limits of my power

I keep asking myself, over and over again:
What can I do?
Who do I do it with?
What can I accomplish, with this increasingly diminished amount of energy?

And I look on the margins of what I already do to see if I can do more
And I look at what needs to be done and see if I have the competence to do it
And I try and fail, over and over again

If I ever figure this out, I will let you know.

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Filed under Dystopia, Social Justice Commentary

the same mistake

I tend to overestimate the amount of weight I can comfortably carry. As long as I can stand with the combination of children, backpack, or grocery bags on my body, I do. I decide the discomfort is temporarily tolerable. After all it’s just a block/few hundred feet/distance from the grocery store to my home. My assessment is accurate for the first few steps, but the last few will betray my limitations. Today: probably greater than 50% of my body weight after my one and half year-old son declared “Uppie!” and would not travel unless he were on my shoulders. This after I had purchased groceries banking on him not doing that. Kids these days. I dismounted him two houses away from my own. After getting to my porch, I dropped the grocery bags to the side and limply flopped into the Adirondack chair. I told the kids to play and took advantage of the fact it was refrigerator temperature outside while my muscles yelled at me. The acute pain subsided after a few minutes, and we did go inside after a few more.

“That was stupid,” I think to myself, but the other thought screams louder… I did, in fact, carry everything, including my son. It was hard but I was successful. I keep pushing the perceived limit until I find the real one, and I am finding that sometimes is the best way to get difficult things done, presuming I can cope with the consequences.

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Filed under Lessons Learned The Hard Way, Personal

Agnostic’s Prayer

When I was young, and Catholic, and learning the world was awful, I leaned into two things to be OK with it.
1) God is going to bring justice in the afterlife.
2) The belief that I could have some effect on far-off suffering by praying about it.

I prayed a lot. I remember praying about poverty, homelessness, Bosnia, Israel, Palestine, car accidents, people in my social networks, Africa, AIDS, people wrongfully convicted, various illnesses… I was really bothered by stuff as a kid.

As I became older, and significantly less Catholic, and significantly more aware of the abundance of suffering in the world (shout out to the adults in my life during childhood for doing a decent making sure I was sheltered from that in an age-appropriate way), I struggled to cope. Without heaven or an arbitrating higher power, it seemed that terrible things just happened, usually unanswered. And without a higher power who could bend the wills of people, there really was truly little to nothing I could do to affect a person’s suffering far away.

Then there was the whole realization that we all have free will. If this higher power existed in the manner the stories of my youth suggested it did, well it’s just sitting back and doing what exactly? Also what does an all powerful being care about me in particular, one of seven billion, in a universe so vast? Really? All of these sounded like pretty self-serving stories of a race of beings seeking to create meaning in a context of a lack of understanding of science and mechanics and how people operate. This was my descent into agnosticism.

So I came to a point where I believed petitioning a higher power was pointless because it seemed most likely that if one existed, we don’t understand it, and I’m not so sure it does exist.

…I did not stop praying. Old habits die hard, especially the stress crutches. Usually when I screwed something up. Usually when I felt inadequate. Usually when I felt like I was failing or needed to be better.

In that way, praying shifted from my efforts to right the world to my efforts to right myself, to take a minute to assess in what ways I am deficient and figure out ways to do better.

“God grant me the wisdom to figure this out.”
“God grant me the bravery to see this through.”
“God grant me the humility to admit I was wrong.”
“God grant me the patience to endure this tension.”
“God grant me the calm to get through this conflict.”
“God grant me the grace to forgive to those who’ve hurt me.”

Who’s this God that’s going to make me a better person? Uh. Hmmm. Well… Details, details.
I do not think I am actually talking to anyone so much as I am indirectly talking to myself. I am petitioning some nonexistent force for assistance to tap-into the nonexistent better version of myself. Nonexistent because I am, and always will be, just me. I belong to the universe, I effect the universe, and maybe this is one way of pausing and letting it affect me. Or I am just talking to myself.
Talking to one’s self is the domain of children but listen: they are on to something. This works.

I think my prayers are more effective now.

