Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thirty-One Days to Make a Difference

I had written "thirty-one days to change the world," but let's not get grandiose, little missy. The thing is, I'm not fully who I am unless working for justice is part of my picture, and I've lost touch with that piece of me. On a purely personal level, this is no good. And besides, people, the planet, and the whole freakin' universe depend on each of us caring enough to make a difference.

None of which changes the certain truth that there are a lot of things going on in my life, and a girl could get scattered unless there was a miracle she paid attention. So, it's time to pay attention. For the month of August, I will do one small thing each day. We're talking small, here. Really small. My only rule is that the action has to be more than writing a check. That's too easy, and it's too easy for the local agencies as well. Rather, together, we have to do something, connect with something, make a hands-on difference. Then, the world gets better.

Here's the August plan, which I reserve the right to change:
1: start composting (which is to say, assemble the composter, which involves confronting my fear of household tools.)
2: figure out how to help with local bike paths project
3: say thank you every minute for my wonderful children
4: learn more about refugees and forced migration
5: ride my bike to work -car-free day
6: take those two unused bicycles to Hesed House
7: work on Human Rights lecture series
8: work on social worker exchange project
9: be a better neighbor -clean out the darn garden
10: destroy your BP credit card -they get no more of my money
11: make it easier to recycle in the upstairs rooms
12: car-free day
13: work on Human Rights lecture series
14: bring flowers to work
15: work on social worker exchange project
16: be a better neighbor -bake something for somebody
17: organize a "Knit Unto Others" (knitzvah??) project -mittens and socks for homeless people
18: work on Sweater for Rachel book
19: car-free day
20: work on Human Rights lecture series
21: deliver an insane number of Mom-baked goodies to dear son who turns 26 tomorrow
22: traveling -offset airmiles :(
23: work on social worker exchange project
24: work on Sweater for Rachel book
25 -be a better neighbor -flowers in the front!
26: car-free day
27: work on Human Rights lecture series
28: work on Sweater for Rachel book
29: work on social worker exchange project
30: talk to sister #2 about Black Tie and Tails charity event
31: bring baked goods to work

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pending Projects in the "Think Great Thoughts" Category

  • getting blogger to treat static pages like dynamic pages, so that my primary blog will have clickable tabs, sorted by the "categories" of my life. I'm quite sure no one cares except me, but I want this to work. Then I have to figure out how to embed the feed of one blog into another -and get the whole thing to be transparent to my readers. Andrea shakes her fist at the sky a la Scarlett O'Hara.... as God as my witness....
  • act on my resolution to include more pictures in my blog. I love it when other people do that. Step one: find camera. Charge it.
  • prepare a talk for Cypriot visitors who want to learn about social justice project development -and develop an actual project. How cool is that?
  • become the world's expert on refugees and forced migration. Way to bury the lead, huh? But that's the goal.
  • prepare my portion of a talk on grant writing for DeKalb County service providers.
  • breathe..... breathe.... into this paper bag, if need-be.

I would not let students get away with such loose-y goose-y goals. Ummmm, could we have something measurable here? A timeline? What are the component tasks? I'll take care of that. But at least now I'm "out there" with my goals.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Group Theory

Here are some groups I wish existed -or if they exist locally, I wish I knew where they were.

  • An eco-group to provide gentle challenge, support, and creative energy around personal and local green initiatives. I'm talking about everything from helping me get started with composting all the way to enhancing the bike paths and ideas I can' even come up with.
  • A non-fiction writer's group for people writing everything from dissertations to articles for journals to, say, knitting books.
  • a social action group. There's the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice, for which I am grateful. However, their issues and "style," if you will, have never been mine. I want a group that will cook for Hope Haven, knit for the children in Mongolia (or wherever), adopt a family at Christmas time, collectively be a Big Brother/Sister for a local child, figure out some sane response that individuals might take toward correcting the damage done by the oil spill in the Gulf.... maybe it would also be a social action book club.
  • a meditation group -could also be a yoga group. But I'm thinking here of a "don't just do something -sit there" sort of long meditation session once a week or once a month or on the summer solstice.... or something.

Clearly, I can't start all these groups right now, or I would have done it already. I couldn't even promise to attend the meetings all the time. I just think that this town would be enriched if they existed. I think my life would be improved, as would other people's. And I think I've reached the limit, for now, of the support that on-line communities can provide. I don't see myself turning away from the computer in some sort of Luddite revolt. I just want a little more in-real-life activity; not enough is getting done on the ground.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lycra Bike Shorts, Swimsuits, and Other Horrors

If you're a large woman in America, your whole life is an opportunity to feel self-conscious, embarrassed, resentful and way too big. You can hide in the corner or on the couch, you can go to therapy, or you can put on your lycra bike shorts and get out there and move.
—Jayne Williams, Slow Fat Triathlete

Jayne knows, she really does, how hard it is to put on those Lycra shorts or that swimsuit when you don't like the way your body looks. I love it that she understands; it means that she gives credit where credit is due. Bless the hearts -and backsides- of the people who need to exercise and DO IT and don't worry if said backside looks bad on that bike seat. Or they do worry, and they do it anyway.

