Wide Awake

I woke to a crash at 5:00 this morning.  My daughter’s cat has finally managed to do what I have been anticipating for some weeks now—she broke some shit.

I investigated the crash and found that the beautiful orchid that was thoughtfully gifted to me after my recent hip surgery was currently lying on the living room floor, surrounded by chunks of clay that now resembled an exhibit in a museum rather than a pot.

Thankfully, the orchid itself was mostly intact.  Though, being a living thing, it has the opportunity, as do all living things, to experience shock, so we shall see if the trauma of being knocked to the ground has a negative effect in the coming days.  (Fingers crossed that it stays beautiful and blooming for a long time.)

I swept up the bits of pottery and a bit of dirt.  I put the orchid into another pot and placed it back onto the television stand where it resides.  And then I tried to return to the warmth and comfort of my bed to sleep again.  But the cat had started a chain reaction.  Because I was awake, the dog assumed it was time to be up and about, so he continually nudged me and licked at my hands until I gave in to his demands and took him outside.  And then, because we had begun the morning routine, he decided he should also have food.

While feeding him, I realized that he was out of water, so I filled that.  Then the idea of water alerted me to the extreme dehydration that was causing my tongue to stick to the roof of my mouth.  I drank two glasses of water and, when that didn’t seem like enough hydration, I downed a Gatorade.  And then, after using the bathroom, I went back to my bed once more.

But sleep would not come.  I was now wide awake.

As is customary, I began to think about all sorts of things while I laid there hoping for sleep.   I have medications that help me sleep at night.  I take the first at 7:00 pm, and take the last at 9:30.  There is a complex system of getting my brain and my body into a sleep state.  Sleep doesn’t come easy for me because of a few illnesses that I cope with, but I have developed a great system over time, and most nights sleep comes with relative ease.

Morning is another story.

Once I had begun the routine of the morning, I couldn’t get back to sleep.  And, while my brain wasn’t as functional as I would have liked—I sent a text to my daughter that said “don’t gorget” when I meant to remind her “Don’t forget to ask about time off for xmas”—I decided that if sleep would not find me, I would simply get up and do things.

The words “wide awake” kept returning to my mind in the semi-dazed moments when I was still struggling to sleep.  And while I can understand the connection in the literal sense—my inability to sleep—there was something beyond that use of the phrase that kept coming into my consciousness.  I couldn’t help but think about what being wide awake means in a more proverbial sense.  I couldn’t help but think of how I became the person that I am today, and how that person is one whom I consider “wide awake”.

People often use the word “enlightened’ as an insult when they respond to what I post on my blog or my Facebook page.  Many seem to take offense when I express my views, and they react by making sarcastic and rude comments.  A fair amount of those comments includes mocking my “enlightened” state.  This past week, I had multiple people slinging verbal attacks at my blog comment section.  And those attacks included that term “enlightened”, used as a pejorative and not a compliment.

But as I laid in bed, and remained wide awake, I had the overwhelming feeling that enlightened is exactly the correct statement to describe me.  I am wide awake.

Let me elaborate.

I have been through transformation after transformation.  And some of those transitions were not easy or came at great personal cost, but life doesn’t easily become other.  We like to stay in our little bubbles of safety and familiarity and commonly held understanding.  We don’t like change.  We certainly don’t like change that takes deep thought, definitive action, and amazing strength.

I never had the luxury of a bubble.  The place that is safe and familiar and commonly held never existed.  And that safety and familiarity will likely never come to fruition.  Mostly because the amygdala doesn’t heal after long-term exposure to abuse, fear, stress, and captivity in developmental stages.  You just keep on being in fight or flight or freeze mode for what seems like eternity, but is actually a lifetime.  Some people might comment here about how devastating and sad and sorrowful that mode is, and how it needs to be fixed.  But they would be wrong.

Here is why:

I’m always afraid, but that fear has made me capable of enlightenment—not in the pejorative sense, but in the literal sense.  I have been given this strange and difficult story to live out.  But because it is strange and difficult, it offers me reflection and recognition that many do not experience.

I’m wide awake.

When you see things in the light which I have seen things, you need to change the way you think.  You cannot come into contact with new ideas and different experiences and come out the other side with the same thinking you had before those things happened.  You cannot see what I see and know what I know and not change the way you participate in life.

