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BOOK REVIEW Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive

Reading Stephanie Land’s Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive reminded me of the short time I spent as a maid. I only did it for a short period of time while I was a teen. Even as a kid with boundless energy, I remember it being exhausting. People left the rooms so messy and I often saw disgusting things.

I don’t remember quitting or how the job ended, but I didn’t like it and didn’t want to do it. It never occurred to me then that the people who did this job full-time might hate it as much as I did. Back then I didn’t understand that sometimes people took jobs because they had to. I didn’t understand how life’s circumstances can put us in a place we never wanted to be.

Maid tells the story of these workers who do the job most of cannot imagine. Land cleaned other people’s houses while living in the Pacific Northwest and caring for her daughter. The book gives a face to the often faceless service workers invited into people’s homes to clean for them, and also to the working poor who use assistance programs like food stamps, housing programs, Medicaid, or childcare waivers. Land had been like most, planning to go to college when she became pregnant from an abusive boyfriend.

As a maid and as someone using public assistance programs, Land is treated like a person who doesn’t matter. While cleaning, she is the “invisible human being making lines in the carpet,” noted as just “MAID” or “cleaning service” on the calendar and not by name. At the grocery store others are annoyed with her that she is using food stamps. One man even yells, “You’re welcome!” to her as she walks away as if he has paid for her groceries.

image from www.stepville.com

She refers to the houses she cleans by nicknames such as the Clown House, Porn House, Plant House, Loving House, or Sad House based on their contents and their mood since she rarely sees the people who live in them. As she moves about their houses she imagines the people who lived inside and how they filled their days and nights.

In a way she saw the most intimate side of these people, the one even their family and friends rarely did. She knew if they were sick, what medications they took, where they put their used tissues, and picks up their balled washrags. She begins to see how her clients may not be much better off than she is when she counts up their sleep aids, their pills for depression, anxiety, or pain. She wonders if the stressors of keeping up appearances of a beautiful home wear on them in the same way poverty wears on her.

We see how the system that is designed to help her treats her as if she is an addict and unable to care for herself. In one housing project she is subject to routine checks to make sure she is doing her laundry and dishes. Land is a good cleaner and works as much as she is able too, taking on extra jobs cleaning and doing lawn maintenance she finds on her own outside of her permanent cleaning job but finds herself punished by the system if she makes even a little bit more money. If she makes even $50 more in a month she can lose the assistance she needs, such as childcare vouchers for the daycare where she takes her daughter so she can work.

While cleaning, she is the "invisible human being making lines in the carpet," noted as just "MAID" or "cleaning service" on the calendar and not by name. Click To Tweet

It is the time with her daughter that ultimately is Land’s lifeline. She begins writing an online journal about the small moments of clarity and peace when they are together. From there she begins to see her life as a maid as only the beginning. She learned to clean top to bottom, left to right, and had been treating her life like that too, only focusing on one problem at a time, too afraid to dream. In the end, she is able to fulfill the dream she had before she became pregnant of moving to Montana and getting her degree.

The book is moving and at times I found myself shedding tears both at Land’s experience and her thoughts and interactions with some of the clients she does get to know. At first, she is quiet when others say hurtful things about people who use the types of programs she uses to get by but eventually finds that she can no longer do that.

As a memoir, Maid gives us a glimpse into one woman’s story, that is not only her story. Countless Americans live this life. As such, Land is not content to let others fall between the cracks as she once did. She now works with the Center for Community Change, an organization that works “to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change their communities and public policies for the better. ”

What This Eternal Winter Can Teach You About Persistence

Persistence, perseverance, determination. Whatever you call it, the ability to keep going when you feel like giving up takes real dedication. It can feel an eternal winter, which is what it is starting to feel like here in Wisconsin.

Icy tree branches

This winter hasn’t really been that bad. It’s only been really cold and/or snowy and/or icy for about six weeks. I know because I flew home from the desert in the middle of the first cold snap. Before that winter seemed like it was going to be a breeze.

We could still see the grass and we were wearing our light winter coats. Since then we’ve had so much snow and ice dumped on us, walking the dog through the neighborhood has turned into walking the dog to the end of the driveway.

Picture of snow piling up

It reminds me of a big creative endeavor that seems like so much fun in the beginning. But then it takes twice as long as you thought it would to do half of what you thought you could.

But there is hope. Spring will come. It is coming here in small tiny ways. The birds are chirping. Daylight saving time means that it is light until after dinner. This week it will be 59 degrees. It is raining instead of snowing.

The same is true with projects that take time. Just as you feel like you’re not getting anywhere you’ll start to see hopeful signs. You’ll get a little better at your pursuit. You’ll make new connections. You’ll understand more.

Quotes to Help You When You Need a Little Motivation

If you need some motivation to get you through, know you are not alone. Seek and you’ll find enough quotes on persistence, perseverance, or determination, to procrastinate for a while until you are inspired enough to keep going.

Here are just a few of the quotes I found that might help you keep going when it feels like your project (or winter) will never end. What are some of your favorites?

It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity. – Publius Syrus
Persist Quote F. Scott Fitzgerald
Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over. -F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; You don’t give up. – Anne Lamott
If you really want something, and really work hard, and take advantage of opportunities, and never give up, you will find a way. – Jane Goodall.
Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. – Unknown

Being defeated is often temporary, giving up makes it permanent. – Marilyn vos Savant

You Know What They Say About Assuming Things, Don’t You?

