A Week after Independence Day, Some Thoughts on Being an American

(I meant to write and publish this on Independence Day, but I was hanging out with my family and never got to the computer!)

American flags

As July has arrived, I've found myself thinking about what it means to be patriotic in our current political climate. How can I say that I am proud to be an American when I am ashamed of almost everything our government officials are doing, saying, promoting? When disdain for anyone who isn't white, male, wealthy, able-bodied and cisgender runs rampant? When our government refuses to understand science and work to protect the world, when our national lands are up for sale to the highest-bidding oil drilling companies, when environmental restrictions are being overturned?

Our country where intelligence seems to have fled and stupidity rules the day?

Which brings me to another question: Can one round of really bad election results ruin America?

I hope not.

"Make American great again" as a rallying cry is problematic; it assumes America was, at some point in time, "great." 

And aren't we great?

We are proud of our history of rebellion and the quest for freedom and liberty.  We are a nation that helps other nations. We are a country that strives to spread freedom across the world.

I love America and I am glad to be an American. I am proud to be a descendant of people who came to America as immigrants looking for different types of freedom, from my most recently-emigrated great-great grandmother Annie who came from Sweden via a packet ship in 1863, all the way back to my great-something grandparents who came from England on the Mayflower.

But I can't say that without all of the problematic aspects of being an American nudging at me. I am not proud of what we did to Native Americans (and still, considering Bears' Ears and Standing Rock—what we are still, five centuries later, doing to Native Americans). I am not proud of our history of slavery. I am not proud of our history and ongoing relationship with racism and discrimination. I am not proud that all of the states have yet to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (and I'm ashamed that my state is on that list). I am not proud that in the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world (and in the history of humanity) there are homeless and hungry people. 

And yet, when I saw that row of American flags at an Independence Day celebration at a local park, I still got a lump in my throat out of pride for my country.

Patriotism appears to make zero emotional sense.

The day after Independence Day, I read this poem, "The Tent," by Naomi Shihab Nye and I can't stop thinking about it. I love how she frames the idea of patriotism as both individual and community stories. We create it when we tell our history, when we place ourselves on the map of humanity, when we form something communal. It's a story we create, and for everyone it is a little bit (or, likely, a lot different). 

A story was sewn, seed sown,
this was what patriotism meant to me—
to be at home inside my own head long enough
to accept its infinite freedom
and move forward anywhere, to mysteries coming.

to be at home inside my own head

Her poem somehow gave me the language to write about what I believe about America. I don't think we are great, not yet. I think we have had great moments. And I think we should continue to aspire to greatness; I think our potential for greatness is what makes my heart swell at the sight of the flag. 

It shouldn't be "make America great again." It should just be "make America great." 

​Looking at the current state of things can easily fill me with despair. So, the following list is perhaps more about fling out sparks into the darkness as it is about building anything. But this is a list, anyway, of the story I tell myself about the qualities that a great American should have:

  • A deep understanding of what freedom means and a commitment to honor and uphold the positive qualities of our society.
  • Active in both local and national politics. (In other words…every American should vote, after studying the candidates and issues.)
  • Educated, and not narrowly. Art is as important as technology, literature is as important as math. All subjects do, in fact, feed each other, and a population that is eager to learn as much as possible about many things will, I believe, create a society that is more capable and nurturing. (I feel constantly embarrassed, these days, about what people don't actually know about the world they live in.)
  • Committed to equal rights and equal access to opportunities, education, safety, and health care.
  • The ability to look forward and focus on building a better future for more people, not just the wealthy.
  • The ability to look backward, not to recreate "better days" from the past, but to learn from our mistakes and not make them again.
  • The compassion to realize that one individual's happiness is not more important than another's.  (Both within our country and without.)
  • A deep commitment to improving the world by using our knowledge to create green, non-polluting solutions and technologies.
  • A global perspective—the realization that we are a part of the larger entity of the world, and that we should use our wealth to help other countries in non-destructive ways.
  • An abhorrence for war.
  • The valuing of creativity, perseverance, hard work, and intelligence.
  • Accepting of "other" and recognizing that we are all different, but understanding that in our difference is our strength.
  • The ability to realize that there is not just one norm, that we each live within our own perspectives and knowledge and to see that as a thing to improve on.  (I know, for example, that I come from a place of relative privilege, because I am white and will not ever likely experience discrimination based on the color of my skin, but racism is a topic I care about and want to understand better.)

And yes, I know. Those are sparks: idealistic concepts that might not be achieved by humanity in decades. Centuries, even. Certainly not in the current political climate, which feels like a darkness we must suffer through. But despite our flaws, despite our failures, I still get a flutter at the sight of an American flag: We changed things. We can continue to change for the better—we can make America "great"—but only if we are willing to look at ourselves critically. Only if we as citizens can see that the greatness doesn't come from our leaders but from us, standing up and striving for greatness.

What qualities do you think a great American possesses?

Why Libraries Matter

Working as a librarian, I have had the opportunity to help people in many ways. Finding books, of course, magazines and newspapers and essays and poems and short stories and picture books and chapter books and biographies and how-to books and novels to scratch that “I want to read something really, really good” itch. Not to mention resources for research papers. I’ve helped patrons look for apartments, post their antiques for sale on Ebay, and find a solution to every conceivably imaginable “how do I do this on the computer?” question. And the printing! Photos from Facebook, divorce papers, tax forms, homework assignments, emails, resumes, obituaries. I’ve helped lost children find their moms and lost parents find their children. Sometimes patrons confuse the library for the phone directory, so I’ve looked up a bajillion different phone numbers. I’ve helped photocopy and scan. I’ve walked patrons to their call numbers hundreds of times. I’ve broken up arguments and been shouted at and once or twice shouted back. I have listened to people’s stories—so many different stories. Library edit
(Sometimes being a librarian is fairly similar to being a bartender, without the booze.) I’ve sent homeless men out the door with my worry. I’ve shown teenagers to the pregnancy section and hoped my body language spoke the compassion I felt for them. I’ve talked my librarian friends through their various crises. (As they have done for me.) I’ve helped bleeding patrons and strung out patrons but, luckily, never any puking patrons (one of the reasons I’m glad to work on the grown up side of the library). I’ve answered countless reference questions, some of them involving actual books.

I’ve been privileged to match the exact right book to the exact right patron and then had them come back and tell me thank you.

Last week, I had the opportunity to help in a way I never have before. A patron in a wheelchair, who had no legs, asked me if I would plug him in. He rolled over to the outlet and walked me through plugging his electric chair into the wall (various cords and electric boxes were required) so he could charge. I made sure he had something to read while his chair charged and he thanked me and I went back to my desk with a lump in my throat, feeling changed. There are many gratitudes I felt welling up behind that lump: that I have legs and can walk (and run and hike!). That technology exists to help people like him. That he asked me to help him so calmly and confidently, which suggests that other people have also helped him. That he asked me to help him; maybe this seems strange but it felt like an honor.

