You know the place. It’s where deities and divinities and avatars go when they’ve clocked off when they need a glass or a stiff one or some casual conversation with their peers before going home to the family.
So Christ is sitting there nursing a nice Pinot Grigio (he gets so tired of red wine, you have no idea) and he’s saying to the gods and near-gods at the bar with him, “You know what really gets to me, though? The tat. The kitsch. The dashboard ornaments, the endless dodgy art — “
"I saw that doll," says somebody down the bar past Mithras and Izanagi: a god with his hood pulled up and a long cloak that looks and flows like shadow. "With the puffy sleeves and the crown."
"The Infant of Prague, yeah. Take my advice, do not do apparitions after hours in Prague, it’s something about the beer they brew there, what those people will do to you after the fact just does not bear considering. But you know what’s worst? The ‘Sacred Heart.’” He actually does the air quotes, which leave little traces of (appropriately) red fire. “On the front of me, like I’ve had some kind of bass-ackwards transplant. Usually with rays of light coming out of it. Aorta and vena cava and wobbly bits all aglow. There is nothing that does not appear on. Lunch boxes. Key chains. Night lights, do you believe that? How many kids’ nights have been ruined by having that thing glowing at them like a refugee from a Bill Cosby skit? You should see some of the stores at CafePress. I’m amazed they haven’t done My Sacred Spleen yet. Except probably none of them can figure out where it would go.” He rolls his eyes. “I have it way worse than any of you.”
Mutterings of agreement run up and down the bar. Then a voice speaks up.
Nearly twenty years ago (it’s a shock to me to write that, because it still seems quite a recent occurrence) I became a single parent. Like the vast majority of single parents, this had not been my plan. My much-wanted daughter had been conceived and born while I was married, but the failure of that relationship saw me living shortly afterwards on state benefits in the coldest winter Scotland had seen in quite a few years. I had been living in sunny Portugal prior to my return to the UK and the snow was merely the first shock to my system.
I had imagined that I would be back at work fast. Indeed, it was because I expected to be employed outside of the home again that I was working so hard to finish the children’s novel I never told anyone I was writing (not wishing to be told that I was deluded). As it turned out, my belief I would shortly be back in paid work turned out to be a much bigger delusion than the hope that the novel might be published.
I was a graduate and I had been in full-time employment all my life; I did not want my daughter to grow up in poverty, but my district health visitor told me that I would never get state-funded childcare ‘because you’re coping too well’; free nursery places for very young children were reserved at that time for children deemed ‘at risk’. I can’t argue with the prioritisation of children whose mothers weren’t coping, but I had nobody else to look after my daughter. My sister worked full time, my mother was dead, I was in a strange city: where was my daughter supposed to go while I earned a living?
I ended up working a few hours a week at a local church, where I overhauled the filing system and did a bit of typing. The (female) minister let me bring Jessica with me. I was paid, deliberately, exactly that amount that I could keep without losing benefits: £15. For all of this, I was immensely grateful.
My overriding memory of that time is the slowly evaporating sense of self-esteem, not because I was filing or typing – there was dignity in earning money, however I was doing it – but because it was slowly dawning on me that I was now defined, in the eyes of many, by something I had never chosen. I was a Single Parent, and a Single Parent On Benefits to boot. Patronage was almost as hard to bear as stigmatisation. I remember the woman who visited the church one day when I was working there who kept referring to me, in my hearing, as The Unmarried Mother. I was half annoyed, half amused: unmarried mother? Ought I to be allowed in a church at all? Did she see me in terms of some Victorian painting: The Fallen Woman, Filing, perhaps?
Single parents were not popular in certain sectors of the establishment or media in the mid-nineties. I could not raise a smile over the government minister of the time singing a merry ditty about ‘young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing queue.’ Newspaper articles discussed single mothers in terms of broken families and anti-social teenagers. However defiant I might feel about the jobs I was doing round the clock (full-time mother, part-time worker, secret novelist), constant bombardment with words like ‘scrounger’ has a deeply corrosive effect. Assumptions made about your morals, your motives for bringing your child into the world or your fitness to raise that child cut to the core of who you are.
Then, in a sudden, seismic and wholly unexpected shift, I found myself in the newspapers.
There was still no escaping the Single Parent tag; it followed me to financial stability and fame just as it had clung to me in poverty and obscurity. I became Single Parent Writes Award-Winning Children’s Book/Earns Record American Advance/Gets Film Deal. One of the first journalists to interview me asked me whether I hadn’t felt I ought to be out looking for a job rather than ‘sitting at home writing a novel.’ By some miracle I resisted the almost overwhelming temptation to punch him and subsequently decided to channel my frustration a little more positively by becoming a Patron of what was then called the National Council for One Parent Families (now Gingerbread).
