| || |The post office has been in the news lately.
A lot in the news.
It's never a good sign when something we take so much for granted suddenly blips onto the radar. Built into the granted-taking is ubiquity. And seamlessness. Only when the fabric begins to show some wear do we begin to pay attention. Let's hope in this case it's not too late for salvage.
I worked for the Postal Service for 26 years, so I've been paying attention for quite some time. I've never been an apologist for the organization. Like any large entity, it has its problems, its functionality bogged beneath the weight of itself. And the USPS's quasi-semi-pseudo-governmental status hasn't contributed to its ability to thrive in a rapidly evolving communications market.
I'm not especially interested in discussing the whys or hows or the details of the decline of the Postal Service. These have been examined at length in the media and, as importantly I think, in Town Hall meetings and around the country's supper tables. Also under discussion have been the Service's many successes. Or so it would seem, judging by the public's resistance to allowing the stamp of the Postal Service to be cancelled into oblivion.
The one conversation that really fires me up is one that I don't see much written about. The Postal Service is, despite its official status, at its core a government agency. And I don't know of any such agency whose continued existence requires that it be entirely self-supporting. Sure, some agencies are able to assess user-specific fees which offset some administrative costs, but it's never assumed that the agency will generate the revenue necessary to completely pay its own way. That the Postal Service has accomplished just this for over for forty years is to its credit, but the Service should not be handcuffed to an arrangement that is no longer tenable.Sure, we need to talk about the viability of this or that mail service or discuss improved transportation networks. We should debate the number of service days in a week. We can argue appropriate staffing levels due to changing shipping volumes. And weigh the relative value of a small post office in a rural community or the necessity of one particular processing plant or other. Every organization should always be working toward its better, smarter self. But a government's mission is not a corporation's mission. A government's mission is to serve its people.The Postal Service's own website sums this up best:
The history of the United States Postal Service is rooted in a single, great principle: that every person in the United States – no matter who, no matter where – has the right to equal access to secure, efficient, and affordable mail service.
It would be nice for us all to write our Congresspersons. But failing that, we could always email them a link.
. . . stands for
The week is young . . .
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Those-in-the-know know that I've spent some time lately working on my collages. I've been away from the practice for a while, so my efforts have largely gone toward reacquainting myself with all the papers & materials, gizmos, gadgets, goops & glops I like to use when I conjure my creations.
One of the things I have been doing is making "grounds," the bases on which new collages might be built. I like to manipulate paper, so I've been busy cutting & tearing, affixing & brayering. The plan is to develop an inventory of these bases so that foundational material will always be at the ready when I want to start on a new project.
Last night I was reading an article on blogging which advised keeping text to a minimum and getting straight to the pictures instead. That one was a bit of a head-scratcher—isn't the point of a blog, um, the writing?—but this morning I've decided to do just that. And so I present you with some bits and pieces of my collage beginnings. These are the firestarters of my imagination. Do they fire anything in you?
When word came this week that André Cassagnes, inventor of the Etch A Sketch, had died, a little dial twisted inside me, and a squiggly black line tugged at my heart.
I had never heard of Cassagnes, had never even considered that there might have been a real person behind that iconic, maddening toy of my childhood, behind tens of millions of other childhoods.But here was Cassagnes—baker's son, electrical technician, man with a story—and were it not for his invention which has endured for over fifty years and the obituary reporting his death at the age of 86, I never would have heard of him.
When I first read the news of his death, I thought I'd end up writing about toys and games—even candy bars—remembered from my past, many of which have been reappearing in the stores these days in a sort of retro revival. But then I got to thinking about the obituaries themselves, how they are fading toward their own demise. And how it's looking pretty unlikely that they will ever be revived.
The good, local newspapers still print them. These notices of death are often the only means that one-time friends and distant family members have to learn about the loss. An obituary offers the practical information about arrangements and services, but it also provides a public record of an person's life. These records can be precious to generations to come, links to an otherwise inaccessible history, but in the present moment, a community that values its humanity does itself well to take pause, if only for a moment, and recognize the loss of those who have walked in its midst.It's particularly sad to note that my own community newspaper, for economic reasons, has ceased to publish the standard obituaries. Sure, an option remains for loved ones to pay for column space to post a personally written notice. But while these paid remembrances can be heartwarming as well as illuminating, they are infrequently timely, and no replacement for those traditional postings, wherein each of the lost, regardless of means or history or social status, had one final chance to stand equally among all for recognition. For remembrance. The barest bones of our lives have become, it seems, as ephemeral as a child's scrawlings on an Etch A Sketch
Many years back, after an extended moment of silliness with some friends, one of them turned to my beloved and proclaimed, "You sure got a bargain with this one!"
