Food Chain

I’ve watched this progression happening inside my home over the past month or so.  The container garden in my sun porch at some point brought little flying bugs into the environment.  Whether they came from the soil or from the great outdoors is unclear, but they arrived, nonetheless.  And I have tried several remedies that promise to remove the microcosmic infestation in the front window, to no avail.

But the progressive part is that as the population of the tiny insects increased, so did the incidence of spotting arachnids.  Spiders.  I hate them.  I have an irrational fear of the spiders.  I’m the Ron Weasley of the real world—freezing, crying, losing the ability to speak, and basically freaking out when a spider comes calling.

For the most part, the arachnids have been tiny, in correlation to the tiny bugs, I suppose.  So, I am coping with relative sanity.

Next have come the “creepy bugs”.  Someone once told me not to kill them, because they consume spiders, so they are apparently a friend to the arachnophobe.  But they are no friend to me, because I consider them creepy.  They look downright scary.  They are some sort of centipede, I suppose, but they have legs jutting out the bottom en masse, and they have a symmetrical wealth of leg-like protrusions on the top of their bodies.  I’m getting a shiver up my spine just imagining them for long enough to describe them.

I remember a time with my friends Nic and Adam had a snake in their second floor apartment.  We lived in the same apartment complex, and when the snake showed up in their environment, I immediately jumped into anti-snake mode.  That meant a concerted effort to trap and kill any and all mice or rats that could be present in or around my apartment.  I’m not sure how you snake-proof a home, but the concern I addressed was the food supply for snakes, not the snakes themselves.

I never had a snake in my apartment.  I did catch some mice.  And the mice were present because some lady in another building on the complex had made it her personal mission to capture and send to shelters the cats that lived around the apartments.  Had she left them be, the cats would be eating the mice, and the snakes wouldn’t move in because they would have no food supply and a potential predator in the cats.

So, as I watch this little cycle of life in my window sill, I think about where I sit on the food chain.  And by this I do not mean that I am concerned with who or what might consider me meat.  By this I mean, what threats and resources are affecting my life, and why.

I’m not high on the list as far as human hierarchy goes.  I’m a disabled, impoverished, woman.  So that is at least three strikes against me.  I’m also white and educated, so I am offered some privilege.  I suppose if we were to consider the hierarchy of my society (and several others) a food chain, I might be the spider. (Ironic, since I am petrified of them.)

I might be the one who had a few being “below” and a few “above”.  I am not in the worst position, but I am not in the best.  I assist others, but I also need assistance.  I live in this middle space, clinging to a rung halfway up the ladder.  And it gives me, I believe, an interesting perspective.  I can relate to those with more and those with less.  I can relate with the “haves” and I can relate with the “have nots”.  But there are days that I cannot relate with either—or I don’t want to.

There are days when I want to leave this underserved, loud, dirty, potentially dangerous area.  I get tired of the noise—the sirens, the yelling, the gunfire.  I get tired of the long commute to anything and everything.  I get tired of not fitting in or looking right or getting stopped by the cops because of my white skin.  I get tired of being followed by dudes yelling “damn” at my ass.  I get tired of trying to explain away how or why I live here without outing myself as poor.  And I get tired of all the other people who seize stereotypes and make assumptions about this place I am tired of being in, because despite its faults, this is my home, and there is much beauty and strength in this place.

There are days when I want to be a person with greater means.  There are times that I feel jealous of the friends with cars and homes and second homes.  There are times I want the “American Dream”.

There are more days, however, when I want to scream at the people who have all of this, and to tell them what selfish, self-serving, privileged bullshit they participate in, without even knowing.  I get tired of people who are wealthy pretending they are poor.  I get tired of people whining about the inconveniences of their gigantic remodel.  I get tired of people saying they are broke and then going out to dinner every night.  I get tired of being associated with this type of upper-middle class person just because I am white and educated.  I get tired of people assuming that I belong with the “them” while I feel like an “us”.

Frankly, it is exhausting to be in this middle space, between two worlds, because I feel like I must constantly critique and defend one to the other.  I want everyone in my neighborhood to know that there are some generous and kind, rich, white people.  I want everyone who would not desire to set foot in my neighborhood to know that it is filled with intelligent, hard-working, kind people.  I need to constantly justify all the things to all the people.

And then there is the added stress of my own situation needing to be constantly justified.  I need money.  I need help.  I need time.  I need energy.  I need surgery.  I need to make it sound acceptable to have all of these needs, or people refuse to take seriously or meet those needs.

The middle is an impossible place to live.  You can almost touch the better things, but if you reach up you risk falling back down into a worse space.  So you stay, clinging to the little that you have.  Hustling and hoping.  Wanting more but not able to live through less.  Clinging to the place where you have barely enough to survive.

If that sounds depressing, it is.

There are no questions as to why my antidepressant medication dose keeps increasing.  This rung is a depressing one.  This middle of the food chain feels like a constant threat, but also like a huge blessing.  I’m not at my worst.  But I am also not at my best.

And here we arrive at the statement “ignorance is bliss”.  Because if I didn’t know the best, or the worst, I wouldn’t feel trapped in this middle, fearful of losing my grip and too paralyzed to attempt upward mobility.  The people around me hope with an unyielding strength I have never seen before.  They keep believing in the more, in the higher rungs, and in a new and better day.  I know that the new and better day is not what it appears to be.  I know that there is just a dollar or two between rungs.  I know that there is prejudice at the top that keeps those with enough dollars to move up tumbling back down.  I know that there is abundance and that it isn’t being offered to the people on the lower rungs.  I know that if the people above would just share, the whole fucking ladder could turn on its side, leaving us with equity, and even footing, and no need to compete at the climbing.  I know that those people don’t share unless it is in their self-interest, and their dollars come with strings attached.  I know because I am in the middle.  I know because I am the spider.  I know because I have one foot in poverty and one foot in opportunity.

The proverbial food chain allows for ignorance at the bottom and ignorance at the top.  But the middle is the space filled with knowledge—frustrating, hope-stealing, anger inducing, devastating knowledge.

I know poverty and possibility.  And I am not better off for it.  I am tortured by it.

The wealth of the top is achieved upon the backs of the ones at the bottom.  We are the macrocosm of the microcosmic activity in my window sill.  We consume one and escape the other.

