Follow by Email

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nosebleed



Rhiannon riding in Arberth. From The Mabinogion
I woke up this morning and had a nosebleed. That's never a good sign. It usually means my blood pressure is high and so is my anxiety. Not a good start to the day, generally speaking, but not all anxiety is bad. We're moving forward, and doing so in a way I had hoped and thought that we would. Just because it isn't happening fast enough for me doesn't mean it isn't happening. That's something.

I woke up around 4:00 AM and couldn't get back to sleep. It doesn't happen often. Sleep is one of those physical functions that I can usually count on, and I am ever so grateful for that. But sometimes, like this morning, I wake up early and I can't shut my head off. This hasn't always been so pleasant. Sometimes I lay in the darkness, freaking out about the places I haven't been and the things I haven't done. I feel old and a little panicked. I hear the clock on my life ticking, I worry about years wasted not doing the things that I want to do. It's a helpless feeling, because it isn't about desire, imagination or motivation, but about resources. At times I have felt that I would spend the rest of my life struggling without ever really having the opportunity to live. But things are moving forward.

Once upon a time I felt like a cautionary tale to all the other good little Catholic boys and girls. "This is what happens when you don't do what you're told, don't do what you are supposed to do." You grow up, go to college, get a job that you hate and work long hours at it. Complaining is mandatory, and the more you have to complain about the better. Maybe you get married and have children. If you're a woman, you give up your own ambitions in favor of supporting those of your husband. Worse, it's expected of you. If you're lucky, there might be something in it for you. Maybe at the end of your life, when you've been worked to death and your mind is tired (or if you're a married woman, you've sublimated your own desires for so long you no longer remember what they were), if you've been very very good and squirreled away your nuts, you might get to do something you enjoy. From the time I was very young, none of that sounded at all appealing to me. NONE of it. In fact, when I was in Kindergarten and the teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said "retired". I didn't know it wasn't a thing I could be. I just knew that my grandparents did it, and though they were always busy, they seemed to really enjoy their lives. The other part of that was that my grandparents didn't have to go to school. As a child my greatest wish ever was that I would never have to go to school again, so even on that level, "retired" sounded like a pretty good deal.

And then you grow up. I tried to do things the 'right' way, I really did. It was awful. I didn't fit. I didn't fit in anything I did. Sure, I know how to toe a line, but it's exceptionally unnatural for me. It made me physically sick. I know how to be polite, how to sit calmly at a table with my napkin in my lap. I know how to sit up straight, and which utensils to use when. I can beat around the bush with the best of them too. Manners are cool. Everybody should learn some. But sometimes subtlety doesn't work. I didn't get that for awhile. For a long time I felt like the only thing I got right at all was having my daughter. If my only legacy is the decent human being I brought into the world then hey, that's something. Very nearly enough, really. But you know, I never got married, so judge away if you must.

Somewhere along the way I learned to be direct. Unladylike, perhaps (and at times VERY unladylike), but more me and more effective. It was the first inkling I had that maybe, just maybe, there was more than one way to get from A to B.

Have you ever dreamed that you were flying?  From the time I was little I used to have a recurring dream about flying. It was kind of funny, really. Everybody around me was flapping their arms and flying around successfully and happily. I would flap like crazy and never get more than a couple of feet off the ground. It never changed. Even as an adult, flap, flap, flap, nothing. Until a couple of years ago. It was the same dream, but this time I instinctively just raised my hands above my head like Superman, and off I went like a rocket. I know it was just a dream, but the message wasn't lost on me. The thing that had held me back was my belief that I had to do it like everybody else. It was just a stupid dream, but it changed everything.

I'm human. I care what people think. I don't care enough though, to change my priorities. I didn't get married. It wasn't because I failed, it was because I didn't want to. I work for myself. It isn't because I'm unemployable (in fact, I work happily with other open-minded, artistic folks with a shared goal), but because it's preferable to me. I've learned that sometimes, life is ugly and messy, and it's okay. It's okay to look at the mess and talk about the mess. The mess has far less power over you when you aren't trying to shove it aside like it never existed.  Sometimes, the mess is the lesson you need to learn before you are allowed to move on. You can't move on if you aren't willing to embrace all the things, messy, not messy.

These are the sorts of things I think about now when I wake up at 4:00 AM and can't get back to sleep. I look back on lessons instead of mistakes. My life hasn't been about rebellion and wrong turns, it been about moving in the right direction for me. I got something valuable from every experience in my life, even those that were the most difficult. There are things I never would have learned about human nature, or even my own nature (and capability and strength) without those experiences. All of it a means to an end. I may not be where I want to be yet, but I'm most definitely on my way. Knowing that makes for a much better 4:00 AM experience.




Monday, July 6, 2015

Perception

Photo: vdyhnovenie.kutiika.net
I've been in a really weird space lately. It has been my hope that I would simply snap out of it, but since that doesn't appear to be happening I'll try and use it to my advantage. Sometimes distance can create space for objectivity, and I guess there really isn't any bad there. I've got plenty to do, and plenty to think about when I'm not doing it, and for now, that has to be enough, I suppose. Sometimes, with introspection comes awareness, and that's a good too.

