Dangerous Opportunity-the housing crisis

19 Apr

Yesterday, reading the Sunday New York Times, I was heartened by two stories about New York using hotels to create housing for the many homeless that are camping on city streets, also a problem and sometime solution that I am seeing in my current home city of Portland OR. Even better than just converting hotel rooms into housing for the houseless is that in many cases, the cities exploring this option are creating supported housing. My husband (and previous colleague and co-author) pointed out that this process was “reverse gentrification” and that characterization was, in some ways, spot on.

In my previous life as an academic, prior to reaching the senior status I eventually reached, my former (and now, sadly, deceased ) co-author, colleague and dear friend James D. Wright asked me to work with him on several articles and a book on homelessness (that was the term; houseless is a recent moniker that my spell-check still reacts to). At the time (early 1990s), we were engaged in an academic debate about the causes of rising and changing homelessness. Unlike previous periods of homelessness, when the “skid row bum” dominated the cultural image (an aged, usually drunk, old man) then, what pundits and politicians were raising alarms about was the increasing prevalence of families with young children, that lacked housing, affordable or not. The academic debate was that increasing homelessness was the result of the deinstitutionalization policies that had released those with mental illness from horrible institutions but had failed to ensure that the more supportive community housing options were there for them. While that, indeed, was a horrendous health policy development, my colleague Dr. Wright and I argued that it failed to explain the rise of homelessness among families that was horrifying to so many urban dwellers.

Our research focused on a number of urban trends and policies that had begun and taken firm hold from the Reagan administration onward. We demonstrated through our research of a number of trends, policies and demographic shifts that the primary causes of the “new” homelessness (at least descriptively) were driven by gentrification and the changes to laws, housing codes, funding and urban policies that allowed developers to remove what had long been housing of last resort, Single Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings and replace them with fancy hotels and fern bars. Previous “flophouses” were turned into wining and dining establishments and boutique hotels for the affluent. Interestingly (to me anyway), one of the New York Times articles outlined the history of one such SRO to boutique hotel to, once again, supported temporary (maybe permanent?) housing for the houseless. What my colleague and I argued quite strongly is that the most (but not only) driver of rising homelessness was the decline, if not total obliteration, of low income housing for the most vulnerable urban dwellers (obviously, this post is a simplification of the data and arguments that filled our books and articles and it gets at some of the most important conclusions). We didn’t disagree that many of those living on the street suffered from various mental and drug addiction problems. Rather we argued that these were not the only cause of their current housing troubles and, in fact, often were the result of living on the street. The solution, we argued, took political will and probably considerable investment but there was a solution. The solution we proffered was to recreate low-cost housing that included supportive services that helped people get off of whatever they were addicted too and offered job and employment-gaining skills. That is exactly what we are starting to see!! This policy shift is one reason I thought my husband’s characterization of reverse gentrification was only partially spot-on. If one thing that comes out of this most terrible of years is a return to the availability of such housing, then we have one little scrap of silver lining and a wise and winning urban policy response to an untenable contemporary crisis (of which we have so so many). If fewer people are living in tents on the streets, I’m not sure that is reverse gentrification since it makes our urban spaces livable again—both for the affluent and for those who have fallen onto unspeakably hard times in this most unspeakably difficult period. (I have to add that the rising inequality that has thrown so many people into such desperate straights has been going on far before the hardships of COVID-19, and COVID-19 accelerated the fall of the precariate even further and faster).


7 Mar

Tara Parker-Pope, whose Well column in the NYT is one that I’ve followed with great gratitude this year, recently wrote of the loss of her cat Sunshine and asked us to write about our own experience with loss this year. I could have gone on and on, but below is what I wrote.

First and foremost, I am so sorry for your loss of Sunshine. I think the interspecies bonds we form with our pets (or companion animals or furbabies….) are profound and surprising. To communicate, commune and connect with a different species still strikes me as am amazing and miraculous gift. I have only had one dog and he is long gone (about 16 years ago). I dream of him far more often than I do of either of my parents, both of who have been dead for many years as well. There are particularly times now when my grief and feelings of loss invoke him as well as others who have died.

Your request for our experiences of loss this year have given me another opportunity to write and cry and realize that I am filled with so much grief. One of the problems I think with grief is that once having experienced it, it never goes away, ever and new grief becomes another tributary to that eternal river that flows through our souls, our beings, our selves. My husband and I had recently retired and had just moved past the period of identity readjustment; with retirement came the move cross country to our new home in Portland.

