Thursday, December 18, 2008

Six Month Reflection

Saturday will be my VISTA six month mark, and I think that warrants some reflection. I don't know if this is the most important thing I've learned so far, but I've been thinking a lot lately about how to stop treating potential recipients of donations as hypothetical people.

I used to say that everyone at some point should be required to work some awful job in the service industry, maybe even with periodic temporary reminder sessions, so that nobody forgets that people behind counters are real people, too. I'd like to add that everyone should spend at least a day processing charitable donations, because a donation bin is not a dumpster with less guilt. I've treated it that way, and I'm going to stop and think before I donate. There are real live people who receive these things, and real, live people who handle every item.

1) I'm going to stop donating unwearable, unrepairable clothes to Goodwill. Somebody who sorts that stuff will throw it out if I don't. Their dumpster is no better than mine, and it's not like I don't know a million ways to recycle a pair of jeans.

2) Furthermore, I'm going to give thought to where my donations go. I know a VISTA whose position was designed partly because disorganized Katrina relief meant that in response to requests for clothes, several truckloads of winter coats made their way to the Gulf Coast. This was way more than a mere inconvenience for volunteers and recipients.

3) I'm going to follow the rules and write something worth reading when writing letters and greetings through some kind of service. I sorted a ton of Holiday Cards for Heroes yesterday, which involves reading every message on every card, blacking out contact information and sorting out questionable messages. Programs like this is not an appropriate venue for shameless promotion of your youTube channel or fanatic proselytizing. On the other hand, write more than just your name. What would you want to read from a stranger if you were in Iraq?

4) I will never again designate a cash donation. It is not easy to earn unrestricted funds of any kind, and the indirect operating costs (salaries, building utilities) are just as essential as direct expenses (program materials). If I trust and admire an organization enough to donate in the first place, it makes no sense to decide that I know more about what is needed than the people who actually work there.

That's it for now, I guess. Charitable donations can be neither when they're poorly planned, and it's too bad that telling donors that is such a sensitive issue. If you've never waited tables, you may not realize that it's easier to deal with an even $5.00 than a tip for $5.34 (at least in my opinion). If you've never had hundreds of completely useless magazines from the seventies crowding your office, of course you won't think about what happens after you drop off all the stuff you found in the attic of your relative with the hoarding problem. Philanthropy is no good without some logic behind it, and more people need to start thinking about what they don't know.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pre-SOP: Macbeth was my Star Wars

So, I've decided to go to graduate school. I feel like Dr. Hibbert should hand me an informative pamphlet. Bah.

Anyway, even before Statements of Purpose started looming in the back of my mind, it occurred to me that I don't really know how I got here. Five years ago, I was fairly certain that I would spend my life teaching high school students about literature. Now I am drooling over grad course titles like Inferential Statistics II. WTF? I preach (constantly, to the irritation of my supervisors) that it is important to understand the past to make a good plan for the future. The time has come for me to fix this hypocrisy in myself.

Whittled down, my story is this: Macbeth was my Star Wars.

Or, if you've never seen the engineers on The History Channel's Star Wars Tech gush about how the Light Sabers inspired a generation to start dissembling VCR's, Macbeth was my Vietnam War. Bear with. My sister once interviewed our neighbor, a camera operator at a local TV station, for a Girl Scout badge related to media careers. An astute young interviewer, she asked him how he decided he wanted this job. He said that he was fascinated by television since childhood, but wasn't interested in being a journalist or actor.

He then talked about watching the evening news as a teenager. A reporter was standing in waist-high grass, bracing himself against wind coming off of departing helicopters. My neighbor lamented his shyness. He was missing the adventure. And then it occurred to him that the reporter was not alone. There was someone holding that camera, and he was in on the excitement but out of frame. So my neighbor became a camera operator, and loves it to this day. My story is the same basic structure.

I loved literature classes in high school. The Writers and Readers Advisory Panel was the center of my extracurricular world. I basically lived in the library. I idolized my favorite English teacher.

