In Case Anybody Cares, This Is Why I Can’t Sleep

The election results have cut to the quick. After a full week of protests from a stunned half-a-country, both the President and President Elect have called for calm. Peace rallies are cropping up now – “hug-ins,” and a “hand-holding” of hundreds around a lake, and a student/teacher-organized multi-hour march through a town to promote an accord.

At the same time, political, environmental and human rights groups are begging us to rally behind the issues and work together to safeguard against dismantling reforms that have been made.

I get it. We can’t continue this way. I don’t condone the violence, the fires, the blocking freeways and highways. But my personal anger rages. And while I am not a person of color or of a religion or creed that might attract negative behavior, I continue to react. I do not like the person I see in the mirror, sometimes spitting-mad, then depressed, unsmiling, stunned, and always terribly irritated by every minor inconvenience.

And worst of all, Humor, that irreverent and goofy thing that dwells within me, so close to my surface, suddenly packed up and left Tuesday night sometime between the cup of tea I made to steady my nerves and going to bed. It left, and it took Sleep with it.

Every night for eight nights I think long and hard about what has happened, and attempt to figure out why I hurt so much. There’s no denying it; I feel like I’ve been wronged. The hurting won’t stop.

I don’t react against the millions who voted this way, including relatives and friends. In the end, somebody wins and somebody loses. I know how good it feels to have a candidate I’ve supported win; it’s great, isn’t it? I don’t want to take this celebratory feeling away from anyone. So it’s not just that my candidate lost.

Last night, somewhere between 3 and 4 a.m., it hit me. Of course, I have been dismayed by the public lack of restraint the now President Elect has demonstrated for the past 17 months, and I hope that most of us, at the very least, has shaken our heads at the charged rhetoric. My urban neighborhood and my entire city is an ethnically-diverse region. I live in Silicon Valley. The entire San Francisco Bay Area is diverse. We chose, and continue to choose to live in an area that my grandmother, who was born in 1900, would have called “a regular League of Nations.”

When I walk my dog down the main artery, every day I breathe in the wonderful aromas of spices from multiple restaurants featuring world cuisines. The local movie theater is a hub for Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and English movies. The shops and businesses are owned by neighbors who hail, or whose families once hailed from countries around the globe.

My kids’ grammar school was another “League of Nations” with 26 languages spoken by families. Some girls in my kids’ classes wore headscarves. Sometimes parents, who had just moved to the area and who had studied English in their native countries, volunteered in classes for weeks and months, translating for their own young children who, just starting school, had not yet had the opportunity to study English. Other language-rich volunteers within the community helped many a student feel comfortable with English. In fact, the school district, our school and parents’ organization held numerous tutorials with translations provided for non-English speaking parents so they could learn how to navigate their way through the school system. One thing was certain; we were in this together.

Along with the regular curriculum, all the kids studied music and technology. They learned about holidays throughout the globe and they sampled foods from across the continents. On special occasions they shared traditional dress. They played with each other and did homework and projects together and it never occurred to these kids that there was anything different or odd or unusual about any of this.

I’ve dedicated much of my time volunteering in and for schools. We, our family, chose to live here, and we embraced the diversity. And as with the other families around us, our children, all our children, would grow up together, study together and someday work in a global economy together where every ounce of understanding among individuals and nations could only be a benefit. This is Silicon Valley. A good chunk of success here is from working together. As school volunteers, we not only helped in class, we ran the cultural assembly programs, we engaged the kids in the arts, we wrote the newsletters, helped with the field trips, mentored, wrote about the successes of the school in a state and national program, ran the fund-raisers, made the copies, decorated the classrooms and the cupcakes, served on school site committees and represented the school at district-wide parent committees, and told kids that we really did live at school. The staff welcomed us warmly. We were partners. As parent volunteers, the more engaged we became, the more we realized that our own children’s success was in every way rooted in the success of all the children at school, no matter what learning disability they had or which language they spoke. We worked hard to counter bullying, embracing research-based practices that the entire school district supported. Parent engagement programs taught us how to empower youth, how to provide kids with assets that would enable them to meet challenges head-on. We adopted sound, proven techniques that highlighted a positive school climate.

And so here is my personal epiphany, figured out in the wee hours of the morning last night. For the past 17 months, we have heard nothing but bullying and calling out groups originating from different places on the globe, belittling people – people who have handicaps, people who speak different languages, people who worship in non-Christian places, women, blacks, gays, people who dress differently, and the list goes on. I will be the first to tell you that there are great challenges in our society, but after spending what I am proud to call my life’s work, the President-Elect has not only spit upon my values and those of my colleagues and neighbors and friends and residents of a beautiful place we call home, stomping on years of thoughtful, loving and hard work to help our kids, all our kids thrive, he has made it fashionable to seek-out with aggression and malice any and all who may be seen as a threat, any who look or act differently based on some perceived difference, forgetting that so much of the greatness of our country was built on the backs of immigrants who were also persecuted.

