Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Fuck everything. I'm grumpy.


Grumpy leaves me feeling annoyed with everything. 

The world. Humanity. You. Me. Everyone and everything. 

Grumpy turns minor things into giant, teeth gnashing, monster issues. 

Is that a sock on the floor?

WHY IS THERE A GODDAMN SOCK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING FLOOR??

Grumpy arrives at the party carrying unannounced discontent; glad to be here but the dip could use more salt, the chair is lumpy, and are you struggling financially because it's a bit chilly in here. 

I never remember if I invited them or not. Or why.

Grumpy eats a package of tiny white powered donuts, a double-decker oatmeal cream pie, and a bag of Fun-Yuns out of spite. Spite for who or what...doesn't really matter. 


and Grumpy 
doesn't
really
want
to
talk
about
it
anyway.

Grumpy will sit here with a broody furrowed brow, answering all questions with one syllable. 

Grumpy.  Takes. EVERYTHING. Personally.  . 

Grumpy walks around with stompy feet, full of sighs, wishing someone would just FREAKING ASK ME HOW I'M DOING BECAUSE NO ONE REALLY CARES...AND...

"...oh me? oh...I'm just fine really.  Oh yes.  No...that furrowed brow? Oh...just a lot on my mind. I'm fine."

WHY OH WHY DOES NOBODY CARE???

Grumpy is contradictory.  

Grumpy only stops to pet the cat.

Grumpy really only hears what Grumpy wants to hear. 

Grumpy does not want to participate in today.  

Grumpy will be staying in their room until Thursday...

 ...or maybe 2022. 






 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

27 Days...

When I watched the video of surfer Matt Wilkinson's close encounter with a shark my first thought was, "Oh myyyy woahhhhhh!!"

After the woah factor passed, my thoughts turned to how each of us likely comes this close to being seriously injured or killed on a regular basis, but we never know it because there isn't a drone hovering above us, watching what goes on around us. Our focus is generally on whatever is right in front of us, with our thoughts centered on whatever is upcoming. 

We operate under this illusion of sameness, and control; believing that we will always be here tomorrow or that things will go as planned. .  
 
But we won't ever know how choosing to cross a street in a different place prevented us from being hit by a car.  
We won't ever know that we narrowly missed getting a COVID positive Uber driver. 
We won't ever know that we were almost bitten by a mosquito carrying Eastern Equine Encephalitis. 
 
Our minds create the illusion of certainty because we can't function if we live on guard 100% of the time (ask almost any abuse survivor, hyper-vigilance is exhausting). And because our beautiful brains are capable of taking in information, calculating risks, and making predictions, we believe we have control. 
 
I find this weirdly comforting right now, knowing that there has always been uncertainty, there has always been the unknown. I find it comforting because this means that it is possible to function without knowing the outcome. We are unaware that we are doing this every day. It is the knowing that the uncertainty is coming that gives room and time for the mind to play out all sorts of possibilities, for me it is usually ones of the apocalyptic sort, and our bodies respond with stress and worry. Our minds know that is coming, but our bodies believe it is here now. 
 
So I talk to my body.  I breathe into it.  I tense and relax muscles. I check-in.  Slowly, with these and other tools, I pull my body back from tension, back from crisis mode. I remind my body that this new unertainty has not arrived yet. 
 
I do this again, and again, and again. Not to deny that a crisis is coming or to convince my body that the illusion is real, but so that I can respond to what is to come from a place of groundedness and relative clarity, instead of fear and anxiety. 
 
These tools won't spare me from feeling fear or anxiety, but they will help put me, mind and body, in a place where they can be utilized as one more source of information, and not as the only one. 
 
 

Monday, October 5, 2020

29 Days...

I am sitting on the edge of the porch in the Autumn sun.  

I pause to watch the Autumn leaves drop from tree to ground. 

As I ponder the falling leaves, a horsefly lands on my journal on the entry from yesterday.  The fly lands on the word between. 

Yes, my little fly friend, we are indeed about to enter the time of between; the place of not being one thing or another. 