And yet, I changed my major before I took a single English or Education class. All it took was a 10 minute conversation with an assistant anthropology prof assigned to the unfortunate task of scheduling incoming freshmen. By the time I took a creative writing class as a sophomore, I found writing fiction almost joyless. But that was not the epiphany.

Epiphany is the wrong word, anyway.

I hated that writing class because -- brace yourself -- it was about improving writing techniques! My poor professor fought a constant battle against my attempt to turn the class discussion from subjects like listing technique in Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried to topics more interesting to me. I mean, could and archaeologist analyze those lists as artifacts in lieu of digging for material culture? (Seriously, that poor man. My fiction sucked and I was a constant distraction. How he didn't murder/fail me is beyond my understanding.)

In hindsight I started drifting off target in English classes long before that. I mostly blame my junior year combined American Literature and American History block class. So we would read things like The Red Badge of Courage during the Civil War unit and The Wizard of Oz while covering Populism. After that, I was subjected to plain old Brit Lit by a teacher I liked much less.

And I pick Macbeth as my point of no return simply because I remember it best. I was sick to death of talking about rhyme schemes and iambic pentameter. But I do remember sitting in that class, probably waiting for my best friend to write me a note, and feeling awash with this visceral awe because I realized how ignorant I was of my own language until I properly learned Shakespeare. I didn't want to talk about the structural differences between comedies and tragedies. I wanted to trace "double, double, toil and trouble" through history! I could have spent the whole Macbeth unit talking about Lady Macbeth and what Shakespeare thought about women. Oh Lord, I could have spent the whole semester musing on Lady Macbeth.

I like this analogy. In Contact, a young Eleanor Arroway dissembles a broken radio and marvels at the tubes. She grows up to be a radio astronomer. As a young woman, I dissembled Macbeth and marveled at the social power plays. I'm becoming a social scientist.

I'm still working on articulating what this means for my future. In the meantime, where do YOU come from?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

it's another thing to see it on through

The past six weeks or so have been all about realizing how short a year actually is. I love what I'm building here deeply, so it's difficult to cope with the realization that I will have to be satisfied as the architect of the foundation and not the whole skyscraper.

I realize now that I've been coping by being hyper-critical of myself as if being a perfect person and perfect VISTA will somehow translate into a perfect evaluation plan for the next few decades. This sentiment is ridiculous, and I officially acknowledge and release it.

It's okay to be one person. I matter as an individual in lots of ways. That's more important than these trepidation benders.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The post that ensures I will never be linked to in the VISTA enewsletter.

Blog Action Day is here. On Blog Action Day, bloggers are supposed to tie whatever they normally write about to a certain topic to generally raise awareness. Last year it was the environment, so a participating food blogger would have talked about sustainable farming.

This year the topic is poverty, which is sort of weird for me. I suppose that this blog is technically a record of the year I've committed to fighting poverty, but I subject whoever might read this to my external processing on a large-ish, somewhat disjointed pool of topics. (Or I did...)

Side story for just a moment:
My work is in evaluation. I'm building a system for this organization to take an honest look at how well they do what they say they do. At a meeting earlier this week, someone called a nascent evaluation point I'm working on a "dangerous question." This, of course, makes me feel like a real, live researcher.

The point of that story is that in the spirit of asking dangerous questions, I am going to ask myself a dangerous question (or at least uncomfortable) about VISTA and poverty. So here it goes.

VISTA income is below the poverty line, and we are prohibited from having any other employment/income. In training and orientation materials, there are two justifications offered for this. One is that that a more comfortable total income would somehow separate us from the communities we serve. Do I feel more connected to impoverished people in the Indianapolis communities I serve because of my modest living allowance?

Let's start answering this with a financial example.

I live in a pretty nice three-bedroom duplex that costs almost exactly the median monthly rent for the area. My rent is 48% of my living allowance and food stamps income. A household is considered cost-burdened if more than 30% of income goes to rent. About half of Marion County households are cost-burdened, so I'm probably connected to more neighbors this way than I know.

