The Anatomy of One American Voter

canstockphoto5811625This post is unusual in that it is excessively long. Apologies on that count. Politics have been eating at my brain all week and it made me think about my motivations as a voter.

The unethical, monied arena of American politics is picking up steam. Political support is reaching all the frenzy of a stock exchange pit.

I find unwavering, unquestioning support of any human or organization to be slightly creepy. This is what puts me off about religion and sports teams and Beyoncé fans. Essentially, any group that seems to demand that one check their critical thinking skills at the door, lay out a bunch of money or spend a lot of time looking for ways to condemn others is too simplistic. And I’m very skilled at being angry all on my own, thank you very much.

This voting cycle is challenging me. So much of it looks like politics as usual, the spewing of vague, unsubstantiated promises, inflammatory rhetoric and sound bite triteness. I stare at the crowds holding signs for this candidate or that and I think What makes you so sure? I’m not. It made me think about who I am as an American voter, uninterested in joining campaign rallies, cynical about every word out of any politician’s mouth, and disdainful of the half-assed reporting being done.

I have prejudices – against the wealthy, against old white politicos, against corporations,  trash-talking politicians, and religious demagogues. Overt nationalism gives me the heebie-jeebs. I have to work with my own biases and critically think about what matters. I need to listen, read and research, because I know relying on my gut feeling or knee-jerk reaction is not rational. I have a history that informs my choices and I need to be honest about that.

Origins

Georgic_postcard.jpgI was born a first generation American. My mother and her family emigrated from England in the early 1950s. Historically, the women were homemakers with little power and unhappy marriages. The men had respectable careers and wandering eyes. Children were born. Divorces were decreed. Poverty happened.

My mother had me when she was 18. My father was around for the first 5 years, but I have little recollection of him. Then a stepfather. 4 kids later, my mother was married to an alcoholic who was irregularly employed and abusive.

I was born into a family comprised of drinking Republicans, raised in the shadows of Seventh Day Adventist fundamentalism and lived in poverty, lining up for government cheese and butter. Judgments from all corners were swift and dogmatic.

Religion

I believed in a vengeful god. As a little girl, I expected to be punished for every infraction. My home life served as evidence. I was baptized in a pool in the front of the church wearing a gown with weights in the hem. The pastor slowly pushed me under the water while my hand scrambled to grab onto his robe. I was 12.

By the time I was 18, I was filled with doubt about the existence of god, the necessity of religion and my ability to believe in something I could not see. In 1987, a 6-year old girl named Lisa Steinberg was murdered by her adoptive father. She was on the covers of magazines. She looked a lot like me when I was her age. It stuck in my head. If I was so protected by faith, why did no one protect her?

canstockphoto7351147It was the studying of Ancient Near Eastern History in college that made me lose my religion. Not some liberal professor or godless academic. It was learning about the Egyptian gods and how gods were changed to suit political purposes and control populations. It confirmed my suspicions that religions were driven by men in power.

It was a nice little set up for them. Ancient texts confirming that they were more important than women, than children, than animals. Organizational rules that ensured women could not lead, corporal punishment could be used on children and that animals could be sacrificed and eaten with alacrity. It was a theological casino where the house always wins. I let it all ride, left with my pockets empty, but my heart lightened.

Military

I signed up for the Army when I was 17. I was a smart kid, but no one ever talked about college in my household. We worked. We survived. We didn’t ask for more. But I wanted more. I took tests and signed on for an eight-year gig in military intelligence as a Russian linguist, 4 active duty, 4 inactive /reserve.

canstockphoto0087452.jpgBasic training was at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. I got held up because my mother was not a citizen. When the background check finally cleared, I joined the ranks of women trainees. We were the first company of women to be trained more on par with the men. Except every day, we knew we weren’t.

Physical training put us in thin gray t-shirts and gym shorts. A lieutenant would walk around, watching us do sit-ups, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his dick was always at attention. Drill sergeants bellowed out Jody calls that would only make sense for men and then laughed their asses off when we’d repeat them.

I spent a lot of time doing push-ups, because I had a bad habit of making direct, angry eye contact with people who were bossing me around. My drill sergeant had the red-rimmed, watery eyes of an alcoholic. I hated him on sight.

I graduated basic to spend a year at the Defense Language Institute in California. Then 3 months at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. My final duty station was Wuerzburg, West Germany supporting an infantry division. I spent two and a half years there, mostly out in the field or at the motor pool with a team of 4-5 men. Off-duty I rambled about Europe either drunk or hungover.

