Payday

I’m busy printing out proofs to attain a payday loan.  It is a long shot, last resort sort of move on my part.  There aren’t any options left beyond a ridiculous interest rate over 50% and steep penalties should I not meet the strict requirements of repayment of that criminal amount of interest.  It should be a crime for such life crushing loans to exist.  And yet I am working to get one, and desperate to hear them approve me for this loan that I believe to be criminal.

It is nonsense, really.  But it makes all the sense when you live in the margins, where there is never enough, and you are treated with contempt and barely considered human, much less treated with the grace and kindness and compassion that humanity should garner.

These days, I don’t know what “humane” means.  I don’t know that “humanity” exists in the way it once did.  Or, more correctly, I don’t know that it exists in the way that I had imagined.

I was running very late for a doctor appointment the other day and needed to take a Lyft instead of a bus.  My driver, a Somali native, said something along the lines of “selfishness is human nature”.  I wanted to argue that was not true.  I wanted to express the compassion and love that humans were capable of offering one another.  And then I thought better of it, knowing that I was suffering needlessly an economic situation that could be eliminated with just a few dollars from the people who call me “friend”, and knowing that this man, having emigrated from Somalia, knew selfishness and pain and racism and judgment and xenophobia and messed up fucking shit that I, an already despairing woman, cannot even imagine.  Who was I to tell him that humanity has something better to offer??

Instead, I made a statement about perspective and how much we are shaped by what we experience in our lives—hoping to avoid agreement that hurting those whom we can place beneath us so that we might rise is human nature, but also not arguing that we are better than that, because I don’t feel like we are better than that very often of late.

I sit at a desk covered in images of Wonder Woman.  I built it.  I covered it in these images deliberately, because I found it inspiring.  Not only do I sit and work atop a work of art when I am well enough to do work, but I also have a deep sense of justice and love and giving of myself to improve the state of the world, and she embodies that for me, and reminds me that my end goal is a world filled with love and justice.  What I do at this desk should be focused on that goal.  And to a great extent my work is focused on that goal.

But more and more my focus is fear.  There is worry over finances.  There is stress over what I read in the news.  There is the sadness and the horror that comes from seeing the world become more broken, fractured, confused, and afraid as a particular world leader creates xenophobia, insecurity, unrest, racism, and general hatred and chaos.  There is pain and struggle and the fear that the future will become even more difficult than the present.  And that isn’t just my personal fear, but the fear of millions, which is even more heartbreaking, because of my deep empathy.  Wonder Woman and her ideals seem worlds away while I work atop images of her from generations of comics.

I wonder if Donald Trump ever watches super hero films or reads comics.  Do you suppose he sees himself as the hero or the villain?  He certainly doesn’t have the ideals of the hero, so he must be delusional if he identifies as one.

I know that I am not the hero in any story.  I sometimes get painted as one.  Ask my brother-in-law about Christmas Day in Seattle and he will tell you a tale that makes me the hero of the story.  But I am not the hero, because I only did what any human should do—I helped a woman in need.  I felt her pain, I met her in it, and I made certain that she was safe in the hands of professional medical personnel before I left to attend to my own needs.  That is the least that we should be doing for one another.  The absolute least.

There is so much more.

So. Much. More.

Recently, I had dinner with my “brother”, Adam.  We were talking about need and giving and enough and excess.  He talked about aid that he had offered our nephew, and the way that he had added a component of “paying forward” part of the funding that had been offered to him.  Give to another, the way Adam gave unto you.

It sounds a bit biblical, right?

It is a bit biblical.  Because there is a verse in the bible that is pretty much the same.  It is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, verses 34 and 35.  It says, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.  This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I suppose that means if my nephew pays forward a third of his college aid, he is a disciple of my “brother”.  Haha.  There are definitely worse men to be disciples of, so this is probably a good thing.

The point I am working toward here is that the goal that we as humans are meant to be working toward—according to Jesus, and according to Adam, and according to Wonder Woman, and according to the feeling in my gut—is offering love and compassion and physical needs and grace and equality and honesty and kindness and more than enough.  And I don’t know when or where we lost sight of that, or whether we ever truly had that in our sights as a society at large.  But our heroes—the embodiments of the best of us—have always had that in view.  We need to cling to that view.

I should be focused on what I can do to continue living out the ideals of Wonder Woman, not on what I need to desperately print out to prove that I am worthy of a criminal payday loan! No human being should be forced to sell their soul so Speedy Cash out of fear that they won’t live from the 28th to the 1st, and will lose their home, contact with their family and friends, and the ability to obtain sufficient calories to sustain their body. And when some of the people are in this state while others are jumping off of fancy boats in the waves on a weekday morning, we are not loving one another as we have been loved.  We are not giving to one another as Uncle Adam gave to us.  We are being selfish.  And we are letting Somali men believe that this is just the way we are as humans—that this is just who we are and will always be: selfish bastards who trample one another to elevate ourselves.

Are you a selfish bastard who tramples others to elevate yourself?  Is that who you want to be?  Is that what you want to be known for and what you want others to believe defines the human condition?

I cannot abide that.  I cannot tolerate that.  I cannot accept that.

I won’t let humanity be a giant game of “king of the mountain” where the ruthless climber is the winner.  Not if I can do anything to help it.

And I can do something to help it.  You can also do something to help!

We can all stop accepting the idea that selfishness is a part of our DNA and refuse to let humanity be defined by anything but the heroic ideals of love and generosity and compassion and care and grace and good.  We get to define who we are, as individuals, as a society, and as representatives of the human condition.  We decide.

So, decide now.  Are you the kind of person who lets payday loans take the souls of disabled, poor women struggling to make ends meet, or are you the kind of person who changes the narrative and refuses to let this be the way that we treat the people in the margins?  Are you the kind of person who is ready to stand up and work hard to eliminate the margins?

It will be difficult work.  Change always is difficult.  You need to learn, you need to change the voices in your head, you need to assess the things that you believe and challenge the beliefs that you have held for many years.  So much of our bias is unconscious, and it takes a lot of self-reflection to work out what we think, and then to consider the ways that thinking might be incomplete, inconsiderate, or just plain wrong.  But if the choice is between doing hard work or letting down humanity, I choose hard work every single time.

Today, I still need the payday loan.  And it breaks my heart to know that I need to sacrifice in this way.  It is a terrible choice.  But there aren’t good choices in the margins very often, unfortunately.  Maybe at some point I will have better options, or there won’t be margins, and humanity will not be seen as selfish, but as loving and generous and compassionate.  Maybe on that day payday loans won’t exist—they actually will be criminal, as in illegal—and disabled women will not be afraid of starving or living under bridges because of financial challenges.  If enough of us choose care over selfishness, this will be reality.

So, choose heroic ideals instead of payday loans.  Don’t let Somalian Lyft drivers believe that this is who we are as humans.  Don’t be this as humans.

We can do better.

I know that we can do better.

Follow Jesus, or Wonder Woman, or Adam.  Choose heroism over selfishness and do better.

As I have loved you, so you should love one another.

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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.