And it made me grateful for libraries.

I have been thinking about the importance of libraries since National Library Week. Ivanka Trump tweeted something inane about celebrating libraries and librarians and it made me fairly furious, seeing as how trump wants to cut off IMLS, which is the source of the majority of libraries’ funding. (Please, read this article with responses to her tweet, just so the combined outrage of many librarians can let you know that we’re not only introverts with our noses behind our books.) 

I hardly need POTUS’s daughter (or the jerk and his blind-sighted, backward-thinking, narrow-minded budget) reminding me that communities are valuing libraries less and less. Because in addition to helping people use the library every time I go to work, I also am told, in different ways but at almost every shift, that libraries are kind of lame. Patrons complain about hold lists, slow computers, damaged books, books we don’t own yet. They get annoyed at displays for different reasons. They say rude things like “this place is a dump” and “I only come here if I’m desperate” and “thank God I can afford to buy most of my own books.” And then there are the constant limitations that librarians and libraries are constantly bumping up against, because we only have a small budget to make this whole show work, and that means cutting corners when we wish we didn’t have to.

It’s not only inside the library, though, that I’m reminded. The world at large does this very well. I was once at a doctor’s appointment and the physician, upon hearing that I worked at the library, said “wait, the library is still open? I didn’t think people read actual books anymore, I thought they just read Kindles.” Or the city election a few years ago, when the good citizens of my town elected a vociferously anti-library person into the city council, which felt like the whole population marked the “libraries don’t matter” checkbox on their ballot. Or the way the publishing industry is declining. Or the way that intelligence, understanding, and learning are less important than wealth and body type and entertainment value.

So when trump’s budget plan included that IMLS cut, I wished that people would notice, but I didn’t expect anyone but the librarians would. I mean, wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have a march that was just about funding for the arts? (The NEA is just as important as the IMLS.) We could wear, I don’t know, books on our heads maybe, and think of the poster opportunities! But not many besides the librarians even really noticed.

Which brings me back to the legless man in the wheelchair at my library. Which brings me to me kneeling down and crawling around his wheelchair to get it all plugged in. Which brings me to knowing, and to wishing that the world at large could know, just how much libraries are not only about books.

Libraries, at their core, are about people.

And quite often they are about saving people, in both big and small ways.

A library saved me once, when I was an angry punky goth kind of girl, sluffing school because I couldn’t bear to walk into those high school doors. Sometimes I’d leave and drive around aimlessly, but sometimes I went to the library. No one else in the world knew where I was, except for the librarians, who left me alone. I’d sit somewhere and look out the window and read, and for a little while I’d feel a sort of peace wash over me. In the library, in my rebellious black phase, I felt safe.

Teenagers are saved with books that give them information about their problems—cutting and drinking and yes, sometimes unintended pregnancies. The elderly are saved with large-print books that bring them company and stories and happiness. Children are saved by beginning their literacy journey at the libraries. The unemployed use our computers to find jobs. The ill use our databases to find answers. The homeless use our couches to rest.

Libraries are about people.

So today, I am issuing a challenge. If you are at all civic-minded. If you care about libraries at all. If you know your senator’s number. Please make some noise. Write a blog post about why you love your city library. Write a Facebook status about why you love libraries. Post a photo on Instagram of the books you have checked out right now. Draw attention to how libraries influence your life for the better.

And then call your government representatives.

Let them know that defunding libraries is unacceptable. Let them know that libraries matter. Let them know that they don’t only matter to librarians, but to communities. To individuals who use them in a million different ways. To people who need help in a thousand different forms.

Libraries matter.

Let’s save them!


Why I Am a Feminist

Because I was born to a mother who is also a feminist. She taught me to cook and bake, to sew a straight seam, to love my family; she taught me that my value was only in homemaking if that is where I wanted to place it. She taught me I could choose who I wanted to be, no matter what church leaders or teachers or the prevailing zeitgeist said.

Because I had three sisters.

_MG_4096 edit 4x6 sisters amy becky suzette michele sue
these women are my origin story.

Because I was a strange, shy, quite child who lived in her head and imagination but, brotherless, really only knew anything about the male species via novels.

Because of gymnastics coaches who taught me that women could be more than only mothers and who then, quite often, acted as surrogate mothers to me, at least as far as bandaged rips and taped ankles and consolation and encouragement and cheering go. They taught me lessons about doing hard and terrifying things, about facing my fears straight in the face, finding the space inside myself that let me believe I could do the seemingly un-doable thing, and believing that space was right. They taught me I could fly and sometimes I did, and even though I can no longer do a double full or a giant or a front flip, I still can do a cartwheel, I still remember every swing of my last bar routine, I still find that the space is structurally sound. I don’t fly anymore, but I still draw emotional strength through the physicality of my body.

Amy gymnastics 1986

Because in the summer after third grade I sat alone in my backyard and I could hear the girls playing on the other side of the field and I wondered then at girls’ capacity for cruelness, how the world seemed to think we were soft and sweet but mostly we were crocodiles.

Because my dad loved me in gentle ways. Because he taught me to love books, to listen to music, to read the newspaper, to tell stories, to take photographs. Because once, when I was 15, he yelled at my date for getting me home so late. Because he taught me to water ski. Because he taught me to wander in the mountains, even if he never took me wandering in the mountains with him.

Also because he made a beautiful yard and planted all the flowers and grew tomatoes, peppers, summer squash; because he mowed the lawn and never taught me how to do any of it. Because he didn’t teach me how to throw a baseball (even though he loved baseball and, by all the family legends, was quite good at it) or how to throw a football (even though he played football in high school) or a basketball. Because he was quiet and suppressed and never found his way, never found his true calling, never felt like a successful man.

I am a feminist because of my rebellious adolescent years, when the only tools I had for dealing with what I was experiencing was what I had learned from John Hughes movies, from Disney princess ideals, from the social understanding of what “romance” means, from, even, romance novels. Because I fell for the fairy tale image of what society says relationships should be like and then reality didn’t make any sense. Because no one, not even my mother, had taught me that I needed to know myself before I could be loved by someone else. Because I didn’t know it was not just OK but even good to define yourself free from the definition of boys.

Because real, true women friends are hard to find but, when found, they are irreplaceably valuable in your life.

Because I had to make some hard choices that grew out of misplaced ideals and muddled understanding, because those choices changed everything, changed me in ways I am still experiencing, and that was empowering but I never should have had to make such choices in the first place.

Because I can debate with my friends who have different ideas about what is right and wrong and we can disagree but still respect each other.

