formerly Diane's Addled Ramblings... the ramblings are still addled, just like before, and the URL is still the same...
it's just the title at the top of the page that's new

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Story Doesn't Have Anything to Do with What's Happening in Ferguson...

A few weeks ago, I had to take a client to one of those Emergi-care places. She'd gotten a ring stuck on her finger and it needed to be cut off (the ring, not the finger). Her doctor couldn't do it, so he sent us there, as he knew they had a tool that could cut the ring. In the waiting room, I met a young father, who was there with his sick toddler and an infant in a carrier. The dad was so gentle and patient with his little boy, which impressed me (I love to watch good daddies) and, as you do in situations like that, we struck up a conversation. The little guy had a stomach bug - the same one his older brother had a few days prior. Dad was hoping the baby wasn't going to get it, too. We chatted for a bit and then they were called up to the intake desk. I heard the girl who was checking them in ask if they'd traveled outside the US lately - to Africa specifically. The dad looked surprised and responded that they hadn't. The intake clerk explained that she had to ask everyone because of the Ebola scare.

Just as the dad and his two little ones were called back to the exam rooms by the nurse, the next patient was called to the intake desk - an older man with an injured wrist. Again, the clerk asked the travel/Ebola questions, Again she said, "We have to ask everyone, because of the Ebola scare."

Then my client was called to the intake desk. I went with her. She was asked a series of questions, which I helped her answer, and then we were told to go back to our seats in the waiting room and the nurse would call us back in a few minutes.

No Ebola questions...

My client went back to her seat but I leaned in and asked the intake clerk why she hadn't asked us if we'd traveled out of the US - to Africa specifically. She looked surprised. I said I heard her asking the young dad and the other gentleman in front of us (both of whom were, I might have forgotten to mention, black) and I heard her say she had to ask everyone. But she didn't ask us (my client, I might have forgotten to mention, is white).

She stammered that she guessed she forgot.

She forgot.


I said, "You know, I have friends from Africa and friends working in Africa right now. It's entirely possible that I could have traveled there recently. That guy in front of us, though? The one with three kids under the age of five? It's not likely he's gone anywhere lately, except to preschool, daycare, and the grocery store."

She was a deer caught in headlights.

"Well... um... have you traveled to Africa lately?"

"No. But that's not the point is it? If you really do have to ask everyone, you really ought to ask everyone." And I walked back to my seat.

This story doesn't have anything to do with what's happening in Ferguson.

Not really.

But it sort of does.

You might have to bear with me, though, as I try to get it out. I've been so disturbed, like so many, by what's been happening there. It makes my heart hurt on so many levels. I've been observing quietly from my little corner of Pigsknuckle; I've seen the anger and the pain and ugliness. I've seen amazing and beautiful little slivers of humanity and kindness and love. I've seen people judge and jump to conclusions, speaking as if they were there and know exactly what happened. And I've seen so many people take sides.

I can't take sides.

I wasn't there. I don't know what happened. I've read accounts and testimony that simply don't make sense to me, it's true. But I wasn't there. And since the grand jury declined to indict, I've read how legal experts and even the American Bar Association thinks the whole situation was mishandled. But I wasn't there (and I don't trust the media reports. At all). When it comes down to it, I don't know.

But here's what I do know...

I know there are some really amazing folks in law enforcement - people who always try to do the right thing and who do what they do because they truly want to serve and protect. I know this because I know some of those people personally. I'm related to some of them.

I know that there are times when good officers have to do awful things to protect themselves or others.

I know there are some people in law enforcement who are bullies - people who feel they are above the law and who don't tell the truth and do ugly things simply because they can. Not all officers are heroes. They're just not.

I know that you can support law enforcement and still understand and accept that your support is not (or shouldn't be) unconditional.

I know that the law is supposed to work a certain way. I know it is supposed to treat all people equally.

I know it doesn't. It doesn't come anywhere close.

I know that all kids make mistakes. All kids screw up - sometimes in big ways. Most kids are guilty of bad judgment at one time or another. Lots of kids push authority figures to the limit.

I know that unless you're in a kid's shoes and you live his life, you can't truly understand why he acts the way he does. I know that if you try to understand, you both give and receive a gift.

I know that people will lie to protect themselves or to get the result they want. Maybe not all people, maybe not in every situation, but people will and do lie.

I know there is inequality in our society. It is deep and abiding. It is pervading. It is damaging.
I see it every day. I saw it that day in the Emergi-care office.

I know that inequality breeds discontent and anger and frustration that is every bit as deep and abiding.

I know that anger and frustration can reach a tipping point and the result can be violence.

I know that the result can also be change.

I know the two are not mutually exclusive but I believe change without violence is better.

I know that we have the power to come together for change.

I know that we must come together for change.

I know that we must change how we view each other; we must begin to see ourselves - all of us - as simply HUMAN, as connected.

I know we have to do it soon.

I know that enough people have died.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Day Three of the LBTL Challenge...

