Freedom of Expression; Costumes and Dress Codes

A few days ago I was reading a blog by a teacher about the day after Halloween. I did not save the link, and I should have. One of the students wore a cape to school that day. The teacher kept considering telling the child to take it off, but she noticed that a child who is normally awkward and clumsy was far more confident. The article seemed to be written in order to pride herself on doing a great thing for this kid, as it seemed to help him in the future as well. No students even mentioned the cape, although teachers did do a double take. I think that all of this is great. But in the end, the teacher, while she did compliment the cape, told him not to wear it again. I cannot figure out why.

I wore costumes to school every day. I got a lot of flak for it from my peers, but it allowed me to be who I am. In high school, people who did not know me by name knew me as Little Red Riding Hood because I always wore a red cape that I had made. Today there is a lot of discussion about school dress codes. They are being attacked for being sexist, and even for creating the very over-sexualized environment they were created to fight. I agree with all of those points. The rules are often stated in ways that target girls more than boys. They are nearly always more strictly enforced with girls than with boys. By making such a big deal of it, we are teaching young kids to look at one another’s clothing and bodies and question “Is that enough clothing”, “Shouldn’t they cover up more?”, and “Why, what is wrong with this outfit that I have to change?” We are saying that what they wear is more important that who they are, and more important than why they are at school.

Some of the rules are unfair to certain body types. In my district short and skirt lengths were determined by arm length. A silly rule since some girls were completely within regulations and still showed ass when they sat down, while I broke that without ever being questioned since my skirt was plenty long because my arms are long.

This is not the message we should be sending kids. We need to be encouraging them to look beyond the clothes, and beyond the body to what a person is really made of. When we focus on the clothes, the person gets lost. This encourages people in our society to dehumanize one another. This allows people to do things to people without feeling regret. Whether that action is teasing in school, or physically assaulting someone. We live in a society where we do not have the luxury to personally meet everyone that we interact with. This means that we cannot afford to make any of the interactions we practice with those we do know contribute to that dehumanizing effect.

The point of many dress codes is to avoid ‘distractions’. This is ridiculous. The fact that a girl’s skirt is a little short, or that a boy’s pants are too baggy (showing my age a bit) should not be allowed to be a distraction in the first place. A teacher notices that someone is leering, call them out. If they persist, they should be sent to the office. Not the person they were looking at. We should not be teaching children that others, girls especially, should cover up so that people looking at them can feel more comfortable. We need to be teaching children that people have different tastes and make different decisions. We need to be teaching children that they are responsible for their own actions.

I went to a middle school with a more extreme dress code, called a Uniform Code of Dress. It was not quite a uniform, but very close. We had 2 colors of pants or skirts we were permitted to wear, in one style, and 5 colors of polo shirts. This was initially instituted to prevent students from wearing gang colors. My friends and I were so out of touch with that world that we could not even tell you the names of the gangs active in our area, let alone what their colors or signs were. I would probably have worn gang colors a lot without realizing it, as many people do.

This system ended up in a lot more time tied up in determining if students were within regulations or not. Not only were we measuring if the girl’s skirts were actually longer than their finger tips to also trying to determine if someone’s pants were the right color. My first dying project was adding coffee to the washing machine while washing a slightly lighter skirt that had been called white too many times to make it more khaki. After I left the school, it was decided to keep the style restrictions, but lift the color rules. So the entire reason for the Uniform Code of Dress was thrown out the window.

During this period I was very frustrated with the rules because I could not express myself. I took to wearing what I call “happy socks”, or the ones with bright colors, pictures, or separate toes. I took a lot of time braiding my hair on the car ride in so that it was as weird as possible. In trying to find ways to express myself I tested the limits that no-one had thought to make. But I also lost something. The goal was not about me being me, but rather about being strange or drawing attention to myself. I still wear the happy socks, but the hair took too much work, and did not really mean anything to me. Later I turned to doing elaborate masks in makeup, which worked when I had an hour and a half bus ride each morning, not so much once I started driving. I kind of miss the masks.