I am a feminist because of books. Because of Anne, Laura, Harry (not Potter but Crewe), Louise, Kit; Petrova, Paulina, Posy and all of the other Shoes girls. Because of Pippi and Nancy and Mary and Sarah and Lucy and Charlotte and Meg and Karana, not to forget Meg/Jo/Amy/Beth. Because of Esther and Edna and Moira and Maddy and Elaine and Esperanza and Clarisse and Morgaine and Lavinia and Orual. So, not just because of books, but because of characters in books who suffered, survived, learned, changed, grew, discovered. I couldn’t learn just by living all of the knowledge I have gained through fictional characters, who have all taught me something about what it means to be a woman and, equally, what it means to be a person alive on the earth, trying to live a good life. Trying to be brave and true.

And because of poems. And poets. Poems have saved me more times than I can list, because I have found myself in them and because I have found an Other in them, because they have given me words when I couldn’t speak or they have spoken the words I didn’t know I wanted to say. And, if poems then poets: Emily Dickinson, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, Anne Stevenson, Louise Gluck, Jane Hirshfield, Josephine Jacobsen, Adrienne Rich, Muriel Rukeyser, Marge Piercy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Carolyn Kizer, Carol Ann Duffy.

Poetry books amy sorensen

I am a feminist because in seventh or eighth grade I wrote a research paper on the Salem Witch Trials and it disturbed me on so many different levels, the betrayal of women by girls, the betrayal of women by society, the malice and menace of human violence expressed in real terms against real women’s lives: that little research paper changed me utterly. Then, decades later, I found I am a direct descendant of a woman killed in those witch trials, Ann Poindexter, and a puzzle piece of my life fell into place. I am a feminist because I want to teach all of my little great-nieces what witches really are: women who threatened the patriarchy.


I am a feminist because I became a teacher and discovered, among so many other things, that the idea of teaching being the perfect career for a mother is a lie. Because it is immoral and despicable how teachers, more and more and more of whom are women, are treated by this country, specifically by this state. And because the nation’s regard for the education of our children is so small.

Because of college and because of what I learned in college: literary theory, feminist literary theory, queer theory. History. Linguistics. Folklore. Because of Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf and Luce Irigaray.

Because I am a Mormon—because I am a Mormon. Not because Mormonism lends itself to feminism; it mostly doesn’t. But because Mormonism needs feminists, it needs open minds, it needs broader thoughts or its sons and daughters will never change. Because Mormonism says “here is how to live your life” and my heavenly parents teach me “yes, perhaps that’s the ideal, but here is how to live your life, the one we gave you, the way we made you, the one we are making together” and because I see the most beauty in the non-traditional, non-conforming outsiders. Because I know our outsiders’ voices will make all the difference, but only if we open up our lips and use them.

I am a feminist because I am a librarian, because I see children and teenagers be changed by books, because I search out books with strong female characters, because I assure boys over and over that it is OK to read a book with a female protagonist. Because I almost never have to tell a girl that it is OK to read a book with a male protagonist because she’s already got plenty of practice with it.

I am a feminist because I had a daughter, who I tried to raise with my own vision of what it means to be a feminist, to be a woman in this world, as a part of who she is. Because I wanted her to have a backbone instead of a wishbone. Because I wanted her to fulfill her entire potential.

IMG_8175 6x8

I am a feminist because I had sons, who I tried to raise with my own vision of what it means to be a feminist, to be a man in this world, as part of who they are. Because I wanted them to have the courage to show their soft side instead of only exposing hardness and fierceness. Because I wanted them to fulfill their entire potential.

_MG_2809 jake nathan kaleb amy 4x6

I am a feminist because I believe I should make the choices of what I do with my body, not the government, not religious leaders, not my opinionated neighbor.

I am a feminist because I have been changed and influenced by so many good women: my mothers, my sisters, my friends both current and past. My friend Chris who is still, almost 30 years later, the bravest person I know. My two favorite college professors, Susan Elizabeth Howe and Laura Hamblin (and I am a feminist because of my least-favorite college professor, who had that air of some old-school professors that male poets were the real writers, while women poets were just hysterical, made worse by the fact that he wasn’t old at all). My grandmothers, Elsie and Florence, who each taught me something about womanhood, who I wish I could have known as an adult. The one young women leader, Lori, who, when I was fifteen and sixteen, looked past my black clothes and bad attitude and saw a person who needed love and acceptance more than conversion. I am a feminist because I have been blessed to learn from amazing women my entire life.

I am a feminist because I have read about feminism and studied the writings of actual feminists, because I know what it means more deeply than a few soundbites on cable TV news, because I will never understand women who say they are not feminists.

I am a feminist because there is always more to learn, more to change, more to fix in the world. Because we will never be finished with equality.

I am a feminist because I believe—no, because I know—that all people have amazing sides and dark sides, good and bad, unique ideas and abilities. Because there are always limitations but gender, race, nationality, identity, religion, socioeconomic levels should not be limits.

Why are you a feminist?

Words for the Men In My Life Who Voted for Trump

I have a theory that there are two types of men who voted for Trump: one is men who believe the rhetoric, who want the wall and the labels and the restrictions, whose fear-based hatred of anything Other drives them to stupidity and violence; and two is men who believe that there was no clear, good choice but that Trump was the least bad of two bad choices.

And while I disagree utterly with your assessment and choice, I can say that you are men who fall into the second camp. You see Trump’s ugliness and implied violence and fascist slant, and you voted for him not because you admire that about him, but because you thought the other option was worse.

I know that you are in the second group because I could not bear to associate with the first type of man, the type who hates based on race, gender, orientation, or anything not inherently evil. And because I have seen your goodness in other settings.  And because you have told me you only voted for him because of the other option.

Lady liberty on election day

When the election results began coming in last night, I began to panic. My heart started pounding, my chest ached, and I had a hard time breathing.

Because for me, choosing Trump is untenable. Choosing a bigoted, racist misogynist with the temperament of a grumpy toddler who needs a nap as the leader of the free world is not the least-worst option out of two bad choices. It’s the worst possible choice we could have made, and I expect absolutely nothing good to come from it.

From your choice.

And as the night wore on I grew angrier and angrier, my lungs tighter and tighter until I found myself making a sound that I had only previously made at someone’s death, a breathless, wailing keen of grief.

No one died, but something died.

My belief that Americans are, at their core, intelligent people, perhaps.

My faith in our judicial process.

But also…my trust in you.

How can this dissonance stand? How can good men vote for such a bad man? Is all of your goodness negated by this bad choice?

I still think you are good men.

But doubt has crept in to my feelings about you.

My concerns about Donald Trump as a president are myriad and complicated and deep. But my two largest are these:

Will he protect the environment? (No; he has stated that he believes climate change is “bullshit” and high on his priority list for his first 100 days is negating the Paris Climate Agreement and besides, he obviously has chlamydia from all that time he’s spent in bed with Big Oil.)