Folks, including myself, have lots of opinions. Opinions about religion, politics, each other and a myriad of other things. I think what we forget, though, is that there are reasons we feel the way we do about certain things. Sometimes it's about how we were brought up (and I suspect this is most often the case), about our life experiences, sometimes we share the opinions of those we admire, just because we admire them, and so on. It would seem though, that oftentimes the way we perceive others says far more about who we are and how we feel about ourselves, than about that person. For example: If I feel hostile and judgmental toward somebody, it may be less about them deserving it and more about me being a hostile and judgmental person (and I have my moments). We see it all the time in others, but are we willing to look at that aspect of ourselves?

I've met some really cool, very self-aware people. The thing that distinguishes them in my mind is that they are very secure and generally very non-judgmental of others. They know how to take care of themselves, and it makes them great at taking care of others. They are really great at holding their own energy in that they don't need to take it from (or throw it at) others. They are easy to be around, easy to talk to and just pleasant people in general. I would like to be that way someday. The 'security' part is indicative of another layer of perception: Insecure folks tend to live their lives based on how they want to be perceived. I'm not there, thank goodness, but I know what it looks like. They wonder constantly what others think of their appearance, their choices, what they have, etc. They inadvertently live their lives for others, but here's the kicker: Other people don't care that much. They really don't. And if they do, it's only their perception. Having said that, we really have no control of how others perceive us, because it's about THEM, not US. So being insecure and trying to 'people-please' is a complete waste of time. Am I making any sense?

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be conscious of the effect our 'being-ness' has on others. We absolutely should. More important though (as much for myself as anyone) is that we need to understand that our perception of others is just that~our perception~and not necessarily based in reality. It's a tough one. Especially since we are humans, and somewhat prone to 'group-think', and there can be a lot of pressure to conform to certain ways of being and thinking.

I've never been good at that. Even though I'm super-aware of it, it doesn't seem to make me feel differently. Growing up, that was a real chore. I'm okay with it now. Is my perception strange? It certainly may be, but it is what it is.  I try to think of what it all means, but being human I always come up short. Sometimes I try very hard to understand people that I can't wrap my brain around. I'm sure I'm one of those people for others. It's not bad, we're all just different. But it means we need to think twice before we judge. It also means that we have every right to define those things that are important to us, and to live according to those desires that we have for ourselves and to not let others make those decisions for us. And I think we have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable, to not project our crap on other people and to keep learning until we are able to be in the world, holding our own energy and not expecting others to take responsibility for it. Having said that, we also need to understand that though we are individuals, we are not alone in this world. We have a responsibility to care for each other in moments of weakness and to do so without judgement or projecting our own beliefs and expectations on them. It's a tough balancing act, and I love watching those who are good at it do their thing. I'm not one them, but it doesn't mean I can't be or that I won't be someday.

There are no limits to what we choose to do or be. But our own understanding of the world, and subsequently, our perception of it, can be what keeps our lives small and our thinking limited. I forget that, a lot. I'm filled with "Yeah, but..." sometimes, and it's unproductive. The limits are real enough, but they don't have to be permanent. Anything can happen, at any time. Sometimes, wonderful things come out of the blue and surprise us. Expect it.




Thursday, July 2, 2015

Paranormal

Photo: www.queeky.com
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
-Shakespeare (from Hamlet)

“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.”
Nikola Tesla



I've had a lot of opportunities lately, to think about the paranormal. I'm going to assume that if you're reading this post that you've thought about it a bit yourself (and if you don't believe in the paranormal 1. You might want to stop reading and 2. I don't care, so you might as well go try to invalidate somebody else's trauma).

YIKES but that was snippy! While the mature, polite woman trapped inside me wants to be all apologetic for that last remark, most of me has more or less had it with being called names, and having people who weren't there tell me how lucky we were to live in a haunted house, and how THEY would have done it so much better than we did (and maybe they would have. So what). I really have no problem at all with folks who are genuinely skeptical though. I used to be too, so I totally get it. To be fair, I think most people fall into the 'skeptical' category. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little envious of those who could hold an objective fascination and excitement around all things spooky, without remembering the fear that we felt. I think some people are so much better at it than others though. It's like, some folks can study big cats of the Serengeti and learn tons about them, get great photos and have exciting stories to tell, and others would go and get eaten by a lion. The unprepared and initiated (like we were) would likely fall into the second camp (especially since we never planned on going to the Serengeti, never wanted to go to the Serengeti, and weren't even fully aware that the Serengeti is where we had ended up).

