My Letter of Consolation

The United States of America is in a bad year. I have found the year so disturbing, I have contracted a stress related illness, shingles, and I find myself forced to undertake this project to console myself and relieve some stress. The project is to examine why I find this year so disturbing and try to find reasons for hope instead of despair.

The old silo.

This old silo still stands.

I already know that all is not bleak, but I have determined to examine the situation carefully to reassure myself and gain a truer picture of 2017 and the years immediately to come. I am making these thoughts public on The Vine Maple Studio because they might console others also.

What is bad about 2017? The president and the Republican party are the center of attention, but they are not the only objects of my despair. The Democratic party gets some of the blame. The dismal state of religion in many venues gets its own blame, the attitudes taught at some business schools, the materialistic orientation of a consumer society, the inattention of technologists to the consequences of their technology, the tawdry side of the internet, and the specter of artificial intelligence are a few factors that I give a share of the infamy.

I will discuss each of these points in more detail later, but, for today, I will try to summarize my feelings.

We are in a time of opportunity and transition, perhaps upheaval, on the verge of an age that will erect a barrier to comprehension that will render the 20th Century nearly incomprehensible to the citizens of the late 21st Century. In 2017, we see the consequences of the worst of the preceding age. An ignorant, intemperate president driven by greed and personal aggrandizement. A society that idealizes material wealth and cheap thrills. We have been descending into lawless plutocracy aided by technology that magnifies the power of ignorant bullies. Good men and women have been blindsided by a world in which they are compelled to stand up for what is right in ways that we have not been pressed for many years, perhaps a century. Maybe we have lost the will to stand up against ignorance and greed, but I intend to prove not.

Why are we ready and able to take a stand? Because ignorance, cowardice, cruelty, and greed sometimes win in the short game, but they have never conquered the long game. Evolution favors the species, the ecosystem, and the good of the many, not the luxury and self-interest of the few. The history of the world, whether seen through a scientific or a religious lens, has progressed steadily toward the greater good of all, not the concentration of wealth and power; no matter how hard the rich and powerful have tried to rewrite the story, greed and ignorance consistently lose out to honesty, integrity, diligence, kindness, and compassion. For the religious among us, the Christian God has always favored kindness over cruelty, generosity over greed, compassion over hatred. I am often struck by the clarity of the Christian message, but I know of no religion that is any different. I construe world history as the decline of arbitrary power and the rise of governance based on equality, justice, and compassion.

Am I an idealist? Of course. But I am also an old man. I’ve gotten my share of chops across the mouth and I have been shoved into the dirt. And I have been a coward when, to my deep shame, I could have been brave. But I stick to my ideals because I have also seen crooks in unassailable positions of power taken to jail and bullies fall into disrepute. No one should call me a success, but I am not a failure either. I’ve made some nasty mistakes and survived them. I am lucky to see many people around me whom I trust and honor.

A tiny ray of hope: I am a stodgy traditionalist on the music of the season of peace and good will on earth. The KING Christmas Channel has been broadcasting over the internet the sounds of kindness, goodwill, and benevolence at a level could never have occurred before the internet.

Enough for today.

Stephen Arnold Waschke

Stephen Waschke.

My cousin Steve died last week. He fought a long hard fight against heart disease and I believe death came to him as a release. Steve was taken care of by his son Jacob and his son’s partner, Shasta. Steve was the son of Arnold and Dorothy Waschke, who both passed some years ago. He left behind his two sisters, Deanne Watt and Dlonra Eitner, his brother David Waschke, his son Jacob and many, many friends and other relatives.

Steve was a skilled welder most of his adult life. He apprenticed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton and served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He built and repaired boats and worked turnarounds at the oil refineries. He could lay down a flawless bead standing on his head, tell a good story, and, having taken lessons from his father, roast a perfect salmon on an open vine maple fire.

A Steve exploit with barbecued salmon.

In later years, when his failing heart forced him to hang up his hood and leathers, he taught welding and other construction skills at Northwest Indian College.

I have many stories to tell about my cousin, most of them from the glorious days when he was the leader of our band of cousins on Waschke Road. Steve seldom got us into outright trouble, but he deftly pressed the limits, from requisitioning fence posts to build a replica of Fort Apache to digging underground chambers where the cows wandered, big and deep enough to be death traps. He led us to jump out of the haymow onto scant piles of loose straw, high enough to break a limb; he egged us on to swing on precarious ropes suspended in the barn.