We are entering the pupal stage of the year of the year.  When, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days grown shorter, nights longer.  The cold comes and we shelter.  

Unlike the fly we can't make a haven out of our own skin, so we wrap ourselves up in other things - we cocoon.

We cocoon in our homes in sweaters, slippers, woolly socks, and drawn curtains against the draft. 

We cocoon outside in hats, scarves, layers of long underwear, and snow crunching boots. 

We cocoon inside ourselves, wrapped up in our minds and thoughts. 

Yes, little fly friend, we are also entering a time between in our culture. 

And our cultural cocoon is a painful one. Inside our culture is dissolving, breaking down.  

Unlike the turn of the seasons, or the birth of a fly, the outcome of this is not easy to predict and its timing is not certain. 

Unlike the seasons, the old way of being does not give way easily to the next. 

Unlike the seasons, this change will happen only with our own efforts. 

I want to ask the fly, "Did you know, as a tiny maggot, when your skin formed your pupal case...did you know you would emerge as a fly? Were you afraid when it was happening? Did it hurt?"

What kind of world will we emerge into in the spring?

What kind of world will be build over the coming years? 



Friday, October 2, 2020

32 Days...

Last night one of my housemates and I watched the moon rise over the sea. The fog and bit of haze made the moon a red orange ball that was reflected in the water. It reflected its orangey red self in a moon trail across the bay.  It was beautiful...

As I sat there watching this beautiful moon rise, it struck me this moment I was experiencing felt like a look back moment; the ones you see at the beginning of a show or movie where an older character starts to tell a story about the past.  They pause, and they say something like... 

"I remember watching the moon rise over the sea in early October that year. The Pandemic has been going for over six months, the election was looming and everything felt so uncertain...but we really had no idea how bad things were going to get..."

Everything feels very now. Something inside me knows that we are on the edge of something monumental - it may be good or bad or some mash up of the two, personally I vacillate between the WORST possible thing and the only slightly less pessimistic slow collapse and even longer recovery, with a lot of pain an suffering - and there is a call to pay attention, to notice things. 

Maybe it is so we can look back and remember how we got to where ever we end up, or maybe it is some broader, cosmic hypervigilance; a coping mechanism that substitutes awareness for control - not to control the shift, but to know when it happens.



Thursday, October 1, 2020

33 days...


33 days. 

One lunar cycle plus five days. 

One month and three days. 

Four weeks and five days. 

It is proving difficult for me to focus this week.  I feel this nervous energy, an anxiety that doesn't know what to do with itself. I do my weekly planning, complete my calendar, and then stall. I have written quite a bit, both here and on social media, about how the pandemic has put most of us is a very now place, one that can inhibit long term planning, but this feels different.

When I try to envision the future I come up against a wall when I hit midnight on November 3rd.  I see the days on the calendar rolling by one by one, and then nothing.  My mind sees it as fuzzy, gray static; kind of like what you see when you rub your eyes or you feel like you are on the edge of fainting. 

Just nothing.

And this nothing is what feels paralyzing.

I really don't know what will happen after November 3rd.   My mind plays out dozens of scenarios that could happen from a drawn out legal battle over the vote with neither side agreeing who won, which is probably the most benign of my thoughts, to outright collapse and war. 

And truly, it isn't even my government that I fear the most, maybe if it was just that it would be easier to frame, easier to plan for, but it is the people who feel empowered by our president to intimidate and attack people who differ from them that I fear. And, those who will turn their heads away, as long as they and theirs are still feeling some sense of "normal" and have little disruption to their lives.  In some way I fear those people the most. 

I see a Trump/Pence sign on someone's lawn and I think, "That person wants people like me and my friends dead." I don't think that a non-christian, non-binary, pansexual femme has much of a place in the Trump/Pence world. Neither do black people, indigenous people, people of color, LGBTQ people, poor people, people with disabilities, immigrants, anyone who is not white, straight, and professes to be Christian.

My work motivation has devolved into, well I should get this done just in case the world doesn't fall apart in a month. 