As a result, I feel shame that this is the course our nation has chosen. Change is fine. Bring it on. But let’s be darned certain that the change we make yields real progress. Making our country less inclusive of diversity is change, but just the worst kind. Progress is not made by bullying and threatening violence and committing violent acts. Nor is it made by yelling abusive comments at others. And we certainly do not make any kind of progress when children are afraid to go to school because they are told that they will be arrested and deported as soon as they open their door. One young child packed a suitcase on election night. A student, a young woman at a local university, was assaulted because she wears a hijab; she was nearly choked. There have been many, many reports of racial slurs, violence, and assaults. How do hate crimes enact positive change?

So I too, now, call for some semblance of order. Yes, from damaging riots, but also from people who think it is within their rights to persecute another for how he or she looks, acts, thinks, prays, or speaks. I chose to work for years, doing my part as a parent and citizen, to ensure that my kids and their classmates and friends were safe, well-adjusted and ready to succeed in a world that is, communication-wise, without borders. And in 17 short months, the gold-standard has been reduced to nothing more than a barnyard brawl.

And that’s why I’m not sleeping.

Kathy Galgano

November 16, 2016

 

 

My New Career

Eureka! At long last, I have selected, definitively, and finally, a career for myself. More than a career – it is an avocation, a way of life, a vocation.  It has been a long-time coming and it feels great! Woo Hoo!

With purpose, gusto and aplomb I have stylishly angled, but sometimes hurriedly plopped on many a scarfed-brim over the years. Like everyone else, I have planned some jobs and career choices, and stepped into others because I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right moment, or because somebody knew me and took pity on me, figuring I wouldn’t do too much damage if they gave me a break. I had no idea I would be a legal secretary, but that was the temp job I scored when trying to put myself through grad school, studying for another professional field. When I moved out of state, I landed a position not in the area for which I had matriculated and amassed debt, but in a law office.

When the kids were in grade school and I spent a lot of time volunteering there, I figured that at some point I would be offered a job. A library aide position opened up; I read a book on the Dewey Decimal System to prepare for the interview. The principal called me the week before and told me about the job. “What qualifications do you have for this position?” she asked. I could have said, “I own a library card.” I could have said, “I’m an English major; I know my way around a library.” But I had the flu, so I responded, “I don’t have any.” There was a pause of about a second, and then I heard, “I encourage you to apply.” The school hired me; I found out why at the end of the interview. “We know you,” they said. They also knew my kids and where I lived, so I tried hard not to get too much hair on the heavy clear tape I used to cover the periodicals to give the dog-eared magazines a longer shelf life.

My new career choice is actually the culmination of all my jobs and experiences, including mothering my children and everybody else’s. Years of work have defined the moment. This chosen path is a result of blending, interlocking, sifting, expunging, moving around, retrieving from the trash, and re-mixing a lifetime of experiences, jobs, educational opportunities, mistakes, talents, faux pas, brain deficits, street smarts, chance meetings, gut feelings, opinions, beliefs, hobbies, conversations, laundry, health, meals, friendships, family and life. It’s the synthesis of my life’s work, whatever that may be. Years ago my dear aunt asked me what I did, and I thoughtfully replied, “I don’t know. But I sure do a lot of it.”

So here it is. My career choice is to be a minion. Not just anybody’s minion, you understand. Not the lackey who daily is relegated to trudge through the hailstorms and blistering heat and hurricane winds to fetch all the office coffees, only to have somebody snatch my own cup of joe because she changed her mind at the last second, without an utterance or hint of apology. No. These minions have no self-respect.

Nor do I want to be that toady-lackey kind of minion. You know the stereotype; it’s the kiss-up who follows somebody of importance around, flattering the heck out of the boss and making oneself important by virtue of being in close proximity to The Important One. It’s the sycophant who makes everybody’s stomach turn, even the folks who steal the coffee they didn’t order.

No. These minions are either regrettable or unforgivable. My kind is that self-assured, happy-skippy sort that uses brains and wit to get the job done, all the while enjoying life and loving the experience. They don’t have to stand out in a crowd. They’re better off in a crowd. Yes. I want to be a Despicable Me minion.

These are the industrious, creative, hilarious dudes who come through for their boss. The boss knows that without his minions, the work just wouldn’t get done. Minions are the critical component to every project, and the boss genuinely cares about them. The only downside of this job is the heavy slapstick formula, but like it or not, I must admit that I do share that specific accident-prone attribute. I’ve noticed over the years that my family has had to fight back chuckles when they inquire if I’m all right.