While my interest in the subject has gone on long enough for me to understand the fascination and excitement experienced by others and the desire researchers have to learn more (I share that desire!), the experience was incredibly traumatic for us. I watch shows about it on television (in fact, our story will be on TV at the end of the year) and it either seems as though the goings-on are very dramatic and in your face, or tiny things (that are really open to interpretation) are attributed to paranormal forces. It always seems as though the people involved know just what to do, how to handle it, who to call. The reality was so different for us. I think it was a time/location thing (NOBODY talked much about that stuff  back then). Even today, most paranormal discussions have an element of the tongue in cheek, and while interesting, one rarely hears about what the impact might be on the human psyche.

My sister (a psychologist) who was there in the house with me, compares what happened to us with being in a psychologically abusive relationship. I don't care that we were were rarely touched (well, rarely, not never. Dawn and my daughter were scratched and bruised). To say we were unable to think clearly was the understatement of the century. We were always afraid; afraid to talk, afraid to make things worse. I don't care how many people say "Oh, it's harmless", we knew, KNEW it wasn't. We knew it on a cellular, visceral level. It's as harmless as any form of psychological abuse could be. And hey, I'm not minimizing abuse by saying so. I have been physically assaulted too, and what happened to us in the house was worse. Not only were we tormented, but we had no way to manage and understand what was happening to us. I can't begin to tell you what it's like to not even have full use of your own thoughts, and to live at that level of fear for six months. And we aren't alone.

One of the most touching things about coming forward with our story was the number of people who contacted me via my fan page to tell me their stories. It touched me because, in many cases, these were people who had had really traumatic things happen to them and I was the first person (a total stranger, no less) they felt comfortable talking to about it. I'm so, SO glad that they reached out, and I understand how hard it is to keep a secret like that. If I could have hugged each one of them personally, I would have. Having to keep the secret makes everything so much worse. But not keeping it can lead to ridicule, which I'm all too aware of. And that can feel like being traumatized all over again. Over this past year or so, I've more or less learned to take the 'Taylor Swift/Shake it Off' route, but it was something I had to learn and I needed a lot of help to do so. I still have tough days. The saddest thing though, is knowing there are still people out there who are suffering in silence. I'm planning to do something about that, hopefully by the end of the year. Not sure what yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Having said all that (and in spite of my previous, snippy comment), I have been really grateful for ALL the folks who have shown their support. The people who get excited about haunting and want to buy and live in haunted houses inspire ME to keep digging! I still want it all to make sense. My logical mind fully expects that we will understand paranormal phenomena someday, and it's the brave folks who get excited about it all that may be the first ones to sort it out. It's an unusual journey, for sure, but one I'm not done taking just yet.





Friday, May 22, 2015

Silver Lining

Photo: www.wallpapersonweb.com
I've had an awful week. There are different degrees of awful; sometimes it means annoying or hurtful, and other times it can mean SO much more. Some weeks seem to be specifically designed to tick all the stress-boxes, and this has been one of them. I don't like to talk about being disabled because I don't like that to be the focal point of my life. Weeks like this force me to stare long and hard at that  'monster' though, and now I'm mad as hell. One of the most difficult parts of being disabled is how vulnerable you are to the foibles and decisions of other people. It doesn't matter how conscientious and careful I am if somebody else's wrecking ball (accidental or intentional...same effect) can still trash my situation. And that's terrifying, because it's MY family that has to live with the mess. I've had a horrid week. It should be over by now, it really, really should, but it isn't. It's that last part that I can't live with.

Okay, I'm done whining. I won't lie and say I didn't call my mommy and cry to her like a freaking baby. I won't lie about the repeat performance I treated my daughter and my bestie to, either. I don't do 'helpless' well, and patience isn't a virtue I have (and in a situation like this it shouldn't be a virtue I NEED). But the emotional piece is now on a slow, rolling boil that I can live with (or make some tea from) and I have the grey matter reengaged.

What have I learned from this? Isn't that the point? What is the silver lining? Well, I've learned that I have options. Had I not been backed into a corner, I wouldn't have had the conversations that led me to that awareness. There's real value in that. Those conversations led to connections. More value. Sometimes the best new ideas are born from the lowest moments.  Well, DUH! Isn't In Stone the best lemonade I ever made (so far!)? I know how to make constructive use of adversity; it's like some magical kind of alchemy we all have access to. Sometimes being forced to consider one's options is the best thing that can ever happen to a person. I was also made aware of what I DO have, and that is a fabulous network of supportive people. It's easy to take those folks for granted, but times like these remind me that I am loved. There is nothing more valuable than that!

One of my friends likes to talk about how the world isn't fair and you have to take what you can get, but I don't accept that. Frankly, that's just pessimistic BS. But once upon a time I subscribed to that. And I tried to be polite and fair to my own detriment. It has lead to a lot of hardship for me. My mother always said that I was the only one who could change it, but I was always so afraid of being unfair or mean. While I believe that no matter what others do, it is our own behavior we are responsible for, I have learned that it's perfectly okay to advocate for yourself. I want EVERYBODY to win, to be happy, to be successful, secure, etc. But I also want those things for myself. I deserve those things. If I don't make decisions that honor that, or if I'm always saying "oh, well that's good enough" so as not to offend, I fail to make myself a priority. Certainly nobody else is, so if not me, then who? Something to think about. Life can't always be about settling and getting by. You know? I'm sure some of you do.  But if you accept that, then that's all there will ever be.

