Spring 2013 : Spectacle
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Spring 2013 : Spectacle
Oregon Humanities: Spring 2013
I grew up in a working-class community. We had our own social distinctions—were you a logging company operator’s daughter or a girl whose father pulled on the green chain at the sawmill? A cattle rancher’s son or a stump rancher’s boy? My father even had his own definition of royalty: a man with compassion as well as integrity was “a prince of a guy.” But our families were working people, or wanted to be. Having work was important.
Today, with official unemployment rates in double digits for months on end, nearly fifteen million Americans would like to be part of a “working class” again.
One of those fifteen million people is my brother Joe. “When I got my first job at seventeen,” he told me once, “I decided to treat people the way I wanted to be treated myself.” No wonder management in Joe’s last job was excited about his abilities. His coworkers liked him, his customers trusted him. But he worked for a Saturn dealership, and in November 2008 that job, like so many others, disappeared.
“I have bad days,” Joe says, “but I get through them. I have to—there’s no alternative.”
What is it like to be unemployed? I got a taste of it twenty years ago when, in the midst of another recession, a late-May tax levy failed and my teaching position was eliminated. “Going down the road talking to yourself” was the expression the men in the lumber camps of my childhood had used for such an experience—accurately enough, I realized as I drove the pickup loaded with books and kitchen chairs away from the home my husband and I thought we had permanently created for our family. By September I was past the initial shock and grief that losing a job can bring, but as I watched the yellow school bus turn the corner and disappear, I wondered how to cope with the feeling of uselessness. I had been a good teacher, yet here I was, sweeping the kitchen floor one more time before I sat down to write another letter begging for a job. If I wasn’t a teacher, who was I? Anyone who has been unemployed has asked some version of that question.
Several months later I got a one-term adjunct teaching job in a community college in northeastern Oregon, and we had to dig our way out of the snow to cross eastern Washington in a whiteout blizzard. Squinting at what I hoped was the road, I kept glancing desperately at the rearview mirror, trying to keep my husband’s battered old pickup in sight. Even then, I knew it was a perfect metaphor for what was happening in our lives.
Which is why, now that I’m retired and don’t have to worry about keeping a job, I can’t stop thinking about those millions of unemployed Americans whose lives are in turmoil. It’s almost impossible to imagine that many wasted human hours. Human skills. But it’s all too easy for me to imagine how it’s affecting their health, their marriages, their children.
For the past twenty months, my brother has spent his days applying for jobs online and knocking on doors in person. Only one potential employer has written to let him know that the position he applied for had been filled, even after he’s had multiple interviews. You would think it would be easy, not to mention an expected courtesy, to send a group e-mail to the pool of applicants or at least to the people who were called in for interviews, letting them know whether or not the job was filled—but it doesn’t happen. Courtesy toward the working man or woman is not a requirement and hasn’t been for a long time. One of the part-time jobs Joe managed to land last year to help extend his unemployment benefits was setting up stock displays for a supplier of big-box stores. His supervisor lived in another state, and he received his work schedule by e-mail—or by phone, if they appeared to be shorthanded that morning. Sometimes he drove to an assignment sixty or seventy miles away only to be sent home, unpaid, after they decided they had enough workers after all.
I could go on, but you get the idea.
For the first twenty-five years of his working life, Joe was in the tire business. It was body-breaking work; he spends his evenings on a long therapeutic pad, craving its heat. But this week, pain or no pain, Joe is walking to a minimum-wage part-time job at the Arco station and, as if he were a college student again, checking the want ads to find someone who’s willing to rent out a room. He is sixty years old.
None of this is happening because Joe did something wrong. He has made, as we say, good choices. He’s my brother, and I love him, but people more objective than I will also tell you he’s smart and kind and a hard worker. He really does try to live by the Golden Rule.
Our father went to the woods—a phrase that had almost the same emotional power as “went into the service” or even “went to war”—the summer he turned thirteen. I wouldn’t want to bring back the world he lived in, except for one thing. I can’t imagine him packing in his week’s supplies to Johnson’s Mill only to be told, “Oh, hello, Bill. Turns out we didn’t need you after all. Come back on Tuesday.” The people of his generation wouldn’t have put up with it. Can you imagine them, those men and women of the “greatest generation,” agreeing that treating workers this way was justified because, hey, it might make the price of toilet paper a few cents cheaper? For them, work had a purpose beyond creating unlimited profits for a company’s stockholders and justifying an off-the-charts bonus for its CEO.
