Labor (Union) Day

I have been working “official” jobs — the kind that give you a check with all your taxes siphoned off — since I was 17: first as a camp counselor in the Adirondacks the summer before college, and then during freshman year in my first work-study job in the library at my school. In nine days I’ll be 57, so that’s 40 years of sometimes-gainful employment. I worked other jobs before college — babysitting kids in the neighborhood, collecting for my brother’s paper route — but Treetops and the Esther Raushenbush Library were the first formal paid gigs of my life.

Forty years of cobbling together enough money to live on, to pay back my student loans, to take myself on vacation, to indulge my fountain pen habit.

No one ever taught me anything about working when I was in high school. I wasn’t on a vocational track, so I didn’t learn any saleable skills, and it never seemed to occur to anyone that I might have to find a job one day. I wasn’t on a vocational track, but my guidance counselor was still taken by surprise when I walked into her office saying I was ready to apply to college. I have no idea what people thought I was going to do with myself if I had no skills and wasn’t going to go to school. Crazypants.

Working was important to my family, buy my parents were too busy actually working to impart much wisdom about working. When I left for college, my mom asked that I study something that could help me get a job after graduation. I … had no idea what that meant. My answer to that request was to take a chemistry class, of all things. A class I dropped in the first month and back-filled with a class on Renaissance and Reformation England … because that was sure to lead me to some kind of quality employment. That ill-fated chem section was the only course in four years of college that I chose with the idea that I would one day need to get a job. It’s a wonder I’ve survived at all. Seriously.

In 40 years I’ve had any number of jobs, some good, some solidly crappy. I’ve learned that there are things I can make myself do and things I absolutely won’t make myself do. I’ve learned that I can put up with bullshit and take advantage of others’ stupidity. I’ve learned that sometimes I’ll have the good fortune to meet some of the best people of my life on the job and that when the job goes away I’ll be lucky enough to hold onto some of those gems. I’ve learned that I could be someone’s boss and be sexually harassed by them but not trust myself enough to believe what was happening. I’ve learned that the 90-day wait for health insurance to kick in on a new job can be the longest three months of my life.

 

In July I started a new job, a job I sincerely hope will be the last job I ever have. There’s so much to do in this job and so many ways I can imagine being productive, being challenged, being pleased at this job that it’s easy to see myself staying until I’m ready to not be working anymore.

At orientation, a representative from the union came to talk about membership and why we might want to join. The other new hires looked at the union cards and asked if they could think about it before signing up. I handed my completed card to the rep.

“You’ve already decided.”

“Absolutely. I’ve always wanted to be in a union. I feel like I can check something off my bucket list.”

Everyone laughed. The other new hires looked at me as if I was the weirdest, silliest, most careless person they’d ever seen. I just smiled, felt something settle inside me, like a giant, iron slide-lock slamming home.

It was true what I’d said to the rep. I have always wanted to be in a union. I just hadn’t ever said that out loud to myself before, hadn’t ever articulated the truth of it. There had been a few moments in the past when I’d talked a lot about my support for unions. I’d had a couple of jobs that had seemed on the cusp of becoming unionized, but in each case, it hadn’t happened. I was secretly jealous of my union-member friends. So, naturally, when presented the option of joining, I jumped right in.

The same was true with the choice of retirement benefits: sign up for a pension or choose the not-quite-a-401K option? Choosing the pension seemed so obvious, I almost didn’t do it. Surely I must be missing something because why wouldn’t I choose the pension? Why was there a need to consider other options? What wasn’t I getting about the equation? Of course I chose the pension. (It is actually true that I get to do both with this job, have a pension and sign up for retirement savings, so I really don’t get why anyone would choose not to have a pension.)