And I can’t stop thinking that this is wrong.  I can’t stop thinking that humanity should be behaving with a more evolved and more educated system than the insects.  I can’t stop feeling that we are very far from what we were intended to be, and that the ladder and the food chain and the striving and the inequity are all distractions from where our attention ought to be placed.  I can’t stop believing that we should be placing our attention and energy on justice—on ending the ladder.

There is this line spoken by Daenerys Targaryen, a character in J.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire Series, that mimics the sentiment that I often put forth.  After the many powerful houses of the era are named and called spokes on a wheel, she says with great conviction, “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”

In saying this, she expresses that she will not simply be the newest in the line of leaders that overtake the current system.  She is, instead, going to destroy that system.  She is going to make a new way of being possible by taking apart the system of injustice currently in place.

I’m going to break the wheel.  I’m going to break the ladder.

I’m going to create a new system, and not allow the once unjust and oppressive way of being to survive.  I’m not going to tolerate the present and hope for a better future, but I am going to smash through the present to create a new present.

What if we stopped being a glorified food chain and broke the ladder?  What if we let go of the ideas of “earned” and “deserved” things and status?  What would Daenerys do today?

WWDD: What Would Dany Do?

How do we break the wheel in our own society?  How do I stop being the spider and consuming the fly?  How do I keep the creepy bugs from chasing me?  How do we create a system that doesn’t look like the unevolved and inhumane clamoring for power and money and resources, and instead looks like cooperative and compassionate co-existence?

I’m tired of being in the middle, but I am more tired of the idea of the middle.  I’m tired of caste systems and hierarchies and patriarchy and all the other systems of oppression and power that make us predators or make us lunch, depending on the situation.

It is time to function on a higher plane.  It is time to break the wheel.  It is time to end this system and find a new one.   It is time for human beings to step outside of the food chain, and use our enlightenment for good and not for evil.

It is time to stop treating one another like meat.

 

 

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.

Wealth

I won $25 in the form of an Amazon gift code.  I feel rich.

Just kidding.  I am still super poor, but I wanted to make the point here that most people could lose $25 and not be terribly upset by the loss, while for me it feels like frigging Christmas wrapped in the lottery to gain $25.

Wealth is both relative and not relative.  I have far more than someone living in a hut in the jungle in South America, perhaps, monetarily speaking.  But I also have far less than most people living in North America, monetarily speaking.  So that makes it relative in nature.  But there are really easily applied formulas for figuring out what it costs to live in a particular place, and being from North America, and having no income, I rest way down at the very bottom of the poverty scale.  There isn’t anything relative about that.  I can’t be considered wealthy based on the conditions in which I live. And, frankly, I can’t afford to move to a hut in South America either, so I am stuck within those conditions, and my situation would likely not change were I to live elsewhere in the United States. (Canada is a whole other, and I dare say better, story than here. But I don’t think they give you a visa to utilize better social programs.  They probably prefer people emigrate with useful skills, not disability status.)

So, if we understand that I am stuck where I am physically and financially, we can also understand that I don’t have monetary wealth.  And that presents challenges that I often never considered.

There was a commercial on today for ADT security service that said something along the lines of “even in your nice neighborhood”.  And I was taken aback as a person whose neighborhood would rarely, if ever, be considered nice.  Are they specifically marketing to people in “nice” neighborhoods?  What defines nice?  Who thinks that bad things can’t happen in their neighborhood, even if it fits the criteria set forth for one that is nice?  And aren’t there enough neighborhoods that are not meeting the nice criteria for ADT to make plenty of money?  I know my building has an alarm system on every floor, even though there are no less than four deadbolts between the street and my apartment from any entrance. And it began to sink in that what nice means is a neighborhood with wealth.

Wealth, with regard to neighborhood safety, is also relative and not relative.  There are far more shootings in the south side and west side neighborhoods of Chicago than in other areas, and these neighborhoods are also those that have the most poor households. (We will ignore for the moment that they also have the most people of color—or, rather, are composed almost solely of people of color.) It would seem that money equates with safety.  But when we look closer, and assess types of crime, there are far fewer home invasions in my area on the west side than in wealthier areas.  Nobody wants my not techie, super-old, very cheap electronics, or my Salvation Army furniture.  I’m relatively safe, in that regard.  I’m also relatively safe because my block is filled with families who own their homes and take pride in being good, Christian people, so they either don’t participate in criminal activity, or do so quietly and without drama and violence.  (The neighbor lady sits out back and smokes weed every nice evening, for instance, but she isn’t dealing in heroin and guns.)  So, being impoverished doesn’t necessarily mean you are unsafe, in a relative sense.  But, there is also the issue of extreme poverty—the kind that leads to homelessness, prostitution, hunger, and the like.  This poverty makes you very unsafe.  Have you ever wondered why many homeless sleep in public parks during the day?  It is because sleeping alone in the dark corners of the city is very dangerous, especially for women or children.  The elements are dangerous.  The alternate economies, like selling drugs or your body, are dangerous.  There is no safety in extreme poverty.  This is not relative.  It is simply the truth.

And lately I sit on the precipice of this extreme sort of poverty.

I’ve learned to live in the burden of the relative poverty and the relative safety without too much difficulty.  There were a few years between an innocent youth and aware adult that included sex and drugs and homelessness, and that I do not regret, because it taught me the truth.  It made me know, beyond any uncertainty, that extreme poverty should never be, because you cannot be in it without being in constant danger.  I was in constant danger during those years.  Those years broke me, and started the process of rebuilding me anew.

What I lived then, I never wanted another human being to experience.  I never wanted another human being to choose sex with a stranger over possibly freezing to death in the car.  I never wanted another human being to steal tampons or soap from Walmart, because there wasn’t another way to get them.  I never wanted another human being to learn the schedule upon which the McDonald’s dumpster received uneaten burgers from the previous shift, still slightly warm and wrapped in their lovely papers inside that plastic garbage bag, and ready for consumption.  I never wanted another human being to sleep with an aerosol hairspray and a lighter at the ready, to create an instant blow torch to the face of any who might attack in the night.  Nobody should ever live that way.

I moved from the extreme poverty to the relative poverty category when I had a child.  Then you got all the wealth–$361 of wealth every month!  It was like a heaven.  A heaven where you had to decide between socks and diapers, or medicine and transportation, or tampons and toilet paper.  A heaven where I would unroll all the toilet paper from the church bathroom stall into my purse every Sunday.  A heaven where my daughter missed the 1st grade class trip because I couldn’t come up with $6.  A heaven where I cried myself to sleep at midnight and then got up at five in the morning to do my own homework before I had to wake my daughter for school.

