Ok, PF Bloggers: Constructive Criticism

I’ve seen a number of posts in my Twitter feed lately that follow similar patterns. In what I’m assuming is intended as benevolent helpfulness, they encourage readers to save. “Save for retirement, even if you only make three nickels!” is (my) exaggerated version. Today I saw some that suggested the only barrier to saving is self-discipline. These kinds of posts struck me as troubling, and I think PF (personal finance) bloggers need to take a deep breath and a step back to evaluate some.

Chiefly, my criticism is this: posts like that deny the very real problem of class in America and show little empathy for that problem. If I’m making, say, $30k a year, saving for retirement–and surely for early retirement–is nearly impossible. If I live in a less-expensive area, maybe my odds improve, but overall? $30k is very little in our country, and even less so if that person has a spouse or kids or even, hell, pets. $30k is barely enough to begin to save an emergency fund for some people. No amount of budgeting in the world will make much difference if expenses–food, rent, transit to work–are average. Telling people–as some have–to move for better-paying jobs ignores how costly moving is. First month, last month, security–these add up to thousands of dollars in many cases, and that’s not including something to haul one’s stuff. It’s also denying that people want more than just to save for retirement–living near family, for instance, might be worth far more than being isolated someplace in order to save money. A little empathy aforethought might change what this piece was up to entirely.

And while sometimes indeed what stops people from saving is willpower, just as often it’s likely a combination of events that leaves a person in the red or paycheck to paycheck. Class is a very real part of our world, and it’s compounded in America by other factors like gender, sex, and race, all of which lead to lower paychecks than white men receive. We know that 2/3 of Americans don’t have much of anything saved for an emergency, and it’s not always because of willpower: it’s because of a lack of funds to begin with. Significantly, a $1000 emergency–say, the refrigerator croaks–is 31 days’ worth of work for someone making $25000 a year (Pew Charitable Trust study, cited in link above–$25000 is just over the official poverty line for a family of four). Setting aside that money may be nigh on impossible for someone making $25000. Average income in America is a little over $56k, which means many people are making well below that amount (by some estimates, up to 14.5% are below the poverty line). Deepening one’s ability to understand where people are coming from–finding some financial empathy–will go a a long way to being a better advocate for people interested in personal finance issues, and better able to figure out what people actually need rather than what one thinks they need.

Relatedly, it’s time to chuck the “just pull yourself up from your bootstraps” narrative. It’s been a persistent part of American culture for decades, but it lacks awareness that everyone’s bootstraps start in different places. White, educated men in certain geographical markets and without prior roots in poverty have the easiest-to-pull bootstraps, as they’ve got the most overt privilege, systemic and otherwise. Everyone else starts lower. For many, the straps themselves barely exist. To assume otherwise–to say or imply, “I did it, why can’t you?” about any given topic without qualifiers–suggest that you either haven’t recognized that we don’t all have the same bootstrap pullability, or an unwillingless to recognize it.

So, take this as a piece of constructive criticism, PF bloggers. Before you offer, however well-intended, a suggestion that anyone if they tried hard enough could FIRE or hell, just retire someday, or save far more than they already do, think about the position of privilege you’re coming from. You’ve been blessed. No doubt you’ve worked hard, but sometimes hard work alone doesn’t cut it. Keep that in mind as you proffer advice for the rest of us. Work on developing empathy for what $30k means for some families and for the complicating factors in people’s lives. Empathy is as good as gold in terms of social currency.

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Pardon my Quiet

Hey, readers! It’s been a quiet week or so in these parts. The news here in the US has been generally bad, to the extent that writing about it just seems exhausting. Here, the summer’s over and I’m back to my job this week, which is another reason I’m tired. I’m trying to figure out how to navigate current events in my classroom while keeping it open for dialogue across all spectrums. That way people can come to informed conclusions without assuming my own positions and clamming up. It’s going to be a challenge.

I attended a faculty workshop recently in which one of my colleagues talked about how, in the name of his neglected research, he was going to stop working on dialogue and justice on our campus. He was going to take all the time for himself. But then, as events unfolded, he couldn’t. He felt dirty with the knowledge of how his privileged position as a white male allowed him to turn his activism on and off, as his outer appearance allowed him to blend away from crisis whenever he pleased. So he changed his mind.

May we all be that colleague. May we take time for ourselves when we need it, but not stop fighting because we can. Let’s use our various layers of privilege to work for others, to find ways to dialogue and also ways to reject fascist hatred. We’ve all got gifts–if we use them for others, we’re making the world a better place.  If this week has shown us anything, it’s how badly we need each other in the face of the dearth of understanding and empathy in our culture.

