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Friday, March 18, 2016

A Weighty Issue

Photo: http://www.uline.com
So, I signed up for a three-month food-prep and weight loss class. If you know anything about me, you know how completely out of character that is. I HATE cooking. I mean, I LOATHE it. And I'm horrible at it too. I've actually set my back lawn on fire and had to put it out with a hose, and I wasn't even cooking outdoors. Long story. I used to make waffles once in awhile when my daughter was little, and everybody called them 'awfuls'. It's no joke guys. And weight loss? Please! Lets talk about how much I DON'T care about weight. And then lets talk about why.

When I was little, I felt like I hated most of what it was to be a girl. I never wanted to be a boy (and I thought they were gross, of course), but girls didn't seem to get to have any fun. If I had to wear a dress, it meant I had to wear tights (uncomfortable), shoes that I had to keep un-scuffed and clean. It also meant that I had to be 'ladylike' (whatever that meant) and 'modest', (another word I didn't really get). Essentially, what it boiled down to was sitting quietly and politely, ie; NO FUN. Fun meant digging in the dirt for worms (to bring in the house), looking for frogs (to bring in the house), looking for grasshoppers (to bring in the house) and taking old electronics apart and trying to put them back together. Okay, I was a weird kid. I was also obsessed with horses, rode whenever I had the opportunity, and pretended to be one when I didn't. I liked to be dirty, and outdoors. I liked to follow my grandfather around his wood shop until I was covered in sawdust. In short, any day that ended with me being filthy enough for my grandmother to say "Go clean up before potatoes start growing on you" was a fabulous day. And didn't involve dresses, being ladylike, or being modest.

Another odd bit for me was that the more uncomfortable I was, the more adults would compliment my appearance. I would be absolutely miserable, and my older relatives would be all " Wow! Look at how PRETTY you are!!". Early childhood lesson: Misery = social approval. Okay, and I get it's not like that for everybody and I fully embrace my weirdness here. I didn't get the impression that my sister or female cousins felt miserable at all about dressing up, so it seems like it was more of a 'me' thing. But there it was.

Unfortunately for me I was an early bloomer (and that list of issues is for another day. Maybe.), and that meant an awareness of all the usual social pressures on women to conform to a certain physical type. I wasn't fat, but I wasn't skinny either. For a young girl (especially one that was extremely uncomfortable in her own, ever-changing skin)"not skinny" was the end of the world. Couple that with growing up in a household where weight and appearance were always a priority and a discussion, and the relentless message was "she could be pretty if she wasn't fat" and boy does that lend itself to a whole bunch of self-loathing and trouble.

I very quickly learned that my body wasn't designed for weight loss. I would lose it for awhile , and then it would just plateau eternally. Eventually I was frustrated enough that I just stopped eating altogether. I started to lose weight again, so in my mind that must have been the right course of action. Because nothing was more important than being thin. EVERYBODY knows that. And it started to show. People started complimenting me on how good I looked, started saying things like "It must feel great to start getting so healthy!"So I kept on keeping on. My skin was grey, I had dark circles under my eyes, and the compliments kept coming. Then I got sick. REALLY sick.  I had mono, but not just for the usual couple of weeks. I had it for MONTHS. And then I had pneumonia. I missed my freshman year of high school. And I still wasn't skinny! My doc at the time knew what was going on and he threatened me with hospitalization. I knew he meant it. He said if my mom wasn't a nurse, I would already be there. It scared me enough to stop the behavior, but didn't do anything at all about the psychological impact. I thought making myself throw up would be safer. My doc saw the burst blood-vessels in my eyes and threatened me again. He also mentioned scary things like detached retinas, heart failure and blindness. So I gave up. I mean, completely.

I thought things like "I'll never be good enough" and "There's something wrong with me" (and it was JUST me. My sister was thin. Of course she was.) I drank a lot, but I never really liked it. And then I discovered cocaine and what a miraculous weight-loss aid that was. I never really talked about what I was feeling, because what was the point? Wasn't that just another failure? Another weakness? I felt like my inability to be like other young women or to care about the things they cared about made me bad and wrong somehow. I went to hair school, learned to do hair and makeup, and started to really focus on how I dressed. It was always on the wild side and I liked to wear leather (still do), so I felt like maybe I had just found my own unique way of caring about the 'right' things. I would just be a person who cares about such things, and it would be okay. The substance abuse was just for fun. Of course it was. Until it wasn't. I kicked it, but the weight was there, right where I left it. And I hadn't reached "skinny" anyway.

Eventually I got pregnant, and it was right around that time that I started to think: What if I have a girl? How will I teach her about 'all that' when I don't really have a grip on it myself? I thought about it a lot. I would look in the mirror when I was getting ready for work and think: I wish I could look in the mirror and just say "good morning, you", without having to change my face. I wish my very own face was good enough; perfect the way it is. I wish I could wear clothes for of how they make me feel, not how they make me look. I wish I could stop putting my human-shaped feet into pointed shoes; but I have to wear high-heels "because they make my legs look longer and beauty is pain, after all". (Just between us, how f***ing stupid IS that?) I wish I could say those conversations with myself were the beginning of some kind of revelation, of healing, but they weren't. Not yet.