For my reserve time, I joined a field support hospital unit, got re-trained as a combat radio operator and waited, with the rest of the unit to be called up for the first Gulf War. Despite the combat-hungry commander, who called Washington nearly every day to volunteer the unit, and all the training sessions about how when I got over there, I couldn’t drive and had to keep my sleeves rolled down, we never got called. Once the war paused, I left the unit and did the rest of my time on inactive duty.

Education

I settled in to use my college fund. I tested out of basic college requirements and did a cheap year at a community college before attending the University of Iowa. I graduated with my BA in two years and with no plan, went to grad school. The college fund was gone, so I worked three jobs to pay for that first year. I was out of my league and regularly fell asleep during lectures. I quit because I didn’t want to pay any more to be miserable.

Work

canstockphoto18405495I’ve always worked my ass off, but seemed ignorant of the fact that I was chronically underemployed. I cleaned toilets and did laundry at a hotel. I waittressed at a truck stop. I cashiered, unloaded trucks and did ungodly shifts at a big box retailer. I was a security guard, a library manager, a medical records reviewer. I made doughnuts and sold VCRs. I translated Russian political documents and managed a medical residency program at a university. My last job was as a small business manager.

I worked with a wide variety of people in very different environments. And the only lesson that really stuck with me is that there is no they or them. Every single person has a story. Which makes life complicated. Which makes politics complicated.

Relationships

I never imagined that I would get married or have children. I didn’t have good relationships and they didn’t fit in with my fantasy of being a writer who traveled the world and sipped coffee over the New York Times.

canstockphoto2872319It took me awhile to realize that I was hungry for stability. I decided to stay in one place. I hung out my single shingle and met my partner. He was a progressive Lutheran with a sense of humor and a MacGyver competence with duct tape and PVC pipe that was damned impressive.

My wedding with 10 people in a park and a justice of the peace dissipated in the face of his beliefs. His wedding was in a Lutheran church with a zillion people and all the trappings of tradition. He got his wedding. I kept my name. Almost 16 years later, we still like and love each other. And vehemently disagree about religion.

Parenting

Having a child is a game changer. At 37, it also meant that I would never sleep a full night again, as babyhood evaporated into the insomnia of perimenopause. I attended parenting classes, because I knew more about changing a tire than I did about raising a kid. It has been, for me, an amazing experience. Older, good job, more money, higher education – people may disavow a need for stability to have a happy home, but holy shit – it helps.

3,728 soccer games and music lessons later, I am raising an amazing person. More amazing than I ever could hope to be. She knows how to work, she’s kind to others and she asks the best questions. What will the world hold for her? Who will represent her?

I’m a fervent supporter of public education, but I’m angry about it. Kids have become guinea pigs for the pedagogical meanderings of disconnected administrators, while teachers try not to drown under the unrealistic expectations of bureaucracy and taxpayers. The unimaginative application of corporate values to education has created a cobbled-up mess of logos and hot air.

Health Care

People can complain (and do) all they want about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but somebody finally did something. Our health care system is unfettered capitalism at best, mercenary at worst. The PPACA may be the wrong thing. It may need some work, but no one seems to have come up with an alternate plan that can be reasonably implemented. At least not with the sloppy mess we now have in Washington.

Guns

Despite my military experience, I am scared of people with guns. The availability of assault weapons, this much-defunct wild west mentality, the insecurity that drives conspiracies, the hyper-machismo, the idea that more guns means we’re safer, is absolutely delusional. Have you met humans lately? Some of them can’t drink hot coffee without injuring themselves.

Politics

I used to say in that pithy way that wishy-washy people do, I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Since none of the major parties represents these ideas, I went from a registered Republican to a Democrat to an Independent. I’m really none of those. Most of the time I vote Democrat, because their rhetoric sounds less likely to kill us all.

Summary

The point of this incredibly long post is that I’ve come to believe that it’s not just the politicians who are lying. Voters unwittingly lie about their motives, their beliefs and their objections. They lie because they don’t think about what informs them as a voter – which means their choices are ones of default.

I see people fervently supporting one politician over the other and wish they’d just take a timeout and ensure that their beliefs are reasonable and for the common good, because it matters. Even if our political system is corrupted, even if we feel powerless, personal integrity matters.

I love my country. I love its potential, its diversity, and in the end, its optimism. What I love, most of all, is its changeability and believing that I can be part of that.

I’m an American voter.

What experiences inform you as a voter?

