The Almighty Dollar and the Almighty God

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My salary as a full-time librarian is right around $42k per year.

I am not shy about saying this. Anyone can look at salary information for local library positions, and for other local positions, too. (I don’t know what a Code Compliance Director is, but for $109,755, I’m willing to learn.)

Many people hesitate to discuss salaries. It’s something of a taboo. It’s not very classy—you wind up boasting or whining, depending on who you discuss it with. But when everyone knows everyone else’s paycheck, there can be no secrets. The CEO of a company might not want folks to realize that all his female employees earn less than all his male employees, so he has a good reason to encourage secrecy about salaries. The female employees, however, deserve to know if their earnings are comparable to those of their male counterparts.

I’m very relieved to work within a large structure where pay ranges are predetermined. My race and sex don’t play a factor in my starting salary.

My race and sex played a role in my getting hired, of course, possibly a positive one (“Ah! She looks like the rest of us!”), possibly a negative one (“Crikey, like we need another white female around here.”) No matter how unbiased the interviewer, no matter how much the interviewer tries to ignore it, race and sex do have influence. It’s human nature. We simply cannot ignore things we see. Religious and political beliefs can be hidden, but the way we look, smell, and sound will always be apparent in any given human interaction.

Learning when to actively consider race and sex and when to downplay them—ah, that’s a tricky proposition. Should we consider race and sex when we evaluate the two Democratic presidential nominees? The answer is complicated, but then again, so is life. If it were easy to process and comprehend race and sex, then racism and sexism wouldn’t be so pervasive and complex, now would they.

Where was I? Right—I got hired, and I knew exactly what pay grade I was stepping in to. Low 40s with the expectation of a raise every year (except, well, maybe not in recession years, but let’s not talk about that right now).

This is doable. I have health care, shelter, food, and yoga classes. I have no human dependents, three feline dependents, and a hell of a lot of student debt, but I’m slowly paying it off. I have my head in the sand about retirement savings, I don’t go anywhere on vacations (maybe someday?), and I sincerely doubt that I will ever be able to purchase a house. Because I live a frugal lifestyle, I manage okay. I don’t get compensated nearly what I’m worth in terms of my education or job performance, but that’s because I’m a librarian. The female-intensive professions (librarianship, social work, and education) are terribly underpaid, but I knew that when I applied to library school. I chose this on purpose.

And, while the cost of living in Wilhelmsplatz is certainly on the high side, my $42k goes a lot further than the salaries bestowed on librarians in more rural systems. There are library directors in Vermont who don’t get health benefits. There are library directors in North Carolina who start at $25,000. And if you don’t have a master’s degree in library science? Golly, right here in this state you can find yourself earning about $8 per hour to work as a librarian, doing all the same sorts of work I do, only in much worse conditions.

Compared to that, I can’t complain. I can complain generally about society’s tendency to undervalue library jobs, but I know that my position is far more comfortable than that of many other librarians. Just look at the county south of me for an eye-opening experience. (Hi, Queen of Claremont!)

Still though, I’m not rolling in dough. That’s why I supplement my salary with occasional writing gigs. (Anybody want to pay me to maintain this blog? Please?) Even last year I was still willing to write articles for the professional development and the, uh, sheer joy of scholarly writing, but I believe I’ve had enough of that. I’m to the point where I’d like to get paid for articles I write, please and thank you.

Speaking of getting paid for articles I write, I’m anticipating a check in the mail for the read-alike piece on John Irving I just finished. And speaking of John Irving, I may as well make good on a promise I made a while back, to talk about my response to A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Owen Meany is a modern retelling of the Christ story. It features Irving’s impeccable flair for storytelling, a marvelous mid-twentieth-century New England setting, and absolutely compelling characters. There are heavy themes of religion, spirituality, war, and duty. To call it “thought-provoking” is a serious understatement.

A brief interlude, now, while I summarize my own religious and spiritual beliefs. I was raised in the Lutheran church, but I’ve only attended church a handful of times since I was seven. I still maintain a Christian faith, but I hesitate to announce that without disclaimers. My version of Christianity is not reflected in any of the mainstream Christian churches; I don’t want anyone making incorrect assumptions about my beliefs, so I generally hush up about religion unless I have an audience willing to listen to the whole story.

Want a ferinstance? Mmmkay, here’s one: I’m a pagan Christian. I have a Christ-based faith, but the practices and beliefs of (most) pagan religions resonate with me. I worship nature as a facet of God’s creation. Except sometimes I call him Goddess, depending on my mood. Neither one is entirely accurate, since the divine transcends gender and sex, but I have a limited vocabulary, so it’s the best I can do.

Another example: I don’t take the bible literally. It’s a holy text, good for getting the gist of the Christian religion, but I ignore certain passages and actively dispute others. I do not take the bible as the be-all, end-all key to Christianity. Sorry.

And another: I don’t think that Christ is the only way into heaven. Christianity provides a good religious context for many people. It doesn’t work so well for other folks. Religion is a great channel for spirituality, and I generally don’t care which religion people pick. They don’t even have to pick a religion at all. From my perspective, the important thing is that people develop their spirituality and work toward the divine. (And even if they don’t—even if they’re hardcore atheists—I think there’s a good chance they still get into heaven. Haven’t fully developed my stance on that one yet. Give me time. Though allow me to take this opportunity to complain about atheists who think that us religious folks are stupid, or deluded, or flighty. They really piss me off.)

To me, a good religion is one that focuses on social and ethical responsibility while guiding people toward a higher power. If a particular figurehead—the Christ, the Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster—helps people work toward those goals, so much the better.

D’you begin to see why I haven’t attended church in twenty years? I’m a heretic, I am.