Does he stand up for human rights? As a feminist, I am most deeply worried about him stripping away women’s rights, because I know that when women start losing their rights, so do all the other groups that are seen as Other. (This is how I can answer that question: Nathan, today, in attempt to get his mother to stop weeping, joked with me. “Mom!” he said, “do you think Donald Trump likes libraries? He’s gotta like libraries, right? Who doesn’t like libraries?” and then I fired back, “No! Of course he doesn’t like libraries. He likes strip clubs and women with big tits in short skirts that make it easier for him to grab them by the pussy” and if that doesn’t illustrate how devastated and destroyed I am by this election—the fact that I shouted two words I absolutely detest at my 16-year-old son whom I adore—then I don’t know what could. Donald Trump will not stand for women’s rights; he will try to strip them because stripping is what he does to women. He stands for the rights of wealthy white men. Preferably angry white wealthy men who cannot bear the social ramifications of treating all people like human beings. He sees women as objects for having sex with.)

The man you voted for is power hungry and he will use that power to do bad things.

Already he is doing something bad: he is infiltrating my relationship with you. He’s making me trust you less. He’s making me wonder whose side you’re really on. He’s making me a little bit terrified that you are secretly men of the first camp, men who ridicule women, minorities, handicapped people. He’s making me fear that, given the choice, when Trump starts trying to give women’s power back to men, you might be tempted to accept it.

Before this vote, I never saw you as the patriarchy.

But now, a little, even though I still think you’re good men—now, you too are the patriarchy. To me, in my heart.

I trust you less.

(And, honestly: I am angry at you. So, so angry. Whatever political reasons you had for voting for Trump should have been superseded by a non-negotiable abnegation of Trump’s views on women, because I am a woman, because your daughters and your sisters and your mothers and your aunts and your neighbors and your friends are women, because I know you know women aren’t only objects but people, but when you voted for him you negated that. I am so angry I want to punch holes in walls and throw everything breakable around me against cement, I would like to incite violence against you but there is a small voice that says but they would only think you are a hysterical woman and see: already how it has changed, my trust in you.)

So here is what I need from you. From the men I know who voted for Trump.

If you want me to trust you again, if you want our relationship to be based in respect instead of fear, if you want to earn back my open and untainted affection for you, you have to doubt.

None of you have gloated, but you never can. Because you have to know that he is a danger to the world and you have to know that gloating for the triumph of badness is as horrible as the badness itself.

You have to tell me, “Yes, I voted for Trump, but I am not sure it was the right thing.”

You have to watch him and be sickened.

You have to know that you have lost any right to complain when his policies affect your life in negative ways. When that happens—and even though you are white men, it will happen even to you—you only get to take it.

You have to protest. You put this man in office, so when he does bad things, wrong things, horrible things, you have to stand up to him.

When he tries to lay waste the environment, you need to be there, protesting with signs, shouting and objecting.

When he tries to take away my rights as a woman, you need to stop him.

Your actions need to prove your words to me, if you want me to believe your motivations.

If you only voted for him because he was the lesser of two evils, if your choice wasn’t based in fear or misogyny or narrow-mindedness but in your belief that it was the only not-horrible choice, you have to prove it.

And you prove it to me by fighting against the awfulness you claim to know he is made of.

I need a few days, honestly. I need to grieve. I need to learn how to be in this new world where I am stripped of male allies. I need to know how live with my distrust of you.

I need to tape my shattered self back together.

And then I’ll be fighting, against Trump and all he stands for. And you’d better be there, fighting with me. Because if I’m fighting that fight alone, I will need to learn to fight all the fights alone.

Don’t let me down again.

(These 1349 words are for the men in my life who voted for Trump. I have no words at all for the women who did.)

The Best Way to Retain Teachers: An Ex-Teacher's Perspective on a Disturbing Problem

I have been thinking about this article from the Washington Post all day. It describes how, in Utah, to become a teacher you no longer have to have a teaching credential. Instead, you need a Bachelor's degree in the subject you want to teach.

A rare photo of my classroom

(The only picture I have of myself in my classroom.)

Probably I have been thinking about it because I made the fatal mistake of trying to engage people online who think this is a fantastic idea. "Learning about teaching is pointless" the argument always begins, and then it follows from there. "Because my uncle Tom taught me how to do geometry much better than the geometry/baseball coach I had in high school." "Because pedagogy takes time away from learning about the subject." "Because teaching is something almost anyone can do, so long as they know about their subject."

Now I find myself caught in a frustration loop, arguing with those voices in my head.

Of course, I'm not a teacher anymore. But I did teach, high school English for two years. When I decided to start teaching, I already had a degree in English, but to get my teaching credential, I got another degree, this time in Secondary Ed. (Were I to go back in time, I would just get myself a Master's degree instead of a second Bachelor's; I'm still not sure why I didn't even consider that option.) My English degree taught me about reading, writing, literature, history, grammar, and all things book-related; my secondary ed degree taught me how to teach what I knew to others.

I'd like to think I was a good teacher. I know I was passionate about it. I wanted desperately to teach each of my students several things: to love books, to write well, and to integrate literary thinking into their lives. I spent hours during my two years of teaching working on lesson plans. When I graded essays, I had a green pen in my hand, which I used to correct grammar and usage errors, write encouraging comments, and leave a final thought (on every assignment I gave). You can’t teach writing well without the comments and the corrections, but it takes so much time, especially when you’re grading 75, 100, 150 papers. I ran on caffeine and sugar and not much else during those years; I gained weight and I got wrinkles and prematurely grey hair. I loved teaching—but I was entirely overwhelmed by it. It consumed my life. I didn't go to church, or to family parties, or to my kids' activities. I just worked on my school stuff because I had to stay on top of it. If I didn't do it, who would?

And I did all of that work on a salary that would qualify me for food stamps.

Two years was all I could manage.

The Washington Post article says that "Education officials in [Utah] have been trying to figure out why 2 in 5 teachers leave the state’s public schools within five years."

Really? They can't have been trying very hard. Because their solution—let's hire people who don't know how to teach!—fails miserably at solving the problem. Their "solution" only tries to make it easier for people to become​ teachers, not to continue teaching, thereby underlining the idea that "qualified teachers" aren't the point, just bodies in the front of the classroom.

The process of becoming a teacher isn't the hard part. The hard part is continuing to teach for more than a few years.

Why do so many teachers leave the profession within five years?

Some of it is​ because of the pay scale. But if you dare suggest that teachers are underpaid, the reaction is swift: teachers should teach because they love their subject, because they love teaching, because they have the power to influence young lives. All of that is true, of course, but it is also beside the point. What other career requires people to be paid in encouragement and gratitude? And then there’s the always-popular response: But teachers only work nine months out of the year! Actually, what teachers do is squish twelve months (or more) of work into nine months.

