Categories
Work Life Writing

Writing About Work

Story Board

I began writing in grade school. The earliest remaining written document is a letter to my parents from YMCA Camp.

I reported having fun.

When reading those handwritten words, forgotten memories emerged. They reside in my brain like fossilized footprints from yesterday’s muddy garden. Such memories mean something. I can say with some certainty camp was fun.

When writing about worklife I seek several things. Partly I want to understand my own work history. It is more than a small chore to write a timeline of a life’s main events. Seeking that will aid telling my story.

More than a timeline I seek to understand why I worked and how it affected me. When I took my first job as a newspaper carrier the work was possible, something boys my age just did. I took a job in high school at a retail store called Turn-Style which was an entry into after school work life. It was possible and common among my classmates to have an after school job. Both of these early jobs funded activities that would have been less likely if I didn’t have income. The most significant activity Turn-Style funded was buying a used car and fuel to keep it going.

During the summer of 1971 I returned home from college. Like most of my male high school classmates I was able to find a summer job in industrial and manufacturing plants in the Quad-Cities. I landed at Oscar Mayer’s slaughterhouse working on the maintenance crew. It was dirty and hard work but in three months I made enough (at $4.04 per hour) to pay the sophomore year college expenses my scholarship didn’t cover. I learned how to clean a lard rendering tank among other valued skills.

After college the employment situation in Davenport seemed dire. Globalization was beginning to take hold, with some jobs moving to Mexico or overseas. It impacted the community with layoffs and those easy to find manufacturing jobs were less easy to secure three years later. I also did not want to get caught up in being a “shoppie,” working a career in manufacturing.

I didn’t have high expectations but after working a couple of low-wage jobs to make ends meet I enlisted in the U.S. Army and was gone for four years. Because of the G.I. Bill, I attended graduate school and got my M.A. in 13 months without other paid work. There were no good or exciting job options in 1981 after graduation so I applied and went to work at the University of Iowa.

After meeting my future spouse at the university, and getting married in 1982, I took a job in transportation and logistics with CRST Inc. in March 1984. I spent more than 25 years doing that type of work. I earned enough money so Jacque could work at home until she was ready to enter the paid workforce again.

Beginning in July 2009, I retired from CRST Logistics with a sheet cake and going-away gifts to enter a period of low wage work. In all I logged 24 different jobs and work activities since then — some paid and some volunteer. There was a lot of diverse experience in all that, about which I’ve written in this blog. What I’m left with today is being a blogger, writer, gardener and human.

While frequent blog posts are an important part of my writing, there is more. The coronavirus pandemic has been an opportunity to consider my writing and develop other projects including a memoir. I’m not finished working yet the number of paid jobs is close to zero as we enter the third month of the pandemic. It provides a perspective that might not have been otherwise possible.

As the sun rises on a forecast dry day I plan to work in the garden planting tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. While I do, I will consider what’s next for me and the meaning of my years in the workplace. The pandemic isolation brings this into focus.

I hope what I write next is as meaningful as that letter to my parents written so many years ago. If it isn’t, at least we’ll have vegetables.

Categories
Work Life Writing

A 1960s Newspaper Boy

M.L. Parker Department Store

My first job in grade school was as a paper boy for the Des Moines Register.

I wanted a paper route. It was what boys my age did. After discussing it with Mother, she arranged the job by calling newspaper circulation desks. The Register route was available.

It was a long, morning route because the Register wasn’t as widely circulated as our home town newspaper, the Times-Democrat. I could ride my bicycle and get the papers delivered with plenty of time to get ready for school.

Before long, I changed to an afternoon Times-Democrat route located on Marquette Street between West Central Park and Locust Street. The Times-Democrat had morning and evening editions at the time. Less walking, more deliveries, and more money for me. I kept the route until high school when I was told it was time paper boys moved on to other things. Having a little money, maybe a couple of bucks a week, made a difference in my life and in the range of activities possible in grade school.

I made weekly collections from subscribers on Fridays. Some subscribers were the worst. They were never home on Friday and when I finally found them on other days they would deny they owed for multiple weeks. My collection pages had a coupon that indicated each week that was due so I knew where each account stood. I gave customers the coupon for a week after they paid. When they got four weeks behind and didn’t pay I called the newspaper to cut them off. My supervisor never wanted to do it because the newspaper had subscription targets. Statistically, the majority of my customers were nice and paid on time. However I do remember the deadbeats. In retrospect, my margins sucked but there was enough money to satisfy my nascent financial needs.