This one. Meaning, uh, me.
I have no idea now what grand kneeslapper prompted that remark. I can't even remember what we were doing at the time (Was it that night of the failed pumpkins? Or that dingy motel room we all shared in Vegas?), but like so many expressions that enter our lexicon by way of revealing a fundamental truth, the bargain comment has remained on the tip of my family's tongue for nearly thirty years.
With the passage of time the exclamation has taken on, as these things tend to do, a life of its own. Which means that it's now used exclusively in its ironic sense, when my cost-to-value ratio is particularly high, when I'm up to something that's clear evidence of the non-bargainness of me.
And then—Lo! Behold! Up turns a document to prove I am—I was—a bargain after all! A bill from the hospital for the cost of my birth, 55 years ago next month. The grand total for my mother's hospital stay?
Seriously. And this was a five-day holiday. $25.00 per day for room, board & nursing. A scandalous $30.00 for delivery room charges. $2 for a birth certificate. Miscellaneous pharmacy and supply charges and yes, sales tax on the consumable items.
The hospital appears to have been rigorous with collections—my parents wrote two checks during my mother's time there, and the third and final payment was made the day following her release, Receipt No. D 8833.By today's standards, the numbers are astounding in their lack of complexity, handwritten on the patient's standard yellow copy. Sure, there aren't any doctor's fees included in this bill, fees which surely would have tipped the tab over that ghastly $200 mark. And if you look closely at the upper left corner of the sheet, you'll see the notation (in red!) by the staff that payments by insurance weren't a factor in the billing.In 2012 dollars, the purchasing power of that $182.13 would be $1446.92. With all of the establishments' smoke and mirrors, can we even guess what a baby "costs" today? I'm certain that if you could ask my mother, she'd tell you there were days, far far too many of them, when it didn't seem to her as if she'd gotten such a deal. But I'm enjoying this moment of discovery, liking the fact that push-pinned to my biography is just one single document attesting to my value, the evidence unequivocal that yes, indeed, I was—I am—a bargain.
(This one's dedicated to you, LMR.)
This week's otherworldly world view
I've been thinking about fog.
We've been living in it for five days now, the mercury hovering—28, 31, 29, 32, 30, night, day, no higher, no lower. Fog-frost on rooftops, fog-glaze on handrails, fog-moss in sidewalk cracks, fog-glass on maple twigs. The cold is a clap to the collarbone, knife in the waistband, ice to ankles. Floor to sky, the air is haze. Is blur. A view through gauze, through bandage. A mummy's view.
I've been thinking about fog. How delicious it is in a movie, the seat back high, armrests close. Silent and shadowless. Hovering, diffuse. White and something other than white. A character named Atmosphere.
I've been thinking about fog. How you can stand fixed in one place and still lose yourself to it. From whatever the direction, you step into the same. A cloud to be entered. A cloud to walk through. How wholly you must trust that there exists no ledge in there.
I've been thinking about fog. The Mississippi Delta kind of fog. Fog of steam. Fog of swamp. Fog like Saran, no way to breath through it. I've been thinking
about fog. Fog of mulch. Of decay. Fog of landfill. Fog of roadkill. I've been
thinking about fog. Fog of shower glass. Of breath on windowpane.
Of love in the back seat of a car. I've
been thinking about fog
I've been thinking
| |Recently, an artist of my acquaintance sent out a request to some of his contacts, hopeful they could provide him with some inspiration for an upcoming project. He was interested in the stories we tell ourselves, the narratives or mantras that help us get through the challenging and difficult times.
How hard can this be? I thought.
In a jiff I hit the Reply button, set to work with my response, then returned to his inquiry to make sure I had fully understood his request.
Nope. Wrong answer.
So I set aside the jiff, scratched a little deeper and once again hit Reply. Again began to type. Again returned to the original query.