In spite of the fact that I became a Married Mother again in 2001, I remain President of Gingerbread, a superb campaigning organisation for single parents and their children. Unfortunately, their work is as necessary as ever today, in a recession much worse than the one I faced when I returned to the UK in the 90s.
According to a Gingerbread survey in 2011, 87% of single parents think there is a stigma around single parenthood that needs to be challenged and one in three say that they have personally experienced it. I find the language of ‘skivers versus strivers’ particularly offensive when it comes to single parents, who are already working around the clock to care for their children. Such rhetoric drains confidence and self-esteem from those who desperately want, as I did, to get back into the job market.
A statement by a government minister late last year that ‘people who are poorer should be prepared to take the biggest risks – they’ve got least to lose’ speaks to a profound disconnect with people struggling to keep their heads above water. In some cases – and I was once one of those cases – what you might lose is enough food to eat, a roof over your head: the fundamentals of life and existence, magnified a million-fold when it is your child’s health and security you stand to lose.
In the midst of all this, a further uncertainty is looming large for families already on the brink: the spectre of universal credit, the government’s flagship reform of the welfare system. Already Gingerbread is highlighting serious concerns. It’s all in the detail: the gaps in childcare provision for many of the poorest families, single parents under 25 to lose vital support for their children, the harsh truth that more single parent families will lose than gain under the new system – including many who work. This detail becomes hugely important if it’s the difference between eating three meals a day or going without.
Meanwhile the government mantra that work is the best route out of poverty is ringing increasingly hollow, with nearly 1 in 3 children whose single parent works part-time still growing up in poverty. Rather than focusing on ever more ‘austerity measures’, it’s investment in single parent employment that will allow single parents to work their own way out of poverty and secure real savings from the welfare bill. Nothing outlandish: affordable childcare , decent training, employers embracing flexible hours, and a long, hard look at low pay. I certainly identify with the results of a survey among single parents conducted last year which revealed that childcare costs remain the biggest barrier to work, closely followed by a shortage of flexible jobs: exactly the problems I faced when Jessica was young.
Government has the potential to change the lives, not just of single parents, but of a generation of children whose ambition and potential must not be allowed to dissipate in poverty. In the meantime, I would say to any single parent currently feeling the weight of stereotype or stigmatization that I am prouder of my years as a single mother than of any other part of my life. Yes, I got off benefits and wrote the first four Harry Potter books as a single mother, but nothing makes me prouder than what Jessica told me recently about the first five years of her life: ‘I never knew we were poor. I just remember being happy.’
In an attempt to defund Obamacare and stop affordable healthcare from falling into the hands of Americans, Republicans are holding the United States at ransom. As of midnight October 1st, 2013, the U.S. entered it’s first government shutdown in 17 years.
“On any given day, the average American teenager spends more than 7.5 hours online and uses his or her cellphone 60 times. While these numbers strike fear in the hearts of parents and crotchety novelists lamenting the loss of a more meaningful existence, there are some real benefits to a technology-saturated life: Young people spend far more time consuming new information, honing verbal concision, and interacting with a diverse audience than they have at any point in history.”—Does social media make us smarter? | The Week (via viduity)
“This generation has lost the true meaning of romance. There are so many songs that disrespect women. You can’t treat the woman you love as a piece of meat - you should treat your love like a princess. Give her love songs, something with real meaning. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but to respect the woman you love should be a priority.”—Tom Hiddleston. (via hiddlestoner4eva)
“I do not think everyone in America is ignorant! Far from it! But we are today, probably, the most uneducated, under read, and illiterate nation in the western hemisphere. Which makes it all the more puzzling to me why the biggest question on your small mind is whether or not little Johnny is gonna recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning! I’ll tell you something else, Mr. Brickett. I have had it up to here with you and your phony issues and your Yankee Doodle yakking! If you like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance everyday then I think you should do it! In the car! In the shower! Wherever the mood strikes you! But don’t try to tell me when or where I have to say or do or salute anything, because I am an American too, and that is what being an American is all about! And another thing, I am sick and tired of being made to feel that if I am not a member of a little family with 2.4 children who goes just to Jerry Fallwell’s church and puts their hands over their hearts every morning that I am unreligious, unpatriotic, and un-American! Because I’ve got news for you, Mr. Brickett. All liberals are not kooks, anymore than all conservatives are fascists! And the last time I checked, God was neither a Democratic nor a Republican! And just for your information, yes I am a liberal, but I am also a Christian. And I get down on my knees and pray everyday - on my own turf - on my own time. One of the things that I pray for, Mr. Brickett is that people with power will get good sense, and that people with good sense will get power… and that the rest of us will be blessed with the patience and the strength to survive the people like you in the meantime!”—
Julia Sugarbaker, Designing Women, "The Candidate" (via obyzouth)
The fact that this read is relevant 30 years later.