I had my daughter, and then it was all about "Baby weight". For some women it's not a big deal. They get a belly-bump for awhile and then they have the baby and it's gone. I couldn't even get out of my own way, or wear shoes home after work because my feet were so swollen. It wasn't because I was lazy and uncommitted, but because it was just the way it was. The TV told me differently though: If I had a tough time with the baby weight, it was just another failure. I just didn't try hard enough. Never mind that I was an exhausted single parent. I didn't look 'right', and it was all my fault. Now I was not only jilted and alone with a child, nobody would ever want me or love me because I was just a big, fat mommy-blob. The way people treated me confirmed this: according to everybody, I was suddenly no longer me anymore. My whole identity was about being someone's mother, and I should automatically know what that meant because "instincts". Yeah, not so much. But hey, I met a guy who seemed to dig me (my daughter's father had literally left the country), and though he picked on me ruthlessly about my weight (all it takes is effort and willpower, don't be so lazy), I put up with it because hey, maybe I was still human after all. Even though I was fat. And then fen phen (or was it phen fen?) came on the market. It was experimental and maybe not safe, but what the hell.

I lost a ton of weight on the drug. I changed absolutely nothing about what I was doing in terms of diet and exercise, but I lost weight like crazy. I was risking my life, but here came the compliments: "Look how HEALTHY you are getting!" Yeah, I was healthy-ing my way into a smaller coffin, but I was taking up less space, becoming more socially acceptable. A 'real' person. I thought about that thing Kate Moss says "Nothing tastes as good as thin feels". But I HATED how thin felt. I felt weak and frail. I would look at myself in the mirror and see a gaunt (and old-looking!) version of my face perched on an alien body. I hated the knobbiness of my knees, and how bow-legged I looked. I hated the way my bones protruded through my thin flesh. It made me think of death. Once, I caught a glimpse of my backbone and ribs in a mirror as I bent down to tie my shoes and I was so horrified that I burst into tears. (It's funny, I never looked at my thin friends this way, but to me I looked awful). I was cold all the time (which I usually am, so it was worse), I couldn't get comfortable when I slept and even the smallest bump would hurt. I felt terrible. Of course when they took the drug off the market, the weight came back. It didn't matter what I did to stop it (or why). It always came back.

The "crazy" around weight didn't stop there. I starved, I chain smoked, I over-exercised. I still did all of that. I think it's pretty normal for women to accept self-flagellation as just another way of life. We call it other things (because the TV does). We call it 'motivation' or something along those lines. It's not. One day, I caught my daughter watching me. Is this what I wanted for her? Did I want to teach her to hate herself? Did I want her to think that her appearance was the most important thing she had to offer the world? So important that it took precedence over everything else? No, a thousand times no. I knew that if I wanted her to grow up loving herself, I had to love me. I had to show her what self-love looked like.That was a tough one, but I did it.

I finally accepted that I wasn't 'normal' (whatever that means), but that I didn't have to be. I was my own worst critic on that score. I accepted that I'm always going to be a little fluffy, and that means nothing about who I am or my value as a human being. I sent my daughter to a great school with a strict no media policy, and that just made things easier. It eradicated all those twisted media-messages directed at women. She and I would dig in the dirt together, grow things, make things, and joke about how many potatoes we could grow on ourselves. She went through a 'pink' phase, and then a 'blue' phase, and then a 'red' phase. Sometimes she liked to play with dolls and that was cool. And sometimes she didn't and that was cool too. She led the charge in terms of her preferences for toys, colors and activities, and all was well. We hiked with the dogs, we danced it out, we read books. We both dressed in clothes we liked for how they made us feel, we wore comfortable shoes (or no shoes!) and our faces were perfect exactly the way they were. Seeing myself through my daughter's eyes was really the beginning of healing for me. Healing from a lifetime of bullshit messages about how women should look and what they should care about. I needed the freedom from the media messages as much as my daughter, and it was the beginning. And there were many years of therapy (which continues).

It's been a long, slow climb through self-acceptance, and finally to self love. I'm really grateful to be where I am in that regard. I've come to realize that the cliche is true: beauty does, indeed originate within. I started looking for it in other people first. Where once I may have thought "She might be pretty if she wasn't so fat", I think "Wow, her face glows with kindness". And that's not something you will ever find in a make-up bag or a photo-altering app. Now, I can turn that same love and kindness on myself and mean it. It's kind of a big deal. And I now understand that not everything is about goals or climbing mountains. I do yoga because it feels good (Yes, Debbie, it's still your VHS tape!), I let my hair grow because it makes me sad to cut it, and I don't have to. I did add some purple and blue highlights though :-) I dress for comfort and wear comfortable shoes. I look at my face in the AM and say "Good morning you. It's a new day, lets make it a good one" without any thought whatsoever of changing my face. It's flaws are a perfect reflection of a lifetime of sun and smiles. I finally understand that trying to approximate a socially-contrived stereotype is not for everybody, and it certainly isn't for me. But you can imagine how it feels to have someone say "You know, you should lose some weight. It's just a little diet and exercise". Seriously folks, I WISH it was just about willpower, effort and self-control. I starved myself, almost to death, I drove myself to the hospital in labor, I raised a child alone. If it were just about gutting it out, it would have been a done deal a loooong time ago.