Well, never in my life have I had a complaint-free conversation about rent(not that I would ever talk to anyone my organization serves about housing). Also, I knowingly chose this rent ratio because it means that I live in a safe neighborhood, save gas because it's a mile from where I work, and it's big enough that I don't need to worry about storage. So, I guess I resent that these three fairly simple criteria mathematically indicate that I am somehow living beyond my means.

Is that the basis of a connection between me and impoverished girls in central Indiana? I seriously doubt it. Virtually any example I could use would be this ambiguous. Yes, I went through the paperwork to get on food stamps. But I'm qualified for way more than I would be if I was not a VISTA, and I certainly would never talk about this with the girls we serve.

There are strict limits on direct service where I would have the chance to interact with the girls, but it's probably more important that poverty is not limited to a lack of financial resources. Girls Inc. programs focus on every singe poverty-related resource listed in my VISTA handbook:

emotional stability and control
mental capacity and critical thinking skills
social capital and support systems for times of need
role models
financial assets

Look at that list. Obviously, poverty means more than an outdated math problem. It would be ridiculous to go about connecting with any community through only one of these routes.

And let's not kid ourselves. I won't walk away from this service year with a particularly robust story about a lack of financial resources because I am so rich in other resources. (Thanks for the toilet paper, Mom! Thanks for mailing me your old clothes, Caitlin!)

So I guess the point is that I don't blog much about poverty in my VISTA blog because that subject would make me a big, fat liar. I love what I do, and I believe that I am changing this city for the better, no doubt. But 1/3 of the way through my year of service, I'm the same privileged chick from the suburbs. I just have less money.

That alone does not prevent a connection to any community, impoverished or not. Sitting at a computer all day does.

Edit: I'm worried that this comes off like me making a crass blanket statement about VISTA or the poverty experience of others. I'm not. I'm making a crass statement strictly about my own experiences.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In response to my Dad, who started reading when I stopped writing.

A simple promise to blog more was the wrong way to go about blogging more.

The main problem is that I've become less excited about the journaling format I started here. I'm hoping to fix that before Halloween, so don't give up on me.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Probably just graph-obsessed.

While I'm not sure that I like being on food stamps better than I would like a higher living stipend, it certainly is enlightening to see that system from the inside.

I got a letter yesterday from the Marion County Department of Family Services, and I was almost afraid to open it. I'm in the process of switching banks and I thought that maybe I had to notify my caseworker and it was going to be a huge headache convincing them that I'm not trying to cheat the government. Turns out monthly benefits are being bumped. Mine are going up by $13. My income is completely disregarded for food stamps, so I get the amount that an adult who makes no money gets. I don't know what the increase is a different income levels.

Federal minimum gas mileage reimbursement (not a social service) went up by about 8 cents in July. Maybe I'm graph-obsessed, but I think it would be interesting to see a layered line graph of how these have increased over time. Is this a typical lag? Throw in a line for inflation and highlight different administrations over time, and I'm in graph heaven.

I finally got an invite to beta test Daytum, if it's not obvious. Click here to see me satisfy my quantitative urges.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'm back. Promise.

I know I broke my promise to post more pretty much as soon as I made it.

Whatevs. I'm pondering the plural of VISTA. It stands for Volunteer in Service to America, so the full plural is Volunteers in Service to America, right? But the way I generally abbreviate it is VISTAs, which logically is Volunteer in Service to Americas, which always bugs me. I suppose it's less annoying than VsISTA, though. Oh well. I'll be damned before I start using an ugly apostrophe.

Oi. I think I've been spoiled too much these past few weeks to post about anything interesting. Got loaded down with just about my weight in swag and free food at Speaking of Women's Health on Friday. Today our CEO, who I adore for her affinity for (always good) surprise meetings, took the VISTAs for a picnic and hike at Eagle Creek Park. So, it's been a charming few days.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Getting to yarn, finally and with all due insanity

Visiting a new local yarn store is always like the first time you work out at a new gym. There's no way to know the rules, who is cool with eye contact, and it is always either way too hot or way too cold. Also there is that unshakable feeling that when you leave everyone there will bust out laughing because you have absolutely no chops and oh my gosh how did that loser even find the place.

