make the calls from home, while tracking responses on my computer. I actually hate making phone calls, but I plugged away trying to do my part.

After the 2016 primary, I was deflated, done with organizing, engaging in politics. I knew Bernie was right, that we had to support Clinton, she was the far better choice, but I had lost my enthusiasm for political involvement. I felt talked down to by the democratic party elite, I considered dem-exiting. In a sense, I did. I live in a very blue state, so I had no problem voting for a third party candidate for the first time in my life. With resignation, that my vote would make no difference, I gave it to Jill Stein. Part of me yearned to vote for the first woman president of the United States, but I wanted to vote my conscience, and Clinton was expected to win overwhelmingly, anyway.

I went through a lot of mixed emotions in the days following Nov. 8, 2016. First, I felt this smug, self-righteous, I told you so, to those who had argued that Clinton was more electable. I was shocked that she lost, but not actually surprised. The last couple of months had reminded me of 2000, and I kept feeling that Clinton was going to be another Gore, but given the polls, I assumed I was wrong.

Soon my smugness became anger, how could people have not seen the writing on the wall! I also resented those saying that Bernie was in part to blame for the loss and it bothered me that democrats were so quick to demonize people who either voted for Trump or sat out the election. I looked around myself at my more conservative neighbors and could see why they had not turned out to support a democratic candidate, despite the horrific choice. Most had no enthusiasm for either candidate, and probably felt like I had for so long, helpless, hopeless, nothing I did would make a difference.

My anger turned to despair when I started seeing the bigotry of some Trump supporters coming out of the wood work and the president-elect starting to make terrible cabinet appointments. The people who were empowered were intent on destroying everything I believed in.

Fortunately, it was around that time, that someone kindly added me to the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group. Seeing for the first time a group of several million ordinary people expressing similar fears and concerns, has inspired hope in me. I see these women and men who are organizing local grassroots advocacy groups and am filled again with a desire to take action. Bernie has regained his voice, and continues to remind us that when millions of people stand together, we can not be ignored. I wasn’t an adamant Clinton supporter, but she was right: we are stronger together.

I went to my first meeting of the local pantsuit nation chapter, and instead of being the shy, non-committal person I often am, I jumped into the conversation. I became the official note-taker that evening, then still feeling insecure about my abilities,  I offered my help working on their website and signed up to organize the list of trackers of our elected officials. I wanted to join every committee, but there were plenty of others stepping up, so I just chose a few.

Finally, the organizer of the event brought up the possibility of our group supporting one of us to run for political office. Who here would consider running for office? She asked. I thought about Bernie, saying that we each can make a difference, that the only way to have progressive values is to have progressives run for local school boards and state legislators. If we don’t want our country to be run by elitists, we need to work our way into the system from the bottom up. I may not be a natural born politician, but I am one of millions who feel passionately, who know that it takes a village, each of us standing up to do our part, to right the wrongs and pave the way for justice.

I looked around the room of 30 or so women and one man, mostly older than I. No one had answered the question, would someone step up? Then I timidly raised my hand. I can do this, I thought. Yes, I think I can.

Weird Dream

I wanted to share a weird dream I had the other night, that seems strangely symbolic:

Zombies took over the earth. They were walking around, oozing and drooling everywhere. We gathered all the people left in a classroom/school and discussed how we were going to take a spaceship to a distant planet. Some of us were stuck in different places and couldn’t get to the school; others were being slowly gathered and finding their way there.

We were practicing jumping up at the same time, so we could enter the spaceship. We had to practice this over and over again, because we all had to jump at exactly the same moment. People who were stuck on bridges and overpasses and underground hiding places were being sent the same message: this would occur at 3:30pm and we should all synchronize and jump together.

At 3:30pm we all jumped, but some missed it. Then they discovered that if they thought about love and someone they loved that was already on the spaceship, they would start floating up through walls and ceilings and make it to the spaceship. Lots of people caught on and started thinking/feeling love.

The space ship took us to a new planet, where we could regroup and resettle. But eventually, we planned to come back to earth with a few pioneers and we would start the work to make the earth habitable again.

What do you think this weird dream means? I have some ideas, but would love to hear what you think.