Monday, October 29, 2018

Council Choices

To be published Oct. 31, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette
     Still working on your voting choices for this election?  I am, though the window for sending in my ballot is slipping shut.  The statewide propositions and regional candidates have the advantage of advertising to “help” us decide, but the local issues and candidates have little money to broadcast a preference.  Local counts, though, big time.           
     There is only one race where I feel I have any opinion to offer that might be of worth:  the Lindsay City Council race, where two incumbents’ seats are being challenged.  This is what I think it comes down to:  if you like what the city has accomplished so far, vote to keep the two men in their seats.  If, like me, you are unhappy with what the city is doing, particularly the way it does not respond to its residents, you might want to consider replacing those two men with the two women who are asking for the chance to try their hands (again, in Rosaena Sanchez’s case, which in my mind makes her braver than you could know if you had not attended council meetings during the few years she served.)
     The choices the Lindsay City Council has made over the past decade and a half may have seemed good in the beginning, but with the passage of time we’ve got results to evaluate.  This weekend I drove downtown at night past El Patio restaurant, dark again.  We put hundreds of thousands of dollars toward its renovation.  Bad decision.  We put more than hundreds of thousands of dollars to turn an old lemon packinghouse into a recreation center designed lure people from all over the state.  Bad decision.  We built a swimming pool for Olympic-level meets that fell a couple feet short of qualifying.  Big mistake.  I could go on.  And those are from the past administration, so to speak, but the incumbents were overseeing those decisions.          
     In recent times, we do no better.  We tore up our historic golf course to add another 5 soccer fields to our docket, soccer fields that were supposed to be completed at the end of June.  They still are not ready.  At the moment we are building a roundabout at the corner of an elementary school and the entrance to our major shopping center on the major thoroughfare into downtown, despite the submission of a petition against the plan signed by 815 Lindsay residents, many of whom live near the project.  A Council that was truly interested in the city’s future would have insisted those citizens’ concerns be heard and addressed, if only in the interest of increasing citizen participation.  They did not.          
     If you’re still reading this column after all these years of conflict with Lindsay’s idea of progress, I’m impressed.  I’m tired of writing about it, tired of seeing no real progress either in the planning or the inclusion of the public’s real interest in those plans.  Our ballots are one of the places where we can express ourselves about the future of our town, and here’s the good thing:  they’re private.  We don’t have to experience being ignored there.  Vote.

Trudy Wischemann is an advocate for the public interest who writes.  You can send your thoughts on progress to her c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.



Saturday, October 27, 2018

Town & Church

Published Oct. 24, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette

     What is the connection between any given town and the churches inside its city limits?  It’s not a question many people think about, I imagine, but it’s one that’s been on my plate a long time.
     When the first studies began on the connection between the size of farms, the degree of local farm ownership, and the kinds of towns that grew in their midst, the numbers of churches in those towns were one of the measures of community health.  For example, in the two-town study I know best, which compared small-farm Dinuba to large-farm Arvin in Kern County, the number of churches in Dinuba were twice what they were in Arvin, even though the two towns were the same size in population and their surrounding farms produced equivalent gross dollars of ag production.  This difference was seen as just one of the ways Dinuba was a healthier, more viable place to live than Arvin.
     The first Arvin-Dinuba study was conducted in the early 1940’s, just before the U.S. entered World War II.  I updated the study in the early 1980’s, and Dinuba still had twice as many churches as Arvin.  These churches were seen as an indicator of Community, of the populations’ abilities to invest in their communities and build social relations with each other that would have positive effects on other areas of life in these towns.
     Since the 1980’s, the crash of churches nationwide has become its own phenomenon, its own dilemma.  I believe it started first in the large cities, as church-going populations evacuated urban cores for the more-pleasant suburbs, where community life became more secular and disconnected from the whole notion of Place.  I believe the crash of churches in rural areas was slower, though I haven’t investigated it thoroughly.  But when I hear it discussed in religious circles, the connection to our nation’s burgeoning placelessness is never mentioned.
     The question for me now is this: as the farms get bigger and the owners more absent, is there any possible role for the churches to become active participants, a voice and a set of hands, in keeping the community values of a town available to the residents, whoever they may be?
     We have seen churches step up to the plate in emergencies, like the 1990 Freeze, where churches responded with aid in food and clothing, setting up job centers and utility bill funds, supporting aid agencies.  We saw the same in other freeze events, as well as the recent drought.  Some churches have annual non-emergency programs, such as the backpack project at Lindsay’s United Methodist Church, which provides backpacks loaded with school supplies in September to kids without, which was joined by other churches in town.
     But the voice of the church is largely silent, especially here, about the loss of the farms and the farm families who lived on them, who put their earnings into the collection plates and their children in the Sunday schools, who came faithfully every week to worship.  It is silent on the question of immigration and the policies of this administration that are terrorizing our new neighbors living in the houses vacated by the white folks who left for better digs elsewhere.  It is blinking at the whole prospect of development of prime ag land into massive subdivisions to house more placeless people.  It is blind, deaf and dumb to what is going on all around us.
     What is the connection between church and town?  I’m sorry, but I’m beginning to think it’s been lost.
Trudy Wischemann is a small-town resident who writes, regardless.  You can send her your thoughts c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.

