Tag Archives: Economy

Neverwhere and Distance

Taking the bus to work allows a lot of time to read. One of my books this week is Neverwhere. I am reading it again for a book club but it has been a favorite for years. One idea has especially stuck with me for years. That is how easily one falls from society and how hard it can be to return.
On the streets near my place you see a lot of homelessness. Mostly people ignore them, avoid them, and fear them. I often wonder why. What is it their fear? Sometimes I wonder if part of it is the fear they could easily be in that position themselves. Does it feel contagious or dangerous to get to close or acknowledge them? This is part of the the idea in Neverwhere. The act of acknowledging them, of helping them causes him to lose his place in society and fall through the cracks into the city under the city.
I understand this. Over the years I have spent a lot of time with homeless in many cities. There is a distance, a sense of separation from society that feels insurmountable. Being there either with them or as one of them you feel like you are in another world, a harsh and dangerous world far removed from the life you so recently knew. People rushing by have no connection to you and look down with a demeaning disdain and fear of contamination. Parents pull children away like you will eat them or infect them. Women move across the street like you are a threat to their safety.

By contrast, living in the high rise and living on the farm were vastly different from each other but they are connected. There is a pleasant and casual hostility between the sections within society, a rivalry of place and meaning. It is vastly different than the alien world underneath that none of them want to acknowledge.

The department head at one job asked the group how many of us were 1 or 2 checks from being homeless. Less than 5% could say no and most of those shared expenses with families. Working every day, many with multiple jobs, most with two or more family earners, many in school, most sharing expenses, yet we all lived paycheck to paycheck. Each of us knew that we needed every single check just to survive.

When that is always in the back of your mind (And how could it not be niggling at you to some extent) you see those homeless and know that you are one injury, illness, pregnancy from being where they are. Maybe the fear isn’t fear of them but fear of our economy and society that will not protect those on the edges. Would your friends be there if you went on the street? Would they blame you for being lazy or understand what happened? Would they help or would the distance grow? Would you be able to let them help or would your shame increase that distance?
I volunteer at a public garden and many people walk there or take the bus. Nearby is a walking underpass everyone avoids and says is unsafe. But the only reason anyone has ever given is that the homeless sleep there and need to have regular purges by the city. Daily I see homeless people. They are desperate, hungry, dirty, often broken. Many have given up. Sometimes they make me uncomfortable with smell or actions or talking to themselves but they don’t make me afraid.

But I approach them as someone that feels a distance from society and those around me at work, in stores, on the bus, on the beach. I still struggle to relate and communicate as a part of society. They talk about sports, family, nights out drinking, casual friendships, and simple lives they assume everyone relates to. Groups have always been hard for me anyway but life has made that more true rather than less. My degree was gained in classes with students half my age. My family is distant, callous and judgmental. Friends are far away. I worked my way to a high rise apartment and fell more than once in life. I have lived in many cities and in many parts and sections of society from the farms to the law offices, the hospitals to the construction sites, the streets to the high society events.
When people around me talk about how hard it is to afford living I remember mom sitting in the car calculating how she would feed 8 of us on $10 for the week. I remember selling cookies or anything else she and I could make so I could afford to be a part of the business meetings. When they talk about taking time off work or leaving their jobs or their 18 year old needing to look at getting something I remember I was a model at 14 and carrying lumber before 12. I remember working 5 part time jobs to pay for school and still being buried in school debt now. I remember driving my shiny new Mini and my limping 40 year old Honda. They talk about fearing the homeless and I remember the van of guys trying to grab me and the old man shooting the shotgun at the kids picking blackberries and us running unsure if he would really shoot us. I remember fights in the street and quiet nights answering phones in the room beside the morgue. I remember gardens and farm animals. I remember dark streets and formal dresses. I remember dying friends and casual game nights. I remember motorcycle trips and camping in the cold. I remember hospitals that couldn’t tell me what was wrong because there was no point in testing someone with cheap insurance and hospitals with spacious private rooms for comfortable recovery for those with the right insurance. I remember losing my job knowing I wouldn’t be able to pay rent and just leaving to avoid it. I remember using a public bathroom to get into my suit or formal dress so I could be at the event and smiling or the interview. I remember mother crying after a hellish trip to get to a meeting because she realized everyone there just had dinner, dressed, drove over and was reasonably calm and feeling normal and she was desperate, stressed and exhausted. The car caught on fire on the way there, her cancer treatments were possibly coming back, she had a migraine, one child was sick and another hurt, dad and she fought that day, a storm slammed into the house as we left for the meeting but there was no rain when we arrived and everyone else was dry, the floor in the bathroom collapsed and the mortgage company wanted to take the house.

Distance. It will never fully leave me. I can never completely escape the feeling I may not belong and that those around me can see it. Even when they cant and I know it, I feel like they can. I feel the distance so I can’t escape it. So, I understand the idea of falling through the cracks.

