Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bodhi Day 2011 / "the turning-point"/ Laughing with the mystical crow / True spirit of Christmas update
















"Enlightenment - that magnificent escape from anguish and ignorance - never happens by accident. It results from the brave and sometimes lonely battle of one person against his own weaknesses."

(Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano)

Thanks to Beth for linking to the above quote.

Thinking about Buddha's enlightenment vigil this morning and The Four Noble Truths.

December 8, 1970, was a turning point, the day when Richard returned from his time in Vietnam, arriving at around 3 a.m. at San Francisco International Airport. We had no idea it was Bodhi Day. We certainly were not enlightened that day. I am still not enlightened, not even a Buddhist, but I have found a measure of peace in that I was with Richard in the last few days of his life and that he wanted me to be there. His last "words" to me were "Thumbs up."

Today while out walking by myself after getting together with friends for breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., I saw the regular flock of 13 geese again at Marine Park. I looked in vain for the distinctive 13th goose. Sitting down on a large rock, I studied the group for about a half hour, thinking that the light was making it difficult to see the one goose that didn't match the rest of the flock. It's a mystery. They all looked like Canada Geese today. Then a single crow landed on a rock near the flock, looked pointedly in their direction and laughed in the way only crows can. I laughed, too, because just before I began walking, I had read "The Showings: Lady Julian of Norwich, 1342-1416," a long poem from The Stream & the Sapphire, by Denise Levertov, with this:

They were abashed,
stranded in hilarity.

But when she recovered,
they told one another:

'Remember how we laughed
without knowing why?
That was the turning-point!'

My heart is still with Richard after all these years.

December 15, 2011 update:

From Taradharma's blog

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Standing Bow Pose / Looking out at Bellingham Bay

















Back in November, a metal sculpture of a woman in the Standing Bow pose, a variation of Natarajasana (King of the Dancers), appeared on a tiny island in Bellingham Bay near the Taylor Street Dock. All I can find out through Google searching today is in a Letter to the Editor of the Bellingham Herald where it is given a thumbs up by a local woman and referred to as guerilla art, with hopes that the City of Bellingham would allow it to remain there. A mystery. I couldn't find any other photos of it on the internet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day 2011 in America / City of New Orleans koans















December 6 is St. Nicholas Day

... Good morning, America, how are you?

Don't you know me? I'm your native son.

I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans. I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done ...

Monday, December 5, 2011

"When Amy came to Dingle"






















Listen.

I wonder how many people, men and women, hear Amy Winehouse's voice and know, without a doubt, that they are not alone on this earth. I remember hearing her voice for the first time. I was in a hurry. It was in the midst of war, inner and outer. I stopped to listen. It is an ancient voice. Astounding that such an emotionally vulnerable young woman carried the gravity and levity of that voice for as long as she did. I am moved by what she says at the end of this film clip about listening to Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin:

"... Gospel is so truthful. There is nothing that, you know, I mean I'm not religious, but there is nothing more pure that the relationship with, you know, your God or what you believe in, your faith, you know, there is nothing stronger than that, apart from your love of music, and so gospel to me is very inspirational."

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A marriage that began today in 1948 / An extended meditation on our parents and their long marriage
















Our parents married on December 4, 1948. Our father was 34 years old. Our mother was 32 years old. Both had been married before and had to get special permission from a bishop to marry again in the Episcopal Church. When I was 17 years old, my mother told me that she had been married before. What a shock that was. We didn't know that our father had been married before until after our mother died. I don't know when or where this photograph was taken, but my guess is that it is in 1948, when they were engaged. This photograph was among a carousel of slides that my father showed me a few years after my mother died suddenly in December of 1994, the day before their 46th wedding anniversary. My father died on St. Patrick's Day in 2003.

I can almost remember them being this young. I hadn't looked at these photos since the year our father died. Our parents are just getting to know each other. They are hopeful.

Here are our parents in the 1960s, at age 50 and 52, in a somewhat solemn photo and a laughing photo taken in a photography studio:












































and when they were in their 70s in the late 1980s in a photo taken by me:














Today I am feeling grateful for our parents-- our father with his gardens and his games of Solitaire and his world travels in retirement, our mother with her art work and her books and her cooking, our parents playing Scrabble, our parents enjoying life together for 20 years after we grew up--our mysterious and eccentric parents that I am only beginning to know now, in the years since they died.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"...The world is a Bridge..."






















