I, Blue Collar

In graduate school we had to read The Metropolis by Georg Simmel. When we got to our theory class the professor asked the class “Can someone tell me what this reading was about?”

A classmate raised her hand and said quite smugly, “I think he’s saying that people from small towns are incredibly ignorant.”

I looked at my classmate and said, “I’m from a small town. Do you find me ignorant?”

She said nothing, but gave me a look that indicated my origins were not to her liking.

I grew up in Sullivan, Wisconsin – population 412. Most of my childhood feels like something from a beautifully written sitcom. My father was a very hard-working construction worker, and my mother had many fascinating jobs; ranging from an administrative assistant in the medical field to a clerk at Boston Store (Boston Store meant I got lots of fun clothing, so that was my favorite).

When I think of the advantages I have had in my life, I think of obvious things. My skin is white. I was born into a middle-class family. I’m able bodied, and I’m American. Perhaps the single greatest advantage I had, was two parents who would do anything for me.

As loving and hard-working as they are, my parents grew up in a time where attending college was not necessary. When I applied to college, my mother came with me to every meeting or session my high school offered for help. Then, I would come home and start filling out applications, grants, and scholarships. After I got accepted to college, I remember signing loan documents. To this day, I still cannot tell you what I signed. There’s a 50/50 shot I’m indebted to some Saudi prince. By the time I started writing papers in college, I was not sure where to go to for help. Between Oxford commas and split infinitives – I felt short on support.

Graduate school was the hardest two years of my life. I picked a bad thesis adviser. But without anyone behind me who had ever attended graduate school – how was I to know what was bad? Who should I have asked, “So, is it okay that my adviser emailed me to tell me she doesn’t have any time to help me?” I failed my thesis defense twice, and had a mental break down my last year. To this day, I believe my situation was more about my blue-collar background. I came in with an iron will and a sharp tongue. I left with my will completely broken. Trudging through it all, I was the first in my family to graduate with a Master’s degree.

In my professional life, the greatest thing I struggle with is not intelligence or skill. My greatest struggles are navigating through a white-collar system with a blue-collar background. I tend to say exactly what I’m thinking, because that is how I was raised. Thankfully, my last boss taught me tact. Instead of telling Vice Presidents “No, you’re wrong,” the better reply is “We can look into that.”

I seem to altogether lack a sense of subtlety that is bred into the children of white-collar workers. In any room I can read the five people whose parents were doctors or engineers. They lay back in their chairs with a socialized confidence it took me years to learn. Frankly, I feel jealous. I catch myself thinking things like “Do you know what it took for me to learn how to do this? Do you know what it took?”

Blue collar culture is beautiful to me in its layers and complexities. When I see construction workers I feel at ease, and immediately start a conversation. I ask about the kids, and then make a joke about any person that’s acting like an asshole. We’re immediately friends. When I see laborers, I feel at peace.

Yet, there is one thing I carry with me. My trump card that no one can take away, and that it takes a blue collar raising to learn. If I teach Carly one thing – it will be this.

In blue collar land, no one is better than me. I do not care what car you drive, what phone you use, or what shoes you wear. I care about whether you are a decent human being.

The president is not better than me, nor is the vice president, nor is the director. The only thing that separates us is a title, some made up financial class, and a suit. I have found that because I do not believe anyone is somehow superior to me, I lack fear that I feel like I’m supposed to have. Sometimes that lack of fear has gotten me in trouble, but at other times my candid nature has helped turn heads.

To me, every person I work with has the same level of importance. Everyone is deserving of kindness, time, and dignity. I’m from a small town. I am the salt of the earth. And underneath my white collar, is a blue one that I wear with pride.

On #MeToo and Aziz Ansari…

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably read the Babe article about Aziz Ansari.

And if you’re reading this, you may have read different takes from The Atlantic, the New York Times, a few other smaller blogs, and perhaps even a few fascinating Twitter threads.

In this blog, I’m not going to do one thing: judge the guilt or innocence of Aziz Ansari or ‘Grace’ (the anonymous woman in the Babe piece).

This morning, my husband and I were talking about how quickly discourse on sexual assault has changed in our culture. A few years ago there was detailed evidence that Bill Cosby spent decades drugging and assaulting women – and to date – Cosby has spent zero time in jail for his actions. Now, within a few days, people openly discussing sexual assault is enough to bring down the careers of men such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacy, and Louis C.K.

Like most people reading about the Grace/Ansari account, one question keeps swirling in my mind: What does this add to the current dialogue about the #MeToo movement?

What I appreciate most about the #MeToo movement is that for the first time in my adult life there has been more open discourse about sexual assault. As with other movements, we are not all going to agree. While I champion open dialogue, many others disagree with me – as is their right.

The power dynamics implicit in the Babe piece deserve to be noted. Ansari is a racial minority, which adds a deep layer to the conversation on speaking up about assault. Although he is a racial minority, Ansari is a well-known and well-liked celebrity, which likely gives him some power in one-on-one encounters. Women in our culture are often socialized not to speak up for themselves, and to go along with the crowd. So although Grace has agency, her sense of being able to speak up for herself may have been diminished due to her gender.