It goes deeper than the pay scale, though. It’s also the working conditions, the run-down classrooms and ancient desks, the computer labs filled with painfully slow machines, the always-dirty floors. It’s the overwhelming classroom size. It’s the demand that if you want, say, whiteboard markers, then you know where Staples is. It’s the fact that technically, there is almost no time in the day for a teacher to use the bathroom. It’s the relentless, looming reminder of testing. And it is the overwhelming feeling that it is always the teacher’s fault when students don’t fulfill their potential.

And yet—we still love it. At least, I did. I loved being with students and trying to ignite their excitement, trying to encourage them to think broadly and objectively, trying to help them see how using the correct word might be the thing that gets them ahead in the world. I loved preparing lessons. I even loved the moments when, grading papers, I’d find a clever phrase or a thoughtful metaphor and think yes! Here! This student is learning! I would go back to teaching in a heartbeat—if they doubled the salary and required me to teach two classes a day instead of three. (Which will never happen, of course. Especially in Utah.)

Not anyone can be a teacher, and yes: pedagogy doesn’t save the world from apathetic, careless, or downright bad teachers. But here is what I know: I learned as much as I could about teaching before I got into the classroom. I worked my butt off during my student teaching experience and absorbed everything I could from my mentors. I was passionate about my subject and I put everything I could into my classroom.

But I only managed to teach for two years.

And I still feel like I failed as a teacher. Because I couldn’t endure, because it became too much, because I could see how I could give everything to it and it would still want more, because to be a halfway-decent teacher I would always be a horrible mother. Because I couldn’t thrive in a broken system.

Utah’s education officials have been trying to figure out how to retain teachers. Their solution is to throw unprepared people into a system that can’t keep the people who are prepared. That’s not even a bandaid. That’s a bomb.

Instead, Utah—the entire nation, really—needs to fix the system itself. If the state wants to retain teachers, it needs to create a working environment that bolsters and rewards, not drains and decimates educators. And it can’t only start with politicians. It needs to start with parents. What if every single parent in the state wrote a letter, demanding that their children’s teachers be given better working conditions? These parents need not be motivated by altruistic measures. They don’t need to care about the teachers at all. They need to care about their very own children, and realize that they will receive better education from teachers who are nurtured instead of drained by the system.

The solution to retaining teachers is not as complicated as Utah is making it. If the states want to retain teachers, they must create conditions that encourage teachers to continue teaching. The teachers would benefit—but even more importantly, the students would benefit. Until that happens, teachers and students will continue to suffer.

What "Make America Great" Means to Me

The display shelves in a library are a way we librarians promote books for different reasons. We put books there to help draw attention to forgotten gems, to inspire someone to read something they might not otherwise, to winnow selection down from what might be an overwhelming choice. In my library, we have displays based on genre in fiction and on topic in non-fiction. We also have staff displays, where each librarian has a shelf to put out books he or she loves; filling my staff display shelf is one of my favorite parts of my job, and I think we each unknowingly have little fan bases who check our shelves first before wandering the rest of the library. Throughout the library there are also new book displays, where we put (YES!) new books.

Display text

A few weeks ago, a patron noticed that our non-fiction new book display had a grouping of books that shared a similar theme. There was one about common core, one about Gloria Steinem, one called The Essential Bernie Sanders. Two about Jesus: Rescuing Jesus is about how Christianity is changing to become more progressive and inclusive, while Jesus Behaving Badly attempts to look at Christ through an objective lens (was He a revolutionary? was He racist?).  Perhaps the two scariest books were Atmosphere of Hope, which discusses possible solutions to the climate change crisis, and What is Islam, which discusses how “Muslims have historically conceived of and lived with Islam as norms and truths that are at once contradictory yet coherent.”

This patron took a picture of these objectionable books and then posted it on her Facebook page. She felt driven to drawn public awareness to the biased, left-wing, ultra-radical ideals of the Library. Then, just to make sure we were all aware, she posted the picture to the library’s Facebook page, along with a link to all of the comments and objections her friends had made.

Reading these threads, I was stunned. Absolutely, jaw-droppingly stunned.

And not just by her failure to understand the concept of a “new book” display. Or to see the humor in it—it’s kind of funny that so many “left wing” books ended up next to each other on a shelf which is essentially random on everything other than publication date. She somehow got the idea that the new book display was managed by one specific librarian (who her friends called illiterate) who is obviously trying to poison and control the minds of all thinking people who come to the library. And sure, the general population might not understand that there are many librarians responsible for buying new books, not just one. Nor that we take our jobs seriously, and that one of our roles is to represent modes of thinking that reflect a wide array of people, not just one group. But there is a sign, a very large sign, right on the top of the display, that reads “new books.” It doesn’t say “our communist ideals” or “liberal forever!” It just says “new books.” 

No, what stunned me was the response of her friends.

One commenter said the books about Jesus were written by anti-Christs. Another said that the “anti-Christian and pro-Muslim, pro-feminism pro-communist and pro-climate-scam” display must have been put together by Obama. Several said something along the lines of “I no longer go to the public library because the books there are wicked.” Many suggested doing something to make the books unavailable for anyone to check out (scatter them around the library on the wrong shelves, check them out and then don’t return them for as long as possible, hide them behind other books).

Only their tone suggested burning them.

I didn’t know.

I really didn’t know that people like this truly exist. Don’t all people instinctively understand that society cannot only be made of one way of thinking? Or is it just that I choose to surround myself with more open-minded individuals?

Maybe it’s just that I don’t think I could stand to be friends with such close-minded people. I don’t know if that, ironically, makes me close minded. But I couldn’t ever find common ground with someone who fails to understand that there is a variety of ways of thinking about the world. Or that objectivity helps you to see things more clearly—yes, even Jesus (whom I love). Climate-change deniers make me almost unbearably angry; the argument is so head-in-the-sand asinine that, all apologies, if you seriously feel that way I’m not going to hang out with you. Not even on Facebook.

Even more inexcusable to me is the blatant judging-a-book-by-its-cover in their responses. None of them know anything about the books, other than the covers. None of them would have likely bothered to even pick one up, read its cover copy, and think about its premise. I don’t understand this way of thinking, this refusal to look at anything other than the surface of things. To me, it is built on fear. If, for example, I really believed that climate change was a hoax, created by…well, I don’t know who is benefiting from this supposed hoax, or what they are gaining, but will go with that nebulous “someone” getting “something” from it…if I truly believed that, why would I be afraid to read someone else’s point of view? In fact, wouldn’t I want to read it, so I could have more points to discredit?

It is only when one’s belief or way of thinking is shaky that one is afraid of looking at different perspectives.

If I have learned one thing from being a librarian, it is this: a book is “good” or “bad” based only on individual readers. This is why we need many books with many different perspectives. The people on that Facebook thread are too narrowly defining what makes a “good” book: to them, the only good book is the one that reflects back what they already think. Everything else is bad, and as they are certain of it, their job now is to protect anyone else from reading such “bad” books. Because everyone else must think exactly like they think.

