Thursday, April 13, 2017

Day 88: Canker Sores Are a Life Metaphor

For my entire life, I've gotten minor aphthous ulcers (also known as canker sores) in my mouth. No one knows what causes them; they're not a herpes strain or any other kind of recognizable infection or disease. They just show up periodically (generally more frequently in times of stress) and there's no way to treat them, so I ignore them and they go away after a while. They're painful, but after all these years I've learned to treat them as minor inconveniences and just get on with my life.
 Behold.  I have an ouchie.

HOWEVER, a few years back, I got a MAJOR aphthous ulcer. It's the same as a minor ulcer, with a few tiiiiiiiny differences.  See, the minor ulcers are generally about 2 to 3 mm in diameter, and they heal in 7 to 10 days.  They're not super deep and they don't scar when they heal.  Major ulcers, on the other hand, are greater than 10 mm in diameter, and they're deeper.  Because of this they generally take 20 to 30 days to heal, and can leave scars.
And that, my friends, is what they look like.
And holy jeezum crow, do they hurt.

Anyway, I'm on my way to getting a minor ulcer this morning.  I can feel the damn thing starting, and there's NOTHING I can do about it, except sigh and realize that everything relating to my mouth is gonna hurt for the next week or so.  What's worse than that, though, is the little knot of fear in my stomach.  See, ever since I spent a week eating liquid meals and not talking because it was too damn painful, I've been afraid of getting another of these bad boys.  It's not a mind-numbing, can't-live-my-life kind of afraid, just a consistent, low-grade fear that spikes when I feel a minor ulcer coming on.  I'm always worried that this time it's going to blow out, and instead of those minor irritants I'm blasé about handling, it's going to become that horrible, incredibly painful experience that I really never want to have again.

In this, it is joined by a host of other painful experiences that I have accumulated throughout my life.  I'm not unique in that--the Princess Bride knew what it was talking about.  Life is pain.  For all of us.  It's also joy and pleasure and grief and bewilderment and struggle and delight, and while minor instances of each of these things is an almost daily occurrence, major instances leave a long lasting imprint that affect us always.  The joys and pleasures give us hope--hope that every day could blossom into an unexpected delight.  But the grief and pain affect us just as strongly--perhaps even more so--to the point where none of us live our lives completely without fear.  A small pain may, after all, grow into a large and debilitating one, that leaves us deeply scarred, if not permanently broken.
Or, if not broken, at the very least forever changed.
Yesterday on Facebook a friend of mine asked for a pep talk.  This is what I responded with:

"People are always talking about being strong in the face of adversity. I think they have it wrong. I think the most complete, most whole, most enlightened individuals understand that we are all fragile, and that fragility will not kill us. That we don't have to be strong or tough when we are feeling overwhelmed. That, in fact, it's okay to fall apart, because that is the process of life, and tomorrow we will pick up our pieces and carry on."
I think the idea that fragility will not kill us--that pain and all its harmful affects may break us, but that being broken is the essence of life, and nothing to fear in and of itself--is something that I am only slowly coming to understand.  It's one thing to say it, it's another thing to accept it.

But hey, I have time.  And this is what I came here to do.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Day 87: A Prayer

 Oh, beloved, I am lost.
Lost in the fear of what may come
And sorrow for what will be.

My fear is an impotent thing
Unable to reach beyond the screaming vaults of my mind
And so I cry to you without hope
For I have hope of nothing
Except that perhaps I am not alone in my fear.

My fear is shared by distant families
Who speak a different tongue
And live a different life
But love the same way that I love.
Families that are broken and incomplete
Mourning the loss of too many of their own
In the horrors of a war they cannot escape.

My fear is shared by those I see on the street
Those I pass each day
With whom I share a glance or word.
Who wonder when their child--
     Their sibling, their parent, their friend--
Will be called to shed blood
In this never ending cycle of violence for power.

I am afraid, beloved.
And I ask that you speak to me in my fear.

Speak to me simply so that I remember I am not alone
That I am joined in my fear by so many others
And perhaps, when I am ready,
I will remember that together we have our own power.

But for now, beloved, just speak to me.
For I am afraid.
And I am lost in the fear.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Day 86: Pins and Needles

I fell asleep on my arm in a weird way the other night, and when I woke up everything from the elbow down was numb.  I've cut off circulation to my arm before, but never quite that severely.  The pins and needles when the feeling started to come back were awful.  I kept hopping around my bedroom like a loon, flapping my arm up and down as though I were suddenly going to sprout feathers and take flight.

You've all been there.  You know what I'm talking about.  It's painful, even as you know it's doing a positive thing for your body.

 Like therapy.  Or Yoga.

I think you can see where I'm going with this.

