I am exhausted.  There's nothing on my agenda today except sleep and relax. 

I've spent the past week, and most especially the past three days, preparing myself for a position as an election official for the Harris County primaries.  There was a two-hour training session in Election Law, and an online training session in how to process voters, set up the polling place, and assist voters with language issues, physical disabilities and close down the polls.  There was a trip to pick up the voting lists on Saturday, and a lengthy session preparing the voting lists and familiarizing ourselves with the various forms that would be used.  There were also a couple of hours spent ensuring that we had a Vietnamese speaking clerk.  My husband and myself both speak Spanish and English, so that was covered.  There was also a visit to the polling place On Friday to meet the people who would let us in and see where the polling would take place, set up the voting machines (minus the computerized tallying devices), and locate restrooms and water fountains and such.

 Yesterday, I arrived at the polling place as the sun streaked the eastern sky with magenta, just about 6 am. We put up signs, rearranged the tables and chairs we had already arranged once , set up the tallying computers, connecting them to the voting booths,  tested the system, and organized and laid out all the papers and forms we would need to process voters, At 7 pm, the polls opened and our first voter arrived.  Our polling location served three precincts for the Democratic Primary.  We were available for voters until 7 pm, at which time we locked the doors, closed out the machines, broke them down and packed them up, made sure we had the forms organized to turn in, and cleaned up the area in the school library where we and our voters had been, and took down all the signs.  My husband & I then delivered the electronic vote tally machines and all the forms to the Reliant Arena, where we were checked out as cleared at 9:20 pm. Long day, during which we processed 32 voters in our three precincts, and helped another dozed or so find the right place for them to vote:  Republicans who had wandered into the Democratic Primary by mistake, people who wanted to vote Democratic but were in the wrong polling place for their precinct, and one first time voter who was in the right place but whose voting certificate was not yet valid.  There was one particularly rude Republican woman who made some sniping comment about "I'm not a Democrat.  I believe in working for a living, which I have done for 40 years."  Of course the first thing I had asked her was if she were here to vote in the Democratic primary and she had said "Yes."  It was only when my husband who was checking her in asked if she minded if her registration card was stamped for the Democratic party (as we had been instructed to ask), that she railed up and declared herself to be a Republican "certainly not a Democrat":and made her snipe.  We simply smiled and told her where the Republican primary for her precinct was being held. "  I did have to wonder why she had said "yes" to my question about being there to vote in the Democratic primary with that attitude.  Perhaps she simply wasn't listening, or perhaps she just wanted to snipe at us.  I'll never know, but she was a most unpleasant woman!  PS  we were instructed to ask them if they minded their card being stamped, but that it was perfectly ok to allow them to vote if they said no.

 We had a couple of Democratic voters come through who had gone to the usual polling place for elections only to find out it was the Republican primary being held there, and who commented that they were not told where they needed to be.  Now I know those folks had the same list of polling places for both primaries that we had, so I have to wonder what instructions they had been given for helping Democrats find the correct place to vote.  One voter told us she had been directed to "the elementary school" on the right street, only there were two elementary schools on that street about two miles apart, and she had gone to the other one first.

We also got to meet some of the children who attended the school, many of whom had no idea what we were doing there in their library.  We explained to them about voting, told them what the machines did and how they worked (look but don't touch), and watched as their eyes shone with learning something new.  I was rather astounded that their parents hadn't taught them anything about voting.

I got to use my Spanish with one or two voters, and no Vietnamese voters came through the lines.  However, the clerk did give me a few lessons in basic Vietnamese for elections.  I can now say "Republican party," "Democratic party," and "registration card" in what she assured me was passable Vietnamese.  She's a delightful young woman with, like me, and undergraduate in sociology, about to head off to Boston in the fall for a graduate program in public policy, specifically health care policy..

I did not do an exact count of the number of people who had early voted, but a quick flip through the books convinced me that of the 1000s of registered voters in those precincts perhaps around 250 had early voted.  Of course, some of those still shown as not having voted were probably voting in the Republican primary.  My sense, while watching the election results on the 10 PM news, was that voting turnout for both primaries was a tiny fraction of the registered voters in Harris County, and turnouts for Republican primaries was much higher than for the Democratic one.  