This irrational fear has only been confirmed in one non-Indiana LYS and zero gyms, but that hasn't stopped me from completely over analyzing the following question, posed to me during a recent first visit:

"What do you knit?"

And this was the first thing the shop manager asked me. Not how long I've been knitting, not what my current projects might be, not even what I was looking for. Is it a nice way of asking all of those sensitive questions? Like, if I said "scarves," she could assume I was a beginner in need of lots of attention and if I said "lace sweaters that I design myself," she would ask me to teach a class? Or is she just addicted to socks like all those cool kids I hear about and assumes that everyone kind of finds their niche? Was she trying to determine how much money I would probably spend? Does a sock-knitter spend less overall than a sweater-knitter?

Of course I was a nervous wreck to begin with, so I just spat out, "Uhhhhh texture... different things with texture," and didn't explain it very well. So that's my next post. A manifesto of all the reasons why texture work is better than color work. Because maybe some LYS employees in Greater Indianapolis will eventually find this blog and not think I am so stupid I should be euthanized.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

the big picture

While I was savoring the election this morning, a thought occurred to me. Accusations of all sorts of prejudices have been floating around the media and campaign trails. I wonder, which ones will be judged as valid concerns by history and which ones will be totally embarrassing to talk about with my future grandkids?

Like, was all that scrutiny of Clinton's wardrobe based in social reality or manufactured by a bored and sexist media? Is it acceptable to objectify Palin's body now if she did it first in past pageants? What if there are more than cosmetic concerns involved? (P.S. Thanks to Bryan for that last link.)

How are we going to justify to generations after us that in 2008, a good number of United States citizens and journalists were still so racist that they actually believed that Obama = terrorist business? What's it gonna take to get us to a point where we can laugh at that?

And how about the matter of McCain's remaining life expectancy? Is it ageist or a legit numbers game? Would it be more ageist to bring this up if there weren't concerns about Palin's qualifications?

I suppose we'll see.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's hard to work I'm so excited but I promise I'm on lunch right now.

The hardest part of being a VISTA for me right now is abiding by the Hatch Act. I committed to this service year completely aware of the financial hardship that comes with it. I was totally willing to deal with the budget realities of the living allowance because I value service and love my community and country. I'm sure there are ways to say that with less fromage, but whatever.

It is freaking killing me to not be able to use this blog to externally process my thoughts about candidates. I am hyped about this election. Just totally stoked. It is a Thing in the Main. (Of course, it can be dangerous to get excited.)

SO! We've been digesting the announcement that Sara Palin is John McCain's running mate around bull pen here at work. My solution is to make some neutral questions out of the more interesting back-and-forth I've been overhearing. I like questions and lists. Don't you?

If Palin was chosen primarily because of her sex, does it mean she's being exploited by her party?

Or should we instead interpret the fact that a woman was judged as the most viable Vice Presidential candidate as progress?

Is it both? Is it possible that even if she was chosen for exploitative reasons, the net result will be positive for feminism?

If former Hilary Clinton supporters flock to McCain based on Palin, does that reflect the state of American feminism or the nastiness of the '08 Democratic primaries?

And I'm sure everyone's talking about this part of it (which is good), but what are the implications of her for the McCain campaign's characterizations of Obama as inexperienced?

Of course, Biden's extensive experience can reasonably be assumed as a factor in Obama's VP choice, so are McCain and Obama both in glass houses when it comes to experience attacks?

We've got more, but I need to sharpen my creativity before I give them a shot. This is fun.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My morale is down.

No, literally. I tried to add my Morale-O-Meter to the side, but I have absolutely no idea what I am doing with html so it was all cut off and strange. (Really? The chick with the totally default blog layout doesn't know her way around html? Crazy.) So it's down at the bottom of the page until I figure it out or find someone who can help me out.

