". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

For Christmas I got my husband Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance. He read it in a matter of days and loved it. I finally read it myself. The term "hillbilly" calls to mind a poor, uneducated person living in the hills or mountains, particularly the Appalachians. It is often used pejoratively. But Vance uses the term not as an insult, but matter-of-fact-ly. Hillbillies are his people, and he describes them with both love and brutal honesty. Hillbillies are my people, too, and my husband's. I see so much in this book that I know because I have experienced it. I am not from Appalachia, and my upbringing was not as violent as Vance's, but like him, I come from country folk of Scots-Irish descent. And there is so much in this book that rings true and reminds me of my childhood. Here are a few of the things that Vance writes about to which I can easily relate:

Not knowing whether a parent is going to be sober or drunk. Scoping out the situation and then getting out of the way if it is the latter.

Lots of domestic disturbances, foul language, and yelling and throwing things. (To this day I have no tolerance for foul language or raised voices.)

Being embarrassed to have friends over.

When asked about your family, not being able to give a simple answer because between the steps and halves, it's complicated.

Being one of the first in your family to get a college degree.

Not applying to private colleges because you figure you can't afford it and you don't realize that private schools give lots of money to candidates they deem worthy. So you go into debt for the public institution when you might actually have fared better with the private one.

Having difficulties handling conflict because your history with conflict is so very negative. Early in Vance's relationship with his future wife, she told him, "Whenever something bad happens--even a hint of disagreement--you withdraw completely. It's like you have a shell that you hide in."

Having older siblings and extended family that sometimes provided the normalcy and emotional support that my parents didn't.

Having a high ACE (adverse childhood experience) score. I was not familiar with the concept of adverse childhood experiences as a field of mental health study. If you're interested in learning about it, here's a helpful link. I have an ACE score of 6 (out of 10). My husband also has a high ACE score. Vance writes, in his book, about how difficult it is to break the mold of one's upbringing. If you come from an environment of substance abuse, domestic conflict, broken marriage, unwed pregnancy, etc., you are statistically more likely to continue the pattern than to break it. I am not sure how my husband and I were able to do it. We had so many strikes against us. We still struggle with some of the effects of our upbringing. All I know is that God had mercy on us. I am sure life would have turned out completely different for both of us if the Church had not been a constant presence in our marriage the last 30 years.

Vance writes about the miracle of his being able to break out of the path that so many in his shoes are destined to remain in, crediting a perfect storm of people and circumstances that afforded him the hope and opportunity necessary to chart a different path. He concludes Hillbilly Elegy by considering the ways in which the "system" that is supposed to "help" so often doesn't, but at the same time laying ultimate responsibility at the feet of the individual:

"I believe we hillbillies are the toughest . . . people on this earth. We take an electric saw to the hide of those who insult our mother. We make young men consume cotton underwear to protect a sister's honor. But are we tough enough . . . . to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?"

As much as Vance's book resonated with me, I had so much more going for me than he did. Yes, I had a father with alcoholism and a mother with depression. I grew up in a combined family with a lot of anger and dysfunction. My parents' personal problems led to their not giving their children and step-children the attention they needed. Yet unlike Vance, I did have two parents who stayed married. We weren't rich, but we weren't poor, and I never had any worries about having my physical needs met. In spite of his alcoholism, my dad always held down a job and paid the bills. Another parallel I share with Vance is the experience of being the child who benefits from parents seeming to figure out, later in life, how to be better parents. (In Vance's case it wasn't his parents, but his grandparents, who did so.) Perhaps it was because as the youngest, for the second half of my childhood I was the only one left at home. I got benefits my older siblings didn't. I was the one who was driven to piano lessons. I was the one, after my mom became Catholic, who got taken to church. As the only "ours" of a "his, hers, and ours" family, I was the one who grew up with both my biological parents.

I won't tell you how Hillbilly Elegy ends other than to say it made me cry, tears of both sadness and hope. J. D. Vance (who is only 32) recently announced he is returning to his roots to try to make a difference. God bless him.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why It's Good to Have Older Siblings Visit from College

They remind you it's not all about you. Case in point below.

Scenario 1
13-year-old to his mother:

"Wanna know something crazy?"


Scenario 2
13-year-old to his 21-year-old sister:

"Wanna know something crazy?"

"Do I have to?" 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Really, CNN?

I just read this article from CNN on the unveiling of the Republican Obamacare replacement plan. On first reading, I counted nine--NINE!--errors in usage and mechanics. For fun, I'll reproduce below the sentences that contain errors. Can you find the mistakes? Pull out your red pen and have at it. If you find all of them, maybe you can get a job proofreading for CNN. They obviously need the help!

1. It also largely would keep Obamacare's protections of those with pre-existing conditions, but allows insurers to charge higher premiums to those who let their coverage lapse.

2. "President Trump looks forward to working with both Chambers of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare."

3. The House plan would also retain the so-called Cadillac tax -- which has never gone into affect -- in order to hit the budget targets required under the maneuver used to pass the bill, called budget reconciliation.

4. Still, Republican leaders are committed to moving forward with major tenants of the legislation . . . .

5. The GOP bill also includes a provision to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which is something Republicans has vowed to do for years citing concerns over the use of taxpayer money for abortion services. (This one has two!)

6. Planned Parenthood has warned that cutting off their funding will have major impact on Medicaid recipients, millions of whom obtain health care services in their clinics. (Okay, I guess I'm being a little picky here. But still.)

7. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas and the House Ways and Means chairman, said in a written statement, "our legislation transfers power from Washington back to the American people. . . ." (Again, picky.)

8. Republican leaders have worked aggressively to forge consensus with their members in listening sessions and meetings behind closed doors in recent weeks, but the divides between conservatives and moderates, and those between moderates and lawmakers from states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare are not going away.