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that we were paid for the hours we put in on election day (up to a limit of 14 hours, when we put in nearly 15.5 hours) at $8 an hour.  That meant the county paid the three people at our polling place about $10 per voter.  We were not paid for the hours put into training, picking up supplies, preparing materials, arranging the voting place, and setting up the voting booth machines. Nor did we receive any mileage for these activities, nor for the return of the machines and forms.  I'm not complaining, just delineating what the compensation terms are.

If I have one complaint to make it is that so many registered voters do not show up for primaries, do not educate themselves on the candidates and therefore don't vote in all the races which have more than one candidate, or believe the sound bytes in ads without checking out the facts.  One race here involved two candidates for a judge position (we shall omit my feelings about elected judges here),  One of the candidates is an ethical, honest judge.  The other was bankrolled entirely by a local attorney whom that  ethical incumbent judge had ruled against in a recent court case.  This second candidate had received very poor ratings by peer reviews from attorneys and judges.  I had a little insider information on this case, as my brother was an attorney for the "winning side" in that court case, and was incensed that this other attorney would sabotage a competent, objective, ethical judge this way.   His objection was not so much to the character of the opposing candidate, as to "get even" attitude of the attorney bankrolling her.  The incumbent, as of the last reports I saw before crashing last night, was losing.

Politics is messy.  I'm not sure why we should embrace petty behaviors, forego the privilege and responsibility of voting, nor act uncivilly to each other.  There's winning an election, and there's winning the nastiness race.  Personally, I'd rather lose with honor.  Of course the downside of that is having a bunch of petty actors in our government.  It's our own damned fault is we don't participate in the process.  You can vote (I did), you can serve as a poll worker and vow to be gracious, you can work in a campaign and vow to be ethical, and above all, you can care enough to educate yourself and vote for person who will best fulfill the office the way you think it should be fulfilled rather than vote on the basis of political party, racial identity,emotionally based causes, what your religious leader tells you, or what is popular with the neighbors or your boss..  I plan to put up a yard sign in the fall.  It will say simply  "HAVE YOU VOTED YET?""   I'm thinking about putting one up soon that says "HAVE YOU REGISTERED TO VOTE?"and leaving it up until the fall early voting starts.  Non-partisan, participatory democracy.  Think about it.  If you don't participate, who knows what 
 
 
I passed a corner on which there were two churches, both with large expanses of greenspace, and it hit me "Why aren't more churches running community gardens?"  That got me to thinking about churches and how there are things I believe churches should be doing, and things I believe they should not be doing.  Mind you, I was raised high church Episcopalian, but I have attended Baptist and ALC-LCA Lutheran and Unitarian churches.  I went to VBS at Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ as well as my own church.  I quit going to church more than 20 years ago.  Why, you ask?

1.  The move toward fundamentalism even in the Episcopalian and Lutheran churches I attended, combined with an emphasis on the conventional "man-woman -2+ children" family as the central focus and unstated Ideal church members.  I actually had a non-working wife tell me I should teach VBS (I was supporting myself and attending graduate school full time) because "you don't have a husband and children to look after so you don't have so many demands on your time."  Yeah, right, you self-centered oblivious twit!  I also don't have a husband bringing home $80,000 a year, a maid to clean my house (not these aren't assumptions; these are things I knew about her),  a brand new car under warranty, nor sufficent medical care to figure out why I'm so tired all the time and why my joints hurt so badly.  I didn't say that, but I wanted to.  What I said instead was, in the sweetest tone possible, Ï'll see if I can fit it in between my three jobs, my classes, studying, and cleaning my house, doing my laundry, getting in groceries, cooking, and mowing the grass."  She looked puzzled.  At the time, I thought she was puzzled as to why I was being difficult.  In retrocpect, I think she was puzzled because she thought I was being dishonest about my workload.  For the record, I team taught VBS and Sunday with a couple of other women.

In the church I grew up in, care of the elderly, disabled, widowed, orphaned and financially struggling was part of every parishioners life.  Now the approach seems to be to preach "prosperity through Jesus." Translation:  you aren't praying hard enough or Jesus would fix your problems.  PFAH!