On Saturdays I paid my bill for the bundles of papers dropped on the corner of Marquette and Lombard Streets. I took a city bus from nearby Mercy Hospital to what was then a thriving downtown Davenport. I spent parts of every Saturday morning downtown, beginning at the newspaper office on East Third Street.

One of my favorite downtown places was the automat at the M.L. Parker Department Store where I occasionally bought a pre-made hamburger and warmed it under an infrared light bulb. We didn’t have such a heating device at home. I stopped at W.T. Grant, F.W. Woolworth and occasionally went to Petersen Harned Von Maur, inconveniently located across a busy Second Street. I also stopped at Louis Hanssen Hardware Store where they had a centralized cashier operation connected to the sales floor by a small trolley system.  There was a coin shop which was almost never open as early as I was downtown. The idea coins that passed through my hands on the paper route were worth more than face value was fascinating.

In 1964 a friend and I rode the bus downtown. After paying my bill we went to the local Democratic party office and stuffed envelopes for Lyndon Johnson’s presidential campaign. Our motivation was to trade labor for an LBJ for the USA button. After finishing with the Democrats we walked a couple of doors down to the Republican party office and did the same thing for a Goldwater button. The idea our families would vote Goldwater for president was ridiculous. Father had worked hard to organize for JFK and was doing the same for LBJ. It felt weird being in the Republican campaign office but I brought home a button which had “Au H2O” printed on it anyway.

My male schoolmates were also shoplifters at the downtown department stores. Having a steady income from my paper route, I never shoplifted. From time to time I met up with my mates at one of the movie theaters for a matinee. They compared the results of their thievery that morning. For a while they stole bottles of men’s cologne which they tried to sell me. What would I do with cologne? Retail managers wised up to what was going on and secured the products in display cases. That apparently ended such thievery.

My interest in meeting my friends was to see movies at a reduced price of 35 cents. Most of what we saw was related to World War II: The Longest Day, The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, and others.  When the cost of a matinee went up to 50 cents, I felt we were being gouged.

One time we saw an ad for a movie in Rock Island about the Batman. Someone had compiled all 15 episodes of a Batman serial made in 1943 by Columbia Pictures. The Batman television show became a popular topic on the school playground, so we wanted to see the serials. We took the bus downtown and walked across the Centennial Bridge for the matinee. I told Mom what we were doing so she wouldn’t be surprised when I was gone for so long. I remember it was a very long walk across the Mississippi River although worth it because I now knew something others didn’t about the Batman.

In the mid-1960s working as a newspaper carrier expanded my horizons. I got to see how my customers lived and had a chance to explore a world outside the confines of our neighborhood. I found there was a broader world where everyone did not share the same values we did at home.

I felt the relationship with my manager was good, although my daily work was disconnected from him. I was always the last to know about sales promotions and newspaper policy that pertained to me. It led to an attitude that I would do my job as I saw best without worries about my supervisor or whether I was right or wrong in what I did. That proved to be a defining aspect of my character at the beginning of my work life. Being able to work on my own without regular, direct supervision became part of who I was and remained so for the duration of my work life.

My first work experience was positive and that made a difference as I progressed through life. Adapting to work in a positive manner was an important part of the working class home in which I came up. It prepared me for the challenges of a career yet to come.

Categories
Social Commentary Work Life Writing

New Chances after a Pandemic

Apple blossoms ready for pollination.

It has been two months since the Iowa State Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville reported the first positive test results for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

We look forward to returning to a semblance of our pre-pandemic lives. We also know our lives won’t be the same as the pandemic could continue until there is a cure a year or two from now.

I could have continued to work at the home, farm and auto supply store. Because of my age I chose a voluntary COVID-19 leave of absence, then retired after the first thirty days ended. Not everyone has these choices.

One hopes a better society emerges from the chaos the virus and its inseparable economic depression have wrought. Our president’s reaction to the pandemic cost us the strong economy he inherited and caused preventable mass death. It is delusional to believe informed people will accept his work and re-elect him for another four years. We have to work to make sure someone else, presumably Joe Biden, is elected to stop the destruction caused by the current response to the pandemic.

There is also more to life than politics.

In a series of posts I plan to write about the worklife I have known and how it may change after the pandemic. There is a clear delineation of my personal work timeline into several periods.

