Saturday, June 21, 2008

my bankrupt state

Summer has begun - not the season, the domestic arrangement. Young S finished her first year of school and is officially a first-grader (oh my!). While the end of the school year completely up-ends my work expectations, this is nothing compared to the hundreds of California teachers who now find themselves without a job. They're not jobless because thousands of schoolkids have disappeared but because my state is bankrupt.

A $16 billion shortfall means that all "social services" get cut. The misnomer "services" refers to the essentials of life: publicly-supported health care, infrastructure, and public education. Somewhere around 24,000 teachers and school staff will be/have been cut. In a couple of months I'll have to report back on what this means for my grade school where young S was in a class of 32 kindergartners. California will certainly retain its distinctive education rating: 51st out of 51 states and the Territory of Puerto Rico in student-to-teacher ratios.

Coincidentally, this very month marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of Proposition 13. That "popular revolt" against increasing residential property taxes deserves much of the credit for struggling, underfunded schools - and schoolkids - in California. And while I sympathize with the currents that brought this about - a state legislature that shifted its revenue source from corporations to individuals - Proposition 13 was a harbinger of the current fiasco (which includes the Governor's zany schemes to fund education with a Wall-Street backed lottery). Californians then and now don't want to pay for the comforts they enjoy (chief among these is the well-regulated interstate system) and they're sadly reluctant to make California industry contribute its part. Too many Californians are focused on the "minutiae of me" and see budget cuts to life's essentials as acceptable so long as it doesn't touch them.*

In this the state's current fiscal woes are indicative of a deeper, moral bankruptcy of toxic individualism. In this fantasy state-of-mind, everyone (also read as "every nuclear family") does her own thing separate from everyone else for her own personal enjoyment/fulfillment, etc. I could cite those lovely hours I have spent on the freeway dodging wild-eyed drivers as evidence of the mentality-of-one (and, of course, the highways are proof of this of themselves - why can't I take the train to get where I want to go? The train doesn't go there.)** Instead, I will offer proof through comparison. I am a fan of public libraries. The last two cities I lived in (in semi-urban Oregon and rural Ohio) both opened grand, new public libraries recently. These impressive edifices house their expanding collections and accommodate an increasing number of patrons. Here in my corner of OC, the public library is tiny - pinned between the Chamber of Commerce and school district offices. Its selection of books is slim, but can be termed solid if I overlook the baby-boomer era children's books which should be removed to an archive. What is more likely, however, is that one of the librarians will be removed; another casualty of budget cuts. This person can join California educators who have also lost their jobs. All these professionals - in whom the state invested so much by educating them - is watching them take their skills and experience to other states less plagued by bankruptcy.

*Note I didn't say all Californians; just too many.
**I can't give this one up that easily. Last week, LA Metro ridership hit an all-time high at 50,000 passengers a day (credited to high gas prices). News bites failed to note that the average daily ridership 70 years ago (before all the track was torn out and paved over) was 200,000.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

simple delights

My sweetie and I marked our fifth anniversary last weekend. We both took the afternoon off so we could celebrate with lunch for two at an imposing French restaurant down the road. (I had the unexpected and unusual experience of feeling relaxed and carefree for a whole afternoon, undoubtedly helped along by the deceptively rich food and wine.) It was so simple and such a perfect way to celebrate. Realizing this served as a gentle reminded not only of the many simple delights we've shared but of the simple joy of sharing them with my sweet heart!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

spring blue

June already?

Even though I'm not teaching (and I'm no where near my home department), I'm experiencing the late spring-term blues. That desire to close the books, get outside and spend, say, a few precious hours thinking about something less demanding and less draining. Maybe this is sympathy, or maybe it's cyclical - spring is always a low energy point. (Though I suspect, it's not just spring - feeling exhausted and behind and occasionally morose is a trade standard.) The trouble is that I have no break to look forward to. The process just goes on and on and on. (In a particularly wicked twist, I set my own deadlines.) This serves to deepen the blue. All is not lost though. My "spring" will come to a close in July when I get a much-needed change of scenery rather than a true end-of-the-term. We're planning on motoring up to see the fam in Montana. This doesn't constitute a true vacation since we're bartering grandchild-time for a regular work week. But it is as close as I'm going get this summer, so I'll take it.

In the meantime, I'll try to reinvigorate that late-term holding pattern that got me through so many a spring term. Amazingly, the weather in southern Cal seems to be on board with my spring blues. It has offered up a week of cloudy mornings. So unseasonable. And so distasteful to the locals. Ah. Nothing improves the blues like sharing them.