Today was hard. Especially hard.

First, someone at work ate my banana.

I wanted to cry.

Seriously. The tears welled.

Then, I misjudged the size of my rice/bean serving, so I only had about 2/3 of my lunch. Minus the banana.

Then I remembered I had swim team registration and a meeting right after work. I couldn't even go home. And I couldn't buy something out. So I didn't get to eat dinner until 8:30. I had two servings of Ramen noodles. Because I was starving, that's why.

I think I may eat tomorrow. This has been an awful three days. The challenge has been incredibly hard and while I don't want to fail, I also believe it did - for me, anyway - what it was meant to do.

I don't think for a second that I understand what it means to be truly hungry... to have no money for food... to having nothing but the most meager sustenance, which doesn't fill me up or make me feel good or healthy. I did this for three days, knowing full well that it was going to end sooner rather than later. I have known all along that as soon as the challenge is complete, I can go back to eating healthy food and plenty of it.

So I don't really understand. I don't know.

And I hope I never, ever do.

But I have gained a sense of what it must be like. These past three days, I have felt panicked... desperate... exhausted... irritated... frustrated... angry...


And this feeling of deprivation is different than any I've felt before. In the past, when I was on a diet or when I cut out different sorts of food to be healthier, I was depriving myself. I had control over it. But in this case, the deprivation felt different... it felt imposed...

It took away my control.

And losing your control is scary. It's scarier than feeling hungry. It's scarier than not having enough money for food.

I think it must be what truly poor people feel -- out of control.

Yes, this has been horrible and the idea that 1.2 billion people live this way breaks my heart. I'll be looking into ways to help. A few years ago, I met a little old man on Christmas Eve (you can read about that encounter right here) and I wound up feeding him for a whole year, until he fell in his home and was removed by Social Services. I didn't have much then but he got a quarter of my grocery budget every week. It wasn't easy but it made me feel good, knowing I was helping someone who really needed it. It helped me, too, as things were hard then and I believe that focusing on someone else's problems helps you take your mind off your own.

So I'll be finding a way to help... a real, tangible way. If I can help just one person to feel less desperate... deprived... out of control... it won't be enough... but it will be something.

And something is better than nothing.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Day Two of the LBTL Challenge...

Today I ate a carrot I dropped on the floor. And accidentally stepped on.

I also ate half a banana, the cut end of which was all slimy and gross... the end which, 2 days ago, I would have sliced off and thrown away.

My beans and rice and tomatoes, which were OK-tasting yesterday, were bland, gritty, and not-at-all-yummy today. I expect that by tomorrow, I'll have to choke them down.

But I will choke them down. Because last night I went to bed hungry. This morning I woke up hungry. And I'm pretty sure I'll go to bed hungry tonight, since it's 8:30 and I'm hungry now.

Next week, I'll be making a big donation to one of our local food pantries.

I'm not sure what else I can do... but I'm going to start looking at ways I can help; ways I can do my part to combat the sort of poverty that keeps people from being able to afford healthy food. Enough healthy food.

We, as a society - a global society - spend so much. We waste so much. We buy and buy and buy... we consume everything... and what we don't consume, we throw away. We do it so much, so normally, that we don't even think about it.

There is enough food to feed everyone. There is. There is no reason people should have to go hungry... the kind of hungry that makes them eat food out of dumpsters or steal from stores.

No reason.

We have to figure out how to fix this.

We do.

But right now, I want a cup of tea. Hot tea with honey and cream. It would make me feel so much better... it would ease the hunger pangs a bit and it would do much to soothe my soul.

Just a cup of tea.

Everyone should be able to have a cup of tea if they want.

Shouldn't they?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Day One of the LBTL Challenge

Well, I've just had dinner, such that it was, and thus ended Day One of the Living Below the Line challenge. If you haven't read that post, it's right here.

My worry?

It's only 6pm... I have about five more hours before bedtime... and a kitchen full of food. Mind you, last week I would have scrounged the same cupboards, looking for something appetizing, likely not finding much... but tonight?

I would eat baking soda right out of the box at the back of the fridge.

I'm hungry.

And tired.

I feel like a slug. Of course, I've had no caffeine or sugar today, which is not at all a bad thing. But I've had little in the way of good healthy, energizing food, too. I realized that while being hungry is not necessarily new to me (hello, I've been on lots of diets in my lifetime), not being able to eat anything, including a piece of fruit or a vegetable, is. Also, when I'm on a diet and I want something to drink other than water, I could have tea (and hot tea always soothes and fills me).

Not so today.

I floated through the day today, trying to keep full with water. It helped a little. Then I thought about those people who live like this daily and I wondered how many of them don't even have access to clean drinking water. I wondered how they try to feel full when there is no food to be had.

It must be really and truly awful.