When I began outside work in grade school as a newspaper carrier there were expectations of knowing what types of jobs were available and then securing them. After college graduation the workplace had changed, offering few positions in which I found interest. This led to frustration and then entering the military.

After returning from overseas I went to graduate school. When finished I found even less desirable opportunity than five years previously. When I eventually found work in the transportation and logistics field it was a compromise between what I wanted to do and producing enough income to support our young family. It was never the best, but it accomplished a degree of financial security.

When I took early retirement in 2009 I wasn’t sure what the future would hold. I used part of our retirement savings and entered a series of low-paying jobs that helped pay bills but did little else to advance us financially. I’ve written often about this and hope to bring a new perspective to it. During and after the pandemic there will be another phase of worklife. In some ways it is a journey home to being the person I was when this all began.

The president and governor say it’s time to reopen the economy and our lives. From my perch in Big Grove Township the economy never fully closed and the first wave of the pandemic is not finished. To understand how we can restructure our lives in society we must understand from where we are coming. That’s the hope of the next series of posts.

Categories
Home Life Writing

Don’t Cook Tonight

Great Grandmother in her garden.

When I was a grader, Mother would send me to the corner grocery store to secure provisions for the evening meal.

We had a corner grocery store. It was a block and a half away from home. There were no supermarkets within walking distance.

I don’t recall its name. A family owned it and the husband was the butcher. When it closed, run out of business by the multi-location Geifman Food Store that situated a block and a half away, they moved to the west end of town where the butcher was murdered in his store.

I was a paper boy for the Times-Democrat. The hyphenated name is from a 1964 merger into what eventually became part of Lee Enterprises and is now the Quad-City Times. I delivered the evening edition after school and the corner grocery was near the end of my route. At that time paper boys collected subscriptions directly from customers. When I finished weekly collections I’d stop at the store to buy a package of baseball cards or a candy bar. I remember a six-pack of 10 ounce bottles of Pepsi sold for 60 cents, the lesser known sodas bottled a few blocks away sold for 54 cents. Mother discouraged us from drinking soda.

The corner grocery store was an important part of our family life. Then it wasn’t.

Grandmother grew up on a farm and knew how to cook. She knew where food came from and how to prepare a live chicken. In our early years she lived near us, next door when I was a toddler, upstairs when I was in the first grade. After that she was a regular guest for Sunday dinners and special occasions like Easter when she checked in with her grandchildren and helped mom in the kitchen.

In the 1960s we began to eat more food prepared outside our home. Mom also began experimenting with different food preparations. We developed a taste for tacos and I recall the corner grocery didn’t carry some Mexican ingredients we liked, requiring me to walk to nearby Geifman’s. It was a sign of the end of the corner store.

In 1966 Joe Whitty moved to Davenport and ended up living with his young family in a rental the second house north from ours. It was across the street from a family that owned the dairy. He worked at the nearby hospital where I had been born, first as a baker, then as dietary director. He went on to establish a chain of pizza and ice cream stores. One of the ice cream stores ended up on the lot where the corner grocery store had been, although after I left Davenport.

On the other side of the church where I was baptized, about two blocks away from home and next to the Geifman Food Store, was a restaurant called Chicken Delight. They had a radio jingle, “Don’t cook tonight, call Chicken Delight.” The chain was founded in Illinois in 1952 and grew to have more than 1,000 locations. It was a take out and delivery only place and I don’t recall eating their chicken during the eleven years I lived at home there. Without the dining room we had little interest. If we had their product at home, I have no memory of it.

Chicken Delight was not known for its quality as each store followed their own cooking process, sometimes with their own equipment. That’s unlike the McDonald’s franchises which grew to prominence in the 1960s. McDonald’s prided itself on consistent quality in all their stores. They even had a “Hamburger University” near Chicago to train managers in how to operate with consistent results. Today there are not many Chicken Delight stores and most that remain are located in Canada. The women in our house knew how to make chicken and the family consensus was ours was better. Eventually one of the former neighbor’s pizza restaurants located in the Chicken Delight space.

That’s not to say we didn’t dine out in the 1960s, we did. We favored local, family run restaurants like Riefe’s Family Restaurant and Bell Eat Shop. Our parents knew both families. When McDonald’s built a restaurant on Brady Street we drove over there as a family once in a while. Their burgers and fries were different from Mother’s. They were cheap too. We ate in the car. We also drove to the A&W Root Beer stand where servers brought trays of food and drinks that hung on our car windows.  The rise of automobile culture made home delivery pizza popular and inexpensive.