These denim-clad guys work hard, play hard, and really just don’t get bent out of shape when things go awry. You don’t see minions fretting because they are flying into space on balloons or falling into deep pits. They may utter an “Oh, Poop,” and then get on with it. How many times have I worked myself into a tizzy because I wasn’t able to keep to my ridiculous schedule and get everything done?

Well, minions are my role models now, and I’ve been making a concerted effort to relax more. When things get harried, I try to think like a minion. I’m learning! Here’s proof. We invited friends over for Christmas dinner, asking them to arrive at two o’clock. Well, two o’clock came and we were nowhere near ready. Wrapping paper covered the floor and the place was a mess. I hadn’t even thought about dinner. Did I panic? No!

We welcomed our guests and there were hugs and presents and laughter. Somebody poured beverages for them, and I ran through the obstacle course of packages and paper into the kitchen, and cut up some bacon quiche into bite-sized pieces, arranged them on a festive plate, tossed a few toothpicks into a shot glass and shoved the glass in the center of the plate. Voilà! Hors d’oeuvres.

An hour later, as my dear friend joined me in the kitchen with her glass of wine while I began prepping for dinner, I told her about the minions in the movie. How I would love to be like them! Who wouldn’t? They’re cute and yellow and wear these eye things and crack me up. They’re always smiling and having fun. We laughed when I tried to mimic their speech. Then the conversation moved on to our families and mutual friends and life. When I looked at the clock and realized that Christmas dinner was now going to be a full two hours late, I offered a playful non-apology for my tardiness. I told my friend that while I knew I should be at least a bit embarrassed about not being anywhere near ready for dinner guests, that for the first time in my life, I didn’t care! We both laughed. As long as my guests were comfortable and had something to eat and drink while I worked, that was fine. They were not zooming off to another house anytime soon, and I was going to enjoy every minute of my day. After all, I had just ‘fessed up: I want to be a minion.

My dear friend smiled broadly, and exclaimed to me, “You already are!”

Honoring Our Vets

When Dad and my uncles and aunts sat around a table or in yard chairs on summer days when we were kids, they talked about family and growing up in the “good old days” and Italian food and friends. Memories of the “good old days” usually did not include recollections of World War II, even though the youngest three brothers in a family of five boys and three girls served abroad at the same time. If one of the three youngest brothers did share a war-time story, it was a humorous anecdote.

Sometimes after supper, Dad would sit in front of a shortwave radio in the living room with a pad of paper and a pen in his hand, and transcribe the audible beeps that he heard into dots and dashes on the paper. After a while, Dad would look up and show us his work, and read aloud the code that sounded like musical gibberish to me. What always amazed me was the next part, when he read the message out loud, in actual words. Sometimes he would interrupt his own retelling of the message and say, “I didn’t get that word,” but most of the message was repeated, dot and dash, letter for letter, word for word. My lasting impression wasn’t that the messages were very interesting, but that these rapid tones actually meant something.

Dad served as a radioman on the USS Endicott, a Naval destroyer, and that’s why, two decades later, he could transcribe these messages at home. I know he sailed into a lot of ports around the world, and on one occasion he just missed meeting cousins in Italy when family members he had never seen received word that one of their own was on leave on their soil. His ship pulled anchor before they could reach him, though.

I know, too, that Dad bought a large bunch of bananas back to the ship while on one of his shore leaves, and his compatriots desperately tried to coax a piece of fruit off him. Dad refused. “Get your own bananas,” he told them. How he enjoyed this fresh treat. I also know that he learned how to shoot craps and even explained the game to us kids, though I never quite got the hang of it other than the part when you exclaim, “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” as you let the dice fly out of your hand. And I know a few other stories, but not many.

One time, when I was all grown up, married and living across country, my parents flew out to see us and spend time with their young grandchildren. Dad and I were staining the deck in the backyard, and we talked about his Navy days a little bit. I remember saying that he never really told us what it was like; I knew that his ship escorted the fleet for the Invasion of Southern France. He stopped and looked at me, the paint brush in the air, and grew quiet. He was silent for several long moments. Then he said to me, “The sea was red.”

That should have been enough, but I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. The kids were calling me from inside the house. I repeated what I thought he had said on that summer’s morning. “The sea was red?”

The paintbrush that he had dipped in stain moments before still hung in his hand, though none of the stain was dripping onto the wood. He was an expert painter. Dad looked at me and said one word more. “Blood.”

And then he turned his head back to the deck and continued on with his work.

Kathy Galgano

Veterans Day – November 11, 2013