While I was making my Ramen noodles for dinner (I ate my two carrots while waiting for the noodle water to boil, as I didn't think I could wait), I read the back of the package. I was about to fill up on 2 servings of starchy noodles with virtually no nutritive value but, for the same basic calorie count, I could have had a serving of salmon or chicken breast, a small serving of potatoes, and a big serving of broccoli, meeting pretty much all of my dietary needs, filling me up, keeping me healthy.

But you can't get a serving of salmon, potatoes, and broccoli for $.25.

And that one meal?

Would have been about half my food budget for the week.

Something to think about.

To recap my day, my $1.50 fed me the following:

2 eggs, scrambled (with no oil or butter, as I couldn't afford that)
1/2 a small banana (and I can't tell you how much I wanted the other half)
1 1/2 cups brown rice, black beans, canned tomatoes
2 medium-sized carrots
1 package of Ramen noodles

Up until the noodles, it wasn't too bad health-wise (though missing an awful lot of the recommended daily allowance of fruit and veg).

Now, the words I'd use to sum up my day are as follows:


I suspect those words will be magnified in the next few hours. I suspect I'll go to bed hungry.

We'll see what living below the line brings tomorrow...

Sunday, May 4, 2014


So, I went shopping this weekend for the 'Living Below the Line' challenge (if you missed Friday's post, which explains the challenge, you can read it right here). Now, I don't like to shop. Not for anything, but especially not for groceries. It might be my least favorite chore. But I figured since I only had $7.50 to spend, it would go quickly.

I figured wrong.

I wound up going to four different stores to find the very best deals. When you have very limited resources, it's important to maximize them, right?

Then I realized that someone living on $1.50 per day probably doesn't have extra cash to put into the gas tank in order to drive around town, comparison shopping. Hell, that person probably doesn't have a car. But I thought about that after the 3rd store, so I finished up and came home with my haul.

It's... meager.

Note that every single thing I bought was on sale. Every single thing. And I used my discount cards at the stores to get the sales (because they are free to obtain).

Here's what I got...

A dozen eggs.................................. $1.49
3 small bananas............................... $ .48
1 bag of brown rice........................... $ .77
2 cans of black beans...................... $1.38
1 large can of tomatoes.................... $1.00
1 small bag of carrots....................... $ .77
4 packages of Ramen noodles .......... $1.00
1 small can of green beans................ $ .50

The total, with tax, was $7.57, but I found a quarter on the ground outside one of the grocery stores. I used it. It counts. Damn it.

My plan is to eat two eggs every morning. I eat breakfast regularly and I need protein, so hopefully they will hold me 'til lunch. Additionally, mid-mornings, I can eat half a banana... until Friday, when I get a whole one. Lunch all five days will be a rice/beans/tomato concoction. I make it sometimes just because I like it, so that should be OK. Plus, it should be filling with all the fiber and protein. I can also eat a carrot at lunch or save it until dinner and have two... along with a package of Ramen noodles. One can of green beans will have to stretch out for 4 days. On Friday night, I'll have to eat the last two eggs and the last carrot in the bag.

It might be OK, during the day, anyway. Night time will be hard, I think. I'll be hungry and I'll be at home, where there is food in the cupboards, so that will make it even more difficult. But I have to work and if I'm expected to be somewhat productive, I can't be miserably hungry. I might be anyway, though. I don't know how far that rice/bean/tomato mess is going to go...

We'll see.

The shopping trip was really quite interesting...

My perspective shifted almost immediately upon entering each store, knowing I had so little to spend. Prior to this situation, I would look at prices in a sort of perfunctory way, just so I'd have an idea of what I was spending. I might buy the store brand of something rather than a name brand if it was on sale, but if the store brand was out of stock, well, no big deal... name brand it is.

Not this time.

Things I would have normally thought were crazy cheap ($.77 for a bag of carrots?!) became 10% of my food budget. One store's sale price for beans -- $.74 a can -- didn't stand up to a competitor's, on sale for $.69 each. A $2.50 bag of potatoes? Too rich for my blood. Five bananas at $.49 a pound (far cheaper than the $.58/lb at the other stores) were simply too heavy... I had to cut back to three. Bread? Milk? Meat? Frozen vegetables? Fruit? Pfffftttt. Not a chance. Even tuna, at $.89 a can, was out of the question.

Every. Single. Penny. Counted.

It was so hard.

I felt... almost... desperate.

Now, when I've worked with a tight budget in the past, I have felt frustrated in the grocery store. I've felt discouraged. I've felt whiny and even angry. I've certainly felt sorry for myself.

But I have never felt desperate.

Yes, my perspective has certainly shifted.

Let's see what happens tomorrow...

Friday, May 2, 2014

The 'Living Below the Line' Challenge

When I started my job, I knew I'd be working with unemployed/underemployed people, but I didn't realize that in order to qualify for our workforce program, participants would have to fall under the poverty line, as established by the state. The application for the program requires much information and corresponding documentation, including income verification. It's a lengthy, arduous, frustrating process. But one of the first things I learned was that if the potential participant is receiving any sort of benefit from Social Services, he or she is automatically eligible. We don't need to determine financial eligibility in that case because the state has already done it for us.

