I’m back! New perspectives.

It’s been awhile. I let myself have a long break, I needed it, there has been a lot going on. Plus my computer screen was broken, and took awhile to remedy.

Let me bring you up to speed.

My job is going way better, all of us have been really working on our communication, and I confronted my coworker who I had a challenge communicating effectively with and we were able to lay a lot of stuff on the table. I got a really positive review from my supervisor, and have been really doing better and playing to my strengths more over all.

I have handed in my resignation.

Husband has been transferred back to Maryland, so we will be saying goodbye to Hawaii in just a few short weeks.

Just when things were getting really good!

I have learned and grown so much in this last year. I have met so many unique and inspiring people. I have been a part of something unique and been able to imagine and create a program in a way I never would have imagined. I have recently realized just how passionate I am.

We had some women from a prominent and fancy bank host a screening of the movie Girl Rising for us tonight. I ended up catching a ride home with one, and ended up sitting in the car on my street for two hours telling her about my dreams for the program, my admiration for the women, my frustrations with the challenges and barriers they face, and my advocacy work. I can be a talker when its a topic I am passionate about, and I want people in the corporate world to understand and appreciate what we do and our women, but I was surprised myself. I had hoped to make a career here, doing what I do and getting better at it. In frustration, I thought about changing it up entirely, going into more creative work, but more and more I find myself remembering why I love what I do. I am scared I won’t find a job quickly, a job that is suited for me, working for women, doing something that plays to my strengths. I am nervous that what I have here is unique, as unique as our program and community, and I will be set back yet again, forcing myself into work I hate, that I am not good at, and that doesn’t really need me.

 

Why is it that times of transition bring clarity and confusion at the same time? I once again spent an indecent amount of time wracked with self doubt, and not enough time appreciating the opportunity for what it was. Maybe next time I will be wiser.

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Why do we punish people for being poor?

Many articles have been written on this topic from a variety of perspectives, I might as well add mine.

Fact: America, as a society, is increasingly criminalizing poverty.

I know many people will disagree with this, the argument is that the poor are more likely to use drugs, commit crimes, abuse benefits, get pregnant young, or are lazy and unwilling to work. Those are the most common defenses of measures that are punishing for those who need help the most.

Those arguments are not based on studies… reliable, objective studies don’t support those assumptions; rather, they are based on anecdotal evidence. Politicians love to do that, they tell a story about one person, community, encounter, etc. real or fabricated and present that as hard evidence for whatever they are trying to push. People eat that up and take it with them. Prejudice always works the same, no matter the subject: you believe something to be true, you act as if it is true, and you will interpret your interactions in a way that supports your belief, your own actions, prompted by prejudice, might even effect the outcomes of your interactions, further supporting your belief. As a society, when these prejudices inform and influence policy and grand scale interactions and communities, the very things we believe to be the causes of poverty become, symptoms of it instead.

For instance: teen pregnancy. I have heard it said that the poor have more children because they assume the government will take care of them, and that teen pregnancy is a result of that same value. But think of this, if you are poor, your parents and grandparents were poor, you live in a community where decent jobs are scarce and education and a career is not even on your radar. These communities are least likely to provide decent sex ed or health care. So you have few positive prospects for the future and a limited understanding of your own body, then what is stopping you from getting pregnant? One of the main things middle and upper class communities say about teen pregnancy is that the girl is throwing away her potential, sidelining her goals, career, education, potential. But if your community is not conducive to any of that, it offers no motivation to control your reproductive health, and generally few resources to do so if you were so inclined. Teen pregnancy, not a cause of poverty, like it is painted, but a symptom.

That is just one example. There are worse ones. And even less logical.

Like cities that jail the homeless for loitering or other small offences when it would be way less expensive to subsidize those peoples housing. What are those people thinking?

Like how drug use is often portrayed as a cause of poverty, despite the fact that rich people use lots and lots of drugs too. Aside from its causes and consequences, countries that treat drug addiction as a public health issue and not a criminal one, are much more successfull in the ‘war on drugs.’ But the push in the US is to punish drug users, either by criminal action or by denying them access to benefits. Drug testing benefit recipients costs waaaayyy more than the money saved by denying benefits to users, so why do it? Because it is satifying for taxpayers. People work hard, and struggle, and don’t get handouts, why should someone else get free money?