 

My parents were union members early in their work lives, but not for long enough to have long-term benefits from those memberships. Signing up for the pension plan and joining the union felt momentous to me, felt like things I should have been able to do 40 years ago when I started working. Somehow the idea of “work” for me, the idea of what a worker should expect from a job, included unionization and retirement income. And that feels super old-fashioned, and I guess it is, but it’s also real. And I didn’t know just how real it was until I got to sign those forms earlier this summer. No one “taught” me any of that, so where did it come from?

Driving in rural Louisiana about 15 years ago, I saw a billboard that showed a white hand clasping a black hand across a brilliant yellow background. The test read: Black and White Together — To Crush the Unions. What in the actual, mind-numbingly-against-your-best-interests fuck was that? I stared hard at that sign as we drove by, totally unable to fathom the logic of any worker anywhere wanting to break the unions.

Workers, unionized and not, owd so much to unions: the 40-hour work week, weekends,  unemployment benefits, FMLA, the 8-hour work day, workplace safety standards and the creation of OSHA, Worker’s comp, sick leave, paid holidays, collective bargaining rights. And so. much. more. Unions are the fucking bomb.

And they also have a super-problematic history. My feelings about unions aren’t really based on all the great things workers enjoy because of union organizing. When I think of union membership and why it’s important to me, I think of my father. He and I certainly never once had a conversation about unions. But somehow — in that way that children understand things about the adults in their lives — I got the sense that his no longer being in a union was a sore point, that he thought his life and our life as a family would have been made better if he’d been in a union.

The more I learned about union history and the concerted effort to exclude Black people from organized labor, the more I understood the barriers between my father and a union job. And, while I have still grown up thinking unions are fabulous, I’ve also grown up with anger at their codified racism. In this context. joining a union as a Black woman becomes all that more meaningful. I join because I want and deserve the benefits of my union membership. But I also join for my ancestors who weren’t allowed to, who were systematically cut off from the benefits of membership. And I do it for the Washing Society and the Sleeping Car Porters, and for the members of every other Black labor union in this country’s ugly history.

I can’t explain why the other new hires at orientation with me didn’t jump to join the union. They were all people of color, but they were all a) non-Black POC and b) non-native to the US. So my history isn’t theirs, and the weight of union membership didn’t reverberate out from that blue membership form for them the way it did for me. Maybe. I won’t speak for them. I just know I am THRILLED to finally, after my whole life of working, be a member of a labor union. Achievement Unlocked!


(And yes the ILGWU song was embedded in my psyche. So, as much as my father and my history as a Black person explain my feelings about unions, this ad with its so-memorable song is another reason I was such a pro-union kid.)


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Sometimes that paper trail …

… is from a ticker tape parade!

Tuesday, I wrote about an unpleasant colleague, someone I cannot trust but with whom I have no option but to work. At the end of my workday, it was clear that I was needed to prepare for one of our ugly interactions.

So I prepared. I made a plan. I was going to go into work this morning so I’d have time to download our emails as backup for my telling of events. I was going to review the notes I’d taken in meetings to be sure I had all the necessary information I needed to feel confident of my position.

In the end, none of my preparation was necessary. The nonsense never materialized … and I have no idea why.

Okay, not entirely true. I have a suspicion of why. The late-Tuesday email that hinted at foolishness to come on Wednesday wasn’t addressed only to me. My colleague’s boss, my boss, and a couple of other senior staff were included. It was a bold move on my colleague’s part, but I think it backfired. Two of the women on that email have shown themselves to have no kind of time for that kind of mess. I’m thinking one or both of them shut the whole business down. And for this I am grateful.

Maybe this will mark a turning point in this relationship. Maybe my colleague will finally straighten up and fly right!

Hey, a girl can dream!


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Paper Trail

This morning I had a lengthy email exchange with someone I neither like nor trust but with whom I must work often. Because this person has shown themselves to be untrustworthy, I avoid phone calls with them whenever I can and conduct our conversations through email. I want a written record of everything we do so that when this person claims never to have said something or agreed to something or taken responsibility for something, I have the email chain as evidence.