I’m an addict.  And many people I know would say that this is a choice—a moral failure on my part.  But those people are not addicts.  Addicts know better.  We know that there is no amount of choice and will power that can keep you clean or sober in an environment where drink and drugs are present.  We know that this is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and a weird reaction in our pleasure center hastily throws us into the rock bottom of substance abuse.  We can manage this disease.  We cannot cure this disease.

I’m a divorced, single parent.  And many people would say that this, also, is a moral failure on my part.  But those people weren’t living in my household, with my abusive partner, and experiencing the terror of never being able to control what happened to me.  Domestic violence survivors know that you cannot go back and start over.  We know that the violence escalates, and it doesn’t reset at the beginning when you reach a terrible end and decide to “try again”.  Instead, you pick up where you left off—in a terrible state and creating greater and greater catalysts for further violence.  Sometimes you just need to leave.  Sometimes your life, and the life of your children, depends on you leaving the violence behind.  But that isn’t easy.  Domestic violence survivors know this.  And those still in abusive relationships know this too.  Because when you have been manipulated and conditioned in ways that leave you isolated and without resources, there isn’t a safe place to go or to be.  It is much harder to start life over with nothing than it is to stay and suffer through the abuse, in many cases. We know this.  We cope with this.  We cannot “fix” this.

I am disabled.  People constantly misunderstand or deny that fact.  “Get well soon”, is an offensive statement.  Because I know what it is to be in pain every hour of every day and night.  I know what it is to have to mourn the life you planned and worked for and ran toward.  I know what it feels like to always be unable and to always feel insufficient and to constantly be in need.  It doesn’t feel good.  And the people who say “get well soon” and who suggest I edit my life or my lifestyle in particular ways do not know that feeling.  They don’t have to mourn the loss and feel the pain.  So, their “solutions” are not only impossible to carry out, but they are reinforcing the idea that I am faulty, not good enough, and not accepted as I am.  I understand this disability in ways that most never will.  (And thank the Divine for that, because I don’t wish this experience on anyone.)  I manage this disability.  I work to be my healthiest self.  I cannot get rid of the disability.  I can’t “change it”.

I am pro-choice.  This is one of the things that makes so many people use the term enlightened in sarcasm and mockery.  This makes so many people think I am a moral failure.  But I live in spaces where choice is essential.  I live in a space of poverty.  I live in a space of fear, of scarcity, of abandonment, and of desperation.  And I should never be forced to bring a child into that space.  I was molested, assaulted, and raped.  I know what it is to not have agency in your life.  I know what it is to not have agency over your own body.  I know what it feels like to be used and owned and threatened and left alone in shock and disillusionment, because other people didn’t listen when I cried out for help.  So, I know what it is to need control over your own body and your own life and your own choices.  Because I cannot let another determine what happens to me.  That cannot happen again.  I cannot have someone else control me—not after all that I have endured.

I’m wide awake.

I understand why people reject my ideas.  I understand that they cannot see from my perspective.  I get why they don’t want to hear and accept and work through the things that I say or write.  It is hard work to change the way you think and behave.  It is hard work for me too.  But I know that I need to keep living my life with eyes wide open, and accepting even the most difficult and dangerous of facts and stories.

I didn’t get where I am today without struggle.  Struggle was often the catalyst for change, because I was shoving myself forward in ways that meant I met many others on my path, and I encountered facts and stories that I couldn’t have encountered if I hadn’t been on that path.  And my path is a rare path.  Not many travel through all the levels of hell that I have walked through.  So many have not had the terrible blessing of a hard life with life-altering experience.  It is awful and wonderful.

There is a quote that I think might be helpful to increase understanding here: “It was the possibility of darkness that made the day seem so bright.” ― Stephen King

For those of you who prefer religious text to horror and suspense novelists, there is also this passage from Ephesians 5: “but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore, it says: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light’.”

I am wide awake.

Many people look at the darkness that is expressed in my posts.  They think that these supposed “moral failures” and the challenges that I face are evidences of evil, and of a need for change.  And maybe I got to this place because of darkness, in some sense, but that darkness made the light possible.  I shine out all the brighter because of the dark.  Darkness isn’t necessarily a thing on its own, technically speaking.  It is the absence of light—or of light perceptible by the human eye, at least.   Light shows up, and then we can see clearly, because of the reflective and refractive rays that show up as colors and shapes that we could not discern in the darkness.

Everything that becomes visible is light.  And light is what makes everything visible.  Yes, I know that is circular reasoning.  It is also true.