Yay for the state!

Sort of.

Most of our participants are receiving food stamps. Note that most of them are only receiving food stamps and nothing else from Social Services (except, in some cases, Medicaid for the children in the family).

Many of them (especially the parents of my kids) are working.

But they still need food stamps.

To give you an idea of what that means, the poverty line in Virginia is, for a single person, approximately $11,000 per year.

$11,000. So in order to be considered as living under the poverty line, an individual would have to take home approximately $175 per week, or $700 per month.

If an individual makes more than that, they are, according to the Commonwealth of Virginia, not living in poverty.

Yay for them, right?

Yeah. You don't want to know what the average rent is in Pigsknuckle.

A family of three would have to be living on less than $365 per week, take home, to be eligible.

That line? It's so far down, you could trip over it.

But that's the way it is. Those are the rules. That's what the state says. That's what we go by. And when I see the amounts my families get in food stamps, I wonder how on earth they're managing. I know what I spend at the grocery store for just Ryan and me. I don't buy much junk and I rarely buy meat, but I spend a lot more than a family of four gets in food stamps. And we eat out sometimes, too. I see these people barely scraping by, wanting to do better, stuck where they are for various reasons, unable to really and truly get a leg up, and my heart breaks for them.

I've been pretty broke a few times in my life... and I've spent many, many other times just living paycheck to paycheck. But I've never considered myself truly poor. I've never been eligible for any sort of assistance (at least I don't think I have) and, honestly, I wouldn't have sought it out if I had, as that's how I was raised. I don't ask for help easily. At. All. I've worked with grocery budgets so tight they squeaked, but there was always money for food... not fun food, but sustaining, reasonably healthy food -- for me, for my daughter, and even for my dog.

And I've always been grateful for that. And since starting this job, I am even more grateful.

So when my wonderful bloggy-turned-FB-turned-real life friend, Ronda, decided to do this Living Below the Line challenge, I was intrigued.

The organization that came up with the challenge is called The Global Poverty Project. You can read about them and the challenge right here.

In a nutshell, they determined that 1.2 billion people in the world today live in extreme poverty, with less than $1.50 (US) to feed themselves per day. So they challenged us to do just that -- to live for 5 days, spending only $1.50 per day (per person in your household) on food and drink. That's $.50 per meal. That's $7.50 for the whole 5 days.

I spent more than that on lunch today.

I'm going to do it. I'm not going to include Ryan in it, as she's swimming and there is no way I can feed her enough calories to keep her healthy and energized for $.50 per meal. Plus, she looked terrified when I told her about it. No wonder. It's kind of scary. I've spent the last couple of days popping in and out of stores, pricing various items, to see what I can get for $7.50.

Not much.

I'm going to try to keep it as healthy as possible but I can tell you that it won't be easy. Healthy food is not cheap. Even cheap healthy food is not cheap. My goal is to stay as full as possible. I expect there will be a fair amount of rice and beans on the menu.

Here are my guidelines:

1) I can buy the whole 5 days' worth of groceries at once, but I can't spend more than the $7.50 in order to buy things in bulk and divide them by serving. I figure people living at this level of poverty don't ever have a month's worth of grocery money all at once. I suspect many don't have a week's worth either, but I'm making that concession.

2) I can't shop at places that require a membership (like Costco), as if I can't afford to eat, I can't afford a club membership.

3) I can't avail myself of any free food/drink at work, as if I can't afford to eat, it's unlikely I'd be working, especially at a job where free food is available.

4) I can't eat anything currently in the house. I have to start from scratch and only use the $7.50 for the 5 days.

5) If I eat or drink anything I didn't buy with my limited funds, I fail.

Honestly, I'm a bit nervous. I'm even a little bit afraid. I am certain I'm going to be hungry and that scares me. But I figure that's also a big part of the reason for the challenge... to let us see how it feels. And let's face it, I still won't really know, will I? Because I know that when I wake up on Saturday morning, starving, I can hoof it down to my favorite bagel shop and get a big bacon, egg, and cheese bagel and tea. And I know that if the hunger pangs are too much in the middle of the night, there is food in the cupboard that I can eat. So I won't really know.

I am expecting that it will affect my perspective. We'll see. And I'm going to blog about it each day, starting with Sunday, to tell you what I wound up buying. So check in if you'd like to know how it's going.

I'll warn you now that I might be cranky. Hangry, even. I apologize in advance for any snark or unpleasantness.

Stay tuned, my peeps...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cray to the Z...

I work with a woman I really like a lot. She's older than I am, but I can't tell how much so. She has this odd air of agelessness about her and gorgeous skin that makes it very difficult to tell just what decade she might have been born in (she also never, ever tells anyone her age). But her youngest turned 30 today, and I know she didn't have her kids right out of high school, so I'm guessing she has a few years on me. But that's neither here nor there, really.

