Self Sufficient Steward

Wrapping Up a Personal Interregnum?

Yeah ‘interregnum’ is an SAT prep kinda word, but for some forgotten reason it came up the other day, and hung around in the back of my mind. I’ve always thought of it as defining the ‘unruly’ period between two monarchs, and it occurred two me that perhaps that’s what I could call the last six months: my own personal interregnum. By that I mean, that period between my previous life, which was ruled on a daily basis by school/work, and my future life, which will be ‘ruled’ by….still unclear. While I’m not certain, I think I’m beginning to sort out what will order my daily routine. Don’t get me wrong, my first six months of retirement have been both productive and enjoyable. I’ve gotten ahead on some projects here in the country, though by no means am I caught up. And I’ve also had some time to think about me, and what brings me satisfaction. On that list of satisfiers, (along with a stiff bourbon at sunset), is a task to be done, preferably in my own manner and at my own pace, with skills that I at least sort of possess. I mean, while I’ve thoroughly appreciated having more time to fish, and continue to look forward to my weekly sessions gardening with the kids doing community service in Siler City, I realize that I emotionally need a to-do list damn near everyday or I start twitching. So, in gradually ending this first phase of retirement, I’ve decided to tackle a big project, which will likely ‘rule’ my life for the next few years. It’s one that my wife and I have talked about for years, but I’ve been seriously dragging my feet, reluctant to spend our savings to pay for someone else’s labor (and giving that someone else control to boot). So starting in early spring, I plan to embark on stage one of a three-stage home renovation/addition project. It will mean sore muscles, buying a bunch of new tools (thank god for sites like Home Tool Helper) and acquiring or dusting off construction skills largely dormant since we built our own house in 1986-88, while I was teaching high school. I’m hoping to farm out as little as possible, but point-and-pay is always an option, since I’m definitely not as young as I used to be.

This week, my opening moves have been spent in front of the computer, learning the CAD program I used to generate the 2D and 3D images below.

In the image above, our existing house is under the light colored silver roof, and is sided in white. Stage one is adding a new entrance, seen in brown siding, under the darker roof (red arrow) seen at the left front. Stage two (a dining room) also uses brown siding in the drawing, but is largely under the light-silver roof of the existing house, since it consists of converting an existing screen porch/entrance. This addition is seen on the right. While stage three (the most ambitious) is a large, geriatric-friendly bedroom and bathroom, seen under the back right red arrow.

In the two dimensional plan, stages one and two are outlined in red. The area in green is the existing screen porch, which we plan to double the existing width and morph the area into a new dining room. Stage three isn’t shown on the 2D plan (it’s off the bottom of the page), and is only vaguely roughed in on the last 3D image below, in which it is the right-hand red arrow. The middle arrow points to the planned bump-out to widen the dining room, which will require adding six feet or so to the existing roof line.

So, after six months of deciding how to spend my early years of retirement, I’m hoping that this is a good call. Wish us luck.

Cutting and Running?

On June third, I was arrested and charged with second degree trespassing and failure to disperse at a Moral Monday protest at the NC General Assembly. Tomorrow morning is my first court appearance. After several days of consideration, I’ve decided to accept the District Attorney’s plea agreement rather than plead ‘not guilty’. The agreement involves paying $180 in court costs and serving twenty-five hours of community service. Accepting it was not an easy decision, and most of those who are aware of my arrest will likely be disappointed in my choice. So, I’m going to try and explain my rationale.

First, why did I get arrested in the first place? For me that is easy. What was happening behind the closed doors of the General Assembly was in my view unconscionable, yet the majority of voters were ignorant of the policies that were being enacted in their name. The Democratic legislators in the minority were powerless, and so the NAACP, joined by a cross-section of citizens, committed civil disobedience week after week by refusing to leave the General Assembly rotunda when directed to do so. The resulting nine hundred plus arrests made news week after week. And citizens in their living rooms across the state, indeed across the nation began to ask why. The answer to that question required an airing of the specifics of the myriad of horrific bills that had been passed. And that exposure caused an increasing number of people to question the actions of their legislators, so that in time more people approved of the Moral Monday protestors, than approved of their legislators. So far, the movement has been a remarkable success.

The protest was about legislation involving voting rights, educational cuts, regressive tax rates, etc. It was not about access to the rotunda. In that sense, I have a hard time pleading ‘not guilty’ to the charge of trespassing. I knew the law. Frankly, I was not there to protest the law I was accused of violating. But I violated that law, and I am willing to pay the price demanded. Yes, as these cases proceed through the courts, that law will be challenged, and it may or may not be eventually overturned. But the attention of the public will be on the burden on the court system, not on the law itself, and most importantly not on the horrific legislation I was there to protest. If that particular trespassing law needs to be challenged, then a single case will have the same impact as nine hundred cases; the law will stand or it will fall. And a single case will not burden the court system and the taxpayers further. In addition, this situation is not analogous to the the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s or the Campaign for Southern Equality protests of today. Those protests directly challenge an unjust status quo, and each and every case reminds the public of that specific injustice directly. In our case, most people outside the movement would fail to connect the dots; while watching news coverage of a trespassing trial, they’re unlikely to ponder cuts to early voting.