Here’s the crux of the matter:  I believe that my life is full of light.

I’m wide awake, and the sun is shining down upon me.  It took a while for it to get here, and I watched it rise over the city this morning, but it is now shining down upon me.  And the light shines out all the brighter because of the contrast against the darkness.  Was it devastating and sad and terrible to be harmed in my history?  Yes.  Was it difficult to find my way beyond the pro-life stance that I adopted to fit in with my friends and neighbors and to step into the truth that science and experience offered, becoming pro-choice?  Yes.  Was there much that seemed dark and damaging and defeating in my life? Yes.

But there was also light.

There was love, support, grace, the voice of the Divine, strength, fortitude, passion, and purpose.  There still is.  It just looks a bit different than I had imagined it would.

I’m wide awake, because I let the light of truth transform me, over and over again.  Each time I encounter something that doesn’t make sense, or challenges my current belief system, or shakes me out of dissociative states and requires I be present and thoughtful, or offers a story that has new perspective, I let the light shine upon it.  And that light transforms my ideas, my actions, and my person in many ways.

Last week there were people who called me names in my blog comments, and made all sorts of assumptions about who I am and how I think and what I do.  But today that doesn’t bother me.  Because this morning I was wide awake, and saw clearly (with help from some insights borrowed from a friend) that the upsetting thing about these interactions was not that I am morally bankrupt or doing life wrong, but the upsetting thing is that these people are not letting light shine in darkness.  They are not stepping into truth and letting it transform them.  They are not listening to my story, even though they may be reading my words. And they are not doing so, because it is very hard to do.

Darkness gave me what others lack:  the opportunity to distinguish the dark from the light.  Darkness pushed me toward the path of the light of truth.  Escaping the suffering meant moving toward a new way of thinking and being.  And that way of thinking and being is better than the way of my past.  Truth and light shine in my present and my future.

I’m wide awake.

I understand my situation, and I know my value, and I feel my emotions, and I acknowledge my weakness alongside my strength.  I live in the light, and I seek truth.  If you believe that you can know better, and understand more about my life and my history and my current situation or actions, feel free to make your suggestions, but please do not be angry when I tell you that I don’t need your input right now.  Because I am walking the path of light, shining out in the midst of the darkness, and I don’t necessarily believe that your comments are contributing light.

I know what I am doing.  I know when what I am doing is helpful and when it is not.  I can own the times that it is not helpful.  But I have an awareness regarding my life and my situation that you do not share.

I was recently reading a book from the Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones series.  I was talking with my physical therapist about watching the show versus reading the books, and I told her what I have told others:  I like reading the books, even though I know from the show what is going to happen, because the books offer you internal monologue that the television series cannot portray.

I think that this applies to my life too.  Others can share my experience to a degree, but they are not allowed the privilege of being inside my head, and feeling and knowing and understanding the depth and breadth of who I am and what I believe and why.  You are missing the monologue that shapes the story in important ways.  You are reading from your perspective and not from mine.  And if you do not seek my perspective when you read my words, then you are not practicing the empathy that is required for change and connection.

My perspective is important.  And yours may be too.  But insisting that I do not know my own situation or life experience or whatever else pertains to me, and that you know a better way of being me, simply because you say so (with no facts to back that up whatsoever), is not only uninformed, but it is offensive.  It is offensive because I am an aware, educated, experienced, adult.

There’s more to me than people know.

And I am wide awake—shining light on my life and my surroundings to continually seek truth.

Whatever I am, and whatever I do, I do it wide awake.

And now, I think it is time for a nap. 😉

Dances with Dragons

It is no secret that I love the HBO hit series Game of Thrones.  George R.R. Martin is genius in so many ways, and the show follows suit.  And for many reasons, I wonder how Martin connects in the ways that he does to the plight of the marginalized in his medieval and magical imagined society.

One of the ways that I identify with the characters in this series has to do with the plight of the woman.  Not one woman in particular, but a great variety of women in a great variety of situations.  Raped, owned, captive, forced to do and be what another bids you to be—all are ways that women in the stories suffer due to their perceived weakness and their lack of agency.  But we don’t stop there.  We go on to tales of power and strength and cunning and a capacity for greatness in the lives of these fictional women.

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman.