This morning, right after I woke up at 4 a.m., something that I don't usually look at on my wall caught my eye, and then I remembered that today is the day that my mother died suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1994. What I saw was my mother's calligraphy and ink drawing with a quote she was given by a friend:
















"Isa (Jesus), son of Mary said: 'The world is a Bridge , pass over it, but build no houses upon it. He who hopes for a day, may hope for eternity; but the World endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen.'"

Original Persian:
-"عیسی پسر مریم (در آنان می شود صلح) گفت :' جهان است پل ، عبور بیش از آن است ، اما هیچ ساخت خانه بر آن او امیدوار است که برای یک روز ، ممکن است برای ابدیت امیدواریم ، اما ماندگار جهان اما ساعت آن را صرف در دعا و نماز برای استراحت است نهان ".'

That's my mother at Anchor Bay, California, just north of where my parents lived from the 1970s until her death in 1994. I believe she is in her 70s in that photo.

I am feeling close to her today, although it wasn't always that way.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A one-hour walk on the first day of December 2011 / Early Risin'

Taylor Street Dock at 8:45 a.m.:






















Looking out over Bellingham Bay:

















Looking back at Taylor Street Dock:

















Expanse of sky and islands from Marine Park:

















Expanse of water and islands from Marine Park:

















Partial view of Marine Park's flock of 13 wild geese:






















The 13th goose, a regular member of the flock of Canada Geese:

















Walking down the steep part of Taylor Street Dock on my way back:

video

Music for an early morning walk in the inland waters of Western Washington:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011 / Strong winds and rain and sunshine

It's a Bellingham Thanksgiving with many grateful people out walking early in the stormy morning on the Taylor Street Dock section of the South Bay Trail and a man playing Frisbee with his dog at Boulevard Park in the wind and rain, and a sunbreak late in the afternoon.







Monday, November 21, 2011

"... with sorrow and with great compassion..." / UC Davis and Portland






















(The photo of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet came from here.)

I never watched "Kung Fu" when it was on American television from 1972 until 1975, the year the Vietnam War ended. "Kung Fu" is set in the years after the devastation of the American Civil War. Richard's sister, Dorothy, gave me the complete "Kung Fu" series on DVD when I saw her and her husband after visiting Richard's grave at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in 2008. Dorothy, ten years younger than I am, watched "Kung Fu" on TV when she was in high school. While watching the episode called "The Demon God" a few days ago, I was startled to hear the following:

"You are the enemy who is not the enemy. We are of the many, not of the few. We are necessary and useful."

Caine says this to the scorpion who stung him earlier--the scorpion whose life he had just saved and who then showed him the way out of a place where they were trapped together.

If you are curious and have about an hour, this episode (in 6 parts) can be seen on YouTube. The theme of "the many and the few" runs through it. It is a decidedly awkward vehicle but timely, given American participation in another war is scheduled to end on December 31, 2011, and in light of the events of the past week at UC Davis, Portland, and around the world--the 99% and the 1%. Maybe I'm making too great of a stretch here, but the connection was there for me.

Thanks to Beth for this:

THE TOOLS OF FEAR

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent person will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint….

Our enemies are not demons
but human beings like ourselves.
The decent person doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor do they rejoice in victory.
How could we rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of people?
Enter a battle gravely
with sorrow and with great compassion
as if attending a funeral.

circa 550 BCE (Tao Te Ching)

May the policeman with the pepper spray be protected some day by the students he assaulted, and may he return that protection and human kindness by showing them a way out of a place they are both trapped.

Anything is possible.

About a week ago, I saw the body of a green bird with red on the top of its head. It was lying near the door of a small store I was about to enter. It must have flown at the window. There was no apparent injury. Gently picking the bird up, I tucked its tiny body into a soft resting place in the the ivy near the doorway.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mappemonde / Map of the World























The Dog of Art

That dog with daisies for eyes
who flashes forth
flame of his very self at every bark
is the Dog of Art.
Worked in wool, his blind eyes
look inward to caverns and jewels
which they see perfectly,
and his voice
measures forth the treasure
in music sharp and loud,
sharp and bright,
bright flaming barks,
and growling smoky soft, the Dog
of Art turns to the world
the quietness of his eyes.

Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

It may have been 1992 that a friend invited me to go to Seattle to the University of Washington to hear Denise Levertov read her poetry. While listening to her read, I drew what I could see in front of me. While going through all my belongings this past week, I found the drawing you see at top of this post. Not sure why I wrote "mappemond."