I'll get through this. I guess that is my point. People survive terrible things. I hail from the sunflower tribe, so I won't be kept down long. Sometimes bad things happen, even we do everything right. What do we take from it? What do we learn? Oh so preachy today! Even so, I hope you all are having a great week, and at the very least, are proficient at making lemonade :-)




Saturday, March 21, 2015

People Who Do

Coggio Upholstery
I haven't written anything here for awhile. As I'm trying to get some real  work done, I've spent less time here and on social media. Don't get me wrong; online schmoozing is important in terms of marketing, but sometimes a person has to put some emphasis on having something to market. This is one of those times that I fantasize about having someone else available to do marketing for me (it's not exactly my forte), but then there's the whole 'reality' thing. Anyhoo, I'm back :-)

In my brief perusal of social media in the last few months, and in my research for one of the books I'm working on, I have noticed an alarming trend. Okay, it's not something I've JUST noticed (ergo my upcoming book about homelessness), but it's something I'm finding more deeply affecting the more I look into it: How little Americans in general value themselves and the work that they do. It's like there's some strange martyrdom attached to needless suffering; like you aren't doing anything important unless it's damned near killing you. That's twisted. The flip side of it is that the American worker is seriously undervalued by employers. There's this idea that folks should be so grateful to have a job at all, that they should be willing to take what they can get. Um...HELLO!

Once upon a time, folks actually felt somewhat responsible for the people who helped them to achieve success. A job was long term, people mattered, and folks could live on what they were paid. A friend of mine apprenticed for 14 years, learned a trade and learned it well. He now has his own business that he put everything into and he does all the skilled labor himself. His work is meticulous and beautiful, but he STILL has to argue about his labor costs (which are quite reasonable in his industry). It makes me CRAZY. Recently, someone close to me was lectured by her employer about how hard that employer worked for their homes and cars. Meanwhile, the employees (who are ACTUALLY the ones who's labor supports the employers homes and cars) are struggling to support their families and driving junkers or riding the bus to work. It's like, the worse the job is to do, the lower the pay-scale. There is something very wrong with all of that. The reality is, it's the people who DO who are the most necessary and valuable. If you don't believe that, try running your business without them.

Every once in a while I think "what if?" about random situations. As people are systematically being taught to survive with less and less income, it seems almost inevitable that the trend will ultimately make money obsolete (shh...just go with me here, lol). If it came to that, who would survive? People who move money around and tell others what to do? Not so much. In a world where money is meaningless, they're screwed. The people who do though, well, they'll just keep doing, but for themselves. The builders will build, the farmers will farm and the barter system will be alive and well. It already is. It's been around for a long time, and I've noticed a definite uptick in barter activity since the economy went south several years ago. Hell, even I helped clean stalls for fresh eggs not so long ago. I've done a lot of bartering over the years. The money folks will be waving around meaningless pieces of paper, and any power that may have given them at one time will have disappeared. The only thing I don't understand is why folks can't awaken to their own value NOW.

Okay, maybe I DO understand it. The propaganda is strong. But imagine a world where the value of a human being is actually recognized. What if? What if the hard working and skilled folks were running the country? Imagine the country run by farriers, folks who made or repaired quality items by hand, artists (who wear their souls on the outside of their bodies), storytellers, farmers, carpenters, and the people willing and able to assist and promote the value of others in a symbiotic and fair way that recognizes the value of all. What if?

Okay, reality time. I had my John Lennon moment, my dream of a utopia where a few people with money don't determine the fate of everybody else. It was a fun thought, and a blessed escape from a reality where people are asleep and believe all the bull-sh** that others feed them, even if the briefest moment of thought would enlighten them to the reality that it's to their own detriment. Okay...maybe I need to set the sad book aside for a bit and focus on the novel? It's scary and twisty, but is proving to be much more fun and lively than reality.

I believe in the power of the human spirit. I believe in compassion, kindness and love. I believe these things can overcome hatred, prejudice and unkindness. I need to focus on looking at what's positive for awhile so I can find my optimism again.




Thursday, January 15, 2015

Deputy Dawg and the Mighty Fee

Damn, it's been cold. Cold enough to keep Murphy and I indoors more than usual. I guess we're both getting old. I have an old horse-related hip-thing that's driving me bananas too. I think it's a combination of the cold, inactivity and trying to stay upright on a slippery sidewalk. Who knows. It's funny though, where my mind goes when it has a chance. Okay, sometimes NOT funny, but usually it is. Even stranger are the petty little things that connect and get lumped together in my mind. At one time, I thought that the important stuff pushed all the irrelevant stuff aside, but apparently, my biological operating system doesn't work that way. Hmm.