That heaven, sadly, is gone.  I’m no longer eligible for more student loans, and I haven’t qualified for TANF since my daughter was five, and while I do get food stamps and a housing voucher, I don’t get any other assistance.  My light bill and my gas bill and my phone bill and my medications not covered by insurance and my clothes and my toilet paper and a haircut and soap and laundry detergent and whatever else I need, that comes from nowhere.  I’ve maxed out my credit cards and borrowed all that I was able from family, and now there is nothing.  Now it is over.  Now I stare at that space between here and sleeping with aerosol and lighters, and I see it narrowing, and I am afraid.  Can I survive on the street now?  No.  I wouldn’t make it a week out in the elements.  Would it come to that?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that nobody on this planet, and certainly nobody in the United States, should see $25 as wealth when others wouldn’t notice if it went missing.

When I was younger, I had these friends who would take checks out of their mom’s checkbook and forge her signature and go out to eat and such.  They would take my relative poverty butt along for the ride.  I don’t think their mom ever noticed that they were essentially stealing her money, or she, at least, didn’t care and simply allowed them to continue the practice.  Either way, it was a huge departure from the way I lived.  I could not imagine a world where every penny was accounted for in the budget weeks before any income was expected.  I could not imagine a world where money could just leave your bank account without you freaking the fuck out and tracking down the evil person who took it.  I could not imagine wealth.

I still can’t.

I have friends who I would consider wealthy, and relatives that I would consider wealthy, so I see wealth and have been close to wealth, but my own mind doesn’t know wealth.  It only knows scarcity.  And when you only know scarcity, it is extremely difficult to comprehend or imagine wealth.

I do strange things out of scarcity and the fear of scarcity.  I save bottles of product that are clearly empty, just in case I can somehow get more out, by pressing on the pump a thousand times, or turning it upside down and banging it on a hard surface, or by adding some water to dilute the product and potentially get at least partial benefit from the watery substance that is left.  I keep clothes with holes and things that don’t fit, just in case there is never a way to replace what is in my closet with something else.  I imagine everything needs to be saved and kept, albeit neatly, in the closet.  I accept things from others that I would never choose for myself.  I always take home leftovers, even if I didn’t like the food the first time and know I won’t eat them.  It just seems like I always need to be prepared for a period where I am destitute.  That day seems moments away.  Always.

The stress on my body and mind from believing in this destitute day and my needed readiness must be outrageous.  It is no wonder that people in poverty have shorter life spans.  Stress alone is killing us, never mind exposure or illness or starvation or infection or assault.

I should feel wealth, and not scarcity.  We all should feel wealth and not scarcity.

The other day on the bus I recognized a voice.  It was a man I had spent some time talking with on the bus a year or so ago.  I remembered this interaction vividly, because he was a pianist and a piano teacher, and also homeless.  My mother was a piano teacher and a pianist, so we connected on that topic and he began telling me all sorts of stories about his days as a professional musician.  He traveled to places exotic and new and he performed in all sorts of famous or glamorous or beautiful venues, but people gawked and made scowling faces as I spoke with him about his wealth of experience, because it was obvious that he now had no monetary wealth to speak of.  I heard him telling a woman next to him that he was a piano teacher, and immediately was taken back to the memory of him and our lovely conversation.  I looked over, and I hardly recognized him.  He had the same glasses and the same torn pants, he still had a jacket too light for the weather and curly blonde/gray hair sticking out in all directions, but he had lost maybe 70 pounds and he looked gaunt and ashen about the face, instead of plump and rosy as he had been the day I first met him.  Tears formed in the corners of my eyes and I looked away, putting on my headphones and immersing myself in something other than the empty feeling in my gut.  He had slipped down the slope into extreme poverty.  He is dying.  Slowly, but with certainty, he is dying.  And he reminded me once more of my mother, and the frailty she showed as her body slipped into death.  All the wealth this man possessed was leaving him.  But it should not have been.  That history, that life, that wealth of experience should have been valued and respected and honored.  It wasn’t, because he was poor and homeless.

I deserve to feel my own wealth, for once.  I should be allowed to feel the wealth of knowledge and intellect I possess, and the giftedness of an artist and a writer and a poet, and the depth and the breadth of a life lived with fire and passion and play and purpose.  I rarely feel that wealth.  I never feel that wealth without doing so deliberately.  Because the poverty pushes out all else.  The monetary scarcity—the lack of financial resources—overwhelms any other wealth that we might possess, and leaves us bathed in insecurities and unable to promote our strength.  It strips us of the goodness and leaves us only the worries of never having—never being—enough.

So, today I won $25.  And all of this came out of that little Amazon gift card.  All of this was the result of that one moment, when I declared that I am rich, even when I know that I am clinging to relative poverty with every cell in my body right now.  Even though I know it is a lie.  Even though I believe in scarcity, when I wish beyond all telling that I could trust in abundance.  I don’t.  I don’t know abundance anymore.  Maybe I never did.  And maybe I will go the way of my pianist friend, slowly losing life to homelessness and hunger once more, or maybe I will go the way of others, and win the lottery or write a best-seller or start a business and have millions to spend.  But, somehow, I think that I might always be stuck in this pattern of thinking, no matter which way I go.  Because being poor has become a part of me, and fighting to survive is the only fight I know, and scarcity has been my reality for so long that I don’t know that I could ever believe that it won’t be stripped from me, and that my true, scarce self will be exposed for all to see.

I find that really sad and terrible.  And I do not have a beautiful expression with which to leave you, and a happy ending to this post.  Because this is me thinking aloud and finding the truth in my own post, not me solving the problem to make you feel better.  And, maybe you are a person who would benefit from sitting in this space with me, and acknowledging that the solution isn’t evident.  Maybe sitting in my scarcity will help you see your own abundance, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will give you comfort that you are not the only one, or maybe sitting in my scarcity will inspire you to become passionate about sharing abundance and honoring wealth not monetary in nature.  I don’t know.

All I can say for certain right now is that I am really excited to spend my $25.  Now, should I buy socks or medicine?

Cancelled

I am scheduled for a mammogram later today.  I’ve spent about the last 2 hours debating with myself about whether I do or do not wish to reschedule that appointment.