Oh, and using the meter means that I had to sign up for a 43 Things account. The only way I can think to describe 43 Things is as a Turbo-List. We'll see how these sites work out for me. I figure that in six months I will either be a far more productive person or have completely lost my memory.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

promises, promises

I need to formally write here what I promised myself about a week ago: I am going to update this more often. At least three times per week. I told myself I would blog more, and then I just wound up spending more time reading blogs. That and installing and obsessively checking Google Analytics. (And guess what? Nobody freakin' reads this when I don't freakin' update! Eesh!)

Anyway, at least some good has come from that because I have a new obsession: Finding crazy ways to collect and visualize data. Seriously, dudes. I love playing with weird data collections like Julia Styles loves acting in Shakespeare remakes.

All hail to Jason Kottke for getting me hooked.

For example:

I dig Name Voyager because at work lately I have spent lots of time preaching the gospel of unobtrusive data. Look at how effective that is!

I've also been playing around with the practical and ethical issues associated with piloting journals as more serious measures of outcome achievement. I figure we can learn at least as much about the girls as we do about the state of blogging about breakups circa 2005 or the current state of online dating. Look!

And personally, if Daytum doesn't get back to me about beta testing soon, I may explode. I am also seriously considering using the free part of this software even though I am fully toilet trained. (Fact of the day!)

Friday, August 15, 2008

tub time!

I got my tub! To explain why this is exciting, I have to back up.

(Elevator Speech Alert!) Most Girls Incorporated affiliates own club locations where girls meet after school or for camp. Because of issues that cropped up in the past few years like new expenses, local schools' new busing rules and gas prices, we at the Indianapolis affiliate closed both club buildings. We now deliver programming through partnerships with local schools, parks, churches, and libraries. Partners within a two-mile radius are grouped into what we call "hubs." The schedules are such that girls can attend school-day programming in one content area during the day, and then perhaps walk to another hub partner after school or on the weekend for different Girls Inc. programming.

In order to expand programming but keep overhead relatively low, we've started using volunteers as program facilitators. Volunteers get these huge storage tubs full of all the information and supplies they need to run program sessions.

To better understand what I am here to evaluate in the first place, I'm leading a school day program this fall. I WAS excited when I started typing this because a coworker brought over the Media Literacy tub for me to use in a program where they needed a last-minute fill-in, but one paragraph in she came back to let me know that they found a different volunteer to take my place. :(

How am I supposed to spend my afternoon now that all those issues of Tiger Beat are gone?

I don't think gratitude is boring

The theme of Girls Incorporated's annual fund raising lunch last week was "We Vote: 88 in '08." And during planning staff around the office were all bemused that women have only been guaranteed the right to vote for 88 years.

So here's an approximation of a conversation I had while checking in luncheon guests. An old friend from high school who is now a law student was checking in with the social service-type law firm she is working for during the summer.

Her (with sarcasm that I didn't pick up until she walked away): Good thing the theme is pro-women's voting, I mean...

Me (cutting her off): Yeah! Can you believe that it's only been 88 years? That's nuts!

Her: Actually, I can. In fact, it's hard to believe it's even been that long.

Me: Uhm. Well. Have a great time! The name tag station is to your right!

And then yesterday, Lizzy and I went to drop off some information for our fellow VISTAs at the Red Cross. They share a room with the volunteers who call overseas on behalf of soldiers' families when there is an emergency. So they sit there all day some days and listen to volunteers who can tell Indiana soldiers things like "your wife is in labor," or "your grandmother has 6 months to live," but not more than a handful of details beyond that. Or they navigate the red tape involved in getting a soldier leave to attend a funeral.

I mean, I thought that my work environment had entered Heavyville because the summer camp girls are gone and I don't get random hugs from the younger girls when I go down to get my lunch out of fridge anymore. But really, even without the girls here, I've got a good thing going. Essentially, I document progress towards "empowered girls" and "an equitable society." I have the luxury of taking for granted that the world is getting better. Not everyone in nonprofit has that. For all the effort I've been putting into being more positive, I haven't even thought about the aspects of my work that are positive by default.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

First Milestone!

That was a fun break from my usual over-analytical style yesterday, so I won't ramble on for too long today.