We were involved with, first,  forming friendships and new lives, new identities, everything. We had finally reached a point where we weren’t terrified that we didn’t have enough money to retire to realize that yes, we could retire (both of us have worked all our lives and earned, on our own, everything we had- no gifts, no trusts, no inheritance and fiercely compatible saving norms). We downsized, joined a gym, started traveling- not extravagantly, but comfortably. We took the dream cruise to Alaska, and then went to Viet Nam. We wanted desperately to help out my stepson who, after a divorce, shouldered the greatest part of rearing his two children (now 7 and 11) and so we planned to spend a month in NOLA, helping him, and getting to know our grandchildren. Then the pandemic hit—after frantic efforts to leave New Orleans while we could, we returned to Portland on March 17th. Since then we’ve cancelled a planned trip to China, Morocco and Costa Rico. Our daily gym visits ended;  our nascent friendships stuttered and we have each battled depression over this year. I think part of that is because we had just begun to figure out what our new lives were going to  be and were in this state of astonished glee that we could have the lives that we were starting to have. After a working lifetime of putting work to the forefront of everything…..obviously there are lessons learned (or not), but what I have found, though it is less intense now, is that my grief was inchoate; I was grieving, again, the loss of my amazing father (Gay Activist Marc Rubin); my difficult mother, my protective and fierce dog, my friend and jazz fest buddy who had died of breast cancer, and then other friends who died years ago and this year too. I was grieving the life my husband and I thought we’d have and worked so hard for for so long.  It became a real existential crisis- I felt as I were grieving for a lost me, What’s more, I grieve for my beautiful adopted city of Portland that has been violated by the former administration that used it as a political tool, and by political extremists on the left and the right, by poverty, houselessness, job loss and economic chaos and political ineptitude. Driving around parts of Portland is like driving through the set of Blade Runner; it is post-apocolyptic in so many places. I believe, though, it’s wildly quirky, creative and whimsical heart still beats.

I am so incredibly privileged; this outpouring of grieving and sorrow feels so self-indulgent. Yet it is the truth. I have learned how to make excellent (non-sourdough) artisan breads- we had some gorgeous camping trips this summer—and nothing can give us back this year. Our grandchildren seem so much older and more remote….health scares emerge that keep me up at night….we didn’t have a year to loose. No one does.

That’s what I wrote and after I hit send, besides finding some typos I’d missed, I thought about my stepfather who has Alzheimers with whom I Zoom every Sunday. I forgot to write about how this year has also been about the loss of him and the crazy and impassioned discussions about art and politics that we have shared over the years. Watching him lose himself; watching his partner lose the love of her life….more loss more grief. And I know my litany of sorrow is nothing compared to those who have lost lives and livelihoods…I know that and I know that today my heart just feels squeezed and that writing about it relieves some pressure and ultimately I sit in gratitude for all that I have much more than sitting in the sorrow and grief for all that I’ve lost.

Pandemic Friendships

26 Feb

Well, last time I wrote, so long ago, I was reacting to how retirement had affected a particular friendship and wondering about the future of my pre-retirement friendships. I stopped writing on the blog because in my immediate post-retirement life, I was interested in moving away from the computer, spending my time in front of a screen trying to get words on a page because that too much echoed the working life I was trying to grow away from. Well, as Alanis Morisette sang so long ago, “Isn’t it ironic….” because now so much of life is, indeed reduced to screens and after almost a year of it, I like everyone else I know and many I read about, are weary, weary, weary of communicating through screens. Yet here I am. I have been reluctant to blog because I assume that whatever I say will be mundane and not particularly worth putting out there. I’ve followed some blogs inconsistently and when I do read them, I typically end up feeling some phantom kindred connection to the author. I relish in knowing how normal my feelings are….from black depression, to existential terror, to sublime moments of joy and gratitude. All of it.