Politics Vs. People

Published October 17, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette

    The ballots are out, the Vote-By-Mail ballots, along with the voter guides.  With the huge increase in what used to be called “absentee ballots,” what used to be that intense last week before the election now actually has become four.  Four weeks of intense lobbying, name-calling, and scare tactics intended to get us voters to sway one way or another.
     Unfortunately, I think it makes some people turn away from the process altogether and become part of that glump of people the pundits say are “apathetic.”  I don’t think we’re apathetic (and I plan to vote, by the way.)   I think we’re repulsed.  I think we’re outraged by the half-truths battling each other, screaming for our attention and loyalty for these few seconds of cosmic time only to be ignored when real needs come out of our mouths asking for their attention.  I think we’re mad, and the only way to fight back against this flood of garbage is to refuse to play the game.  To withhold the thing they want, the one thing we have to give:  our vote.
     I’m telling you right now I wish it worked that way.  I wish we could get this violence against the people – violence against our minds and hearts, this war being waged every two years regardless of how few of us show up at the polls – I wish we could get this violence to stop.  But it won’t because it’s working.  The fewer of us vote, the fewer people they have to work hard to convince in order to win.
     The biggest problem is that it’s driving people away, not only from the polls (or filling out their mail-in ballots,) but from caring at all.  That’s something we have to battle in ourselves.  Caring is probably the most essential ingredient in democracy.  If we let them drive us away from caring, pretty soon we’ll be voting for one person, like Vladimir Putin in Russia or Kim Jong Un in North Korea.  Where going to the polls requires a bullet-proof vest.
     Caring is also the most essential element of a neighborhood, a small town, a church, a school – just about any social grouping we absolutely require to be human.  Caring is required to make music or poetry, art of any kind.  Caring is required to help others recover from natural disasters, trauma from violence, addiction to drugs and maladaptive social units called gangs.  Caring is required to open our hardened hearts toward God.
     So if this unnaturally extended season of inhumane political warfare is hardening your heart, take care.  Take care of yourself, take care of the people and things you love, take care of your neighbors no matter what signs they have stuck in their lawns.  Embrace what matters to you, don’t let it slip away in the ruckus.  Find out who might honor most what you care about, and give them your vote.  Get informed about the ballot measures and vote for the ones most likely to save your favorite stream or bring water where it’s needed.  Don’t let the fear of battle make you abandon the cause.  Let’s keep democracy intact:  vote.
Trudy Wischemann is a disgruntled activist who writes.  You can send her your care-driven war stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.

