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

 

 

A Breath of Fresh Air

People are coming out of the woodwork to campaign for her. There’s a movement happening in my neighborhood, and it’s huge. Well, okay, it’s pretty big. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we all were cast in one of those feel-good Hallmark movies.

It’s real and the energy is palpable, and it’s wonderful.

Let’s back it up a bit. In this interminable campaign, we’ve slung garbage at ourselves and the world, and the rank air will linger. We’ve perfected “going negative” to a science. Candidates must attack in order to be taken seriously. Like it or not, it’s now part of our culture. Just watch TV; how many shows feature a group of people sitting around a table, all talking at the same time? Listening is out. We don’t debate; we point fingers in faces and yell louder. And we talk crude. Crude is in.

So now we’re exhausted. Families have turned against families, friends against friends. People are “unfriending” loved ones because they don’t see eye to eye and have lost respect for each other. There have been arguments, many arguments. It may have taken years to get everyone in the family on Facebook, but now, with one single click, we’ve cut our ties. Thanksgiving is at hand, but we’ve pared down our guest lists because we couldn’t possibly sit at the table with people who are enemies. How could we have been so blind? We were friends for ages!

And then we come back to a breath of fresh air: the local election in my neighborhood. There’s a woman running for City Council in my district. She’s amazing. Everybody here knows her. Everybody loves her. She’s the voice of optimism and know-how and tenacity and real caring. She has been working and volunteering for neighbors and kids for two and a half decades. She gets things done and really helps people. She shares her successes. And here’s something; she listens. She listens hard to what people are saying; instead of just getting the gist of the idea and forming a quick response as to why it’s never gonna work, she’s listening.

Helen could have gone negative. She had opportunities. Heck, there was a negative campaign against her. But in a way that is purely Helen Chapman, our neighborhood candidate put the facts out there. She quickly proved every word against her was false, posted the substantiating documents on her website immediately so the voters could see them for themselves, and then went on campaigning, fighting the good fight.

There is an impressive list of people and groups endorsing Helen Chapman and there’s a good reason for this. She’s the real deal. But more than that, this groundswell of neighbors coming out of the woodwork to support her, to phone bank and make assembly lines of literature and maps and to put flyers on doorknobs and to walk precincts introducing voters to the person we know to be so perfect for this job – this has been the greatest. There are family members helping and retired folks and moms and kids and old friends and new and former colleagues, and neighbors just wanting to help and people who have heard about her and who want to lend a hand. Volunteers who don’t even live in the district are participating in this positive campaign because it’s obvious that to this candidate, and pervasive throughout her campaign, people matter.

Helen is a role model. We are overjoyed that in our neck of the woods, so many of us who are coming out of the woodwork can focus on those old-fashioned Hallmark qualities of good character and honesty and a strong work ethic and positive energy and enthusiasm and a can-do spirit and successes for people, not on the backs of them. All of it. Helen has built strong relationships with the community; she’s a fabulous resource. She’s smart. Her word means something. She gets involved and stays with it for the long-run. She supports local businesses, and is adamant about using them to create her campaign materials. She’ll buy breakfast for her walkers – again supporting local businesses. Helen says that her number one special interest is her constituents, the residents of District 6 in San Jose, CA, and their concerns.

While making phone calls early in the campaign, I was asked to find out the areas of interest of voters of District 6. So when I made calls, first I introduced them to Helen, and then I asked the voters which issues specifically concerned them, their families and neighbors. Callers did not hang up on me. On the contrary, they were excited to talk to me and several people told me they were stunned; no one had ever asked them what was important to them and on their minds.

So as I leave my own woodwork today to spend the afternoon campaigning, I am enjoying that Hallmark experience of goodness. Yes, it’s a close election. Yes, we are working hard. Rancor among families and voters is pervasive nationally, but with this one race, where the candidate’s campaign slogan is “Working Together,” we embrace individuals. No unfriending here.  Oh yeah, and the air in this neighborhood, anyway, is clear and sweet.