Fast forward to September, and decision time for me. I lay out the pros and cons of accepting the plea agreement, versus continuing the protest by pleading ‘not guilty’ and forcing the case to trial. I attempted to divide the argument into how my choice would affect me personally, and how it would affect the overall goal of the protest. Personally, foregoing the plea deal is less risky for me than for many. As a retiree, I have time. I live within sixty miles of the courthouse, and I can afford a larger fine if that is the result. That said, I do not want to invest large amounts of time, or money, and I certainly do not relish the thought of actual jail time. However, I feel strongly about the issues that drove me to protest. If I didn’t have serious concerns about the wisdom of an ongoing number of Moral Monday-related trials, I honestly feel I would stand my ground. But I’m not. Because I think pursuing this further is a bad strategy when it comes to achieving our goals. I’ll try to articulate why.

Let me be clear. I am proud to have been arrested as part of this movement, and am not re-thinking the wisdom of that decision. Because I am firmly convinced that those protests achieved their goal – the enlightenment of many North Carolinians who would otherwise have remained ignorant about cuts to their school budgets, about steps taken to suppress future voting, about additional abortion restrictions, etc. The publicity surrounding those weeks of protest accomplished that goal. But the question I asked myself was: “What would the publicity surrounding months of Moral Monday trials accomplish?” Would it improve the public’s understanding of the new regressive tax structure? Would it highlight taxpayer money diverted from public education to private education? Would it explain the gutting of the state’s key environmental oversight commissions? I expect not. I don’t think that it will educate the voters. It will simply showcase taxpayer money being spent on trials of people like myself, who deliberately got ourselves arrested. I believe that many largely apolitical voters, feeling that these trials could have been avoided, will lose sympathy for our efforts. In short, I think continuing this process could backfire. And I believe it is time to declare victory and focus our energies on voter registration and education, so that we can overturn the acts of this past legislative session.

Finally, I fully realize that my position is somewhat heretical among people, zealots like myself, who feel strongly about the righteousness of the Moral Monday protests. But if our goal is repeal of these laws, then that must happen at the ballot box. And to win at the ballot box, we must convince large numbers of non-zealots of the wisdom of our efforts. We did just that with this summer’s rallies, and with the exposure generated by our arrests. I am proud to be associated with those who feel the need to continue along this path. But I do not believe that we will repeat our previous success by pursuing this avenue.

In Over My Head

So I’ve been retired for ninety days. More time off than I can remember since I was fourteen. But it’s zoomed by, filled with two week-long road trips (one on the other side of the continent), preparation for three mega parties on the property (a retirement party for 100+ and two showers), six trips to Raleigh, culminating in getting arrested, a fortieth high school reunion, and a LOT of mowing and weeding to keep up with an amazingly rainy summer. Still, I’ve been making progress on some projects and am just barely beginning to get a handle on what retirement will hold for us. As part of the long view, I’m determined to acquire a few life skills, among them…cooking. Let me explain. We grow a lot of our own food. I help with that. A lot. We preserve a lot of our own food. I help with that. Very little. But most importantly, the VAST majority of the meals we eat are cooked at home. I help with that. Not at all. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Although, in my defense, honoring the prominently displayed plaque over our kitchen sink (“No man was ever shot while washing dishes”) I do wash a lot of dishes (take out the garbage and compost, etc.) But I do NOT cook. Ever.

Until tonight. And it wasn’t part of the plan. I had mentioned my ‘continuing education’ plan to my siblings. Error. As a retirement gift, I received kitchen towels, two books on cooking, and a kitchen knife worth more than my car. Crap. Bet called. So my wife and I agreed that I would start next week. No problem. Plenty of time to study up and achieve a sufficient level of Prozac beforehand. An over-reaction? Let me explain. My wife is a phenomenal cook. A freaking prodigy. I have dined like a king for thirty-five years. Practically every night. So my agreeing to cook dinner one night a week is roughly equivalent to saying: “Shit, I been playing b-ball since 1967. Meet Koby in the Staples Center? Hell yeah! And he better bring it!”

Yes. Self-induced pressure. But I had another six days to get ready, until early this morning. I have my list of chores at home. A full day. looking forward to it. Sent my wife off to work and started into the list. The phone rings. It’s my wife. She has that voice I’ve only heard a handful of times in thirty-five years, and hope to never hear again, though I certainly will. Something seriously bad has happened. Someone has died, and it has shaken her to her core. But she has a job to do; a staff of youngsters that need a leader. Her, their mama doc. So she plunges into her day, amidst the tears of her entire staff. Meanwhile, I hang up the phone. Sad at the loss of a young man I also knew, and unspeakably sad for his family, but also amazed at my wife’s resilience. My wife of thirty-four years, who will work a long, long day. And then come home to cook dinner as usual, after a most unusual day. So I jumped the gun. I called in the ‘pros from Dover‘ (my brother and his wonderful significant other) for assistance. Despite teaching college classes in Virginia, she helps me to do the only little thing I could do. Attempt to pick up the load and cook, so that my wife arrives to the smell of a homemade quiche, a unique summery salad featuring watermelon and cucumber, and ice cream with a truly killer blackberry sauce (from berries I picked here this morning).