Good luck with the rest of your week! I’ll be back on Friday. Kitten quarantine is lifted Saturday. Wish us luck.

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On Vulnerability

This is a post I’ve been mulling over for months, but wasn’t sure how to write. I am not comfortable talking about vulnerability or being vulnerable. But I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s tremendous Hunger and got thinking that she is brave, and she is vulnerable. Being willing to be vulnerable and able to handle the risks that come with it is, I suspect, key to figuring out who you are, under your layers. A lot of us wear a great deal of armor to hide those layers. I further suspect we aren’t always doing ourselves favors hiding in our armor, as hard as it is to shed.

I am a Rock. (I am an Island)

I have often been a rock for others. I chose that position. It’s a good one. It’s good to be the person your friends count on–in college, we’d gather in my room when things felt out of control, and I’d lead the process of bringing us back to where we needed to be. We called it the “sanity club”. These days I tend to bring my “sanity club” approach to things like meetings–in, out, let’s get things done.

Part of why I make a good rock is that I’m ruthlessly rational, methodical, and pragmatic (hi, I’m a quintessential Virgo). The downside is that I don’t deal well with emotion and in my less-generous moments, don’t have a lot of patience for them, either. I realize the irony there, as my attitude gets me into emotional messes. I like to fix other people’s problems, whether they want me to or not. I realized later that this attitude meant that when other people were vulnerable with me, giving me that gift, I shut them down. I was uncomfortable with emotions and people’s pain, so I tried to fix them in order to send own discomfort away.

(Incidentally, I loved Olivia Pope on Scandal in the early seasons–a problem-fixer by trade!–until she got too stupidly emotional over Fitz. Pffft, you’re so much better than that dumbass, Olivia. Get your wine and go home. Rational. Methodical. Fix it and move on. Sheesh.)

Nopenopenopenope

When we moved in order for me to take my job, it was 2008. The market crashed as we arrived in our new destination. My husband–who left his job to come with me–had job prospects that dried up rapidly. We ended up in a really rough place as the terror of watching the fiscal system left us not knowing what would happen next. I wanted to fix it, and the pain that came with it for us. I couldn’t. It was awful.

Years later, in a different rough place, I began seeing a therapist who asked me, in the first fifteen minutes, when I became so co-dependent. It occurred to me, as I worked through all my garbage and googled what the hell co-dependent meant, that I had always been, even when I was a kid. I don’t let other people solve their problems, because in my wacky perspective it’s easier for me to do it so we can all move on. I wasn’t good at letting people sit with their emotions; I didn’t accept them all that well, and I’d try to fix whatever caused negative emotions so I wouldn’t have to deal. You can guess how that usually goes: poorly, for all involved. And at the root of it all was an unwillingness for me to be vulnerable–to accept that I am not always the rock or the fixer–and that I, too, had emotions.

The Time I was Ditched

The real test of this awareness came a year or so later. When I was sorting through with all of this personal stuff–and it took months to get to a place where I felt I had a handle on it–I wasn’t altogether pleasant. I was blue a lot, which is what got me to the therapist in the first place. I was struggling at work (not with my work, per se, but with other elements–I had no patience with anything and my anxiety was through the roof. I stopped going to some meetings because I just couldn’t handle them). I was mopey, though I thought I often masked it pretty well.

At the time I had a couple of very close friends with whom I’d go out regularly, the three of us. And I hadn’t seen much of them and I know I wasn’t entirely great when I did. And eventually, I opened up to them. I told them a lot of this stuff. In those days, I didn’t tell people this stuff.

And shortly after I did, they stopped talking to me. I saw them once more inside several months, and then abruptly, that was it. There had been an ugly moment that led to a break with one of them, but when I tentatively asked her about the whole thing months later, I was told the friendship had been long dying, which was news to me. The other friend never returned my calls or messages, both prior to the moment of break and after. It was brutal, and at the time, I figured I had to have screwed up royally in some capacity I couldn’t even figure.

I cried for months, beating myself up, unable to see what had happened. I hated myself for being weak–they didn’t deserve my tears–and for not being able to see what they did. I believed I must have done something horrible but ultimately not memorable for me in the least. It took a lot of talking with other friends to see otherwise.