Kathy Galgano

November 6, 2016

 

 

The New “Booth Babe”

A most pejorative term, “booth babe” is the moniker assigned to a female spokesmodel hired by a company to draw people to their exhibit at a convention or trade show. For years, in the male-dominated high tech industries, professionally dressed spokesmodels recited the companies’ spiel from memory with a microphone in hand. How did you know these articulate and comely women were not members of each company’s professional team? They didn’t stammer and the script was tricky, very technical. Listening for a few minutes, there would be a misplaced phonetic emphasis on an industry term or two. The jargon was the giveaway. Most recently, companies have been hiring spokesmodels to offer giveaways from tchotchkes, to tickets for expensive computers or phones to lure prospective customers into the booth, and so passersby are less likely to hear mispronounced technical phrases.

Enter the new booth babe. At five feet, three inches tall (I used to be five feet three and a half inches, but time has taken care of that) and looking more the part of the proverbial middle-aged “mom” than the svelte, gorgeous, and yes, intelligent spokesmodel, I have donned the company shirt to work conventions. That’s the first difference; as I have a vested interest in the success of the start-up for which my loved one works, I volunteer. My job is to scan badges. I press the smart phone scanner to the badge to copy the data stored in the badge. Business cards are still important, but with a single swipe “we” now have the name, email address and other pertinent data of the individual, and the marketing or sales team can send follow-up emails. The start-up company for which my husband works needs each of their engineers and sales team members available to speak to interested colleagues and prospective customers, so I provide the extra set of hands to walk the booth, scan badges, offer a token giveaway, and ensure that interested convention goers talk to team representatives if they linger to read the booth material for more than a passing moment.

Unlike most temps hired as badge scanners, on my first afternoon I brought bottles of water for the team, Altoids mints (large and small), disinfecting hand wipes, and a box of tissues. Unabashedly, I am a mom, and it’s useless to hide it. At the end of the session I passed out the hand wipes imploring the engineers to wash-up after shaking so many hands; it’s still flu season. This show is smaller in scope than the one I worked last year, and the booths mostly all fit into a hotel ballroom, overflowing only a bit into the hallway. Last year I worked a large-scale tradeshow that encompassed an entire convention center floor; sensible, flat shoes prevailed there.

I have donned “kitten” heels for this show as the thick pile of the ballroom floor carpeting provides a more forgiving cushion than the thin decorative carpet layer that hid the concrete at the convention center. My company shirt is not a proportioned women’s blouse. When I decided to participate last year, I had to choose from among the remaining sizes: mens’ large or extra large. I bought some hem tape in a fabric store and ironed it on the reverse side of the fabric to shorten the shirt and take in the side seams to remove a bit of the bulk. It’s now an oversized jacket that I wear unbuttoned over a nice matching sleeveless sweater or jersey. It’s not perfect, but it’s professional and I’ve made it work. I wear my badge on a lanyard, and spruce up the look with necklace and earrings. As with all the other badge scanners and tchotchke meisters, I wear my smile. While I have not worked in the high tech industry myself, it turns out that each day on the floor I shake hands with old friends who are most surprised to see me there. They pop by the booth to say hello to my husband, and do a double take when they see me first. One friend even snapped a picture of me and my husband together in the booth to share with his wife, who is in the high tech business. “You’re never going to believe this…!” he texted. Naturally, I scan their badges. I also know that I do not mispronounce technical words, however, I leave the talking to the experts. I’m there to scan, thank you very much, and am happy and honored to lend a hand. And most importantly, I have turned the pejorative title of “booth babe” upside down, and love it.

Kathy Galgano

March 5, 2014

Homeward Bound – Thanksgiving Part I

The tradition started years ago, when we were out of college and making our way in the world. On that special Thursday in late November, with so many of us 3,000 miles away from family and home, it was the one holiday that proved a bit tough. Yet we had established a network of friends – our new family of friends — and one among us was a chef.

We spent many a Sunday afternoon at the chef turned engineer’s home, first in Silicon Valley and later in the nearby Santa Cruz mountains. Always on the menu was a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit which we played in teams, and some California wine, cheeses, crackers and bread, and fruit. Wine was a new foray for many of us and it was sitting around the board game table or stretching in front of the fire with the cat on cool, rainy winter afternoons listening to music that we began to appreciate the nuances of the varietals and blends. White zinfandel was a favored choice at first; the sweet, crisp taste was perfect for wine tasting neophytes, but in time, we uncorked bottles that were less sweet and more complex. Buttery chardonnays were in vogue and that became a favorite.