So on the topic of friendships–I might have mentioned that when I moved to my current city, my husband was still working at his previous place of employment so I was here on the west coast (after a life in the east), alone (though my sister lives here–but that’s another story and so do some cousins). I was surprisingly (for me) assertive in trying to make friends–while I had long put myself in the category of shy (which no one ever believes), I shoved myself out of my comfort zone and reached out to anyone I met (in a yoga class, at the farmers market, etc. ) who seemed roughly my age and with whom I had some sort of interaction that I enjoyed. I was (for me) remarkably successful and did, indeed, develop some nascent friendships such that by the time my husband joined me, we had the beginnings of a social life.

As adults, it’s hard to make friends if one does not join some sort of religious organization (church, synagogue, coven, whatever) and since I am not one to join such organizations, that avenue was closed. Since I don’t have children and am well past the children- as -friendship- makers demographic, that wasn’t happening either. It simply takes more work in a new town at my age (and with my disposition) to make friends. But I did. And those relationships started really taking root. And then…..Covid 19, lockdown, existential crises, grief, the emotional shock, I could go on and on and then I’d divert from the point.

I did what probably many people did–I called, texted, emailed new friends and old, former students (I’m a retired academic) and new family (what little I have). I reached out and out and out. And at first everyone responded, people were doing similar things. What’s been so interesting to me through this process has been the way some relationships that were fairly new, deepened very quickly; other relationships that I thought had “legs” evaporated. My emotional bandwidth over the 9year has ebbed and flowed but mostly ebbed until recently (I find myself much calmer now that the political world has started to resemble governance as it once was).

One of the things that I realized after awhile is that I no longer had any interest in the performative aspects of some friendships. Whatever remnants of trying to live up to what I thought other people’s expectations of me diminished. I was often too raw, grieving, scared to dissemble, to “try.” I had reached a stage of only able to “be.” And it has been so interesting, surprising and sometimes really gratifying to see which friendships became much closer and which diminished over this year. I have learned more about being authentic and am so much better able to let be what is. As I have de-cluttered my closet as well as almost every space in my house, I have de-cluttered my emotional life, my friendships. I don’t have the energy for any relationship that is not nurturing, that lacks reciprocity, that is not worth my time. Some people learn that that lesson much sooner. It took me a pandemic and 65 years. But at least I’ve learned it.

Fading friendships

18 Feb

Another challenge of moving to one’s fantasy location after retirement is not only making new friends (which I’m doing a decent job of) but of retaining old ones. What came to me this morning was the very obvious reason for this. In my pre-retirement life, I didn’t make much time for non-work relationships or, for that matter, non-work anything. I had one good friend who traveled with us, whom I confided in, who truly delighted me with her wry intelligence, music, and wisdom. BUT, what is quite clear to me is that she isn’t truly part of my life now. I’ve tried, and when political moments become too horrific, we do exchange flurries of anguished/angry texts BUT….we are not really there for each other in any meaningful way. Though we’ve never talked about it, I think the reason is obvious. She can’t relate.

After all, what initially brought us together was a work project that highlighted everything, and I mean everything that drove each of us crazy about where we worked and who we worked for. We were thrown together, with little guidance and even less thought and we worked long evening hours (after we’d spent a full day at our jobs), doing our best to get it right. In the process we discovered each other and a friendship grew out of that experience. The reality is that one of the greatest tie that bound was our work and our frustrations with the organization for which we worked. Both of us loved our work, and both of us commiserated with how some of the people for whom and with which we worked, and the context undermined the work.

But now? after my year plus of separation, grief (over lost identity etc.), I’ve come out the other side, love my life, love where I’m living, am happier, healthier and calmer than I’ve been, maybe ever and I just don’t think she can relate and, for all I know is justifiably jealous. I hope I’m wrong.

Asynchronous Communication

16 Feb

I haven’t written since my first few posts because I realized that to do blogging “right” would require far too much time in front of my computer and that is just the opposite of how I wanted to spend my time since when I was employed, that’s where I spend an inordinate amount of time. So I stopped and instead have spent months exploring my new home in Portland, developing new friendships, walking, hiking doing yoga, volunteering, joining a bookclub (a great way to make new friends), and now that my husband is here too, planning and taking some really epic trips (one to Yellowstone this past fall—BIG Bucket list check off) and planning for an Alaskan cruise (other BIG BIG BUCKET list this spring). In between there is lots of fuming about politics and my fears for our democracy (but that’s perhaps another post—as my sister says (when she was talking to me, yet another post), writing about either of those would totally harsh my mellow.