Here is Denise Levertov as a young woman:










and in her last years:











Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Marianne Aya Omac






















Joan Baez mentioned Marianne Aya Omac in an interview, and so I went to YouTube. Listen:



I don't speak French, but I watched the video below all the way through. If you have time, listen for, "Wow. Wow. Wow" (1:50-2:11).



Word is that we are in for some snow here in Bellingham. Doesn't look like that today as I look out from my porch, where a single Cosmos is still holding on, and the temperature is right around 50 degrees.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Continuity / Following the thread






















In the last few weeks, I've been going through all my belongings, trying to clear some space and orient myself. One of the first things I looked through were my father's slides which went back to 1948, when my parents married, and included images from my father's trips to Norway, the Orkney Islands, Alaska, China, India, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel after he retired in the mid-1970s. There are photos of me in my first year of life, 1949-1950. I am having many of these old photos scanned and put on disks.

A few days ago, I went through photos and negatives of my parents and my sisters, and of my parent's home and my father's garden in Gualala, California, dating back to 1971. Those photos came to me after my father died in 2003.

Yesterday I began going through a drawer of all my old photos and negatives, taken before I had a digital camera. The photos went back to 1974, which is the year I left California for a brief period of living near Walden Pond in Massachusetts, not because I didn't like California, but because I was curious, and my boyfriend at the time invited me to travel with him, and I was trying to put space between me and a traumatic period in my life. Little did I know that I would be haunted by the events of 1970 and 1971 as well as the events of 1974 to 1984 for years to come.

This morning I finished going through all those photos, letting many of them go, but keeping more than I had expected to want to keep. The photos from 1974 to 1984 are a record of years that are painful for me to remember, but going through them yesterday and this morning brought some genuine healing and a compassionate perspective on that deeply troubled part of my life from age 17 to age 34.

October 1984 to Veteran's Day 1990 was a period of new hope and what I thought was going to be boundless creative energy. Amazing to see myself in my mid-30s. Amazing to see how young I still was.

Beginning after Veteran's Day 1990, I began to exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. I stopped painting for the most part. In looking through the photos from the 1990s, I found the above photo of one of the few paintings I did during that time. I no longer have the painting. I donated it to a local fund-raising auction. Someone in Bellingham owns it now. At the bottom of the painting, it says, "This plan is not totally useless" and "The place where two rivers meet." The images that go with the words were from dreams I had just before the most creative period in my life, 1984 to 1990. Now, as l look more closely, I see that almost everything in the painting came from a dream in the early 1980s.

The last non-digital photos were in 2002. I was increasingly displeased with the photos I was taking with my cameras and didn't take any photos until 2005, at which time I bought my iBook G4 and then a digital camera.

My blog was part of my healing from posttraumatic stress disorder. I had been unemployed for the first of what was to be five years of unemployment, living on what was supposed to be my retirement savings. I quickly became a full-time blogger. My blog began on the 36th anniversary of Richard's return from Vietnam. By looking at my drawings and paintings from 1966 to 2006, I was able to see 40 years of my life as a artist. After presenting my 40-year retrospective, I began to presenting digital photographs, mostly taken from my porch and in and around Bellingham.

Through blogging, I came out of a long posttraumatic stress disorder-induced creative isolation, connecting with creative people in different parts of the United States and Canada as well as creative people in Europe and India. Today, I am happy to still be blogging with a handful of blog friends. You know who you are.

After Richard died in 2008, my blog lost momentum but kept on.

In 2010, I took the only job I could find as a medical transcriptionist, and found myself with little time for blogging and an increasing awareness of being exploited at an occupation that once offered a person a good hourly wage and benefits.

Now I am retired, without health insurance until I can receive Medicare, collecting a small Social Security check. I'm curious to see if I can live on that, and if not, I will need to find a way to supplement that income, as my savings is limited.

Still have a cedar chest of memories and a number of bookshelves to go through before I am through with this current sorting and letting go process.

Today I am feeling better than I have in years, with a measure of peace that I do not take for granted.

Thank you to robin andrea for the suggestion that made it possible for me to present the birds singing in November for you today:

video

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veteran's Day 2011 / Starting to go home again























While Richard was in U.S. Army basic training in Fort Lewis, Washington, I was excited to see the cover of Time magazine of June 20, 1969, with its banner of STARTING TO GO HOME. Naively, I thought that this might mean that he would not be sent to Vietnam after all. Richard was my world. He was my present and my future.

