Sunday, March 2, 2014

Environmentalism, Dishwashers, and Debt

As I grew up, parents taught me about saving. They saved money by buying groceries in bulk when they were on sale. They re-used gift bags, film canisters, and peanut butter jars. They turned off lights when they left a room and kept the thermostat cold when we weren't home to benefit from the heat. The rainbarrel and the composter formed cornerstones of the garden, and I have never met a commercial fertilizer as rich as the combination of kitchen scraps and time.  They avoided buying anything we didn't need.

I learned a lot from my parents: enough to pay off over $10,000 of college debt and buy a house before I turned 25. (Full disclosure: I had a lot of help from them through college, but not enough to cover modern exorbitant college tuition, even after merit aid. I also suspect they were able to provide so much help because of their careful, responsible resource management.)

Today, I was discussing whether it made sense to run the dishwasher every day, even if it's only mostly full. To check my facts, I consulted the Internet.  According to About.com, when full, "the dishwasher uses only half the energy, one-sixth of the water, and less soap than hand-washing an identical set of dirty dishes".

"So," I said, "it is, of course, better to run full loads whenever possible.  But it's not awful compared to hand-washing if we run a smaller load when we need to.  The difference in water consumption is huge."

"Actually, where we live, water is cheap and plentiful.  I don't care how much water I use," he replied.

This floored me. Water is vital to life, and even if we've grown up with the luxury of having as much as we like for very little money, we shouldn't squander what we have.

It makes me wonder: does this kind of indifferent attitude carry over into money management?  Budgeting is the first place where a blase "it isn't expensive, so it doesn't matter what I do" thought process can snowball into not having money for the things that do matter.  This is where the make-your-own-coffee budgeting advice comes from: a few dollars here and there may not feel like much to pay, but is always a few dollars you will not have again until you work to earn more.

Perhaps we could all benefit by using the same advice we use to balance our budgets to decide whether to spend every precious resource in our life.  Time, water, goods, and electricity: all these are valuable and finite in the same way money is in your personal finances.  Why not treat them as carefully we would any precious resource?

We don't need to change our lifestyles drastically.  We don't need to all move into 100-square-foot micro-houses or adopt anti-consumer minimalist lifestyles. We just need to apply a little thought to every resource we spend.  If it doesn't benefit us to spend it, save it for another day when we may need it more.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Closeted with Something to Lose

Hey folks, I read a thing on the internet and it made me have feelings.  I know the author's experiences aren't about my feelings, that I should listen/signal boost more and talk less, but I'm not sure how it does people any good to have me shut up all the time.  Is there some kind of magic ratio?  Someone who knows how this is done please clue me in? I Google stuff, but there's no comprehensive guide about how to not be a jerk. I still haven't worked out what "check your privilege" means in practice, even if I have (finally) worked out that I have a lot of it.  So go read that other piece, at least.

When I was in high school, I had very little fear.  I wore boy's jeans, fitted tops from ThinkGeek, pink fuzzy slippers, duct-taped my mouth for Day of Silence, and flirted with everyone. I'd been out since basically middle school when I'd had the least-closeted relationship possible, and my mother had told me that I could date as many girls as I liked as long as I quit lying that hickeys I came home with were mosquito bites*.  When ScanTron forms asked me for my gender, I marked "Male" half the time because "Female" wasn't right either, and when they left a blank when asking for my "sex" I wrote "YES PLEASE".  What was the worst that could happen? If people didn't like me, then I didn't like them, my grades always reflected my ADHD (the full range from F to A), and I didn't have a job to lose.

Eventually, I grew out of my adolescent belligerence, but that didn't stop me from being open about any of it, if anyone cared to ask or look up my Facebook profile.  I stayed less-belligerent-still-open as I went to two colleges, trying to figure out how to make a living in the world, working at a preschool and at a minimum-wage retail job to pay for books because my family had generously contributed most of my tuition.  What did I have to fear?

Then I got accepted at Clarkson University with a merit scholarship that covered most of what my parents couldn't, and I found out some of what I have to fear. I had signed up for on-campus housing because I didn't have the contacts or time to look for off-campus housing, and I was placed with three blonde girls, two of whom were in the Army ROTC program.

