When the Dream Dies

I came to a realization recently, and another chunk of the naivete I have so carefully nurtured in myself has crumbled of and fallen into the ocean.

I should probably explain.

I have had a lot of jobs over the years, doing a lot of different things. I have served hamburgers, sold furniture, made sandwiches. I have chased rambunctious kids and led seniors in chair-obics. And I have always come back to homeless services. That’s what I am doing now. I manage a transitional housing program for working homeless women.

This area of work has always been a special interest of mine. I have always hoped that pure passion and enthusiasm will make up for all that I lack. And I lack something pretty big…. like the ability to maintain organization. I might start off well, but as details and tasks pile up I can’t keep up. Eventually I have to stop everything and re-organize, but at any given day I have a great number of papers and scribbled notes in loosely sorted piles. I have always been like this, and my brain pretty much works like that too.

So to bring that current, I am working in a job where I have a lot of independence and a lot to manage, compared to what I have done before. I had hoped beyond hope that enthusiasm and creativity would carry me over….. well it hasn’t. I have been struggling with certain parts of the job, and my coworker who manages the other parts of the facility has been… not happy. I have been beating myself up trying to figure out how to live up to the expectations, and never seem to. It has been really challenging and I have been, frankly, unhappy, it is hard to be confident when you are treated like your constantly not doing your job well.

Until I found out that its not all my fault. I recently failed spectacularly at a report I was supposed to complete…. except I didn’t find out until after the failure that it was, in fact, a report. I had been asked questions, which I answered to the best of my abilities, and never received feedback. Until it was critically overdue. Then I find out all these details and what the report was for…. So I do my best with it. Still not right… Then I find out that there is a huge amount of data that has never been shared with me, data that was supposed to feed the report. No wonder I failed, right?

I have been panicking about the opinion of my boss, and my confidence in my ability to do my job was really low there for awhile. Then I find out about that data. I realize there is only so much I can do, even the most organized person would have failed. Beating myself up is pointless. After I got over the anger at the situation, I felt very liberated.

Then I began mourning. I have searched all my adult life for something to devote myself to, some cause or project. I thought if I could just find that one situation where my passion outweighed my faults then I would be satisfied. My nomadic life has allowed me to try many different jobs on for size, and none fit. When I took this job I thought I would fit, I could finally be satisfied. This job would make me happy. Then the challenges, large and small, much like this most recent report fiasco, started piling up. I assumed that I was the problem, I wasn’t good enough. But gradually I have come closer to this cathartic realization. But the deep sadness comes from realizing that, because its not me, I won’t be able to fix it. The satisfaction I was hoping for and stressing for was hinged all along on dynamics that I could not control.

In essence, the satisfaction I have always dreamed of, as I have always defined it, being at a job I feel confident and appreciated at, that I can do with ease, that makes the world better, is impossible. By that definition, satisfaction was never something I could accomplish by my own efforts.

So I mourn, for that dream that will never come true. As someone with learning disabilities, who has struggled to feel adequate for my whole life, this is a hard dream to let go of. I am going to have to redefine satisfaction, a daunting task. I am going to have to accept that I will have to work closely with and support coworkers who I cannot trust to do the same for me. The idyllic workplace where we all work in harmony for the betterment of the world might never exist for me, and I can’t hinge any further happiness on finding it.

Soon I will work on reinventing my expectations and dreams and satisfaction, but first I think I need some time.

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Flaws make you human

“I’ve never seen anyone in the system with ugly handwriting like you.” I don’t know quite what to say when a client makes this happy observation. “I feel better, because I have ugly handwriting too.” Actually this clients handwriting is better than mine, by more than a little.

The ‘system’ here makes up all the case managers, service providers, paroling authority and prison system, nonprofits,welfare agency employees, churches, and counselors that this particular client has received care from, or reached out to, in the last few years of her life. Out of all those people I have the worst handwriting. And that seems to help.

Now don’t get me wrong, my handwriting is mostly legible, unless I am stressed, or tired, or in a hurry, or writing a lot…. Ok, maybe its more like barely legible. But other than my number 4’s, I rarely get asked what it is I wrote. It gets the job done.

But why would someone not only notice it, but point it out with a smile?

The ‘system’ is not replete with opportunities to build self esteem. A client is not generally encouraged to feel equal with the person on the other side of the desk. Many people are made to feel guilty, ashamed, worthless, when seeking or being assigned services. Our culture does not look on need with compassion, but with contempt, and annoyance. People who need must deserve it, and if they deserve what they are going through they certainly don’t deserve my respect. Its doubly worse for offenders, because while its not difficult to see that crime is a symptom, not a cause of trauma and poverty, it’s easier and more satisfying for Americans to lay blame. Blame absolves the average human of responsibility for the condition of another human. This is the American national attitude, it seems. I could go on about the hypocrisy of a nation whose politicians and population are so publicly invested in maintaining Christian values take such an evil attitude, but that’s a rant for another day. I am getting off topic.

