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Sunday, October 8, 2017

Disconnect

If you know me at all, you know that I am much more comfortable in the realm of thought than I am with feelings. My ability to think things through and mentally pick things apart and make objective assessments has been a really powerful survival mechanism for me. It's true that sometimes my thoughts get away from me, but usually because of feelings. Ergo my discomfort. Feelings always seem to be something that happen TO me, something I don't have much control over. They range from warm and pleasant, to intense and unstoppable. Sometimes those feelings are a tidal wave that turns my life upside down. But what choice is there, really? I spend time on my computer, using the internet as a buffer, as a way to disconnect. Sometimes the internet is a compassionless and ugly place.

For the last couple of weeks I've felt as though I was walking around with my heart outside of my body. I don't run from my feelings because I don't have any, but because I do. The human suffering in this world doesn't go unnoticed by me, the losses don't go unmourned. Whether those losses are natural and at a distance, whether they are needless and directly effect someone close to me, or whether they are the result of gratuitous and thoughtless violence. There have been a lot of them, and the cracks in my carefully constructed, personal armor are widening and visible. I know what it feels like to suddenly have the rug pulled out from under you with catastrophic consequences for you and your loved ones. I know all too well what loss feels like. Having said that, I would like to take a moment to express gratitude for the security I currently enjoy and the loved ones my life is blessed with. As a friend recently said, "Life can turn on a dime." It's a fact I know all too well.
 
I had occasion to go back home recently. It was for a funeral, but as I embraced my old friends, the people who shaped my childhood, I realized how much I missed them; how much I miss living in the real world, even when it's painful, or chaotic, and even messy. In spite of this realization, I need desperately to retreat and process. The world has been a painful place just lately. But that isn't new. Today I'm supposed to be at the Chase Away 5K. I'm on the planning committee, and it's a cause near and dear to me. I've never missed a year. But I've got nothing left. So I do what I do to heal. I do this, and I walk/run.

Sometimes, It's about running TO something instead of from it. About being in the moment. Sometimes it's my own desire to overthink things that gets in my way, so I run. I allow my thoughts to fall away, and focus on the thud of my footfalls and the rasp of my breath. I revel in the ache of working muscles, and the trickle of sweat at the small of my back. I always take the detour through the woods. Where the path dips over the brook, I speed up; I run down one side and up the other until I feel like my heart is going to burst. And then I stop and I listen. I feel the wind and the sun on my face. I hear the brook and the birds. I am reminded of my own humanity, that we are all flesh and bone, animated by spirit. We are a part of this world and each other. Any harm we do affects it all. But by the same token, any good that we do ripples outward indefinitely. That's the part I need to hang onto. I need that constant reminder, a connection with the gritty and real. I give myself time to watch the squirrels and enjoy the earthy redolence of fallen leaves, and I let it all go.





Saturday, March 11, 2017

Culture Shock

Papa and I in our canvas 'tennisses'
I'm sick again. This never happens. I almost never get sick. This winter hasn't been particularly harsh, and I can't ever remember a time when I took better care of myself in terms of diet and exercise, and yet here it is. I do get it though. I've been having nightmares pretty regularly too, and the tone of them is always the same. Sometimes the dream is about people I love joining a cult that does terrible things. Sometimes it's about people I love having friends that kill and torture people, but they have no issue with it. In my dreams, I always try to talk to my loved ones, and they either answer me in a foreign language and then laugh when I don't understand, or they tell me I need to get over it. Sometimes during these conversations there's screaming in the background. Sometimes it feels like I'm in hell and I can't find the way out. That feeling stays with me into the waking world sometimes, when I remember what the world is now. That's why I'm writing this. I won't stop getting sick until I acknowledge that what I really am is heartsick. What I feel is disconnected, because they changed and I didn't, though they think it's the other way around.