We talk about sex a lot in our culture; and the conversations seem simplistically binary. On one hand, we have boobs and butt cheeks on billboards giving the message that women are sexual objects whose value is determined by how much men want to have sex with them. Then, on the other hand we still have states that promote abstinence only education – because obviously talking about condoms leads to people doing it (rolls eyes).

Amidst the imagery and the lack of safer sex conversations – one thing is obviously getting left out: having open and fluid conversations about sexual consent.

Like many, Grace seems uncomfortable speaking up about her discomfort at Ansari’s actions. Like many, Ansari seems oblivious to the fact that the person he is about to stick his penis into is totally uncomfortable.

Hindsight is 20/20, power dynamics here are crazy, and I don’t want to diminish Grace’s voice. Yet, to me, this article adds to how we need to have more and better dialogue about adults having consensual sex.

“Hey Grace, do you want to have sex? It’s your body and I respect you if you feel uncomfortable.”

“Aziz, can we discuss what we’d like to do tonight – sex wise? I think I’m okay with our shirts being off, what are you ok with?”

I’ve brought up to others that I find our lack of discussing sexual acts to be strange – especially once we’re in our mid to late twenties. I’ve gotten responses like “Yeah, but it’s weird” or “Yeah, but it kills the mood.”

I get that, but you know what else really kills the mood? Feeling like you were sexually assaulted after a date – or getting day after texts knowing someone you went on a date with was uncomfortable with your actions.

My friends James and Carrie taught their three year old about consent with a simple phrase, “This is your body – and you get to decide what happens to it!”

By the time we move into teenage years and adults years, I suggest we start having better and deeper conversations about how we share our bodies with other people.

My husband and I have been married five years, and we’re expecting our first child in April. Yet, we still talk about the sex we’re okay having. It’s a dialogue we should be having with our partners – from the first time we hook until the last time we hook up.





What is power…

From a sociological perspective, I hate how much I can’t really show you what power is.

Thanks to James Watt, physics has a cool definition with some sweet formuli.

But when I look to social or political science, the definition is so ambiguous.

The ability of an individual or group to achieve their own goals or aims when others are trying to prevent them from realising them.

How the hell do I measure that?

I’d have to ask everyone their goal. Then I’d have to ask them at a later point in time whether they achieved that goal. And if they didn’t, I’d have to figure out the why of it all. But is that too micro? How do I measure structural influences?

But what’s the goal? Is it as simple as whether you’re able to get your work done at your job, or not posting something you want to say on Facebook out of fear? Or is it bigger? Like missing out on higher education, or being able to get that big job?

Likely, it’s all of those things. It’s big and it’s small.

When I think of power, the only semi-relevant quote that comes to mind is from the Jackson native justice Potter Stewart when he talked about porn.

I shall not attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…”

I know power plays when I see them. I see them play out and I feel them deep inside my body. And they are larger forces playing out in small moments.

They are those moments when another person says or does something to make me feel small.

And how old are you? I only hear that phrase used when someone wants me to know they’re older than me. Age being used to establish dominance.

They are those quips and phrases meant to keep me in my place. When someone says a woman is a “bitch” because she disagrees – that is power meant to keep a person down. What if I just want to disagree?

“I have the same ________ as a woman!” What? Do you realize what you’re saying here? You’re saying your job, or talent, or body part, or whatever is bad because a woman might have it. What is that saying about women?

Bible passages thrown on Facebook stories. I HATE this. People use The Word to beat people up.

Number of degrees. Number of articles read on a topic. Number of years worked at a job. Well some of these are helpful for understanding background and establishing credibility, I usually hear them used as a way to establish dominance. “Well I have a Ph.D. in X, so whatever your critique may be….”

But they are also more than words. They are body language. My old boss use to sit on my desk with his crotch facing me. He was using his body to make me feel, well, just icky.

But they are also larger than that. They are laws that seek to restrict my personal freedom. They are corporations and lobbyist groups that use their power to limit what people can do.

Science has proven that school integration is the best way to reduce test gap scores. But do we integrate? No, because there is power there. But what does that even mean?

Ask my husband how I experience the world, and you’ll likely get stunned silence. “She is overwhelmed a lot,” he will likely say.

I can’t shop at Meijer without having a panic attack. I have a hard time attending concerts, or theme parks, or stores, or meetings, or anything. Just being still is impossible.

I go into a room, and everything is there. I see every color on every wall. I hear every sound. I remember what people say, and feel what they feel, and notice what they imply. And I feel overwhelmed all of the time. So to subsist, I default to thinking over feeling and spending a lot of time alone.

And when I’m alone, I reflect back on my interactions throughout the day.

And in those interactions I see a complex world full of people. And some of those people are struggling to establish their power over other people. And for those people, my heart sinks.

