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my riches

Last week, I wrote about coming to understand how:

my siblings
and i are rich in ways 
others probably wish
they were, or
would if they
understood
such riches
are even
possible

Our riches aren’t in cash. Poverty started us in a money-pit, so that the three of us will be paying student debt for another couple of decades for the privilege of climbing halfway out of that pit.

No, our riches ran deeper than that. I just couldn’t figure out how, or begin to imagine explaining it.

And then … I found a book.

Near its entrance, my neighborhood library has a little table of books for sale. It’s been there since I started visiting this library, but I never bothered looking at it. I figured it had too few offerings for any to be up my alley. Read more…

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grocery store sages

In April, I wrote about coming to understand people as processes, not fixed states. My reflections were inspired, in part, by former NYU professor Neil Postman, my favorite teacher yet on the art of perspectiving.

His lessons have been especially helpful at the grocery store the last few months. At the heavier end of my weight scale, I’ve gotten a lot of commentary about what’s in my basket. “Oh, that’s a lot of chips!” someone will exclaim. “Do you know where the greens are?” another will ask.

The first couple of times I got comments like these, I laughed aloud. I didn’t really get where these comments were coming from, but thought it was so funny that strangers thought I’d value their ill informed assessments.

The third or fourth time, I still chuckled quietly, but I was curious. What was going on, that 150-pound me got no grocery cart comments, ever, but that 200-pound me averages one a week?

Thanks to Neil Postman, the answer became clear virtually as soon as I began asking the question. These grocery store commenters were making snap judgments based on limited data. They were looking at me and seeing not a process but a fixed state; instead of seeing this moment as one frame of a very lengthy movie, they saw the moment and confused it for the movie.

After I figured this out, I kept laughing. How absurd, for these folks to think they know a person based on a frame’s data, and then to stage a mini-intervention!

Things that can be seen in a single grocery store visit: the shopper’s current weight; top layer of contents of cart

Things that cannot be seen in a single grocery store visit (non-comprehensive list): the shopper’s weight for the rest of their lifetime; the eighteen pounds of greens below the chips; grief; stress; childhood trauma that has enduring impacts into adulthood; the 30-60 minutes someone walks/does yoga/bounces on a trampoline daily; the 2-3 cups of greens eaten with virtually every meal, most of which are Paleo; the non-Paleo beer consumed for months to take the edge off pain; the 2.5 hours spent in traffic daily moving to and away from a desk job; etc.

Apart from offering me a chance to laugh, these grocery store sages have given me another gift. They’ve reminded me to remain aware of my own human propensity to confuse a frame for the entire film.

Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” I’m definitely not catching all my judgments, but I’m getting better by the day.

This was especially clear about two weeks ago, when I sat reading in a coffee shop. One particular sentence in the book I was reading, Kelly Brogan’s A Mind of Your Own, practically jumped off the page at me.

For a few months now, I’ve been looking at someone I love and assuming–with some bemusement–certain inspirations for certain behaviors. Brogan’s sentence revealed a whole different set of possible explanations, whapping me on the head with a reminder how little of that personal film I can see. From 1,000 frames, I’ve been filling in the millions I cannot see. I have not been doing so with nuance, instead using broad strokes.

As the pounds slide off me now, having set aside the beer and added meditation+, I’m sure I still have weeks to months of grocery store sage commentary ahead. I’ll keep laughing, naturally; that comes easily.

I’ll also aim to use their words as a reminder. I’m making judgments, too, and the grocery store sages’ words can be my ongoing call to not confuse my own limited perception with reality.

for better and worse

My husband,
and I
recently took
one last trip to Legoland
before we let our annual passes lapse

(Much as I enjoy
Legoland, I already spend
too much time driving on
the weekdays to drive
more, routinely, on
weekends)

It was Anthony’s birthday,
and I spent much time
that day thinking how
grateful I am that he
was born, and that
our paths crossed,
and that he is such
a loving father to
our boys

There was another
gratitude, too

Recently,
I have seen
what it looks
like
when one
partner doesn’t
like the way the
other is growing
and changing;
the little digs
and pushes
and scowls
that say,
“You’re not
supposed to
be like this. You
are supposed to
stay how I know
and like you,
meeting my needs
in exactly the ways
you always have,
whether or not
that meets

yours

As I watched
Anthony with our boys,
I heard the dozens of
different ways he’s
told me he doesn’t
expect me to
remain the same,
and appreciates
what I’m trying to
change, and
why