It started this morning when someone visiting a neighbor asked me about Murphy's prong collar. "Aren't those mean?" "Nope, only if you don't do any training and are a heavy-handed lunk." "You should use a headcollar." "He hates them, so no." "But they're so much more humane." "Um, not to the dogs who hate them." "He must really hate that collar." "He doesn't really feel anything about it. He has no reason to. " "Well, if he hates headcollars he HAS to hate that. Why don't you consider switching?" " Because I care far more about how my dog feels than I do about the latest fads and the opinions of strangers." People make me tired. The snark was going to happen eventually. I don't care for headcollars (Suzanne Clothier does a great job of summing up all the 'whys' here: The Problem With Head Halters), but I learned long ago to be flexible when it comes to living beings. There are no such things as always and never. All animals are different. I feel the same way about training methods. Just because a specific method can train a chicken to perform a simple behavior in a controlled environment, doesn't mean it's appropriate as the exclusive method to train all animals to do all things. I learned that, big time, about 20 years ago when I was working with greyhounds almost exclusively.

The first class I ever took was with my first greyhound, Garth. I had been reading tons of stuff on +R (you have to write it that way so people think you're all educated in the secret ways of positive reinforcement) and the use of clicker training, it's effect on the limbic system, etc. and was all indoctrinated and ready. I was ready to install the software into my dog via this "infallible" method. I took a few psych classes while in college too, and we studied behaviorism (and the various theories) at length. But even so, it still didn't occur to me to question why a training method would employ such a narrow aspect of one type of behavior theory, and employ it exclusively for a broad (read:unlimited) spectrum of animals and behaviors in essentially every situation, and call it science. The things I had read about dog training this way were very compelling, and furthermore disparaged all other methods for one reason or another. Besides, everybody who was anybody was doing it this way, and the only reason it wouldn't work like magic is if you screwed up. Nothing could go wrong there. Nope. (That was sarcasm, btw)

Then I went to class. The instructor was an awesome human being who I've been in touch with on and off ever since. Class one was without our dogs, and we had the chance to try two different teaching methods on each other. The first was clicker training in its purest form: Shaping. We were to train each other via this method, and see how we felt about being both the trainer and trainee. It was pretty eye-opening to be the trainee. I experienced an unbelievable level of frustration (as did several others, some actually giving up) trying to guess what I was supposed to be doing, and only sort-of 'learned' what I was supposed to. The second method we tried was lure-reward. It was quick, positive, and all the trainees were successful. Eye-opening, and the timing couldn't have been better. Trying to train most greyhounds via 'shaping' exclusively would be...interesting. They don't throw a lot of behaviors at you (most throw none) and all of mine would just stare at me until they were bored and then go lay down. They can be a challenging dog to engage and KEEP engaged (but individuality is always a factor). In the end I found that some combination of lure-reward to teach the beginnings of behaviors and clicker training to refine them worked best for my hounds, with some pressure-release-reward for leash work. It depends on the individual animal, and that's the most important lesson I ever learned: The animal in front of you is far more important than adherence to any theory/tool/etc. In the end, it's clarity and your personal sense of fairness above all that matters (compassion, kindness, an understanding of the individual animal's needs/feelings, responsibility in management) that matters far more. To the dog in the front-connect harness that has to jog with his shoulders immobilized and his arm-pits being rubbed raw, that tool is not humane. To the dog damaging his spine throwing himself around and lunging into a body harness or a flat collar, those tools are not humane. To the dog who's being driven crazy by the thing on his face, who's owner misreads his resigned expression as calm and happy, that tool is not humane. (These articles are helpful: Why are Choke or Chafe My Only Options, Not So Gentle Leader?). I know people who have done horrid things to their dogs without ever touching a prong collar, so it seems silly and petty to me to get so worked up about something so irrelevant. When you get obsessed with the tiny, irrelevant stuff, you tend to lose sight of the big picture. Almost any tool has a place. It's a personal philosophy of putting the dog first that is the highest priority for me, and being mindful and educated in the proper use of ANY tool (which isn't the same thing as reading the propaganda) before using it on my dog. Period.