Because the need to establish power doesn’t come from confidence or skills or ability, it comes from inferiority. A deep insecurity where you feel like you aren’t listened to or just aren’t good enough. Real individual power comes from knowing within yourself that you are good enough, because you simply are.

And it has to come from that, because the reality is that the world is stratified. And no matter how much we love ourselves, external forces exist to try to limit our choices. They’re big, and they’re small. And some have bad hair, and some don’t know how servers work. But they are real.

But because it’s so damn hard to define them, it’s hard to see them. And when it’s hard to see them, it’s hard to stop them. And that’s probably what they all really want. Because you can’t stop what you can’t see.

On the week we broke the internet (and got a new water tower design in the process)…

Two weeks ago, my husband and I broke the internet.

Well, not really.  What we did do was try to make positive changes in our community via the internet.

Two weeks ago, I noticed the city council’s pick of a design for a new water tower.  I jokingly asked my husband to make a new design – because he is hilarious and I knew he could do a better design in less than five minutes.  He posted his new design on Facebook.  By noon that day we started a Facebook group claiming the water tower design was lame.  Then we asked people to submit new water tower designs, and asked people to vote on the design they liked the best.

Mlive (a local news source) did a few stories on our group (thanks again Mlive – especially you Will!).

The city council held a special meeting –where one of the topics was picking a new water tower design.

Last night – the city council picked a new design based off of submissions from our Facebook group.

The designs people submitted were beautiful.  I feel so incredibly proud of Jackson, and so incredibly proud of the level of creativity that runs throughout our city.  I am also incredibly thankful that the city council was receptive to reconsidering a new design.  Overall, I am just thankful and grateful.

I also learned a huge lesson about the internet: people on the internet can be jerks.  I go online and read three newspapers a day, and I peruse the comments section.  I always knew that there were a select group of people that were incredibly cruel.  It is one thing to read the cruelty when it is directed toward an op-ed piece on a news site.  It is entirely different to have people rip apart and denigrate the creative work of others for no apparent reason other than to be a jerkface.

When my husband and I created the group we had two rules: we would be positive about Jackson and we would never be mean to people that posted cruel things.  For the last two weeks, I think my husband and I have had several nose bleeds from taking the high road.

Foucault’s discourse analysis looks at how power can take form via language.  In other words, the moment you put something into language – you give it power.  By talking about the water tower design, we gave that power.  By talking about the negative comments via the water tower, I am giving them power.  We heard one guy ranting about how dumb our water tower Facebook group was.  I giggled thinking “We won.  You just gave us power.”  Then, I caught myself in my own ironic trap and thought “Damn, did he just win because I gave his conversation power by talking about it?”

It is easy to get lost the power of it all.  So – let’s not get lost.  Moving forward, there are three things my husband and I want to do with our new found “power”.

First, we want to give power away.  The worst bosses are the people that sit atop of their knowledge and never disperse it.  Those bosses make you feels scared and intimidated.  We don’t want to be that type of boss.  Through this Facebook group, and through voting, my husband and I realized we have the ability to help people’s voices be heard.  We want to give more power to that.  We have an entire generation of people who feel like no one in government cares about what they are saying.  We want to help end that.  We have a bunch of residents who love Jackson and are waiting to see where they can help.  We want to give power to those positive voices.  We want our generation to be active and engaged.  We want people to feel like their views and voices are important.  We want to take the power of people’s voices on the internet, and channel them into streams where a positive impact can be felt throughout the communities in which people live.

Second, we are going to die of nose bleeds.  By that, I mean we are always going to keep our integrity.  A few days ago my husband looked at me and said a level of annoyance, “You ALWAYS take the high road.”  He is right.  I always do and I always will (well, more like 95% of the time).  I would rather die being kind to someone than live knowing I have the power to tear a man down and make him feel like he is less than I.  There is no love in that lifestyle.  There is no real victory in that lifestyle.  When people are mean to my husband or me it hurts my heart.  My human reaction is to punch that person (we are all human first).  However, because I have the ability to exercise control, my reaction will never be to punch.  My reaction will be to remain kind.  That does not mean we will be doormats to people whose only action is to tear us down.  I will walk away from cruelty and I will remove myself from abuse.

Third, I pray that everything we do is to honor God and help people feel the love and compassion of Christ.  Over the past two weeks, I have never felt so torn down in my entire life.  Fortunately, every time someone said something mean – we had 10 people on our side lifting us up.  We had friends writing to us sending us words of love and kindness.  We had strangers defending us.  Despite feeling torn down, I do not know if I have ever felt so much love.  More than that, my husband and I had some amazing reactions with complete strangers.  One person wrote saying that he was disappointed that he missed the deadline to vote and that he had tough personal day.  My husband wrote back and sent the stranger kind words.  My husband and this stranger then proceeded to have an amazing conversation.  God’s grace came through in that moment.  Wherever we meet anger with kindness, we find God.  Whenever we meet dissent with compassion, we find God.  Whenever we find God in any of these moments, we honor Him in what we do.  I pray that we continue to do that.