Our current economic hard times have touched everyone, but there’s no question that some have been hurt more than others. And it doesn’t look as if that’s going to change anytime soon. So I wonder: should those of us whose lives are a bit easier be thinking about the attitude behind the idea that workers are fungible? Or that, in a human version of “just-in-time” inventory, it’s more efficient to have them appear to perform a specific task and then disappear? Should we be questioning the ongoing waste of human creativity and skill, as well as the increasingly vast disparity of wealth in our country? Have we, gradually and almost without noticing, been lured into accepting the unacceptable?
And, if this isn’t the kind of culture we want, what might we do about that?
Political candidates get themselves into hot water if they speak about “redistributing the wealth,” but eventually an economy will self-destruct if this doesn’t happen, and continue to happen. “The gift must always move,” as Native American cultures have been trying to teach us. We balk at this idea at least partially because we have been carefully taught that those “others”—the people who cut our grass and trim our trees, cut our meat and pick our fruit, those who unpack the boxes and stock the shelves and stand behind the counter to sell us what we need—don’t deserve the kind of lives white-collar workers have. It’s a belief that threatens the meaningfulness of every life, including our own.
Okay, maybe I’m a socialist: I did vote for Obama. But I wish you could meet my brother. You’d like him; he’s a prince of a guy.
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Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland.
Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland.
Alex Behr is a writer in Portland. Her last piece for Oregon Humanities appeared in the spring 2009 “Nostalgia” issue.
Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland and regular contributor to Oregon Humanities.
Kristy Athens’ nonfiction and short fiction have been published in a number of magazines, newspapers, and literary journals, most recently High Desert Journal, Eclectic Flash, Diverse Voices Quarterly, and Five Fishes Journal.
Rich Wandschneider was the founding director of Fishtrap, a literary nonprofit in eastern Oregon, and is now building the Alvin Josephy Library of Western History and Culture at Fishtrap. He writes a regular newspaper column and has written for the Oregonian, High Desert Journal, High Country News, and others. He is on the editorial advisory board of this magazine and on the board of directors for Oregon Humanities.
Ellen Santasiero is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Northwest Review, The Sun, Marlboro Review, Oregon Humanities, and in a recent anthology from the University of Oklahoma Press. She is at work on a memoir.
Caroline Cummins is the managing editor of Culinate.com.
Jedidiah Chavez is a visual artist and writer based in Portland. His work has been showcased in a variety of venues nationally and in the Pacific Northwest. Chavez was awarded a 2010 project grant by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
Kristin Kaye is a Portland-based writer. Her book, Iron Maidens, was an Oregon Book Awards finalist. She has recently completed her novel To Catch What Falls.
Lucy Burningham is an independent writer and journalist who lives in Portland. She holds a master’s degree in nonfiction writing from Portland State University.
Eric Gold is a freelance writer in Portland and former communications assistant at Oregon Humanities.
John Frohnmayer is chair of the Oregon Humanities board of directors.
Sarah Gilbert is writing a book about mothers looking for emotional healing in food. In February, she decided to begin homeschooling her eldest son.
Courtney S. Campbell is the Hundere Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. You can try friending him through his Facebook page.
Barry Johnson has written about the arts since 1978 when he started writing about dance for the now-defunct Seattle Sun. He has edited arts sections at Willamette Week and The Oregonian, where he recently finished a twenty-six-year stint. You can find his up-to-the-minute thoughts on the arts at http://artsdispatch.blogspot.com.
Nancy Rommelmann’s recent books include Transportation, The Bad Mother, and The Queens of Montague Street, a memoir of growing up in 1970s Brooklyn Heights that was excerpted by the New York Times Magazine. She is a long-form journalist whose work appears in the LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Byliner, and other publications.
Phil Busse recently took the position of editor of The Source, a weekly paper in Bend. He also continues to serve as the executive director for the educational nonprofit Media Institute for Social Change and is an adjunct instructor at Portland State.
Sarah Mirk is a Portland journalist who often writes about gender, sexuality, and politics as the online editor of Bitch magazine and as the author of the forthcoming book Sex from Scratch (Microcosm, 2014). Her other interests include writing comics and talking to strangers.
Courtney Campbell is Hundere Chair in Religion and Culture and professor of philosophy at Oregon State University. He is also an Oregon Humanities Conversation Project leader for the program “Friendship: Reviving, Surviving, or Dying?”
M. Allen Cunningham is the author of the novels The Green Age of Asher Witherow and Lost Son, and the recipient of a 2013 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission. His story collection, Date of Disappearance, was recently published in an illustrated limited-edition by Atelier26 Books and his first nonfiction volume, The Honorable Obscurity Handbook, is forthcoming. He leads an Oregon Humanities Conversation Project program on the subject of e-reading.