You know the old catchprase: You should never assume, because when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me? I assumed until this morning that it happened on an episode of Laverne and Shirley. But then I realized I was wrong, does that make me an a**?

As you’ll see below, the clip is from The Odd Couple. The woman on the witness stand looks somewhat like Shirley from Lavern and Shirley, so I suppose that’s where I came up with that idea. But never the less, I assumed my memory was right. But I’m no bigger of an a** than anyone else. We’re all guilty of these type of memory assumptions.

Thankfully we have the Internet and I could check the facts, but for other memories we’re out of luck. When your sister recounts a memory one way and you remember it another, say that your family had pet duck instead of a pet goose, it’s her word against yours.

white duck running

Our brain is far from a machine and makes assumptions in how it retrieves information all the time. Sometimes it’s because it’s easier to remember Laverne and Shirley, a show you watched when you were a few years older than when you watched The Odd Couple. Other times it’s because you want to smoothe the memory over a bit. A duck wouldn’t have trapped you in the shed like that.

And sometimes, memories become favorite stories and we aren’t even remembering what happened in the past, but instead recalling the last time we told the story. As we retell the story, the memory fades in favor of the storytelling.

Memoir and Memory

A memoir is a piece of writing that is about the writer’s experience, written through memory. A memoir is different from an autobiography in that a memoir covers just a portion or certain time periods of a person’s life, often around some theme.

Memoirs include true accounts while fiction is meant to be made up. Since a writer’s memory is not perfect, some people wonder how a memoir can be true. For most memories, except those that can be looked up one You Tube, it is impossible to verify every fact.

But when I’m trying to write memoir, I write as if my memories are true because they are emotionally how I remember my life. When I can, I’ll research aspects of what I’m writing about, and I tell the reader when I’m not 100 percent sure. But I believe memoirs are an important genre of writing because they tell us how people filter and experience their lives and what they learned from their past to keep moving forward.

… All we can do is tell the story we know with truth and honesty. Just don't assume you're always right. Click To Tweet
white goose flapping wings

As for the other memories that you and others don’t see eye to eye on, there will never be a way to prove who recalls the experience exactly the way it happened. We are all bound to our own perceptions and assumptions of the world around us. All we can do is tell the story we know with truth and honesty. Just don’t assume you’re always right. Except when that a duck was clearly a goose.

Book Review: All You Can Ever Know

All You Can Ever Know tells the story of Nicole Chung, born to Korean parents and adopted by white parents in suburban Oregon. As she grows up, Chung faces racism and alienation as a transracial adoptee that she hides from her adoptive family.

Book Review Graphic

Her parents see their adoption of her as an act of God and tell it to her in a story that almost becomes myth. But as she grows up, she begins to fantasize about her birth parents as well, longing to meet them. She was adopted as part of closed adoption, and her parents do not want her to reach out to them, fearing the repercussions.

When she finally seeks out her birth parents it is just as Chung is pregnant with her first child. The questions she had about being a mother spurred her to proceed with what she had not been able to in the past.

You can read the rest of this post on Medium in Women Writing Memoir.

There are Two Kinds of People: Madisonians and Everyone Else

East versus West. In Madison that means old versus new. Hippie versus Yuppie. Even Good versus Bad, depending on who you talk to. But does everything have to be an either/or situation?

It reminds of that colloquialism: There are two kinds of people in the world . . People who like X and People who like Y. Or sometimes, People who like X, and everybody else. Or my favorite, People who categorize people into two types of people. And everyone else.

This saying has been attributed to Mark Twain, who is supposed to have said:

“There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded.”

But as with any Mark Twain quote, it’s hard to know the truth. I’ve already written about how many of Twain’s quotes are misattributed. When I tried to find the source of this quote, I also came up empty. And the list of others who have said it since it became a popular colloquialism runs from Indira Gandi:

“There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.”

To Ann Landers:

“At every party there are two kinds of people – those who want to go home and those who don’t. The trouble is, they are usually married to each other. “

But nowhere do I find any quotes about two types of people being East siders or West siders. If anything, the quote might go like this:

There are two types of people in Wisconsin. People from Madison and everyone else.

There are two types of people from Wisconsin. People from Madison and everyone else.

Because outside of Madison, people say to me, “Oh that’s so Madison,” when I describe anything about my city.

Whether it’s east side Williamson (Willy) Street, which is lined with fun restaurants, eclectic buildings, and colorful characters or Monroe Street on the west side, with an array of fun restaurants, quaint buildings, and a more tame, but still colorful university crowd. And in the middle, between the Wisconsin State Capitol and the University of Wisconsin, State Street has its own quirky vibe.

In 1978, Lee Dreyfus, who was running for Governor, called it: “30 square miles surrounded by reality.” In 2015, Mayor Paul Soglin, who was also mayor when Dreyfus made the quote proposed the city adopt the slogan as its motto, updated to: “77 square miles surrounded by reality.” The City Council refused the motto even though the plastic pink flamingo was adopted as the official city bird in 2009 in honor of a prank that filled Bascom Hill with them in 1979.

As an aside, Soglin is now serving his third term, at least until April, when he will run against Satya Rhodes-Conway. The primary was this week and Soglin celebrated his victory at The Laurel Tavern, on Monroe Street. Rhodes-Conway celebrated at the ever-cool Harmony Bar, and east-side institution just up the street from Willy Street. It serves amazing walnut burgers. I can’t speak to the Laurel Tavern. I’ve never been there, but I hear it has a real neighborhood feel. As they say, there are two types of people in this world . . .