That might sound strange.  I’m not bipolar or schizophrenic and manifesting with delusions that I am a character.  I simply bear burdens that I rarely hear about in true tales.  My life is an epic tale already, and I assume that I am still only about half way through my life, barring the development of fatal disease or the collision with a truck that might end it a bit early.

I’ve gone through so many things in my life that it is difficult to believe that they all truly happened.  I wonder how I survived.  I wonder if I have some cosmic draw upon the evils of our society.  I wonder whether the story has a glorious end, or whether the bad things will keep coming indefinitely for the rest of my life.

I sometimes feel like a fictional woman, because I have never met another who can relate to all of the things with which I relate.    I feel like this life is impossible, not plausible, and maybe a bit crazy—this life of struggle after struggle and story after story.

The marginalization, lack of agency, and captivity that the women of Westeros experience feel like real things for me.  There are moments it is too real for me—when I have my hand clamped over my mouth in shock and my stomach feels as though it has dropped out of my body, leaving an empty, sickly cavern in its place.  Being owned, being abused, being captive: these are things that I know intimately.  And most women don’t have that intimacy of knowledge and connection with all of the bad things you might imagine.  Most women have experienced some marginalization or lack of agency, but not with all the forms of marginalization and lack of agency you can imagine wrapped up into one package.

So, who imagined my story?  How did it become this epic tale that recounts the plight of each and every woman who crosses the pages of Martin’s imagination?  When did I become the poster-child for trauma and trial?

I think the answer is staring me in the face.  And I don’t want to name it—I don’t want to name him, because that will make me feel the unwarranted guilt of calling out the wrongs of those who made my story go so “wrong”.  Because somewhere, deep in my psyche, I still feel responsible, and I still feel shame, and I still feel confused, and I still feel like I need to protect those who harmed me.  That is crazy, and more than just a bit so.  That is a lot crazy.

The startling thing here is not my responses to trauma and trials, but that my responses are considered less acceptable than the actions that brought about those responses.  Molesting your family member, or sex without consent, or smacking around a non-compliant partner, or treating a woman like property are all less offensive to many than my psyche and my ways of coping with the traumas of my life thus far.  Even more startling is the fact that my depression and disability, which are directly related to those traumas, are seen as the marks of a dirty, lazy, crazy, messed up, burdensome, whining, free-loading, fuck-up.  My disabled status is more criticized than the ones whose actions caused my disabled status.  I am attacked for having been attacked, and not just being fine with that.  I am attacked for having been wounded and not just putting a Band-Aid on that shit and going ahead with life unaffected.

The ways I relate to the women in the imagination of Martin, and their portrayal by the producers of Game of Thrones, are ways that express the greatest possible struggles in life.  But I also relate to the women becoming something stronger and more powerful and more able with each passing event.  Hard things make strong people.  And I hate sentiments similar to that statement, in some sense.  I don’t believe that the divine offers us challenges to strengthen us or prepare us or make us useful in the lives of others.  I don’t believe that triumph follows trials, necessarily.  I don’t believe that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  There are plenty of things that didn’t kill me that made me broken and weak and wishing that death had been offered instead.  But, I cannot deny that some of my strength was forged in the fire of evil attacks upon my person and my psyche.

I don’t want to say that I am better because I was treated worse than most.  That simply is not true.  I am far worse off because of the poor treatment I was subjected to in the past.  But I have also developed some great skill in coping and in fighting for justice and in being a beacon for those still caught in a cycle of dark, dangerous mistreatment and marginalization.

One doesn’t negate the other.

I’m a fucking mess who learned lessons in being amazing.  They exist in tandem—the broken and the brave.

And you don’t want to process that last statement.  It fights against the dichotomous thinking that we have been programmed toward for centuries.  Either/or thinking is rarely the best line of thought.  Both/and is the way that the world actually offers itself.  I am both broken and brave, at once.

The women of Westeros are broken and brave.  They are overcomers.  They fight to gain their freedom, their justice, their right to be whom they choose and not the ones they are told to be by others.  But the knowledge of trauma and its effects upon its victims lets me know, with certainty, that these women are also irreparably broken.  There are some things that you never forget.  There are some things that never stop having a hold.  And that hold doesn’t need to propel us toward evil and revenge and perpetual suffering.  Sometimes those things that have a hold are the inciting motivation for our desire to find justice and agency and bravery.  But they still have a hold—they still take a toll.