Margaret Malone’s work has appeared in The Missouri Review, Swink, Coal City Review, latimes.com, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a 2009 Oregon Literary Fellowship and a 2011 Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship. She lives in Portland with her husband and son.
Dave Allen is director of interactive strategy at NORTH, a branding agency in Portland. He is also an adjunct lecturer in digital strategy at the University of Oregon, as well as the founding member and bass player of the UK band Gang of Four.
Dmae Roberts is a Peabody-winning radio producer and Oregon Book Award–winning writer. Her work has been on NPR and published widely. She is a USA Rockefeller Fellow and received the Dr. Suzanne Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice from the Asian American Journalists Association. She lives in Portland with her hubby and twin kitties.
Brian David Johnson is a futurist at Intel. His book Vintage Tomorrows: A Historian and a Futurist Journey Through Steampunk into the Future of Technology, coauthored with James H. Carrott, wil be published next year by O’Reilly Media. He is featured in Oregon Humanities’ Bring Your Own video series. This essay was written on a 747 somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
Mott Greene is a historian of science and technology. He was an Oregon Humanities Think & Drink presenter earlier this year for a program about the future of human and artificial intelligence. A former MacArthur Fellow, he is affiliate professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington. He admires Portland’s civic life and wishes Seattle could figure that out.
Jill Owens works in marketing for Powell’s Books. She enjoys interviewing authors as part of her job and for publications like Oregon Humanities.
J. David Santen Jr. has written about books, business, the environment, and communities for the Oregonian, the Portland Business Journal, and other publications. He lives in Portland.
For more than a decade Camas Davis has been a magazine editor and writer for national magazines such as National Geographic Adventure and Saveur, and local publications such as Portland Monthly, Edible Portland, and Mix. In 2009, she traveled to France to study butchery. Upon her return, she founded the Portland Meat Collective, a traveling butchery school.
Sarah Gilbert is a writer, photographer, struggling urban farmer, mama to three boys, and military wife in southeast Portland. She is editor-in-chief of the new literary magazine for parents, Stealing Time, and is working on two memoirs and at least one novel.
Photographer Jim Lommasson received the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for Shadow Boxers: Sweat, Sacrifice & the Will to Survive in American Boxing Gyms. Previous publications include Oaks Park Pentimento. His photographs have been widely exhibited in museums and galleries.
Margot Minardi is an assistant professor of history and humanities at Reed College, and the author of Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts (2010). She is currently working on a history of the nineteenth-century American peace movement.
Jill Owens works in marketing for Powell’s Books, where interviewing authors is the most interesting part of her job. She’s originally from the South but has lived in Oregon for eleven years and is here to stay.
Dionisia Morales is a freelance writer and teaches writing at Linn-Benton Community College. Her essays have recently appeared or are forthcoming in CAYLX, Brevity, Cream City Review, and Silk Road.
Wendy Willis is a poet, Conversation Project leader, and the executive director of the Policy Consensus Initiative and the deputy director for Research and Development at the National Policy Consensus Center at Portland State University. Her book of poems, Blood Sisters of the Republic, is forthcoming from Press 53 in fall 2012.
Carl Abbott is professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University. A specialist on the history of cities, his recent books include Frontiers Past and Future: Science Fiction and the American West and Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People.
Monica Drake is the author of Clown Girl (Hawthorne Books),which was optioned for film by Kristen Wiig. Her next novel, The Stud Book, is forthcoming from Hogarth Press in February 2013.
Tara Rae Miner is a freelance writer and editor, former managing editor of Orion magazine, and author of Your Green Abode: A Practical Guide to a Sustainable Home. She lives with her family in Portland.
John Holloran lives in Portland and teaches at Oregon Episcopal School. His last essay for Oregon Humanities was “After the Fall” (Spring 2011).
Rebecca Hartman is an associate professor of history at Eastern Oregon University. She received her PhD in history from Rutgers University in 2004. Her current research is focused on twentieth-century U.S. rural history.
Dmae Roberts is an award-winning independent radio producer and writer based in Portland.
Jennifer Ruth is a professor of English literature at Portland State University and the author of Novel Professions, a book of literary criticism.
Richard J. Ellis is the Mark O. Hatfield Professor of Politics at Willamette University. In 2008 he was named Oregon Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and in 2007 he was chosen as Oregon Scientist of the Year by
the Oregon Academy of Science. His book The Development of the American Presidency is forthcoming from Routledge in January 2012.