I stewed about that Facebook thread all day. I composed spiteful, sarcastic responses in my head; only my professionalism kept me from posting one. Then I went home and told Kendell about it, who laughed at the shallow thinking and reminded me that I can’t change them. People think what they think.

But oh, how I want to change them.

Because as the night went on—the night of Utah’s caucuses—I started equating the people in that Facebook thread, their vitriol and their fear, their narrow-mindedness and their surety that theirs is the only right way of being, with the supporters of Donald Trump. Doesn’t his slogan “make America great again” have to do with one answer? By “great” I think he means how it used to be in, say, the 40s or 50s, when American society was dominated by rich white men. When women were mostly in their rightful place—at home with the children—while men ruled the world. When black people knew their place, when Hispanics stayed on the other side of the border, when gay people kept themselves properly hidden. When handicapped people were the brunt of jokes.

“Great again” is a return to when the world made sense to one specific group of people, and the voters who support Trump want that world back. It hinges on the word “again”; it wants to go backward instead of forward.

They want singularity instead of multitudes. They want one way of being and everyone else can bugger off. They want the stereotype of “American citizen” to be the only American citizen.

They want one answer to be the only answer.

Deep down, that way of thinking doesn’t only disturb and anger me. It terrifies me. It reminds me of something Margaret Atwood said about utopias: “A union was a Utopian idea. So was Nazi Germany. So was Cambodia. And there’s a whole list of them, of people who thought, ‘Well, we have to build the perfect society, and we know what it’s like, but there’s a catch—we have to eliminate a bunch of people first, because they’re getting in the way.’”

An ideal society cannot be perfect, because “perfect” requires a single way of being right. An ideal society requires multiplicity. It requires messiness and upheaval and clashing ideas. Only one idea—that way lies genocide.

I think multiplicity is equally terrifying to some, because yes: our current way of being isn’t simple, old-fashioned American whatever. Living in a society with multiple mores requires that you understand your own mores. It means your ideas and beliefs will be challenged. It demands that you be flexible and open and even loving and accepting. It means becoming comfortable with the fact that your way of being is not the only way.

It’s challenging.

But it is also glorious.

It means that happiness, success, or goodness aren’t achieved by only one route—and that means more access to happiness, success, and goodness. It means that if you are afraid of feminism, you can continue being afraid of it because no one can take that fear away from you. It also means that I am free to continue believing in and promoting feminism. When we narrow ourselves to only one way of thinking, we remove other avenues to understanding and knowledge.

I want American to move forward in being great. Not to go backward to some idealized version of greatness. To something sanitized and monochromatic and very, very white. I think our greatness lies within our multitudinous aspect. We have always been a country of migrants, it’s just that now, the migrants are no longer white Europeans. Our greatness lies—or, it can if we allow it—in our ability to see things in many different ways.

Our greatness is found in libraries, where yes: we have left-wing books. We also have right wing, and moderate. We have books with completely whack-a-doodle theories, but if that’s your thing, it’s there for you. If your thing is bodice-rippers, if your thing is gentle fiction, if your thing is art history or wicca or crocheting with dog hair, it's there for you. My thing—literary novels, and poetry, and essays, and writing about women’s rights, and memoirs and how-to-run-well and quilting and gardening—my thing is there, too. That they are all in the same library, that they may even lean upon each other on the shelves: the fact that more than one way of thinking exists doesn’t damage any individual way of thinking.

Maybe libraries themselves are a metaphor for America’s greatness: a collection of many different ideas. As a librarian, part of my work is making sure that all of the ideas are accessible. As a citizen, part of my work is respecting the varieties of our communities. That is a greatness that Trump and his followers, that the commenters on that Facebook thread, are terrified of. Their narrow ideals would shape us into something equally narrow, rigid and unyielding. The very opposite of greatness.

This Feels Personal

I remember the first time I heard a library patron say something like this: "Oh, I never buy any books. Why would I when they are free at the library?"

I was, I confess, stunned. Sure: they are free at the library. I suppose it makes a sort of financial sense, if you are able to overlook the intrinsic immorality of not supporting writers and other creative folk. But really it was the tone of the statement, a sort of bragging. As if there are extra points awarded if you make it to the end of your life without ever having purchased a book.

That bothered me for awhile, until I heard it repeated (in different variations) enough times to realize: people want something for nothing.

This year, the town I both live in and work for had an excruciatingly important election. We were voting for a new mayor, three city council positions, and two tax issues. One of the tax issues was simply to continue the Care Tax, which helps fund arts in our town. The second was a increase in property tax that would help the city actually, you know, run.

I'm so disappointed this morning by the results that I could cry.

Actually I have cried.

First off, the mayor who was voted in is a man with a proven track record of dishonesty and incompetence. Not to mention the fact that he is cronies with the one city council member who is sheer poison.

Second, the property tax increase did not pass.

I don't know which fact is going to be worse for my town.

But to me, even knowing that people want to get something for nothing, this feels personal. It feels like the entire city cast a vote against me.

Because I don't only live here, I work here. I go to the library for twenty hours a week, and I help people. I help them find books to read, I teach them how to download e-books to their Kindles, I show them how to find print sources for their children's research paper. I find sheet music for them to use at funerals. I arrange for them to have books to use for their book groups. I look up strange information like, what size is the largest flat screen TV on the market? I show them how to use the Internet and a word processor, how to download a file from their e-mail and start their Facebook account. I listen to them complain, I give them advice, I sometimes even get teary-eyed for them.

I field their endless complaints about the naked statue in the south wing.

I've done this work for just five and a half years now. I work with many people who have done it for decades. And I love my job. I love it. But there is also the fact that in five and a half years, I haven't ever had a raise. I've worked harder, though, as we've lost employees to attrition who have never been replaced. When I started working at the library, there were nine people in our department staff meetings; now there are five.

And the library isn't the only department that is hurting.

The absolute, real truth is that the city has cut as much of its spending as possible, and the tax increase would've helped to turn things around a bit. The candidate who was elected as the mayor turned this into a diatribe about debt and Utopia (the high-speed Internet wiring infrastructure the city is installing), making it seem that something other than raising taxes could be done.

Well, in a sense, he is right.

The other thing that can be done is to cut services.

But think of how all of those get-something-for-nothing people are going to complain when the free services go away.

Because you really can't get anything for nothing. There is no magical money fairy who will pay for things like city parks and their upkeep, and road surfacing, and street lights, and yes: a fairly amazing library. Hoping or praying won't make the money just appear. If people want those things, the money must come from somewhere, and it is no longer coming, enough, from city expansion and sales taxes.

It must come from the citizens, and the ridiculous thing? Taxes on an average house would've gone up about $8 a month. EIGHT dollars. Less than you'd pay if you bought a new novel every month. (Like that would ever happen.)

But this is what most people voted for. Except for the majority of the town—which didn't bother to vote at all.