In church I grew up in, the parish hall might serve as a poling place, and parishioners might serve coffee and cake to voters, or watch their children whiel they voted, but never did our priest or deacons tell us who to vote for nor try to enlist us in a movement to desich social policies nor change laws.  If we did that, it was on our own.  Church was for our spiritual health, politics was for the health of the American Way, and never did the two mix.  We did not proselytize our beliefs through church pressure on politicians nor social movements to influence and control the beliefs and behaviors of others.  Oddly, I grew up believing in a God that could forgive ANY sin and that it was not MY place to judge other'people's sins.

In 1969, I regularly sat around people in the Baptist Church I was attending listening to them discuss where to eat out for lunch after church and liberally sprinkle their commentaries with the N-word and the S-word -- you know the one for Hispanics that rhymes with "Hispanic" but is several letters shorter.  So much for that second greatest commandment of loving thy neighbor as thyself -- or maybe it depended on how wide you considered your neighborhood to be.  Even then there was a Black community not more than a mile or two from my house, and maybe three miles from the church, from which came the black janitors in our schools, ordlerlies in the local hospital, bus drivers, garbagemen, service station attendants, and yes, the butter and egg man who came to our door twice a week.

I grew up in  a different world.  The main thing that has changed are the things I didn't want to change -- people are less loving toward one another, and the main thing that hasn't changed is that people are still trying to teoll other people how to live.  My ideal church would teach only love.

It would less concerned about fancy facilities and congregation size and providing a fancy house and car for the minister than in providing support in times of tragedy, sustenance for the poor and troubled.  It would be less concerned with whether it was "the only way to heaven" than in teaching people how to love unconditionally, including loving themselves.  It would recognize that there probably isn't a single, solitary person in the US today who hasn't been introduced to the word of God and Jesus Christ.  It would be less concerned about running  a school designed to indoctrinate children into that religion and its dogma than in running one which enabled children to thrive academically and contribute to society 
 
 
Several things brought this to mind today.  One was a posting about kindness by a Facebook friend on The Course in Miracles.  Another was was an incident in a grocery parking lot in which a man, holding his small son's hand visibly hesitated in the pedestrian crosswalk (which passed to the rear of our vehicle but our tail end was still in it as we waited to merge with the line of exiting vehicles).  Then he chose to walk in front of us, just as the line we were trying to merge into moved, rather than remain in the pedestrian crosswalk and wait a few seconds for us to move.  I asked my husband what kind of lesson his son was learning from such behavior and how it would contribute to the breakdown of our society as everyone becomes increasingly "me firsters."  The third was the behavior, once again, of another shopper as I wheeled through Kroger doing my shopping.  Once again, a woman stopped behind my electric cart where I was browsing goods and made a sort of snorting "You're in my way" noise.  I turned around and said sweetly, "I'm sorry, I'm getting some of this tuna."  She then went around me to make her selection from the other side of the wall.  The amusing thing is that by the "drive on the right side" American rule, I was STOPPED on the left side, and she had lined herself up behind me.  Had she been "driving on the right side" to begin with, I would never have been in her way!  So, why, pray tell, did she stop behind me and make that noise?

We are rapidly becoming a society of people who fail to distinguish between the types of "self-ness" I listed in the title of this essay.  Mental health depends on maintaining those distinctions.  Self-absorption is a characteristic of bipolar disorder according to the mental health websites and the bipolar blogs.  I learned this trying to deal with my bipolar cousin.