Julia Sugarbaker’s reads were e v e r y t h i n g. I really respect Dixie Carter, especially since she was such a conservative Republican in real life, but played the most unapologetic feminist I have ever seen on TV. No excuses, no regrets.
If people start harassing you, taking pictures of you that make you uncomfortable, film you without permission, or grope you, don’t be afraid to get LOUD, get ANGRY, and draw attention to what is happening before the creep in question can scuttle away. Chances are you can gather quite the army in…
“[I]n a minute or so, I will go back to where I started in public radio. I will be one of you again, a listener. Yes, a listener-sponsor, but a listener-critic, too. I will cry and laugh and yell at the radio. And we listeners have a vital function. It is our job to hold member stations and NPR accountable.
So right here, I form my own private compact with NPR and my member stations. I will listen and, yes, I will open my checkbook, but I need some services in return. Go and tell me the stories behind everything that happened in the world today. Explain why it happened, and how it affects our lives. Do it every day. Tell me what’s important, and don’t waste my time with stupid stuff.”—
Neal Conan, on his last day with NPR’s Talk of the Nation
“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”—Rick Warren (via deerhoof)
It’s no secret that the United States is in financial trouble. According to the sensory overload Debt Clock website, the national debt is over $16 trillion, and the government is operating at a $1 trillion. As we roll into the 2012 Presidential Election, each candidate has a proposed solution, and Governor Romney’s plan includes a very divisive suggestion to excise non-critical programs and to prevent borrowing money to keep the country afloat.
I’m sorry, Jim [Lehrer], I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.
The federal budget is primarily constructed of Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, Department of Defense, other discretionary spending for the executive departments, and a few other things. Of the proposed $3.8 trillion in expenditures, the federal PBS subsidy is one-one hundredth of one percent of the budget. Within the PBS and NPR umbrella, each station is locally owned and operated, and each taxpayer contributes about $1.35 per day.
Since each station is locally owned and operated, stations in bigger cities don’t worry about losing the funding because they have the benefit of local donations and pledges which make up the lion’s share of their operating budgets. But rural stations, operating in areas that the big broadcasters have long since abandoned, rely on federal funding to stay alive, sometimes to the tune of 50-80% of their budgets. Without the federal subsidy, those stations will need to close. This will remove emergency alerts to those rural areas, excise the arts and education that public broadcasting provides, and, in the end, will cost us small-town American jobs. Yes, in the long-range plan to create jobs for the country, rural American jobs will suffer.
Additionally, one of the rallying points for the numerous attempts to remove the subsidy has been the salaries for CEOs at PBS and NPR. According to reports in early 2011, the PBS President earned $632,233, a former NPR President earned $1.2 million, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting CEO earned $298,884 plus an additional $70,630 in compensation. But in comparison, the subsidy for oil, which is nearly one hundred times larger than the PBS subsidy, is consistently approved and leads to CEO salaries much larger than any of these numbers. Heaven forbid that we actually pay the people who operate a non-profit organization.
I personally know the value of public broadcasting. Growing up, I learned valuable life lessons from Mister Rogers, 3-2-1 Contact, Reading Rainbow, and Sesame Street. I learned the basics of music from The Music Machine, and I learned about geography from Carmen Sandiego. As I entered my teen and adult years, I skipped over the repetitive pop garbage on the commercial stations in lieu of the classical music and arts performances, and I found historical and modern world lessons in documentaries and BBC programs that I never would have known about otherwise. Even today, I get most of my news from podcasts produced by NPR, which I download every day to my iPod.
Finally, the dangers of privatizing networks designed for education are already clear. The Learning Channel was founded in 1972 by NASA and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as an informative network to provide education through television. It was privatized in the 1990s, and now relies on ratings to survive. Hence, we have Honey Boo Boo.
I believe that the assault on public broadcasting and Big Bird is a red herring, and it’s being used to distract us from the important issues of the Presidential campaign. Stripping out PBS funding is contrary to Governor Romney’s stated foci on education and improving employment in the country, and it makes me wonder about the bigger issue behind the decades of attempts to defund public broadcasting. We should be demanding answers to those questions and stop being placated by party lines and hollow promises.