That is actually an understandable thought process. I feel similarly when things are hard for me, and others don’t seem to struggle with the same things. I get frustrated, too. I don’t fault people for resentment.

I fault lawmakers for manipulating people’s resentment for political gain. I fault lawmakers for catering to resentment to make policies that are not socially, ethically or financially responsible. I fault people for using subjective means to decide who is worth helping. I am not sure whether I fault people for supporting these lawmakers and policies. I know I have railed against prejudice before, I have ruffled feathers. But seeing more and more studies, seeing the policies and laws being pushed and implemented, reading the words of lawmakers…. I am rethinking where I place blame.

American politics, media and society is hugely dependent on ignorance and misinformation. Just as certain things are consequences, not causes of poverty, certain illogical and unethical policies and the support for them are consequences of, not causes of the broken system and society. That is why things are getting worse, why policies and values are traveling backwards to a more oppressive era. The system was already broken, and its consequences are fueling the downward spiral into fiscal and ethical ruin.

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A year in paradise

Its been almost a year since we packed up and left California behind to come to beautiful Hawaii. This has been a year of self reflection for me. I have had to confront truths that I’ve been pretending not to notice as they were creeping into my life. More and more, I realized I grew old.

The transition in coming here to Hawaii was hard for me. Harder than I would have ever expected. In my semi-nomadic existence I have hard transitions before, but each of those I could very definitely pinpoint the reason, the unrealistic expectation I had brought with me. It was never so much coming to terms with transition as it was coming to terms with my own disappointment when a place, people, or job had not lived up to what I had hoped for. 

Not so for Hawaii. I came with much more limited expectations. I did not expect much and Hawaii has been pretty awesome, for its own part. I love our neighborhood here in Honolulu, and the lifestyle it allows us. We haven’t fully taken advantage of the beachy options, but we are not on vacation, real life takes over.

We hate the bugs, namely, the cockroaches, which is something I have never dealt with before and took rather personally. The giant roaches, centapedes, slugs, ants, flies and I don’t know what else are awful, actually it took away from my experience of hawaii a bit, initially. That is probobly the biggest negative we have here, aside from missing our families. 

None of that should affect me that much, I have transitioned to places with all kinds of challenges. I flew to Denver knowing no one, only to find I didn’t react well to the altitude. I studied in Italy, having gone without ever taking a single language lesson. I went to Bradford, where the culture was completely foreign to me… I made all that work, not always cheerfully, but the transition was never the problem. 

This time, the problem was me. I came here tired and old. By the time we moved to California, I had been ready to settle in somewhere nice, and felt like we were doing so. Then we up and leave. Paradise, it felt like, we could settle here. But in the trail of cities I have left behind, I have also left pieces of myself, of my vivaciousness and sense of adventure. My ability to adapt got chipped away without my even realizing it. I became more reserved, more nervous to try new things. The things I used to do terrified me. Fly halfway around the world with a group of people I had never met? Travel alone in a country where I don’t know the language and end up driving home in the middle of the night with some guy I met on the broken down train? Uhm, I could have been murdered! 

Now I have scenes from Jaws in the back of my mind when I go swimming in the ocean. I don’t share too much of myself with strangers. I feel the need to make plans before doing anything. What happened to me? 

This has been a year of trying to regain my youth. I joined a gym. I snorkel. I dance, or try at least. I write this blog, in itself a practice in being the open and trusting person I once was. I have reflected. I have spent time with a zen minister. I have wrote. I have drawn. I ate squid with the organs still inside.  I am trying to learn Spanish. I learned to garden. I have listened to the stories of women from around the world, who are trying to reclaim far more than I can imagine. I have spoken up for myself. I have spent time with my toes in the sand.

It has been a very humbling year. 

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Feel the beat

In the latest edition in the saga of facing challenges and stress, I bring you the musical number.