It is actually the milder forms -- self-indulgence, self-centeredness -- that causes most of the problems in  the social fabric.  People who have to get in front of others in traffic, causing accidents, is a manifestation of self-centeredness.  People who have more than enough money to live luxuriously and still strive for more is a form of self-indulgence just as eating too much, drinking too much, gambling too much.  It carries a price.  That price might be a health problem or relationship problems.  I often hear how people like myself "envy the wealthy."  Ever read what Jane Fonda has said about Ted Turner and his own happiness?  Notice how much discussion there is about how Mitt Romney and his wife are out of touch with average Americans -- how much should I trust someone who has no idea what my life is like to run the national government and make the laws that affect my life?  People can indulge themselves with power, fame, as well as food and drink.  Anybody remember Leona Helmsley?  You think she felt loved?  You think people wanted to be around her?  Did she ever make anyone feel loved?  Look at Charlie Sheen, Brittney Spears, all the celebrities whose lives are a lengthy list of legal troubles, divorces, career disasters, embarrassing spectacles,stays in rehab.  I should envy people who cannot form a long attachment to another human being?  Would it surprise you to hear that I know of a couple of women who pat themselves on the back for their devotion to their children and whose children have confessed how miserable their lives with their mothers have been?  According to at least one study, children from large families are more likely to exhibit poor conduct and suffer from depression.  However other studies contradict this.  Sometimes the depression in large families, especially poor and African-American, according to one study and especially when they have more children than they desired, forms not in the children, but the mother.  You can indulge yourself with religion, a role such as your profession or motherhood -- all of which are generally good things.  The motto I suppose, is "All things in moderation."

Self-esteem and self-love is the WHOLE self.  It is also about self-determination, and the freedom to be who you are.The road to that path begins with questioning why you want a particular thing, or why you want it so badly, or how much of your self-definition is wrapped up in it.  Self-examination can be painful, difficult, terrifying.  It is absolutely essential to achieving mental health.

READINGS

Hello Gratitude, Good-bye Self-Absorption  Marietta McCarty  Psychology Today
The Challenging Path from Self-Indulgence to Self-Nurturing  Leon F. Seltzer  Psychology Today
Conduct Disorder  (one of the components contributing to this is family size)

Self-Assessment Tests for mental health
 
 
I have a solid liberal arts education.  I also have a business education, and an education in applied statistics.  The FIRST place I learned statistics was in Sociology, where I also studied research methodology.  The second place was in Psychology, in which I minored.  The THIRD place was in my graduate program in Demography and Ecology..  The FOURTH place was in my MBA program, and the last place my PhD program in Applied Business Statistics.

We hear a lot of talk about "job oriented education" versus liberal arts education.  Really, however, most "job-oriented" education is a rehash of liberal arts courses.  After all, marketing is really just psychology, and market research simply getting inside the heads of consumers.  What is management?  Good management is also psychology.  Oddly enough, some of the same people I hear ranting about "psychobabble" spend hours of time each year attending "motivational seminars" and :"team building" exercises, both of which rely heavily on psychological principles.

One of my pet peeves on the internet is when I try to sign in to some website I've registered on but forgotten my password to, and I click the "Forgotten your password?" link, and I have to ENTER MY EMAIL ADDRESS AGAIN!  Ok so my programming education was not in the currently most popular languages, but surely it is still possible for the email address I already entered trying to sign in to be automatically transferred when I forget my password?  Or better yet, if I just click that link, shouldn't the program be able to pick up that information from my first attempt and simply email me the reset protocol from that?  It's little things like this that can drive a person up a wall.  My husband and I started talking about this and ended up deciding that there are countless programmers out there who are technically skilled -- they can write code quickly and effectively -- but lack the critical thinking skills to properly design the code to serve the user well. 

I have noticed a similar thing in market research studies.  They ask a lot of in depth questions without asking some of the most relevant ones.  I was disqualified from a study recently apparently on the basis of not having eaten at a particular restaurant.  Now if I were running a restaurant, I might indeed be interested in the impressions of it my customers have had and whether they would recommend my restaurant to others.  If I'm looking to grow my business, however, I would be more interested in why people who haven't eaten there have not eaten there!  In my case, I simply had never heard of it before.  I was curious enough after I was booted from the study to look it up online.  Turns out there's not a location close to my house, and perhaps I was booted for my zip code.  However, it is close to my doctors office, and when I go to see her, we usually stop in somewhere near her office for lunch.  I've been known to pick a place on the basis of the type of food, such as a Nigerian restaurant we passed, or simply on the basis of the sign outside saying Houston School District employees got a discount.  No, I'm not a school district employee, but I liked the attitude that sign represents!  If I truly was booted for not having eaten there, I think they might have done well to ask why, offering answer options such as "I've never heard of it."  "It's too far away."  "I think it's outside my price range."  "I don't like that kind of cuisine." or "I generally go to the same places I know I like."