Give Yourself to Love

Published Oct. 10, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette

     There’s a beautiful song by Kate Wolf called “Give Yourself to Love.”  It’s playing in my head right now, telling me what to write.  I love it when It does that.
     The song snuck into my awareness this week while we were on our Kavanaugh binge, getting divided up into two camps as if by a wicked gym teacher making teams for a flashy volleyball game.  Bad Boys vs. Good Girls – or was it Good Boys vs. Bad Girls?  Demonic Democrats vs. Responsible Republicans, or maybe it was Wretched Republicans vs. Decent Democrats?  Twenty five years from now the evidence will be released to determine who the bad actors really were.  All I knew this weekend was that my side – no matter how you divided up the teams – my side appeared to have lost.
     And I felt the sickness that comes after a battle, no matter who wins.  It’s Rage’s post-partum effects.  It’s the view of all we care about being overridden by the need to go blind in its defense, to become willing to leave it all behind, like family and home left in America to go fight Nazis in Europe.  And the only antidote to rage is to remember love.
     In my own small recovery process, I found myself licking my own wounds first.  They were largely self-inflicted anyway:  I could have followed my own good advice to my mother and just stayed away from the news.  But there was something important for me to learn in this battle, and the lessons became clearer as I made up for lost time in the kitchen and yard.  Washing dishes and gathering trash restored my sense of value to myself if not to the rest of the world.  Now: what did we learn?
     The battle between the sexes is still here.  It’s not too different from the battle between conservatism and liberalism or the hard right and the far left:  how best to meet the needs of maintaining the free spirit of this country, this state, this county, this neighborhood, this home.  Through rigorous self-determinism or generous, self-forgetting and communing with each other?
     This divide was built into us in this nation’s founding, or so said Robert Bellah, a Berkeley sociologist in his book, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in a Time of Trial (1975.)  It’s the same divide that separated Jefferson from Hamilton, the South from the North, the divide that led to America’s Civil War and all the major civil uprisings in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the “Trial” Bellah was addressing.  We are still struggling over a question we have not yet answered rightly:  can we have freedom without equality?
     Some of us know the answer is “no.”  Freedom for some people at the expense of others is not freedom.  It’s temporary insanity, temporary because those unfree others are always knocking at the door of the “free” ones’ mind, wanting to be let in.  I’d like to propose that Brett Kavanaugh’s rage was not just from being pantsed in public, but also from the ghost of Christine (and who knows how many others) on that bed who he (and all the other “boys being boys” we recognized in her story) truly doesn’t remember because he truly never saw her as a person.
     I think the only way to heal this divide, temporarily and in the long term, is to give yourself to love.  Love can be fierce as well as tender, but it’s love so long as the beloved stays in view.  Love thyself, to use Woody Guthrie’s parting poem to us, as a child of God (no more, no less.)  Then, to part B of the one great commandment:  Love thy neighbor as thyself.
     It’s so simple.  Remind me again:  why are we fighting?
Trudy Wischemann is a spearmaiden who writes.  You can send her your battle scars % P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.



Friday, October 5, 2018

Women's Words

Published in slightly edited form October 3, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette

     In discussions about last week’s Kavanaugh hearing, I kept listening for a truth I picked up during the proceedings.  I haven’t seen this truth described yet in print, so here goes.
     I think women’s words are harder to hear than men’s words in our culture.  In general, women’s words are easier to hear by women than by men, though both genders will usually give more weight to men’s words than women’s words.  Most of the books on my shelves were written by men, and I’ll quote a man before a woman simply for the greater weight of their authority.  (I don’t type that proudly.)
     The history of this tendency is long, stretching back at least to Biblical times.  It’s a direct result of patriarchy, of power held by the male gender over the female, which is directly related to who holds power over the land.  One of those books on my shelves is by a woman anthropologist who studied a matrilineal culture (i.e., one in which the women held and worked the land, while the men hunted, fished and joked around.)  Let me tell you, things were very different there.  Things were so different, in fact, that this woman anthropologist had a very difficult time re-entering our culture.  One of the things that was hardest was that people, especially her male colleagues and her husband, had a hard time hearing her words.
     When Dr. Ford began to speak, after having to sit through a 10 minute rant by Sen. Grassley about how we shouldn’t even have to be doing this (damned Democrats!) which was slightly moderated by Sen. Feinstein’s 5 minute speech saying yes, we should, I felt sudden fear.  “She’s not a fighter,” I said out loud, hearing the girlish pitch of her voice, seeing her hair fall over her face.  But the clarity of her words, both when read from prepared testimony and those that followed responding to questions – that clarity was her power.
     Dr. Ford said many things that morning that made total sense to me, but the words that struck home were “the laughter.”  She’d been asked what things about that night were the most unforgettable, and after listing the environmental elements – the sparsely furnished house, the narrow stairway, the room, the locked door, she said it was the laughter that she’ll never forget.  “They were having fun at my expense,” she explained.  I’d like to offer that the real violation is that they didn’t even see her at all, except as a prop for their emerging masculinity.  It wasn’t Christine on that bed:  it was nobody.  Just a girl.
     There’s a form of masculinity that enlarges by mocking the feminine.  I’ve heard it myself in snorts from my father when I felt unable to complete an assigned outside task or when making an appeal for something I loved.  I’ve heard it from professors when I advocated for the nurturing values of community.  I’ve heard it from lovers regarding home decorations, a recommended book to read or film to watch, a place to visit – and most importantly, about my ideas.  It’s what women mean by the word “discounted.”  It’s enough sometimes to make me vicious.
     But watching Dr. Ford put her words out there anyway, knowing they would be discounted for multiple reasons, gave me strength.  It’s just an old, prehistoric instinct standing in our way.  It’s not the words themselves.  Keep speaking, and clearly.