Richard was drafted into the U.S. Army in spring of 1969, three years after we had met on the beach in Half Moon Bay, California, as 17-year-olds. He strongly considered applying for conscientious objector status but in talking to a draft resistance counselor in Oakland, California, became convinced that he would not be granted that. He did not want to go to Canada or prison. He went to Vietnam as a helicopter mechanic in January of 1970. He returned from Vietnam on December 8, 1970. He had not been in direct combat, but something happened in Vietnam that he could never talk about. He said that there are some things that a person needs to keep to himself. He referred to himself as a veteran of the anger wars.

We never spent a Veteran's Day together, although he called me on the telephone from California on Veteran's Day evening in 1990, during the First Gulf War. Previous to that call, he had been talking about the possibility of visiting me in Washington. There seemed a possibility of a reconciliation for us. I was not immediately aware that he was drunk. As I became conscious of that, I am sure he could hear fear entering my voice. He sounded the way he had sounded during his first few months home from Vietnam, the way he had sounded just before he hit me in early May of 1970. He was enraged, terrifying, threatening. I froze and then began shaking so hard that I could barely hold the telephone to my ear. In a deeply menacing drunken voice, he kept repeating, "Tell me what you really think of me."

I struggled to find words. When the words arrived, I told him that I loved him, and hung up the phone in anguish, and then I called back a few minutes later in regret for hanging up on him. His mother answered. I told her what had happened. She said that he had passed out and suggested that I call back in the morning. She said that he didn't start drinking until later in the day. I have amnesia beyond that. I don't know if I talked with him the next day. I do know that he did go to A.A. after that, and that he did send me an amends letter in March of 1993, apologizing for his behavior on Veteran's Day 1990. He was sober for 1 year but left A.A. and didn't find sobriety again until the last 6 months of his life.

In 1990, twenty years after returning from Vietnam, he was working as a carpenter, living on and off with his parents, struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction, and PTSD. I have since learned that the First Gulf War was a breaking point for many Vietnam veterans. It was a breaking point for me as well. I began to remember, with fear and acute distress, the year that Richard was in Vietnam and the months we lived together after his return.

Now we hear again that our soldiers will be returning home. That it will all be over on December 31, 2011.

Despite extreme duress, the love that Richard and I shared did not die. Richard's ashes were buried on June 20, 2008, thirty-nine years after that Time magazine cover. In his last days, when he could no longer speak, Richard wrote on his notepad to his sister, "I just want to go home."

I've been going through all my belongings, letting go of what I don't need anymore, and in the last few days I came across the Time magazine I had saved since 1969. Until this morning at 4 a.m. when I woke up, I was wondering what I was going to write for Veteran's Day 2011.

This Veteran's Day, especially, I am thinking of those whose beloveds didn't live to become veterans, the new generation of war widows. Thinking, too, of the handful of war widowers, about whom I have heard nothing so far and who are surely grieving today.

Veteran's Day 2011 is a good day for sending love to all soldiers, veterans, and their beloveds, as well as the widows, widowers, girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends, all relations. We are all in this together.














(The above is supposed to be a video with birds singing, but for some reason it uploads as a image only. Imagine birds singing on a November day)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

... but I'm not the only one (-:






















"Solitude: a sweet absence of looks."
- Milan Kundera

"We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under. The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public. The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need. Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark. And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers."
(Milan Kundera)

Thanks for the quote from Whiskey River.

I can claim membership in all of these categories.

As an artist and writer, I hope to be seen in the first way but safe and remote like Emily Dickinson or Georgia O'Keeffe, not a public figure.

At first I didn't identify with the second category but then realized that hosting a blog might put me into that category. I don't need that many known eyes looking at me. I'm happy with small internet gatherings of people I know through blogging. We are both anonymous and known through blogging. Paradox. Amanda Wald Rachie is a former name of mine, the one I used when I was most productive as an artist. My legal name doesn't appear on this blog.

I had hoped to spend my life with Richard in the third way of being seen.

I currently live in a variation of the fourth category, beyond my wildest dreams. I don't think we are that rare. Reading about the dreamers brought me the tears and laughter that comes with a powerful feeling of true kinship with those who live in the eyes of loved ones who have died and are not present in the sense they were previously but are not at all imaginary either.

I know there is a fifth category, that of people of who want to be seen by animals as well as people. I'm in that category.

And a sixth category, that of people who want to be seen by Mother Earth and Father Sky. I'm in that category.