I can make it.

But I don’t want to worry about it.

But I feel well enough.

No, I don’t feel well.

But I could push through it.

But my head hurts already, and I think I may be getting sick.

But maybe if I just wait a bit I will feel better.

Except I need to hop in the shower and wash off all of the lotions and deodorants and such from yesterday.

I don’t have the energy for that.

Right.  You don’t.

Okay, I will reschedule.

But it takes forever to get in again, and I have surgery coming up in a few weeks, and then I won’t be able to get out and do it.

 

This isn’t an event that has great significance.  I get a mammogram every year, and the past several years of having them done, plus multiple ultrasounds and an MRI, have left my doctors with some confidence that the abnormal mass in my left breast is not cancer.  So, it isn’t like I NEED to be there today.

But I feel like I am always cancelling things.

It is true.  It is really hard to know your boundaries with fibromyalgia.  My body used to tell me in real-time what it needed.  Now it can take hours, days, and even weeks for my body to express that I have overdone it, and that my muscles and joints and brain function are not going to cooperate with my plans for the day, or the week, or the rest of my life.

This disease cancels life.  Not just the annoying little appointments that we all feel like putting off, but the good and beautiful things too.  Time with friends, celebrating with family, going to events … they are all cancelled.

Recently I created a wish list on Amazon of things that I would love to have to make my life easier and to keep me functioning at a higher capacity. Even those needs had to be cancelled, because life throws curve balls and supports I usually depend on were removed, and my financial situation is dire. I’ve had to ask people to support my fundraiser instead and to offer money to pay the bills and keep me alive.

It isn’t really a bad thing to shift focus in that manner.  Obviously, I consider basic needs of tantamount importance, and I am more than grateful for anything and everything that is offered me.

But I feel like even my expectations for living have been cancelled.

And I mean living is the expectation, not that I expected to live with certain comforts.  I am afraid my life might be cancelled.

This is probably difficult for people to grasp.  And I don’t blame anyone for not understanding the depth of my suffering in this moment, or the challenges that I face, or the need that I experience.  I would not have been able to grasp any of that until the last few years happened, and disease became my life, in some sense.

And cancelling became the way I approach life.

I was watching a video of Brene Brown discussing trust the other day. I only got through half of it because I needed to get on the bus and get to yet another appointment (one I couldn’t easily reschedule).  But one of the key components of trust that she talks about in the video is reliability.  She posits that reliability is doing what you say “over and over and over”.

I am not reliable.

I say that I will do a thing, and then the thing is cancelled, or rescheduled, or abandoned because I cannot do it.  My body and my mind won’t let me do it, so it isn’t always my fault, or demonstrative of my personal character, that I cannot follow through on what I say I will do, but the fact remains—I cannot be reliable in the way Brene Brown suggests I must be to be trustworthy.

When I started to exhibit symptoms of fibromyalgia, I had no idea that I was exhibiting symptoms of fibromyalgia.  This is common.  It takes five to seven years on average for people with this disease to be properly diagnosed.  And because of that it is often difficult to even determine onset.  But when I look back several years, and when I talk with my daughter about our history together, I realize that I was already cancelling life as early as 2007.  She would ask to go to the pool, and I would say we can do that tomorrow.  But when tomorrow arrived I would claim that I didn’t feel well, or that I was too tired, and we wouldn’t swim.  She still resents me for cancelling all of those times.  She understands now that I was in the earliest stages of my illness at that time, and that I didn’t mean to be unreliable and to become someone whose word she could not trust, but she remembers the way that she felt let down all of those times, and all the excuses I made for not following through.  And that pains me, just as my physical body pains me—or maybe sometimes more.

I still cancel, and with much more frequency than I did in previous years.  My disease progressed as it went undiagnosed and untreated for those years.  It got worse when I moved to the Midwest from Arizona, and suddenly climate changes, lack of access to healthful organic foods, and less swimming were affecting my body without me being fully cognizant of the effects of these changes.  And by the time people were taking my pain and fatigue seriously, I was on the sofa for a year and a half.

I’ve fought my way back in many ways, and I spend far less time on the sofa at this point.  But the reason that I do much better at living with my illness is that I am better at setting boundaries and better and listening and anticipating my body’s reactions.  Even though it doesn’t tell me in real-time that it is suffering, I can plan more effectively to make certain that I don’t overwhelm myself.  Proactive scheduling, approaching life in terms of my own needs instead of the expectations of others, and being more aware of my illness and the ways it presents and affects me have helped me cancel less … in part because I try to do less.

But I still cancel.  Over and over and over, I cancel.

It is difficult not to apologize for cancelling.  It is difficult to accept it as a symptom of my illness and not as a mark of poor character.  It is hard to feel like I can be a good person, a good friend, a good partner, or a good mother when I cannot commit to things fully and cannot be reliable.

And I wish that there was some positive spin that I could add to the end of this post—some nugget of wisdom that brings us full circle and expresses the self-awareness and growth and determination that I so love to share.

There isn’t.

This is one thing I have not yet figured out.  I still don’t have a beautiful lesson from this experience. If there is a lesson at all, it might be that I am not defined by my symptoms, but that isn’t the way I feel.

Last night I was crying to my dad, as I was telling him about crying to my dear friend Luke the night before, and saying how upsetting it was to look back on my life, and to have knowledge of all the things I have overcome and all the ways I have survived, and to think now that my own body and the illness that plagues it is that which I am unable to overcome, and the thing I may not survive.  I know, in the logical sense, that my body is not killing me, but what I feel is that I won’t survive because of myself.

There isn’t a way to fight against yourself and win.

There may be a way to fight against your disease and win, but that is much easier when you are fighting a cancer, which you kill in order to save yourself, than it is when the thing that you are fighting is incorporated into your entire being.  My own synapses, my own cells, are hurting me.  I don’t have the luxury of separating out what harms me and what IS me.  They are one.

My disease becomes my life.  Hurting is my life.  Confusion is my life.  Cancelling is my life.

There isn’t a way around that fact.  There is only acceptance of that fact.  Or at least that is the way I currently view things.  And I would love to view them differently, but I don’t know how.

I might still go and have my mammogram today.  I might not.  But either way I will continue to struggle with myself over my boundaries and my unreliability and my inability to be as I wish I were—living without constantly thinking about breaking and ruining life.  Living without always considering dying.  Living without worrying that I won’t make it beyond this state, or that this is how it always will be.  Living without cancelling so much of my life.  Living with the constant challenge of seeking to accept life as it is while simultaneously wanting to improve upon my life.