This isn’t a way I like to work, and it’s annoying to me that I’m put in a position to have no choice but to work like this. I am grateful to have my email archive, however, and grateful to be able to come with receipts when I need them.

As I left work this afternoon, I saw an email that made it clear that I will be needing those receipts tomorrow. This is pretty fast turnaround between our initial conversation and the denial of said conversation, but sometimes that’s the way it happens. So I’ll go in a little early and download the necessary evidence and be ready for the mess when it spills into my space.

I really don’t like working like this, but that doesn’t mean I can’t. If folks want to be foolish, I’m ready for them.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

White Women’s Work

So, we had those midterms. The results are both good and troubling. There are a lot more women, POC, and LGBTQIA electeds today. People all across the country stepped up and made some excellent choices. They voted a raft of women into office, including Muslim women, Native American women, trans women, and young women. All of those votes for all of those women are heartening. Truly.

You know that isn’t all I’ll say, though, right? I am thrilled by many of the results, but I can’t miss the rest, or pretend that what happened on Election Day is enough. I can’t ignore the significance of the many Republican efforts at suppressing the Black vote and the poor vote — or the clear success of those efforts. I can’t ignore how comfortably many candidates and their supporters slid into straight-up, full-frontal racism in their push to the polls. No need to have a talk about dog whistles and coded language. People just said everything they were thinking about the uppity Black and brown folks who had the audacity to challenge a white person for office.

“Don’t monkey this up.”
“So cotton-pickin’ important.”
“Someone in the mansion who can take care of it.”
“His family participated in 9/11.”
“She’s encouraging people to break the law.”
“I’m a white racialist.”
“Send her back to the reservation.”

None of this is surprising. It’s not surprising because we as a country have always used prejudice and racism to keep people of color out of office. We as a country have always been racist, always been xenophobic, always been ready to fight for White Supremacy and the holding of power in white, male hands. And it’s certainly not surprising given the current administration and the fact that the country is led by a man who speaks in slurs, who built his political brand on racism.

There was one thing from Election Day that did surprise me … well, surprised me a little. Some woman tweeted out a plea, called on Black women to step up and save the country at the polls that day. (Don’t worry, she was quickly and roundly dragged.)

The idea that a white person would call on Black women — Black people, period — to save this country is amazing to me. First, it’s a numerically stupid plea. African Americans make up about 13% of the US population. Even if all of those people were adults of voting age and every single one of them went out to vote and didn’t have their vote thrown out, Black votes really can’t be an overall strategy for electoral success.

The bigger issue here, however, is the fact that how Black folks are going to vote is, for the most part, not a question. We — especially Black women — do an excellent job of voting in our best interests. We step up and vote to protect our children, our parents, our ability to find and keep decent jobs, our ability to exercise sovereignty and autonomy over our own bodies. We do this again and again and again. We do it because our lives depend on it and we know that. We do it because we don’t have a vested interest in supporting white male patriarchy. That has never been a place of safety for us, and we know that all too well.

The numbers from the 2016 election made the truth of Black women’s votes starkly clear for people. Nearly 100 percent of Black women voted for the Democratic candidate. Nearly 100 percent. Those numbers — and the numbers in Roy Moore’s race — make Black women look like a solid voting block for the left. These numbers are what prompted that white woman to call on Black women to save the day.

But what’s also clear from those powerful numbers is that Black women can’t, alone, win elections. Nearly every Black woman who voted in 2016 voted the same way, and yet the election went the other way. If Black women alone controlled election results, we’d be living in a very different world. We’d have a white house, a congress, and state and local officials who actually represented our interests as opposed to electeds put in place specifically to work against our best interests.

No one should be calling on Black women when the polls open. Ever. No. The people who need to be called in — obviously — are white women. Punto.

White women consistently vote in the majority for while male power, for White Supremacy, for a world in which their rights are erased and their voices silenced. They so strongly align with men and believe their proximity to white male power will translate into their own power, that they come out again and again and again for the upholding of White Supremacy. (Well, that and the fact that many of them are straight-up racists.)