My life motivation has become prepare.  I don't mean in the dig a hole, pack away beans, and stock up on bottled water (though I do much of that anyway - I grew up in New England and being prepared for a week of no power in winter is just what we do). I mean finding a way to mentally and physically prepare myself for facing this great unknown. Trying to find someway to convince myself that I am ready or at least as ready as I can be. 

I am not 100% sure how to go about it, though eating right, sleeping enough, and moving more are a part of it, and I want to stay connected to my friends, my family, and my community. I plan to spend the next 33 days doing those things and whatever else I need to.

I have lived through personal trauma, and I know I can survive pretty awful things. I know that there is a strength in me that I can tap into.  I know my community is strong and I won't be facing this alone. I have to keep reminding myself of this

Whatever the outcome of November 3rd, there are difficult times ahead.  I've no doubt about that. What are you doing to be ready?

 


Friday, July 31, 2020

Gaslighting, prednisone, and a shampoo bottle...

I’m sharing this as an example of how experiencing years of gaslighting can mess with your perceptions of reality.  Some people will read this and thing I’m nuts, others will likely relate.

I think just about everyone experiences gaslighting at some point in their lives.  Heck, we’ve all been the victim of it from the man in the white house for the past several years, but at least most of us know that is what is happening.  When it is happening in a personal relationship – be that a romance, a friendship, a parent, or at work – over a long period of time it can leave you questioning your own reality long after the gaslighting person is out of your life. If you have also had the experience of someone knowing this was an issue for you and they then take advantage of that fact, it is even more crazy making – because here is a person you trusted with a very real trauma and their response was to use it to manipulate you, it can be crazy making (and I’m using that work very intentionally, because it will make you feel utterly crazy).  A few months ago, I ended a long-time friendship for just this reason.

As I mentioned, the effects can linger long after the person is out of your life and it can manifest in some really strange ways…

This morning I took a shower. I only shower about twice a week. If you want to know why, it is because water conservation is important to me as is trying to protect my skins microbiome.  I only wash my hair about once a week.  So, my use of shampoo is minimal. The last shower I took was on Monday morning.

This morning I got into the shower and reached for my shampoo.  When I picked it up it wasn’t in the position it usually is, which is not a big deal as I live with two other people, stuff gets moved around. But it also felt lighter than it should, so I looked at it and it looked like it had less in it than it did on Monday. I thought this was weird but decided to pass it off to having a crazy week of health issues and that I must not really have been paying attention.

But then the crazy kicked in and I found myself having the following conversation with myself in my head.

Joie brain voice 1: “Why does it seem like there is less in there is less shampoo in the bottle?”

Joie brain voice 2: “Hey, it’s been a tough week, I probably didn’t notice it when I used it last.”

JBV1: “No, really…why is there less shampoo, maybe someone was using it.”

JBV2: “Will you stop? I don’t know if anyone used it, and this line of thinking is just going to make me feel crazy…please stop.”

JBV1: “You know what you ought to do? Start drawing lines on the bottle each time you use it, so you’ll know if anyone is using it.”

JBV2: “Please stop. Even if someone did use it, I have said that it is okay ask long as my housemates don’t use the last of it and they let me know.  I trust that they will do that.”

JBV1: “Yeah. But what if they didn’t. You know what you should do?  You should call a house meeting and demand to know.”

JBV2: “Please stop. It’s just shampoo. And if they forgot it sucks but it probably wasn’t intentional.”

JBV1: “Rage walk into the living room and start screaming…”

JBV2: “Okay.  THAT is the prednisone talking. I’m already emotionally on edge because of the pandemic and watching the country fall to pieces and the prednisone just makes my emotional filter less stable. Shut up.”

JBV1: “Yeah but…”

JBV2: “Stop…please. Or we are going to have a prednisone induced frustration cry here in the shower and its going to just make the asthma problem it’s meant to fix worse.  Just be quiet.”

JBV1: “Okay…fine…but how about just not keeping your shampoo in the shower anymore? Just take it back and forth to your room, like if you were in a dorm.  Then you won’t question if you are crazy or not…”

JBV2: “Fine.  If it will get you shut up…”

JBV1: “Oh goodie!  Can we get one of those cute little shower caddies to transport everything back and forth? Oooooh…and maybe shower shoes?  I always wanted a pair of shower shoes.”