As I say, I like her a lot. And she likes me. She's not the sort who has a lot of close friends or who confides in many people but she's said she feels comfortable talking to me. I say it's because, along with my 'retail face,' I also have a 'therapist face.' It makes people tell me stuff. Lots of stuff. Sometimes they tell me things I really oughtn't know. It's cool, though. I like finding out about people. But that's neither here nor there either.

Anyway, she told me today that she feels so comfortable with me because I always seem so 'together'.






Um... er...

First, I snorted. As I do. Then I guffawed. Then I looked at her to see if she was lying or pulling my leg. She wasn't. Then I looked at her like she was certifiable. I waved a hand over my desk -- my desk that looks like, as my mother says, 'who flung it and ran' -- and I said, "See this? See this mess? This is what every area of my life looks and feels like. This, my friend, is so very much NOT 'together', unless by 'together', you mean, 'a friggin' disaster'."

She smiled and shook her head. "No. I think you're more together than you think you are."

As I say, I really like her.

But girlfriend? Is cray-cray.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Be Still

Once, when Ryan was a toddler, I took her into a clothing store which, obviously, had no shopping carts. She'd gotten to the point where she didn't like to stay in her stroller, so I told her she had to stick close to me while I browsed. A little while later, having been absorbed in a display of spring sweaters, I looked down to where she should have been... and she was gone. My heart rose into my throat and then dropped immediately into my shoes, and I fought back the panic. After a few moments of frantic searching, I found her, giggling, under a rack of dresses. Needless to say, it was the last cartless shopping venture we attempted for a while.

I've discovered that Time is like a toddler, finally free from the confines of the shopping cart. It has an extraordinarily sneaky way of getting away from me, causing moments of panic when I look down to find an hour, a day, a week, a month, or a year just... gone.

It's been a whole month since I've written here. I didn't intend to stay away. It's just been a busy month, full of nothing particularly extraordinary... just lots of weird, up-and-down weather, overwhelming loads of work, a fall down a dark driveway (that resulted in a few x-rays, cracked ribs, and painkillers), chores, good news, bad news, disappointing news...

Just... Life.

Onward through Time it moves, this Life, more quickly with each passing year, month, week, day, hour...

Sometimes, it feels chaotic. Noisy. Overwhelming. And when it is this way (more often than I care to acknowledge), I don't know which way to turn or what to do first, or how to turn it town, how to slow it down...

It's exhausting.

I have a wonderful therapist friend who is always telling me to rest... to just be still. When she gives me this advice, I agree with her... I nod, promise to do what she suggests... and then I go back to juggling the dozen single-working-mother-balls I have in the air at any given time.

And I wear down even further... lose focus... fade.

Last year, I gave my dog a bath outside, with the hose. I dried him with one of our many brightly-colored beach towels and then left it to dry on the deck railing. I forgot about it and a couple of weeks later, after hanging in the bright sun for too long, it was pastel-colored -- shades lighter than it had been originally.

I feel like that beach towel. Except that instead of too long in the sun, I've been too long in the shadows of 'Too Much To Do and Too Little Time To Do It.'

Turns out? Shadows fade, too.

So, faded, out of focus, and worn down, I'm falling back to my therapist friend's suggestion. Rest. Be still.

It's going to have to be my quiet holy mantra for a little while...

Be still... be still... be still... be still...

Be still...

Just. Be. Still.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

We're All Just Walking Each Other Home

Today, I had lunch with a perfect stranger.

You should know, this is not something I do regularly. Or, you know, ever.

Now, don't get me wrong... I connect easily with people. I can make conversation in grocery store lines and elevators. Little snippets and pleasantries are easy. And I can talk for England when it comes to work conversations or interviews. But to sit down and have a meal with a someone I've never met?

I don't do that.

But I did it today.

I had just sat down in the food court at the mall, with my plate of chicken, vegetables, and rice from the Chinese place. There was an elderly man sitting at the next table over. He looked well-worn and tired, his face scruffy, eyes yellow. His clothes were not in good condition and when he smiled at me, his grin was gappy. He nodded toward my plate and said, "That sure do look good!"

I smiled back and agreed. Then, surprising myself, I asked him if he'd had lunch yet. He leaned down and reached into the bag at his feet. "I got me a banana."

Surprising myself again, I told him that if he'd keep me company while I ate, I'd be happy to treat him to Chinese. He grinned his gappy grin and told me that'd be "real nice."

During the next 40 minutes, I learned that his name was Henry, he was 82 years old, and the youngest of 11 children (6 of whom are still living). Here from NY for an old friend's funeral, he was waiting for another friend to take him back to the bus station in Charlottesville. He was waiting at the mall because he didn't want to see his friend's sister, whose heart he broke back in 1961 and "...she never quite got over it and still don't like [him] much." I also learned that his great-grandparents were slaves, emancipated by President Lincoln, that his father was a cook in the Army during WWI, that he fought in Korea, and that he'd marched with Martin Luther King and he even got to shake his hand. When I told him about the essay I had published in a book to honor Dr. King, he shook my hand, too, and told me it was his privilege to know a real author.