And again—nope. It appears this one's a stumper. Or in confectionery terms, smooth chocolate on the outside, gnarly nougat in the center.I don't believe I possess such a narrative. At least not one that I dust off when the mud's sucking down my boots. It's true I tip toward optimism, but that's more a way of being than a story I actively tell myself when the going gets rough. I've always been a vicarious learner, having shaped my point of view largely on lessons I've taken from others' experiences. If you burn your hand in the fire, I don't have to test it myself to see that it's hot (okay yes there have been those ugly exceptions). I've always felt that a strong personal philosophy would serve me well in the most despairing of times.Sure, there are moments when my brain taps out a quick little memo to myself, something like You Can Do This, a message I consider a simple placeholder for the highly developed faith system I lack. But a quickie message such as this hardly qualifies as a personal narrative. Or so I think.
A woman who has been very special to me for a long stretch of my life is also a person from whom I learned many things. Her most important lesson, though, was an inadvertent one. We were quite alike, the two of us, and early on I recognized in her the darker side of myself. What I gained from her was a template for the person I did not want to be, and so I began to adjust my choices, to move in a direction that pushed me toward that person I preferred to become.
And then there was my mother who, quite sadly, gave her final years to an unhappy life. Many more times than I care to remember she said to me, "I spent my whole life looking for tomorrow. And tomorrow never came." Her words are a weight I carry with me still. But also was her message heard.
Earlier I asserted that I don't have a narrative, but perhaps I do have one one after all. It doesn't come to me in words I recognize, but it's there, its own sort of pentimento, under the surface, but bleeding through. Move forward, it says. Move forward in a way you won't regret.Do you have a narrative? I'm not asking you to tell me. Just ask the question of yourself.
| |I'm doing laundry.
Whites—towels, socks, unmentionables.
This may sound like no big deal, running a load of wash on a Monday morning, but those who have intimate knowledge of my, uh, fixations, understand this to be no small thing. I can hear their voices as I write--But it's not Thursday! they cry in unison. Not only do I have fixations; others have noticed I have fixations. Uh oh.Okay, so this laundry thing has its deep, dark origins, which I won't go into except to say that most of my pathologies can be reduced to explanations straight out of a Psych 101 text. Nothing too complex inside this hard case of mine: I'm a ruler with a straight edge, a screwdriver used for driving screws, a tuna can you open to find—duh!—tuna inside.It's a new year. I don't go in for resolutions (though I did spend a few seasons renaming them, hoping to come up with an appealing and therefore, motivating, euphemism: Ambitions; Enthusiasms; Goals & Objectives), but I find the straighforward, calendrical squareness of January 1st to be an appealing day for reassessment. For realignment. To wit:
- I don't like to get my hair cut on Mondays. I had my hair cut this morning.
- I'm lazy about the morning dishes, often leaving them until late in the day. Here it is, well before noon, and they're all washed and dried and put away.
- Yesterday there were 13 containers of pens on my desk. Now there are only 11. (Cut me some slack here--it's a start!)
My what a very long week it's been already. If I play my cards right, maybe there'll be enough clothes in the hamper to warrant running a washload on . . . Hey! What about Thursday???
- And then there's that laundry, everything clean and neatly folded.
Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
WISHING A GLORIOUS NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU!
My mom's stocking. Now mine.
I love Christmas Eve.
After a month or more of bustle, it is a day of quiet. And whether or not I've accomplished all the things I set out to do, the timer has dinged. Hands in the air—it's all done.
The sun, what little there may have been of it, disappears swiftly. The air seizes with cold; the night is gathered breath. The cars angling home from work or late shopping relax on the road. Tiny lights brighten one house, then another. Anticipation is a thing that can almost be held.
I'm not romantic about Christmas. The traditions of my childhood were non-descript and benign. The holidays of my adulthood have been overstated or bland, depending on the year, my meandering mood. This year there's a wreath on the front door, some pink-foiled chocolates in a purple dish. Holiday cards are propped here and there, a few gifts rest on a table, and two handmade stockings adorn the mantel. The fireplace is a gas one, but I'm pretty certain that the jolly fellow in the red suit will somehow find his way in to drop off a few treats. Such an easy confidence this evening inspires.
The speakers in the department stores have been piping out music that tells me my Christmas will be merry and bright. But I haven't done a thing to earn or guarantee that. It's just luck, pure dumb luck, this gift of another year that I'm able to be warm at home, surrounded by reminders from those who care that I hold a special place in their lives.
For me, that's the real Christmas miracle.
I wish a joyous holiday season to everyone, no matter how you celebrate it . . .