Grandmother would take us to Bishop’s Buffet on special occasions. We enjoyed being able to pick what we wanted from a generous selection of items like Mom and Grandmother made at home. In some ways it was a form of nostalgia. Grandmother insisted on paying the bill. These family events were important to her.

That’s the range of our 1960s dining experience outside home. A lot has changed since then. When Grandmother was born in the 19th Century people cooked most meals at home or took a dish to a potluck for weddings, funerals or other occasions where they ate what others had prepared. Prior to the current pandemic food prepared outside home comprised more than half of American diets according to the USDA. When the coronavirus recedes I expect there will be a rebound in restaurant eating.

It takes work to remember these things. Memories are not always accurate. What is important now may not have been important then. In the end, it is up to the author to research and present each story leaning on known facts. We must resist the temptation to tell a story only because the narrative flows or with ideological intent. It is hard to listen to one’s own voice and ignore what others may have experienced or have to say about something. We each own our memories even though there are shared experiences. We must be true to ourselves.

I’d like to be writing more pieces like this. I hope I will.

Categories
Work Life

Retirement in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Detail of Garden Plot #4

I decided not to return to the home, farm and auto supply store after my voluntary COVID-19 leave of absence.

Whatever the cultural resonance of the word “retirement,” I’ll take my leave from the workforce without fanfare, without the customary sheet cake, and fade into the background of our life in Big Grove Township.

It’s been a good run. Whatever uncertainty lies ahead, I’m fortified by decades of experience in business and in living — the latter making the difference.

More than anything, our Social Security pensions make retirement possible. I made my first contribution to Social Security in 1968, thinking retirement was in the distant future. All along the way, in every job I held, I paid in. I paid in on my last paycheck on March 17. Of all the government programs that exist, Social Security, and its methodology of enabling even the lowest paid worker to save for retirement has been there. I hope it endures not only for my lifetime but for every American into a future as distant from today as is the teenage boy I was when I started.

What’s next? Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram to find out.

Categories
Garden Writing

Spring Rain and Memory

Bluebells

A gentle rain fell after noon in Big Grove Township. Forecast to be a quarter of an inch, it continued into nightfall, slow and gentle. It was the kind of spring rain we need and have come to expect.

Neighbors worked in our yards in the morning: trimming trees, collecting brush, gardening and mowing. Children were supervised by parents and the sound of their laughter penetrated the neighborhood. With the coronavirus pandemic we checked in with each other, chatted some, maintained our distance, then returned focus to the work at hand.

After planting I picked up and cleaned garden fencing from where I laid it to prepare the garden plots. Rolled bundles are piled near the Bur Oak trees until needed. For now, nothing is growing above ground that wildlife will eat.

I seeded the last of the early crops in the ground before the rain started:

Chantenay Red Cored carrots, Ferry-Morse, 70 days.
Danvers #126 carrots, Ferry-Morse, 75 days.

The portable greenhouse is filling so I consolidated seedlings to make room for what I’ll bring back from the farm today. I gave a tray of broccoli and kale to a neighbor for their garden. Later I’ll post an offer of free seedlings for neighbors on our social media group. Kale is not as popular as I’d like and not everyone gardens.

Inside, I made luncheon of a cheese sandwich with a single slice of bread, spooned out some pickles, and turned to what would be the afternoon’s work.

I have two archival-style boxes of postcards containing hundreds collected from all over, maybe a couple thousand in all. Some were sent to me. Some purchased while traveling in the United States, Canada and Europe. Some bought at auctions for a dollar or two bid per bundle. When I visited second hand stores, if they had a postcard section I browsed for good ones. Post cards are an inexpensive collectible.

At some point I segregated those with more personal meaning from the boxes and put them in trunks with other memorabilia from those periods of my early life. Our parents used to take us to Weed Park in Muscatine, driving along Highway 61 from Davenport in our 1959 Ford. I have a photograph of Dad, my brother, my sister and me standing near the car with the Mississippi River in the background. I put the postcards of Weed Park in the trunk from the time before Father died.

I went through both boxes and looked at every card during a single, four-hour shift.

What strikes me about those hours is the nature of memory. Not only do I have memories evoked by artifacts, I have the sense of being in those places literally.