The thing that I need to keep remembering and reinforcing in my own life is that it is alright for those things to have a hold and take a toll.  It is okay to suffer the effects, and it is okay to fight for freedom from those effects.  And those two things can happen simultaneously.  I can allow both the bravery and the brokenness to exist and to be honored and to be experienced and to be felt deeply.

I am allowed to be both/and.

Sometimes my ability to press forward toward a goal of peace and justice and healing is inspirational.  Sometimes my inability to cope and overcome and heal is just as inspiring.  And it is so and should be so because I am both/and.  I am both a woman of strength and a woman who copes with weakness.  I am both a victim and a victor.  I am both broken and brave.

Learning to celebrate the difficult parts of your life and your person is not easy.  I’m certainly not to the point where I do so with consistency.  But I am closer to celebration today than I have been in a long time.

The challenges are difficult for the women of Westeros.  The moments of champion are many for these same women.  One doesn’t negate the other.  One informs the other.

In the same way, my challenges inform who I become and how I live in this world.  The bad things are not negated by the good.  The lessons don’t erase the loss.  The struggle remains real, even when it seems like I am overcoming, because there are those things that hold on—the things I can’t forget. And those things are a part of who I am, not just a part of who I once was.

Allowing yourself to be both/and, and accepting the brave and the broken equally, is not simple in its execution.  It is ridiculously hard.  It is something that I want to do, but that I am constantly told by my society that I should not do.

“Get over it.”.  “Let it go.”  “Just forgive and forget.” “Look at the bright side.” “At least you haven’t experienced [thing that one deems more crappy than your experiences].”  “There are children starving in Africa.”  “Focus on the future.”   All are well-meaning sentiments, and all are telling me to stop being the person that I was shaped and developed into, and to ignore and subordinate the majority of the things I have experienced.  And I think that desire to ignore and subordinate the broken and the bad things is a conditioned response.  I think that our society tells us that value is tied to good things, and those who experience bad things are people of little worth, or of poor character.

That is a terrible, incorrect, and damaging view—that struggles are the result of poor choices by lesser beings.  That is the root of every “ism” that we experience in our society—racism, classism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and more and more.

Instead of feeding the fallacy that my challenges are evidence of my personal failures, I would love to see a society that can live in the both/and.  I would love to feel that my challenges are just as valued as my moments of champion.  I would love to be treated as a whole—a woman who has trauma and trials and triumphs.  I would love to be accepted as I am, without judgments that minimize the effects of my past experience or tell me to cover up wounds for the comfort of others.

The thing is, I cannot cover up those wounds.  I am covered in wounds and scars, and those don’t disappear.  They might heal a bit, or stop openly bleeding, or be less pronounced over time.  But they never disappear altogether.

I have a scar across my lower abdomen from a childhood surgery.  It used to be a big, hip to hip, thick, red scar.  Now it is lower and thinner and just a touch lighter than the skin around it.  It seems to have shrunk quite a bit, as my body grew, I aged, and time passed; but that scar is still present and always will be.  And that is a part of my whole.  That scar is a moment in time etched on my body for life.  That scar is tied to psychological effects and physical limits and family dynamics and the response of my community.  That scar says all sorts of things about who I am and where I have been and where I am traveling now.  Because it says all of those things, it is important.  It is as important as this moment or any moment to come.  It shaped me and created a way of being and a way of reacting and a way of living that I would not have without it.  So, it needs to be honored and held and accepted and loved as an important part of me.

Identifying with women who overcome the worst challenges and become champions is something that most of us can do on some level.  But it takes a lot of deep consideration to understand the ways that the trial and trauma shaped the triumph.  It takes a lot of understanding to see that the victories are often bittersweet, because of the place where the moment happened, the change came, and the suffering informed the future actions that brought us to the victory.  That understanding is so needed.

Accepting my past is imperative to being in my life today.  Honoring my struggle and refusing to hide or ignore what is difficult to cope with is necessary for me to survive, to thrive, and to continue working toward moments of victory.  Being a champion doesn’t mean you are not still the oppressed and challenged and broken woman in some ways.  And acknowledging both the brave and the broken in me is so important.

Because none of us are only our triumphs.  All of us are both/and.  We are all light and dark, commingling in a storied history.  And it is time to begin celebrating that storied history.  It is time to sing and dance and toast to the storied history that includes both trials and triumph.  It is time to see the characters before us—both fictional and not—as both/and.  It is time to honor the whole person, and end the practice of trying to bleach the dark bits in our histories and our hearts.

