Respect Your Domestic Help

In Colombia, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, if you were middle-class, you probably had live-in domestic help, and you probably called her La Muchacha. She might be an adult. She might be a kid. She definitely came from the countryside.

The topic came up at lunch a month or so ago. My mom remembered the Muchacha from her household, a young girl the same age as my mom was at the time. But unlike my mom, the Muchacha did not get to spend time with her mother and family and did not go to school. She was invisible to Bogotá society. She did not rate.

Today things are a bit different in Colombia. But everywhere, including the U.S., a similar problem persists, where disadvantaged people perform domestic work within an informal economy for less than minimum wage, and the like.

If you want to do right by the people who do paid work in your home, treat them with respect. Meaning, treat them the way any kind, fair boss would treat an employee. I suggest the following:

Provide expectations. Tell her how you want the floor cleaned. Tell him how you want the grass cut.

Provide clarity. Tell her that you plan to stay with her for at least six months at two visits per month, for example. Mean it.

Pay people reliably and on time. Duh. 

Pay people at least minimum wage. Come on. 

Talk about how to handle reschedulings and cancelations. They will happen.

Offer a “Thank You” gift at Christmas time. This is a nice thing to do.

Respect is not about going above and beyond. Respect is about treating people the way anyone deserves to be treated.

Just because you can’t measure it, doesn’t mean it’s not important

John Boyd said that. But they say the opposite in science fields. They say, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. 

Of course, we know this isn’t true. Still, people get in a lot of trouble this way because a heuristic unfolds. It goes something like this: if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter, and if it doesn’t matter, it can be ignored. 

If you can’t measure it —> Ignore it

Feelings, emotions, ideas, and other abstractions are hard to measure. Activities, dollars, and things are easy. Don’t ignore the abstract, the hard to quantify and measure. Pay attention to it. It might be important. This short piece in The Atlantic says it best.

Try New Things As A Family

It’s easy to sit and do nothing with the family this holiday. Making memories takes effort. You are busy. You have a long to-do list. Most people only have Thursday and Friday off. I’m not being pejorative, either. These things are all true. And sure, there is the Thanksgiving event, and that is a thing, but what about the rest of the days when everyone is home?

Trying new things doesn’t have to be epic. It doesn’t even have to cost money (well, maybe a little). All you need is something out of the ordinary to create a memory. Here are some ideas: 

1. Ride bikes or walk to the nearest grocery store only to purchase a four-pack of Dove ice-cream bars. Eat them immediately. 

2. Go to Target or Walmart and purchase Monopoly Deal. Play it. 

3. Go for a walk in inclement weather. Dress appropriately. 

4. Get vanilla cones from McDonalds. Since most fast-food dining is closed, eat them sitting on the curb. 

5.  Create a media event, with popcorn and candy, and watch the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (or maybe just Infinity War and Endgame). 

You can come up with a dozen other things. Better things. Easy things. Don’t play on your phone all break. Don’t let your kids languish on the iPad the entire time. A lot of iPad or Xbox time is fine and realistic. Set aside an hour or two for something different. 

My #NaNoWriMo

Woman sweeping, with cat. 2020 (photocredit: Steve)

It’s well past the kids’ bedtime at this point, and I’m parked at the kitchen counter waiting for P to do her math homework. Soccer days are usually like this when we arrive home late, thanks to our regular ritual of stopping for vanilla cones at McDonald’s. Still, I have been happy with our soccer league. Very happy. This evening the league did a special team recognition and Pink presentation in honor of breast cancer awareness month. At the start of the presentation, the marketing director, a fit-looking mom wearing a pony-tail, shared with the league the story of her dear sister’s breast cancer diagnosis, fight, and succumbing to cancer a few years later. Since then, the marketing director has made it her life’s mission to honor her sister by raising awareness about breast cancer. The soccer league’s founder has supported her mission with corporate sponsors, pink training jerseys for every kid, and this evening’s presentation. I admit it was moving—breast cancer awareness, complete.

I am somehow just learning about National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which is according to Wikipedia an annual Internet-based creative writing project when writers attempt to complete a 50,000-word manuscript between November 1 and November 30. It’s fortunate for me that I happened upon this information a week or so ago, when I participated in the annual Gotham Writers Conferenece. See, they had a writing competition, and although my manuscript did not win, I was offered free participation in their Zoom conference, which was a good primer for me to get back into writing now that my kids are back in brick and mortar school.