Trudy Wischemann is a womanist writer living cautiously in Lindsay.  You can send her your words, brave or not, c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.

Note:  The day this piece was published, as the Kavanaugh hearings continued to roil, this poem appeared and asked to be written down.  I offer it here, just in case I'm not alone in my dismay.

Omnicultural Event

There is Mexican music swaying and pulsing
in the front yard across the street.  I lock
my mind against it, trying to think
American thoughts, circumventing
roadblocks placed in my way
by men of any culture:  romancing
Chicanos, patronizing pastors,
credentialed academics with "emeritus"
after their names.  "A-meritus"
is the stigma I'm trying to avoid
along with "housewife" and "layperson."
Claiming my undocumented female turf
is as terrifying as Christine's testimony,
Amy's questioning, Diane's standing
our ground, and as necessary
as those women crying and screeching
at Jeff Flake in the elevator.  Which voice
to use becomes the only question:

Barbara Jordan's, deep and deliberate,
     taking no bribes;
Chelsea Clinton's, clear and courageous,
     unfettered by her parents' past;
Dolores's, shouting Huelga and criticism
     at this Valley's big growers despite
     her impoverished background and small size  -

or my own:  workingclass, non-union,
non-denominational; unchurched; transfer student,
late-bloomer, childless, single;
Berkeley grad in a region where hatred
of intellectuals is exceeded only by its fear;
poet in a place whose beauty is daily
degraded by ignorance.

"Sing," says the still-small whisper
from my great Interior.  "It's
your only hope."

TMW 10-3-18









Seeking Sanity

Published Sept. 26, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette

     The national political news, whether it’s the Supreme Court nominee or NATO or the build up to November’s elections, is stressful enough right now to make a person question their sanity.  Regional and local issues aren’t much better:  there are major questions that, for our future’s sake, must be attended to.  Whether it’s protection of groundwater supplies or maintaining good school boards, an ounce of prevention is cheaper as well as better than a pound of cure, and we need to put our minds and hands to the plow.
     But it’s also Fall.  The equinox has just slipped past us and the weather has become amiable again.  Each year, when the oppressive heat has died out, I have realized that this is the weather I live for.  There is temptation to think it will be this way for months, and I have often fallen for it, gotten lazy and just enjoyed being outside.  But this year something is telling me to stay awake to the fact that it doesn’t last, any more than the oppressive heat does or the damp fogs of winter.  This year, something is telling me to work.
     Being an outside-kind of person, I am often torn between my yard work and my writing, which can keep me cloistered inside for hours, losing track of time.  Usually my writing work wins, since there’s always hope of making a buck that way and no hope of advancing my career in the yard.  I’ve also got that woman-thing, a predetermined, externally-derived expectation that my responsibility is to the interior of the house, not the exterior (excuses, excuses.)
     Sunday night, however, in the name of filling the green waste can for Monday morning’s garbage truck, I gave myself time off from the computer and the news.  I went to work on opening up a small area in the back yard that had become impassable, removing copious dead branches and overzealous live stems from the fruitless mulberry who occupies one half of the enclosed space.  I apologized for letting it all go too long as I clipped and trimmed, broke and collected, then hauled my harvest through the small back gate.
     In the process, I got to know the tree again, this bumbling giant who has permitted birds to perch and cats to climb in search of perching birds, training kittens how to be cats.  I remembered photographing those kittens there, year after year, in the safe crotch of the branching limbs.  I remembered collecting a hummingbird nest that had blown down from above.  I remembered standing next to it in awe one morning, watching three turkey vultures drying their wings in the tops of the front yard’s trees, feeling myself safe down below.  My own personal history in this place was also remembered as I excavated abandoned hoses, cans, pots, salvaged grape stakes and other homestead essentials from beneath the low-hanging branches.
     And somehow sanity returned.  It’s hard to see how looking squarely in the face of one’s longstanding bad habits can do that, but it did.  More important, I think, was the recognition that life goes on, regardless of what we do or fail to do.  And most important of all was the pleasure I felt in every cell from reconnecting with Mother Nature and trying to be her servant.  That might be the best career move of all.