Andy and I are taking Salsa lessons. Yes you read that right, the couple that rented a jukebox in lieu of dancing at their own wedding has decided to give it a try…. I am almost as surprised as you are.

I have some personal issues with dancing. For one, I don’t hear beat or rhythm. I am not just bad at it, I really cannot. Apparently ‘Beat Deafness’ and other forms of musical disability are related learning disabilities to dyslexia and its related disorders. They come from the same malformations in the same part of the brain. Fascinating, yes?  Well what it translates into: I got no rhythm and can’t feel the beat. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have done any form of dancing in public as an adult, I can count on my fist the number of times I have done so sober… that would be zero.

I have really developed a mental block about anything music related. Let’s take a trip down memory lane. When I was a kid, a music teacher used to hit me with xylophone sticks or bang a cowbell next to my head for messing up, regularly. I felt so guilty when I found out that the teacher had died over the summer, because I had secretly wished he would. Later, by about 10, I was asked to pick a musical instrument to learn, and chose the viola. The teacher tried kicking me out of class more than once for not practicing…except I did practice. I used to fake sick to get out of dance units in gym. So yeah, my inability to relate to music is long standing and embarrassing.

So far, after two lessons, my dancing primarily consists of staring fixedly at Andy’s feet, trying to get my feet to move correspondingly. Just one step above standing on his feet while he tries to dance for both of us.  Andy very considerately wore socks that were marked right and left. You wouldn’t think that would improve my performance much, but it really did. Oh the elegance that is the two of us salsa-ing. I am incredibly glad that so far, our lessons have been private; the public can’t handle our mad skills just yet.

There is a recurring theme for me in these times, when I try things that are stupid hard: petulance. It still pisses me off that life isn’t fair. Mature of me. So when the instructor tells me not to look at my feet, when I am asked to count to the music to find the one beat, I feel crabby and embarrassed. I am not proud of it, but it is what it is. I get frustrated. Who is this guy who doesn’t know me from the primordial soup to tell me I can find the beat?

I didn’t say it was logical. But in an attempt to inject some sanity into the process, I remind myself that I volunteered for this. No one forced me, certainly not the instructor. I am trying to improve my brain. After all, there was once a time, not as long ago as one might think, when I thought writing well was impossible for me, and it was by working through the difficulties and frustrations that I gained the abilities I have. This dance instructor was, in fact, very patient and encouraging with us. Far more patient than I might have been with someone mangling so completely an art form that I was passionate about.

Now did in fact have one small advantage over Andy in this situation. I am a girl, and in salsa, girls get lead around. It is the primarily guy’s responsibility to lead, keep the beat, guide the movements. One of the few situations in life where sexism works in my favor. Poor Andy, he is just learning a new skill himself and is also having to bear some of the responsibility for my performance.

In the end, this has been a growing experience. Stretching my comfort zone in more ways than one. As much as I am not excited about my ever expanding list of challenging commitments at the moment, this is something that I feel like I need to see through. If I can succeed at this, even if its only subjective success, than that will be another achievement in life that I once thought was too much to hope for. At least now I have hope, which makes all the difference.

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Ignoring your Privilege is Unacceptable

I have written about privilege before, but I will do so again. This country is rapidly devolving into a place I cannot be proud of, or maybe the idea that it ever was is a sign of my own privilege. Maybe I am just becoming more informed as to the realities that other Americans have not had the privilege to be ignorant of. But from where I sit, things are looking worse and worse either way.

I am terrified that I live in a country where where the life of a young person is valued less than the fear of a grown man. Not just valued less, but that one person’s life is not justifiable when compared to the fear of the adult. Where one mans right to defend himself against a perceived threat, that is, not an actually threatening situation, but that an adult claims that he felt threatened by a teenager, he has the right to defend himself by any measure he chooses. That man may justify his actions in a court of law, but the right of the kid who was killed by his fear, that right to life is not justified. Our society justifies that which is considered valuable. Namely the right to defend yourself…. if you are white.

Defending yourself is a privilege that is denied to many in this country.