But then there was Fee. Fee was, hands down, the most dangerous, aggressive and unpredictable dog I ever owned. To me, he was living, breathing (and flying and shrieking) proof that the 'nature' part of the 'nature vs. nurture' argument was very relevant indeed. Fee was the nickname for my greyhound, Kiefer (Anselm Kiefer, actually), and to his friends he was The Mighty Fee. It is exceptionally unusual to have a greyhound like Fee, but the rescue knew his litter would be, well...special. Each of the litter mates were place in experienced homes. Fee was not the worst of them (even so, there is a photo of him on page 93 in the book Dog to Do Communication by Jamie Shaw, in the chapter about aggressive dogs. Seriously). He was the one dog I ever had or worked with that wore a head collar successfully. Given his resistance to just about everything, it was a shocker. Even so, it was what it was and I went with it. He was really wonderful on leash and was very easy and cooperative in training, but having the ability to control his head was of paramount importance. I usually walked him in a basket muzzle to be on the safe side, but it was important to me that he was walked and had the chance to see a lot of new things. Interestingly enough, he had no issues with other greyhounds (Well, usually. He did start trouble with Garth on one very memorable and horrifying occasion. Fifteen hundred dollars worth of vet bills in less than 30 seconds. A new record). I took him to Delaware for the annual Greyhounds Reach the Beach event, and he was a perfect angel. But in every other way his behavior broke all the rules (and a couple of bones. He could hurt himself on himself). One of the biggest challenges was how damned fast he was. I had roomates when Fee was young. Being a dog-person, I was very much in the habit of never leaving food around. Having always had big dogs, that included the kitchen counter. My roomates didn't really think of such things so Fee learned to counter surf. It was a habit he never broke, even after years of never finding food on the counter. He would also snatch food from the unwary. He knew better than to try with my daughter or me, but my half-sister was lifting a burrito to take a bite and suddenly found her hand empty. Fee had it snarfed it down so fast there was no getting it away from him (also, the consequence of trying might be the loss of a few fingers). Fee spent time in his crate when nobody was home and when folks were eating from that point on. He actually really loved his crate. And I loved Fee. In spite of himself, he was a Momma's boy who slept on my head because he just couldn't snuggle close enough.

My roommates had the occasional visitor ( I say occasional, but one visitor actually stayed for several months, living in a blue school bus in my driveway) and I always gave them the rundown on the dogs, especially Fee. I was a boarding kennel at the time too, so the usual policy was pretty much 'don't mess with the dogs'. At the time, I allowed dogs on my furniture, so folks were briefed on how to get them off the furniture safely should they need to. It amounted to pointing at the floor and saying "off", and insisting. The dogs were pretty great about it and jumped down without argument. One of the visitors (a city girl) thought she would do it her way, and she grabbed Fee (of all the dogs, ugh) by the scruff with the idea of pulling him to the floor. He gave her a warning-snap (an EXTREME example of self-control for this particular dog...phew!) and the visitor freaked out. She started yelling "He bit me! I'm filing a report!" (He didn't. She had a red blotch where he smacked her. If this particular dog had really wanted to bite her, we would have been calling an ambulance), so I thought I should help her along. She asked for the phone number to animal control, and I gave it to her. She called, and the line was busy. Of course it was. She was calling my number. I tried really hard not to laugh, but I was only somewhat successful. It was kind of poetic. When she figured it out she looked really bummed that she wouldn't be creating any real drama that day. To be fair, I wasn't actually animal control, merely the answering service for them. I did the triage. If there was a genuine emergency, I would call my friends who actually WERE animal control. If it was a neighbor dispute between two rich flatlanders who were using animal control to harass each other (it happened a lot, unfortunately) then I could just make my friends aware of it when I saw them. Most of the relevant calls involved dogs in need of rescue or at large. Such was the nature of animal control in Huntington.

Eventually, my friends grew tired of the BS and quit animal control. My phone was much quieter, and I was grateful. Then, one day, a knock at my door. I opened the inner door, and through the screen I saw a small man wearing a cowboy hat with a gun on his hip. I thought "Does this guy think it's Halloween?" He identified himself as the new animal control 'officer' (his word) and said he was making the rounds and "making his presence known" to local dog owners. Hmm. I said "So, you're new." "How do you know?" "because I used to answer the phone for animal control. Also, folks don't usually live on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere because they appreciate impromptu visits". "You have a lot of dogs in there. Are they all registered?" "I'm a boarding kennel. Hey, did you talk to Olga (the town clerk) before making your rounds?" "Why would I do that?" "It seems she could answer a lot of questions for you. Save you some steps." "Can I come in and see the dogs?" "Not with that gun, you can't." "Ain't nobody's gonna get this gun off me!" "Then you won't be coming in my house." "But I'm a law enforcement officer..." "No, you're not. And even if you were, it wouldn't give you free access. Have a nice day." My first intro to the new animal control officer. I wondered how many people had met him.

I had coffee at the local store the next morning (it's what people did). The topic of conversation was the new animal control 'officer'. He been dubbed Deputy Dawg. I had a feeling nobody would take him seriously, and I was right. We passed the time for awhile, drinking coffee and swapping stories. Deputy Dawg, it seemed, had had a very unfullfilling couple of days. I wondered how he would deal with the rich flatlanders. I chuckled a bit to myself when I thought about it.