And what does any of that have to do with my opening statement? Well, everything. It took a long time to get to this place. I'm taking the class because I want to, without any particular goal in mind.  It's about self love. It's an apology to myself for everything I've done; for the starvation and the drugs, for the self-loathing and judgement, for the shitty, dehydrated food and the chemical-laden, meal-substitute shakes. For the abuse, really. Both the abuse I put up with from others, and that which I imposed on myself. And to learn. My daughter and I went from a crushing poverty that meant we had no real choices in terms of food because it always came down to "what is the cheapest thing we can tolerate today?" (FYI, folks who really think poor people are out there buying lobster and steak are so full of willful ignorance that it hurts every ounce of common sense I posses, which is a lot.) , and with very little transition, suddenly went to "Who do we call for take out today?". That was cool for awhile, but it's no way to live. So I'm doing this, I'm taking this class. I'm sure I'll lose some weight, and that's cool. Do I expect miracles? I really don't, and that's okay. Because that isn't the point. The point is, to take better care of ourselves, just to do that. I've spent 2 years studying canine nutrition, and the better part of a year on equine nutrition (I don't even have a horse right now!) and it's time to spend a little time learning about me, a human, who's worth it. And for all the right reasons.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Why I love Circles

Photo: www.rgbstock.com
When I first started this blog, my intention was to keep it light-hearted. I wanted it to be a place where I could focus on the fluffy side of life; I wanted to make it primarily about animals and silliness. It hasn't exactly worked out that way. See, the thing about being online, about being part of any online community, is that it has a fairly pronounced dark side. I get that we all know this, and it isn't exactly the latest news. But it's easy to get caught up, to get dragged away and to be distracted by all the noise. For me, the worst part has been finding out about some of the horrible things that people believe in, even people I know and love. The feelings fall somewhere between a helpless kind of melancholy, and the realization that something with teeth is standing next to your bed at 3:00AM. It is what it is. And apparently, we're all about labels these days. We're all about making assumptions about large groups of people based on speculation, about passing judgement, about forgetting there is a difference between opinion and fact. Propaganda is propaganda no matter the source. Wanting to believe something doesn't make it true, but people believe just the same.

People believe nonsense about others simply because someone told them to. A failure to distinguish between opinion and fact compounds the issue. It feels heavy. It feels like negotiating an unpredictable landscape where logic and compassion no longer mean a damned thing, and anger, prejudice and greed are acceptable.  Everybody is competing to see who has it the worst, and those who have it good feel fully entitled to exploit the desperation of others. It's so in my face every day, and it makes it hard to stay fluffy. Everybody is looking out for number one. I want to talk about what I believe, and why it makes the rest of it so difficult.

I won't deny the importance of the individual, but here's the deal: Each and every one of us is unique. We are all "different". Even so, unless you live alone in the middle of nowhere, build your own house, grow all your own food, make your own clothes, create your own energy, etc, you are connected to the rest of us. Our fates are inextricably bound. But it goes deeper than that.

The reason I love circles isn't just because I abhor straight lines and the sharpness of angles, but because they accurately depict our relationship with everything. Circles are inclusive. They are found in nature in a perfect state. They hold us all within them; they accurately reflect the reality of how even the smallest act can create a far-reaching ripple.

natamcancer.org
Taken spiritually, the idea of the sacred circle has been embraced by many, many cultures, and not for nothing. I'll focus on the Native American medicine wheel pictured above (items like this beautifully quilled medicine wheel are available by clicking the link under the image, and benefit Native American cancer research. A site which I'm not affiliated with in any way). While the symbol has been adopted by many tribes, I am most familiar with the Lakota understanding (my great gram was Sihasapa, though I didn't know much about her). Even so, there are still a lot of holes in my personal understanding to fill in, so please feel free to comment if I'm missing something.

I love this symbol. It is the epitome of inclusiveness. It doesn't just represent the connection of all people, but all of nature. Nature doesn't place humanity above anything else; we are all one in nature. It is only humanity that tries to see itself as above everything. It is seen in small ways, like assigning morality to feeding oneself (veganism for the sake of the animals, which is a fine thing to do but it implies immorality of all flesh-eaters; and being anti-farm gets extra silly when you have dogs and/or cats), or the need we have to assign human emotions and judgement to animals in order to describe how great they are ("my dog felt guilty when he dirtied the carpet", "my dog feels sorry for the abused animals on the TV","my dog is like a little person"). The truth is, every dog is a perfect dog. Every horse is a perfect horse. Every animal is perfectly and wonderfully it's own being, and not human. That doesn't make it any less, just different. The idea that 'not human' is less than us is so ingrained that we look for ourselves in everything to prove it is worthy. There's rarely ill-intent, but it's disrespectful just the same. I know I've said that before, but it can be really difficult to fully appreciate what the idea of inclusiveness means without acknowledging our human tendencies. Even so, we are perfect humans, all of us, and a natural part of the circle.