Today is exciting because I conducted my last history interview today! Yaaay! My straight Girls Inc. chronological history is complied and only needs some light fact-checking and editing. I'm also going to cut and paste it into individual sections like "technology" and "outreach" that future staff can add to on a regular basis. Then I will perfect the record-keeping system's sustainablility/accessiblity at my convenience for the rest of the year. Hopefully when I leave Girls Incorporated, the staff won't need a historian-type ever again, and will be able to pull up information about past programs, partnerships, and decisions whenever they need to.

So the next thing I'm starting on is actually developing and piloting program outcome evaluation techniques by leading a program! This is a very good thing. This is the first week I've been here without the summer camp girls running up and down the stairs all day. I miss them. It's too quiet. Plus, I get to DO something other than listening to variations on the same story, writing them down, re-typing everything, and then sorting everything I typed.

I'm going to start writing more about what I actually do because I've been feeling pretty lonely lately, and it's my own fault. I'm the only VISTA in evaluation in Indiana (Maybe the whole country. I've never even heard of anyone knowing about a VISTA with a position like mine.), I'm the only staff member working on evaluation full time, and of the community and board members on the Evaluation Task Force, I'm the only one with a background in anthropology. So basically, nobody is going to get where I'm coming from or understand what I do unless I quit whining to my coworkers and loved ones and put some effort into letting people know. This is a practical project. It's not worth doing if I can't/don't communicate why it's important. So there.

Monday, August 11, 2008

DRANK: The Final Frontier

You can catch all the DRANK liveblog action (or, hopefully, lack thereof) here, or over at Charlie's blog, starting at 8 PM Eastern tonight. Enjoy!

Edit: I know this gets linked to as a VISTA blog, but I would argue that this is totally on-topic. What defines a service year more often than the pursuit of cheap thrills?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

afternoon cheese

I am in love with my job today. What I do is pretty much applied anthropology (which is as rad as it is rare for someone who only has a BA), and I get to do it in a building full of smart, purpose-driven, positive people. Without fail, I am totally impressed by a coworker's insight every time I get the chance to participate in a meeting. No matter where I wind up, I want to always work in a place where I feel this inspired to be a better version of my professional self.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I am looking for the crest of a new wave.

It seems like for the past few days I keep having the same conversation about the state of feminism. And I need to talk it out, so here we go.

It started the other night when Charlie and I were talking about music and Atmosphere came up. I love Atmosphere, but Charlie can't get into them because Atmosphere raps tend to be heavy on blatant misogyny, if not actually endorsing violence towards women.

Here's an example:

You can keep the change
Hit me back when you're stable
If she give good brains she can play with the halo
"Don't worry. You're in good hands. I'm a good man."
"Nah, just sick of the program."
I only speak to put ammonia in the bleach
An orphanage, I'm here to get a portion of the piece
So play the leach: Suck me dry
Dot your "T's", cross your eyes
And blow me counterclockwise
So either call my bluff, or turn the volume up
And make noise for the women that swallow stuff
And put your hands up if you feel the music
Cause all that matters is the bass and the movement

And that is from one of my favorite Atmosphere songs, "The Bass and the Movement." I will be the first to admit how strange it is that I love that song. I was not raised to be an uncritical consumer of media. I believe quite firmly that my sexuality is not the source of my worth. And I would react pretty unfavorably if, in a different context, a man who judges the value of women by their fellatio abilities asked me to "make noise." Actually, I wouldn't even wait for the invitation.

So how can I call myself a feminist and justify smiling, bouncing in my chair, and quietly singing that song to myself as a re-read those words? How can I justify listening to this music while working at Girls Incorporated (of all places!)? I simply can't.

I am unquestionably a hypocrite for letting Atmosphere off the hook. But here's what I think is really important: My hypocrisy is unquestionable because Atmosphere's misogyny is unquestionable. I've started to realize that really obvious sexism is becoming less and less important to me, and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing.