There's all this talk about going back to 'what was', but that's not the direction we're going. We're going in a direction that is as anti 'what was' as it is anti progress. I know what it's like to grow up in one world, and suddenly find yourself in a world that you don't really fit into anymore. I grew up in a small town. I knew and loved everybody. I would ride my bike to the library and know who lived in every house on the way. I always had quarters in my pocket (courtesy of my grandfather) so I could stop at Mr. Alberghini's store for a chocolate bar or some peanuts. If I picked up the mail on the way home, I always made sure to say "Hello" to Mr. McIntyre at the post office. There were dirt roads, farms, cows and horses. There was a roving pack of dogs that spent their days together (our dog was one of them), and who all were home by dinner time. I used to have brand new, homemade hats and mittens to wear to school every year. The town was overrun by kids riding bikes and horses every day in the summer. I went to church every Sunday and to catechism, and sometimes the priest would have dinner at our house. I sat on the front porch in a rocking chair watching it rain while my grandfather sang "Pennies From Heaven" (our family liked to sing), I played pick-up softball with the neighbors in the summer, sometimes until the sun went down. I was a girl scout, and learned to care for the planet and our natural resources. I was in 4-H and learned how to take responsibility for my animals. I learned that no man is an island, and that we are part of a community and in that way are responsible for each other. I watched westerns with my grandfather, and I wanted to be a cowboy (or an Indian. Either one, as long as I got to ride FAST) We went ice skating in the winter. We had a phone with a cord, and if you wanted a private conversation you had to sit at the top of the cellar stairs and talk quietly. We used to wait until it was dark, and then play hide and seek or tell ghost stories. I rode in the back of pick up trucks, my long hair usually in a ponytail and covered by a bandana. I went to drive-in movies and drive-up eateries. I remember when TV would end the broadcast day at midnight.

Back then, kindness and respect were the norm. We didn't have to legislate it or talk about it, because it was just a part of life. People who had respect for themselves treated others respectfully. It's just the way it was. It was part of the fabric of everything I knew. I said "Thank you" to my school bus driver and the lunch ladies every day. I always called folks who were older than me "Mr.", "Miss", or "Mrs." unless told to do otherwise (still do), out of respect. My grandparents weren't just real Republicans, they were real Christians. They always put people before money, and they were generous. When somebody needed help they were there if they could be. Most of the neighbor children had at least one toy fixed by my grandfather, or a boo boo tended to by my mom or grandmother. I learned that 'fiscal responsibility' meant spending carefully, and taking good care of things so that they would last a long time. That way, you'd have the money when you needed it for something important, like people, especially family. I learned that when you help somebody you do it without strings and without need of recognition. My grandparents helped me a lot financially, and they would refuse repayment (Nana: "I'm not taking your money. Do I look that cheap?"). But we grew up understanding that we were very, very fortunate to have the money, and that not everybody was. The lesson was that, as adults, we should be just as willing to share our good fortune with others should we also be so blessed. We also learned to love everybody. We didn't have to like them, but we did have to love them. We learned that it wasn't our place to judge other people, and that hating others was like poisoning yourself. If I came home talking smack about somebody (rare), my grandmother would say something like "Nevermind! You just worry about you!" I didn't really know anything about gender equality issues because my mom did whatever the hell she wanted, and didn't feel any need whatsoever to explain herself. It was through teachers and school that I learned how "scandalous" that was and how difficult my mom's path really had been. I admired the hell out of her because I saw the toll it took sometimes, but she kept on going.