One reason we’ve been really grabbing this retirement experience with such energy and verve is that we have a complete sense that every single day is a gift. As some of you know all too well, it can all go up in a flash of grief, pain, loss in a moment. So we keep saying to one another, “let’s do this while we can…”

So, what has this go to do with the title of this post? Well, one of the really big things I’ve been doing in my new home, my new stage of life, is eschewing asynchronous communication as much as possible. Though I loathe talking on the phone and am (or was?) shy/insecure (human?), I have become much bolder interpersonally.  Again, I feel somewhat driven by my sense of life being short and knowing  the importance of friendship, community and support and knowing that in a new city, I need to get to work to create those relationships and there is simply no better way to do that than face-to-face. I realize that for me it takes courage and energy to look someone in the eyes and tell them almost anything emotionally honest. It’s easier to write it (I like to write, I’m writing this blog because I miss writing and it’s just a journal that I’m throwing out there for a variety of murky reasons). To look someone in the eyes and tell them you are really enjoying your budding friendship or that you’ve learned something or that you’d like to do something (even if it’s just go to coffee) risks seeing something in their eyes that you didn’t want to see. My career (academic) allowed and required considerable risk; submitting things for publication, waiting for anonymous reviewers to praise or more typically reject one’s ideas and expression of them posed risked to the ego for sure but I realize how different that is from the emotional risks I take these days. So, so, I realize that for me, one of the exciting challenges of retirement has been to embrace the risk of synchronous, read, face-to-face or even telephone conversations with all sorts of people. So far, so good….though certainly a few fails.


Retirement/Survivor Guilt

15 Nov

So today in yoga, when I was supposed to be focusing on my breath and settling into my final resting pose (Savasana), I found myself instead thinking about how much I appreciated that class and then feeling guilty for having the opportunity to take such good care of my body. Since moving and settling into my house, I’ve turned attention to what is called “self care:” yoga, meditation and working out at the gym. I’m getting in good shape and feeling..,,guilty. The guilt (that I truly believe is a terribly unproductive emotion) has several levels or foci. For one, I keep thinking/feeling that I “ought” to be doing something other than indulging myself. Two (and this reaction is the bigger one), I feel like I’m ommmming while the world is falling apart. I can scarcely stand to read the paper or hear the news. I’m terrified of what feels like an impending apocalypse- political, environmental, social. I am scared of what current policy debates will mean for my retirement and my husband’s healthcare (he has a “pre-existing condition”); I feel like I should be using what skills and talents I have to push back, to fight, to take on the challenges that so horrify me. I should be “doing” something.  And since I live in a progressive bubble that is over-saturated with educated, concerned, active, smart and typically progressive people, finding ones volunteer/activist niche is challenging. While I’m glad I’m not speaking to an inherently hostile, dismissive or indifferent audience (something I’ve done much of over my career), speaking to the choir is also unsatisfying. That is probably another post.

The guilt though is that I don’t at the moment anyway, do much of anything about the many concerns. I stay informed, I sign petitions (I have less money to donate than I used to) and I am, little by little, exploring ways I can contribute to my new home, my local community (that is facing the challenges of rapid growth and subsequent growing inequality).  My other reaction, though, is that I’m tired…I’ve worked hard and given to others (people and organizations) often at my own psychic, monetary, emotional expense. I am not feeling sorry for myself, playing the martyr or anything–I’m just expressing some of the conflict associated with my recent retirement. It’s hard, after over 30 years, of being other-directed to say that it’s okay to focus on my own health even though I know that we can’t give to others (love, energy, anything) that we aren’t able to give to ourselves. Maybe in writing this out I’ve allowed my next Savasana to be a little quieter.

Time for a shower.


Collecting people

13 Nov

So I am pretty sure that one of the big challenges for recently retired folks is creating a new network of people. Particularly challenging if one has taken the leap and (with husband) moved to a new location–in my case it was cross-country to live someplace I’ve been wanting to live for about 20 years. Great to move out here–it’s every bit as wonderful as I expected/hoped/wanted it to be. Certainly one of the things I’ve found is that one of my great fears was unfounded. Having spent my entire adult (and really all of my life) in the halls of academe (well, as a kid it was just being a student), and loving being surrounded by smart, thoughtful, well-educated, engaged people, I really did not see myself thriving outside of that environment (it’s that “runs-with-words” things in part). The city to which I’ve moved seems, however, to have a surplus, a plethora of smart, engaged educated people and I’m starting to find them through the time-honored tradition of volunteering. So much gets done here because highly educated retirees have gravitated to this city and want to contribute to what they fell in love about it. So now I’m realizing the challenge is to find the right places to volunteer and then I’m likely to engage in activities that excite and stimulate me and meet people who I want to have a second conversation with (actually, I want to have a second conversation with almost everyone I meet).