There is another issue that is gaining attention these days. Gender identity. I think that this ties in perfectly with this topic. In high school I had a gay friend choose to wear a skirt one day. I honestly did not even notice it until he mentioned at lunch how much shit he was getting. He had chosen to do it in part to find out what the reaction was. He committed to going a full week. Of course when he stopped, the people around him may have felt like they won, but there is no point in continuing something on the principle of proving someone wrong.

I do believe that clothing is a key way to express who you are. I look back on that as inspiration to be myself no matter what since I cannot wear costumes to work every day. These days wearing a full costume is rare because I am lazy and getting all dressed up to go shopping doesn’t really feel worth it. Childhood is a special time, you do not have to worry about what bosses or clients think. If we allow children to express themselves when they are young, they will be more accepting when they are older, and they will have a better concept of who they are. I do not think that expression should be restricted unnecessarily, to me it is a part of Freedom of Speech. It is a human right.

 

Entering the Workforce – Then & Now

I am not old enough to have first-hand experience of the ‘then’s that I will discuss. I have not done any solid research on the history of job hunting, it is to be taken purely as my impression (perhaps a hypothesis) of the way that finding a job has changed through recent history in America. I am a historian and have a basic knowledge of how the economy fits in. I would love to hear from people of all ages to see how your experience matches up, or doesn’t.

I will start with the Great Depression: At this point, as we all know, there were no jobs. People were laid off en masse. When these newly unemployed people joined the ranks of the job hunter, the market was flooded. The few places that needed workers had great pickings. Each person, new to the workforce or not did everything they could to find a job. I am not sure how much the modern ‘application process’ would apply, but I do know that every place they asked about employment said in no uncertain terms that they were not hiring. This hiring freeze got so bad that people had to move across the country. (Made worse by the dust bowl, which was made worse by farmers unable to afford to plant.) When they got there, they might be able to work, but they could scarcely get paid.

http://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/his1005spring2011/tag/great-depression/

In the face of this crisis, the government stepped in. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was created to provide jobs for the unemployed and create valuable infrastructure. Much of what this agency created is still standing. There has not been such a massive infrastructure boom since. This gave people valuable income at a time when there was no money exchanging hands. The WPA, while a valuable aid to ending the Great Depression, was by itself insufficient. As terrible as war is, WWII saved the US economy. Men entered the army, women were hired to produce the things needed to arm the country. Prior to the war, we had been so long isolationist that we had very little military establishment, and everything had to built from scratch.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:We_Can_Do_It!.jpg

Following the war, men returned to a domestic job struggle. Women had been working outside of the home in large numbers, and doing jobs traditionally done by men. The image that we have of the 1950’s as a time when women stayed home and cooked and cleaned for her husband in perfect marital bliss was largely a media campaign to encourage women to give up these jobs so that returning soldiers could take their place. Some women welcomed this, others did not. Either way, the genie was out of the bottle. Women knew that they could do it too.

http://www.returnofkings.com/2283/modern-women-prefer-1950s-men

Many of these unemployed women took a more active role outside the home. At this time it was possible for one person to support a household. The economic boom that the war had provided made sure that there were jobs for whoever wanted them. Businesses were able to reap the hiring rewards of a generation of men returning from the war as well as a generation of boys coming of age with a higher education. Job seekers benefited as well, as long as there was a surplus of empty positions that needed to be filled. Connections with family and friends was a key way to find a better position.

By the 1960’s the hiring boom was over, and young people were not being offered jobs straight out of college. The harder-to-find jobs in part contributed to the unrest of the period. This time the war made things worse. The Vietnam War was wildly unpopular and men were resentful of being forced into that career. There is also a section of this generation that lived off of their parents, who were still making enough to support their grown children. After the war, the veterans of Vietnam were not received with open arms as the WWII veterans had been. People hated the war, and they extended that to those who fought in it. This is particularly unfortunate since so many of these men did not support the war either. Many of these veterans make up the numbers of the homeless to this day.

The 1970’s seem to have found a balance of sorts. People who had been working for many years were retiring, opening positions for the young. The economy was growing, and a job seeker could find something that matched their education level. This trend continued for much of the next several decades. However the wages did not match economic inflation, and it became necessary for more and more families to have two wage earners.