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Filed under In the News, Personal, Uncategorized

Shaken, but Stirred

canstockphoto27374822I’m the overly cautious driver who slowly backs out in a parking lot. Most commercial parking lots have the functionality of a demolition derby – narrow spaces despite the ginormous size of some vehicles, blind spots, limited turning space, cart racks askew. Add to that the tank-driving, texting mentality of some license owners (you’ll move, right?) and yesterday happened for me.

Backing carefully out, looking both ways, I nearly get rear-ended by a minivan rounding the corner at 30 mph. She honks loudly at me as I slam on the brakes and then speeds away. As is often the case when something like this happens, I think, I hate people and I need to go home.

Anxiety has been rather high this week. I have some weird medical shit happening to my body and have to go to the doctor. I haven’t been for several years except for flu shots, because I’m of the mentality that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Every time I’ve ever gone to the doctor, I’ve gone in feeling fine and I leave with some syndrome or abnormality that hey, I can either take a bunch of drugs for or I can wait and see. I usually take door #2 and that has kept me upright and functioning for a good 48 years.

canstockphoto5050400Cue middle age. My body has become a three-ring circus. Hairs sprout in places that were previously erogenous zones. My eyes sink into my head – those luminous blues squint through progressive lenses and folds of saggy eyelids. I remember how my grandma always insisted on full makeup before she went anywhere. Now I think it was so she’d look like she had eyeballs.

Medical maladies, thanks to the internet, are either minor irritations or a death knell. Things I could ignore before, now keep me awake at night, as I think up game plans for every possibility. I try to keep myself on routine, make myself go through the motions of working out, but I’m tired and I feel weak. I feel vulnerable.

canstockphoto23413180Politics, guns and religion are making me anxious. Following the coverage of the Iowa caucus, I see people cheering for Donald Trump or Ted Cruz and I want to weep. It’s not the politics, it’s the way they have taken the stereotype of the Ugly American one step further – bullish stupidity and crass hatred. I don’t know why people think this will serve us well.

If we’re going to turn this country into a reality show, I’d like to vote some people off the island. And most of them are citizens.

Much of the public display of religion has become devoid of ethics. It is being used to justify repressing others and it all gets packaged up in an American flag, a cross, guns and a whole lot of whiteness. I believe that we should have the freedom to believe what we choose, up until the point where you’re in my government, in my bedroom or at my child’s school. Or showing up at my Target with an AR-15, when I’m just trying to buy toilet paper.

This is a whole lot of anxiety. It could be this way the rest of my life – just trying to get out of parking lots without getting hit. Hoping that each medical malady is just a bump and not a catastrophe. Trying to remind myself that the social and political cycles of my country ebb and flow.

I could sit in my little puddle of worry and fear, as my world and my worldview get smaller and smaller. I could learn to see the world in us and them terms and dogmatically embrace stereotypes as truth. I could become so blinded by the bad news that I believe the apocalyptic pronouncements spewed by religious and political leaders. We’re all going to hell in a hand basket.

But then there’s life. My daughter came home in tears because she had forgotten to do an assignment and then promptly lost the worksheet she needed to do it. Harshly, I said, “Stop crying about it and figure out a solution.” The forgetfulness and disorganization of a 6th grader was nothing new, but I heard myself. I heard the edge, the anxiety, the anger. This is what happens when anxiety takes over.

I slowed my breathing and asked her what she was supposed to learn from the assignment. She was supposed to compare and contrast Mohandas Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi. Wow. I suggested she write an essay doing that. She would turn it into her teacher with the understanding that she might get a zero on the assignment. She worked for two hours and with a measure of pride, asked me to read it.

How easy it is to forget the butterfly effect. Hers and mine. Gandhi’s and Aung San Suu Kyi’s. How easy it is to forget that an individual can make a difference in the world around them – that we do not need to rely on the loudest among us to lead the way. How easy to forget that being afraid does not abnegate responsibility to be kind, to be peaceful, to be compassionate. If everything in the world is going wrong, I’d rather err on the side of loving kindness.

canstockphoto0531727

We have a choice when we are frightened, when politicians feed us doomsday scenarios, as we age or when we simply have a bad day. I hugged my daughter and told her that I was proud that she worked so hard to fix a mistake. And now, I must work to fix my own.

 Some Soothing Reading:

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Turning the Mind into an Ally by Sakyong Mipham

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

60 Comments

Filed under Personal, Uncategorized

About The Green Study: Notes on Blogging

canstockphoto4839212Four years ago this week, I registered a blog with WordPress. With 310 posts and 13,000+ subscribers later, I thought I would do a little celebratory dance in the form of blog talk. I’ve received some emails from new bloggers asking for advice.