After ten years in Oregon, Leigh van der Werff now lives in central California, where she runs a record store with her husband and their dog, Edgar. When she’s not at the shop, she’s writing essays and music criticism.
Joanne Mulcahy teaches creative nonfiction and humanities classes at the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, where she is codirector of the Documentary Studies Certificate Program. Her writing combines memoir and personal essay with ethnographic exploration. Her book Remedios: The Healing Life of Eva Castellanoz was published by Trinity University Press in 2010.
Marion Goldman has passed through the social worlds of Rajneeshees, Jesus People, and Nevada prostitutes. In her latest book, The American Soul Rush (forthcoming in December 2011), she describes how a small group of 1960s seekers at California’s Esalen Institute cultivated and spread spiritual alternatives ranging from transpersonal psychology to yoga to Zen golf. She is professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oregon.
Oregon Humanities editorial advisory board member Guy Maynard is the editor of Oregon Quarterly, the magazine of the University of Oregon, and the author of The Risk of Being Ridiculous, a historical novel of love and revolution set in Boston in the the late 1960s, into which he managed to slip several Red Sox references. He lives in Eugene.
Kambiz GhaneaBassiri is an associate professor of religion and humanities at Reed College in Portland. He is the author of A History of Islam in America (from which this selection is excerpted) and Competing Visions of Islam in the United States. He was also a faculty member at the Oregon Humanities Teacher Institute in July 2011.
Tim DuRoche is a writer, jazz musician, artist, and cultural advocate. He works as the director of programs for the World Affairs Council of Oregon. Tim hosts the The New Thing, a weekly jazz program on KMHD-89.1 FM in Portland, is currently developing a program on jazz and community values for Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project, and is the author of the recently published collection of essays, Occasional Jazz Conjectures.
Walidah Imarisha is a founding editor of AWOL, a national political hip hop magazine and has toured nationally and internationally as part of the poetry duo Good Sista/Bad Sista. She has taught in Portland State University’s Black studies department and leads three Conversation Project programs for Oregon Humanities on hip hop, the history of race in Oregon, and reenvisioning the prison system.
Kim Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College and author of a dozen books of poetry and prose, including The Muses Among Us: Elegant Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft. This essay is a section from his book-in-progress, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do.
Debra Gwartney is the author of the 2009 memoir Live Through This, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Oregon Book Award, and the PNBA award. She is currently working on a memoir about growing up in the West and the heritage of Narcissa Whitman, a project for which she received a research grant from the American Antiquarian Society. Debra lives on the McKenzie River with her husband, Barry Lopez, and is on the nonfiction faculty at Pacific University.
After growing up selling corndogs and cotton candy at carnivals up and down the West Coast, Susan Meyers extended her gypsy lifestyle by spending several years in Latin American before coming home to the Pacific Northwest. Her work has recently appeared in CALYX, Dogwood, Terra Incognita, and The Minnesota Review, and it has been the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship. She teaches writing at Oregon State University.
Matthew Stadler is a writer and editor in Portland. He writes about cities and urbanism for journals including Volume, Netherlands Architecture Bulletin, Domus, and Camerawork. His book about urbanism, Deventer, is forthcoming from 010 Uitgevrij, in Rotterdam. In 2009 he cofounded Publication Studio (http://www.publicationstudio.biz) in Portland.
Amanda Waldroupe is a freelance journalist living in Portland. Whenever she fails, she buckles down and tries, tries again.
John Holloran lives in Portland and teaches at Oregon Episcopal School, where he is the chair of the history department. His last essay for Oregon Humanities was “Under a Spell” (Summer 2009).
Scott Nadelson’s most recent book is The Cantor’s Daughter. A new collection of his short fiction, Aftermath, is forthcoming from Hawthorne Books in Fall 2011. He teachers creative writing at Willamette University. His latest essay for Oregon Humanities was “Go Ahead and Look” (Spring 2010)
Todd Schwartz is in reality a very serious and reserved person who divides his time between being a Calvinist minister and a funeral home director. Wait…wait! A funeral home director and a Calvinist minister walk into a bar…
Courtenay Hameister is the host and head writer of LiveWire Radio, the co-creator of “Road House: The Play!,” a screenwriter and filmmaker. In her spare time, she likes to imagine what it would be like to have more spare time.
Ariel Gore is the author of seven books including Bluebird: Women and the New Psychology of Happiness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), from which this selection is excerpted. She is also the founding editor of Hip Mama, and editor of the Lambda-award-winning anthology Portland Queer. She teaches creating writing online at the University of New Mexico and The Attic in Portland.