JBV2: “Please stop being weird. I’m washing my hair now…I can’t hear you over the bubbles.”

JBV1: “…fine…but you are no fun at all.”

I honestly have no idea how much shampoo was in the bottle on Monday and as long as it is there when I need it, I don’t care. But experiencing long-term gaslighting can make you question reality any time your perception doesn’t seem to match what is in front of you – even with something as simple as a shampoo bottle. It puts you in the place of not knowing what is real and what isn’t.  You start to look for ways to make sure your perception matches what it actually happening.  You want to do things like put lines on the shampoo bottle not because you think your housemates might be inconsiderate, but because you want to affirm that what you remember matches what you see.

As noted I share these things in the hopes it gives a small window into how trauma can impact people, and to help those who might sadly relate due to their own experience feel a little less alone.  Peace.

And for anyone who wonders – I really do talk to myself like this. Mostly in my head, but if I can’t get my brain to shut up, I’ll do it out loud or I’ll write it out. Working through things verbally step by step is a tool that works for me. And yes...that voice really wanted to go shopping for shower caddies.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Gardening Karens

When the pandemic began and we all started staying at home my  various social media feeds very quickly filled up with two things: images of homemade bread (with a heavy lean towards sourdough) and newly planted gardens. I was not the only one who noticed this of course. The news media ran article after article about bread baking offering a variety of reasons as to why this was happening; people suddenly found themselves with a lot of time on their hands and that they were using it as a way to comfort themselves during a time of fear and uncertainty.  Gardening was seen through a similar lens but also included people trying to assuage anxiety brought about by some food shortage fears.

Not everyone was happy about this.

Admittedly there were some valid reasons one could find themselves upset that the world took up bread baking. Everyone rushing to the store to buy flour and yeast created a supply chain disruption and many regular bakers found themselves without flour or yeast to bake with. I admit to being one of those who was annoyed about this. I have made my own bread for years and while I do it in part because I enjoy the process, it is also how I feed myself. I even made a Facebook post about how ticked off I was about it, until I realized how tone deaf it was for me to be complaining about basically having a home and a kitchen to cook in, just without having the ingredients to cook exactly what I wanted when I wanted it. I was certainly not in any immediate danger of starvation. I took the post down.

But there was also a lot of posts that tended towards the "hey, I was baking my own bread before baking my own bread was cool" and how in six months when the pandemic was over (we were so hopeful then) these new bread bakers would all just give it up and go back to their store bought bread so why bother.

I didn't see as much initial news coverage on the population's newly discovered love of gardening.  Maybe this was because it didn't result in highly visible disruptions like the bread baking did, or perhaps it was just that my Google news feed didn't think I was interested, but it didn't seem to be as intense. When I started to see the backlash against the gardening trend it wasn't in the news media anyway, it was in my social media feeds. And, unlike the bread baking, there was also an image of a particular type of gardener that went along with the backlash...apparently many of our new gardeners were Karens.

For those that don't know, a Karen is basically a white woman who aggressively uses her white, and usually middle class, privilege to get what she wants. She is the one who wants to "speak to the manager" over the smallest perceived slight, and she has a habit of calling the police on BIPOC for doing things like pointing out to her that her dog is off leash in an area that requires one and being in their own car outside their home. She will of course adamantly deny being racist

The posts I saw ranged from ones filled with preemptive schadenfreude about how these new gardeners were doomed to fail because they really didn't know what they were doing, or sharing screenshots of Instagram posts gleefully pointing out a gardening mistake, to how it was only a trend that all these  Karens with their make believe farms would soon give it all up once the trend had passed.

Now, honestly, I get the Karen designation.  To take up gardening you need land and to have land you generally need to be a homeowner, and that particular privilege is most certainly one predominately available to white people. I'm not here to say that these new gardeners are not Karens, but I also think it's possible that gardening may be a stepping stone for some of those Karens to move from being an active Karen to becoming a recovering Karen.