I am working hard to love all of the parts of my life and myself.  That work is made harder by those who insist that the hard times and bad times and horrors that have been and are being endured should be hidden behind false smiles and kept behind closed doors.  I need for those around me to be willing and able to accept all of me, and to look at the hard times and bad times and horrors without recoiling in shock and disgust.

There is a moment when a character in Game of Thrones, Sansa Stark, is named by her challenges.  Her name—her title—is questioned because she was forced into marriages against her will.  The power and influence she might have is called into question because she is no longer a woman who holds her family name.  She replies by claiming that she is and always has been a Stark.  She did what she needed to do to survive, but that didn’t make her into someone other.  She has changed, but she is also the same.  Her history and her present are both tied into one.  She is twice married, but she is still a Stark in her heart.  She is both/and.

I think that it would serve each of us (and likely the whole of the universe) well to respond to and respect the both/and in the lives and personas and stories around us.  I believe that the acceptance of the light and the dark, the trial and the triumph, the challenge and the champion, allows us to celebrate who we are without the question of worth, value, purity, influence, or power.  Being who we are, wholly and completely and without shame, is only possible if we accept both/and.  I cannot celebrate and dance and play and love and live in the ways I want and hope to while others force me to question whether my value has been reduced as a result of the history I carry with me into today.  None of us can truly accept ourselves or others until we acknowledge that the dark and the light commingling is a part of our humanity, and that, regardless of what we are currently experiencing, we are still valued and loved.

We need to become a society that does not place value on one and not on another.  We need to be able to face what seems like it must be fiction due to the enormity of the challenge, and still smile and offer kindness and show love.  We need to be people who celebrate the whole.  We need to accept that the same character who is sold/married to solidify an alliance is also the Mother of Dragons.  And we need to celebrate her in both of those moments—the terrifying and terrible wedding night, and climbing atop a great beast and flying to the rescue—in a way that does not deny part of the story.  We need to find a way to accept that all have value, in each and every moment.

I identify with these characters, because I am forged in burning flames.  I have a storied past, and those moments shape this moment and the moments to come.  And I am determined to figure out the way to both dance in the darkness and dance with dragons.  They are equal parts of me.  They do not disappear, and they cannot be hidden.  They are parts of a whole, and should be honored as such.

Join me on this journey.  Let us learn to dance in darkness.  Let us dance with dragons.  Let us be both/and.

Earth

My house smells like dirt.  It is fabulous.

Last night a dear friend came over and we planted veggies and herbs in pots that will live in my front room/office/art studio.  (Yes, it is getting crowded up in here.)  At least I hope they will live!  I’ve already got a great rosemary plant, a struggling mint plant, and some wheat grass that has been growing long, grassy tendrils toward the window sill, while the half away from the sill dies.  Once the grass gets uncontrollably long, I cut some off and feed it to the dog. Its purpose is solely to aid the dog’s digestion.  (The juicer hasn’t made it out for use in months. It takes too much energy to clean the thing.)

We dug in the dirt and planted seeds and navigated the challenges of filling large pots without using up all the potting mix, and we talked and laughed and repeatedly chastised the dog for eating dirt.  It was quite lovely.

And later that night, the whole house smelled of wet earth.  And it made me long for a place to call home, where I could dig up the actual earth, on the surface of the Earth, and dig my toes into that cool, dark dirt.  Something about gardening grounds you.  It ties you to this crazy ball of fire and rock and sediment that is flying around in the solar system, and it leads you to the knowledge that health and wellness and beauty and good come out of that sweet, musty, damp, dirty soil.

I remember thinking last night that it smelled like earth, like home, like life.

There are a lot of people in this world who don’t have the pure joy of the experience of gardening—of growing what sustains them and offers them beauty.  There are many more who burden under the sun and the weight of bushels of produce to offer food to the world, while they are left with little for themselves.  And then there are some farmers who grow inedible crops with vats of chemicals and strip the earth of its beauty and its life-giving nutrients, but who believe that they are those feeding the world in a noble way.  My favorite are the farmers who have recognized that way of stripping the earth is not good, and who have taken the time and the effort to create organic farms that offer a rich variety of healthy fruits, vegetables, and grains that heal bodies and sustain life and the planet.

No matter how you view food and farming, there is no doubt that food, and access to it, either fuels life or takes it from us.