Last week, those exploits ended, but Steve will lead them forever in our memories.

Libraries and the Homeless

As a trustee of a rural library system, homeless people in libraries is a problem I think about frequently and I can’t say I have anywhere near a complete answer.

Please note that I write here as an individual, not for the board of which I am a member nor for the library itself.

My thoughts go to first principles. Why does a community have public libraries? What good do libraries do the community? How do homeless people fit into the bigger picture of libraries?

The public library as free entertainment

What is the role of the contemporary public library? Free public entertainment? Public libraries certainly do that; the library circulates a lot of fiction, entertaining non-fiction, music, and videos. However, a library also has more serious roles.

Source of useful information

When I wander the library system’s reading rooms, I see most seats taken by students young and old in serious study. Some use the library as a study hall for their high school, college, and other classes. Many use the library’s reference works, which range from books on theology and philosophy to tax manuals and instructions for overhauling farm equipment. I once noticed a person taking notes on pickling cabbage. Yet others are using library computers and network connections. Utilitarian non-fiction is a big part of the library’s circulation. Acquisitions librarians say they can’t order enough cookbooks or books on managing small farms to meet patron’s requests.

Public libraries and education

Well, then, is the purpose of the public library to provide access to useful information? Certainly, but it goes beyond that. Our system has agreements with school districts in our county to provide services directly in the schools. The library system can provide the schools with a wider range of books and other materials than each school district can offer individually. The system’s collection is a public resource that is shared by both schools and the general public. In addition, the system has highly trained and specialized youth and children’s librarians who help teachers with class room projects and offer programs used by home schoolers and private schools.

Community anchors

Often, I hear of public libraries as “community anchors.” Our county’s branches are certainly community gathering places where citizens meet and exchange ideas. Each branch hosts at least one monthly book club. Branches have genealogy, quilting, and writer’s groups. They support the county literacy council in offering individual and group literacy classes and English as a second language classes. They provide archives for artifacts of local history such as old newspapers, letters, and photographs and they help connect people with local history experts and other resources.

The problem of the homeless

Are homeless people a problem? Yes. Our rural system does not struggle as much as urban libraries, but every month yields a handful of incidents that are related to homeless issues. The homeless can be loud, smelly, harassing, and scary. They have been known to use library facilities to view pornography. Staff have found drug paraphernalia. Not just for the homeless, and not an issue yet, but if the opioid crisis continues, I foresee a day when the library starts stocking and training staff to administer Narcan nasal spray. However, to add perspective, I have noticed more gripes from library staff over parents who drop off unsupervised children and treat the library as a free daycare center than I hear about homeless problems.

How we deal with the homeless

The problem is real. A basic tenet of our library policies is that any activity or person interfering with other patrons’ legitimate use of library services will be stopped. That stricture binds in every direction. Homeless persons have as much right to library services as the most affluent contributor to the library foundation. When any person, homeless or not, raises a ruckus— if only by smelling bad, sleeping in a needed chair, or other disruptive conduct— the library staff is trained to take steps, all the way up to calling the police and having the miscreant forcibly ejected and banned from the premises. Their training is to focus on the disruption, not who is disrupting. I have not experienced it, but I believe (and hope) the staff would “trespass” even a library trustee who made trouble in a branch.

As an aside, in keeping with modern library best practices, conversation that does not bother other patrons is not banned. The staff tries to keep teenagers herded together in areas that do not bother the rest of the folks, but non-disruptive talking, warbling, singing, hijinks, and other furfural are all tolerated if not encouraged.

Are these policies enough? No. I repeat, I speak for myself, but the library’s role is to provide services; community anchorage is an important element in those services. Homeless members of the community are still community members and the library anchors them as well as everyone else. By providing promoting useful knowledge and information, the library is contributing to the general prosperity of our county and helping our residents to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. By contributing to the quality of our school system and giving our citizens materials and places for study, the library also contributes to the health of our community. This helps decrease the incidence of homelessness and aids those already homeless in their efforts to surmount their plight. At present, our library doesn’t have any specific programs for homeless, although homeless can and do avail themselves of literacy classes and other self-help programs.

Homelessness probably cannot ever be completely solved. The poor will always be with us, if only because the most prosperous community will always have a least prosperous member. The social service agencies are the vanguard against homelessness, but public libraries can contribute opportunities for every community member to advance in the struggle to thrive and prosper.