But on the Bright Side

Eventually, it occurred to me that the two former friends couldn’t handle my vulnerability. Yeah, I wasn’t a great deal of fun for probably a few months. I know there’s an ethos out there that says people should prune from their lives those who bring them down. I get that, but only in terms of people who are, say, negative for the sake of negativity. I’d opened up, and I’d been honest with them, and I’d been vulnerable in talking about what bothered me and what was going on, and they’d ditched me–they confirmed my hunch that being vulnerable was not my bag. I hid inside myself for a long time after that. I didn’t know adults could be so brutal–it felt like junior high.

But in the long run, I realized that I deserved far better. I realized that my vulnerabilities don’t make me weak or stupid, and that I don’t need to be everyone’s rock all the time. They don’t want or need me to be. I can be honest about what I struggle with and often, that honesty strengthens the relationships I have (though I don’t rush into friendships any more–I am pretty careful about who I let in, but pretty open once I make that call).

I am not always brave. I am not always patient. I am still cruel to myself (I’m a terrible self-talker) but I also realize the nonsense inherent in doing so. I try to let people fix their own stuff, and listen to them rather than taking the helm. I’m trying to soften my edges, and the real perk of all of this is that increasingly I realize that things I tend to worry over aren’t my things to worry over, because it’s not my job to fix all the things.

May you find safe spaces to be vulnerable, and to reveal what shines under your layers. May you not have brutal people shock you into doing so. May you gain insight and compassion through your bravery, and find peace in the process.

Back to work tomorrow. May I remember my own words.

 

 

 

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Man, The Last Two Weeks

I know I haven’t been up to too much in this space in the last two weeks. It’s been exhausting, both at home and at large. Here’s hoping next week is better.

These two are much improved. Sol (gray) has another week of antibiotics and is still sneezy, but much less gross. Trixie (calico) is good to go.

Wardrobe creation continues. Tally is currently 2 cowl neck shirts, three skirts, two pairs of pants. There’s a blouse in need of revision as well. I was hoping to show you some of the pieces today, but it didn’t happen.

I’m going to stay up for Wynonna Earp at 10, and then I’m hitting the hay.

I hope you can find a little peace this weekend, even as we stand strong.

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TF’s No BS History Corner: Everything Old is New Again (and not in a good way)

Last week was a personally rough week. I didn’t post much as I dealt with stuff. I was thinking about a Monday post about that jackass at Google, until that seemed like the second or third most important story of the week–escalating tension with North Korea being another, and Charlottesville a third. So here we are.

What you might not know about me is that I’m a professional historian by trade. I know US history pretty well, and I know its social contours–its constructions of power based on constructions of race and other issues–particularly well. I’m a historian of women–that’s my own work–but I teach the whole kit and kaboodle. And while I’m sorry for some that they found the events of the last week shocking, as someone who teaches US history for a living, well, the most I can say is that I’m horrified while not surprised.

Everything old is new again.

So here’s a history lesson for you. Someone tweeted the other day that the (justifiable) anger using the word “Nazi” this week misses a key point–that we have a long history of our own white supremacy (would that I had any idea who it was so I could share). In fact, the Nazis based some of their laws and social policies on our very own Jim Crow. And our very own Jim Crow is based on what were called “black codes” and “slave codes” from the era prior to the Civil War.

The other piece you should know is that when the South lost the Civil War, Johnson–who took office when Lincoln died–effectively pardoned the Confederacy. Congress was recessed, so he took it upon himself to forgive confederate members, so long, essentially, as they promised not to do it again. When Congress came back, it was furious and overturned Johnson’s measures, but the real damage was already done. Johnson’s laissez faire approach to the south enabled what was known as the “Lost Cause” to emerge–the assertion, after a long, brutal war, that the South’s cause was just. The south’s cause, of course, was maintaining slavery–that was the ‘state’s right” they were concerned about, and the reason they seceded. (Check out Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech” ca 1861. He was the VP of the Confederacy.)

This 19th century cartoon depicts white carpetbaggers being hanged by the Democratic KKK (thus the labeled donkey).

In any case, Congress was really forceful about Reconstructing the south both physically and mentally following the war. White northerners (denigrated as “carpetbaggers” by southerners) went south to help establish schools for freedpeople and Republican strongholds (don’t be fooled–the two parties switch sides, and while the GOP was once the party of progressivism and Dems of slavery, that all changed by the Depression and cemented by the Civil Rights Movement) the combination of Lost Cause sentiment, time, and northern racism allowed that force to drift quickly away.* By the mid-1870s, the KKK’s violence had led to Republican departure and the erasure of Black gains (political and otherwise). We get what’s called “Redemption”–the returning of governance to those who ruled prior. And the north was happy to look away.