We, as humans, tend to make our spirituality separate too, as though it is something outside of ourselves.  But it is a part of nature too, and a natural part of everything. We argue and fight about the different ways we perceive our spirituality, and don't stop to realize that nobody has the whole story, and that we all do. It doesn't belong to anyone more than anyone else. Our divinity isn't dependent on our financial place in the world, it's part of who we are. It's the very energy of our beings. Before you think I've gone all religious, you need to know that my understanding of spirituality goes beyond religion (my religion is Catholic, which is neither here nor there for the moment). Even the greatest minds in history acknowledge the force of energy: The law of Conservation of energy is absolute, and says essentially that energy can neither be created or destroyed. Tesla has been quoted as saying “The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.” That's for those of us who need a little logic with our spiritualism. Having said that, my personal experiences have shown me a reality that many people have to take on faith. I know life doesn't end, because I've seen it. We are energy, and that energy is in all things. In that most profound, fundamental and unequivocal way, we are all connected. We can embrace it and live through it and with it, or not. But real separation is impossible, and the desire unhealthy. The individual is best able to manifest and thrive when that natural connectedness is acknowledged, and even more importantly, respected. For the more religious among you, for whom the Bible holds the most sway (or the curious), follow this link to multiple Bible passages that offer more incentive yet to support this point of view.

The problem arises when we need to be reminded of our connectedness. When we convince ourselves so thoroughly of our own self-importance that we become unable to see the validity of anything but our own priorities and our own point of view. As humans, it's something we need be aware of. Our big brains can be wonderful things; they can allow us to be stewards of our world, they can help us connect with the divinity of all things. Or they can give us a false sense of superiority and infallibility. Most of our biggest issues today come from trying to impose artificial priorities (like the acquisition of money and things) on a natural world that doesn't share or acknowledge our contrived values. The further we get from our natural state, the sicker we get. "We" meaning all of us and all of nature. That is a fact, Jack. There are ways to make it work, but the imposition of money on everything has functioned like a sickness in and of itself. It makes us hateful, paranoid, greedy. In our desire for a sense of control, we oversimplify everything; we make things so black and white that we fail to see the myriad of solutions that fall somewhere in the middle. The middle has become a blind spot. You think we would have noticed by now that the desire for money and control does nothing at all to make us better people or to improve our circumstances. We think having more makes us better. We get covetous and paranoid about our resources. It's ugly and it's violent. We use our big brains to justify it. We forget why we are here and what we're really about. We lose our magic in persuit of the trivial and insignificant.

So, those are my thoughts. I haven't found a way to adequately shield myself from the awfulness that exists, or to not get caught in it myself. We are going through a period of time when it's financially beneficial to play on peoples' prejudices and to exploit the worst of human nature. Our conversations are nothing more than hatred, name-calling, divisiveness and blame. It's so bad that we can't even see what we are doing to each other and to ourselves. We've forgotten the connection. All we can do is try to remember, and do our best to stay out of the fray.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Perfect Storm

Photo: footnotes2plato.com
I wasn't really sure how to start this. I just know that if I don't purge this, I won't be very productive and I won't be getting a lot of sleep. It happens like that sometimes. It's the holiday season, a joyful celebration for many of us. Being Catholic, for me it's the Christmas season. Once upon a time in a much more simple world that was really all I needed to feel happy about life, the world, and everyone in it. It's the downside of maturity, I think; the complex awareness that comes with adulthood. But it isn't just about maturity. Try as might, that cheer is more difficult to come by these days.

I feel an immense sense of gratitude for all that we have. I have a family that I dearly love, I have a roof. My daughter still lives at home, and she is an endless source of joy to me. I have some of the best friends a person could ever ask for. Our tree is perfect this year, and I'm having a great time with my crafting projects; every stitch filled with love for the giftee. But I have a knot in my stomach.

Every day I turn on my TV and there it is. Or I sign in to Facebook, and more of the same. For me, TV is only entertainment. I have an awareness that TV is no place to get accurate information as a rule. For that matter, neither is Facebook. Facebook memes can be made by anyone to say anything. I understand this, but not everybody does. Sometimes I am deeply troubled by the things people are not only willing, but eager to believe. And so much of it awful. It feels like there is this endless source of toxicity, a constant dumping of mental garbage, or the intellectual equivalent of an oil spill, and it's unstoppable. It's relentlessly poisoning us against each other. I read an article about the unraveling of the Central African Republic, and I couldn't help but see us in it.

Lies, hatred, blame; more and more and more. And then violence. Let's add that. Let's make it okay, lets make it a duty, sell it as good. SELL it. Sometimes I feel like we are drowning, saturated in a ridiculous deluge, ALL of us. But some still think the solution is more water. Demanding it. As a right. What about the rights of the rest of us? A small, selfish part of me wishes we could reserve an island for those who keep demanding more; the rest of us could live in peace. It doesn't work that way. I hear guns called tools, compared to shovels and axes. Shovels were designed to dig holes in the ground, to plant gardens. Axes chop wood. Guns were created to accurately propel bullets at high speed into flesh. That is what that 'tool' was designed for. No, you can't blame the gun for doing exactly what it was designed to do, but you can blame the culture that doesn't take it seriously, you can blame the multi-billion dollar lobby that prioritizes the bottom line over human life. You can blame every politician who's taken a legal bribe from this lobby, and voted accordingly. This is a monster WE created, with our apathy, our misinformation and our relentless, cold and calloused pursuit of profit above all else. I'm not anti-gun. I grew up in Vermont, in a hunting culture. Everybody has guns, and there are very few laws. We don't have a lot of gun-violence either (although we did have a school shooting here too, so we are not untouched). But this isn't the world I grew up in. People used to respect guns for what they were-weapons. Guns came with an education and an attitude of respect. That is no longer the case. But you know, doing something about it wouldn't be profitable.