I know it is a constant process, and I know that it will always be such, and I may never arrive at a destination in which I sit and feel like I have completely accepted myself and my way of being in the world.  And I think it is like that for everyone, the healthy and the sick alike.  But today, in this moment, all that seems to matter is that I have, once again, fought with myself over the desire to cancel and not cancel.

I suppose that is how I must approach this fight—moment by moment.  And I suppose that I will eventually start to recognize both the challenge of making it through an event and the cancelling of an event as good and helpful and right.  Because each time I power through, and each time I cancel to rest, I am making a decision to do the best that I can for myself.  And as long as I keep focusing on that—on what is best for my care and for my survival—I am likely choosing well.  Even if my choice makes me appear unreliable.

And, at the end of this post, I have made a decision.  I will reschedule my appointment and deal with the mammogram another day.  Today, my spirit, and my body, and my aching legs and head all need me to rest and to care for myself by cancelling.  Today, cancelling is care.  Today, cancelling is good.  And, at the very least, I can always claim that I am caring for myself over and over and over.

Some things never change

I’m sort of a change addict.  I rearrange things all the time.  From the files in my office to the paints in my studio to the furniture in the rooms to the items on my bedside table, I am always looking for another way to place things.  And I often like to pretend that it is for increased efficiency—and sometimes it accidentally brings about increased efficiency—but I think it is just that things need to be constantly in flux for me to feel comfortable.

This is actually the opposite of what makes most people comfortable.  Stability and stasis and knowing that you won’t bang your toes on a credenza that wasn’t there yesterday seem to be more comfortable for most.

I used to attribute my desire for change to boredom.  I just figured I was the kind of person who needed new scenery … and that is true in part.  Highly intelligent and creative people often need movement and change, and lots of us live in mess or chaos as a result.  We feel life more than just live it.  And, like anything that you see or feel each and every day, you become numb to things if they stay the same for too long.

Once my daughter’s teacher thought she would place a brightly colored sticky note to my daughter’s desk to remind her of something.  That sticky note had an effect for about a week and a half.  After that time, the note just became a part of my daughter’s normal desk environment.  It no longer screamed brightly to remember, but it sort of faded into the everyday.

For those of us who feel our way through life, everything fades into the everyday, and we need something new in order to feel stimulated and excited and motivated.

I am one of those people, so boredom is an apt way to describe much of my need for change.

But, over time, I discovered something else about the way I desire change.  It felt like an escape.  It felt like freedom.  It felt like a release from captivity.  And it still does.

I often describe my situation as “stuck”.  I can’t afford to move.  I can’t find decent housing with a voucher that is meant to safeguard the poor from not finding decent housing (another tale for another time, perhaps).  I can’t leave the state without throwing my disability case out the window after 16 months of fighting for my rights.  I can’t change the ways my body and mind react to particular stimuli.  I can’t end the pain that plagues my whole body.  I can’t stop seeing the doctors and therapists who already know and have seen the ways my disease affects me.  I can’t end the awareness of the past events that led to this point.  I feel trapped within my disability and within a particular way of living as a result.

And I want to escape once more.

I keep changing what I can.  The furniture, the nightstand contents, the filing system all move around.  But I’m still feeling stuck.

Last night, while I was attempting to catch up on the washing of dishes (a failed attempt, but a bit of progress at least), I was thinking about my relationship with my mom.  It wasn’t great, for most of my teen and adult years.  We didn’t understand one another very well, and communicating emotion wasn’t a strong point for her, and obeying without question wasn’t a strong point of mine.  We argued as a result.  But last night I was thinking more about how she must have felt when all I wanted to do was escape, and even though I don’t really think my mom floats around my kitchen in some non-corporeal form, I said aloud, “I’m sorry if it hurt you Mom, but I needed to try … I needed to try to be free.”

I hadn’t thought of what I did from age 18 to 28 as trying to be free before, at least not in any real and deep sense.  But I was trying to be free.  I didn’t want to be captive or kept.  And running from place to place and moving from man to man and snorting line after line felt like flying after years of living caged.  It wasn’t a crazy person living out her crazy.  It wasn’t a woman lost seeking a place to fit in.  It was freedom–finally freedom!  And all of those things in all of that time didn’t necessarily serve me well or bring me wholeness and good, but they weren’t necessarily meant to do that anyway.  They were just meant to be the opposite of captivity.

When my little dog gets free of the tethers that hold him, he runs like a motherfucking bat out of hell.  He doesn’t know where he is going, or why.  He doesn’t care.  He just runs, and runs, and runs, and runs.  And there isn’t any catching him.  You have to run past him (which, by the way, sucks for a good runner, so the few times I have had to do so I nearly died as a result) and then convince him that running in the other direction sounds fun, leading him back toward the house or car from which he escaped.  Freedom.  Flying.  Just going because you are finally allowed to go.

I spent 10 years of my life flying in glorious freedom.

And then, I went back to living as others expected or anticipated I would or should.  Because you can only run so far before you tire and need to turn around.  But I still miss the flying.  I still miss that freedom.

There are all sorts of expectations once more, and there is a lot of weight to the conditions of disability and poverty that I am struggling to carry, and there are rules and rules and rules about how you may or may not be when you are dependent on others (and very few of the rules or expectations are reasonable or intuitive or helpful).  And I start to feel trapped and stuck and without an exit plan.  It reminds me of being a child, and not being able to express that really bad shit was going on in my life, and not being old enough or aware enough to leave the situation to which I felt captive.  All the ways I tried to escape that captivity—throwing tantrums, threatening my abuser, trying to run away, becoming despondent, sleep walking, wetting the bed—went unrecognized or were blamed on other causes.

I don’t fault the people in my life who didn’t know those were attempts at escape.  It isn’t easy to understand when you haven’t been informed or educated about such things.  All you see is a bunch of crazy and inconvenient and inappropriate, and you don’t know how to fix it.  And even when I did get the attention of therapists or doctors, they were kinda shitty therapists or doctors, and they did more harm than good in most cases. I wasn’t properly diagnosed with C-PTSD until a year and a half ago, because I had a breakdown/freak out/panic in the right place and the right time, for a change.