Tulsa riot
Hand-captioned photo rejoicing in the Tulsa riot of 1921 that left hundreds of Black people dead and thousands homeless, reassuring white supremacists of their power and control.

By the 1890s, veterans held JOINT reunions, agreeing that all had been brave. Left out of that narrative both implicitly and overtly were people of color. It’s not a surprise that Jim Crow became entrenched and lynchings commonplace in that time. And that shit spread beyond the south, unsurprisingly. Race riots–which is the not-entirely-adequate term for when one race (African Americans) were attacked by another (whites)–rampaged across the nation through the early 20th century.

So, here’s my argument: What we’re seeing in Charlottesville is a visible, high-profile manifestation of a problem that’s been bubbling along for centuries. It’s not just a resurgence of Nazism and fascism, though that’s part of it–it’s a manifestation of a deeper, mean part of our own homegrown history. It’s neo-Confederate, neo-Lost Cause (hear the rhetoric of “we won’t be replaced”–it’s akin to the ranting and raving in the 19th century that there could be no equality, only replacement of one supremacy by another).

Another day, we can talk about sex, gender and STEM–that’s what I research, and let me tell you–the shit from that ex-Google employee, embraced by many, is the same rhetoric as in 1910. Maybe History Corner can be a recurring piece.

*Not that white do-gooders were without problems, but that’s a whole other story. On all of this stuff, check out David Blight’s Race and Reunion. (<–Affiliate link!)

 

 

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Finance Friday (Monday): Kitten Adoption

As many of you know, Friday–my usual money post day–was a busy day. I sewed  most of the day while I had time and easy access to my stuff, because Friday afternoon was kitten adoption time! We’ve been planning on adopting new felines to be companions to our resident cat, Jane, since June. She’s been lonely since our other cat, Charlie, unexpectedly passed. When we got back from vacation we went to a local shelter and picked two out. They were on vet hold a bit, but are now quarantined in my sewing room/office.

Adopting from a shelter is a wonderful thing. You support pets that would otherwise be homeless and free up shelter cages for more animals. Sadly, those cages are never emptied. The litter our kittens came from was shipped from South Carolina to our New England state. I’m not sure what the story is there–perhaps it’s the best way to get them into no-kill shelters?

While adopting adult cats is usually fairly inexpensive–they’re much harder for shelters to place–we’d tried that with Jane before and it was a no-go. Kittens, on the other hand, are expensive.

Here’s the breakdown across the last few days
Here’s kitten Sol, who wants to know what’s in the closet.

Adoption fee/each: $175. They’ve had some basic vet provision but need a second distemper shot. I could bring them back to the shelter a half-hour away for free, but one of them pooped in the crate while traveling, which meant both needed to be cleaned when I got home. I don’t think we’ll be doing that trip with them again–they’ll go to our vet.

Food: $95.75. I ordered five flats, 24 cans each, of kitten food from petco. We buy the fancier stuff, I admit–stuff by Blue pet foods. I became turned off of major US brands after they had multiple fatal recalls a few years ago. This food should be more pricey than it already is but I ordered it as a repeat delivery–my first–so I got 20% off. That’s why I ordered so much of it. It’ll keep us in kitten food nearly the rest of the year. I also splurged and got them a fancy climbing tree: https://s7d1.scene7.com/is/image/PETCO/  so that was $45.

So, in purchases made so far (the bulk of which were necessities), we’re looking at $500. Good lord.

Now let’s look ahead to the next week.
Kitten Trixie sees the patriarchy for what it is.

Upcoming vet appointment: Both kittens have colds, which could be feline herpes (it’s a respiratory illness, common in shelters, and viral–goes away on its own) or a bacterial infection. The shelter’s visiting vet wanted both of them on an antibiotic, but didn’t leave any for them. The shelter figured they’d be better at our house than there and that I should call them Saturday about the anti-b. Saturday came and went, they had no word from their vet. Sunday came and went. This morning I figured the heck with this, we’re going to our vet. We have an appointment for both, which they’d need anyway as new pets. This is likely to run around $300 if they need prescriptions, and if they get their vaccine (they may not if they’re too ill, which means we’ll need another appointment). Then they’ll need to be spayed/neutered (one of each)–I can’t remember what that ran a few years ago, but somewhere around $300 is likely as well.

Kitten adoption
Sol wants to know when I’ll actually read these books.

I’ll be honest–we go to a vet we love and trust (they only do cats!) but it’s likely more expensive than others. But our cats are our babies. We’ve lost two under pretty tragic circumstances so I do my damndest to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible.