This past month, I have been living on what we might call a skeleton crew of body fuels.  Because I am disabled and currently do not have income, I rely on the SNAP program for paying grocery costs.  But, for some reason, the office which hands out or refuses to offer these food benefits was “behind”, and they had (without informing me in any way) received an extension on deciding my annual re-certification of benefits.  I am usually allotted just over $300 to feed a household of 2, and that benefit arrived every 4th day of the month, in the form of automatic payment to a little plastic card in my wallet.  As you might imagine, $300 for two is usually spent in full by or before the 4th rolls around again.  So, when the state decided it needed six weeks to put my information into the computer system, instead of the 15 days that is customary, I was left with two weeks of no funds for food.  And you might think this is some strange isolated incident that happened only to me, but all sorts of families, many with babies or young children, were alongside me in the delayed food boat.  Can you imagine not being able to feed your 3-year-old, because the state is “behind” and got an extension?

I can imagine that.  There were times when my daughter was young that there just wasn’t enough in the food account, and I chose to go without eating so that she could. After all, she was developing a tiny little body and brain that needed nutrients. My parts were fully developed.  There was also a time or two where I was brought to tears because I had chosen food for myself over experiences for my daughter.  She missed her 1st grade field trip because I needed the only $5 in my account for lunch between college classes the day before.  I had forgotten to pack a lunch, and had classes from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that day.  I needed to eat.  So, I bought a sandwich with that last $5, and I cried in my car in the school’s parking lot as I ate.  (It is a challenge to sob while eating, by the way.)  I knew that my hunger had just deprived my daughter of an experience that every other 1st grader would have.  She sat in the corner of another classroom reading and doing word puzzles for the entire day, while her class went away without her.  She cried for some time after school.  I cried myself to sleep that night.

Food security is one of the most affecting issues in the country.  Millions of people are on programs like SNAP and WIC that assist them in purchasing healthful foods.  Millions more utilize food pantries, where you often get less healthful foods, like canned corn and pasta and boxed meals.  The nearest grocery store to my home is over a mile away.  And without a car, I must take two buses or a train and a bus to get to the store, and then must be able to carry what I purchase back home on my shoulders.  I usually opt for the market that is four miles away, but requires only one bus ride and walking a half block to the bus and to the house, so I don’t collapse from the weight of my milk and beans and greens on the way home (usually).  I live in what is considered a “food desert”.  Where I can access very expensive, unhealthful foods with ease at corner stores or gas stations, but I cannot access fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, and meats at a traditional grocery store.  And there are many more like me.

I used to marvel at the homes of friends that had a second refrigerator and multiple freezers in different parts of the house.  They were all stacked to overflowing with pizzas and casseroles and meats and ice cream.  Everything you could possibly want to eat was there for the taking … and they would stare at the food and say, “there is nothing to eat”.  That was never our family’s situation.  We gardened, so we did have a deep freezer and a row of jars in the basement after canning season, but those spaces were filled with the surplus of the garden, and not with the mounds of convenience foods and beverages that friends had at their disposal.  I remember my mom would make BLT’s for dinner and the bacon was rationed in such a way that we could have one sandwich, with 3 slices bacon, or we could choose two sandwiches and 1.5 slices bacon per sandwich.  I used to think my mom was stingy or strange in the way that she would micromanage food consumption.  As I got older, and had to navigate the world on my own, with hunger and budgets and social services and need becoming real for me, I realized my mom was just trying to make scarce resources into enough.  She just wanted to feed us all month, so she rationed our bacon, and fed us SPAM, and allowed us pizza once or twice a month.

I can’t imagine, and wouldn’t have understood, times without food in a family with five mouths to feed.  I can imagine times without food—or have actually experienced them.  And I think upon my childhood limits and the limits I have set for myself these past two weeks without grocery funds, and it is painful to have knowledge of how messed up our food system is in this country, and how the majority of farm land houses no food for people, but food for cows and seeds for more food that doesn’t feed people.  Vegetables and fruits are considered “specialty crops” and are not subsidized by the farm bill the way that seed corn and soybeans are subsidized.  Farmers are rewarded (and paid handsomely) for growing what I cannot eat.  So there are piles of rotting corn in some places in the U.S., while I have been eating cucumbers and bananas every day, because they are the most affordable fresh items at the store right now.