One resource that I have found incredibly helpful has been Abbie Emmons’ YouTube channel. Though there are a gazillion writer channels and blogs on the web, Abbie has managed to compile well produced, well organized, and handy video logs that are easy to digest and cut to the core of my writerly problems. So, with a manuscript that needs a total overhaul, at 50,000 words and 21 workdays in November, that’s 2,380 words a day. I think I can do it. If I can prove that I can re-write this sucker in a month, I would dig that.

My Thoughts on Netflix Movie, “Hostiles”

I haven’t watched many movies lately. I’m still happily slogging away through the Breaking Bad Universe (I’m on Season 2 of Better Call Saul) and pretty content about it. There’s a theory floating around that people are more interested in long-form narratives than stand-alone movies these days, hence the popularity of Game of Thrones, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the like. Recently I watched The Greatest Showman and came away disappointed because I thought it felt rushed. Perhaps it’s also my expectation that stories are better when writers build characters and narratives throughout several movies or seasons. Maybe movies just won’t cut it for me anymore? Google tells me the Marvel Cinematic Universe run time is 23 hours and 48 minutes. With that kind of mileage, how can I possibly care about P.T. Barnum like I did Tony Stark?

But Hostiles blew me away. The creators made the most of their two hours and 13 minutes to make me care about the story and the characters in a well-trodden genre (Western), and in a way that I hadn’t seen before. In short, Hostiles is a story about traumatized people and how some people overcome their trauma, and others don’t. It’s a tough theme, but the writers do it with subtlety, even tenderness, despite its superbly tragic scenes (like the one in the opening).

Here is the Netflix synopsis: After a long career battling the Cheyenne, a U.S. Army captain is ordered to safely escort the tribe’s most influential chief to his Montana homeland. The movie starts with a tormented Christian Bale playing captain Joseph Blocker who, after years of violent fighting, hates the Cheyenne. Yet throughout his duty escorting the tribe’s leader and his family he finds humanity with his former enemy, and is ultimately willing to give his life for the tribe leader and his family. I want to point out a two scenes where I think the writers were especially novel in telling this story.

Early in the movie, there’s the obligatory scene in which Captain Blocker is brought before his commanding officer to receive his orders. It smacks as familiar, almost cliche, when Captain Blocker begins his diatribe against the Cheyenne leader and why he refuses to take the order, that is until his commanding officer interrupts Captain Blocker. “I don’t give a damn how you feel personally,” he says to Blocker. The commanding officer (and the writers) short circuit our expectations about how this interaction is going to happen, and rather than convey Captain Blocker’s disdain for the “savage” Cheyenne leader, we learn that Captain Blocker is “no angel” himself when it comes to violence against Native Americans. Captain Blocker has no audience for his reasons and grievances against the Cheyenne leader. He leaves in turmoil, speechlessly contemplates suicide, and returns the following morning to execute his orders.

The next scene that comes to mind is the one between Captain Blocker and one of his men, who is in a hospital bed recovering from a gunshot wound. It’s a quiet scene, just Captain Blocker and his sergeant, and its reminiscent of other familiar scenes featuring an emotional goodbye between soldiers, with the minor character offering his dying words of gratitude or contemplation before passing on. Think Forest Gump and Bubba (a great scene, by the way). But this is not what we get. Henry (the sergeant) is not dying, and has survived the fighting when others on the detail did not. Still, he expresses disappointment in himself for being unable to “finish what we’ve started.” To this, Captain Blocker responds, “you never let me down…you’re always centered. Focused. Without you on my flank, I likely would have met my end a long time ago.” The two exchange words of affection and sob quietly. Captain Blocker leaves saying, “with any luck we’ll meet down the road.” It’s not a scene about dying or saying goodbye forever. Instead it’s a scene about loyalty, and parting ways. It’s a scene about recognizing that being part of a unit is special, and they each mourn the loss of their dissolved partnership.

Other narrative decisions make Hostiles refreshing and moving, which you’ll have to see for yourself. While the outcome is mostly tragic for many of the characters, Captain Blocker’s end feels so satisfying, so redemptive, that it seems to make up for all the pain and bloodshed along the way. At the VERY end, the writers make Captain Blocker whole when he chooses joy over pain. We don’t know what happens next, but it doesn’t matter. Two hours and 13 minutes are all the writers needed to show us that Captain Blocker is going to make it, and going to be okay.