Trudy Wischemann is a retrograde gardener who writes.  You can send her your yard work stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.

Men In The Trees

Published Sept. 19, 2018 in Tulare County's Foothills Sun-Gazette

     For those of you who know me, who know where I live, I apologize for the rude awakening you may have received driving by my house this past week.  I had my trees trimmed, and now the block looks unfamiliar.  The bushy landmarks are gone.  It’s hard to recognize the intersection and know where to turn.
     I have been living for years with the sentence “You need to trim your trees,” delivered kindly by friends, and a little more firmly by various City of Lindsay employees.  Police chief Chris Hughes softly mentioned one night at a city council meeting that it would be hard for the fire hoses to reach my roof surrounded by those branches.  That sentiment reached me, and I appreciated his reasonable approach to the problem.  Unfortunately, the trees had reached the point where I was no longer able to rein them in.
     Over the 25 years I have lived beneath these trees, 2 Chinese Elms probably as old as the 70-year-old house, I have noticed two distinct responses to their untamed state.  The predominant one, of course, is that they were overgrown (and were that way when I moved in,) and much in need of serious pruning.  These folks belong to the Control branch of landscape management, which defines beauty as a reflection of the resident’s ability to be in charge.  The more trimmed, the more deliberately uniform, the better.  To these observers, by letting my trees grow unrestrained, I was contributing to the city's uglification.  I was running down the neighborhood.
     The other response was that the trees were beautiful, amazing, and a blessing both to the birds of the air and the people looking for a shady place to park.  These people were often women, who also noted that the trees deep shade likely made my house more pleasant in summer.  Some confided that they wished their husbands would be more gentle with the exteriors of their own homes.  They seemed to envy my lack of a husband who would wield the chainsaw despite my objections.  Let us say that I commiserated with them, and felt that in maintaining my own landscape ethic, I was supporting these sister environmentalists forced to live in a closet.
     But lately the sentence “you need to trim your trees” was coming from inside my head.  They had overgrown the street so far that last fall I had to set up traffic control cones to sweep the leaves.  So I found a good tree man, who looked at the overwhelming job, brought in a crew of 6 hardworking men, and got the job done.  I went into shock with the trees, and folks from the Control branch of landscape management laughed.  “They’ll grow back,” they chided.  “I hope I’m still alive when it happens,” I shot back, noting their lack of sympathy.  But they will, whether I’m here to see it or not.
     The beautiful part of this experience has been learning how much the trees meant to others.  Thanks to everyone who has stopped to offer their surreptitious sympathy.  Thanks to everyone who appreciates that other approach to landscape management.  May the birds of the trees find shelter in your yards this winter.  And thanks to those somewhat overzealous men who risked life and limb – on my behalf - to do what needed to be done. 

Trudy Wischemann is a recovering writer who is glad for the excuse to spend more time in her yard.  You can send her your experiences with men in the trees c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or leave a comment below.