I'm in a pins and needles stage of life right now.  It's kinda funny, because for someone who always identified as being incredibly emotional, I've become surprisingly un-adept at feeling things.  It doesn't hurt, precisely, but it's shocking to have sensation rushing back into places where there didn't used to be anything.  Sometimes it tingles a bit and then settles, and I decide I like it.  Sometimes it doesn't settle, and I have to carefully evaluate how I feel about it.  Once or twice I've even sat bolt upright, shaking my head and declaring out-loud to the empty room "Oh, no.  Oh, I do not like that at all."

I mean, that doesn't make the feeling go away.  I just have to tell the invisible audience that follows me around how I'm taking it.


I realize I just told you all about the invisible audience, and I'm rethinking whether that was a good idea.  On the one hand, it's kinda weird.  On the other hand, if you're not convinced I'm crazy by now, I doubt telling you that I have an invisible audience made up of the imaginary versions of people I know will have much affect on what you think.

 I mean, you all knew I was weird already, right?


Anyway, the point is that I'm trying to get used to my emotions again.  They're strong little buggers, and they keep ambushing me when I'm not paying attention.  It's like I'm playing a complex internal game of Assassin, and I never know when an emotion-tipped Nerf dart is gonna hit the pit of my stomach.

A friend asked me how I was doing this morning, though, and I didn't really have to contemplate my response.

"Really good, actually."

I've missed my emotions, and I'm super pleased to have them back.  Even the ones I don't like so much.  It's like getting back to the technicolor of Oz after you've been stuck in the black and white of Kansas.  Sure, you might get attacked by flying monkeys, but it's a small price to pay for the wonder all around you.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Day 85: Playing Pretend

Okay, clearly, I need to explain the soul crushing...

At some point along the way in life, I came to realize that my trick with fear worked for other emotions, as well.  Most of them, really.  You can pretend not to feel almost anything, if you set your mind to it hard enough.  Now, those who knew me as a child and young adult can well attest, I almost never chose to do such a thing.  I was always a heart-on-my-sleeve kind of gal, and while it was undoubtedly a little difficult for those closest to me to deal with at times, it was at least an honest and authentic way to live my life.

I don't think I ever actively made the decision to start pretending away my emotions, I think it was more the natural consequence of needing to function during a time of enormous upheaval.  It worked tremendously well for me, too.  People who really should have known better were convinced that I fully had my shit together.  Hell, some days even I was convinced I had my shit together.  I'm not saying it was a horrible thing for me, at the time.  I really needed to be able to take care of my kids, and if I'd been experiencing my emotions to the fullest I probably would have been sitting in a corner doing a jello impersonation for a few years.

The downside is that, once you get into the habit of pretending your emotions away, you start doing it all the time.  And that sort of thing is simply not sustainable.  When I refuse to be scared, there is an immediate and overwhelming reaction that hits me as soon as the danger is passed.  The longer I've had to be calm, the bigger that reaction gets.  There was inevitably going to be a huge reaction when the crisis was over and all the various feelings I'd been smooshing took their revenge.

And here we get to the part where I say "although I've just recently come to realize it, it turns out I've been dealing with depression for a really long time."

This is, perhaps, socially awkward of me to say.  Depression is still slightly culturally shameful, plus lots of you know me and think I'm a pretty happy, upbeat person, and it will feel really odd to you to hear me say I've been depressed.  I have considered both these things carefully, and here is my response to that:

Fuck it.  It is what it is.

For those who will inevitably ask... yes.  I'm doing better.
Kind of.  
It's a process.
More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Day 84: Looks like a duck, quacks like a duck... Isn't a duck.

I'm not a very brave person.

We all know that quote about how bravery isn't a lack of fear, but rather the willingness to act in spite of the fear, right?  In order to truly be brave you've got to be scared of something.  Now, I am scared of plenty of things, but I am terrible at facing my fears.  Fear paralyzes me.  It's one of the reasons I consistently bomb auditions.  I've got the nerves of a chinchilla.

From a very young age, however, I figured out that I could keep going if I just pretended I wasn't afraid.  I'm pretty good at pretending, so I've developed a method which looks, from a  distance, a little bit like bravery.

But don't be fooled.

Really, I am just pretending that I'm not scared.

That's not the same thing at all.

It's useful at times.  I'm great in a crisis, because I shut down anything that gets in the way of dealing with what's going on.  When I was eighteen and my best friend flipped his car off the road with me and a bunch of others in it, I held it together until I'd scaled the bank and flagged down help.  It wasn't until I found the rest of our friends that I broke down and cried.  When a volunteer and I got mugged on the way to Roberto Clemente I was totally calm and cool, and I kept her calm so she didn't get stabbed.  Then when I got home I lost it.  I would be a great party member in the event of a zombie apocalypse, but if I happened to survive someone would need to shut me in a closet for a week once the danger was passed so I could cry it all out.