I don’t know if I’m the best person for these inquiries, because my advice would involve something like “slow and steady wins the race, if this were a race, which it isn’t, although it would be the most boring race ever, but it would be funny if there were blogger jockeys and a virtual betting window. What was the question again?”

That being said, I’m not a blogging expert. I haven’t made money this way, secured a publishing contract or created a world peace movement. What I have done is created a writing habit, learned to write outside my comfort zone, discovered my voice, and met a community of readers and writers who make great conversation. I’ve even made a friend or two.

I could write about blogging until I’m blue in the face and absolutely none of it might be relevant to your goals. So I write this less as advice and more as an example. This is what one blogger does.

These are the basic guidelines that I tend to follow for my blog:

#1   It is always about the writing.

This is not a niche-based blog, so I write about whatever hits me in the moment.  I aim to write well, regardless of subject matter. It doesn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes I’ll smack my head months later for typos or a turn of phrase that was really awful.

Since this is a personal essay blog, I try to write from a place of circumspection. I’ve talked about mental health, family dysfunction and a lot of personal issues, but I tend to write about those things after I’ve worked through them, so that whatever I’ve learned and whatever resources I’ve found, can add value to the conversation.

#2   The Mechanics of The Green Study

canstockphoto5910485Readability. Due to my old lady eyesight, I avoid using fancy fonts or complicated backgrounds. I use regular paragraph breaks, as well as capitalization and punctuation. Regardless of one’s view of grammar, it serves the purpose of cuing readers, as well as establishing the rhythm and flow of writing.

Length. I try to stay within a range of 500-1200 words, preferably around the 800 word range. For me, it’s long enough to develop an idea without becoming pedantic and repetitive.

Images. I use 2-5 images per post. I purchase images on Can Stock Photo, so I don’t have to spend hours searching for images or worrying about attribution, but there are some free resources out there as well. I do not use moving GIFs. The constant looping while I’m trying to read is very distracting. On occasion, I’ll use music videos from YouTube.

Tagging and Categories. I’m not particularly creative about tags or categories. I do some basic tags and category assignments for every post, but I’m not interested in doing much more than that.

Scheduling. Um. Nope. Can’t do it. I do try to post regularly, but this isn’t an actual job. Again, it depends on what your goals are – some people find self-imposed deadlines to be useful.

#3   Community

canstockphoto6433663Comments. My favorite thing about this blog now, is the relatively active community of commenters who don’t just parrot or fawn or do any other animal imitations, but instead add to the conversation. I like it when I see conversations start up between commenters.

I do my best to answer every comment. I have missed a few on occasion. While I do not actively moderate comments, I generally don’t respond to comments that are just self-promotion (Hey- look at my blog) or religious proselytizing (which I find presumptuous).

Contests and Promoting Other Blogs. In years past, I’ve done 3 or 4 contests and met some lovely bloggers this way. I’ll likely do more contests, but time management is always a primary concern, especially as readership grows. Also, it was really, really expensive to send The Green Study coffee mug to Australia in the last contest I had.

I used to do a lot more promotion of other blogs, but last year was a tough year personally, so there were more inward-looking posts. One of my goals is to get back to promoting other blogs. There’s so many to look at, that if you land on one you really enjoy, it’s worth telling others about it.

canstockphoto1691967Blogging Awards and Blogrolls. When you first start blogging and someone sends you an award, you feel like you’re walking on the red carpet. It takes a few more, with long lists of requirements to realize that someone has just sent you homework. I think they are worth doing early on, if only to propel you forward and make new connections, but it is dependent on your goals. Mine have changed to focus more on writing. While I appreciate and thank the senders for kindly thinking of me, I no longer participate in the interest of time.

When I started, blogrolls were a thing. Maybe they still are. My one attempt at a blogroll was awkward and frustrating, because it must be actively monitored and updated. It feels odd, like you’re trying to set up a special club. I tend to find blogs through the comments or links in others’ blogs, so I dumped my blogroll.

Social Media. Anyone who has read this blog regularly knows that I’ve eschewed any social media format beyond blogging. If I ever get a book published, I will have to eat my words, 140 characters at time, because I’m sure that is an expectation. However, many people use Facebook and Twitter to promote their blog posts. So I’ve heard.

Blogging Breaks. I have taken regularly blogging breaks over the years. There were a few times when I considered quitting and the breaks reminded me of what I liked about blogging. If I were going to be gone for more than a week or two, I notified readers with a simple statement at the top of my most recent post. Even if no one misses you, it feels respectful towards one’s readership.