But clearly, adopting kittens is not for those without the means to do so. In our experience, kittens always have some complications that cost $$. Charlie had feline herpes and went to the vet several times before the herpes went away–it gave him conjunctivitis needed an Rx for his little eyes. They have all kinds of needs, and toys are the least of them. Before you adopt a pet, do some real math and determine what your plan is. They’re too sweet to deal with you having to change your mind later.

Kitten adoption
Trixie thinks I’m delicious.
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Taking the Gloves Off: So You Hate Political Correctness?

There are few phrases I hate more than “political correctness,” but not for the reasons you expect. People love to use that turn of phrase to be derogatory, seeing it as a great burden. But what do people mean when they say, “I have to be politically correct” or “I hate political correctness”? What are they actually referring to?

My Casual Observation

In my experience, people decry political correctness when they feel it keeps them from being, frankly, rude. For the most part, complainers are white people. They’ve enjoyed a lifetime of respect as the normative national culture–the US revolves around white people and their needs, particularly around white men.

“Political correctness” is a phrase that refers to extending that respect beyond whiteness, beyond maleness; it’s not a pain in the ass unless you see extending respect to others as a pain in the ass. It asks you to not be deliberately exclusive of others; it asks you to be more mindful in your language and actions, that both have meaning. While on occasion this way of being may become cumbersome, at its core, “political correctness” simply extends welcome and respect to people who have been marginalized.

Why is that so hard?

Why do people get snide about extending that kindness, that respect? In my exchanges, people have expressed a desire to not think that their words have meaning beyond those they intended. For example, a friend of mine carefully explained to a woman who just didn’t get it that “gay lifestyle” meant that it was an option to be gay, that it was, say, like embracing a beach lifestyle. It never occurred to her that her language had meaning. Most–including this woman, initially–are quick to say that calling them out is political correctness, running amok. No–it’s just people demanding you treat them with respect. Sometimes doing so means you have to listen and consider how other people feel.

Political correctness is not a matter of always being offended, as the “liberal snowflake” trope implies. No–it’s a matter of reminding all of us that words have meanings, and that those meanings are not just dictated by those in power.

But Don’t Take My Word for It

This article does a great job of delineating the ways a rejection of “political correctness” has become a key element of rightwing discourse throughout the global west. This anti-embrace of political correctness has led to the wild misunderstandings of what the phrase means in the interest of self-serving politicking. The author, Dr. Anna Szilagyi, has a really nice point that I’ve seen play out over and over: the rightwing idea that being PC is being censored.

Some people–particularly on the right, which means particularly white and male in the US–see “political correctness” as censorship because it asks them to consider what they say. As a country with freedom of speech, they find that a problem. But those making that argument should undertake a little introspection: if you feel censored when you use inclusive language and are not verbally abusive towards others (I mean that generally–you’re not sexually harassing someone, you’re not using racial epithets, etc), then why is it that you wish to say such things and feel oppressed when you feel you shouldn’t? In short, what is wrong with you that kindness and respect to others feels burdensome? Are you pining for the days of making sexist jokes in the office? What’s that about? You aren’t somehow braver or more authentically you for being derogatory to others.

Someone I follow on Twitter today had a post thanking “you guys” and “you girls, because we have to be politically correct.” Now I suspect he means to be tongue-in-cheek, but it stuck with me, particularly after weeks of arguing with people who kept insisting they were tired of being politically correct but couldn’t articulate what that meant. It made for slow argument. I do know some women who don’t like the term “you guys” as it is male-gendered; personally, I think it’s been in our lexicon long enough that the gendered meaning is nearly meaningless. But when we talk about being politically correct as some smirky bullshit we are forced to tolerate or acknowledge glibly, we deny the power of language. And we deny that language has been used since it’s inception (I suspect–surely for centuries) to marginalize some and push others to the inner circle.

Methinks You Doth Protest Too Much

That white men tend to be the complainers is mind boggling, given their position at the center is pretty well-cemented. Are they fearful that giving others equal respect and kindness means they lose that position? Do they only feel powerful when others are not? Our current president has only gotten where he is because of a deeply entrenched, centuries-old system of white supremacist patriarchy. For someone like our current president to argue that his position is a vindication of anti-political correctness is a way of reminding the rest of us–women, people of color, and poor people (though there’s lots to unpack with class) that our place is at the margins of power, not the center, and that we are not worthy of that basic respect.

So the next time you or someone you know rails against “political correctness,” ask them what they mean. See if they can’t unpack it. Call them out. Maybe it’s just a semantic change we need–a new phrase–so that we might realize all of us deserve respect and kindness.

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