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Filed under Personal, Unitarian Universalism/Faith

Giving

Today is Valentine’s Day. So I gave some of my blood away. Seemed reasonable enough, and I’m fine. My blood is A+, which I choose to interpret as it being excellent. I’ve donated a lot, enough to only approximately have an idea how many times I’ve donated (12?) but I stopped in 2010 after having a few consecutive bad experiences. Then I lost enough weight to be ineligible, then I got pregnant a couple times. No more: I’ve increased in mass and am done increasing the human population. I squeaked by the hematocrit count by a tenth of whatever unit of measure they use, sat down in a room where the only people were the phlebotomists and me. Laid back, bled out, and drank a sampling of Apple and Eve Juice boxes (Ranked in descending order of delicious: Apple, Very Berry, Absolutely anything else consumable, Fruit Punch. 100% Juice but it replicates the taste of sugar water with Red#40) and smuggled some oreos and a starcrunch into my bag. Shout out to Unyts for getting me a free lunch voucher at the Buffalo General Cafeteria, though I can report the Cayuga Medical Center’s cafeteria has a much more diverse selection of vegetable burgers (because, you know, Ithaca).

I am comfortable in my life but not in the grander context of what I see going on. I am at a point where I am asking myself, reminding myself that my work and labor do not just have to be about what my obligations are, or to acquire money however I can. This is a time of relative personal abundance. I have more. The work I do is creative work, and I have energy at the end of the day to expend some labor towards bettering the world somehow. At least the days that I don’t just fall immediately asleep. I still have some of those. I’ve found moments to think and strategize. I have some skills. I have ideas. What am I going to do with those? What is it that I would like to see? In what ways can I be generous?

It feels right to give small pieces of myself those around me. Love is a verb. What is it that I’m doing to show love? How do I create a world that lets people know they are loved? How do I create a family atmosphere so my spouse, kids, and cats know they are loved?

Sometimes giving oneself means time, energy, and opportunity cost of being with loved ones. Other days, giving oneself is literal.

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Filed under Dystopia, Personal

the cause ain’t lost if you’re still pursuing it

“Fear makes you do the wrong things.”
my next door neighbor

“Trust that you can cope.”
my closest friend

Buffalo had its “Ferguson”. There were protests.

I decided to go. My professional networks had been advocating for more police training for a long time, and this on top of an incident where a suicidal man was deliberately hit by a car and I was angry. The circumstances lined up so that I could go. I had no idea how it would go; this protest was by the police station. My friend had told me that the holding center only lets you call 716 numbers, which no one in my family has, so I flipped through my phone to find one. Listen, if you trust me enough to tell me the state of your heart, I’m going to trust you to be the messenger if I end up in jail. I promised my spouse I would not get arrested and seeing me sharpie phone numbers on my arm gave him pause. Always be prepared. I also promised I’d only stay out an hour.

I showed up, borrowed a sign from a UU acquaintance, put those biceps of mine to work holding it up. I’m only 5’2, so if I don’t hold it ~up~ no one will see it, but this piece of posterboard in the 19 degree wind was nothing compared to the usual 30 pound child in my arms. I believe that’s what they call “transferring skills”. Stood for awhile. Shouted a few things. Maybe 100 people showed up. I, uh, left once I felt I could no longer do the calculus on my risk of breaking the “don’t get arrested” promise. For me, that is the point that I stop risking. I bent the time promise and arrive home to put my kids to sleep. (No one got arrested, by the way.)

You know when you show up that all you’ll be is an extra body in the crowd, hoping that enough other extra bodies show up for the relevant people to notice. You don’t know if it will make a difference. If am seeing the same faces all the time, I know everyone else will recognize them too. I constantly fight the feeling that the sun rises and sets regardless of whatever I do during the day: so what? Threats of futility don’t stop me from fighting the larger fights most of the time. As Dessa raps, “probable lost cause but I got a thing for long shots.” I know that nothing changes unless someone does something. I am someone. So I do something, and hope for the best. Causes are not lost as long as you keep pursuing them. So I keep pursuing it.

It’s like gambling, but with your energy and mortality.

My family and my faith gives me the strength and support to be bold. I do my best and I hope it matters. The last four years have taught me I am a person of limits: energy, time, and resources. I spend them with as much discernment as possible, trying not to waste them. It can be hard to know, hard to let go of the need to control, to reduce the uncertainty until the only thing certain is the uninterrupted status quo. I cannot let that be to the extent of the limited power I currently have. Small candles sometimes burn down houses in my city. I think of that a lot. I will one day die. I think of that even more often. It is not so much a fear of death I have, but a fear of leaving the people who lean on me to fall to the ground. I do all I can. The fear of failure is real. The fear of futility is real. Fear can make you do the wrong things; fear can drive you towards the illusory safety of inaction. That is the wrong thing.