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There are a lot of blogging resources out there. I enjoy the WordPress Daily Post. Outlier Babe just updated an entertaining post on blogging tips. If I were to come up with any sage advice of my own, it is this: Find what works for you, evaluate your blogging goals on a regular basis and really, just try to enjoy yourself.

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Thank you to the readers who have joined the conversation in the last week and to the readers over the years who have willingly spent time here reading and commenting.

Please feel free to add your own blogging experience in the comment section – there’s a lot of new bloggers here!

 

113 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Personal

The Green Study Grumps It Up

canstockphoto2656328Lately, I’ve been writing a lot of introspective posts. It’s winter and churning in my own neuroses seems to be the sport of choice. With no lift fees. But I’m irritable and when I’m irritable, I remember every single little thing that has ever irritated me since the beginning of time. I’m going to let it all out here. And then I’m dragging my ass to the gym, because those endorphins aren’t going to manufacture themselves. Wait. Whatever – you know what I mean.

Song Lyrics that Irritate Me

Ever since I got lectured in front of the entire English class about subjunctive verbs, I can no longer listen to Paul Simon sing Homeward bound, I wish I was, without correcting him to “were”. He never listens.

The lyrics to Katy Perry’s “Firework” baffle me:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag
Drifting through the wind, wanting to start again?

I don’t know Katy, do you ever feel like a chair? Ascribing to inanimate objects emotions is just weird. I’m sorry, plastic bag, if you want to start again, but you’re just going to end up hanging out with those plastic pop holder rings and maybe kill a whale or two.

Kodaline’s “All I Want” is a simple, emotive song about being left by someone. It’s immensely singable, except when I get to this line:

You took my soul and wiped it clean
Our love was made for movie screens

First of all, nowhere in the song does it explain why he/she left him. Maybe your love was made for a restraining order. Maybe she left because the guy could only make love on a bed of toenail clippings or kept accidentally calling her by his mother’s name. Vague, throwaway sentimental lines that just happen to rhyme. Blech.

When the Corporate Overlords Try Their Hand at Customer Service

Occasionally, I don’t like to cook (on any day that ends in “y”), so I will make a dinner run for the family. Subway is one of my husband’s and daughter’s favorite places, because they like playing Russian roulette with food poisoning and have no class.

canstockphoto19454172I almost peed myself when I opened the door to our local Subway and someone screamed “Welcome to Subway!” Here’s the thing about working stoned – you can’t tell how loud you are. So I hear. I think that scaring the bejeezus out of your customers might be the opposite of what your HQ sires wish.

The Wells Fargo bank does this now, including asking loud, invasive questions about what you are doing there. Last time, I turned around and went to the ATM. I’ll store this 5 gallon bucket of change for some other time, you nosy bastards.

Walgreen’s always says some shit like be well as you leave the store. When I can smell your cigarette breath across the counter and see that 2 liter of Orange Crush that you’ve been guzzling all day, you are not going to be an arbiter of good health. Now, let me take this box of Oreos that I will be doing shots of on the way home and be on my unwell, frigging way.

I feel sorry for the poor bastards who have to wear special hats, or shout out greetings or ask me for my email/zipcode/cup size while I’m trying to make a hasty exit. I know it’s not their fault. I once worked for Radio Shack and had to answer the phone with “You’ve got questions -we’ve got answers!” Never felt so stupid in my whole life, especially since my answer was always, “Hold on, let me ask Bob” and then I’d track down my sweaty, wide-tied, polyester-shirted manager.

Here’s the thing, you corporate peckerheads – you’re not very good at this. The only thing that makes me think you give a rat’s ass about me or my community is if you hire some of these people on full-time with benefits and stop Walmarting my neighbors and friends. Stop treating them like organ-grinding monkeys doing whatever stupid dance you’ve come up with for that week. It’s the least you can do.

The Soundtracks of Our Lives

canstockphoto4075725.jpgHold music. I was on hold with my health insurance company. In between reminding me that I could go online every 5 seconds, where I’d just spent two hours trying to navigate their convoluted shit, they had the unmitigated gall to play “I’ve Had the Time of My Life”. 40 minutes later I hung up. To throw myself in traffic. Expensive, massive surgery seems to get the insurance company’s attention like nothing else.