In the late 2000’s the bottom fell out of the economy again, and many people were laid off. This created a similar dynamic to that of the Great Depression. Businesses were not hiring, as too many unemployed workers flooded the market. This has never hit those levels thankfully, but it has been exacerbated as people were forced to put off retirement due to losses in the stock market.

This has created a system whereby the employers can have their pick of any number of applicants. Of course they usually choose someone who they have evidence will do quality work for them; someone who has a track record in the field, someone who has held a job before for a significant amount of time. The more work that they think they can get out of a person for the minimum amount of money is the rule.

This means a few things. It means that people without an official job history have a difficult time entering the workforce. It also means that when you do get a job, you have to work hard to keep it. Employers know that if you do not pull your weight, there is a long line of people ready to take your place. They also know that people are desperate for work and will take what they can get, so they feel no compulsion to pay well.

In the past, having higher education meant that you were more likely to be hired in your field. Today in order for that to be true, you need a minimum of a master’s degree. This means that people with college educations, who have worked hard to get a good job are left finding work that does not need their particular skills, largely minimum wage positions. In some places having that higher education can be detrimental if an employer thinks it means that they will have to pay more. In others it can help show a track record of determination. Either way, there is really no-where to go from there.

There are some businesses that have an active policy of randomized schedules that prevent employees from going to school or having other jobs.

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/

There is no initiative in the business world to pay people more, when people need the job so badly that they are willing to work for less. For many businesses internal promotions are more cost-effective than looking outside the company, because the people who work for them are desperate for a raise, cannot get one in the company without promotion, and work too much to find alternative work.

Today the job market is optimized for the employer. This is a trend that has been on the horizon for many years, but has fully come to fruition in the last decade or so. There is still work that they want to do to make it even better, like eliminating workers rights. On average our economy is strong. It is not like the Great Depression. There is plenty of money to go around. The problem is that it is not moving. It is always getting more difficult for people to defend themselves, and as such the sooner action is taken, the more effective that action is. We cannot wait until we have completely lost our rights before we realize what we have lost.

One of those Days

There are some days when living in the moment is not happy.

There are some days when the world seems determined that you will not succeed.

There are some days when a dream you have had for years, planned for nearly as long and have worked for several months seem so close you can taste it, and then get destroyed with a simple phone call.

There are some days when people tell you “That is not how it works.” And you know through endless calculations that the only thing preventing it from working is people telling you it won’t.

There are some days that you wish you had not gotten out of bed.

There are some days when you want to climb in a hole and die.

There are some days when you think that you will never get anywhere better than where you are now.

There are some days when you just want to watch the world burn.

There are some days when all you want to do is escape society, and the people saying ‘No’.

Some of these days you manage to find a faint glimmer of hope, no matter how remote, that your dreams may not die.

Some of these hard days you wonder if clinging to the hope is worth the possibility of another, worse day.

Some of these days you just have to get up and try again, because the hope is temporary, and if you choose to take it the time is now.

 

Growing Up Madrid

For the people who know me, they know I talk a lot about the little town where I grew up. The truth is I do this because the little town of Madrid, NM helped me become who I am today.

A little background (I will post my full paper on it at some point.) The town was founded at the height of the railroad age to take advantage of the confluence of two types of coal. The town was home to 3000 plus miners and their families. Because the town was company owned all inhabitants had to use endorsed services. For instance, when they bought a car of the wrong brand, the car was thrown into the arroyo. (Dry riverbed that takes the bulk of the annual floods.)

In the 1930’s, the town was abandoned. The cheap wooden homes were left to dry out in the desert. Following this the town sat empty until the 1970’s. Several times over the years the entire town was up for sale from a low of $250,000 up to $1,000,000 at its height. When my family moved from the Midwest in the 1970’s they convinced the owner to subdivide the town. Within a few weeks the whole town was sold. Many of the new inhabitants were Vietnam veterans, artists, or people who felt like society had abandoned them.

The town has grown to about 300-400 people. Main St. is the only paved road in town. It is full of galleries, but there are three restaurants, a museum, and a bar as well. My grandparents run the largest gallery in the southwest, The Johnsons of Madrid. Here I grew up surrounded by fine art and got to meet artists of all kinds. My grandfather taught at The Art Institute of Chicago as well as Texas Tech University. He is an architect and painter. He has also done some sculpture. My grandmother shares his teaching experience, her expertise is in fashion design.