And that's how a train of thought really gets rolling. It starts with a comment, and ends with too much time on one's hands and long-forgotten memories about things that weren't really that important. I lost Fee a few years ago to cancer. Losing him changed the way I do a lot of things, and inspired my research into canine-feeding. I loved that dog, so much. He was holy terror, covered in scars of his own creation, but he loved with his whole heart in the way that dogs seem to do. He even let my daughter paint his toenails pink. Well, when he was asleep. I never did have to call an ambulance for anyone on his account, and he taught me a lot. That's the key. I could have handled him a number of ways: I could have given up on him and taken him back to the kennel, I could have had him put down because he was challenging, or I could have "managed" him into an isolated and lonely existence.  I didn't. In fact, I've never done any of those things. Instead, I thought I could try something new, learn something, and accept him for exactly who and what he was, and expand my thinking to encompass what Fee needed to lead a long (though not long enough), happy and fulfilling life. I liked that idea better.







Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poverty and Homelessness

A work in progress
There has been a lot of talk among my friends about poverty and homelessness lately. It has all been really constructive, positive and loving "What can I do to help the cause" sort of talk, and it's all good, but it's brought up a lot of things for me that I still really struggle with. Once upon a time, I thought some time and distance would fix the emotional wounds that are caused by poverty and homelessness, but I suppose it isn't that simple. Yes, I have been on welfare. My daughter and I have been homeless twice. We couch surfed so we were lucky, but luck is relative, I suppose. I grew up thinking, no, believing with my whole heart, that God never gives you more than you can handle, that adversity makes you stronger, that if you are polite and kind and do the right things, then bad things can't touch you, and that family will always be there for you. I believed that our lives are as positive or negative as the choices we make, but that we always had a choice. I know better than all that now. I wish I didn't, and maybe that's why I don't really talk about it, but if I can make just one person understand, or if I can take the self-hatred out of someone else's experience, then this difficult and painful disclosure is worthwhile. Sometimes things do the most harm if they're allowed to fester below the surface and never allowed exposure to the light of day. And it IS a new day, but nothing can erase what we've been through.

Poverty is one of those things that's extremely misunderstood. There's this idea that there is a solid safety net, that a person has to err egregiously to find themselves struggling financially, and boy, if you end up homeless,  then certainly you must have done SOMETHING to deserve that. I'll tell you what I did: I had a child. Even though it was the best, most positive and straight up honorable thing I've ever done with my life, it meant I was automatically living below the poverty line. I didn't get any child support. It happens. I hadn't finished college yet, so the amount of money I could make was negligible. I depended on welfare and the money I could make either working at home (I was a sculptor) or at jobs I could bring my child to. My grandmother helped me out a lot for awhile and we were okay, but then she died. My parents tried to help inasmuch as they could too, but the whole structure of my family had dissolved and my personal safety net was gone. Then, everything changed.

I won't get into all the details because they are tedious. But the reality for the average poor person looks something like trying to pay $800 worth of bills with $600 every month. Month after month. It fluctuates up and down periodicity depending on what you yourself are able to make (Congratulations on your new job. You are now losing your food stamps and have less money to work with.) I had a lot of nice things (I'm so lucky to have had good stuff to start with. I'm so lucky I came from a good family). I had to sell a lot of them at ridiculous prices, but at least I had them to sell. I was even able to start a business boarding dogs, and we did okay for awhile there too. But the thing about limited resources that is the most terrifying is the inability to absorb the impact of other peoples' decisions. You are quite literally at the mercy of people who care more about the bottom line than they care about you, or more about who knows what. I just know that when my basement flooded (the landlord had removed the pump before I moved in. I couldn't afford one of my own), my landlord got married and moved away, leaving her son in charge. He didn't take care of the basement (as promised), he didn't bring back the pump. When holes rotted through the floor and toxic mold grew in the walls, my daughter and I started getting sick (just get a spray bottle with bleachwater) and finally the place was condemned. It's what you can expect when the rent is "affordable", unfortunately. We couldn't find another place.

My parents rallied, my boyfriend at the time and his mom did too (Not my boyfriend anymore, but I still love them both). The plan was a house for my daughter and I, and an expanded business plan. I had this. I had people. We were going to be okay. We had it all worked out. And then we didn't. At the last minute, everything fell apart (My own family doesn't believe in me. I must be a terrible person). We scrambled to find something, ANYTHING. But rents are high and sometimes on purpose. Gotta keep the riff raff out, ya know. We lost our home and my business in one fell swoop.

There's something about packing your things when you know everything is going into storage (I can't believe this is happening). There's a disbelief (This can't be real) that goes with it until those final moments (at least my dogs are okay in my friend's kennel). It feels like a train is coming, and you're tied to the tracks. It feels like like screaming for help in a dream where nobody can hear you. And worse, your child's fate is inextricably tied to yours. It's what you think of in that moment when you load up the last of your things on the truck (I'm so lucky to have help moving my stuff), the moments when you are putting everything you own (at least I have stuff and a place to keep it) into a storage locker; your bed, your child's bed, your books and your child's toys. Then that slam of the door sliding shut on your whole world, and the click of the lock.  But the worst moment is that one when you get in your car (at least I have a car) and your child looks at you, and all you can think is "What do we do now?" (Oh God, don't cry. If ever you needed to hold it together it's now. Do it. Be strong. You failed. You failed. You're a failure. You failed your child, so you better HOLD IT TOGETHER YOU LOSER.) It's weird that life just keeps going. I'd bring my daughter to school, fortunate that she had that stability (Thank you, B&T), then go to the kennel to take care of the dogs (I'm so lucky to have a safe place for them), and search day after day for a place to call home. I would go pick up my daughter after school (Act normal. Keep it together. Nobody wants to hear about your embarrassing problems. Failure Failure Failure. Don't forget to smile. All these people get to go home and have dinner. They get to relax and go to bed. I wonder if they know how awesome that is.)