That woman’s tweet on Election Day surprised me because of its willful blindness. This woman was looking over at Black women and hoping some Mammy-savior would come to the rescue, ignoring the reality that she needed to look in the mirror and then at her ya-ya sisterhood of white women.

Because of course this comes back to the truth that white people need to get their people. The work that needs to be done needs to be done by white people with white people. White people have to get down in the dirt and make that happen. Black women aren’t the answers to the questions white people have been refusing to ask for far too long. Black women are out here trying to stay alive, trying to get our kids home safe and our sisters and brothers and husbands and mothers. We can’t also be cleaning up white people’s messes.

The hard task of reaching out to the white women who stand behind Trump lies at the feet of white women. Not another soul can get that shit done.

Get. the. fuck. to. work.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Down at the Crossroads

I find myself at a curious moment. Curious in that I didn’t see it coming and would never have imagined myself here. Curious, too, because I don’t know how much is real and how much is La Impostora seeing an opportunity and seizing it.

Last week I attended an adult education conference. Three days immersed in my field. I’ve attended that conference several times. I’ve presented there a few times. I like it there. I feel at home there. I learn a lot there. I feel invigorated when I come home, re-energized for my work and ready to get moving.

But not this time.

I struggled every day of the conference. Struggled mightily. People presented interesting and important things. People shared good data. People brought up issues that are important to me. People shared excellent anecdotes about the work and the kinds of outcomes they’re seeing from their participants. People in the workshops shared their passion and determination. People came with their questions and ideas.

And it left me … cold. Uninspired.

How was that possible? How could I feel so disconnected from everything that was happening those three days? From the very things that have been the focus of my career?

There are some things going on with me right now that may have helped to  create that difficult experience. I’ve been trying to think about what can/should come next for me professionally. There’s a lot of potentially exciting stuff happening at my job right now, opportunities for my work to get different and interesting. I’m feeling energized by those things, but I’m also wondering how much longer I can be working in this particular world. I’ve been here four years, and I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also run headlong into many walls, and I’ve been halted in my tracks by systems I find I can’t work around. No one’s pushing me out the door, but I’m started to feel more acutely how much this isn’t the area I should be working in. Right field, wrong seat at the table, possibly the wrong table.

And then there’s La Impostora. Every time I start to think of what could be a better direction for me, she swoops right in to remind me that there are no good jobs for me because I’m not actually qualified to do anything, that it’s only dumb luck that has enabled me to last in my current job as long as I have.

Gotta love her.

Part of me hears that and knows it’s not true. Only a small part of me. The rest of me looks at job postings and can see nothing that would actually make sense for me. And when I see jobs that sound wonderful, their details — what degrees and experience candidates should have — confirm that my application wouldn’t move far in the selection process.

So yes, Impostor Syndrome is my constant companion, but she’s not the only problem staring me in the face.

And then I found myself feeling restless and frustrated at the conference. Going there seemed to shine a brighter light on my malaise.

I’m slated to attend a larger adult ed conference in a couple of months. Am I going to have this same disconnect, this same feeling of being removed from what’s happening around me? I certainly hope not. I have work to do, some stock-taking of my professional self. I don’t know if I’m talking about planning or a full-scale career change (at my age?!), but something’s got to give. I’m sick of this “off” feeling, and whatever needs to happen to get rid of it will surely be worth it.


In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.

Finders Keepers

I’ve been thinking about thinking about what form I’m going to write in April, what I’ll spend my month trying and trying to learn and grow comfortable with. I’ve been reading through plenty of lists of poetic forms, looking for one that would feel like the right challenge, not feeling inspired, not feeling pulled in any one direction.

Until today. I might just be onto an idea. In last year’s Girls Write Now poetry workshop, we worked on erasure poems. I’d never written one before, hadn’t heard of the form until that day. It took me a few tries to really process the “how” of it. And today I thought it might be interesting to spend a little more time with the form. And by “little,” I mean the 30 fast-approaching days of April.