The thing about this desire for freedom, however, is that it starts to morph into something new as I age and become more aware.  I still want to run away, but I want to run to a place that brings stability, a therapeutic environment, and release from the debt and dependence of poverty.  Being free looks more like stasis and stability than I like to admit at times.  And I think that I would still rearrange the furniture and the files and the art supplies and the books in this more stable version of freedom, but I don’t think that it would make me feel stuck or captive or without freedoms.  If I had a little house on the beach, just big enough for me and the dog, and the occasional visit from my dad or my daughter, and if I could swim every day and get a massage and take a walk along the water, and if I could write and create and sell my work, and if I could grow a few plants out in my tiny garden instead of on an apartment window sill, and if I could choose the life I want and not be forced into situations that I don’t want, I could feel free in one place, and not ever need to feel the need to flee or fight or struggle toward something else.

I started with a title that implied that things don’t change.  And many things don’t.  But many things do.  And it isn’t true that the more things change they more they stay the same, even if my freedom becomes a little cottage which I own and can settle into for years to come.  Because, while that seems like stasis, it is much different from anything I have experienced in all my years—it is something I choose, without influence and expectation and abuse and appropriate cultural expression and manipulation and guilt and force making me choose (which isn’t really choice at all).

Much has changed inside of me, and in the way I see myself, and in the ways I understand my history and my illness, and in the ways that I act and react because of new awareness, and in the way I treat myself as a result.  But much has not changed.

I still long to be free.

I still want to fly.

 

In the Mood

I can’t seem to stop listening to Rachmaninoff.  I’m just in that mood.  Or so I thought when I first turned my Spotify account in his direction a day or two ago.  But the more I listen, the more I wonder:  What mood is that exactly?  Because one thing I am noticing about his music is that it has a thousand moods, not just across the entirety of his compositions, but in one work there can be angry and playful and lilting and intensity and struggle and peace and fun and frustration…the list goes on.  There isn’t usually one space where your mind and heart remain while listening to this diverse and divine music.

I think, at present, I am drawn to the urgency and the drive of many of the pieces to which I have been listening.  Life feels like that lately—like there is more urgency.  Urgency for or toward what has yet to be determined, but I suspect that it may be tied to the death of my mother.

Life just seems like it needs to be lived, and I feel as though I might not be making enough of my moments.

The other possibility is that the angry parts of me are connecting with the angst-filled phrases of the movements Rachmaninoff has written.  It lets me feel anger, without acting upon anger.  It is easy to be angry, and easy to displace anger, but it isn’t very easy to cope with angry thoughts and feelings.  Of course, I know that anger is always a secondary emotion.  It isn’t actually anger that you experience, but hurt or fear or rejection or some other thing, which then comes out as anger.  And usually my anger is from hurt or abandonment or betrayal or fear.  Lately, I have been wanting to tell myself that frustration is what makes me angry. But frustration is not an emotion, per se.  You get frustrated, but you don’t really feel frustrated.  My frustration is a result of anger, which is the result of hurts and betrayals and fears that I don’t wish to acknowledge. This is not surprising.

Few of us want to acknowledge our hurts and fears.  Few of us want to be vulnerable in that manner.  Few of us want to accept what really goes on inside our heart and mind and spirit.

But in order to stop feeling that angst-filled frustrated feeling, I need to acknowledge that it comes from pain.  Lots and lots and lots of pain.

No one could know the depth of that pain, because not one single person has ever heard the entire story, or all the little stories pieced together into a lifetime, I suppose.  Not even my therapist of the past one and a half years has managed to root out all the moments and combine them into a reliable accounting of all of the pain that my body and mind and heart and spirit have suffered.  There are ways, however, to notice what ties those experiences together, and what struggles trigger the strongest reactions.  And this week, many of those triggers were set off, and I (like any good PTSD sufferer) went on high alert, and began to tie all of that pain together and swing it around like a sword, desperate for a  sensation of, or even the illusion of, safety.  And then, once the sword of hyper vigilance fails you, you shut down.

I am an expert at shutting down. My body and mind have found ways to disconnect that I stand in awe of, and my whole person is very capable of shutting out the world through isolation or through what I, for lack of a better term, might call “pretending”—the sense of being physically present without connecting in any real or meaningful way with your surroundings.  I can act like I care, or act like I don’t care, or both, depending on the situation.  I can adhere to social expectations without being the least bit engaged.

But Rachmaninoff makes you feel. He is turning me back on—giving me the ability to engage with something that resembles human connectivity and emotion, before I can connect with my actual emotion and engage meaningfully with actual humans.  He gives me a mood, when I cannot find one on my own.

Eventually, I connected with what I feel, and the reasons I turned off.  I was triggered by an idiot employee at a sandwich shop yelling angrily and calling out “HAM AND TURKEY” when I was distracted by an older man with a walker who dropped his change and didn’t notice that the employee now wanted to know whether lettuce was required to meet my sandwich’s completion.  He reduced me to my sandwich toppings when he treated them as though they were my name, which reminded me of the times I was called “woman” or “my old lady” or “bitch” or “dumb cunt” or “crack whore” or any number of marginalizing terms that refused to acknowledge my complex identity, but reduced me to an action or a gender or a role. That hurts.  Being marginalized always hurts.

I was triggered by the knowledge of the divide between rich and poor, and the continued struggle with accepting that my career has been ended by my illness, and that I may always be poor.  This trigger happened in the waiting area of the dentist’s office, when I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned for the first time in five years, since my state-managed insurance plan just began to pay for such services.  And, while I was thrilled to be able to have a dental exam and cleaning, I knew that the exam might result in the determination that I must lose my last molar on the lower right side, because this dental care came far too late, and it can be taken away again with a pen stroke–resulting in a face of gaps and gum recession that will make it impossible for me to pass as a person of means, or get a decent job, or be taken seriously by many.  I am poor.  I don’t want to look poor.  I want to continue to pass for someone who isn’t poor.  And it hurts that poverty is my situation.  And it hurts that I feel continually shamed and sometimes attacked and often trivialized or marginalized because of that poverty.  It hurts that poverty is considered downright criminal in the minds of many, including lots of my Facebook “friends” and those whom I once believed I could trust with my story.  And it hurts that I recognize all of this and that I know I am complicit in the shaming by desperately wanting to pass more than working harder to end the stigma and embrace myself, even if my self has no money and no teeth.  But that work is difficult, and the stigma I carry is already a heavy burden.