I'm disgusted by the stupidity.

And I am, to put it bluntly, sad.

Because those same people who cast a vote for dishonesty, incompetence, and drama-mongering are still going to show up at the library. They are still going to ask for my help. They just don't value it enough to actually pay for it.

And I know. I know there are people who will say "Well, just find another job." (I had a meltdown this morning, right over the peanut butter sandwiches I was making, when my actual, real, live husband suggested that.) "I love my job," I could respond, but it is more than that. It isn't only about the fact that I love having a job where I get to talk about books, write about books, handle books, where I help people find the stories that will influence how they think and what they teach their kids and how they implement their faith.

It's bigger than me.

It's that I believe in libraries, and in librarians. It's that I think I'm fairly decent at my job, and I know the people I work with are brilliant at it. It's that I think every community deserves a library staffed with intelligent, responsive librarians—and that those librarians deserve to be compensated for their work.

Should the fact that we love our jobs mean that we shouldn't be paid a fair wage?

(The only reason, quite frankly, that I am able to work at the library is because of Kendell's job. If I had to support us on my own, I would qualify for food stamps on my salary. And I have two college degrees!)

This is one of the big reasons I left teaching: because it devoured all of my time and my soul, and yet I still didn't have enough money to pay for ballet classes.

Working as a librarian doesn't devour my soul, but it doesn't financially support me, either.

It has emotionally supported me, though. But now I don't know if that is enough—because the community I work for doesn't really appreciate it.

And realizing, this morning when I read the election results, that the community I live in doesn't value the work I do?

Yes, it feels personal.

Looking for Peace in the Midst of Bitterness

(Please note: this is a political post with my political opinions, which are not meant to offend you. I'm just sharing what I think, not judging you for what you think. Politics aside, there is a recipe at the bottom of the post!)

Last night I fell asleep at 9:15. Partly this was the time change catching up to me, but mostly it was because I couldn't bear listening to the election results. But I still woke up with an anxious heart and a troubled mind. Today felt to me, in fact, like doomsday. Or at least, the beginning of the end of something.

I wasn't blind to Mitt Romney's faults. I think he should have chosen a different vice president, preferably a woman. (It's best not to get me started on the Republican perspective on women.) I think he comes from the filthy rich perspective and his environmental ideas are reprehensible. But I also think he is motivated by a moral compass. I don't say that because we happen to share the same religion, but because I felt like he earnestly and truly wanted to make America better.

I don't feel that way about Obama.

I think his environmental policies are better than Romney's (but still need vast improvements urgently). I think the Democratic perspective on women is one that goes along with the 21st century. I think his foreign policy is laughable and will have a world-wide impact for decades to come. Every time he promised to make more jobs I felt like screaming from my frustration—how does government create jobs? His handling of the economy couldn't be worse, and Obamacare? Obamacare will, in my opinion, become the cancer of the middle class.

Sure, the cost will sting a bit for the wealthy, but hello: they are wealthy. They will feel it less than the middle class. I don't believe health insurance should be managed or provided by the government. I think it should be provided by employers and be managed by insurance companies; I think government's role in health insurance should be to oversee (to insist upon) reform. (I do know that there are plenty of people who legitimately need assistance with health care. I have needed it before myself. But I think it should be a temporary thing, not a lifestyle choice.)

I also don't understand why insurance should be free. Didn't we learn in kindergarten that nothing is free? Someone will have to pay for Obamacare, and it will be middle-class people like you and me. People at Kendell's job are already talking about how, when we re-enroll in our health insurance next spring, the price increase will be unbearable. Couple that with the increase in taxes and the lack of pay raises and I am already starting to worry that I'll have to find a different, full-time job. All of which might sound like I don't want to help other people who are less fortunate than me, which isn't true; I do. I just don't think that Obamacare is the direction the help needs to take.

But what bothers me more than Obama's policies is his moral center. To me, it feels like he wants to be president because he likes the power and the fame, not because he wants to shape a strong, contemporary America. To me, the American he's shaping isn't even America anymore. It's more socialist than democratic and much more vulnerable. Couple that vulnerability with Obama's failures abroad (the Benghazi thing, the Israel thing) and it starts to feel nefarious.

I don't trust him and I don't think he has made my life better.

So today was a hard day for me. The ruthless gloating, the news pundits going on and on about Romney and how weak his campaign was. "But he won 49% of the popular vote!" I kept arguing back to the radio, "which means almost exactly half of the population wanted him to win." But mostly, it was the relentless anxiety and the knowledge that I am powerless to change any of these things.

So I searched for something to appease my anxiety. I scrapbooked. I went running. I ate the rest of the cake I made yesterday for work. I wandered around Target and bought some clearance Halloween stuff and some peppermint extra-dark-chocolate Lindt truffles (I am eating one right now as I write this in fact). I put away all of my Halloween decorations and got out all my Thanksgiving ones and repotted three of my plants and reorganized my linen closet and put together a big box of stuff to take to the thrift store and vacuumed the cobwebs off of my front-room ceiling. I listened to Kaleb talk while I cooked dinner.

I cooked dinner.

And, despite the other anxiety today brought (Kaleb's echo for his upcoming appointment with the cardiologist and all the accompanying terror that brings even though he's likely to be just fine), my little efforts at finding peace in my heart helped—a little bit. I don't feel any more optimistic about our future. But I do feel grateful that, for now, I have control of my home and my influence over my family at least.

Here's what I made for dinner. It's become a recent favorite at our house:

Buffalo Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Real Women of Philadelphia)

4 cups chicken, cooked and shredded (about 3 breasts)
12 soft-taco sized flour tortillas
2 cups monterey jack cheese, grated
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 cup Frank’s hot sauce
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles
2 T butter
1 tsp Lawry's seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
2 T vegetable oil

(I doubled this recipe and have some leftover taquitos.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread a thin layer of oil over a cookie sheet. Over medium low heat, melt butter. Add Lawry's and garlic powder. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add cream cheese and stir until melted and completely combined with butter and spices. Whisk in hot sauce, bleu cheese, and milk then simmer for about five minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Combine chicken and sauce. Lay out a tortilla; fill with 1/3 cup chicken and a sprinkling of cheese. Tightly roll up taquito and place, seam down, on the oiled baking sheet; repeat until chicken is gone. Brush taquitos with vegetable oil on the top. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, then flip the taquitos over and let bake until golden brown. Serve with bleu cheese dressing (or sour cream & salsa if you're Kendell).

on Voting

Last week our city held early voting in the city building, which is attached to the library. I loved that week. With people waiting in line for so long (sometimes 2+ hours) to vote, there was an enormous increase of people in the library. A busy library makes me happy because honestly, it's sometimes not busy enough, which makes me sad (because we have a great library) and anxious (because I want to keep working here). 