For example, today is the 75th anniversary of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s death in Warm Springs, Georgia. In June 1976 four of us left Fort Benning, Georgia where we were taking infantry officer training and drove the 45 miles to visit. We saw the chair where FDR died and I bought a postcard from the gift shop.

I found the postcard in one of the boxes last night. It had the date and names of the other three soldiers who went with me written on the back. I saw myself in that room again, just like it was in the present. What is that experience? I had to look it up.

After consolidation, long-term memories are stored throughout the brain as groups of neurons that are primed to fire together in the same pattern that created the original experience, and each component of a memory is stored in the brain area that initiated it (e.g. groups of neurons in the visual cortex store a sight, neurons in the amygdala store the associated emotion, etc). Indeed, it seems that they may even be encoded redundantly, several times, in various parts of the cortex, so that, if one engram (or memory trace) is wiped out, there are duplicates, or alternative pathways, elsewhere, through which the memory may still be retrieved.

Therefore, contrary to the popular notion, memories are not stored in our brains like books on library shelves but must be actively reconstructed from elements scattered throughout various areas of the brain by the encoding process. Memory storage is, therefore, an ongoing process of reclassification resulting from continuous changes in our neural pathways, and parallel processing of information in our brains.

Shorter version: the postcard caused a group of neurons which physically comprised the memory to recreate it in real time.

This is particularly important when writing a memoir. Perhaps the hardest part of my work has been to resist the influence of today’s life on memories retained. Historians refer to this as presentism, or an “uncritical adherence to present-day attitudes, especially the tendency to interpret past events in terms of modern values and concepts.” It is important to learn how to live from memories and experiences we’ve had. In our search for meaning today, it’s important to refrain from assigning arbitrary values to our past. We have to let the memories exist and pay attention to what they are.

In the 50 years since Father died I frequently revisited the memory of the night men from the meat-packing plant arrived at our home to console Mother while we waited in our parents’ bedroom for news. I suppose the worst parts of those days after his death are blocked, or whatever psychological term represents that. I don’t want to put a name to that blocking process because while other memories physically exist in my brain, over the years I’ve adopted a view, or perspective about what that memory is. While that may provide comfort, when writing autobiography we have to work at retrieving that contemporaneous experience. It must be what it is. That distinction between the memory told and the actual memory is at the core of what I’m about in my writing.

When I woke last night to use the bathroom I thought about what I would write this morning. The shift of postcards prompted something… a lot of somethings. It’s not that complicated. In the rush of viewing memories prompted by a thousand or more artifacts, in a single sitting, we must get a grip on the quantity and manage it. In the end, though, do we need to do that?

Is it better to live in a hurricane of memories and hope for survival? It is better to confront the wind than hide from it. That is my only conclusion today, except for the notion I must post a photo of our Bluebells for complicated reasons.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

A Post Consumer Life Worth Living

Arugula and lettuce planted March 2, 2020.

When I say post-consumer, I mean the one percent of richest people in the world have extracted what they can of what we have.

Something’s now got to give.

Yes, I’ll buy at the grocery store, gas station and drug stores, but a budget like ours can’t afford much extra. If shoes and clothing wear out, I’ll buy some on sale. Maybe some books, or a cup of coffee at a restaurant or shop will be bought, but little else that is unnecessary for daily living.

No longer do I just get into my car and drive in wanderlust.

We hope to avoid potentially big and unexpected expenses associated with an accident, automobile malfunction, health concern or home or family emergency. In a capitalistic society, all of those unexpected expenses are good for someone, as they generate revenue for them and unwanted expense for us. The bottom line is that we won’t be generating much for the consumer society overlords to rejoice about.

That said, to go on living in our current lifestyle, bills must be paid, and I’ll maintain paying work to support all of our creditors and suppliers. We seek to live without incurring additional debt, having to sell our home, or spend all of our life savings. We have our pensions yet if something big happened — an expense of thousands of dollars — how would we pay for it? Our pensions cover basic expenses and some debt retirement yet there is little extra at the end of each month.

I wrote the following in 2013 when confronted with the gap between my first retirement in 2009, before our pensions kicked in.

There are plenty of jobs in the area that pay below $10 per hour. The trouble is they don’t pay enough to meet our financial requirements, even if I were to work a few of them.