Yes, there will be plenty of people who liked the idea of planting a garden and then abandon it once the romance wears off. There will be those who will just assume that gardening is putting a plant in the ground, doing nothing else, and get frustrated and quit when it doesn't go as quickly or as well as they like. And there will be those people, and this is so very Karen, who see gardening as bending the natural world to their will, tilling up a large garden, filling it with artificial fertilizers, spraying it with pesticides, and claiming victory.  And yeah, there will also be those who don't really garden at all, but hire someone else to do it for them (this is extra Karen).

But there will also be some people, Karen or no, but the Karens especially need this, who start to dig in the soil, plant some seeds, see those seeds grow, and begin to notice things. They might notice how the rain (too much or too little) impacts certain plants, or that some plants wilt in the sun while others thrive.  They may start to be aware that their garden is visited by bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, and recognize the garden doesn't exist in isolation. It is impacted by non-garden forces, and it impacts the non-garden area around it.

And maybe that will lead them to the thought that perhaps they don't exist in isolation either.  That they, in all their Karen-ness, are part of a system too, and begin to see how their actions impact others. And that, like the garden, the system they are a part of thrives best when every part of it has what it needs to grow.

Now I'm not saying that gardening is going to gift us with a sudden influx of enlightened Karens, but I do know that putting your hands in the earth and paying attention to how all of the natural world's various parts interact, can be a profoundly healing and eye opening act for some people.  It can make one recognize that that we are not separate from the earth, we are a part of it, and that nature is not something we should seek to dominate and control, but a diverse system we need to learn to live in relationship with.

And if any our Karens can get there, then the next step is to recognize that they, as human beings need to learn to live in relationship with other humans beings too. Personally, I don't think you can get to that place with out at least beginning to reflect on your own behavior, at which point our Karen may well be on her way to becoming a recovering Karen. After all, part of recovery is recognizing the mistakes you made and finding some way  to make amends for them.

People start down the road of radical change for a host of reasons, sometimes they hit rock bottom, sometimes they witness a horrible event, sometimes its reading a book, and sometimes its planting a garden.  If even one Karen can have her eyes opened, and it takes planting a garden to get her there, then plant away.


Friday, July 17, 2020

The Bomb, Soap Flakes, and Resilience

Trinity Test - Alamogordo, NM - July 16, 1945
I have a memory from when I was ten years old and living in New Hampshire. That summer I had come back from my first summer camp experience having learned about the existence of nuclear weapons and what they were capable of doing. The movie, The Day After, came out not too long after that and we watched as a family.

In this memory I am laying in my bed in the dark waiting for sleep to come. I hear the sound of a plane flying overhead and I wonder if this is a missile on its way to destroy life as I know it. Ten-year-old me had no idea what a nuclear missile would sound like when it approached, or if I’d hear it at all, but in my mind they were like little rockets which were surely noisy.

Around this same time, I also had a very vivid dream in which nuclear war had happened. In the dream I lived in a town that wasn’t blown up but was preparing for the other aftereffects like radiation and nuclear winter. I was walking through town to warn people of what was coming. As I walked, I saw that people had large boxes of soap flakes that they were sprinkling on their roofs, on windowsills, in doorways, and in great circles around their house. They told me that the soap flakes emitted a vapor that hung in the air around the house creating a barrier to radiation.

I told them that it wouldn’t work, that it was just making them feel better. That the rain would come and wash the soap away and we’d have to do it all over again. I asked who would keep making all the soap now that the world was blown up, but even in dreams no one wanted to listen to a kid.

Somehow, I learned to live with the prospect nuclear annihilation. I didn’t fear nuclear weapons any less, and even now in writing this I am getting that familiar tightness in my belly. I didn’t hate their existence any less. But I was not paralyzed by that fear and hate. They existed, and short of finding some fantastical magic wand to wish them out of existence, they were not going to disappear anytime soon.

Preteen me simply did not have the power to remove them, stop them, or wish them out of existence.

But I didn’t go down the road of denial. I didn’t stop pretending they existed. I actually wrote my first letter of protest to President Reagan expressing what my feelings were about them. It was their existence that kick started my own activism.