Loud theaters. Now, I know I’m a middle-aged broad with sensory issues, but my family no longer wants to go to movie theaters. My daughter sat through “The LEGO Movie” with her hands over her ears the entire time. I don’t think my teeth are supposed to vibrate during a kid’s movie.

Commercials playing on the TVs in doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms. I am the asshole who will ask them to turn it off. I mean, as much as I love to see mouths full of rotten teeth transformed and the precision bowel resections, I am reminded of all the pharmacy ads exhorting us to ask our doctors. Am I going from the waiting room into the examination room with dreams full of elective shit I don’t need so they can make a profit? No, but I am completely tense and nauseous. Excuse me if my blood pressure seems a little high.canstockphoto7609379

Well, off to the gym to be annoyed by oblivious cell phone chatters and grunting protein freaks and the Spandex apocalypse. I’ll be surrounded by superheroes without capes.

I’m going to need a really, really long run. Be well. Hey – I heard that.

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Filed under Humor, Personal, Uncategorized

Every Truth has a Qualifier

canstockphoto0866421I’ve been thinking a lot about stories this week – the personal stories that we carry with us and roll out for visitors. We’ve told them so often that they purr out of our pores. My story has always been one of being a survivor – of an unstable childhood and low self-esteem. My story is that I grew up poor. I experienced and witnessed abuse and addiction. These things are true, but I’ve found that the story no longer fits who I am or who I want to be.

Sometimes our stories were given to us by someone else. I got called a pessimist a lot. My army buddies called me Chuckles for my dry, unsmiling humor. My stepfather used to call me a prude, because I always had my nose in books and didn’t think he was funny at all.  A friend’s father said that I’m a cold fish. A boss told me once that I could be cruel.I’ve been told encouraging things as well, but those never seem to have the same staying power.

If your self is fully formed, grounded in confidence and you are experienced in being loved and loving as is, these things tend to roll off a bit easier. If you’re still searching and there’s gaps in your armor, these words slither in and sit on your skin until they sink in. You take in pieces and patches until you’re an emotional Frankenstein. Just waiting for villagers to run you out of town.

canstockphoto4076599.jpgThis was my story. I’ve clung to it. I’ve repeated it over and over. It was, I would declare, my truth, my reality. I’m a wounded bird who learned to fly. Yay me. Except that’s not me at all, anymore. It might not have been me for years. It’s all a big damned falsehood that I sit comfortably in like a bean bag chair. And while I’m sitting there, I can’t move. I can’t write a new story.

Most of us don’t like to be defined by others, but we’re still very adept at assigning labels to ourselves. I see labels as limits, as hard core definitions that you carry like an awkward badge of honor. It’s supposed to help – this knowing what you are and aren’t. But if you take a moment and see all the exceptions you’ve made, all the qualifiers in place, then a label is a lie. Then all personal truths become temporary.

I am sometimes a pessimist. Sometimes I’m a daydreamer. Sometimes I’m a wounded bird and other times, I’m a fierce predatory hawk. Sometimes I’m a fuzzy Buddhist feminist liberal bleeding heart and other times I’m a puritanical and judgmental fascist. We make choices about who we’d like to be most, but we have to be humbled by the moments when we’re complicated humans. And that’s about the only label I can work with – I’m human.

Our stories inform who we have become and this is the point that gives me pause. If that is the case, then what I am I telling myself now and what will that look like in ten years? When I’m procrastinating creative work, I chide myself. Stories don’t write themselves, knucklehead. And they don’t – we have to be willing to sit down and devote time to writing them. Even our own stories.

canstockphoto14925482We all have them. I’ve found that as I work through my old tales, there is much to archive. Like pictures, it’s time to take down the yellowed photos and frame new ones. It is time to write some new stories.

What’s your story?

 

Books I’m Perusing This Week:

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. Seligman

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks

Stuck in the Story No More: Breaking Down the Defenses that Define You and Bind You by Dr. Nicki J. Monti

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Filed under Personal, Uncategorized

My History of Compulsion

My life has been stripped down to bare essentials over the last year. It’s a luxury that is entirely uncomfortable. What are we without our distractions? It turns out that I am a melting pot of compulsive behaviors, twisted patterns of self-delusion and convenient rationalization. Smoking, drinking, gambling, casual sex, overeating, overexercising – I’ve run the gamut over the last 20 years and avoided looking seriously troubled, by switching compulsions so that everything just looks like a phase.

I think I've got BINGO!

I think I’ve got BINGO!