I was triggered by the feigned “concern” of others.  It is gaslighting that was truly happening, and not any sort of true concerned care for my wellbeing (unless you count the worry over my eternal soul not being allowed into heaven because I am evil and misguided as care … and I don’t).  In this particular case, a person misinterpreted and misrepresented the information in my previous post, and expressed that they didn’t sleep well and spent time in prayer and god apparently gave them a “devotion” in reply, which basically said that uneducated people know more than me about god…so I am evil and misguided (but apparently considered very educated, which is true and complementary). It would seem I am meant to be shamed by the person who mangled my ideas and misquoted my post and to recognize that my views are wrong, thereby causing concern for my soul.  This feigned concern and this gaslighting have been ever-present for me, starting with childhood sexual molestation, and making stops at domestic violence, victim blaming after sexual assault and rape, shame for pursuing education rather than work as a single parent, blame for the infidelity of a partner, and expressions that discount my sexual identity, before ending once again at the church and its deep concern over my soul (which has appeared many times along this journey).  I am not insane or misguided.  I need to tell myself this repeatedly in an attempt at self-compassion, because the idea that I don’t know what is right, but another does and will tell me how to be or act or think, was deeply engrained in my psyche after years and years of abuse.  When people I once counted as friends begin to use this very abusive tactic, I am deeply hurt.  We rarely consider moral, church-going ladies as abusers, but perhaps we should—they are often the worst offenders when it comes to gaslighting.  Gaslighting hurts.

So, yes, I am connecting with Rachmaninoff because I am working at getting back to feeling, and because the secondary anger comes out in his music, but so does the calm and peaceful, and the joyful and playful, and the anguish of the pain that is truly behind the way that I am feeling deep down, in a place with which I am still unable to fully connect.

It is difficult to connect with our brokenness.

It is difficult to acknowledge pain.  Our society tends to mask or cover or hide or control pain.  And it certainly doesn’t want to take ownership of the pain that is caused, personally or societally.  We have been taught that pain is owned by the one who suffers, and not the one who causes the suffering.  We refuse to admit or confess that we hurt others, either by our active oppression or by our passive inaction to correct situations that produce suffering.

However, if the first step to solution is recognition of the problem, we need to face that hurt head on, and look at the ways we are causing pain.  I often think this begins by accepting that we, ourselves, are wounded.  The most broken among my friends have become the strongest advocates for others.  My own passion for justice was borne from the injustice I felt as I journeyed through forty years of struggle and pain and abuse.  This isn’t uncommon.  This is the way to bettering ourselves and becoming a better society—this recognition of our own wounds fuels our desire to spare all others from similar wounding.

I think that this connection between my wounds and my areas of passion is key to how I have been struggling the past couple of days.  When someone begins to attack those areas about which I am passionate, they are, in a sense, also attacking my wounds.

I fight for the rights of women because my rights to choose what happened to my body and in my life were stripped from me.  I fight for reproductive rights because I suffered a lack of care and compassion when dealing with the loss of a pregnancy and a lack of care and compassion as a single parent, and also experienced the failures of birth control and unintended pregnancy.  I fight for LGBT+ rights because I know and love many who don’t conform to the standards and structures that the gender binary and the heteronormative patriarchy deem correct and good, and because it took many years for me to even consider my own sexuality, and even more to admit to people that I don’t fit that heteronormative mold.  I fight for the end of mass incarceration and for racial reconciliation because I love and live among black men and women who are being violently abused by not only our stereotypes and individual assessment of race, but by the laws of our country and the limits of our compassion to those who look and act and speak and live in ways identical to our own.  I fight for a limitation or prohibition of firearms because I see the bodies of boys and girls and men and women who needn’t have died and wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for ridiculous access to what nobody, outside of law enforcement or the military in most cases, should need. I fight for the homeless, because I spent years of my life as a homeless woman, and some as a homeless mother, and I ate from dumpsters and had sex with people just to sleep in a bed for a few safe hours and stole food and toiletries in order to survive, and nobody should ever have to live under those conditions, no matter what else they may have done or not done in life.

I fight for those who are experiencing what I have suffered (and in some cases still suffer).

Saying my fight for these causes is evil and misguided is saying that I am evil and misguided, because these are not just some nameless and faceless people whom you can criminalize and marginalize and oppress.  These people are me. And saying that these causes don’t matter, in essence, says that I also do not matter. (But apparently my soul does…just not the rest of me.)  That hurts.

So, today my goal is to allow emotion.  I intend to acknowledge these feelings, and to connect with these feelings or to let these feelings go, as I choose.

Because we cannot control what we feel, we can only choose how to react or interact with what we feel.

Mindfulness practice has taught me much about how to let the oppressive and hurtful things that others say and do affect me less, or sometimes not at all.  I’m learning, slowly and surely, how to leave behind what harms me, and to embrace what loves and holds and builds me.  I am the only constant, and even though everything around me changes, I can choose to remain as I am.  I am the mountain, as Jon Kabat-Zinn and my therapist are teaching me to remember.  So I choose whom I wish to be and to become.  Gaslighting church ladies, and poor public policy, and abusers and offenders of all sorts, and the money in my bank account (or the lack of, more truly) do not define me.  I define myself, so I am free to acknowledge the comments of others about who I am, or I can let them float away.  They need not hurt me anymore.

So, Rachmaninoff, thank you for all the feeling that you have offered me, and for the connections that you allow me to make.  Your thousand moods have reminded me that I only need to be in one mood, and that is one that I choose—no one else may choose it for me.  And I choose self-compassion and love and grace and peace and truth, as always.  I choose to embrace my poor, disabled, non-hetero, non-religious, highly educated, thick and sexy, fighting for equal/human rights continually and with passion self.  And I choose to embrace the person I am becoming as well, and know that I will continue to grow in grace and in truth and in love, because that is what I will accept and allow into my life.

I am now in a great mood. 🙂

In Jesus’ Shame

 

I grew up going to church.  Not just going, but religiously so…attending every single Sunday morning and Sunday night, unless terribly ill.  And I hated church, largely because I was forced to attend without my personal consent.  Any part of life you can’t consent to can be a struggle, especially for the naturally independent leader that lived deep inside of me, but when other really important decisions are also made without your consent (like the bodily choice of surgery or testing or sexual contact or any number of things that I struggled with over the course of my formative years) then being forced to go to church just becomes another area outside of your control that makes you feel diminished and marginalized.  So I hated it.