Year-to-date, wages accounted for 14.3 percent of income. Consulting income was another 5 percent. Adding these two amounts to consulting accounts receivable, the total is roughly 30 percent of required 2014 income. If I were to return to warehouse work at $9.25 per hour, that would generate 60 percent of required income. Low wage jobs can be a trap to get further in debt, especially if they do not provide benefits.

A portfolio that includes some lowly paid work is acceptable, but there has to be something else, a significant part of it, that pays more.

The best part of 2013 has been working in the local food system. The pay was low, but the relationships fostered by participating were meaningful. Working in the local food system offers the prospect of something more than dollars.

The job as proof reader was in my sweet spot, relevant to my writing. Same goes for my brief stint as editor of Blog for Iowa last summer. All were lowly paid work that I want to be doing.

What Didn’t Work

The warehouse work did not work because of the physical toll it extracted. Too, taking loans and withdrawing from savings, were steps in the wrong direction. Stopping the outflow of savings will be a high priority for 2014. We’ve tapped our current home equity loan ceiling, and what is left is credit cards.

How to Get There

At its simplest, based on a six-day work week, I need to generate between $94 and $125 each work day to pay our bills. To make progress, by paying down loans, we need more.

We survived the gap that year and until Social Security payments began in 2018. The coronavirus pandemic and social change it is bringing will cause an adjustment. I see these things happening.

While weather continues with adequate rainfall and favorable temperatures, growing more of our own food will be part of the solution. When we chose to live here we picked a lot with 0.62 acres: enough for a large garden. Likewise, my relationships with farmers helps secure food items we don’t or can’t grow.

Maintaining health through exercise, eating well, and regular medical, dental and eye examinations is foundational.

During the pandemic I find myself talking people through challenges. Not that I am an expert, but there is a vacuum of concern about others that pulls me in. Whether it is family or friends, it is important to stay connected now and once the pandemic has run its course.

Focus on one financial thing. Right now it is paying down debt with any extra money. Major appliance purchases (stove and dishwasher) will wait, as will replacing our current vehicles to secure reliable transportation for our last decades of driving an automobile.

If we do pay down debt, there are possibilities. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Most important in all this is having a life worth living and working toward that end. With that I’m prepared as can be to sustain our lives in a turbulent world.

Categories
Social Commentary Writing

Being on the Board of Health

Onion Sets

Remarks delivered on a community panel
“Citizen Involvement in Local Government.”
Community Leadership Program
City Hall, Coralville, Iowa.
December 9, 2011

I believe a person makes a choice in life, to be part of society and influence what the future will be, or to be a citizen centered on making our way in a challenging world, protecting what we have, and nurturing the advantages of living in the United States. While not mutually exclusive, each can be a lifetime of hard work.

In 2004, after helping manage our rural public water and wastewater systems for almost ten years, I sought additional engagement in society and applied to the county supervisors for appointment to the board of health. Without reservation, and in every respect, my service on the board was good for me personally and I hope it contributed to society.

So what did we do? Besides the regular board meetings, there were other commitments. I tried to consider our life in society from a public health perspective, and work toward doing things that made sense while complying with a host of rules and regulations.

The board of health has oversight of the public health department and the meetings could easily be filled with tasks required by government such as approving the department budget, writing policy and other administrative work. We did do a lot of that while I was on the board.

But there were other things not written in the black and white of legal code. We made a decision about an indigent suspected of having tuberculosis, trying to respect his rights as a citizen, while protecting the public from a contagious disease. When the health department closed a restaurant near where I live, I listened when the owner called me at home and explained the financial strain our action created and the injustice he felt. During an in service day, I found myself responding to an outbreak of norovirus and spent the better part of a day speaking to parents about what their children had for lunch the previous day. All of this work was engaging.

It is hard to list any disadvantages about being on the board of health. When we sign up, there is an understanding that there will be both good and bad things along the way. In a way, it was all good.

I found three things particularly rewarding while I served on the board of health. First, there was the self-fulfilling feeling that I was giving something tangible back to our community. Second, the board provided a vehicle to study and present information about issues that impacted people’s lives. For example, I spoke about arsenic contamination in county water and about the Silurian aquifer. What was best was getting to know people in the community in a way I couldn’t have predicted. A sense of engagement in society was a significant benefit, one that keeps giving and for which I will always be grateful.

Thank you for attending today.

Categories
Writing

2012 and New Beginnings

Journal Entry, Jan. 8, 2013.

The 2012 general election marked the end of a personal era.

Working on campaigns drained our financial reserves and we would need income to meet our obligations going forward.