Much of my time was also spent in The Engine House Theater. My mother did a lot of acting with them as I grew up, and my first show was when I was four years old. Most of the time, these shows were mostly Victorian style Melodramas. The story that I always remember being told is that while my mother rehearsed her role as Lucy in Dracula, I sat in a crib in the back of the theater while she had the blood of children running down her white lace dress. I still have the dress, and it is one of my favorites. The red dye never same out, so people often think I am dressed as a zombie when I wear it.

The theater is located in the Old Coal Mine Museum. This open-air museum has been changed a lot since the owners took over, but I will talk about it as it was while I was growing up. The most memorable part of the whole place is the 769 train engine. It is parked right at the entrance to the Engine Repair Garage, which is now the theater. Often in the melodramas the sliding doors would open to reveal the train, usually as it runs over the villain and saves the day. The engine is (was?) open to visitors. The kids always loved to ring the bell, which was always kept in working order. You could also see the stove where the coal would be shoveled into to keep the train running. My friends and I, since we spent so much time here did not always stay in areas open to the public, and would climb into the coal car behind as well.

There were several buildings full of relics from the mining days, including the boxes from the mail room, vehicles, and tools. My favorite part of these are the bats that live in the rafters. After the mines closed, many caved in, and the bats had to find a new place to call home.

One of my favorite things to explore in the museum was the recreated coal mine. You could walk down into it as it gradually got shorter and shorter and tighter and tighter. There was a gate so you could not go too far, but the whole way down you could see the coal seams that had not yet been tapped.

Another unique experience is the jail cell. It really mostly functioned as a drunk tank. You could go inside and sit in the tiny one-room jail. The door was permanently propped open. Inside always smelled rather dank and odd. Obviously the room does not have great ventilation.

Every time I spent time in the museum I ended up with a phenomenon we know as ‘Madrid Black Foot’. This can happen anywhere in town, just because there is so much coal dust everywhere, but especially in the museum. This coal dust really affects everything in town. The water in town, while technically drinkable is very unappetizing. Most homes are older and do not have a quality filter system. As a result, the water can come out of the tap black. Even with a good filter system, the water still smells like sulfur, which unfortunately resembles rotten eggs. Just finding that water was a huge obstacle. In the mining days all water was brought in by train. It was not until the rebirth of the town and many many tries were they able to tap a well. This town is also in a desert, and with the long-term drought that was going on most of the time that I was growing up, there is always the risk of draining the aquifer. The neighboring town did end up having to truck in their water one summer. I remember one of the restaurants felt the need to explain why they did not provide water to guests before requested. They had taken a water bottle and filled it up from their tap. When it sat for awhile there was a layer of black silt in the bottom. They kept this on the counter with a sign.

For many reasons, Madrid has a reputation in the area as a ‘hippie’ town. The town was reborn at the height of the hippie age. The town is largely populated by people who are very conscientious about the environment. My population estimates include all of the “Madroids” as we call ourselves, including the ones who don’t live in town. Many of these live off the grid. As with anywhere, there is also a sector of the population that self-medicates. Because the town is unincorporated, we do not have our own police force and rely on the state troopers, who largely ignore the area. Citizens, law abiding or not, appreciate their privacy. There have been a few times I can recall when police were called out, but on the whole Madrid is a very peaceful community that lives in harmony.

My mother taught me how to sew at a very young age. One of my first toys I remember was homemade sewing cards. Before I was ten I worked in my grandparent’s gallery replacing the dried out elastic in the clothing. When I would do performances, I very much enjoyed making, or altering my costumes. I never got much inspiration from modern clothing, but the shows that I saw and participated in showed me that there is something inspiring out there. I grew up in a town that incorporated bits and pieces of many different eras. This probably helped to give me my love of history.

Because Madrid is so small, there is no school in town. For elementary school we had to go halfway to Santa Fe, for Middle and High School, we had to go the full half hour to the city. On a school bus that took an hour to an hour and a half. I was always a little out of place in school. The things that I spent my time doing were foreign to my peers, and the things that they did I did not do. In my house we chose not to have television, and I did not touch a gaming system until probably Middle School. My friends played, and I would watch, but it did not really intrigue me.