And at some point I got over that hatred of church because later in life I was given the choice to go, and I chose to attend and participate, not only in church but in the pursuit of multiple degrees in theology.  Church became my life, in many ways.  But the longer I stayed, the more I knew that I wasn’t really wanted there.  Inside my head the “if people knew” clause started to pop up over and over.  If people knew that I was an addict…   If people knew that I have sex on the regular…   If people knew about my molestation…  If people knew I was pro-choice…    If people knew I get food stamps…   If people knew my personal view of eschatology…  If people knew I don’t believe [insert some sort of popular religious belief here]….    If and if and if and if and on and on it went.

I started to feel like I had to hide myself from the church.  I started to feel the weight of shame, even while I wasn’t personally being shamed (because I was hiding my true belief and experience).  I began to know that I wasn’t welcomed “just as I am” in any church that I had ever attended.  I began to search for churches that would let me in, even if I were just me—as is and with no hiding and no apologies.  I have yet to find a church sans shame.  So I have yet to join a church again.

It has been a little over three years, I suppose, since I last attended church, and I have never been more free.

I was always taught—from Sunday school classes as a small child to my seminary training—that Jesus brought freedom. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.  But the only time I was actually free to study and believe without shame was when I left the confines of religious communities and went out into the world.

Ah, the world.  That damnable expression of all that is evil and to be feared. Or so one would think, given the reactions of Christians in the United States. But the world, you see, is open in ways that the church had never been for me.  The church confined and constricted.  The world let me investigate and study and try and experience and discover in ways the church never would.

The world didn’t try to shame me as much or as often as the Christians tried to shame me.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the church isn’t usually practicing in Jesus’ name.  It is often practicing shame.

Sex is bad and you are bad for having it.  Poverty is bad and you must be doing bad things to land in that state.  Being gay is bad and you are messed up if you love people outside of the parameters that we express.  Rape is bad, so if you have been raped you must have done something wrong to deserve it.  Women’s butts are bad, so you mustn’t let them be out in the “open” with revealing yoga pants.  Being single is bad, because you are supposed to make babies.  Abortion is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  Birth control is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  You are bad if you don’t make all the babies all the time. Except if you have a baby and not a husband then you are bad.  Drugs are bad and if you are addicted you are bad.  Depression is bad, and if you are depressed you are not good at trusting in god.  Disability is bad, so you need to suck it up and get back to work or you are bad.  You are bad.  You are bad.  Christy, you are extremely fucking bad.

And then one day, I decided I am not bad.  Because every religious text I have ever encountered promises hope and renewal and the “becoming” of the person. The promise is that shame disappears, not becomes the defining characteristic of the church.  The promise is acceptance and love without conditions and grace and a forgiving spirit and a love of peace.  All of these things require that we kill all this rule-making and fear-inducing and humanity-stripping, damnable shame!

“I love you, but…” cannot be a part of our language or our thinking if we are going to be the love and grace and peace that every single religion I have ever encountered says we must or shall be.  “I will love you if…” cannot be a part of that language or thinking.  “I love you because…” is not a religiously accepting statement unless it is followed by “you exist”.

There is a passage in the Christian biblical text that I once had to translate in a seminary course.  I was shocked to read and to learn and to begin to hold the belief that “anyone who loves is of god”.  This transformed all for me, in the sense that love becomes the definitive aspect of what is right and good, and of who belongs to and with and in god.  So the impoverished woman who helps me up when I fall is of god, and the prostitute who always asks about my day and shows concern for me is of god, and the person to whom I am not married, but who shows me love and care both in and out of my bedroom, is of god, and my Atheist and Muslim and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and Pagan friends are all of god, because they all love fiercely and choose peace and show grace all of the time.

I am of god because I just reminded myself, during the interruption of my short time in which to write by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, that I need to show even those who interrupt my theological expressions or blog posts the grace and the love and the promise that is god.

And because of this discovery, I have moved away from the term “god”, for the most part.  I choose to use the term “the divine” or sometimes “the universe”, depending on the situation. (Because the word “god” carries so much weight for so many…and usually not in a positive way.)

Anyone who loves is of the divine.  Anyone who loves….without qualification, without exception, without condition, and without being shamed into compliance with the normative religious ideal of the day…is of the divine.

Shame is not discipleship.  Shame is not beneficial.  Shame is not helpful in any proven study regarding any desired behavior.  Shame is not love.  And love is god, and god is love, and those who love are of god.  So, if you insist on shaming others, you are not of god.

Love = divine.  Shame = not divine. (For those who would like this boiled down to its most basic expression.)

So, let’s all stop trying to shame others and call it something we do in Jesus’ name.

And let’s all recognize that trying to shame people like me, who have come to understand the will of the divine in this open and free and beautiful way, is a waste of precious time.  Maybe hug your grandkids or knit a scarf instead, or do something that expresses love and grace and equity and peace to those less fortunate than you (as Jesus also suggested), but without superiority and judgments and shame (which Jesus never suggested, and instead taught against).  Let’s spend less time assessing my yoga pants and sex and spend more time assessing ways to reduce violence against women and inequity in our justice system and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the ways that our current support system isn’t supporting the people who need the most support.

I sometimes wonder what troubles we could eliminate if we put into Alzheimer’s research, or new mental health care facilities and programs, or access to fresh vegetables all the same energy I see being spent on demanding less yoga pants and decrying the (very legal) right to choose what happens inside a person’s own uterus. What if we cared about the 2,114 people who have been shot in Chicago (as of yesterday…today it will likely be higher) this year as much as we did about the shape of a buttock or the type of birth control a couple chooses or the number of meat packers who happen to have come from Mexico? What if we spent our energy on loving meat-packing Mexicans and loving couples and loving my buttocks?  How would that change the world?  (I do have a rather amazing ass, by the way.  It deserves much love.)

I would much rather express love than refrain from sex.  I would much rather choose peace than promote conflict.  I would much rather be the divine than shame the poor or the addict or the disabled or the person who has less understanding on a subject I may have studied extensively or any that may be deemed “less fortunate” (though when you begin to be love and grace and peace, your idea of “less” can be transformed in myriad ways).

So, I leave you with this question:  Do you speak in Jesus’ shame, or are you of the divine?