Compared to the world I grew up in, the world I live in now seems cold, crass, tactless, selfish and often cruel. And it's getting worse, on purpose. I think it's part of why I have such a hard time with the current version of the Republican party. I'm an Independent, but will admit to leaning heavily to the left by default. I go where my inner morality takes me, and much of that morality was shaped by my grandparents who helped to raise me. My grandparents were REAL Republicans, when it was the party of the people, of workers rights, of empowerment of the individual through fair and ethical employment, and of fiscal responsibility. If you had asked them which party was more important, they would tell you that they both were important in order to create balance. I was too young to really grasp the specific political beliefs of my grandparents, but I knew and respected their personal values, and have tried (and continue to try) very hard to emulate those values in my adult life. I have to wonder what they would think of today's political climate. I know a lot of wonderful, decent people who still support the Republican party by default, despite it's departure from the party's real values. I have often wondered how that's possible. But I heard a story (parable, tale, whatever) the other day that sort of explained it for me. I can't remember where I heard it (TV?), but it was about how to boil a frog.  As the story goes, if you drop a frog in boiling water it will simply jump out and be on it's way. But if you put the same frog in cool water and turn up the temperature very gradually, the frog wont realize it's being boiled. Kind of a gross analogy, but you get the point. We've slowly, so slowly, given ourselves over to financial priorities. We have reality TV and cable news keeping us complacent and entertained. We've allowed ourselves to be divided and conquered for profit. And I'm so damned angry. I remember 'great'.  Great was ethical, kind, respectful, reasonable, inclusive, and GOOD. It was humane and careful and responsible. That's not where we're headed, not at all. And those good values I grew up with are being erased and made a mockery of. The truly Christian values I was raised with are being twisted and used to punish and hate. We're being sold an enormous lie and we are just going along with it, selling out what's important and to our own detriment. No wonder I feel sick. I wish there was a way I could shake people awake and remind them of who they are, but I don't know how. We're boiling. We're boiling like crazy, and people are cheering about it.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Learning to Listen

Full disclosure: I am sick, a feel like crap. I've had a really tough week, and coughing has meant I'm fairly sleep-deprived. I'm not coming from a place of strength and confidence just now. Sometimes I question whether or not I should even share anything with you all when I feel like this, but inevitably, one of you will thank me for doing so. I appreciate that, it means a lot to me, so here goes.

I had a really nice birthday dinner last night. It was small (family) and at my favorite restaurant. It was late, but doo doo happens, as do giant snow storms, sick siblings and what not. But it was nice just the same. My sister made me a giant pink cake that was everything. It wasn't fancy, it had had to travel a bit, but it was big, pink perfection. Sometimes it's a giant pink birthday cake that makes all things right with the world, and this was one of those times. But I felt like sh**, and a little bit gutted if we're being perfectly honest (again, tough week), and it made me more vulnerable than usual. You know how it goes.

I don't get to see my loved ones often, so when I do I like to catch up a little. I was talking about something that was bothering me about the current state of things, when another loved one interjects with "That's bullshit". It wasn't bullshit. It was something I actually knew quite a bit about. But in order to avoid a "thing" I just clammed up. But that's what we do to each other, isn't it? It didn't matter that I was stating an actual fact. I was silenced by an opinion. Any other day I would have been pretty 'whatever' about it, but I am just so fried. It highlights a problem that is actually pretty huge and relevant right now. Everybody has something to say, but nobody wants to listen. Double that if you dislike the facts. No good will ever come of that.

It reminds me of when I was a child in elementary school. I hated school with a fiery passion. The work bored me to tears, and I've never liked being around a lot of people. I've never been what could be considered anti-social, but I'm definitely an introvert in the extreme. Always have been. Going to a place that made me feel profoundly anxious every day (to the point of physical symptoms), just to be inundated with things I already knew, was like living in hell. I was going to try to find a less dramatic way to put that, but why sugar coat it? There was some discussion about having me skip a grade or two, but my lack of social whatever prevented them from doing so. My subsequent (and inevitable) lack of engagement in the classroom was apparently enough cause for concern that a child psychologist was brought in to deal with with me. He was nice guy with a PhD who meant well and worked with lots of troubled children. I think his only failing was that he'd never been one himself, so there was a giant gap in his perspective that his PhD couldn't fill. That in itself didn't need to be a problem, but he came into the situation predisposed to believe certain things, and he approached me and my issues with those preconceived ideas. Consequently, he didn't listen. He heard things that he wanted to hear, things that supported what he believed. The things that were the most real and important were discarded outright because they didn't fit the narrative he believed in. He was in a position to recognize something in me that, had he been able to see it, my whole life could have been different. Instead, he made suggestions and implemented situations on my behalf that did a whole wide world of damage. Because he couldn't/wouldn't hear me.