Sometimes we took a little hike, not always successfully avoiding the poison oak on the hillside, or visited one or two of the many wineries tucked in the steep hills of the local coastal redwoods. Or we could complete the drive in the Santa Cruz mountains “over the hill” and check out the sea lions in the pilings of the wharf in Santa Cruz. The sea lions barked that loud, deep, raspy call of theirs, and we playfully called back to them. Mostly, though, we enjoyed the company of good friends, and spent Sunday afternoons just relaxing together.

There was never any question as to where everybody would go for Thanksgiving. We all showed up at the chef turned engineer’s house on Wednesday evening after work and the process would begin. As more friends arrived, we would spread out from the kitchen into the dining room and even head to the coffee table in the living room, setting up shop, mincing onions and celery and parsley, slicing and cubing bread for stuffing, dicing carrots and preparing turnips and butternut squashes, and peeling potatoes, stroking downwards, so that the peels would drop directly into the brown paper bag placed under our hands. We would sip wines we brought to share, and work and talk and listen to albums while our host and hostess prepared a pasta feast for the crew. When word from the kitchen came, we’d clear the dining room table and enjoy a wonderful spaghetti dinner with homemade rolls and salad. After dinner, we’d wash up and put the final touches on our peeling, slicing and dicing, and lastly prepare the pumpkin pies. It might be close to midnight when we pulled the pies from the oven, but dinner prep was in great shape.

Early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, as we walked through the front door, the aromas from the kitchen welcomed us. The scent of turkey and stuffing and vegetables and rolls brought each of us back home for a moment. There were smiles and waves and hugs as we made our way in and tossed our jackets in the bedroom and uncorked our wines, donned aprons and rolled up our sleeves to get to work. Many of us had already telephoned home and spoken to our families who were dining or preparing to dine at home three hours ahead of us. We all shared a similar story; family members were always happy to hear that their Silicon Valley “transplants” each had someplace to go for Thanksgiving. We understood. While it would have been nice to share the holiday with our families, there was something very special about embracing our own tradition.

Back then, we called ourselves “homeless.” That phrase hadn’t been coined yet to mean what it means today. Sometime during dinner our host would play “Homeward Bound,” by Simon and Garfunkel. While a bit melancholy, it was a fitting acknowledgment of our families back East. That mood didn’t last, however, as we enjoyed seconds of this amazing meal, and another glass of wine and great conversation with dear friends. Dinner was never hurried, and we laughed a lot. After a long while, we would gather up the plates and carry everything back to the kitchen. Somebody would make coffee and our hostess poured heavy cream into a stainless steel bowl. We’d unveil the desserts we had brought and the pumpkin pies we had baked just hours earlier, and again sat down at the long table. As we stirred cream and sugar into our cups, our hostess clasped a whisk and expertly turned the cream in the bowl. After a spurt of high-powered whisking, she turned, smiling broadly to the guest sitting next to her and hung her apron around his neck announcing it was his turn. As the bowl and whisk and apron made its way around the table, we cheered as each person worked a little whisking magic, and we each posed for the camera with that frilly apron wrapped around our necks. When the stainless bowl returned to our hostess, it was filled with perfectly whipped cream. Then, people sitting nearest to the pies and cakes began to cut slices, and we passed dessert plates around, filling each one with the tastes of the season, apple and sweet potato and pumpkin pies, and always something chocolate, with our hostess adding a heaping dollop of fresh cream onto each plate. It was fabulous.

One day, however, our dear friend, our host, told us that his job was taking him to Europe.  This was a great career move and of course, we were very happy for him, and offered our heartiest congratulations. Still, how could we not be saddened?  We were a tight group and our friendship was strong, so we knew that staying in touch would not be a problem, but this nearly weekly tradition was coming to an end. And then there was that big unanswered question hanging in the air … What about Thanksgiving?

End of Part One