The thing I need to do is move past the revulsion I feel when I look at my own body. The body I see has nothing -NOTHING- to do with the body that's in my head. This body is a new post-divorce artifact (artifat?), and it makes me sad and grossed out. Moreover, I'm tired all the time. Deeply, in my bones, exhausted. People will suggest that this is because I am doing too much. But seriously, I've felt this bone-deep thing before, and it's not physical. Fundamentally, it's emotional and spiritual. It's about whether or not I am lovable. Am I good enough? Do I deserve to be healthy and trim and vibrant?

But there's a time and a place when I do love my body. It loves to move and do things and exercise. I love to climb rocks, and do yoga, and ride my bike, and swim. I tolerate strength training, but do not love it. I loathe running, but could walk or hike, I suppose, since something in my fitness life ought to be weight-bearing.

So, where to go with this? I will start from that place of love. Actually, I will stay in that place of love. "I love my body when it does.... x (where x is a life-enhancing and health-improving activity)," suggests that I should do x. If an activity makes me feel less-than or not good enough, out it goes. For now, that means I will bike slowly, do modified yoga, lift baby weights, and swim as slowly as I need to. I will enjoy the activity for its own sake.

And if you don't like the way my backside looks, you shouldn't have any trouble passing me up and moving on to more congenial sights. Move along!

Sunday: bike ride, and gentle yoga
Monday: gym (which means weights and the treadmill) and yoga
Tuesday: swimming and yoga
Wednesday: gym and yoga
Thursday: swimming and yoga -and I'll ride my bike to work today (it's about a mile to work, so it's no real fitness work -just the principle of the thing)
Friday: bike ride and yoga
Saturday: yoga only

But, I deserve it!

This thinking gets me in trouble, on so many fronts. And yet, it's not wholly false.

This thought has been rattling around in my head for a while. Where is the balance between a healthy sense of entitlement and narcissism? Of course, when you ask a practitioner that question (as I must, when questions bounce around in my own head, right?), then the immediate answer is that no one knows. And beware of practitioners who claim to know the line between sane and crazy, healthy and unhealthy, but that's another story.

Moreover, today is roughly the 3-year-anniversary of arriving home from a trip and discovering that my "partner" had taken all the family money and hidden it, so that I could not have access. I was "unentitled" in an instant. Even my own paychecks had been re-routed to this mystery new account. His clearly distorted sense of entitlement.... my distorted willingness to give up all sense of entitlement... it's all enough to give a person pause.

Now, though, I have the pedestrian delight of being in charge of my own finances. Both of them ;) There is a strange (really, I think it's strange) sense of awe and power when I get to choose a new dress or a new piece of furniture or which brand of milk I want. But one must quickly find a sense of balance here. Equating self- worth with purchasing power isn't a safe or wildly ethical path to enlightenment.

This struggle with entitlement shows up in other places as well. "I'll just have one bite of ice cream; I've worked hard today." Uh huh.... when was the last time you ate one bite of ice cream -or anything, for that matter? The consequence of that thinking has been 40 pounds. Or, I'll try to squeeze too many activities into a single bit of time, because I want to do them all. And therefore, the universe should allow that by expanding time, just for me? What am I saying here?

I am starting to define the way Dave treated me as domestic abuse. I don't want to slip back into a "woe is me" rant, though. Many, MANY people on this planet experience much worse, every single day, with no hope of the luxury of choosing their own milk or having a bite of ice cream -or freeing themselves from abusive men. That acknowledged, however, surely I'm entitled to something.

So I need to locate the healthy expression of the sentiment "I am here. I am powerful. I deserve to be seen for who I am." I suppose defining the question is a good start. The corollary of this question is "Do I dare speak my dreams out loud?" Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Metal Mouth

Brace yourself for a sort of puke-y TMI post.

It's been a year with a mouth full of metal.

I said, thinking that I meant it, that I would get braces right after college, when I had a job. That didn't happen. I got married and had babies, which I don't regret for a single second. With those babies came about a zillion other ways to spend money, but it's not as though my teeth were miraculously straightening themselves.

Well, a year ago it happened. I somehow sensed that I had a moment to get this done. Otherwise, it would be another 20 years, and I just don't have that kind of time!

Here's where we started:

Gruesome, huh? There were teeth perpendicular to each other.

One year later, we have this:

DUH, that didn't work. You can't see my teeth there, can you? For heaven's sake! Allow me to distract you with the pretty girl in green... I'm still waiting on the orthodontist's official one-year photos. My teeth are mostly straight now. My bite is still all catty-wumpus, but we're just now starting to work on that.