I don't know if it was because of my Facebook profile or if it was just because I wasn't their friend whose spot I'd been placed in, but they treated me like I had walked into their house with a dripping suitcase full of virulent pond scum rather than a couple sets of cheap plastic drawers for my clothes and an extra-long twin bedding set. In a thousand tiny ways, they made it clear that I wasn't welcome-- not to exist there, not even to study late in the library and come home at two in the morning to sleep before I left for a nine o'clock class.  I raised my concerns with the housing department and the RA staff, but everyone refused to help me.  "Compromise more," the people who might have helped told me.  I didn't know where else I could compromise and still maintain the GPA I needed for my scholarship.

It was three against one, and it wasn't worth taking a stand.  They drove me out of what was supposed to be my home.  I moved off-campus the next semester, living with three guys who were more than happy that I was picking up the rent their friend wasn't paying, but I remembered that when three people decided I wasn't worth respect, nothing in the world could make them treat me like a human. I had found my fear.

I felt it every time I tried to go to a hockey game and the Pep Band yelled homophobic slurs, every time I saw a women-in-engineering quote defaced in the hallway. I met people richer and more conservative than I'd ever met before, my-vacation-home-has-more-bedrooms-than-your-actual-home rich and all-poor-people-are-lazy conservative. I found out that the real reason Clarkson gets people jobs after graduating relates to its historically-wealthy alumni network, and I learned whose favor I'd need to curry if I wanted to find similar success and pay off my loans.

I have one of those alumni-network jobs now, so I spend effort to look like an ambitious, straight, white, cis, married woman.  Nothing to see here, employer, just another hard worker doing her job and trying to prove she wants a career (not just a job for maternity benefits). It's not even so far from the truth: plenty of people are happy to argue with me about whether I'm gay enough or far enough outside the gender binary to count as anything but.

I hear the comments the higher-ups in my company make, about women and about people of color and about anything that's outside of their upper-middle-class aesthetic, and mostly I put my head down. When I feel brave, I suggest we go out for Thai instead of steak and quietly explain that I was personally kind of uncomfortable when my boss's boss made that comment about how my co-worker should take her sweater off. I'm scared I'll risk my job, my paycheck, my home, the food on my table, if I say more.

I know I've sold out, but I don't know what else I could do that would be any better.  The world taught me that it expects me to behave in a certain way, present myself in a certain way, and that there will be consequences if I don't.

I behave.

_________
*Actually, I think she wanted me to stop coming home with hickeys, period. I love you, Mom.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

These Shoes Won't Last Forever

"I wear a size 11 women's shoe and a size 9 men's," I told a friend today.

"Do women normally know their size in men's shoes?" he asked.

"I don't think so," I said. "I know because it used to be really hard to find sneakers that I liked and that fit."

I wasn't telling the whole truth there.  I wore jeans from the men's section, too, and it's not because they really fit better on my hipsy, curvy build, no matter how much I protested that they did at the time.

Maybe I was using a different definition of the word "fit".

It made me wonder why I don't buy a pair of men's dress shoes.  I don't wear heels, except under duress, because I don't like the way they feel, I don't care about the way they look, and I don't want to have to learn how to walk in them in order to fit someone else's idea of gender conformity.  Flats don't go with every outfit, and I'm not sure I'll be able to find another pair of shoes like my now-bedraggled chunky black dress shoe.  Maybe I could find something work-appropriate in the men's section, if I looked there.

I love seeing women and people of many genders* dress in masculine ways.  It's one part attraction, one part admiration, and maybe one part jealousy, because I've never quite been able to pull the look off and generally plump for buying clothes that are "right for my body type".  Maybe, if I tried harder and looked up some how-to guides on the internet, I could dress that way too in spite of my hips and my breasts.

But no one at my place of employment goes anywhere near the lines of blurring gender roles.  There's even a dress code neatly spelled out in two columns: women may wear this, men may wear that. Plus, I enjoy my work. I like the paycheck, the house and the bills and the food it pays for.  Having money and being employed beats the hell out of the other option.  Maybe this makes me a coward, that I'm too scared to lose career opportunities to even look for men's shoes that might make me feel great (and that might not. Who knows?).  I know that it makes me lucky, because I'm wondering what shoes I can wear to keep a job, instead of (for example) whether I can buy new shoes at all.

I guess I have a decision to make: would I rather spend hours shopping, looking for shoes I like that toe the dress code line but don't make me want to throw them through a window after wearing them for two hours? should I just suck it up and cope with heels for the sake of the paycheck? am I brave enough to alter my wardrobe and make it more masculine?

Clock's ticking. These shoes won't last forever.