We have sold our collective soul so thoroughly to the false god of money that we completely forgot why it was important in the first place; to enrich life. We've made it more important than life, more important than people. We've taken it to such an extreme that we no longer require or expect morality from each other if it results in monetary profit.  And before you start with the religious rhetoric, remember that morality has nothing to do with religion.

.Let's make everything about money, and then make sure very few people have any, and those that do relentlessly use and exploit those that don't.We live in a culture that takes hope and possibility away from our young people, and then blames them for having no ambition. Hopeless people have no ambition. That is a fact, not an individual failure. Once upon a time, hard work meant success. But the minimum wage failed to keep up with the cost of living. If it had, it would be somewhere between just over $20/hr to just under $22/hr, depending on the source. Imagine how your "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps!" story would go if you were making just over 1/3 of your hourly wage instead. That's what people are faced with today. Education isn't the answer it used to be either, with today's exorbitant tuition costs. But we aren't interested in investing our people anymore. In their well-being or their success. The immediate desires of a few are taking priority over the quality of our country, the quality of our lives. The answer to poverty is to exploit third-world countries for cheep products to sell to broke Americans. Once upon a time "Made in the USA" and "Look for the union label" were the thing to do. Now, it's the ones who write the checks who have all the control, and they want more. Do we need another Triangle Shirtwaist Factory to remind us why we had workers-rights and unions to begin with? Patriotism used to be about the people, now it's about the compliant acceptance of mistreatment.

My point is, people are armed and under duress. They are being told who to hate and who to blame. It doesn't have to be true, it just has to sound true. We are relentlessly brainwashed by television. It's easy to believe, and we want so badly to have some 'other' to blame. And it's impossible to break though to people once they're there. It feels like screaming in a nightmare where nobody can hear you, and lives depend on it. In the end you just have to let it go. But we've created a pressure cooker of hate and blame and ugliness; a perfect recipe for self-destruction. And yet when violence erupts all we can do is sit around and recycle the same old platitudes: We'll pray.  How sad. Too bad there's nothing we can do.

We need to be honest with ourselves. There's plenty we can do, just nothing we are willing to do. We're being kept dumb by people who have much to gain by doing so (though only short-term, even if the powers that be can't see that.). We've abandoned ourselves, our ideals and our moral character. We've reduced religion to nothing more meaningful than conflict. There are so many things that need our attention. Humans are capable of music, beauty, art, magic...and we've been reduced to this. Worse, nobody seems to understand how serious it is. I still believe in us. I know so many wonderful, in tune and in touch people who walk through the world with their TV off and their eyes open.  Hope is something I still have. But I'll admit that being in the world in its current state gets a little tougher every day.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Compassion

Statue of Liberty
The New Colossus 
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land; 
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand 
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame 
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name 
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand 
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command 
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she 
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" 
-Emma Lazarus


I spend a lot of time on my computer, and subsequently, on social media. It's a by-product of hoping to get some writing done and even do a little marketing. While it's true that I could spend less time on Facebook or reading Twitter posts, it's a hell of a good way to gauge what is going on in the world and how people are feeling about it. It's also a great way to depress and discourage the hell out of yourself. Everyday I log on with a knot in my stomach. I know it sounds silly. If it's so bad, why bother? Well, for the aforementioned reasons, of course. Also, I really do care about my friends and like to keep up with what they're doing. It is what it is. Sometimes though, I would be far better off not knowing what people think. Everyday it's the same: Hatred, Islamophobia, violence, anger, black and white, more violence, paranoia, blame...and my mind and my heart are like...no. Us vs. them, money money money. Money is such and all-powerful and pervasive motivator in this country it never occurs to anyone to think about how messed up that is...NO. War, death, fear, more violence, guns guns guns, people starving to death, people being hated for who they are, death, terror, more blame. War on women, people dying because of their color, gender identity, economic status, legal murder. Why have laws because they just get broken.........NO!!!

I see people I love and respect who have lost their common sense and compassion. That's the part that's the toughest to take. And they go to great lengths to tell me I'm wrong because I still have mine. To tell me I don't know what I'm talking about because I don't think or feel like they do. It's not about right and wrong. It's about the choices we make for ourselves, and we each have a right to that. I spend a lot of time on my computer. I spend a lot of time taking it all in, and digging around for the truth. Enough time to understand that anger is a consequence of fear, and anger is weakness. It's why a cornered animal is the most dangerous. Violence is an extension of that anger. I reject all those things that play on my fears to manipulate me to feel anger. That's a choice.