I like what George Harrison wrote in one his last songs:

"... I keep traveling around the bend
There was no beginning, there is no end
It wasn't born and never dies
There are no edges, there is no sides
Oh yeah, you just don't win
It's so far out - the way out is in
Bow to God and call him Sir
But if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there."

and:

"... God God God
You are the wisdom that we seek
God God God
The lover that we miss
God God God
Your nature is eternity
You are Existence, Knowledge, Bliss ..."

And so there is a seventh category, for those like George Harrison, where wanting to be seen and heard by God is not perceived as imaginary or a matter of organized religion but as a real possibility in an eternity where anything is possible. I can join George Harrison in that creative and open-ended vision of God.

And an eighth category for those who see everything as One, where the looker and one looked at are One.

A ninth category? A tenth category? Beyond that?

Thanks to Milan Kundera for starting me on this riff of categories of being seen.

(Self-portrait on my 62nd birthday a few weeks ago, wearing the gift of a scarf from Dorothy, Richard's sister. Allowing myself to be looked at looking at myself looking at myself looking at myself, infinitely. Funny in the context of this post!)

Update:

A ninth category, suggested by robin andrea, "I would like to see myself as others see me." That is one I can relate to as well.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cat / Sunrise with Geese in the Sky






















"...Your work needs you as much as you need it. Your work begs your expression. You need to materialize it on a daily basis, from your enriched life--the better side of your nature. Without your personal focus and action, your magic cannot and never will exist. Think of all the great work you have left to do. Think of how necessary it is for people to see good work. "Work," said Kahlil Gibran, "is love made visible."

from The Painter's Keys

Yesterday, Halloween, I applied for early Social Security benefits and am curious to see if I can simplify my life enough to live on that. There is something of the excitement of graduating from high school. The working at a job part of my life may well be over, but there is still work to do.

Is the cat working or playing, or something else?

This morning I Iooked up from my laptop at 8:20 a.m. and realized that the sun still hadn't appeared over the foothills to the east. I noticed a flock of geese flying across the sky above where the sun would appear. Picking up my camera, I went out on the porch to make a video. Gradually it occurred to me that because daylight savings time extends so far into fall, sunrise on November 1st looks very much like sunrise on the winter solstice. Daylight Savings Time ends this year on November 6. Makes me wish I lived in Arizona or Hawaii, where there is no Daylight Savings Time. If you look closely, you will see the geese flying across the morning sky in V-formation.


video

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stecher Family Album























Finally got around to photographing images from an album that I believe was assembled by my grandfather. He identifies his mother, his aunts and uncles and cousins who lived in and around Boston and in New York state. His mother (my great-grandmother) was one of 11 children of Melchoir and Helene (Roethler) Stecher of Achern, Germany. After Helene died, Melchior decided to come to America with his younger children. His oldest daughter, Jacobine, remained in Germany.

Above is a photo of my great-grandmother who was born in Achern, Germany, in 1836. Her firstborn son died during a cholera epidemic in Boston. As far as my grandfather knew, his father simply disappeared. Below is a photo of my great-grandmother's younger sister, Caroline. Caroline died at age 34 in 1879. My great-grandmother died at age 59 in 1895. Her death certificate said that she was married (rather than widowed or divorced or separated) at the time of her death. I found a record on Ancestry.com that showed evidence of separation papers, but I was unable to obtain those records as they had been lost somehow. My great-grandmother looks world-weary compared to her younger sister, and no wonder. Family secrets and tragedy must have weighed heavily on her. I keep thinking that something will turn up on the internet some day to solve the mystery of my great-grandfather's disappearance. I was shocked to find on the internet that my missing great-grandfather's father, a retired weaver, committed suicide by hanging, at age 93, in 1891.






















There are no photos of my grandfather in the old album, but here is a photo of him in 1916, the year my mother was born, before he served in the Army as a doctor in World War I, and another with my grandmother in 1920:





































I've added a Flickr badge with photos from the album my side bar on the right with photos of descendants and in-laws of Melchior and Helene Stecher from Achern. Still have more photos to take from the album.

Late in the day, as I was working on this, I looked up and saw a rainbow:






















Update: Oh dear. I can't believe I spelled descendant as "descendent" on the URL for my Flickr page for the Stecher family photos.

As a dear person once said to me, "Welcome to the human race."