I stopped gambling at 20. I gave up smoking at 30. I traded in casual sex for a long term relationship at 32. I quit drinking at 35. I eased up on my body by quitting martial arts at 46. I quit repetitive jobs and volunteer roles at 47. I’m a lifelong learner without the community ed fees. So, at 48, I am preparing to face down the devils that have been along for the whole ride – money and food compulsions.

I started reading about compulsive behaviors in December to accompany a month-long online shopping fast. And now I’ve started to play Compulsion Whack-a-Mole. Stopping one compulsion only to have to confront another. My appetite became insatiable. I’ve kept it reined in over the years alternately through smoking or exercise or cycles of deprivation. But now I’m the monster who could eat Minneapolis.

To be clear, I have disordered eating behaviors. This is my caveat to say that this is only my situation and my perspective and this is how I choose to deal with it. There are people for whom compulsive eating disorders are a life and death issue and I would not want to conflate my situation with theirs, nor suggest that this is some personal, solo quest. I have support – a life coach, friends and family.

canstockphoto14409836The problem with any compulsion is that it is not a rational beast with which to reason. People get very high and mighty about weight loss and self-control and discipline and I’d like to drop kick their asses to the floor. Fantastic – it’s not an issue for you! Now, go away. This human has some work to do.

So I’m here – desolate, yet pragmatic and determined. Everyone has their own threshold for “hitting bottom”. If I express that I feel like I’ve hit bottom, inevitably someone will pop up and say “well, at least you haven’t blah, blah, blah…” Yes, there is always someone less fortunate, situations more serious, things more important to worry about. My head is not fully ensconced in my ass. However, this is where I’m at and the only perspective I can truly address.

Hitting bottom for me is a sense of hopelessness.  Bottom for me is discomfort in how I move and feel. Bottom for me is hitting numbers on a scale that I have not managed since being pregnant. Bottom for me is having shitty workouts because I’m too tired or breathless. Bottom for me is not being able to run as much. Bottom for me is feeling my body become an impediment rather than a functional part of my existence. Bottom is feeling out of control, with no end in sight.

And lately, bottom for me is the sense of exhaustion and exasperation about all the energy that I’ve expended in my life thinking about weight and food. I’m headed into the 3rd, possibly 4th quarter. Time is running out and I don’t want to keep wasting it.

Our stories all start somewhere and that is where I begin to untangle the stranglehold of compulsion. I’ve begun my first homework assignment, writing my history of eating and weight. It’s hard work, because it is often painful and cringe-inducing, but something else more important is emerging – a sense of compassion for this person who is me. Sometimes I sit back and think “who wouldn’t be completely messed up after that experience?”

I’m not turning this blog into some sort of self-help, weight loss journal. But I tend to write from where I’m at and this is a long-term project that I’m just starting. It’s not about food or numbers on a scale or the right workout for that roll just under my chin. It’s about addressing that gaping void that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to fill. This shit is getting real.

So, I’m going to share just a few of the notes that have emerged while writing about my history of eating and weight.

1975  There’s 4 kids now in my family. My stepfather is a construction worker and an alcoholic who works inconsistently due to the recession. We get government cheese and butter and welfare food coupons. I sneak bread at night because I’m hungry. I hope each morning, as the loaf gets smaller, that my mother won’t notice.

1986   I get flagged at an Army weigh-in. I spend the next few weeks running the flight line at Goodfellow Air Force Base and starving myself. I make weight. My platoon sergeant makes me squad leader for the “fat squad” to get everyone running more. Not the honor he imagined.

1991   I’m watching “Prince of Tides” in a movie theater in Iowa City. I have a massive panic attack during the family dinner scene. My heart is racing, I’m sweating, my stomach is turning. It occurs to me many years later that it felt like dinner with my family growing up – unpredictable, confrontational, critical, sometimes violent.

Eat me! Eat me!

Eat me! Eat me!

There is more. More that is too personal, too painful to reveal publicly, but you get the idea. Unearthing the most painful, crappy parts of one’s history is necessary work, but it makes me want to eat a house. I write about it here because part of any compulsion is secrecy and solitude. But some of you are house-eaters and maybe I just wanted to say hey – me too, friend, me too.