When someone is constantly on the seeking and/or receiving end of all these services and authorities, its easy to feel that the person on the other side of that desk is not like you, they are better. Its astounding to me how many intelligent women I have met here who believe themselves to be dumb, because that is how they are treated. We so often treat the needy as if they cannot be trusted to make their own decisions, despite the fact that as adults they have every right to. In the quest to maintain accountability of the needy for the services they receive, we often dis-empower them, treat them as if they are not just needy, but incapable. We are capable, and we decide whose needs get met. And we wonder why its hard for people to get out of poverty in this country?
I know what its like to need help from someone who didn’t believe I was capable. I struggled with that feeling all through school. So I try to do things differently.

I meet with people at a small dining table, not a desk. Without this table, I would only be able to meet across a desk, or I could  come around the desk, but there would always be that divide, and it would be up to only me as to whether I cross it.

I make an effort to relate, to be pleasant, to treat people as if they are worth talking to about anything other than their program participation. Just as much of a person as I am.

And now, apparently, my handwriting. It is a big glaring flaw of mine that they take with them on the papers I hand them. I don’t put on a show of perfection, that would never work for me. My handwriting is transparently proclaiming that I struggle to, in at least this one small way. That might make all the difference.

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As always, I am a bit behind. New years reflections.

Yeah yeah, I know, we have been in the new year for a few days now.

I am kind of glad that 2013 is over. It was a long year. I spent the majority of it un- or unsatisfactorily employed. Other than Andy, I have not seen the vast majority of my loved ones at all, and only days total with the three of them I have seen. I have moved into the middle of the ocean to a tiny island where they have large and freaky bugs, where the temperature doesn’t change with seasons but daylight does. I have lost the toenail on my right big toe, and spent months since painfully stubbing and dropping things on it. I have discovered many new foods that are insanely delicious, but cannot find decent pizza or Mexican food to save my life. I have started a new job, the type of job I always assumed adults should have by this point in their lives, and found it extremely challenging all my weak points, but also playing to my strengths. I joined a gym and make a fool of myself there a few times a week. Its been an exhausting year.

And yet, I walked to work this morning in the hour before dawn, and found it peaceful. I have always loved that hour before dawn. It doesn’t matter where I call home or how long I have been there, before the world wakes up, each city or town feels like its mine. Silver Spring, DC, Manhattan, Nyack, Putney, Perugia, Denver, Belmont, and now Honolulu. Its a new year, but I am feeling at home, finally.

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The faces on the wall

Someone in our condo complex keeps up with Honolulu Crimestoppers and posts the unsolved crimes in the neighborhood on the wall by the mailboxes. There has been one poster up since may, a week after we moved in, showing a police sketch of some nondescript guy, with the details of a rape that happened down the street, in broad daylight, someone ambushing a woman as she entered her apartment.I started to worry A few weeks later, another sketch joined it, similar enough looking to raise concern, someone a couple streets over had been raped in their apartment, someone had entered through the lanai door. I kept worrying.

But in the months since those sketches were posted, as they watch me as I collect my mail and head into my apartment, nothing further has appeared. I carry my pepper spray, but am comforted by the amount of foot traffic around me. Walking home at night after working late or going to the gym, past the buildings where other women have recently been assaulted, I feel safe, so many people are out. The little old woman putting food out for the stray cats. Nurses walking home from the nearby hospitals. Joggers. Dog walkers. People carrying shopping bags. Tourists at the hotel next door. The taxi drivers leaning on the hoods of their cars, waiting for a call. Its busy here whenever I go out. Busy with regular people, going about regular business. And while I keep the door locked when I am home alone at night, the danger feels less urgent.

Until a week ago when another sketch joined it, and I began to look over my shoulder again. Someone had been raped nearby, opened the door and a stranger had forced himself in, the face looked at home next to its forebears. I remembered to draw the blinds across my lanai door once again, leave a light on in the living room when I go to bed and Andy’s working late. I jumped when UPS rang the doorbell at 10pm the other night, I stalled opening it, looking out through a gap in the door slats, until the UPS guy asked if I wanted him to leave it. After he left I cautiously opened the door and yanked the box inside.

As an American woman, I have a one in six likelihood of being the victim of sexual assault. I am statistically much less likely to be assaulted by a stranger, but rather someone whom I am acquainted with. I am less likely to be assaulted by the man in the sketch, who is speculated to be Polynesian, but by someone who shares my skin color. From the media, I know that football players are not to be trusted. Statistically, I should have more fear of men who are more familiar to me, not the face on the wall. In fact, aside from my gender, I have virtually no other statistical risk factors for assault, I have far less to fear than most of those around me.

But I did fear, just like women always fear. We fear the unknown. We fear what the media tells us to fear. The media tends to humanize and forgive white rapists, but turns others into monsters. Monsters who we cannot relate to, who come out of nowhere and ambush us. Like being scared of the dark, its what we don’t see that frightens us. The fear that a knock at the door could bring life changing trauma and injury, not Christmas gifts from far away family.

That fear abated tonight, somewhat. They caught the guy, matched his DNA. But really, objectively, that doesnt change a whole lot for me personally. Comepared to many others, I am far less vulnerable.