At times, I see advertisements about farmers and how they are feeding America.  And I usually make a strange chuckle that expresses disbelief and the ludicrous nature of that claim.  My tomatoes are from Mexico, and my bananas from an unknown tropical area.  None of the food that comes to my table can claim to proudly be grown in Iowa, where I grew up and where farmers are revered (the ones that grow the useless corn, not the specialty vegetable crops).  What they can claim is that they are feeding cows, but on $300 a month, we almost never eat beef or pork.  They can also claim to be supporting ethanol, but I haven’t a car, and ethanol costs more and more the farther you get from the Iowa fields.

So, this is a long post about food, I guess.  But it is also about the earth.  And I feel like that love of the smell of the damp earth, and the desire to have my bare toes deep in black soil says something about both food and earth.

I think we are meant to grow things.

Sometimes people argue against my friends who have chosen not to have children by saying that god told Adam and Eve to populate the earth.  But what if that is a slight mistranslation of intent.  What if the meaning behind that command was more like, “I’m not going to let you live in this lush garden that I created for you anymore, but you need to go out and grow life on the planet yourselves.”  Maybe it was the bird kicking the babies out of the nest, so to speak.  Maybe it was a command to go out and till the soil and water the plants and nourish the vegetables and fruits and create a garden of their own.  And if that is the case, then the piles of rotting seed corn, and the hog confinements, and the stripping of and polluting of the soil are all against the will of god.

Now, I’m not strictly religious at this point in my life, but I do believe in a divine presence, and I do believe that the earth, the soil, the water, the wind, the sun, and all that grows and is sustained because of them, are divine gifts.  Divine gifts that somehow arose from primordial ooze after an explosion of stardust, but gifts, nonetheless.  And right now, we are starving millions.  This cannot be what the gift was meant for.  This cannot be the way we are supposed to utilize the beauty and nourishment and life that these gifts offer.

Today I received my SNAP benefits for March.  They are two weeks late, but I can make the long trek to a market and obtain fruits and vegetables and eggs and whole wheat bread and all the things that I have been longing for in my diet the last couple of weeks.  I can stop worrying about hunger and the empty feeling in my gut when I peer into the nearly empty fridge.  I can stop subsisting on cucumbers, and actually have some avocado and beets and pineapple and maybe even some goat cheese if I budget really well.  And I want to rejoice, and I will rejoice, at this end to my deep need for nourishment.

But I can’t help but wonder, at what point the state might, once again, endanger my life by taking away my access to healthful foods, or comprehensive medical care, or safe housing, or whatever else I need to survive as a single, disabled adult in America.

So, the smell of earth in my front room/office/art studio is not just a memory and a hope of toes in dirt at a home that is more permanent and more mine than what I have been offered the past several years, but it is a reminder that sustenance and stability are not mine.  And planting herbs and vegetables is the first step to sustaining life, and perhaps the only step I can take at this time.  Because I lack agency.  Because I am poor.  Because I am not respected as a human being equal to all the other, non-poor human beings.  Because people consider poverty to be indicative of stupidity or moral depravity, and not indicative of systemic injustice and a society that discriminates against people of color, the disabled, women, singles, people without children, people with too many children, LGBTQIA+ people, Muslim people, people emigrating to the U.S., the elderly, the young, and a host of others.

And I wonder, will we ever get to a place where we are all working together to sustain a giant garden flying around in the solar system, with peace and compassion and abundance being the standard that we hold most dear and present to all?  Or, will we stay in a place where one individual has an extra fridge full of soda and beer and surplus food, and one is dependent on the state’s timetable for survival and is forbidden from purchasing beer or soda?

The sun is currently pouring in the windows, heating my skin and boosting my vitamin D, and offering life to my little seeds pressed into the dirt.  The smell of earth is still heavy and inviting and beautiful.  I imagine the abundance that could grow from these tiny pots.  I imagine a life that holds on to abundance, and isn’t plagued by a cycle of need/enough/need/enough/need.  I imagine a “someday” that holds a little home of my own with a garden where I can sink my toes into the damp, darkness and feel tied to the earth.  Grounded in the land of enough.  Grounded in my spirit and in my life, because the stress and the worry of living in a constant state of lack, and never having enough resources, is gone.  Grounded in ways that let me speak to the divine in gratitude more often than in need.  Tied to the earth.  Tied to a community.  Tied to life, instead of the fear of death.

Life.  This sunny addition to my apartment is bringing so much life.

And all it took was a bit of dirt.