One of the things that is also becoming clear to me is that this challenge is more poignant or complicated, perhaps, for women who had climbed, struggled, worked hard to climb a professional/managerial ladder. I’ve started to meet a few of us- district managers, other full-professors, women who stepped away from a career after achieving so much that many women aren’t able to. So one conversation I want to have is why? Another thing I’m realizing is that we often have to avoid the sinkhole of traditional and highly gendered ideas about appropriate behaviors for senior women (outside of work and the academy). I’m finding a number of my peers have stepped outside of their previous biographies to adopt exactly the mantle they had to put down- they are becoming full-time caregivers to aging or sick relatives or as grandmothers (I’m just writing about other women now). By choice or obligation, they are filling their lives with what women have always been expected to fill their lives with–care-giving. So for those women, its easier now and they are not (as far as I can tell) struggling with “what to do and who to do it with.” Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful marriage and part of retirement is us getting to spend time we didn’t but one person cannot (I don’t think), be and do everything. There is much more to say about this issue. I’ll come back to it later.  The thing I think I’m writing about is two-fold; finding/building new relationships post-retirement and particularly doing that as a woman.  So I’m trying to collect other women whose primary activity is not care-giving and who are also exploring this new stage of life. I’ve met two so far (I’ve met a few more but I’m talking about meeting to the extent that you actually exchange contact information-a commitment to having another conversation). I’ve gone for coffee, movies and a museum. It’s fun and scary for someone who is, in many ways pretty shy. I’m learning to put myself out there and I’m discovering in the process that that is one of the things that my struggle and efforts to be successful professionally taught me. Its actually a skill I’ve honed (but just in another context). It is a great pleasure to enter into an interaction for relational rather than transactional  reasons. To simply engage because another person is interesting and I’d like to get to know them better for the possibility of pleasure in their company. That’s not really something I’ve had enough time for in the past 30 years.  Hmmm.

Shocking revelations

9 Nov

So each day is another day of shock and awe. Or not. The political nightmare (but today there was some real hope); the ongoing revelations that another priest/actor/politician/famouspowerfulmaster-of-the-universe got caught with his pants down. Hah! Every woman my age who has struggled to make it in any sphere where men hold position, power—-status—has  a story. I’m certain of it. If I told my stories, so many many men would be revealed but at the time, it was so damned normative. We didn’t have words like “sexual harassment; ” we didn’t have any of that language. Just like when we started talking about “date rape,” (we being ‘the culture’ [those are air quotes]) and I started redefining moments (in which I was certainly, by some definitions complicit) of horrible interaction as ‘date rape.’ Oh hell, no one is reading this, I can just call it rape–because that’s what it was. I can’t even begin to write about these issues –I’ll become even more parenthetical, elliptical, clause-ridden and confused (and certainly hard to follow) than I already am.  In any case, there is so much to write about and it’s not clear why I am writing. For one thing, because I have these excess words…. spilling out. So here on my invisible blog, I can spit into the digital wind and throw out some unread/unheard/unnecessary words and get a few of them out of my system. Except, what I realized after the first post is that it isn’t going to work. That was my problem as a professional. I want to talk- teach-but TALK about “it,” whatever “it” is at the time. I couldn’t even figure out what I wanted to write unless I talked about it first.  I loved my classes because they were an opportunity to talk through ideas/issues/problems/ whatever with a bunch of people, sometimes some of whom actually engaged in a conversation. Bringing data, theories, ideas and energy to bear on whatever it was at the time. Writing by myself was never as satisfying and the academy was not, for me, enough conversation (probably because I was too timid, not prolific enough, maybe not good enough for people to engage). Often when they did it was either to smash or I didn’t realize they were engaging but I’m really not interested in looking back….I’ve processed the shit out of my past, my career, myself. That’s not interesting to me or to anyone. I’m just trying to figure out how to move forward.  When I was leaving NSF and talking to another PO who had retired from the academy, she said (and oh do I wish I’d spent more time talking with her….) that the thing I would find most liberating is not doing things because I was going to be evaluated. She pointed out (correctly) that I’d spent all of my adult life knowing that everything (well, not really everything) would be evaluated and that now, my life would be absent that external judge. She was right and it is liberating and it is unmooring, untethering, odd. I don’t miss the judge and for so many years I convinced myself that I didn’t need a judge to do what I did.