Distance
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Returning to life

The desk was cold and hard. the room was noisy, but in a distant way that crashed like waves on the bubble she felt around her. Being here was odd, fascinating, wonderful, scary, and felt like an impossible blend of familiar and strange.
Returning to university had been hard but she was glad she had acted on her decision. sitting here waiting for class to start she watched this room full of kids half her age and smiled. In some things she related all too well and in others it was like dealing with another species that grew up on another world. She has friends in this room and others she barely knows. A few she barely tolerates but that is the nature of a university. This is not her first or even her second. It also won’t be her last but she will graduate here.
Emotional distance has kept her going for some time now. Getting here hadn’t been easy but it was worth it. That morning she had been up early as every other day to get to one of her 5 jobs. Every break in class was an hour or two she could be at work and tuition was high. The sun from the window behind her caught the sparkle on one girl’s toe as she moved then on her finger. Watching the girl she recognized the ring from work that morning. Washing the dishes in the cafeteria was soothing in a way but sometimes the private university students were rude to staff they considered beneath them. This girl she remembered came through not long after the hilariously stoned boy that had been shocked by her hand reaching out the window for his plates.
A voice broke into her watching as someone realized she was there and joined her. The group project was halfway done and the team needed to meet soon. On her other side sat a friend from last night’s gaming session. These kids were bringing her back and although they didn’t know it, healing her.

After the past few years seeing the world with college students in this small, secluded place was exactly the separation from life she needed. Community college had been good. She had finished both programs. But she hadn’t gotten the certificates because she left before the optional test. Community college was still in Houston though and that was the last place she wanted to be. Here she was in the world of this small school and these people that saw the world fresh and light with none of the darkness she had seen in the world.

Darkness was there but here she could remember how to find the balance inside to deal with it. Here she could remember the important things not what business and society said was important but rather those things that make people smile or laugh. Learning with them and teaching in the writing center reminded her that helping and teaching healed both people.

STEM to STEAM

Recently, on NPR, I heard a news program regarding a change in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) program nationwide that is developing. Specifically they are adding Arts…thus creating STEAM programs. This struck me as not only interesting but a very good idea, as well as very appropriate to my blog.

The process began in middle school and elementary schools with teachers in math and arts getting together to create joint curriculum. The reasons for this were sound then and have expanded and developed as the program gains momentum and is implemented more widely. Initially it seems to have started because artistic students, often well suited and very good in these fields never develop an interest or learn the basic skills necessary because the traditional teaching methodology simply does not work for them. From personal experience I can agree with this statement. I have taken quite a bit of math, engineering, and technology related classes at levels from elementary through college programs and done well in them. However, it was in spite of the set program and systems that I did well, not because of it. I felt many times that it was a constant battle to communicate with professors and other students and to get them to see I understood what they were teaching but I understood because my mind applied it the ideas and projects in my head not based on the pointless rote lessons I had moved beyond instantly because they were useless and slow. I had to explain in detail, every aspect of the engineering and proof of every architectural idea I put into projects that other students breezed through because they used the standard rote cookie cutter design that was both a waste of time and bad design. I learned a lot, far beyond the level of the class in question, but that was not the project. I worked significantly harder at each project to get a decent grade and I proved I not only understood the material but understood the process, the reasons, the calculations, the applications, the implications, and how it connected to other work. So why could I not just draw the simple box? Why did my grade not reflect my understanding? I cannot draw the simple box because I do not think like that, the waste of time and resources flew into everything I think and feel. The base design was wasteful, destructive, already designed, and showed no understanding of the material, just an ability to spit out what someone else said. I saw this in business, economics, physics, engineering, algebra, finance, calculus, and many other classes. I inherently understood the practical uses and connections to fields from art to bio-genetics, from English to manufacturing; however, the memorization of a list of formula was beyond absurd. Not only would it never happen, it wasn’t necessary in any practical sense.

What does this have to do with the STEM to STEAM developments? These are the very ideas and processes that are impacting these changes. Students that could be brilliant in these fields will have that chance. Students with creative minds will not learn they hate math but rather that math is part of their art. Looking into the future we see changes in every aspect of life, work, education, economy, and society. What does this mean for the future of careers? Critical thinking is something that develops with creativity, obviously not the only development, but an important one. The ability to adapt, integrate ideas, see possibility, develop ideas, and reach new pathways is already growing rapidly in importance in the job market. This development will only increase as changes occur more rapidly and in more aspects of life impacting every aspect of a career. One thing to consider is how much more quickly a small societal or other change can now impact the economy, and thus jobs at every level. As an example let’s look at another news story heard this week: they have developed a new genetically modified apple called the Arctic Apple that does not brown when cut. People are commenting to the FDA that they do not want it approved but the FDA has found no danger and will probably take the recommendation of the food service and food production industry and approve it. In some cities people will immediately change buying habits in regards to apples as they have other foods. Other areas will complain but do little. Food service will begin looking for availability to this type of apple and wanting less of others to save cost and processing. This means shippers, growers, pickers, fertilizer companies, those that supply fertilizer ingredients, processing plants, small towns supported by these businesses, and more will quickly be impacted. Construction may move to a new area, restaurants in one area will lose business or supply and another will increase, surplus supply will need new distribution channels, and people in all these impacted businesses are now impacted by one simple approval stamp. This particular one is slower than many because trees have to grow and that takes time, but many of these things can happen overnight. Weather can even change the total economy, as it is now because of the late crops in the south using the propane right before major freezes causes a shortage in many areas. I could detail a long line of impacted businesses and people from this. But this emphasizes the need for flexibility, adaptability, creative ideas for development, ability to move into temporary markets, ability to connect disparate and widely different ideas into a whole picture in the developing job market.

STEAM already has a government board examining it to alter the funding for STEM programs and many universities are implementing it already. Princeton is combining dance into this line…I need to look at how, I just can’t picture it. I will cover some of these ideas more in other blogs. I think this one has given enough to think about for one sitting.