_________
*Not all genders in this particular case. Talking here about the range of genders that starts with some acknowledgement of having ladybits, or having once had them, and adds a layer or few of what's traditionally considered "masculine".  I know I don't have all the very best words to describe it, and I'm trying to be as inclusive as possible while still successfully communicating about a particular set of gender expressions that make sense to me.  Please feel free to add any language suggestions in the comments.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

School Bus Lesson


Every morning in the third grade I got on first stop that the school bus made.  They tell you in the bus drills to fill in the seats neatly, one-two one-two, from the front to the back, but you never do, you always sit in the farthest seat from the driver.

Every morning, I got on first, so I got to choose.  I chose the seat at the back.

Every morning, the boy who lived two blocks down from me would get on after me.  Every morning, he took the other back seat.

"Good morning," I said, every morning.  I had moved that October.  School buses were new to me.  Everything was new to me.

"Shut up," he said back, every morning.


  I guess that's when I learned that unfailing politeness can really annoy people who choose to be deliberately unkind for no reason.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Breasts: Offending Everyone Since 1999

One of the regulars at Zumba pulled me aside yesterday.

"What's your name?" she asked, which was friendly, so I told her.

"You seem nice," she said.  "So don't take this the wrong way."

It never goes well when someone says this.

"I've heard other people talking about you," she continued.  "About your breasts."

Why yes, my breasts are nice.  I like them quite a lot, actually.

"They move a lot," she said.  "And I understand because I have large breasts too."

Oh my goodness.  It is like I exercise at exercise class, and my breasts obey the laws of fluid dynamics!

"So you need to wear two bras," she finished blithely.  "Not just one.  You're really all over the place."

She stopped then, waiting for a response.

"Understood," I said curtly, because I did understand.  I understood that I was not conforming, that I was being judged for having the wrong body. I understood that the "other people" believed that their right to not be confronted with my breasts, clad in only a single sports bra and a tank top, superseded my right to exercise in only one bra and a tank top.

I don't buy it.  My breasts are part of my body, and I am not ashamed of them.  They move when I exercise because I exercise for me, not for society's approval.  I'm sorry that they're offended, and I'm sorry that they can't see that mine is another body that is a good body to have.

It's not the first time someone has complained about my breasts.  Perhaps I should buy or make a witty t-shirt about it, as it appears that I am doomed to offend people with my unacceptable breasts.


And I don't even have a child to breastfeed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dear Government, Regarding My Upcoming Wedding

Dear Government,

I'm getting married in a little more than two months, for some definition of the word.  I'm not sure whether we're going to sign on to your institution.  It seems wrong to me that you deny benefits to some couples and not others, even though we look reasonably like a hetero couple and qualify for the institution.  I'm lucky enough that K is willing to talk through the reasons for my reluctance and that we're in a financial position where I don't depend on any of the benefits of the institution.

So I've been doing some research about how we can start a family together, how we can designate each other as beneficiaries, how assumptions of paternity will figure in to how our children will be treated. I looked up and read a sample co-parenting agreement.  I've learned that surrogacy isn't always legal and that adultery laws can override the mutual consent of the parties involved (though apparently this isn't often enforced).

And after this research, I have a question for you, government.

I am an adult, and I am trying to put together a contract with another adult so that we can form a family.  We want to take proactive measures to ensure the welfare of our future children and make sure that we have signed an agreement that will sustain our happiness and stability in the (hopefully many) years to come, and we've found that the institution you've put together doesn't always suit us.  We're willing to put in the work to find a better way, and it won't cost you anything.

Why won't you let us?

Regards,
JP

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lining Up the Ducks

When we got engaged, K's mother was full of sage advice for us. "Only fight about the things that matter," she admonished.  When we started fighting a few months ago, one of our friends had some more prosaic advice.  "Don't break up until after New Year's," he instructed me. "There's too much going on right now for you to make big decisions with a clear head."  They were both right.

It was our first really big fight, long-distance over the course of the last two months-- related to stress of his last semester and my new job and both of us feeling like the other had excluded us from their lives (and we weren't wrong, but it wasn't related to a lack of caring about each other as much as it was related to a lack of communication and generally being overwhelmed by the major life changes).

The resolution, in short form, was simple: I graduated in May, he graduated a few weeks ago in December, we've both secured jobs (that are even less than an hour apart from one another!), and we're buying a house. We've been busy, building our life together and troubleshooting the issues.

We can do this, and when we fight, we will take the opportunity to grow.