I don't bring this sh** up because I'm still grieving it or haven't moved on or any of that nonsense. I think the past is important because it provides context. It's supposed to teach us something and give us some perspective. You have to know what's wrong before you can fix it. But I think getting stuck there, and making every decision based on the past is a ginormous mistake. It's possible to get so stuck in "what was" that we lose the ability to learn and grow. Ahem. But I think the *listening* piece doesn't lose relevance. Failure in our ability to listen to each other is at the root of every social problem we have. It's the reason we have riots and protests. People are so fired up about what to do about this group of people or that one, but nobody is asking the people directly involved. Nobody is willing to hear the answers because they've already made up their minds. Instead, they discredit, dismiss and invalidate, throwing away the truth because it doesn't fit an accepted (albeit flawed/false) narrative that they are more comfortable with. It's like saying "Stop telling me who you are and what you need, because it doesn't mesh with what I think I know about you, and I don't like looking at reality". And that determination to make everything about numbers and policies, about ideologies and money, it's killing us. And sometimes it feels like watching it play out day after day is killing something in me. Don't worry, I won't let it. I won't be sick much longer and I'll get my equilibrium back.

But it's so damned important to listen. Until we're able to understand how profoundly our personal biases influence our beliefs about others, we'll never be able to relate at all to each other.  As long as nobody is willing to listen to the truth, it's all just noise.










Saturday, February 11, 2017

Birthday Wishes

Photo:happybirthdaycakeideas.com
Today is my birthday. I usually wake up happy, and shamelessly make the entire month of February all about me. I'm generally insufferable on my actual birthday, but it seems to be more amusing than annoying. Sometimes. You would think I was a four year old child instead of a lumpy, middle-aged woman. I say that without any of the implied self-deprecation. I don't happen to believe there is anything at all wrong with being either lumpy or middle-aged. I'm forty eight today, actually. And it's cool. But I woke up in kind of a sad space, and that's less cool.

There are several legitimate reasons, I suppose. It's cold, it's grey, and it's the time of year that I am SO sick of winter. Some dear friends of mine lost a really great dog yesterday, and that's heartbreaking. Our country is a sh**show, and there's nothing I can do about that (if you disagree with me on that point, please keep it to yourself. For me, even more depressing than the sh**show that our country has become is the  number of people looking straight at the situation and thinking its just awesome). And you know, I still don't have a pony. That last bit is in part my fault. I know what I want, I know what I want to do and it's an area of my life where I'm not willing to settle. It's also an area of my life where I have more than paid my dues, and it's time for a new experience.

I did come to a realization that brings me closer to that goal, though. There was once a time that I wanted nothing more than a house of my own in the middle of nowhere. I could keep my pony at home and I would feel 'free'. But my daughter, in her infinite wisdom (I swear that girl is a magical unicorn, and I have no idea how or why), reminded me that I could have a horse without "all that". She reminded me what it was like to live in a home in the middle of nowhere (which we did for many years) and asked me how I got 'freedom' out of that. She's not wrong. I think of the work and the responsibility, and the reality of living (single parenting, no less) in what is essentially a chore factory, and that really isn't where I want to spend my money or energy. Like, at all. It was definitely the right way for a child to grow up, but now it's my turn. Do I miss mowing the lawn? Shoveling snow? Cleaning off/repairing the roof? Or really, fixing ALL the things? Do I miss injuring myself repeatedly, dealing with getting water to the barn in the winter? Do I miss how impossible it is to go anywhere, or get anything else done? I'm forty eight today, and no, I do not miss all those things that beat me up when I was younger. Maybe someday I will, and I'll revisit the idea then. For now, I like the singularity and simplicity of my greatest financial goal: Pony.