So I’m more or less comfortable with my irregular, probably-unique approach to religion and spirituality. But recently I had an epiphany, one that makes everything so much better.

My epiphany came from Owen Meany.

Remember how I said I didn’t take the bible all that seriously? This is partly because of the unreliability of the text. No one today, I mean no one, knows what the original authors wrote. Everything is a translation of a translati
on of a transcription of (literally) God-alone-knows-what. Read Misquoting Jesus if you don’t believe me.

Translation errors notwithstanding, my other problem with the bible is that it doesn’t really speak to me. Jesus’ parables were all well and good for uneducated fishermen, but I am an educated librarian. Simplistic, easy-to-grasp stories do not ignite my soul.

I’m not just picking on the bible. Fables, philosophical musings, business writings—no matter what the subject, if it’s parsed into bite-size morsels for mass consumption, it’s probably not going to resonate with me. This is why I go absolutely bat-shit when Yoga Instructor Jennifer reads yoga philosophy to us while we’re supposed to be meditating. I go bat-shit internally, of course, so as not to disturb my classmates—but rest assured, while I’m supposed to be seeking enlightenment, I’m more likely to be fantasizing about committing the perfect murder. (I enjoyed this fantasy in class just the other night. Don’t worry, I’m not going to act on it.)

For true inspiration, I need complicated, lengthy, abstract writing. The process of understanding difficult texts makes my brain jump into gear, and then wham! Instant inspiration! That’s why The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite book ever. It’s over one thousand pages of nearly incomprehensible, convoluted Russian writing on philosophy, religion, and morality.

So Owen Meany, like I said, is a Christ story. John Irving’s book illuminated facets of the religion that I never saw while reading the bible. It’s like the gospels, only I understood it better.

My epiphany went like this: I was really liking the title character, except I was dismayed by some of his actions. Owen acted like a real jerk at times.

“That’s not very Christ-like,” I said to Alyosha.

“Sure it is,” he said.

Eh? What? Christ is perfect, right?

“That’s what they told you in Sunday School when you were seven,” he answered smugly.

“But… but…”

“Oh, come on,” said Alyosha. “Remember when Jesus yelled at a fig tree for not bearing fruit, even though it wasn’t in season?” (No, but that’s mighty interesting.) “Or when he turned over the money-lenders’ tables?”

So that set me to reconsidering my image of Jesus. Long story short, I’ve concluded that he wasn’t perfect, after all. Son of God? You betcha. Completely without sin? …Nope, I don’t think so, not anymore. He had a temper. He got frustrated. He was a great person, quite possibly the greatest who has ever lived, but he sometimes acted in ways that weren’t, well, Christ-like. He was human, just like you or me. He had the spirit of God acting in him in a way that the rest of us don’t, but he was still a flesh-and-blood man with all of the crappy emotional proclivities that entails.

And that alone makes me even happier with my religious choice. Following Christ is much easier for me to swallow, now that I can conceive of him as an actual person who had actual choices. His struggles are so much more real to me, this way. I’d rather follow a real person who struggled with his fate than someone who, let’s face it, knew all along everything that would happen and never considered disobeying his God.

Gonna try to get some more work on the book done, now, before an angry mob shows up to burn me at the stake.


5 responses »

  1. eleemosenary archivist

    God or God-ess, for all of "us" Pagan Christophiles is perhaps a matter of the natural phenomenon connected with a particular very localized set of linguistic trditions,eh? Years of sleeping under the stars and watching Lunar/Solar events left an impression that "die", "der" ,"das", "den"; "La or "El" article association,"a","o" or vowel gender determinant endings are indeed a subject yet to be clarified in cultural philological realms not yet explored by herr Prof. Dr,Dr,von Igelfeld. Greco-Latin origins of the Universe propounding heretical outlaws arise!You have nothing to lose but your in-laws and they may speak,ergo,think,in Swaebisch(sorry,no umlaut on keyboard} What was the point here, EA? Oh yeah …nice entry Madame. Didja know that a GS-12 equivalent LN can live on US 637/per monat?Wind and water often hermaphrodidically designated, Moon nearly always fem,El Sol usually masc. Howzzit in Franzosisch?La Lun? xxSoleil out-4-now take this gut out behind the barn somebody. feedin him is not an amortizable proposition. yr. correct,too bout gender compensation..nearly every major archive or library globally visited has M."director,"fem" "secretary" who does lioness share of work..EA/tgb

  2. E. archivist,Let me take this opportunity to confess that your comments here invariably leave me scratching my head. After a bit of struggling I can usually understand, oh, three quarters of what you write, but there’s always a sentence or two or three that I cannot A) decipher and/or B) fit into context. No worries, though. I don’t mind. I prefer this to parables.

  3. eleemosenary archivist

    Shutting down data entry phase of long day. will edit more properly in future. Hate to have ya miss intrinsic inhalt. out.tom

  4. eleemosenary archivist

    Mensch, Jess,forgot to mention James Joycean run-on comments are probably a result of getting up at 03:00 and talking trans-Atlantic for an hour or more prior to checkin yr latest blog entry. Lord knows I too had trouble tryin to figure out what was going on in the free association stream of m’last "comment" Thanks for Grin & bear it response! will try to be more well-edited henceforth. Obfuscation is not m’middle name. with sincere best regards, I remain,yr local friendly craniotomized, Eleemosenary S.african Lady detective story is lovely by the by,out-4-the nonce…EA.

  5. the queen of claremount

    Thanks for mentioning me, although I would much prefer to be mentioned as the winner of the biggest lotto in history so I didn’t have to be a case in point for the big R word that no one wants to say — due, in part, to my employer who just spent my raise on a case study to find out that, yes, we work too way too much for completely inadequate salaries and benefits…


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