But the privilege?

Was mine.

It was the best lunch I've had in a long time, with the unlikeliest of partners. Henry thanked me profusely for the food and the company and I told him it was my pleasure. I left the mall to go back to work, grateful that I'd asked him if he had eaten; grateful that all he had was a banana; and ever so grateful that I'd stepped out of my comfort zone.

This job I have is hard. There are many reasons not to like it. There have been many times I've wanted to quit. But it has made me realize that the people we see with our eyes transform when we see them with our hearts, and only when we see them with our hearts can we truly get to know them or help them. It's something I thought I knew already... but I didn't.

This job has given me a wonderful gift that I did not expect.

It has made me realize that we are, indeed, all just walking each other home.

Today I met again with my "thug." If you haven't read the post about him and you'd like to, it's right here.

I gave him the books I'd gotten for him... and he cried. This kid -- this tough, street-wise, I-don't-care-about-nothin' kid -- cried because someone did something nice and unexpected and unsolicited and unnecessary for him. For him. I have earned his trust, which, given this kid's incredibly troubled past, is no small feat. And it happened because I was finally able to see him with my heart, which didn't judge him the way my eyes did (and I'm so ashamed for that).

What I know for sure is that we are all connected, even if we have forgotten it or, for some, never knew it. We are all in this crazy, messed-up, beautiful Life together. No one is -- not a one of us -- an island, try as we might to convince ourselves otherwise.

And we are all just walking each other home.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Broken Open

I wear my heart on my sleeve. Anyone who is even remotely observant can tell how I'm feeling within minutes of seeing me. Sometimes I wish this wasn't the case... sometimes I'd like to be able to tuck my feelings inside, out of sight, and go on as if everything in Life was always tidy and neat.

But I can't.

Life isn't tidy and neat and its chaos shines out of my expressions and my demeanor and my words the way the sun shines in July.

If you've been reading here for the past month (or the past several years), you've seen it. It's not pretty. It's not always pleasant. It can make people uncomfortable.

Someone from my 'real life,' who began reading my blog recently, remarked about how open I am here. And I told her that's true... to an extent. There are, of course, things I will never discuss here... or I don't think I will, anyway. I guess I don't know yet just how brave or open I'll be willing to be down the road.

And I'm sure there are people who think I'm too open; that I share too much; that I should hold some things back. And maybe they're right. I don't know.

But here's what I do know, right here, right now...

When I open myself up -- my heart and my head -- and I tell you things about my life and its chaos and how I deal with it all, it makes me feel a little less crazy... a little less chaotic. Very often, you come back to me, by way of comments or emails, and you let me know that something I've said has affected you; it's resonated with you; it's made you feel not-so-alone; it's given you a new perspective; it's made you want to reach out and open up to me...

And that?

Makes me feel good. It makes me feel validated. It makes me feel visible and necessary.

And I think we all need that.

Today, a friend of mine posted on Facebook about a friend hers -- a friend who committed suicide on her 41st birthday. I didn't know this woman, though it turns out we have a few mutual friends. But hearing about suicide naturally makes us wonder why... so I looked at her Facebook page and through her photos, wondering why; wondering what about her life might have been so terrible that she felt the need to end it on the day commemorating its beginning.

When you look at my Facebook page and my photos, I think you probably get a fair picture of my life. As you know from reading here, I'm pretty much an open book. Pretty much. I'm sure that's not the case with everyone... maybe even with most people... and probably not with this woman...

Because her life appeared to be perfect.

Let's change the emphasis there, shall we?

Her life appeared to be perfect.

She was stunningly beautiful. She had a handsome husband and a beautiful home. She traveled often, to spectacular places, and, indeed, spent her birthday on a boat in the Virgin Islands. It was clear that she possessed a spirit of adventure. She had many friends, who seemed to simply adore her, and beautiful nephews, who looked ridiculously happy to be photographed with her. Her posts were creative, her words captivating, and she had a smile that lit up whatever space she was in.

Her life appeared to be perfect.

It was not, of course.

No one's life is perfect.

And I wondered if, in her 'real life,' she wore her heart on her sleeve; if the people who loved her knew that her soul was troubled. I wondered if she felt it necessary to tuck her feelings inside, out of sight, and go on as if Life was tidy and neat. I wondered if she was ever able to open up, to share too much, and to lay herself out and just say, "This is me -- in pain, fucked up, sad, weary, and broken open."

I can't begin to imagine the pain she must have felt. My heart breaks for her and for her family. I know how fortunate I am to have never felt pain to that degree. I know how fortunate I am to have always, always believed that no matter how messy Life gets, it will get better.

And I am incredibly fortunate to be able to open up, to share too much, and to lay myself out and just say, "This is me -- in pain, fucked up, sad, weary, and broken open."