"Liberal arts" does NOT mean "liberal perspective' (whatever that is, and I'm a liberal who knows a lot of other liberals who think differently than I do about a lot of things).  :"Liberal arts" means a wide sampling of disciplines:  literature, sociology, psychology, history, anthropology, "hard sciences," mathematics, languages, geography, philosophy, religion, fine arts, and yes, even some overviews of engineering, business, law, and medicine (at least at some universities).  

The study of literature teaches one to ask relevant questions.  So does the study of composition.  Great job interview and resume writing skills, without a special course in those skills.  Also technical writing, copy writing, and journalism skills.  I cringed the other day when I heard an ad on TV use "less" when the word "fewer should have been used.  I don't recall the product, but the line was something like "less outbreaks" or :less blemishes."  I actually hunched my shoulders and grimaced.  Want to bet the person who wrote that took a B school course in advertising specializing in copy writing?  Gosh,  I learned that in grammar and composition in my liberal program!  Yes, poor grammar gives me a bad impression of a product, person, or company.  Come on, admit it, it does you too.  Ever gotten an email that says "Congratulation!"  Don't you think "scam!"  Sure you do, because any reputable business would use the "s" on the end oof that word.

So before you nod your head next time someone bashes liberal arts, ask yourself this critical question:  Do I think for myself, or just believe what someone else with an agenda says because I agree with their agenda?
 
 
Not long ago, my comment was deleted from a FB page for being ""ëthnocentric."  The discussion was about Black women styling their hair in European styles versus the nappy natural.  I clearly stated that I thought both were beautiful and wondered aloud whether choice of hairstyle on any given day might not just be a woman's prerogative.    What I did say that might have been offensive was that if a woman was working in fashion modeling or entertainment and insisting upon wearing her hair in the natural style would cost her the job, might the better part of self-esteem be to take the money and quietly fight to change opinion on the need for  European styles.

After all, we all make similar concessions to "professional dress and appearance"all the time.  Is my brother really a better lawyer in an expensive suit and tie than in jeans and a Tee?  Nope, Legal work goes on in his mind, not in his clothes.  Yet he has spent decades wearing those suits and ties because the prevailing attitude is that they inspire confidence in the clients.  I could have a juicy thing or two to say about clients who have to see expensive clothing to have confidence in an attorney, but I'll keep it short.  They're too stupid to understand the law and gain confidence in the attorney from listening to him or her speak, so they have to rely on things like seeing "successful"clothing on him.

A similar thing happens in European fashion markets and European and American entertainment.  Demographically, the majority of the clients of the fashion houses and purchasers of the entertainment are European or European Americans.  Leaving aside the discussion of whether or not it's racist for natural hair to make them uncomfortable, it appears that in fashion part of the sale is for the client to picture herself in the clothing.  Conceivably, it's a little more difficult to picture one's white self in a gown worn by a black woman with natural hair.  Why, if the client can get past the skin color, would the hair matter?  White women can't get their hair to style that way.  When a woman at a fashion show is trying to envision herself in the dress, she is thinking about the whole "look" that is presented, a hairdo she could never achieve acts as a deterrent to seeing herself wearing the outfit.  With a European hairstyle, however, she can see herself in it despite the model's skin color.  Kind of like the lawyer's suit.  

It is a little harder to make the same kind of argument with respect to people in the entertainment field.  I suppose it all comes down to seeing the entertainer as "radical"or not.  If Whitney Houston had appeared in The Bodyguard with natural hair,  or if Beyonce appeared in videos with natural hair, might the huge potential customers of the movies and the music balked?  it is true that for many whites, Blacks with nappy hair and African heritage clothing are seen as radicals, and they are scared of that.  I think some secretly fear that if the Blacks ever took power, they'd become slaves in retribution.  

At another level, however, there is a great human social compulsion toward conformity and similarity.  As a feminist, I made a lot of women and men uncomfortable by not conforming to the "feminine behavior" and pattern of dress.  The truth be told, I was not wealthy enough in college, not even financially "comfortable" enough to dress ""like a lady." So I wore jeans and work shirts and sandals in the summer and hiking boots in the winter.    Not designer jeans either.  They were cheap, easy to launder, and durable.  In fact, I still have a work shirt, patched on one sleeve and threadbare from the 70s hanging in my closet that I wear around the house sometimes.  