It's a good feeling to be content. I love my neighbors. It was a thought that occurred to me only recently, but there it is. I like that I can make a phone call when something needs to be fixed. I like that my car lives in a garage filled with security cameras. I like that when I couldn't start my car, there were several friendly faces around to offer me a jump start (of COURSE I have cables). If I had the money, I would refurnish my place so that it's a little more 'me', but I have all my parents' furniture from their condo, so I'm not exactly hurting. They don't buy junk, and home is super comfy, so it's all good. We're actually okay, and it hasn't always been the case. I feel some pretty genuine gratitude around that in spite of my cruddy mood.

But this is a post about wishes, and I do have a few. Obviously, a pony and the resources to accessorize, support and show said pony are always in the front of my mind. My friend Autumn wants me to do mounted archery with her too, and that is also a loud and resounding HELL YES. I would like to have the time/focus to finish my new book. It seems to be writing itself, which is great, so if that could just keep happening I would totally dig that. I also wish for it's success. There's never a guarantee there. All I can do is hope that I'm writing something that people will want to read. Speaking of success, I wish that one of the movie producers who's been in touch with me would do more than talk to me about how awesome it would be to work with them. Option the damned book already! Yes, it WOULD be an awesome movie! Yes, I would LOVE to help with the screenplay! Let's do it! (See above re: Mama wants a pony). Here is where I completely acknowledge that I have entirely different problems than I used to, and I'm grateful as hell for that too.

Speaking of holy (we weren't, but let's pretend), I've been praying a lot. I know many of you don't believe in God, and that's cool. I don't know how I would still be alive if I didn't, and that's no exaggeration. You know, the question I get asked the most is "How can a loving God allow so much suffering?". No clue. You might as well ask me "How long is time?" and "How big is the Universe?" because I think they are all equal in terms of how far beyond our human purview they are. Faith is certainly at odds with my logical mind at times, but I have more reasons to believe than not. I've been to some dark places I'll probably never talk about. But faith makes me think of humanity. I'm struggling with that a bit just now. I know all the wonderful things we're capable of; space exploration, medical breakthroughs, art, music...it's endless. I hear our divinity in a singing chorus, or see it in an abstract sculpture that reaches me in spite of it's intangible yet somehow familiar form. I don't think we understand fully the best of what we are, but I wish we could at least try. I wish we could see in each other our naked humanity, free from whatever form(s) of groupthink we personally subscribe to. I wish we could remember who and what we are and love that in each other and treat each other accordingly. It's how we came into the world and it's how we're going to leave it. In the end, it won't matter who told you to think or feel what. In the end it's just you. Who are you?

Yeah, that last wish was a doozy. Unrealistic, yes. For now. But it's my birthday, dammit, and I had to ask. So off I go to enjoy the day, and may there be many happy returns for all of us.

For my fellow Aquarians: 


Monday, January 23, 2017

Women's March

Nick Offerman doning a cap in solidarity
It's been a loooong time since I've posted anything. I loved where I was at when I wrote my last post, and I wanted to be there again. It was the sort of energy I like to put out into the world. But let's be real here; things aren't okay. You would have to be a pet rock to be unaware of that (not that I have anything against pet rocks!). While this post is certainly inspired by the women's march, it isn't entirely about that. But the record numbers of participants and the ensuing (albeit feeble) attempts at discrediting the event provide an accurate representation of the general goings on.