He sees the love
behind my sorrow-
fueled rages, and sees
how the balance is
shifting away from
rage and toward
love

He knows I’m changing;
I couldn’t be unchanged
by all I have read
about centuries of
cultivated devastation
driven by colonizers seeing
(and portraying)
“the other” as
simply a roadblock
to obtaining more,
and more,
and more

(He knew
about these things
long before I did)

So he sits with me
as I say things like
,
“Oh, my god, people
in drought and famine
exchanged their kids
because they couldn’t
eat their own;
others, too weak
to fight were carried
off by jackals
and the like,
and it would
never have been
that way if colonizers
cared more for building
structures to protect people
than extracting from them
everything capable of
extraction”

and he hugs me,
and says I should not
forget the beautiful things,
too; that acts of courage and
defiance abundant but too
small individually to
make it into
history
books,
were just as
real, and can be
just as real today
when those things
are celebrated and
cultivated over mourning
that looks like
rage

I am changing;
more than being
passively okay
with that,
Anthony actively supports me,
nudging me back toward
compassion (and occasional
fiction reads, because,
he rightly says,
no one’s life is
improved by
reading all political
history, all
the time)

I see
how it doesn’t have
to be this way; how easy
it is for some to say, “when I
said ‘for better or for worse,’
I meant ‘for,
forever,
exactly
the
same'”

I see that,
and I see
Anthony,

and I am
grateful
for how
the love
of my life
accepts
all of me,
as we grow,
(for)
better
and
worse

After reading this,
Anthony said, “It’s
weird seeing my name
so many times; usually
it’s just ‘Daddy,
Daddy, Daddy'”

He’s half correct:
he is usually
“Daddy,” but never
“just” that

from where my husband stands

wedding bwA couple of months ago,
I wrote of my husband
that the best thing
I ever did
“was marry
that
sweet
man”

(This continues
to be
the
case)

A few days ago,
he said something
that helped me
understand so much more
than all the books
in the world
could

I can’t remember
his words, or even
the exact context, but
what he said made
clean-water-clear
why I was
so angry
and he was so …
not

A Black man 
grown up in Compton,
he never had illusions
that colonialism or
empire were dead,
or that they were
(ever)
only extended by
the evil hearts
of evil people

He saw
people as they were
and loved them for
who and where
they were,
trusting they were
doing the best they could
with where they
were coming from

I didn’t have that

I “escaped” poverty
and abuse and a
million poverty-
invited horrors
I’ll never forget
no matter what
my salary
reaches;

Having “escaped,”
I saw bad guys
(molesters; wife-
beaters)
and good guys
(everyone
else)

Having “escaped,”
I surrounded myself
with good guys
and, voila!

All was well

Except,
of course,
it wasn’t

And I was
affronted,
shocked, 
horrified 
to learn as
I read (on
the U.S.’s
genocidal global
politics) that
they we were
far less good
(as measured
by outcome, not
squishy, vague,
offered-as-exculpatory
“well-meaning”)
than I’d seen

The feeling
I experienced:
betrayal, at a
whole world
(and worldview)
destroyed

But that’s
not the point here:
I get what happened,
and whether anyone
else does or does
not get it isn’t
that
important

The main thing here
is this:

Seeing the world, now,
closer to how it really is,
I can see from where my
husband has always stood,
and I think …

I’m almost there:

Seeing
people as they are
and loving them for
who and where
they are,
trusting they are
doing the best they can
with where they
are coming from

Fortunate

I graduated from law school in 2004. I had no interest in practicing law, so I moved to Japan and taught English there instead. Though I was supposedly the teacher, I learned a lot and had a blast.

I moved back to my hometown for family reasons and took a job temping in a small HR office. Job opportunities did not abound, so I was simply glad I could pay my bills. I felt the same when I took on a temporary administrative role at a larger company before long. I sucked at it, but did my best to find silver linings, of which there were many.

As my temporary admin gig neared its conclusion, a woman I’d met exactly once offered to take me onto her team as an admin. I sent her a copy of my resume; once she saw I’d gone to law school, she became determined to get me negotiating software contracts on her team. I rejected at first, saying I’d have taken the Bar if I wanted to do anything law-related.

She persisted, thank God. I soon began negotiating contracts, and felt (happily) challenged for the first time in years. I loved learning about hardware and software, which I had to do to be effective at negotiating. I enjoyed negotiating and was grateful to have an encouraging, supportive manager nudging me outside my comfort zone.