I hear often enough, and from people I otherwise respect, that they cannot be privileged. After all, they don’t have it that great. They struggle, they get screwed over and stepped on. Privilege doesn’t exist if there is someone out there who has it better off than you do. This is a dangerous notion. Instead of recognizing that most everyone gets screwed over at some point, and wishing to level the playing field and have empathy for those who have less, you cling to what you do have, deny that anyone else lacks/needs/deserves anything, and certainly should not get something you want for yourself.

Take the issue of affirmative action: whether or not you feel it is necessary or effective, the argument that it discriminates unfairly against white people is both persistent and inexcusable. Because in order to make this argument is to deny that as a demographic, white people have far greater access to quality educational opportunities than members of other demographics. Affirmative action and demographic-specific scholarships are an attempt to provide additional opportunities to those who lack access to quality education, not take away opportunity from those who already have it.

Or the issue of “insert demographic here” history months. One of the things I hate is hearing people ask why there is no “white history month” or “men’s history month.” To argue that the lack of these months is unfair is to ignore that history is written and taught in a way that recognizes and celebrates the accomplishments of those who are white and/or male to a far greater degree than all others.

I have said all that before, so before I run the risk of ranting, lets get back to the topic at hand.

The privilege to defend yourself. The privilege to justify your actions.

This is not about seeing a guilty person punished. In the case that prompted this post, the killer will likely spend a great deal of time in prison. But that is not justice. It cannot be justice if the right to live is treated as equal for both parties. It has not, and generally is not. And that creates the very problem and fear that many of the privileged react to in such deadly ways. The inequality reinforces the idea that black boys and men are intimidating, and that when a white person is intimidated, they have no responsibility to act justly. Viewed through that lens, and helped along by the media, any action that black boys and men may take only justifies others feeling ‘intimidated.’ How many of us, especially as teenagers would react like perfect ghandi-like ambassadors for peace when being treated as if we were worthless and to be feared and looked down on? I know I wouldn’t respond the best. But any misstep, any incident of a teenager acting like a teenager, any occasion of someone reacting badly to being treated badly is grounds for deadly force if someone doesn’t like your skin tone.

This is why it is important to recognize your privilege. The problems facing our country today are often termed black issues, or race issues. Couple that with the idea that the default factory setting for American is white, and you have a great number of people who do not feel that these issues should matter to them. But in truth these are human issues. These are American issues.

Even if you look at it completely selfishly, ie. you want the best life and country for yourself and your family/friends/etc. maintaining ignorance and perpetuating injustice and justified violence does not make the country better. And if you have to view it that way in order to see it as valuable, you probobly won’t agree, or at least wont acknowledge that you are part of the problem. And that is the biggest part of the problem. This is a country where far too many are nonchalant or even defensive of the privilege of some to kill someone else’s sons and daughters, as long as it is not their sons and daughters. This is a failure. The evil isn’t in any one man who kills any one else, it is in our culture that accepts and justifies it. The evil is in the otherwise decent people of this country being the guiltiest of bystanders.

I can reasonably be sure that if I chose to bear children, that their deaths would not be seen as so justified, but this is not a culture which I would like to influence any children at all.

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Prioritizing Motivation and Embracing Neglect

I have neglected this blog in a way I had sincerely hoped I wouldn’t.

I have had a lot going on in life recently, I have been, frankly, exhausted. My writing energy has gone to writing letters to some I love far away. I am still working long hours, still stressed by workplace antics, and just plain not feelin it. I had to give myself permission to take a break.

That was a freeing concept, giving myself permission to neglect some goals I set for myself. It was a revolutionary moment for me.

I have lived in fear of giving up. I have stayed in situations that were pointless and overwhelming because giving up felt shameful. That wasn’t always the case. I used to be that kid that all the parenting magazines talk about. Bright, but had trouble sticking it out and applying myself. With each adolescent struggle, with each prospect of probable failure, with each time my underdeveloped adolescent coping skills got overwhelmed, giving up was a way of controlling my failure.