My efforts (and hopefully the food) made her smile.

And that meant the world to me.

High Cotton Indeed

We spent last week in San Francisco, cramming in as much of that fabulous city as possible. But the main reason we were there was to take in some of the Louis Vuitton Cup, a series of races to determine who will challenge Oracle Team USA in the America’s Cup next month. To that end, we rented a condo in that part of town and spent three afternoons watching the competition. But prior to that, we were fortunate enough to hook up with an old friend of old friends, who took us out for a ‘three hour tour’ of San Francisco Bay in his Swann 51 sailboat. During that afternoon, we were delighted to see three of the Cup contenders getting in some practice time, as well as see a replica of the yacht America out for a sail. Highlights of the afternoon are captured on the five minute video below.

For reference, the America’s Cup boats are 72 feet long. More on that (and race footage) to come.

The harbor tour was the start to a marvelous week; high cotton indeed.

Moral Monday (6-10-13)

No, I didn’t get arrested again. That would be violating the terms of my release from jail last week. So make note: news reports of the ~390 arrests during six weeks of Moral Mondays fail to point out that this represents 390 individual choices, not the same folks again and again. As you can see from the video I took yesterday, despite a downpour during the rally, there were easily 1500+ people there to bear witness. And as you can see from the two-by-two procession near the end, a significant portion of those practicing civil disobedience were clergy. North Carolina clergy, I might add, Governor. Not ‘outsiders‘ Some six hours after the video, I personally drove several of them from the detention center following their release, to Pullen Baptist Church where food and more friends awaited them.

So, in the weeks to come, please consider lending a hand. You could send money to the NC chapter of the NAACP. (Their State Treasurer was one of the friends I made late last night, a sweet woman about my age, who clearly puts in LONG hours for the movement.) You could safely attend the next rally, as thousands have done with zero chance of arrest. Or you can deliberately make the decision to commit civil disobedience by refusing to leave the General Assembly when asked. It doesn’t involve shouting, or being dragged, on confrontation of any kind. Other than a polite ‘no’ when told to exit. All parties involved know that neither is the ‘enemy’.

What a Difference a … Couple of Decades Makes

I know that this won’t be funny to anyone else but me. But I came across this memo last week while cleaning out my office. It struck me as absurd at the time (memo is dated 1992) enough so that I pilfered a copy. But the edict was honest-to-god serious, from our department’s home office on the third floor. Not just any third floor. We’re talking about a fairly prestigious medical school, in the oldest public university in the United States.

The point is: Despite the fact that I still love teaching ‘kids’, it is SO time for me to leave that noble work to others, in this age of instant access to literally the world’s knowledge.

Given that I was forged in the age of mimeograph machines, overhead transparencies, and pencil sharpeners.

Am I Happy? It Depends on Your Definition.

I was arrested and taken to the Wake County Detention Center. I’m not proud of it. But as my only arrest in 58 years, I’m not ashamed of it either.

So far, I’ve heard two public complaints about Mega Moral Monday, the occasion of my intentional arrest.
One, that we’re wasting the taxpayers’ money by tying up the law enforcement officers and the court system in getting ourselves arrested by committing civil disobedience.
Two, that we’re obviously not serious, because some of those arrested have been singing and laughing during the process.

Both are fair questions.

Are we costing Wake County money? Yes. In the short run. But we minimize this impact by being 100% cooperative (other than the initial order to disperse). The 151 of us who were arrested on Monday night said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ because there was zero reason not to. The officers from the General Assembly, the City of Raleigh and the Wake County Sheriff’s and Detention Center were professional and polite, without exception. And our issue had nothing to do with them. So we tried to expedite the process, costing no more overtime than needed.
More importantly, in the long run our protest is focused on getting local agencies the resources they need – a concept the General Assembly seems to have missed. Deliberately.

Second, how can we be serious if we sometimes laugh, applaud our fellow arrestees, and sing spirituals? While that’s hard to see from the other side, the answer seems obvious to me. It is an expression of joy in taking action, by the only means left to us. Are we partying? Look at my picture. No. I am tired. I am moderately uncomfortable after ten hours on steel benches, with zip-tie handcuffs for the first couple. No, I am not scared. I am well protected by professionals from the sad cases they deal with night after night. And I am secure in the knowledge that I will sleep in my own bed, even though it won’t be until after sunrise. But I’m not enjoying the physical experience. But I have to confess that I did enjoy the opportunity to meet dozens of like-minded individuals, who believe, like me, that this step was the only semi-rational option we had to call attention to the impending train wreck that is the result of the GOP’s agenda: a regressive tax structure, a denial of voting rights, cuts in unemployment and Medicaid, trashing of environmental protections, the list goes on.

So, we’re not ‘happy’. But we are taking strength by actually DOING something. And sometimes, that calls for a song.