Tag Archives: Vermont

In Search of Meaningful

Gary and I went to the Vermont History Expo last Sunday and had the fortune of listening to University of Vermont’s Professor Harvey Amani Whitfield speak about The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont 1777-1810.

The root of the multi-faceted problem is that although Vermont did outlaw slavery in its constitution – the first state to ever do so – a significant amount of slavery persisted for several years thereafter; moreover, the ostensible freedom delivered by such a radical-for-the-times anti-slavery provision was not meaningful for even the Afro-Vermonters who subsequently acquired it.

That is, according to Dr. Whitfield, they did not have meaningful freedom.

One example he gave of this lack of meaningful is illustrated by the aforementioned law prohibiting slavery only for adults. African-American kids, who were thus not protected, were routinely kidnapped and sold into slavery without repercussions. So a free African-American parent would be forced to work closer to home regardless of whether better wages could be obtained elsewhere, just so they could offer defense against such common occurrence.

In some ways, meaningful here seems to cash out as real or true; as in, if a person is given two choices where one of the choices is not a decent option at all, then that person hasn’t been given a real – or true — choice; that person does not have real or true freedom.

So why use the term meaningful?

Good question and one I might ask the professor if I have a chance. Or one that I might find in his eponymous book published by the Vermont Historical Society. But for now I’ll offer my spin on it, which makes the nuanced phrasing meaningful to me:

Because meaningful carries more subjective weight and is what we use when we are evaluating our circumstances.

Real and True both give off a false air of objectivity, as if the existence of such things as personal freedom can be decided externally. The loaded terms seem to invoke chalkboards and checklists; some kind of tests; an unchanging algorithm of indifference. But meaningful is a human quality only observed through the eyes of personal circumstances, either yours or someone else’s.

If asked whether or not a parent with a child at risk of being kidnapped has true choice, true freedom, we might start weighing risks, sorting out different possibilities, and assigning values. However, when we are asked about it in terms of meaningful, our landscape — our point of view — immediately changes to a more sympathetic one. When it does, what might have been options under another view suddenly dissolve into absurdity.

Indeed, so much so, I want to take his nuanced phrasing – the addition of meaningful – and use it elsewhere, like in talks of decent wages, opportunities, and living conditions, where decent far too often becomes like real and true, subject to a false objectivity that smugly mistakes crumbs for nourishment, walls for doors, and cages for castles.

Or in talks of peace incorrectly viewed as absence of war; or in talks of ethics where good intentions bow to bureaucracy; or in talks of fighting poverty while those with the power to do so only add more rungs.

On and on it goes, with the meaning of our precious nouns meaning less and less. We need meaningful Life, meaningful Liberty, and meaningful Pursuit of Happiness.

Forget finding the meaning of life. What we need are more meaningful lives and an America that contributes to their development.

Council Catastrophe

Okay, so I blew it.

I’m trying to get involved in local government. So I applied to be an alternate for the Development Review Board and towards that end attended last night’s council meeting so council members could meet me in person along with the other applicants.

It had already been a long day. I finished my “day job” of checking 17 academic papers, did laundry, and cooked dinner. I showered, shaved, and put on my nicest set of clothes that really aren’t that nice anymore but so it goes.

I sweltered inside the council chambers, feeling overdressed in my jacket but unsure if I wanted to remove it since I was sweating enough to be designated a floodplain.

A couple of agenda items were completed and then the council members had each (there were only three) of us stand up and say a little about ourselves. Then they left the room for an “executive session” and came back five minutes later to announce their pick of the two that were needed.

I of course wasn’t one of the two. If it were otherwise, I might have started this post with “I did it”. But as it stands, “I blew it” pretty much sums it up.

Now, granted, the other two had more government experience than me. However, I think what really hurt me is that I did not present myself very well. I mean the kind of not very well where I wouldn’t have picked me either, as painful as that is to admit.

Not being used to a microphone, I started off not talking into it. And when I finally did talk into it, I talked way too fast, rambled, and didn’t make eye contact. Part of it was nervousness and overcompensating for my natural introverted tendency. Also, my eyes tend to go all elsewhere when I’m gathering my thoughts, which I was trying to do for all the good it did me.

I was a right train wreck that went on for a brief, yet agonizingly long piece of time. After the derailment, Council Member Alan Weiss asked me what I thought the purpose of the Development Review Board was.

Here’s where the ability to gather one’s thoughts would have come in particularly handy. And they did gather, but unfortunately they clumped together like wet leaves in a compost heap. When I spoke, words sputtered out of my mouth with the grace of a cat coughing up a hairball.

I knew the point I wanted to make but… well, so it goes.

I was more than a little crushed. Not just because of not getting selected, but because I know I am better than how I presented myself; that I have a lot more to offer than what my village idiot performance revealed.