But the world sends cruel messages to those who struggle… that old lie that if you work hard and apply yourself, you will succeed. That message is meant to motivate, but let us consider the consequences of that line of thinking. If we correlate success with effort, than failure must be due to lack of effort. What about the people who struggle every day, in a myriad of ways, and do not achieve what they are working toward. Where do they fit in? We must assume that they are not successful because they are doing something wrong. Failure is always the individuals’ fault.

If that is the case, what is the point of confronting your struggles, all you get is a lot of stress and in the end you will just feel worse about yourself.

Therein lies the real problem of the message: if you struggle, there is only the slimmest of chances that you will be worthy of success. If you put in the effort and fail to achieve, then you are unworthy; if you give up, you are even less worthy.

So for every math problem that kid-me was told  to “just try harder” or asked “why don’t you get it?” by those I sought help from, the message was ‘it is your fault this is hard for you.’

I hate when things are my fault. By the time I went to college I was determined to not allow anything to be my fault. I worked hard, I took on more and more, I slept less and less and used un-advisable means to keep all that up. I did not say no, and when forced to confront my inability to do everything I had on my plate, I treated myself like a failure.

I have kept jobs that were just awful and unsuited for me and unhelpful to my career simply because I did not want to fail. That situation never turns out well.

Which brings me back to this blog. I felt like a failure for not writing regularly. I had set out to do something and had not followed through as I had expected myself.

But I had no spare energy even to dwell on my failure…. so I gave myself permission to give up for awhile and see how that goes. It did wonders. I still felt a twinge of guilt from time to time, old habits are hard to break, I had a free hour and could write. But really, my brain wasn’t feeling very articulate in most of my down time. I am finally realizing that that is ok, I am giving my precious energy and enthusiasm to other things. Its not failure, its life.

So I don’t know when the next post will be, but thanks to everyone who has been checking in on me out here.

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There is a difference between a symbol and a dream

This has always been more than a day off for me, and I say that not just because I chose to work today. As a kid it was more than a long weekend, although, truthfully on the day itself the significance was lost in the whole not having to go to school thing. I remember learning about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement at school, being an imaginative kid I used to picture myself traveling back in time to march on Washington myself. I still remember the disappointment of being excluded from the school’s black history month parade through the halls, feeling left out of something so weighty and important. 

But really, I had no idea what it was about. How could I? My elementary school class may have been lacking in many blond haired blue eyed english speaking kids, and I often felt different and left out because of that, but really, that was nothing. I may not have the idyllic existence, but none of my life experiences have ever warranted a march, a speech, a nationwide movement. 

I owe a lot to Martin Luther King, the US is a better place for having had his influence, I benefit from that. I was able to make friends from a wide variety of backgrounds and creeds at my schools and still receive an adequate education. The world is a better place now, closer to the ideal I wish for. I didn’t even have to give up an ounce of my privilege. 

That is the line in the sand, the reason I will never understand exactly what King truly meant. I would have been privileged in the post civil rights world, and I am now. Nothing I have ever experienced, not even the worst or most unfair or oppressive moments of my life compare to what non-white people used to go through, and still go through. Yes I can have tragedy, I can be discriminated against based on my appearance, background, gender or even skin color, but I have never lived in a country whose highest levels of institution are inherently against me based on my color. The closest I come to understanding that is experiencing sexism in its various forms, but even as a straight, feminine, white woman, I am pretty well off on the oppression scale. 

So King to me has always been a symbol, of hope and the dream of a better world. it is a mark of how far we all still need to go to achieve that dream that I can appreciate King as a symbol, while for others there is a heritage of blood and tears that needs more than a symbol, that King’s influence actually changed how they were treated, how they lived and worked and died. That our country still needs Martin Luther King.

I am not sure if this post is appropriately reverent for the day, maybe it is and I have been thinking too much lately…. But I see a lot of people on facebook and pinterest sharing pithy quotes and talking about the contribution King made to Americans. Which kind of bugs me. It doesn’t appreciate the real contribution, because the contribution to Americans, as white america defines that term, is merely symbolic. And mere symbolism is insufficient

In the end, it doesn’t matter what Dr King means to me as a symbol, what people need to hear is in this article. That will give you a better idea of the gravity of King.

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