But it also made me a little bit sardonic. Because every time I needed to walk into the city side of the building, a line from a Sheryl Crow song would start repeating itself in my head:

The good people of the world are washing their cars on their lunch breaks, hosing and scrubbing the best they can in skirts and suits.

I know. That's weird, right? But it also makes sense in my head. Because it just seems so passionately good, voting early. Not waiting for the last minute because seriously, how do you decide? It made me feel a little bit jaded, looking at all those earnest voters. "Really?" I wanted to ask them. "Really? You really believe what any politician says enough to stand in line and then cast your vote?"

Because honestly: there are only a few things I believe that politicians will do. Like I totally believe Romney when he says that he's going to "open up" America's natural resources. YES! Bring on the fracking-induced poisoning, I can't wait for that. Great choice! And I absolutely believe Obama when he says he wants to continue "moving forward." More debt! Sign me up!

But the good things they're all promising to deliver? I don't believe them.

I’m not really sure what’s happened to me. In previous elections I’ve been, if not an early voter, at least a hopeful one. With this election? I’m not hopeful. I’m stripped of hopeful. And that, apparently, makes me feel cynical. Cynical and exhausted.

I just don’t have the energy of those hopeful early voters. I know: voting is my civic duty. It is a privilege. It should make me feel powerful, but it really makes me feel voiceless. Neither of the candidates want to take my country in a direction I want it to go. For me, voting (and I will vote tomorrow, regardless of my political malaise) doesn’t feel like choosing anything other than which path we will take into our own destruction.

Filthy Rich

A few weeks ago, the friend of a friend called me a bigot in a Facebook thread. Obviously this little jibe has stuck in my throat because almost two months later it's still bothering me. This happened in a discussion about THIS ARTICLE, which describes Mitt Romney's charitable acts. Don't get me wrong: I am grateful that he is one of those charitable sorts of ridiculously wealthy men. More ridiculously wealthy men should be like him.

But I don't think the fact that he is ready and willing to help those less fortunate than him (all 99% of America) negates the other fact: he is filthy rich. It was that term, in fact, that caused the "bigot" label to be stuck on me. In my comment, I was trying to point out a contrast I've actually previously written about: the difference between sympathy and empathy. Of course Mitt can sympathize with those of us who have actually had to worry about how we'll make our mortage payments or manage to pay off that looming medical bill. He probably feels sorry for us. He can (and does!) reach into his pocket and help people out. But he will never, ever be able to empathize. He will never be able to know how it feels to be filled with the terror of a very-real prospect of losing everything. Or even the less-dramatic moments, like when losing $100 feels like the end of the world . The sting of a dentist's bill or the derailment that happens when a car breaks down or the washing machine needs to be replaced.

He can have sympathy for us poor working schmucks but he will never have empathy because he has never been in our shoes. 

"But does that mean that only a person from a working-class upbringing would make a good president?" my friend asked. (I imagine she was trying to smooth out the bigoted wrinkles.) Of course not. There is an argument to be made about a man who runs his business so well that he's achieved that sort of wealth. A brilliant financial mind is something our country obviously desperately needs. And really, we don't want someone ordinary to be our president. We want someone extraordinary, right?

"But does his wealth mean he can't relate to average Americans?" she pushed me further. (Can you tell she is a teacher?) Most of me immediately says yes, it does. The problems and troubles of an average American have never been his problems and troubles, so how can he know how to help? Of course, that's not allowing for the power of either sympathy or imagination, which is what the very smallest part of my response builds on, the part that says no, his wealth doesn't keep him from relating because we are all, wealthy or not, still human beings.

To my mind, that article extolling Romney's financial graciousness is an attempt to make him seem like he's more like me. More like your average American, willing to step in and help out his neighbor. All of which makes me think, really? Really? Mitt Romney (and, frankly, nearly any politician I can imagine) is nothing like me. If I had any extra, I'd be willing to put down money on the fact that he's never wondered about his worth when he's looked at the contrast between himself and others. (I've been known to feel like wealthy people must be more deserving of the abundance they have, as if financial status is proof that all of life is us playing a big round of sibling rivalry, with God giving the most to the people he loves best. Even though I don't really think it works that way. Usually.) He hasn't agonized over how to pay for college for his kids or worried that the pressure to get good grades (and thus qualify for scholarships) might be breaking them with unforseen consequences. He's never gotten a stomach ache over spending too much at Walmart.

Or probably even shopped at Walmart.

The solutions to my problems are things like "maybe I should go back to work full time" or "what expenses can I cut from _____ so I can pay for _______?" The solutions to his problems are things like "the cabin on the Canadian shores of Lake Huron" and "let's just build an elevator for all the cars." How could a person like that ever relate to me? 

I stand by my label of "filthy rich," however, and its implications that it is somehow morally wrong for a person to be wealthy. I do that within the context of the label that stranger gave me: bigotry. A bigoted person is one who is "biased beforehand" or, in other words, makes a decision based on a lack of knowledge; the bigoted are "obstinately and blindly attached or unreasonably devoted to some creed, opinion, or party" and are "intolerant towards other groups." (At least, that's the part of the OED definition that applies.) Another good definition is this one: "a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance" (from Merriam Webster). Calling the term "filthy rich" bigoted is implying that the wealthy are a racial or ethnic group that needs protection from hatred or intolerance. I suppose I missed the politically-correct meeting wherein we all decided that the wealthy are a minority group? Or that my bitterness about not being in with the wealthy means I have hatred for them?

But deeper and more important than political correctness is that I am not basing my "filthy rich" label on a lack of knowledge. In my own life experiences I have met plenty of wealthy people who believe their wealth makes them better than others. They spend on themselves without regard for others. I'm also not blindly attached to that knowledge, as I'll readily admit I know a few wealthy people who don't let it go to their heads and who do good things with their money. Does that make me intolerant towards the wealthy? Perhaps, but I don't think so, and here's why: it isn't such a clean dividing line between wealthy and poor. Mitt Romney might be the candidate with gobs of money, but the 80% of us Americans who don't live below or very near to the poverty line are also complicit. I don't have an elevator for my cars, but I am still filthy rich. I have an air-conditioned home with food in the cupboards. My children all have shoes and sweatshirts and toothbrushes. We have a computer and a TV and cell phones, a health insurance plan and a green and grassy yard with shade trees and flowers and birds, while 20% of our population doesn't, and then when you stop to consider the rest of the entire world it all just seems impossibly screwed up.

I don't know what the answer is to our financial problems. I know I believe in working for what you need (a fishing pole instead of a fish), not getting government handouts. I also believe it is immoral that people are struggling with poverty and homelessness and hunger while others live the fabulous life. Maybe it isn't a problem that can be solved by humanity. I am hopeful that, despite their wealth and how it makes them unable to relate to the average American, politicians might figure something out. But I also know this without question:

We are (almost) all of us filthy rich.