I choose not to let the worst behavior of the worst people dictate who I am. It's a choice I make every day. I choose to believe the best in people. I chose not to penalize any group of people for what the worst of their numbers has done, either in my mind or my heart, and hope to receive the same understanding. If I can help somebody, I do it. I don't attach strings or conditions, I don't have expectations. People who need help the most need it because they can't help themselves. If I can't help, I say so, but I don't blame. I will not be robbed of my compassion; not by fear, greed, or pressure. It's a choice. I'm not naive, I'm well-informed. I choose love over hatred. I choose humanity over us vs. them. We need less divisive language, less that separates us. It's not blind idealism, it's reality.

We need to prioritize each other, to extend our hands to those reaching out to us in need. You can call me foolish, you can call me a bleeding heart, you can call me whatever you like. As long as you understand that your opinion of me is an opinion and not a fact. I wish more people knew the difference. I wish more people let their inner compass dictate their behavior, and not the opinions of others. I still believe in us. I still believe in humanity; I believe that enough people still care and can look past their fear and anger and hang on to their love and compassion. I have to believe that. 




Monday, November 9, 2015

Books and TV

Photo by Debbie Safran
I recently had the surreal experience of being featured on an episode of Paranormal Witness. The episode was based on my book In Stone, which was an account of a real-life event. I expected a lot of things. An acquaintance of mine said he doesn't do TV anymore, because they can edit it any way they like, and there is nothing you can do about it. I was a little bit terrified of what we had loosed into the world, but I had resigned myself to it in any case. When I finally watched the episode (Season 4, episode 11,When Hell Freezes Over) I was somewhat relieved. The only thing that was really contrived was the way it ended: With us fleeing to our Mom's house. I get why they did it. The episode needed to have a clear ending and our real story didn't end until three months after the ice storm. In reality, our Mom's place wasn't an option. We had three dogs (also left out of the episode) and our Mom lived in a condo where dogs weren't permitted. Seriously, if we could escape to Mom's, we would have done it a hell of a lot sooner.

I think it's interesting to see the TV version of our story. They actually left SO much out in the interest of time. I think they did a great job with the over-all feel of the experience, a great job portraying the cold, and the actors were pretty great too (wow...that little girl playing my daughter!), but some things are notably different. For one, it was a bit crazy-making to see everyone sitting around in the dark. NEVER would we have done that! We left lights on all the time, even overnight. We were terrified! Also, the house on the show looked pretty run down. Our house was really nice! Having said that, I fully understand how the dark, run down house would contribute to the aura of the story. It's funny though, how many people take TV so literally. I've noticed in some of the comments, people saying really nasty things about us for things that were actually artistic choices made by the show (like the low lighting) and had nothing to do with what really happened. It's a strange world! Of note, we also didn't share a car, and my daughter went to a Waldorf school, not a Catholic school. All irrelevant details, but examples of the difference between TV and real life.

All in all I think they did a pretty decent job. The toughest part for me was the absence of the dogs because they were such a big part of our lives and so much a part of how we coped with that experience. It felt a little empty without them there. I was concerned that the show might try and make things up, but they didn't, not at all. They did have to focus on only one aspect of what was happening though, and that meant a lot that we went through was excluded. Of course, that was necessary and expected. One of the things that TV doesn't tell you about real haunting is that it doesn't always make sense, there isn't always a tidy ending and people almost never behave rationally. It's an entirely irrational situation.

The episode was definitely an interesting step on the journey. When I wrote the book, I felt so responsible for telling the truth. I felt responsible to the people who lived the experience, the folks who so kindly helped to do research, the current resident of the home, so much responsibility to everyone involved. It was difficult to trust someone else with the story. I'm glad I did. I read comments about the book, about the episode, and so many of them are kind and supportive. I love that people have sent me messages on my author page and told me their stories. Sometimes I'm the first person they've told, and it's really emotional for them. I get it! I'm really grateful that I had the opportunity to do the show, and that the book has been so well-received. It's been such a healing process. I hope that by sharing my experience, I will continue to encourage others to do the same. It was a really difficult thing to hold on to. Oh, and for your viewing 'pleasure', here is a photo of the real me in the real house in '97 :-)


                                         


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Faith

Faith is a word that means different things to different people. It's not even something that everybody has. Some folks think faith and religion go hand in hand, and I'm not one of them. Yes, my dear atheist and agnostic friends, this is going to be a post about faith and religion. You may want to bail while you still can. On the other hand, you may appreciate my point of view. Who knows? I won't love you any less for not reading this post ;-)

I always get a little sad when one of my finds "finds Jesus". It isn't because I don't believe in Him myself~I do, very much so.  But it's never really Jesus that they seem to find. It always seems that when it happens, my friend disappears and is replaced by a scripture-quoting, self-righteous, closed-minded entity that is no longer recognizable. Suddenly, they are absolutely convinced that their new-found, outspoken fervency is somehow superior to a lifetime of quiet devotion. My poor daughter was even told (when she was little, by other children!!!!) that she was going to hell because she wasn't 'saved'. My daughter, in her typical way, just said "No, I'm not. Saved from what?" so no harm done. But still!