I take it for granted that everyone knows the lyrics I posted are degrading and unacceptable, and that somewhere, someone else is angry on my behalf. And why wouldn't I? I've never lived in a world without Title IX. At college, I was in the gender majority. And it absolutely blows my mind that my great-grandmother, one of the first people to celebrate with me when I learned how to blow a bubble gum bubble, was married before women had the right to vote. What big, legal fight have I ever fought? Or even had the need to fight?

Of course, legal gender inequality is still very real, and there is always legislation or a court decision floating round that would chip away at progress made. (Title IX is in trouble right now, as a matter of fact.) But I generally don't call my representative. I wouldn't even know where to start if I wanted to find more public ways of expressing my opinion. (I mean outside of Facebook, okay?) And I think that's pretty common for my generation.

But there IS sexism that affects me on a regular basis, sexism that makes me really angry. It's the subtle stuff that gets overlooked because you can't fix it legally or even prove it. It's my middle school math teacher who only used shopping examples when answering girls' questions and only used sports examples when talking to boys. It's professor who never asked me interesting questions or challenged me in my own major, and the moment I realized that other female students were the only people who knew what I was talking about when I complained about his apathy. It's that including females in biological studies is a still a revolution in progress.

And what can even be done about that? I seriously doubt that my middle school teacher had never been exposed to ideas about gender equality. It's not like my professor was verbally abusing or unfairly grading his female students. And even if I could convince administrators that this was a problem, there were no specific rules being broken.

And I guess my "subtle stuff" probably feeds right into blatant misogyny. But I don't feel that "the big fights" address what sustains sexism. Gender inequality would be gone already if it was as simple as a few laws and Aretha Franklin hits. Inequality is sustained by interactive, multiplicative stereotypes of both sexes. A 30-second PSA can't cover that. There's not a bunch of grant money floating around for fixing something so immeasurable.

There's prevention. That's what Girls Inc. is in the business of, I guess. But beyond that, is it possible to think global/act local on this instead of the other way around? Perhaps I'm being too cynical. Perhaps my cynicism sustains my numbness to obvious sexism. I don't know. What do you think?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ed Award Tax

I think that encouraging action regarding the bill H.R. 6407 would probably be inappropriate for this blog. (As a VISTA, I'm included in the Hatch Act.) But Colleen, that information you were interested in can be found here at the AmeriCorps alum blog.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Something to think about tomorrow.

Tomorrow is Independence Day in the US, but instead of apple pie or national service or the patriotism of dissent, I invite you to think about the other side of the meaning of sovereignty for this country. As my coworkers and I discussed earlier this week, not being British is totally worth celebrating.

And, of course, we're not the only country who escaped! By my completely unscientific estimation, assuming that all nations that used to be British-controlled have national independence days...

Around the world, 52 days per year are spent celebrating the end of British imperialism.

That is almost two months of everyone from Afghanis to Zambians celebrating the fact that we're not Brits. On any given day, there is about a 14% chance that somewhere, people are taking the day to feel thankful to not be British. Probably there is less finger-loss to small explosives on non-US independence days, though.

Now go grill something.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

the autonomy of service

One of the documents I stumbled across on the common drive here at work was this paper on the history of national service in the US. VISTAs had to read it for last year's national conference. Lots of it is exactly what you'd expect: Civilian Conservation Corps roots, Volunteers In Service to America was pushed through congress in the name of Kennedy's ghost, Regan slashed at VISTA funds like Jason slashes at promiscuous campers, Clinton merged VISTA with his new AmeriCorps and so on and so forth. There are a couple points I'm still musing on, though. Ready?

VISTA has been attacked on practical levels, and that's not totally unreasonable. Just few thousand people are "Fighting poverty with a passion" each year. Factor in how very few people (especially legislators) understand the difference between direct service and capacity building and we wind up basically paddling upstream. So are we really making a difference? (Although, I must say that I totally lucked out on my fantastic state office and work site. My assignment is by-the-book, I anticipate tangible results, and the state office is totally supportive.) I can accept that there are practical criticisms of VISTA. It should come as no surprise that I think periodic evaluation of the program is a great way to sustain it.