I don't want this to be angry, and I don't want it to be political. But I do want to make a few points: 1)This wasn't a "liberal temper tantrum". It was widely attended by folks of all ideologies, and it was a GLOBAL event. 2) If you are a woman and you've never felt discriminated against, I think that's wonderful, I genuinely do, and I'm happy that you haven't had that negative, insulting and demeaning experience. You need to understand though, that many, many more of us have had a far different experience, are STILL having that  experience, and it's an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed (have I mentioned the GLOBAL participation?). 3) Failure to allow inclusion by pro-lifers was far from hypocrisy. "Pro-life" sounds nice, but it essentially functions as anti-choice. Trying to insert yourself into a group of people who are fighting for their rights, when your whole raison d'etre is to impose legislation on that same group of living, breathing, sentient human beings in order to deprive them of their fundamental right to their own phyisicality...yeah, it might not be the venue. 4) Stop trying to discredit the event. It's a waste of energy, and it's coming off as desperate. I've seen everything from "They're burning the flag!", to "It's Muslims!"(the two most popular propaganda/manipulation tactics, which took me less than ten minutes to check out and dismiss), and "Why aren't they at work?"memes (seriously?) and headlines that essentially read "Large crowd makes messes". Funny how that last one isn't newsworthy when it occurs at literally any other widely attended event. Come on, PLEASE be smarter than this. When you subscribe to a certain point of view, will only listen to things that support that point of view, and won't do your own objective research, and actively reject everything else as lies, you are going to miss out on some pretty hefty chunks of reality. When that happens, there are going to be many, many people who live that reality who are going to disagree with your point of view. Pretending problems aren't real just because they don't fit into your ideological box doesn't make them go away.

Feminism came about for a reason. The word Feminism gets a lot of bad press because people misunderstand it (due in no small part to misleading propaganda). They think "I can't be a feminist because I shave my legs and I like being a stay at home mom". But they've missed the point entirely. It isn't about escaping the conformity of artificial, socially-contrived gender expectations just to arrive within a new kind of conformity. People who are used to thinking in boxes have a really tough time with the idea of no box at all, but the point is equality and choice. If you choose to be a housewife and a stay at home mom because that's what you love, GREAT! It's about embracing what makes you happy, whatever that looks like.

And let's talk about ideology. Once upon a time, it used to be nothing more than subtle differences in priorities. Not so much any more. I'm an independent, so I get bombarded by correspondence from both sides. One side is being emotionally manipulated, the other side is being actively and relentlessly lied to about the other (emotionally manipulated as well, but with anger instead of a sense of compassion). And they'll never know, because they won't bother to check it out (one side is better about that than the other, for sure). An artificial duality of thought is being created; this idea that if I believe in one thing, the other side must believe the opposite. If it isn't one way, then it must be another. It's a limited way to think in the extreme, and it's terribly sad. It's the idea that "Me and people who think like me are the only ones plugged in to the universal truth".  Newsflash: If you really believe that, then the only thing you're plugged into is your own ego.

We have to stop relating to each other this way! Look at what we've done to our country. We actually have people fighting for the right to be disrespectful and mean to other people (anti-PC), while lamenting how disrespectful today's children are. Really?! You really don't get that?
In the real world, as it used to be, if somebody came to you and asked you to stop hurting them, any decent person would apologize and rethink their behavior. If your reaction to someone else's pain is to dismiss it as irrelevant and then call them names, YOU have something fundamentally wrong with you. If you think opinions are as important as facts, you need to go back to school.

I know people have a lot of different perceptions about 'the way things used to be', but let me share mine with you. When I was growing up, I learned that it was important to have respect for yourself and for others. I learned that being mean and hurting people was wrong. I learned that you treat ALL people with respect, not because of who they are, but because of who YOU are. I learned that it is not our place to judge other people, but God's. I learned that different people have different ways of doing things, and that's okay. I learned to respect my elders. I learned to feel sorry for bullies, because they probably aren't very happy people. I learned that the well being of a person (especially a family member) always, ALWAYS comes before financial considerations.  I learned the difference between value and cost, and to always buy the best I can and then take care of it. I learned not to be wasteful. Boastfulness and self-aggrandizement are undesirable qualities. If I see something that seems wrong, speak out. If somebody needs help, help them. If somebody is being bullied, defend them. God is the only creator I worship. Never believe in gossip or speculation. Think for yourself, always. BE. AWAKE.

None of that sounds appreciably like the way things are heading, but I feel hopeful just the same. The worldwide movement against subjugation was certainly inspiring. We have tough times ahead for sure, but this time period feels very much like the dying gasp of a prehistoric beast. We just need to hold on to our knickers for a bit, and it will be okay.