Try, try, try.

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Filed under Buffalo, Dystopia

Until

from dhester at morguefile.com

I impulsively quit drinking and coffee. These are things that have made the people close to me do a double-take. Coffee and drinks-consumed-in-moderation were kind of my favorites, things I appreciated for their comfort and for complexity. I used up my last coffee beans on 12/31/2016 and thought, “Well, maybe it wouldn’t hurt to stop”. Stopping forever sounded ludicrous, and I do love coffee, so I chose to stop at least until my birthday. That’s about two months of abstention. I am drinking tea instead, and I’m calmer. I’ve had one cup of coffee (hey, no one’s perfect) and it made me jittery, like some sort of negative reinforcement.

I stopped drinking alcohol because I felt like I needed to. My one-drink-a-night habit wasn’t even breathing on pathological addiction, but I was sleeping badly and that’s a lot of calories. I am also thirty, which my friends all warned me was the age that teaches you that you cannot abuse your body. Giving up drinking was like giving up eating a plate of cookies after dinner: so tasty, so bad for you. I was feeling like caffeine wired me and alcohol was sedating me, I just wanted to be level. I did not put an end point, except again, thinking maybe my birthday would be alright. For some reason I didn’t fully commit in my head, but I imagine myself slowly sipping a gin and tonic on my 31st and that seems to feel right.

It’s been a month or so. I feel a lot healthier. Not enough time elapsed for me to stamp it “SUCCESS” and move on with my life. First: feeling healthier doesn’t mean absolute health. I also felt healthier when I went vegan, and felt amazing for like six months before the following two and a half years of gradual decline into fatigue and fogginess. All the vitamins in the world didn’t fix that; dead animals did. I still feel badly about killing things, but I was always depriving life from plants while saying, “Meh,” pretending that prioritizing conscious beings over the non-conscious wasn’t speciecist. I thought veganism would be this lifelong commitment but then I quit it and another being was created within my own body; it didn’t work. I was in graduate school until the moment I realized that path was diverging from my actual goals, and I left. I was in Seattle until I realized being near kin was better for my kids, so I left. Circumstances change, and so do I.

It works until it does not. Times change and so your actions must too. That’s where I am with many things – the only reliable thing about the past is that it’s gone. I crave consistency and familiarity, but everything always changes. What was thrilling ceases to be once I am familiar with it. What worked with parenting my kids stops when they get into a new phase of development, which they do about every thirty-five minutes or so. And the habit changes that made my life better fade into normalcy, until I find another change to better again. So I’m drinking tea and seltzer water as long as those are habits that make sense. And so with all things, until they do not make sense anymore.

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The Good Things That Happen Today

The Lorax could point at me and say, “there she is, a Person Who Cares a Whole Awful Lot,” and it would be true. I would love to play off my tough, unruffled exterior, that is 100% an act that everyone kindly pretends they aren’t aware, as meaning I’m too centered to be bothered. Lies. All lies. In any case, today was notable in the good things:

– A gentleman came to work today. I work in homelessness alleviation, but we do strategic planning, not direct services. He came in needing a place to stay. I broke the bad news (we weren’t the place) and took a couple minutes to discuss options. I usually never see people again. He actually came back today to tell him that he found housing, and he’s good. It was a thoughtful thing to do, to let me know he’s alright.

– A colleague reached out to me to let me know that she used something I wrote. In her class! And they her students got a lot out of it! Wow! That was incredibly kind of her to let me know.

– I got to talk about homelessness on the radio (WBNY). That was fun!

– The inexpensive magnetic “paper” dolls I ordered for my daughter’s preschool came in early. They were a gift for all the kids as one of the teachers mentioned needing a couple, and I’m trying to teach my kids generosity so I got to model it. Being kind makes me feel whole.

– You can’t buckle a kid into a carseat in a winter’s coat, so I had the kids in fleeces, hats and mittens, and boots to snuggle blankets in the car. They get out of the car, and they, despite being horrifically inadequately dressed for the cold, they resist insistence they go to the house and run through the snow, in circles, giggling, as I chat with a neighbor. Their joy lit up the street, at least as far as my eyes saw it, during the encroaching dusk, prior to me shepherding them inside maybe 5-10 minutes later.

It is winter, and it is cold. I go from one source of shelter to the next. It can feel like hiding, but it is where life happens if you are lucky.

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Filed under Dystopia