Let me just say right away that I don't worship the Bible. I've read it; a few different version, in fact. Everybody gets all hung up about this version or that, but if you've read more than one version, you know the differences are merely irrelevant semantics. I respect the Bible and I respect the lessons it contains, the stories it tells and what it means to Christian faith. Having said that, I don't trust the literal interpretations of it imposed by religious leaders. Why would I? Somehow, it always seems to be interpreted in such a way that is self-aggrandizing to Christian men, demeaning and degrading to women (Yes, surprisingly, I think a life of indentured servitude and popping out children is absolutely unacceptable, as do these women) and dangerous and straight-up hateful to all but those who "believe" in this slanted and bastardized version of "god" (different from God). I'm going to do my best not to get nasty here, because that's just the sort of thing I've had about enough of, but I have some legitimate concerns.

To me faith is just that: Faith. It is belief in something intangible. It's a knowing that requires no proof. For me, it may be a little more tangible because I have some very real reasons to believe in something greater. I have faith. I always have. It's a personal thing, and it's mine. It's not open to anyone else's interpretation or judgement. I think for those of us who have faith, REAL faith, it really is that simple. God is everywhere. He has many names, He is non-gendered (though we often refer to Him as He). There are many paths to Him. He is in church, He's in everything in nature, He's in you and me. He is the Universal concept of love. You can't show me the path to God, because we each have our own, and mine is none of your business. Faith is kind, compassionate and inclusive. It is unconditional acceptance and love. It is bigger than our human pettiness. It isn't judgement, hatred, violence, oppression, verbal abuse (if you don't believe like I believe, you are bad and the devil has your soul!), manipulation, divisiveness. Unfortunately, that is all the realm of religion. And therein lies the difference.

Recently, I blocked a friend from my FB page because she was posting seriously offensive anti-Catholic videos, and encouraging Catholics to watch them because "love". I am Catholic, and when I pointed out that these videos were actually hate speech, (even going so far as to call the pope the anti-Christ) she just tried to justify them. If you need a clearer picture of just how messed up that is, substitute the word "Catholic" with just about any minority. Then call it "love". But you know, she claimed she had a right. Yup, she sure did. And that's another thing I'm getting pretty fed up with too: People are so f***ing concerned about what they have a "right" to do, they don't give a crap about whether or not they really should be doing it, or the actual morality of their behavior. Selfishness is the name of the game these days, but hey, if you're selling it as "god's" will, that magically absolves you somehow of having a conscience. NOT. But I digress. My point is, once upon a time my friend would have said, "Well gosh, you're right!" and maybe we would have had a good laugh. Not anymore. My friend is gone, and is now a scripture-quoting automaton. I know it doesn't always happen like that, but it's sad when it does. But the ability to quote scripture has nothing to do with faith or love (and certainly hate speech doesn't!). Even the devil can quote scripture, and I'm pretty sure he does.

Many horrible deeds have been perpetrated in the name of religion. That's one of the biggest dangers of being brainwashed out of your autonomy. People get so caught up in their own self-righteousness, and in the appearance of self-righteousness, that they don't stop and think about what they are actually doing. It's like all reality-based self-awareness is out the window. Instead of questioning their own behavior or considering their deleterious effect on other people (or taking any kind of personal responsibility for it!), the victims are blamed or there is just some outrageous justification. It isn't "for the greater good", it's just more self-aggrandizement. It's the underlying assumption of correctness and superiority that is perhaps the most dangerous. History is rife with Christian-based horror stories like this one, right here in the US about Native Boarding schools. (I don't have time to list them all...they are plentiful!). Even today, people will misrepresent and twist the cultural history of our Native people to promote their own political viewpoint. Because 'murica. And "god". Don't get me started. But this is only one story. Religion can do terrible things even to those raised within them: religious abuse of children. I have friends who have been so force-fed doctrine that they no longer believe. That's sad to me. Jesus' whole deal was one of love and kindness, and when His message gets so twisted that it becomes one of fear and oppression, it's the very epitome of losing the plot, and on a grand scale.

Religion CAN be a good thing. For me, it's about family and comforting rituals. It's about community. It's a feeling of belonging somewhere safe. But I have my eyes open and I take responsibility for my own morality, and more importantly, my own faith. I also recognize that others have differing beliefs, and that it's not any of my concern. I don't think a limiting set of criteria determines the value of a human being, or by extension, the value and destination of their soul. And I certainly don't think that it's any of my business, or my determination to make. I also know better than to believe things like "God never gives you more than you can handle" (He most certainly does) and that "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" (Okay, not entirely religious but in the same vein. I think of it like muscular strength: use them and work them to strengthen them, but overdo and abuse them, they are just going to break down and hurt. Life can be that way. And it has nothing to do with an absence of God). I also don't believe in the online silliness folks get wrapped up in: "Repost this and give it an Amen if you believe in Jesus!" Seriously. Come on. I also get cranky when I'm in deep doo doo, and somebody says "I will pray for you". If you're praying for me while actually helping, it's all good. If you are praying for me INSTEAD of helping, well, you've missed the point somewhere. Faith is action; it isn't questions about worth or deservedness. I'm not anti-religion, not at all, but I'm very "Don't you dare try to make me live by your religious rules". People like to talk about a "Christian Nation", but our constitution is as much a victim of the 'pick and choose what suits my personal beliefs' nonsense as the Bible. We are a Christian nation only in that the most prominent religions are Christian-based, not in that there is an expectation that everyone should yield to Christian beliefs! THAT is actually unconstitutional. Religious freedom is just that...the freedom to choose. WHY does so much about Christianity try to take rights away? Anyhoo...I got that out of my system. Now here's a video, totally apropos of nothing:


Friday, September 11, 2015

9/11

STREET ART: Crying Statue of Liberty by NOK Crew.
People like to ask each other if they remember where they were on 9/11. I do, actually. It's one of two events in my life that is etched in my memory with alarming clarity. The other was my grandfather's burial. It's funny how little I remember about the funeral, but his military burial is something I will never forget. His death was the first enormous, life-changing heartbreak in my life, and something about the formality of a military burial adds a touch of finality that I haven't really experienced before or since. I remember vividly, my nerves jangled by the gun salute, and jumping at each volley. I remember the melancholy melody of taps. And I remember my tiny, stoic grandmother accepting the folded flag. All these years later, I still completely lose it when I see a military burial on TV, even if I know it's coming. I mean, I lose it. And it takes time to recover after. I know it sounds silly (to some), but it's like this scar that will never really go away. Not a scar; more like a wound that never quite heals, a chronic pain that I've become so accustomed to that it's background noise~until it isn't. I think remembering 9/11 is a little bit like that. It was the first time I ever felt vulnerable as a US citizen.

I was standing in my kitchen when the phone rang. I had just sent my daughter off to school with the carpool and was pouring a cup of coffee. I was going to ignore the phone (I hadn't even had coffee yet) but I heard my boyfriend's voice on the machine, flat and audibly upset. I picked up the phone and he asked me if I had my TV on~I didn't. I took my coffee to the living room and turned on my TV. There I sat for the next couple of hours as events unfolded, forgotten, cold coffee on my coffee table. I called my mom. I called everybody. I cried. "All those people!" was the phrase that kept running through my head. "All those people!" I remember it. I remember wondering if there was more to come. I live in Vermont, not exactly the epicenter, but too close for comfort. It change everything about my perspective. Somebody gave me an American flag decal for my car window, and it's still there. Yup, I'm still driving the same car. It was a real tragedy, and the first time in a long time that Americans really came together to help each other out. I thought that mindset of togetherness and compassion for each other would last, that out of this horrible event, at least there would be that positive legacy. Now all these years later, we know different.

What we, as Americans, fail to understand is that what happened to us happens to others every day. it's what WE DO to others with alarming frequency. Our tragedy didn't teach us anything, it didn't give us empathy or understanding. It gave us an excuse. To quote a friend: "R.I.P. The 2976 American people that lost their lives on 9/11 and R.I.P. the 48,644 Afghan and 1,690,903 Iraqi and 35,000 Pakistani people so far that have paid the ultimate price for a crime they did not commit."

He's right, of course. But I like to read it another way: R.I.P.  1,777,523 human beings, 1,774,547 who Americans fail to consider at all. It matters. It matters that we understand these are people, that each loss, each one, creates a ripple effect. This isn't theoretical, a video game, or some entertaining virtual reality. Each one of these losses is a person. A human being. That's a reality we need to get better at understanding and connecting to. Yes, emotionally. Otherwise, why be human?

I'm not unpatriotic. Quite the opposite. I give a sh** about what happens to this country; what we are about and what we stand for matters. But nothing good has come as a result of 9/11. It's like that day just pushed us downhill morally, and we haven't stopped falling yet. Is this really what we want to be about? Is this what my grandfather fought for, what so many have died for?

I think of "The Donald" and his stupid hat: "Let's Make America Great Again". What is great? Is a country with an economic system that's so dysfunctional that some people make billions of dollars a year while others die of starvation in the streets, great? Is the capacity (and propensity) to resort to outrageous violence, great? Is an attitude of " I have what I need, so screw you", great? Is large-scale vilification and dehumanization of the vulnerable, to the point that people are overjoyed by the imposition of punitive policies, great? Is cruelty and intolerance toward refugees, who have been through far worse than our 9/11, great? HOW did we get here?

I don't think there is anything great about those things. I think we certainly have the capacity for greatness, but we have to stop letting propaganda and BS cut our hearts out. Yes, we are Americans, but first we need to remember that long before America ever existed, we were human beings. The more we lose touch with that humanity, the worse things are going to get. The easier it gets to hate and kill each other, the worse things are going to get. We had a choice to make on 9/11, and we made the wrong one. Yes, heroes rose to the occasion. Everybody pitched in and helped each other. That was America in the act of greatness. That's what we should have clung to, but we didn't. We didn't learn. We made the wrong choice and we're still making it. Call me a bleeding heart if you want. I will just say "Thank you". Yes, I think compassion and empathy are important. Call me a pacifist if you like; I am in good company. I wasn't going to post this, I was just going to write it for myself. But sometimes, the truth and opinions about the truth aren't about being popular. Sometimes, A person has to have the stones to speak their mind. Here you go.