Even I can't turn this process into a metaphor. Filling your mouth with metal??? No, that doesn't take us anywhere interesting. Encasing one's troubles in metal? Spending staggering amounts of money when my parents had been willing to pay for this? Sadly, no. Those are not inspirations for creative thinking, either. It just feels good to be doing one of those "I always said I would" tasks. That's part of being a grown-up too, isn't it?

Friday, July 16, 2010

An Upside-Down Grownup

So the story is this. When I was a little girl (and I must have been very little, based on my memory of the house where this happened), I remember standing on my head on the couch, kicking my feet up against the wall behind the couch. Mysteriously, my mother was not charmed by this behavior. Admonished to get down and go do that in the yard if I needed to do it, I asked my mom if she thought the world looked better upside down or right-side-up. Our mom would definitely reply "right-side-up" which, of course she did.

She further said that mostly, grownups like right-side-up better. Even now I'm not quite sure that's true, but then I just felt sad for the grownups. I wondered why, then, anyone bothered to become a grownup.

"Mostly, they just have to."

I don't think she meant anything metaphorical, but even then, that's where my brain went. And revolted. "I want to be an upside down grown up".

And so it will be ;) I just have to figure out what that means.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Grown-Up in My Own Story

Somewhere around day 2 after driving away from my marriage (He left me, just to be absolutely clear. It's just that he made me do all the work associated with that leaving. Great system.), I wrote the phrase "becoming the grown-up in my own story." I didn't realize, of course, that I had identified an important theme for myself, or that it would take so long.

But here we are. It's hard. I've recently realized something mind-altering. I was an abused wife. Without being libelous (he never hit me -or would ever hit anyone, I imagine), I was definitely abused. There's not a legal definition of emotional abuse; it's not criminal in the way that assault is criminal. Nonetheless, there are working definitions:

* name-calling or putdowns
* keeping a partner from contacting family or friends
* withholding money
* stopping a partner from getting or keeping a job
* actual or threatened physical harm
* sexual assault
* stalking
* intimidation

There are more examples; you can see them on the Violence Wheel. Suffice it to say that I was looking at the wheel (an old social work standby) for another purpose, and was flat-out gobsmacked at how many examples applied to me.

ME! How can this be?

Actually I am less interested in that question than in how to move forward to make things different. Sure, patriarchy had a role in this. Grandiose narcissism (not mine) probably had a role in this. My personality absolutely played a part -which isn't the same thing as saying that I caused it. My upbringing had, perhaps, a little role. Catholicism, perhaps a little more. There's a complex story to be told there, but it's already been done.

What's more important to me right now is to acknowledge that abuse infantalizes its victims. This becoming a grownup thing is profoundly NOT metaphorical. Rather, it is exactly the task in front of me.

I remember asking my mom once why people became grownups. (I'll tell you more about that story tomorrow.) Her reply was "they just have to." At that time she was in a complicated relationship herself, so a little fatalism was to be expected. But my toddler self wants to go back and say, "Nu-UNHHH, you GET to."

So now I get to become a grownup. I'm a work in progress, way back at the starting line. All this crashing around I've been doing -well, it will doubtless continue for a while. But the house, the physical fitness, the friends, the family, the job, school, the cats, the travel.... I've been crashing around experimenting with things the way a toddler does. "You mean, the world holds all this STUFF, and I get to try it ALL?"

Well, yes dear, it does and you do. Now you just have to be big enough and brave enough and graceful enough to figure out how to do the things you want, give back to the world, and say thank you all the time.

So, that's the project, for now.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

Everyone has seen the revived poster from World War II by now, and doubtless smiled at the British restraint of it all. I certainly have. Moreover, I have used the phrase to myself and other people repeatedly. It's easier said than done, that's for sure.

In some areas, it is perfectly easy for me to break goals down into teensy-tinsy pieces, and just do the next right thing. I step back and congratulate myself that I have done what I need to do today. I'm following the plan, on the path.... gosh, I'm good. When the exact same process needs to be undertaken in other areas, I freak out and think that I'll never finish and that I might as well not start and that I'm not smart enough or disciplined enough ...or whatever enough... to get this done. The small step seems too small to be meaningful.

Is this fear? Embarrassment at being afraid? Embarrassment about being/feeling powerless? I can't tell. It shows up in the weirdest places. The garden. The front porch. And of course, it shows up in more predictable places. Will I ever understand my retirement funds? Honestly, I'm beginning to doubt it. But I'm done with feeling stupid. Consider this the start of the embarrassment alleviation project ;) Forward motion -no matter how small- is still forward motion.

I will just keep breaking down the tasks into smaller and smaller bits, until the step is too small to avoid taking! I will be calm, and I will carry on!