Jamie Passaro lives in Eugene, where she is a freelance writer and an editor for Northwest Book Lovers, a blog produced by the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. Her last essay for Oregon Humanities was “Driving Mrs. Spacely” (Summer 2008).
Andrew Guest is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Portland. When not watching, playing, coaching or writing about soccer, he does research on youth developmental and educational experiences through sports, arts, and service activities.
David Bragdon served on the Portland regional Metro Council for nearly twelve years and was elected president in 2002. The major accomplishment of his service was an expansion of the regional parks and natural areas network known as the Intertwine. He resigned from the Metro Council in September 2010 in order to accept New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s appointment as director of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.
M. Allen Cunningham is the author of Lost Son, a novel about the life of Rainer Maria Rilke. His first novel, The Green Age of Asher Witherow was a #1 Booksense Pick and was shortlisted for the Booksense Book of the Year. He’s the recipient of an artist fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission and a Yaddo residency. His third novel, set partly in the Pacific Northwest, is forthcoming.
Bette Lynch Husted lives and writes in Pendleton. She is the author of Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land (OSU Press, 2004) and At This Distance: Poems (Wordcraft of Oregon, 2010). Lessons from the Borderlands, her collection of memoir essays about teaching, class, gender, and race, is forthcoming from Plain View Press. She is a 2004 Oregon Book Award and WILLA finalist and was awarded a 2007 Oregon Arts Commission fellowship.
Bob Bussel is associate professor of history and director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon. He has published numerous articles on labor history and contemporary labor issues, including a history of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. He is currently working on a book about working-class citizens.
Dave Weich is the president of Sheepscot Creative. The Portland-based company fosters engaging and profitable communication among businesses, consumers, colleagues, and fans. Weich is on the editorial advisory board of Oregon Humanities magazine.
Camela Raymond is a Portland-based writer whose work has appeared in Modern Painters, Plazm, the Oregonian, and elsewhere. She was previously an editor at Portland Monthly magazine and the founding editor/publisher of the Organ. She serves on the editorial advisory board of Oregon Humanities magazine.
Scott Nadelson’s most recent book is The Cantor’s Daughter. He teaches creative writing at Willamette University.
Karen Karbo‘s three novels, as well as her Oregon Book Award–winning memoir, The Stuff of Life, have all been named New York Times Notable Books of the Year. Her most recent book is The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World’s Most Elegant Woman.
Lisa Radon has written about art and design for Portland Spaces (as associate editor), Portland Monthly, Surface Design Journal, SHIFT (Japan), FLAUNT, Hyperallergic, and ultra (ultrapdx.com). She’s written a handful of catalog essays and is working on her first book.
R. Gregory Nokes has worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press and the Oregonian. His reporting about this incident has resulted in a formal designation of the massacre site as Chinese Massacre Cove. He lives in West Linn.
Christine Dupres is the former director of the Office of Sustainability and Community Engagement at the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland. She is a freelance writer and an Oregon Humanities board member.
Apricot Irving is a writer and radio producer whose most recent project, Boise Voices Neighborhood Oral History Project , brought together elders and youth in Northeast Portland. She has lived in Haiti, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom, but currently calls Portland home.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of Thirsty for the Joy: Australian & American Voices, from One Day Hill Press in Melbourne, Australia.
Lucy Burningham is an independent writer and journalist who lives in Portland. During the past decade, she has traveled on assignment for a variety of newspapers, magazines, and Lonely Planet guidebooks. She holds a master’s in nonfiction writing from Portland State University.
Vicente Martinez lives in Portland and works at a fast food restaurant.
Susan W. Hardwick is a professor of geography at the University of Oregon. Her research and teaching focus on the geography of immigration, identity, and place in the Pacific Northwest. She is the author or co-author of nine books, including Russian Refuge: Religion, Migration, and Settlement on the North American Pacific Rim (University of Chicago Press, 1993). This article is adapted from Hardwick’s Commonplace Lecture that she delivered for Oregon Humanities in 2007.
Sarah Gilbert is a writer and photographer who lives in Portland with her husband and three little boys. She writes about food and finance for several web sites, including DailyFinance, WalletPop and Culinate, is cofounder of the Portland parenting resource urbanMamas.com, and keeps a blog, cafemama.com.
Kevin Nute is a professor of architecture at the University of Oregon. He is the author of the American Institute of Architects award-winning monograph, Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan (1993) and Place, Time and Being in Japanese Architecture (2004).