As a former medical transcriptionist, I have lived for many years with the expectation that my spelling be perfect. Little room for mistakes in that field. It feels very strange to realize that I can make spelling mistakes like everyone else now without taking a cut financially! I've been amazed again and again that not all people work at jobs where there is such a pronounced expectation of perfection.

You mean I don't have to be perfect?

What a relief!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Drawing while eating in the hospital cafeteria / A different way of thinking























"The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them."

-- Albert Einstein


















Interesting to try to draw an oil painting with pencil on paper. "Aguas Verdes" is a large diptych (53" x 68") painted in oil on linen by Caryn Friedlander. It hangs in the St. Joseph Medical Center cafeteria in Bellingham, Washington, and is a renewing presence in a hospital setting.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Drawing what is in front of me






















Woke up at 2 a.m. this morning and found this. Thank you to R. L. Bourges, a writer and photographer living in France.



Still awake at 5:49 a.m.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Birdsong and slow moving clouds / Early evening

Looking from my porch to the east:


















Looking southeast. Listen:

video

Thursday, October 20, 2011

PTSD (All Over Again) / Alex and Toggle





























Listen

We're all in this together.

We can send love and encouragement as well as experience, strength and hope, to the newest generation affected by American wars, represented in part by Alex and Toggle in Doonesbury in the last several days.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We do what we can, when we can






















With Occupy Wall Street in mind, I challenged the small corporation I have been working for, at home, since March 2010. About a week ago, they asked me and my co-workers to re-do work that we had lost due to problems with their software, without compensation for the time we spent on the work that was lost.

When the news came down, I was so angry that I cried what can only be called tears of rage. As it is, we are not paid for at least 30 minutes a day for work we do because this is a "production-oriented work environment," where we are only paid for the lines of dictation we produce (picture farmworkers being paid for how much lettuce they can pick in a day). There is a long list of tasks we do that are considered part of the job but which don't produce lines and for which we are not compensated.

Who, you ask, would work under those conditions? This was the only job I was able to get at age 60, and until last week I considered myself fortunate to be working in a time when many people my age will never be hired again. From what I know of my recent co-workers, they are generally young women with children, women near retirement age who have lost their well-paying hospital jobs due to hospitals outsourcing to companies like this one in order to save money, and disabled people who cannot easily work outside the home. These are desperate times. It is not easy to get a job.

When I calmed down enough, I emailed the Human Resources Director and the Vice-President of the company, saying that I was not going produce lines without compensation, that their request was likely illegal, and that I was not going to fill out my time sheet until they compensated me for my time. It is my guess that they must have talked with their lawyers because it took several days before they responded to my email. The Human Resources Director told me that I would hear from the Vice-President with the company's decision. The Vice-President emailed me saying that I would be given what is basically a $3.25 credit for my time, but said nothing about changing their policy, which means that every time their software fails, I have to use unpaid time to get credit for time worked in good faith, while making less than $10/hour.

Because I am 62 now and can collect early Social Security, I made a decision on October 11 to retire rather than continue to fight a daily exhausting losing battle for near poverty wages. Medical transcriptionists who work at home need a Caesar Chavez. What was once a profession where a person could make a decent living has become something like being a farmworker before Caesar Chavez. I'm no Caesar Chavez, although I wish I were.

My Social Security benefits will put me below the poverty line. My challenge now is to find a way to make a living for the rest of my working life, which may be the rest of my life. I'm feeling shell-shocked. And relieved to have made a good decision.

I do what I can, when I can.






















From The Novice: A Story of True Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

...We began with what we knew and the few resources that we had. We did not expect anything from the government, because if you wait for the government, you will wait a long time.

...Sister Tri Hai practiced walking meditation all night so she could keep herself together and not lose herself in the fire. She went back to her true home within herself. Her true home is not in Paris, London or Tra Loc, because that home can be bombarded or taken away. Your true home is within yourself. The Buddha said, "Go home to the island within yourself. There is a safe island of self inside. Every time you suffer, every time you are lost, go back to your true home. Nobody can take that true home away from you." This was the ultimate teaching the Buddha gave to his disciples when he was eighty years old and on the verge of passing away..."

I read a mixed and somewhat sarcastic review of this book in Tricycle magazine. This is not going to be a bestseller. This is a story from Vietnamese Buddhist tradition, retold by Thich Nhat Hanh. The Dalai Lama says, "He shows us the connection between personal, inner peace, and peace on earth." I agree.

(At the top of this post is "The Typist," by Dubuffet. These days everyone is a typist)