It's not pretty. It's not pleasant. And it sometimes makes people uncomfortable.

But it's so necessary.

And I wish it for everyone.

Friday, February 28, 2014

If Not Me, Then Who?

I met him a couple of days ago, at an 'outreach' I did for my job. A coworker and I presented our workforce program to a group at a community center which does amazing work with the homeless and disadvantaged population in our city. Most of the people there had come for the free lunch, but several were there to hear us speak.

He sat at the end of one of the long tables being set up for lunch. Younger than most of the people in attendance, he sat, hunched over, still wearing his leather jacket, flat-brimmed cap, and very dark, wrap-around sunglasses.

My first thought was, 'thug.'

He didn't appear to be paying attention so I was surprised when, after the presentation, as I was speaking to several attendees who had questions, he motioned me over with one finger.

Oh, noooo. He did not just beckon me, did he?

But he had. And he did it again, a few moments later. I went, intending to tell him to remove his glasses while speaking to me. I didn't have to, though, as he took them off before telling me his name. His eyes revealed an even younger kid than I expected. I pegged him at 17 or so.

He told me he was interested in getting into a training program to be an interpreter for the Spanish-speaking community. He pulled a folded, well-worn flyer from the local university out of his pocket and handed it to me, asking if that was the sort of program we would pay for. I told him it was possible, but that I'd need him to come to my office and meet with me, so we could determine whether or not he was eligible for the program. We set up an appointment for him, at 10:00 this morning.

I doubted he would make it.

This morning, 10:00 rolled around and, as expected, he was a no-show. But at 11:00, I got a call from the front desk, letting me know someone was there to see me. It was him. He apologized for being late and said he'd fallen asleep on the bus, missed the stop, and had to take another round-trip to get there.

We went back to my office and I told him to sit. After a few cursory questions about his situation, I found out that he was 18, homeless, staying in a shelter that will close in a month, and just about a year out of seven years of institutional foster care.

I make it a point not to register shock or surprise or disapproval when listening to a client's story. I try very, very hard not to allow my own story or my personal idea of how people should live cloud my ability to remain open and understanding and non-judgmental. Sometimes it's hard.

It wasn't hard this time.

This boy's story, told with humor and heart-wrenching honesty, nearly broke me. This "thug" was nothing but a kid who never felt loved in his whole entire life; who never had anyone standing behind him, telling him he could be anything he wanted to be; who was unwanted and mistreated and abandoned; who was failed by everyone who should have helped him; who was told and made to feel that he was stupid, incapable of learning, and would never amount to anything.

He tried to shock me, telling me about things he's done. He said several times, "This might make you kick me out of here." There was no kicking. But I chastised him. I told him I was going to play 'mom' and tell him the same thing I'd tell my daughter if she was doing something unhealthy or dangerous. As he was leaving, he said, "You're a good mom, aren't you? I can tell. You care. You listen. And you didn't judge me for all the shit I've done. I wish I'd had a mom like you."

He made me wish I was his mom. This bright, handsome, personable kid deserved a mom who didn't put vodka in his bottle to make him sleep; who didn't beat him, leave him to fend for himself when he was too small to feed himself, or choose to terminate her parental rights because he was inconvenient. He deserved a mother who made sure he could read past a 3rd grade level; who told him he was smart and special; who read to him and held him and simply loved him.

When I asked him how he sees his life ten years from now, he told me he figures he'll be dead by then. I said I was sure the people who loved him wouldn't want that. He said, "Well, see, that's the thing. No one loves me. No one has ever really loved me. So there's not much to care about or stay here for. You know?"

I don't know. I can't even imagine. But I have to try.

I can't save everyone. I know that. I can't even help everyone. I know that, too. I might not be able to help him. He needs much more than I can offer within the realm of my position. But tonight? I went to the bookstore and I picked out three books on his reading level, which, I hope, will interest him. If he wants to reach his dream of being an interpreter, he's going to have to improve his reading and writing skills. It's a small act -- not much... and it might be too much, as far as work is concerned, as it's not exactly part of our program... but someone has to make this kid feel visible; someone has to make him feel like he matters; someone has to make him believe that the few dreams he has are not for nothing.


And if not me, then who?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Funny

When my dad was really sick, it took him a long, long time to move from Point A to Point B, even if the points were only a few feet apart. Lack of oxygen takes its toll on a body. On the rare occasion that he left the house, it was in a wheelchair (which nearly did him in), but in the house, he used crutches to help him keep his balance as he struggled from point to point.

Watching him struggle -- this man who had always been so independent and full of energy, who had always been my fixer -- was incredibly difficult, to say the least. I'm sure he knew this, though we never acknowledged it. Instead, we used humor to deflect the discomfort and pain.

I remember one time, about six months before he died, we were having a cook-out to celebrate my then-husband's graduation from Virginia Tech. Dad, connected to his oxygen machine, legs swollen with edema, made his way ever so slowly from the kitchen, through the garage, and to the deck. I followed behind and after several minutes, I said, "For crying out loud, old man, will you just hurry up?! Rob will have his master's degree before you get out there!"