Still, I just can't wrap my head around the ideological attacks on national service. Well, maybe I can. What I really mean is that I totally disagree. (Shocking, right?) The basic argument is that since I receive a living stipend and other benefits while I am volunteering, I am not acting autonomously and am therefore besmirching the name of volunteerism. Also, the feds pay my stipend and Big Government = apocalypse or whatever. But this reciprocity business is one of my biggest pet peeves about my own culture.

Despite what Precious Moments greeting cards and forwarded emails with too many .gif files have told you your whole life, random acts of kindness don't really exist. Human culture is based on reciprocity, and that's not good or bad. It just is. Parents don't hemorrhage time and money into kids because it feels good after 18 years. I didn't occasionally pick up my roommate from her night class when it was raining because it made me feel superior. No one donates to charity for no reason. Everyone needs something from someone at certain points in our lives. Parents expect children to make grandbabies and scope out decent nursing homes. I never had to hesitate to call my roommate when I was the one stranded on campus without an umbrella. If 1,000 years from now, North America has gone totally Mad Max while Wal*Mart and SUVs thrive in Africa, you bet we'd expect a "Do They Know it's Christmas at All" or two.

Does that make my parents selfish? Does that invalidate my relationship with my college roommate? Does that mean that Bono is less than sincere? No. It just means that we've created a whole mess of false compartmentalizations. To experience true autonomy, I'd have to make sure that I didn't know who I was helping or how I was helping them to ensure no one feels debt, entitlement, or a sense of karma, and then suppress the chemicals that stimulate my brain to feel good about it. Of course we don't do it that way! Being human means being connected to pretty much everyone in one way or another. When we ignore or simplify the implications of this, we create expectations like "true autonomy" that are unappealing and impossible to achieve.

So no, I absolutely would not sit here at Girls Incorporated of Indianapolis from 9-5 every day for a year without compensation, the benefit of experience, and the connections I will make. But I refuse to believe there's anything wrong about that. The government supports AmeriCorps, and in return AmeriCorps enhances the stability of American society, which means the government can continue thrive. Furthermore, the experience and connections I gain this year will eventually be transferred in to the work force and non-professional volunteerism, so who knows how many people will benefit from this year over the course of my lifetime. This is not nearly as simple as just subverting the purpose of the government.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Oh, holism!

So, I've been reading just about everything I can get my hands on at Girls Inc., and I've come to realize that I need to write to organize my thoughts way more than I initially thought. I thought I would just be reading lots of sometimes/always/never and strongly agree/agree/neutral/disagree/strongly disagree-type surveys all day. Instead, I've found that everything at Girls Inc. is super-interconnected. The right hand knows exactly what the left hand is doing, may have helped plan the activity, and probably volunteered to help. And that makes sense. Girls Inc. programs are supposed to be for the whole girl (mental, emotional, physical). They hired an Evaluation Specialist with a holistic perspective. So of course the organizational structure is anything but compartmentalized! And my job is WAY more fun this way.

I'm in this weird situation where I need some initial interviews with people before I can work independently much more, so I think the next few posts will be me working through ideas I have and opinions that I need to clarify. Here's a short list, mostly for my own memory.

1. Is AmeriCorps VISTA effective/neccesary? Is my year of service morally valid?
2. How does Girls Inc. fit into my own beliefs about gender? What will I say to people who doubt that gender-specific organizations are neccesary?
3. Why do I like my job so much? Is it because of the heavy ethnographic component or because I like working in nonprofit?
4. My own top 5 educators, top 5 role models, etc.
5. Mother Nature by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy

Monday, June 23, 2008

Listen here, Blogger.

Okay. I feel ready to finally settle down, commit, and build a white picket fence around a blog of my own. And I choose you, Blogger. I vow to never stray further than the occasional Facebook note if you vow to never eat an entry it took me 3 hours to type. I've been burned before, Blogger, and I need to know that you're in it for the long haul with me. I have fellow VISTAs to contact, a family halfaway across the country to update, and friends to entertain. Can I count on you? Good. See you next lunchbreak.