I did stay for the entire council meeting and found it wholly interesting despite my intermittent self-loathing interruptions of internal dialogue: stupid, worthless, failure, and the quintessential, all-encompassing never succeed at anything.

I worked hard at conquering those internal demons so I could gain from the meeting and not lose the forest for all my rotted trees.

I enjoyed hearing about the affairs of the city and noted the issues each member brought forth. Mr. Guerlain discussed concerns of his constituents about actual crimes versus what gets reported in the police log in The Times Argus. Mrs. Walsh fielded questions about a proposal to use Solar Panels to provide Montpelier with electricity.

There were many other issues that were discussed, including parking on State street, arts funding, and a proposal under consideration by the Development Review Board to build a new housing complex on a lot in a historic district, which would first require approval for demolishing the existing condemned property.

What I found most interesting, though, was Mr. Weiss, who had asked me the question during my botched presentation attempt. He in fact asked pointed questions throughout the meeting; the kind of questions that reminded me of my scholar husband.

Not in substance, as his concerns were different, but in the phrasing.

For example, one such concern of his started with “In Section 5.5. it says…”  where he went on to point out the possible implications of that ambiguous wording and questioning what exactly it would mean in real world application if they took up the proposal it referenced.

My husband’s well-informed opinions are always grounded in thorough reading and research done well before uttering first words on the matter under discussion. You’re unlikely to slip anything by him. He will tear any loose wording and faulty arguments apart. I reckon it’s the same with Mr. Weiss.

It’s the next day and I’m trying to think of how to go forward after embarrassing myself so completely. My mind is still reeling with the lingering yet ever useless “should have’s” that have been resonating since last night.

But the bottom line is “I didn’t” and I do still want to get involved.

So I need to get over my self-pitying self and move forward. I’m not sure what the best way is to do so, but I at least know the right question to ask, as it’s the only question that really ever matters:

What now?

Becoming a Vermonter

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so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

Okay, so I need to get in the habit of regular blogging. I mean that’s what you are supposed to do, right? No one just works on stories and poems any more. You need to ensure your social platform is regularly infused with new content to stay visible.

Often what happens, though, is my brain is so regularly infused with new content, and the subsequent new new content that comes from that then old new content getting processed a half-dozen different ways, is many things that might at the moment be cool (I think) to blog about end up getting buried instead.

But at this moment — and that’s all we ever really have — I feel like it might be cool to talk a little bit about our new place and new city and maybe even throw in a why or two, even though why questions by their very nature can be dangerous in the hands of the philosophically careless and any purported answers to them should be handled with kid gloves if handled at all.

But such thinking is for later posts — unless that thinking gets buried and stays buried — and at this moment I’m thinking of Gary and me both having places to work in our new place. The picture at the beginning is my particular work area and shows the table where I did my current paying work today of checking papers submitted to Public Library of Science, ensuring metadata is accurate and that the manuscripts are formatted correctly and so on.

And yes, there is an empty box there at the back and also a swath of brown paper on the floor near the front. What can I say? Our cats love boxes, especially from Amazon. As for the brown paper, it is the special kind of packing paper that you sometimes get in those empty boxes when they aren’t empty yet.

Amber, our young female cat, goes nuts over the crinkly, crackly claw-friendly stuff. She plays with it in all sorts of self-entertaining ways. She covers herself with it, dives into it, and hides things under it. She nestles it, shreds it, and in general has a right good time rearranging it like it is all the cat’s meow this side of feline origami.

So we keep it and an empty box or two at the expense of looking a little trashy.

As you probably can guess from that, my space is shared space.

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But there is enough room that it isn’t too bad, as Amber frequently finds other places to be.

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As far as that goes, and it goes pretty far, our oldest cat hangs out in the shared space, too, loving the couch. But he also finds other parts of the apartment to his liking.

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As far as outside our apartment, the best way to describe it is green. Mountains and green with small towns separated by miles and miles of this incredibly beautiful mountainous green. So beautiful I’m thinking at this moment that it maybe should be a post in itself, along with talking about what all is within walking distance of us now that we are living in the smallest capital in the nation.

So I’ll just jump forward to a blog-entry-ending why. Although there are many why‘s, as there always is, one of the most significant why‘s is answered by something we didn’t think we would see in our lifetime.

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With section three of DOMA struck down and the visit to the Justice of the peace that we took soon after moving here, our well over 17 years of marriage is now a marriage that is not only legally recognized by Vermont and 12 other living-in-the-twenty-first-century states, but Federally recognized as well.

The importance of this ruling is huge.

Huge enough that it totally changes the why question. It is no longer just a Why should we move to Vermont? Instead, with Indiana being as legislatively hateful as it was, is, and continues to strive to be, it is Why on earth would we stay?