I am collecting (slowly, carefully), women like me–who worked so hard in overscheduled lives that they struggled to achieve, to create who are now untethered. I am starting to find and talk to these women.  I’m not interested in talking about the terrible compromises or assaults of their past–they way they react to the daily tales of harassment and abuse that  were the norm. I’m really interested in their current unfolding. I’m not diminishing how terrible, criminal, unacceptable it was or is. I just don’t want to dwell on it. I’m glad, finally, that there may indeed be an upending of the frightening fitting of our red capes and white bonnetsthat the harasser-in-chief unleashed ;that instead resistance is not futile…I’m not diminishing the importance and enormity of that. I just don’t want to focus on that (because i can’t stop talking/writing about that particular elephant in the room can I?).

Good night.


25 Oct

No cultural appropriation meant; Rubinrunswithwords is what a former, and much missed, graduate student used to call me. It was both a complement (she was not as facile or free with language and envied my ability with such) but also a gentle tease for what might already be obvious reasons and is the motivation for this post.  I am a recently retired academic; that means all sorts of things that I will probably continue to write about. The thing I wanted to write about now was the insight that came out of a difficult conversation between my husband and I last night. We were talking about some of the communication difficulties we’ve been having  and in the context of that conversation came his observation, to put it bluntly, that I often “go on and on, way after I’ve made, or he’s gotten my point.” Okay, that stung and my first thought was “Oh sh**, I really did turn into my mother;” the second was to think about how often, recently, I’ve realized or received feedback, to that effect. Now, I’ve always been a talker, but it’s only recently that my volubility has been obviously problematic. Then as I was beginning to think it, my husband made the observation that since retiring, I’ve lost all of my legitimate outlets for my words! At that moment (and now even writing), I realized how true and sad it makes me. I’ve lost the places I’ve put my words for over 30 years! I’m no longer in a classroom, no longer (often) advising the many students with whom I spent hours a week, no longer writing for journals (often, though I could, but that sort of writing has lost it’s appeal), no longer going to professional conferences and preparing talks (maybe I should rethink that? but I doubt it). As a result, all of these words about so many things have been swirling around inside with no obvious or reasonable place to put them. When given an opportunity to speak….I overdo it. That’s just pitiful.

Before I retired, people would ask me what I was going to do and I told them a variety of things that included “paint,” “yoga,” ‘travel,” and other late-middle-aged, childless former professional woman cliches. I say cliche because I’ve met so many women like that in my new wonderful hometown (I’ll write, or not, about picking up and moving cross-country at another time). The other answer I had was that I didn’t know, I’d figure it out, I’d let it emerge, something that had never been an option as I’d followed my career with reasonable focus and lots of work. I wasn’t one to let things “emerge” and felt excited by the openness this next stage of my life promised me. One person suggested that I should write my life story; not because it was necessarily interesting (though I think all life stories are) but because of what I’d learn from doing that. I started and wrote a paragraph but never returned to it.  After last night’s discussion though, I realize that what I need to do is find a place for my words. Maybe this is it? I don’t know. Quite frankly, I don’t even know where these words will go when I hit the “publish” key. Out into the electronic ether I suppose. In so many ways, my words have always been thrown out there, I’ve never really known when, where, if they landed. As did one of my advisors from graduate school, I’d check citations to see if I was there (not often enough, rarely in fact), so those words didn’t land often or well. I’d focus on my students and see some of my words had landed. The sweetest discoveries came from long ago students who would write or in some way reach out, many many years later and let me know that I had, in fact, planted some seeds, all with my words, that flowered wonderfully (and sometimes so ironically that it made me think that I might have an alternative self in another universe with whom I’d been mistaken).  So these words were bubbling around in my head this morning and I decided to commit them to electronic paper and see if they would help me figure it out.