I accepted their existence, but I didn’t accept that I couldn’t do anything about it. I also, somehow knew that the change I wanted to see might not happen in my lifetime. I wrote in my diary that I hoped one day kids like me would grow up in a very different world where they didn’t have to fear nuclear weapons. I even imagined my diary being discovered a hundred years in the future and people would marvel that such a world ever existed.

It was a surrender to the reality of the world on any given day, while working to make a different reality come to life, even though I’d not likely live to see that new reality. A mix of surrender, resilience, and humility…though I was not able to name those things then, the result was being able to live with the conflict of possible annihilation side by side with the hope for something different.

This is the mindset I want to actively cultivate now. I can’t make the horrors of the world go away. I still have not found that magic wand that will fix the world in an instant. I want to be able to hold both the knowledge that this is the state of the world in this moment, and not accept the state of things as immutable. And I need to do this while being aware that while I am doing this work in part for myself and the people around me, but it is far more for the people who are to come after.

I can’t get ride of this virus on my own, but I can work to create a culture that won’t be so negatively impacted as we have been. I can work to create a cultural mindset of collectiveness so that in the future, if this happens again the response will be one of support for one another and not the destructive denial we have all witnessed.

I can’t get rid of racism. I can’t change the history of our country. I can do the work to become anti-racist myself. I can work to lay the foundations for a new culture that not only finds racism unacceptable, but which actively works to rid itself of it.

I can’t undo the immense environmental harm we have done to the planet. I can work to create a relationship with the earth and nature, where I am a part of nature and not separate from them. I can create spaces for other people to find this connection and to begin to create a culture where the natural world is not seen as just another resource or capital to be exploited, but is a living system that has their own right to exist. One that human beings exist within, not outside of.

There is a metaphor we use often about how each generation stands on the shoulders of the generation before them. I’ve never liked that metaphor because standing on someone sounds so oppressive to me. Not to mention our ancestors haven’t done such a great job of things – building upon what they created just doesn’t seem wise. We need a new foundation to build on and a new space to build it. So that whoever comes along next has a place to start.

I still feel a lot of fear. I still carry worry. But if ten year old me can find a way to live within the opposition of a world that seems to dangerous to live in, while still finding some hope for what is to come, then 48 year old me ought to be able to do the same.

Friday, April 3, 2020

The new normal-ish

A tree I visit on my morning walk...

What was normal is no more.   
The current normal feels rooted in uncertainty.    
The new normal has not yet arrived.  

I have struggled these past few weeks to find a new routine. When the staying at home began I at first felt lucky that I worked at home.  I assumed that I’d feel little practical disruption because while so many people were dealing with the transition from work office to home office, I was already here with my established routines. 

Then I found myself wishing that I had that option.  I wished that I had something to focus on that would keep my brain from running wild because my ‘established routine’ wasn’t working.  My brain and body were overwhelmed by worry, fear, terror, panic…and a myriad of other paralyzing feelings.  I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t plan. 

One Saturday I decided this had to stop and I began a regimented check-in schedule.  Every hour I was closing eyes, seeing how my body felt, relaxing the tense places. I wanted to get my body to calm down in the hopes that the mind would follow. After a few days I started to feel better. I felt like I had a handle on things.  I’d be okay…

Until I wasn’t.  
And then I was.   
And then I sooooo wasn’t.   
And then maybe I was, sort of? 
No, definitely not

Each day has been emotionally different than the prior.  Sometimes dramatically so.  I kept (and keep) telling myself that whatever I am feeling is okay.  I’ve never had an experience like this, there is nothing normal about this, there is nothing routine about this, so why should there be anything routine about what I am feeling?

I’m am starting to establish a new routine.  This new routine prioritizes self-care and checking in with myself.  This new routine involves being easy with myself, and by extension everyone else (we are all doing the best we can). This new routine is one day at a time…and it changes as frequently.

I am understanding gratitude in a new way.  I don’t count or quantify my blessings, but I am starting to feel a deep gratitude for just being here.  I am here. I am breathing.  I am alive. 

Today that is not only enough, it is everything.