I worked on software contracts for a decade. Then, two years ago tomorrow, I began working as a software licensing contractor. My commute to a full-time job with great benefits was just too long. I accepted job uncertainty as a small cost compared to the benefit of not spending four hours in my car daily.

My first few months as a contractor were deeply uncomfortable. There was a lot of ambiguity, which frustrated me until I took it upon myself to lessen the ambiguity. If anyone didn’t like how I was doing that, I figured, they’d be sure to tell me. 

Taking risks, I found myself growing. I found joy in that growing, though I’d started out discombobulated.

As that contract wound down, an opening came up for a software asset management position. I seized the opportunity. Sure, I’d never done it before and didn’t know a thing about helping ensure neither too many nor too few licenses were procured, but I knew I’d grow. I knew that any frustration I felt at being a noob the first few months would be counterbalanced by the ultimate joy of learning.

I “knew,” but I didn’t really know. ‘Cause, see, I had no idea how much I’d learn, nor how much I’d be encouraged to learn. I couldn’t have fathomed how much support I’d have, nor how mistakes would be treated as just a part of the journey of learning. I had no idea what it’d be like to feel genuine psychological safety for the first time in my life, among a team that makes me laugh while pushing me to do better every day.

I took a risk two years ago tomorrow, and another one fifteen months ago. Because of those risks, my whole life feels so much richer than it did two years ago. For how rough my life began, it’s pretty rad now.

This is all a necessary background for another story to come. For now, though, I want to say that I am more fortunate than I sometimes remember.

I’m thankful to be challenged to remember this.

It’s not a priority.

About twenty years ago, I took Econ my first term at university. Since it was online, I could fit it in whenever I wanted from week to week.

I don’t remember much of what I studied in that University of Oregon basement Social Studies computer lab. My brain’s been filled with law, contracts, and IT knowledge that’s displaced much of what came before. And yet, reading a political text a couple of weeks ago, I rediscovered an economic concept that matters very much to my life right now: opportunity cost.

From Chalmers Johnson’s Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope

 

Before I read that, I’d understood I haven’t been using my time well recently. I just didn’t have a way to explain it clearly, not even to myself … until I saw the words “opportunity costs.”

When I spend hours on Twitter, when I have arguments not worth having, when I type long essays in states of dismay, I’ve wasted precious minutes much better spent elsewhere. In doing one thing impulsively (or compulsively), I’ve lost an opportunity to do something else that I genuinely wanted to do. Something that might power me through fights worth taking on.

I decided I need to be more conscientious about how I spend my time. I’m making better-for-me choices (virtually!) every day.

Today, home sick with an adverse reaction to something or other, I cheered at this post … and an exchange of comments below it. Athena’s words spoke to thoughts already on my mind, reminding me to actively choose my priorities.

Rather than regret opportunities squandered, I’m going to start saying, “It’s not a priority.” No one else gets to define mine or dictate them to me, though my husband, kids, and manager have some say!

Today, my priority is resting, followed by snuggling, reading, and reflecting. These things refuel me in ways that no amount of caffeine or sugar can.

I need the real stuff. The good fuel.

What about you? Are you getting enough good fuel?

#IBelieveYou

Many times, I’ve explained how the Democrats lost me.

No times, until this week, did I explain how Bernie Sanders won me.

I committed here to writing about the love, ultimately pouring my heart into 1,500 words of “Bernie, Because I Was Poor.”

Writing about my love instead of my earlier rage felt joyous. Right.

Something unexpected and beautiful happened even after I posted. Someone tweeted three magic words that made me cry: I believe you.

For years, my slogan has been, “your belief is irrelevant.”

All the same, seeing those three words opened the floodgates for me. Those words of support weren’t only about me, but my mom, who spent her whole life yearning for people to believe and lift (instead of castigating) her.

I’ll include some more tweets behind a cut below. One was retweeted more than 80 times, which meant I saw the hashtag #IBelieveYou every few minutes throughout Saturday. Each time, I said quiet thanks.

In ways I’ll have to explain later, the piece only happened because I got out to vote for California delegates last weekend. Actually stepping out into my community and interacting with people here changed everything for me.

If you’re yearning to do something but don’t know what to do, you might consider attending an Our First Stand: Save Health Care rally tomorrow. People will gather across the U.S. to demonstrate our commitment to health care as a human right.

IBELIEVE-300x169.png

By showing up, you have the power to help save lives … all while setting aside worrying in favor of acting, from love.

It may not be everything, but it’s a fine start.

More #IBelieveYou tweets below the cut

Read more…

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