The following winter was a time of reflection and adjustment.

2013 began a work period where writing occupied more of my time. That, combined with low wage work, became a way to get along. We never made enough money as I worked those jobs. They bridged the time between leaving my career and beginning Medicare at age 65 and Social Security at age 66. What made our survival possible was a foundation created by my 25 years in transportation combined with Jacque’s income from the public library. It was tough going during the transition but we made it.

Our move to Big Grove Township was predicated on a few things: we needed a place to live, my job in Cedar Rapids, being centrally located near other job opportunities, schools for our daughter, two working automobiles, and being a distance from the office. Over time, and by 2013, those things changed, raising new questions:

  • Do we want to move to town?
  • What kind of work will be next for us?
  • Is there a way we can work without a commute?
  • Is this home right for us as we age?
  • Will we be able to afford living here?

We decided the best approach was to stabilize our lives here and we did. Working at home was difficult but straight forward. I wrote about it in a Dec. 29, 2012 journal entry:

Part of work is forcing myself to come into my work area and sit. The kind of discipline that Norman Mailer wrote about. Not being distracted, or leaving the work area. Just working to the detriment of all other activities.

It is not always easy to do this, but do it I must, and for more than an hour at a time.

I felt an urge to go to town. It is similar to the urge I felt when living in Mainz. That often led me to shopping or walking into the downtown area. I resisted it today, even though it was complicated by the new $50 bill my mother sent — itching to be spent. It was a major accomplishment to resist the urge to go “elsewhere.”

The low wage work I pursued was readily available in the area. My criteria was to work for a company with a professional payroll department where I could count on wages being paid accurately and in a timely manner. I didn’t give much thought to the physical requirements of the jobs, although they mostly required standing on concrete or other hard-surfaced floors. I worked as a temporary laborer, as a product demonstrator, and in 2015 wound up at the home, farm and auto supply store which offered full time work, health insurance and a reasonable work load. I also worked as a proof reader and freelance correspondent for local newspapers.

Most significant among these jobs was a chance to work with people much different from those during my transportation career. If I didn’t bring home much money, I met many new people.

Weathering the last seven years was the kind of accomplishment few people point out as a highlight of life. We did what was needed to survive. Now that it’s over there are other things to do, including the “good stuff” in the diagram from my journal. We now have a chance to figure out what that means.

Categories
Writing

The Work of Writing

Draft Autobiography Outline

My ancestors first landed in North America in what today are the states of Virginia and Minnesota. I don’t know of any other connections but those two states.

My Virginia origins have obscure beginnings in the 17th Century. My Minnesota origins are tied to specific immigration from Poland in the 19th Century after the Civil War. I know a lot about these lines, but not as much as I may think.

Genealogy has been faddish for me. For a while a rush of interest. Then research halts and things sit for months or years. I enjoy discovering new artifacts, like the recent discovery of my parents’ wedding announcement in the newspaper. Such joy is insufficient to turn me into a consistent miner of artifacts and information. It’s been a hodge-podge endeavor from the get-go.

I hope to sustain an effort with the current memoir project. That means getting organized, developing a writing plan and sticking with it.

It is hard to determine a timeline, but necessary. Equally difficult will be choosing which parts to write about and in which order. I need to be in a place where the outline is finished and broken down into 1,000-word bites for drafting. I don’t know how long it will take to draft, edit and proof 170,000 words. Longer than expected, for sure.

The general rule is to write 1,000 words per day. By write, I mean draft because editing will take multiple amounts of the time drafting will. I expect as many as a dozen revisions, probably more. Likewise proof reading is important and time consuming. One has to get outside the narrative to a place where the literal words on the page mean nothing except for their correct spelling, grammar and elimination of redundancy and extra words. These things take time.

A couple of hours can produce 1,000 draft words with this type of work. That assumes a proper outline and work plan that puts the research into a semblance of order. It’s possible to do that.

So five steps: organize documents and artifacts, prepare an outline, create a first draft, edit and revise the draft, and proof read.

This spring is shaping up to be busy with the part time job at the home, farm and auto supply store, gardening, farm work, political work, community work, and the Food Policy Council. Somehow the memoir project needs to find a space. (I always forget to mention family. Why is that?)

I plan to continue writing this blog most days, but need to add a period of daily time to organize for writing the memoir. The photo above is a first attempt to get something on paper. There will be revisions as work continues to sustain this project.