But the faces still watched me as I came in tonight, late again. Reminding me not to get too cocky over my statistical privilege. That a knock at the door can still devastate, privilege doesn’t guarantee safety. Statistics only comfort so much.
They also remind me that there are those far less privileged, for whom statistics where not on their side. Each face represents a woman who is struggling with the aftermath of this one monster.

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Special K takes on Fat Talk.

My interest in Special K has been renewed. I loved the cereal as a little kid, mostly because my dad would change the logo to say ‘Special Kate’. But I haven’t been such a fan of their ‘what will you gain when you lose?’ slogans of the last several years. It implies that losing weight, not health, is universally beneficial, since it shows already thin women eating the cereal then weighing themselves. It implies that losing weight solves problems and makes you happy, which I know it does for some women, as it can help with health issues, but I dislike the act of losing weight being glorified.

But I recently saw this commercial, which addresses fat talk. You know, its what we say for and about our bodies. Sometimes we say it in private, as our own bullies, sometimes we say it out loud, as a plea for someone to contradict us, to counteract our internal bullies with a compliment that goes into the deep lake of negative body image without causing even a ripple. Several women I love often put themselves down, until conversations turn into arguments about who hates their bodies more.

That is why I like this ad, it puts it right out in the open in such a way that highlights how destructive and ridiculous this talk is. And it does it without really being drawn into the other problematic body positive fall backs. Like ‘real women have curves’ and the other praise for non-thin body types, while well meaning, still glorifies one ideal at the expense of others. Or the ‘every body is beautiful’ campaigns, like dove, which are well meaning but still promote beauty as a measure of self worth. Kellogs simply addresses the implications of the one part of our thinness and beauty obsessed culture that we can control, our own voices. So while this message is rather ironic when coupled with the weight loss branding, but still, I think its something more women should take to heart.

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Personal win at the office party

I have been MIA here for a while. I still wasn’t really feelin it. Plus, I have had an incredible amount of stress at work, working a minimum of 11 hours each day for the last couple weeks, and I joined a gym. There are my excuses……

I am enjoying a much deserved weekend. One of the stresses that I have had the last few weeks is I became responsible for the activities of the office Christmas party. I went in to help come up with ideas with my coworker, who planned last years, and somehow ended up planning and emceeing the event, which, sadly ended up being the first year they didn’t spring for booze. So the new girl has to try to keep the party going when everyone is wishing they had a cocktail. Something interesting happened, tho, I had no stage fright, I ended up for the first time in my life standing with a microphone in front of a room full of people without having rehearsed a script, and did OK. Not gonna say i didn’t stutter or get distracted once or twice, but I kept it going without freaking out internally. I even cracked a couple of jokes on the fly. Usually being in front of a group makes me anxious, distracted, and nauseated. I couldn’t believe myself.

Was it the coolest party? No. Was I the best person possible to plan and facilitate the event? No. But I did way better than I ever thought I could do. Its a win for me.

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To my teenage self

Dear teenage Kate,

You don’t quite know how to picture your future, so let me help you. Life gets better….and worse. There will be times that are harder than what you are going through now, hard to imagine, I know. As much as now you wish to be done with where you are at, there will be times when you want to go back to this time in your life. There will also be great times, you will do things that you never thought you would do, your life will look entirely different.

You will not only go to college, you will graduate, twice. It will be hell at times, but its not as hard as you think it will be. It will be a huge accomplishment. You will prove everyone wrong who makes you feel inadequate, and by the time you graduate, you wont care about them anymore. Unfortunately, part of the reason you wont care about them is because there are new people who make you feel inadequate. You are not inadequate. Having challenges in your life is not a deficiency.

You get more than one chance at loving someone, at friendship and caring, so be less stingy in sharing yourself with people. Life will be easier if you start being generous with yourself now. But think highly enough of yourself to recognize that someones interest or affection for you, romantic or friendly, should not make them more attractive to you on that basis alone.

When you get catcalled, you are right to feel skeeved out and threatened, not flattered. Trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel like a compliment, it isn’t one.

In fact, just start trusting your gut more in general.

Stop hating your hair, face and body, that road is long and twisty. You are young and relatively healthy, enjoy it more, for me.

When your mom and grandmother remind you to wear sunscreen, don’t just smile and nod, slop that stuff on.

Clean your room.

Paint more, and don’t stop.

Seek out people who challenge you. Stand up for yourself to people who tear you down. You may think that you are taking the higher road when you ignore those people, but it is not the high road if you only take it because you fear confrontation, because you fear opening your mouth will prove them right.

Be mindful of your right big toe.

Neither adventure nor reality should be shied away from.

Above all remember this: fear and struggle never go away completely, but that is okay. You will survive. You will be proud of yourself. No mistake is so big that it cancels out everything else. You will evolve and grow. You will get smarter and have more informed opinions. You will travel far and wide.

You will survive.

Just keep all that in mind, Kate. For my sake and yours.


future Kate

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