A lot of people have a lot of misunderstandings about poverty and homelessness. There's so much propaganda floating around out there that's very enticing. If you believe the poor are okay, you don't have to do anything. If you think the safety net works, YOU are off the hook.  If you believe that the poor and homeless did it to themselves, it allows you the triple advantage of 1) getting to pass judgement 2) getting to feel 'better than' and 3) you have the opportunity to feel good about turning your back on other human beings. I think very few people would knowingly do that, but the misinformation that's spread around has made poor-bashing acceptable and normal. It's disgusting. If you seriously believe that there is any advantage to being poor, I strongly encourage you to be in touch with local organizations who deal with poverty issues. Or, you know, talk to poor people. Perhaps even more important, set aside your personal bias and LISTEN.

Having said that, some of the LEAST understanding people I have ever met are social workers. Some are amazing, some just want to get through the day, but there are a surprising number of them who just want to talk down to you, talk at you, tell you how to live your life and talk to you about choices. They have the right intentions, but they are coming from their own place and not that of the client. They can't relate at all but they think they understand perfectly. It's a very dangerous combination, and likely the source of the perpetuation of misinformation so prevalent in the media today. They dispense a lot of advice that folks don't want or need and really can't take. To be clear, the REAL choices are: Food or rent, food  or gas, food or electricity, food or cleaning supplies, and when it gets toward the end of the month, food for me OR for my child (obviously a no-brainer). If I had a nickel for every person who wanted to talk at me about my "budgeting issues" or similar subjects (you just have to learn to be POSITIVE!), I would have had no more financial problems. My biggest budgeting issues were that I didn't have enough money, and lacked a magic wand.

So what DO the poor need? The short answer is more money. It takes a shocking amount of time and energy to wake up every day wondering how to feed you family, and to traipse about (if , in fact you are fortunate enough to have the ability to traipse), all over town to access random services, hoping to piece together enough money to keep the light on. It's energy that would be much better spent elsewhere. No matter what Fox "News" and their ilk say, nobody wants to be poor, poverty isn't lucrative, there is no advantage and nobody is doing well on subsidies. NOBODY. Pardon my French, but that is bullshit. I tried to come up with a better word, but there isn't one. On the rare occasion that somebody attempts fraud, they are caught and prosecuted. The second thing people need is opportunity. People who have opportunities take them so for granted that they can't even kinda understand that they aren't available to everyone, or conceive of how different life might be without them. It makes a huge difference when mommy and daddy pay for your education and sign off on all the big purchases so that you can build something positive for yourself right from the get go. It changes everything.

The other thing to remember is that homelessness isn't the problem, it's the symptom. If ever there was proof that the poor weren't getting what they need to help themselves and stop being poor, it's the alarming rate of homelessness. Homelessness happens when you have done everything you can do and it doesn't work, and have asked for help that doesn't come. It's a point of utter helplessness and hopelessness. I can't speak for everyone, but for me it was that moment when I realized that everything I believed in was bullshit. It was the moment when I knew to whom I mattered, and to whom I didn't. I realized that God most definitely gives you more than you can handle, and when it happened something broke so profoundly inside me that I've never been the same. Over the years I've worked hard at gluing all the little pieces together, but I don't think I'll ever be the same. I'm seriously agoraphobic. I mean, seriously. The panic attacks are so embarrassing, but it is what it is. I get nosebleeds whenever I get correspondence from my landlord, even though it's always benign. So no, adversity doesn't always make you stronger. Sometimes it fucks you up irrevocably. But I'm working on it. Even so, I can't help but believe it happened for a reason. I have yet to discover what that reason might be, but I'll know it when I see it.

It's over for us now, the 'living it' part. My daughter is an adult and we share household expenses. But every time I hear somebody trash the poor I get angry, because they are trashing me. Every time somebody disrespects and dehumanizes the homeless, they are dehumanizing me, and worse, my daughter. Those families are us, those children are my child. Anybody can end up there. It took me years of scraping and clawing to forgive myself for the sins that I was held accountable for but never actually committed, but I did do that much. I believe in myself, but very few others. My cynicism was well-earned. I wish I smiled more, that I was calmer and less emotional. I'll get there. In the meantime, I will always defend and advocate for those who can't do it for themselves, because I know they can't. I won't judge because nobody can be harder on a person than they are on themselves. But mostly because I understand that sometimes, people don't need a lecture or a pep-talk; what they need is real, tangible help.