Anyway, the point is, I'm not brave.  I can just Fortify like max-level Priest in tricked-out gear.  It's a special talent, and I'm not denying it's handy.  But I've just realized that I might be using it to crush my soul.

I mean, just a little.

But maybe a little soul crushing is still a bad thing?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Game of Sacrifice

I don't get Lent.

 word cloud of Lenten sacrifices

Now, before some well meaning individual tries to explain it to me, let me clarify; I know what Lent is.  I'm fully educated in the theological significance of the forty days, as well as the reasoning behind the fasting, the penance, and the sacrifice.

I know what Lent is.  I just don't get it.

Here's the thing.  I've been surrounded, my whole life, by people who are deprived.  I'm not talking about someone who missed their chance to get a pumpkin spice latte this fall.  Far be it from me to hate on coffee, I just want to clarify that I'm not using that term casually.  When I say deprived, I do not mean they haven't had chocolate in a week, or that the store is out of their favorite brand of bath soap.

I'm talking about people who don't have homes.  People who don't have a place to clean their bodies.  People who don't have basic health care, not even Tylenol for their fevers.

 These people.

I am talking about the 795 million people who go to sleep at night with their insides gnawing at them, because they don't have enough to eat.

So I don't get Lent.  I see people giving up chocolate, or Starbucks, or swearing for forty days, and I fail to see the point.  Maybe, if they took their coffee money and donated it to the World Hunger Foundation, maybe that would mean something to me.  Maybe, if they tried to live on $2 a day, and came away from the experience with the determination to change the world so that no one ever had to live on $2 a day ever again, maybe then I would appreciate the season.  Maybe if they gave up swearing and instead filled their mouths with words of solidarity, and revolution, and commitment.  Maybe then I would get it.

Lenten Sacrifices: Current Top Ten List

Instead I see nothing but the privilege of having so much that you have something to give up.  I see nothing but wealthy people playing a game of deprivation, giggling about how awful it's going to be to go without wine for six weeks.  I see them using it as the jump start for their diet, or their exercise plan, or whatever other personal improvement project they're working on.  I see yet another example of the wealthy of the world skating atop the misery that supports their self-involved lifestyle, turning even their moments of deprivation into a kind of party.

 These kids are hauling water to wash in.
That little dude is six.
But it's cute that you gave up bar hopping for Lent.

This may sound like a harsh critique to some, but I cannot apologize for it.  I have recently been reminded of the stark difference between this middle class life that I lead, and the lives of over 70% of the world's population.  It is unconscionable, and this game of sacrifice merely highlights it.

Besides.  I gave up my internal filter for Lent.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Unacceptable

 artist: Eric Drooker

Some things are unacceptable.  We all know this to be fact.  We do not ask the woman with the black eye and the broken nose to accept her husband's violence.  We do not ask the child with the lashes on their back and scissor cuts on their tongue to accept their mother's discipline.  We do not ask the man with a burning cross on his lawn to accept white supremacy.  We know these things to be violations of the very foundations of just and moral behavior, and we would never ask a victim of these violations to accept such actions.  There are no exceptions or caveats.  There are no justifications that can be given.

Some things are unacceptable.

When it comes to governing in a democracy, morality and justice become hotly debated topics.  The standard for acceptability isn't defined, therefore, by what violates those metrics, but instead becomes something else entirely.  What is unacceptable in a democracy is anything that makes it impossible for the democracy to function properly--anything that breaks the system of governance. 

You know where I'm going with this, right?

I do not agree with the new administration about the necessity for the wall.  I do not agree with their stance on abortion, or racial inequality, or LGBTQ issues.  I do not agree with their choice to discriminate against Muslims, or their decision to block refugees from our country.

I do not agree with these things, but they are issues of justice and morality.  They are--as much as I am loathe to admit it--up for debate.  I will fight for them each and every day if I must, but I will never claim that taking an opposing side from mine is breaking our system of governance.

What is killing us--what is dismantling our democracy before our very eyes--is our new administration's relationship with the truth.  Facts are not just being denied; they are being suppressed.  Our government is actively working to keep the population ill-informed.

How, I ask, are we expected to participate in the political process--and make no mistake, the participation of the population is the defining characteristic of a democracy--when steps are being taken to keep us from having the basic information necessary to make well informed decisions?

"Alternate facts" are not any kind of facts at all, and facts are what we, the people, require in order to sustain our democracy.

Science is a non-partisan, facts based discipline, and the findings of scientific agencies should not be subjected to political review before being published.

Intellectual freedom is the bedrock for the First Amendment, and an integral component of a functioning democracy.  We must be free to receive and disseminate ideas without restraint, or our system of governance will die.

This is not an issue of conservative vs progressive.  It is not an issue of Democrat vs Republican.  It is about the integrity of our democratic process, and it cannot be allowed to stand.  Not if we want a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.

Some things are unacceptable.