My dad didn't stop moving... he didn't say anything... but he held up his arm, hand balled into a fist... and extended his middle finger.

(I said we used humor, not manners.)

Another time, a few months later, he was making his slow way down the hall, from the living room to the bedroom. Again, I was behind him. He stopped, wiggled his backside, threw his leg out to the side, and said, "I gotta dance!"

I very nearly wet myself.

That lesson -- that pain doesn't have to erase The Funny -- was one of the most valuable my dad taught me. And when my Funny goes into hiding, I remember his 'dance.' The memory works hard to coax The Funny out...

The Funny is being stubborn this time.

Maybe I should channel my dad...

And dance...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I'm Not Crazy. My Mother Had Me Tested.

I believe in therapy. Strongly. I don't believe seeing a therapist is anything to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and, indeed, I think every single person I've ever met could have benefited from therapy (or could still) at some point in Life. I know many people who have, myself included.

Now, while I know people who have been in therapy for the long-haul -- years at a time, I haven't felt that necessary. And though I know people who have found medication to be effective in dealing with psychological issues, I've never felt that necessary either. But I have found it necessary to ask for help to develop techniques for coping when Life gets really tough; to figure out how to find clarity and balance; to find some direction or a boost when I'm stuck in what feels like a deep, dark hole.

Clara was the name of the wonderful therapist I saw when I lived in Charlotte. She's the one who helped to guide me through the intense grief I pushed way deep down after my father died. I saw her then, on and off, for about a year-and-a-half. She also helped me a couple of years later, to navigate the turbulent feelings resulting from my ex-husband's cheating and departure from our marriage. That was another year of pretty steady once-a-week sessions.

Then she declared me sane. Heh.

And I declared her delusional. Heh heh.

She laughed.

Honestly, though?

I'm not certain I was actually kidding.

There have been other times in the past nine years when I would have given my right arm to be close enough to Charlotte to make it back to Clara's peaceful office and her welcoming, accepting, non-judgmental "arms."

(I have long wanted Clara to be my mommy.)

Alas, I'm not in Charlotte anymore. And therapy, while so beneficial, isn't always easy to come by, as it's not always covered by insurance... and we're not always covered by insurance. Sigh.

So there have been a few times in recent years when I've muddled through on my own, though I really could have used an objective ear.

See, that's what therapy is about, for me, anyway.


Talking to friends or family, while soothing to the soul and absolutely helpful at times, is not about objectivity. People who love you cannot be objective. They always want certain things for you -- they want what they feel is best for you. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. At. All. But what they want for you might not actually be what's best for you.

A therapist is someone who isn't invested in you on a personal level. Her goal is simply to help you figure out what's best for you... and how to accomplish what you need to do to be your healthiest self. And I think when you work out what you need for yourself, rather than having someone else tell you, you're more inclined to follow through... to actually do the work.

Since I haven't been able to figure out lately what I need to do to become my healthiest self, I recently sought the the assistance (again) of an objective, un-invested party.

It never fails to amaze me how easy it is to just spew what's on my mind and heart when I'm in a therapist's office. It's like word vomit and I simply can't stop talking. And the hour flies by and the tears pour out, and afterward, I feel spent. Utterly spent.

In addition to the talking, there are questions asked... and answers sought.

Today, the question was, "Why do you think you're so hard on yourself? Why do you think you don't give yourself the same consideration you give others?"

Ooooh. Good one.

So that has to be my focus for the next week, because I believe that particular trait affects me in every aspect of my life. Every single one. So I'll think about it... I'll write about it...

...and I'll work it out.

I will...

... with the help of my handy-dandy therapist.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Was Right

I was right.

Good-byes suck.

They suck monkey balls.

Monkey balls soaked in vinegar.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Good-byes Suck

Tomorrow I will say good-bye to someone I care about a great deal. It's not a permanent good-bye... he's simply leaving town. But it still feels bad.

There are people who enter your life and affect it profoundly in a short period of time. Through them, you learn lessons -- about Life, about people, about relationships, about yourself. Sometimes the lessons are gentle; sometimes they are uncomfortable; sometimes they're just plain hard. (They are always valuable.)

There are people who enter your life and change your perspective, forcing you to view things you know to be so from alternate angles, making them look different and unfamiliar.

There are people who enter your life and with whom you connect quickly and completely and you know, immediately, that you will be friends for a long, long time.

I've been fortunate in my life to know several friends like that -- people who quickly became (and have remained) incredibly important to me. They are my inner circle -- the people I go to when I need support and when I don't want to feel all alone in the world.

This friend is such a friend.

But inner circle or not, good-bye is still on the agenda.

I have gotten used to my inner circle widening to encompass different states... it covers oceans and islands and continents.

Missing people I love is not new to me. I do it all the time.

But it's never easy.

Good-byes suck.