An erasure poem is a kind of “found” poem. You start with an existing text and pull out words and phrases — “erasing” the parts you don’t want to use — to create your poem. Robert Lee Brewer at Writers Digest gives a good description of both erasure and blackout poems, and also makes important points about plagiarism and crediting the author of your source text. And Robin Coste Lewis’ Self-Portrait as the Bootblack in Daguerre’s Boulevard du Temps is a wonderful example. Would that I could create something so fine.

And then I thought I should have a theme of some kind. I immediately thought of taking news articles and finding poems in them. There is so much going on that I can’t find words to talk about because it’s so ugly, so painful, so demoralizing, so devastating. Maybe taking someone else’s words and finding my voice in theirs will be a way for me to start talking about some of those things.

Naturally, it turns out that this isn’t an original thought. The New Republic published a piece last October about the rise in erasure poetry that’s been inspired by Trump’s election. The piece includes a link to some stunning erasure poems from Trump’s speeches.

So. Not original. I still like the idea, and I think I will keep liking it enough to have at it come April.

I gave it a try today. I read a piece in The New York Times about Puerto Rican survivors of Hurricane Maria, and used that as my source text. I like Lewis’ style of attribution, so I adopted and adapted it:

Addressing the Crisis
(An erasure of Daiza Aponte Torres’ “The Refugees in New York’s Hotel Rooms“)

My life upside down
my two daughters,
the island
my home destroyed.
Hundreds of families.
We’re barely surviving.
Stranded
after the storm.
Not enough,
discriminated against.
Confined.
Limited.
Denied.
We are traumatized.
No one will know
the disaster continues
every day.

Yes, I think I’ve found my 30/30 challenge. Have you found yours? What will you be working on next month? Want to join me for some erasure poems?

 


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Call me by … my job’s name?

I had a meeting today with a friend who works for a partner agency. We needed to review some work we’d done on some grant applications. At one point we were talking about being mistaken for other people — something that had just happened to us both — and she commented on the fact that there are so many folks with my name working in our relatively small circle.

It’s surprisingly true. I have gone through most of my life knowing hardly any other people with my name. Years ago, the Fed Ex man who delivered to my office was named Stacy, and he thought our having the same name was hilarious. But he was really it, no one else sharing my name.

And then I came here, and I was suddenly surrounded. There was one fabulous moment when I was walking into a building with a Stacy and a friend who is a Stacie, and someone behind us called our name — she had spotted Stacy and wanted to say hi. She called our name, and we all turned in a perfectly choreographed move and said, in unison, “Yes?” So there were those two women, but there were also three others in other agencies that I work with and one in a program for helping high-skilled immigrants find work in their fields, and one who worked for one of the Deputy Mayors. So many!

So my friend commented on the abundance of Stacie-ness and said that her big concern was that she would spell one of our names wrong in an email, especially mine, as the others are all “y” or “ey” people (my dear “ie” friend has moved to Texas).

She found a helpful mnemonic for spelling my name correctly, however, and I couldn’t love it more. The initiative I have spent the most time working on since taking this job is integrated education and training, a little something we call “bridge” around here. It’s all about offering adult basic education or English language instruction combined with occupational skills training, helping people move more quickly toward their employment goals. My first 18 months on the job, I presented about bridge all over the place. I was the one-woman bridge roadshow. I even made a slide for a presentation that featured a cartoon me asking a lot of the questions I heard from people who weren’t sure what bridge was:

bridge image

I very much want to be all about integrated education and training, want to eat, drink, and sleep it. That would make me happy, would be a real mark of a job well done for me.

What does any of this have to do with my name? When she needs to write me and wants to be sure she’s got the correct spelling, my friend says to herself: “Stacie — IE for Integrated Education.” It’s so perfect, so ridiculously fabulous, I can’t believe it never occurred to me! I’m done. Done. I love it like crazy.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!