What rankles me about the way my comments were treated is this:  as a woman, I very much resent someone telling me what I am SUPPOSED to think, say, do, how I'm supposed to dress, or act "to be a real woman."  I find it very hard to imagine that if I were a Black woman, I would bristle just as much at someone telling me I'm "self-hating" if, for professional or any other reason, I wear my hair a certain way or not.  Call me peculiar, but I have always consider the root of self-love to grant nobody ELSE  the right to be the decision-maker of WHO  I AM AND WHAT I DO.  If that's ëthnocentric," then perhaps all races need a little more of that kind of ëthnocentricism!  
 
 
Recently, we have been watching the BBC mini-series Bleak House.  One theme that runs through  this, my  favorite Charles Dickens novel, is communication:   missed communications, confused communications, failure of communication at all.  To me the most poignant moment resides in the burial scene in which a husband comments "If only she had known that I loved her so very much that nothing else mattered."

My immediate response was to think, "Well, idiot, why didn't you ever tell her so?"  To me the idea that a husband and wife could be so utterly mistaken about the other's priorities and feelings for one's self shocks.  However, the historical context explains it.  Bleak House was written in 1852/3, during Victorian times when, from most literary evidence, men and women hardly spoke to one another about anything meaningful, particularly sex and feelings.

Communication may be the most important skill in life.  Parents start the process by accepting children's expressions of feelings without denying them.  In my experience, after listening to people for nearly six decades talk about their childhood and parental issues, the worst thing a parent can say to a child when the child expresses a negative emotion is "oh no you don't feel that way."  As a kid I was fond of screaming "I hate you!"  My father would look hurt and say "You're really made at me aren't you?"  Then we would talk about why I was mad and why he did what he did.  My mother and maternal grandmother on the other hand would often "correct" me about my feelings, while looking severely wounded.  "No, you don't hate me, you're just mad at me."  Notice that both my father and mother were clarifying for me the difference between "hate" and "being mad."  The main difference is that my father's method led to a discussion while my mother's method shut down communication.  When I got older, I generally said "I'm so angry with you..."  My mother would still shut down, deflecting the conversation with something along the lines "How can you say such things to me. Don't you know that hurts me."  As she got older she sometimes put her hands over her ears.  I don't know what my father would have done, since he died shortly after my 10th birthday.

My observation, over 59 years, is that unspoken conflicts fester and often develop into bigger problems.  Even more deadly are  the assumptions we make about what people will do if we tell them how we feel.   That being said, there are "better" and "worse" ways to express negative feelings about something someone else does.  According to the books I have read and the counselors I have talked to, the "best" way to express negative emotions is in terms of the way you yourself feel when someone has done something that makes you mad.

For those who have never been a caregiver for a disabled person, which is actually something akin to being the parent of an infant, that role can be demanding, overwhelming, exhausting, and often feels like one is unappreciated.   as a caregiver, my husband sometimes reaches this breaking point.  Since I was often feeling rather like warm dog poop and edgy at the same time, this led, initially, to raised voices and silly circular arguments.  Eventually, we both applied "I" language as in "I feel  unappreciated when you don't say please and thank you when you want things."  and "I feel like a burden you'd like to be rid of when you yell at me."  Then we resorted to humor to further take the stress out it.  One example, "Would you please get this lump in the bed something cold to drink -- tea, water, coffee, I don't really care."  "ooooh no!  Now I'm gonna have a waterlogged lump!" as he went to get it.

What this nation needs is a good lesson in communication.  It has descended to the level of passive-aggressive potshots, name-calling, rampant assumptions about what the other person thinks and believes, and silly accusations which frankly border (even fall over the edge into) paranoia.  The first step to communication is honesty.  Honestly listening, and honestly stating one's concerns.  Party "leadership" has fallen far short of meeting this criteria.  The spin each party puts on events, some of which appear to me to be deliberate untruths designed to sway emotional voters, has reached the point of ridiculous distortion of reality.  I find myself asking "Are they dishonest because they know that their honesty intentions, if expressed, would kill their chances of being elected?"