I loved to explore my town. Because Madrid had the coal to provide it, electricity was adopted early. In Madrid’s heyday it was famous for its huge Christmas celebrations. There was even a full amusement park that would come out of storage once a year. There were displays all around town made of wooden cutouts. I love a photo in my grandparent’s gallery of the Jesus cutout. In the photo you can see the separations between the individual 5 foot sections making up the towering figure. There is a clear square on one of the mountains that was once the Bethlehem scene. At the tip of another peak is a cross that used to be one of the ends of an angels flight across town. There is also a giant wooden tree on one mountain. It was never lit until I was in high school. At that point a man known as Brave Dave decided to climb it. (Many people have this type of nickname in Madrid). New Madrid loves the traditions, and Christmas is still a huge event, even for someone like me, who does not identify as Christian.

On the edge of town there was the ball park. During the mining days, this park was one of the first to have electric lights. Today the ball park is used for little league games and the various music festivals held during the summer. These festivals help to fund the Madrid Landowner’s Association. Which is a democratic group that makes the decisions for the town. On July 4th, and on a Saturday in December we also host parades. In the mining days they did the same. To celebrate this, one year on July 4th my grandfather walked down main street playing a drum. This is the way we conduct our parades to this day. Now we set up a time, and if you want to be in it, you line up at the wide opening to Backroad. (Yes, that is the actual name of the road.) The parades end at the ball park and celebrations ensue. While I was growing up, the grandstands were falling apart. There was a cupola that some daredevils would climb into. The cat that I had growing up was born under the grandstands, which is where I found him. As it turns out the grandstands were also a breeding area for rattlesnakes. This means that my amazing cat knew how to, and did, kill rattlesnakes. The last time that I was there the grandstands were in the middle of renovations. The roof had been replaced, but the seats were missing.

Outside of town there were more adventures to be had. There are caves, petro glyphs, rock cutouts, junkyards, tunnels, mesas, mountains, a former golf course (in those days no-one expected them to be green and manicured), and huge open desert to explore. I loved exploring these caves. Sometimes I would imagine that they were connected to the caverns in Carlsbad by an Area 51 type research facility. One of the other unique, but secret, attractions is the petro glyphs. There only form of preservation is the secret. But there are some ‘modern petro glyphs’ aka graffiti. The ridge that these carved rocks are on is like the ridged back of a stegosaurus. The rocks follow the ridge in a nearly straight line. Just the environment provided so much to explore around Madrid. I could tell many stories of my friends and I getting into trouble. Leaving the actual stories aside, I realize that many of the ones worth telling have a theme. Someone got hurt. Never seriously, but it was certainly a valuable learning experience.

After my parents divorced, my father spent several years renting a space on a friend’s property. He lived in a small cab over trailer. Many people find it strange that anyone my age has ever used an actual outhouse, but there was a very nice one on this property. On the property there was one permanent building with a kitchen and shower. This building had running water from a huge underground storage tank. My father was in charge of hauling the water in. One of the most remarkable things about this 100 acre plot of land was that in order to access it you had to drive through an arroyo. This meant that during flash flood season we often had to tow out people who got stuck in the mud. One time I remember stopping on one side on the arroyo to look for something that my dad had lost. As we looked he stopped and had me listen. There was a low, growing roar. Less than a minute later, there was a ten foot high wall of water roaring down the arroyo in front of us. Once the water had established its presence, it ran slowly, and only a foot or so deep. Even that did not last long.

When my mother bought the property that she later built our home on, the house that was on the property had burned down. I even wrote a poem when I was about five about the ‘Burnt Up House’ as we called it. The original homes in Madrid were hauled in on the railroad. They were very minimalist. Because they were made only of wood, they are now tinder boxes. If one of these homes catches fire, the heat alone can catch the next. We are VERY cautious about open flames in Madrid.

Because water is at a premium, when my grandparents chose to rent out part of their home, they were left without a bathroom. We took baths in a big plastic tub with water we heated up on the stove. They had a port-a-potty out back.

I hope that this gives some insight into who I am, and how I got that way. I believe that the experiences I had growing up are invaluable. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to live out of time and place. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to explore the natural world as well as the historical one.