I watched some of your testimony last week and want you to know that I thought you were amazing. You made sense out of something that was hard to make sense of, and you did it with elegance and good humor and decency.
It was easy to imagine you as a very popular and respected professor – when you alluded to concepts you teach, you did so in an accessible and welcoming way. I bet your students love you.
I’m sure your life has been so up-ended by this. I think I read that you had to leave your house, and that your family is all separated for their – and your – safety. That sucks. I hope you are not paying too much attention to people who have nothing kind or charitable to say about this or you. (Yes, that does include you, President That-Was-One-Shameful-Display and Press Secretary Shameful-Display-Enabler.)
I hope things get back to a new and better normal for you soon. Your display of courage and integrity might not have been enough to keep now-Justice Kavanaugh from being sworn in. But it was more than enough to provide fuel to fans of doing what’s right even when it’s not easy, but are really, really discouraged and hurting right now.
These things change slowly.
I was so ashamed of what happened to me (we were in eighth grade and it happened in school when a teacher sent us out to fetch something from another part of the building). I was sure that it must have been my fault somehow. I couldn’t possibly tell my mother (or heaven forbid, my dad!). So I never did. It was 1973.
But in the 1990s, I had a conversation with my daughters when they were middle schoolers, and when a boy tried pulling that on one of them, he ended up with a swift knee to a tender spot. And now, here we are in 2018. There’s #metoo, and there’s you, who came forward with nothing to gain but preserving your own sense of integrity.
It might seem as if it made no difference.
But it did.
These things change slowly, but change they do. Make no mistake. Eventually, the power of our stories will overwhelm the deniers hanging on by a thread to power that is eroding. It’s power they don’t deserve. When that happens, our sons & daughters and their sons & daughters will live in a world that doesn’t reward violence and belligerence.
I’d like to see it in our lifetime, but I’m a realist.
So, it’s been a few months. I could make up a whole raft of reasons for the radio silence, but the truth is job-related.
Last July, I was laid off from the job I loved, and not long after my last post in February, there were signs of a happy ending/soft landing. In a fit of holding off until I could share good news, I put off posting.
But I’ve waited long enough, and now I’m at that place where you just say “Now matters. Live here!”
So here’s a little story about the job I loved and lost. It wasn’t performance-related (the exact words of the HR official who hand-delivered my layoff letter). I was really good at what I did. But it was funded by “soft money.” Which is code for “grants.”
The particular grant I worked on for 10 years was funded through the Wisconsin State Legislature. The program was almost 40 years old, and provided a whole lot of bang for the $895,000 it cost state taxpayers. I could venture guesses as to why it was de-funded. But those would just be guesses.
My program was one of 16 around the state. We worked with adults – mostly women but some men, too – who had not been the main breadwinner in their households, but for any number of reasons found themselves in a position where they had to become the main breadwinner. My participants were divorced or separated from partners or spouses, married or partnered with someone who’d become disabled and unable to work, or who’d lost a job. In a couple of cases I worked with people who’d given up good jobs out of state to come home and see an elderly parent through his or her last illness. Those people had been supported by the parent’s pension or social security. One of them was paid through an agency that provided elder care to be their parent’s caregiver. All that ended with their parents’ deaths, and they needed to rejoin the workforce.
For 10 years, I got paid to listen to these people tell me who they were, then help them figure out how to reimagine their lives. Most days I went home feeling like the luckiest, most blessed individual on Planet Earth because, having already gone through my own version of the horrible realities my participants were living, I could serve as living proof that it was possible to come out on the other side.
It was something I would definitely have appreciated when I was where they were. Most were also completely inspiring – making courageous choice after courageous choice to make their lives better. (I’ve stayed friends with many of them, and that’s helping me now. As I said, luckiest & most blessed.)
I had a sneak preview this might be coming down the pike in 2007, when a state legislator (Jeff Fitzgerald was his name) decided to cut the program because, according to one of my then-colleagues, he figured that if it wasn’t at all the technical colleges, it didn’t need to be at any. (There was a 100-day standoff about the budget that year, and the 16 program coordinators from around the state took advantage of the time. We spent it informing our representatives about what we did. When budget was passed, we were in it).
“Your backup plans need backup plans.”
One of my mantras is “Your backup plans need backup plans.” My backup plans since the ’90s have been freelance writing, back-of-the-house for catering and anything else someone would be willing to pay me for.
It turned out, though, that I like having a steady gig with benefits and co-workers. When I looked at it through my Program Coordinator lens, the reality of my patchwork resume – a bachelor’s degree in music followed by journalism and project management experience – meant the average HR department would probably toss it for being too scattered. And there was the reality of my age – ie: not 30.
I needed something bigger.
I couldn’t do anything about my age (and didn’t really want to). But I could address the resume. So I started looking at graduate programs. I wanted something that would pull everything I’d done together and take it all to a different level. I also wanted something that would make me as fire-proof as possible for a 50-something woman whose work experience and college degree were at least as well matched as Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.
Which is the reason I went to library school. It’s a terrific degree – really versatile. People with library degrees work in all kinds of settings – IT, corporate, legal, financial, academic – the list is pretty long. And maybe it hasn’t gotten me a job yet, but the skills I’ve added to my existing toolbox have given me a level of confidence in riding out this layoff that I never would have had without it.
So, while I wait for my Prince Charming job to come along (I’m straight, which is why it’s not a Princess Charming job), my library degree is working for me. It’s also working for others. I volunteer two mornings a week at a university library, in one of their digital units. I’ve added book indexing and dissertation editing to the freelance journalism, marketing and technical writing/editing/content development I’ve always done.
And then there’s this blog, which started as a gift to myself. Thank you for reading it, and especially thanks for reading this post, which is mostly a ramble/meditation to get myself back into my once-a-week posting routine. A whole lot has happened in the past few months, not the least of which was finishing my first knitting/quilting hybrid project.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).