 

Some Resources that I’m perusing:

Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole, MS , RD and Elyse Resch, MS, RD, FADA

Starting Monday: Seven Keys to a Permanent, Positive Relationship with Food by Karen Koenig

Spent: Breaking the Buying Obsession and Discover Your True Worth by Sally Palaian

Stop Eating Your Heart Out by Meryl Hershey Beck, MA, MEd, LPCC

50 Ways to Soothe Yourself without Food by Susan Albers, PSY.D.

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2016: Year of the Ambivalent Blogger

canstockphoto32948297New Year’s Eve came and went with a snore.  A literal snore, as I tucked in at 9pm. New Year’s Eve used to be this time of unfettered optimism and limitless booze, followed closely by regret and a massive hangover. In earlier years, I met and lost boyfriends, babbled incoherently to the police, best-friended DJs and insulted strangers. In my thirties, it was couples parties and babysitters and wine/cheese tastings (never seemed to find the cheese). In my forties, it’s been going to bed when I’m tired and not giving a shit what day it is.

canstockphoto11441269So, hello in 2016. I was up at my usual 4am, delighted by the territorial hooting of great horned owls outside my window. December was a good month. I didn’t write or blog. I cut back on my consumerism (Amazon stock took a dip – coincidence?). I gave what I could, when I could. I didn’t send out holiday cards. My husband took a couple weeks off of work and my daughter was out of school. We did nothing. And it has been wonderful.

As I enter my 5th year of blogging, I did a little re-reading of past posts. This blog has, in some ways, served as a journal about the ups and downs of working towards personal goals. The hardest thing to accept is that I move at a glacial pace in terms of development. There is movement, but it is only discernible over a long span of time. Perhaps this is what I fear most about death – that I’ll be too slow to accomplish the things I would like to and it will be too late.

I remember the impatience I felt in my teens and twenties. It made every failure seem so important and they were important, but not for the reason I believed them to be. Every failure counted towards a bigger picture – it was a step in a marathon, not a loss in a sprint. It was building a reserve of resiliency so that I could make it in the long run.

canstockphoto7381049So here I am at the 20th mile mark. Offhandedly I tell myself that I feel the same as I ever have, only that I go to bed earlier. But it’s not true. I’ve run the race, I’ve overcome injury and setbacks and found a 2nd, 3rd and 40th wind. I’m still here. I still feel optimism. I still hope that I’ll become a published writer, that I will continue my pursuit of knowledge, that I’ll look as strong as I feel, that my heart can open a little more.

For years, I’ve read blogs on a wide range of subjects. I’m feeling some fatigue from the high levels of outrage, the sociopath comments, the irredeemably cheery memes, the stranglehold of nostalgia, and the momentary obsession with shiny new objects. I’ve resisted Facebook or Twitter, because I am uncomfortable with its carelessness and ubiquity. Mind control doesn’t seem like science fiction when you’ve seen the same posting or meme in a hundred different places. Olympic bandwagon jumping. No one gets the gold, but everyone gets a Wheaties cover.

This is all to say that, as I have many times in the past, I am questioning the veracity of writing online. I don’t know if it detracts from or adds to my attitude, outlook or development as a writer. And if it no longer serves that purpose, then why do it? If it is just a way for me to procrastinate, instead of writing things that can be submitted for publication, then shouldn’t I quit?

canstockphoto4962137In the last year, this blog has gained a lot of readers – and lost a few as well. The numbers at year end rattled me. It seemed like a lot of visits and readers, many gained through a single post and social media sharing of that post. I’m not going to write that post again and it is obvious to me that it was a peak point for this blog. It’s the child star syndrome and I’m just two shakes away from rehab and a prison stint.

This is a bit of a grim opener for the year, I suppose. A new year always begs the question how did I spend my time last year and how do I intend to spend it this year? In the absence of a clear answer, I look to the reasons why I like blogging – meeting other writers, sharing a laugh, connecting with people around the world and reading things that teach me or piss me off, but make me think. Knowing that what I do here really doesn’t matter, yet knowing that if I spend time doing it, it needs to matter to me, is a delicate balance.

Clearly, I think things to death.

But if you’re a longtime reader, you know that. If you’re just joining the conversations here, be warned. Of long-winded diatribes about bad gift-giving and road rage and comfortable socks. Of angsty essays on writing or not writing. On middle-aged whining and childhood misery recollection. Of awkward interactions with other humans. Of things I’ve said a thousand times before, but can’t remember that I wrote about already. Oh, and the profanity and lack of perkiness and disinterest in being hugged, virtual or otherwise. I’m a shitstorm of contradiction and depressive tendencies, highbrow intellectualism wrapped up in perverse, lowbrow humor.

But I’m still here. And I hope you are, too. Let’s see if we can’t enjoy the ride.

Administrative Note: Thank you to readers who stopped by in December and commented on various posts or emailed me via the Contact page. I will be responding to your comments and emails over the next few days.

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Filed under Blogging, Personal