Coming to Community

I was hoping that the uptick in cases in Johnson County would make it clear that in-person school is not safe right now.  Johnson County has 10% of tests positive for covid.  One teacher ask was 14 days with no new cases.  One union ask was that if positives were over 5%, there we online school.

It’s a lot of numbers.

Today’s morning reading included a bit about mature spirituality, including this tidbit: “We never know reality directly; we only know our internal experience of it.”  The author is referring to Immanuel Kant, who apparently, in addition to writing one of the most famous books most likely to put you to sleep, also had some wisdom.  (I’ve never tried to read Phenomenology of Spirit-– seeing a friend suffer through it was enough.)

I feel like the debates I keep having over this school reopening issue are all existing in the “internal experience” realm, and not moving to the realm of ethics.  Discussing and setting standards for ethical behavior is how we come together as a community: what do we value?  What behaviors are so destructive that they require intervention by law enforcement, or removal from society?  (Needless to say, these conversations are rife with institutional racism and every kind of prejudice, but they still need to happen.)

When do the desires of an individual (parent or child) trump the right of another person to health and life (teacher)?

I’m just as shocked as anyone to see how I’ve become concerned with ethics at this point in my life.  I’ve always been a laissez-faire, you do you sort of person.  I’ll push for my agenda, and you can push for yours.

This is different.

I understand how reasonable people can see abortion differently.

I understand how reasonable people can differ on where power should be held, at a local level, at a national level, an international one.

I don’t understand this difference.

Maybe it is that our leadership and our culture have created such a pronounced split between the servers and the served, that those who are served can’t imagine the servers as people like them.  People who not only have a right to health and life, but also a right to make choices about the risks they take with their health and life.

One wonderful thing about being a teacher is that I can immediately put my concern into my teaching.  I reconstructed the class I’m teaching to focus on what various fields have contributed, and how they might contribute in the future.  I’ve focused even more on considering values and noticing the prejudices we all have.

Another wonderful thing about teaching is that it teaches me so much about myself.  I don’t think I would feel so angry if I didn’t also feel like I had sacrificed for the education of our community, again and again, and I’ve ended up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt that regardless of my years of service, no one will forgive, and a broken heart about how teachers are treated.  I can understand my own subjective experience better.

We have to take our subjective experiences and consider them in the context of how we want to proceed as a community.  I know that when asked, teachers are extremely willing to jump in and make sacrifices.  What I don’t know is if the people in their communities will return the favor.

What would it be like if we valued the lives and health of teachers so much that we would all sacrifice a little to protect them?

Image: “Plaque with Scenes at Emmaus,” Carolingian, ca. 850-900 CE, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Quote from Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis.

 

Findings

I read this today: “The laughter was a final answer to the question, Am I nuts?  Certainly you are.”

My family are usually good at balancing each other.  One or two people may be designated the people who need our support, and we align temporarily to shrug in the face of their bullshit, pay for them emotionally or financially, and let them be a fifth wheel.

Pandemic, of course, strains this system.

The times that are hard are times I realize everyone has glazed eyes, everyone is barely afloat.  The children pull each others’ hair.  The adults say less, because they have fewer nice things to say.  Every time we meet, there is an update of what might or could happen when school starts, if “start” is still the word we use.

Why can’t these people believe covid is real, and dangerous? Being out, spreading the thing, objecting to the mildest measures of public health? This is serious!  How do people read the news that 50 people got the virus from x, and then immediately go out and do x?

I can’t accept that people can’t accept how serious covid is, and I can’t accept that I do not have the power to protect myself completely, or the power to protect others.  I can’t accept others, or myself, and round the merry go round of human neuroses goes.

A big part of this crisis, for me, is accepting just how selfish and evil people can be.  That includes me, though I prefer to focus on other people’s selfishness.  I very much prefer it.

I’ve lived this life with so much consideration for others, with sacrifice to help the common good, and they….

I’m taking a moment to step away from that right now.

They are me, I’m them, are there actual political and cultural battles to be fought here, yes, but again, just for a moment, let me acknowledge that I am selfish and evil.

Do I imagine that other people’s moods, rudeness, kindness, or compliments are somehow pointing out that they do not like me?  Is there no one on earth qualified enough to approve of me that I could relax and feel like I’m okay?  Is there any way I could stop discouraged perfectionist fucking things up, or doing a reasonable job and obsessing about the ways it wasn’t actually good enough?

I was deeply roped into the fight for teachers to teach remotely.  Around and around, knots and tightly cintured around limbs, if the vote did not go my way, I could not keep breathing.

It happened to go my way, but it doesn’t, always.

Yes, it is important, but nothing is more important than being in, and living, an authentic life, a life coming from your heart of hearts, and not what someone else told you would make you happy.

Any fight for justice that comes from a place of self-righteousness, rather than a grief at human imperfection, is built on unsteady ground.

Because people cannot accept that what happens to others may happen t them, I grieve.  Because a parent is so convinced that the “right” schooling is the only way their child will “succeed,” I grieve.  I grieve for people accepting and exchanging false information.  I grieve for ministers who hold services that seem more important to them than the risk to their parishoners’ health.

I grieve as I struggle to put down my ravenous hunger to have someone tell me I am a good  person, and smart.  That I’ve done meaningful work.  That I am only middle age tummying, nothing to fret about.  That I’ll never have a panic attack again, because I’ve done the right things to manage my brain.

I bring the rage of 15 years of feeling overlooked, ignored, infantilized, and criticized as a teacher in public education.  And the rage that comes from seeing others experience the same things, over and over again.

I bring the rage of my child self, who is still mad as hell that life is not fair.  Who is still scared because they shut the door on a cell when we visited Alcatraz, and I knew complete loss of control.  Who is still scared that knocking a Christmas ornament off a tree in a department store in 1979 will get me thrown in jail.  Who realized around 1985 that her great-grandma was actually a person who died, just as she is a person, and so she will die.  Who was unable to stop her parents’ fights.

Who hid things in fourth grade: the divorce, a book I stole to learn about how breasts were supposed to show up, and the plastic money I accidentally took home from math class and was afraid to return to the teacher who scared me.  Who has pooped her pants.  Who is afraid to date anyone.  Who throws parties so she can feel comfortable at them.  Who talks a lot when she is nervous.  Who sometimes gets her feelings hurt so easily that she rockets off to a planet of hurt and can’t come back.

That’s all there.

It feels good to drain the pus.

Today I read some more of Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, which has the exact cringey butterfly on the cover that you are now imagining.  A butterfly I carefully hid, along with the title, when I read this book in public, back when there was “public.”

The content makes up for it:

When I was young, I fantasized that I could learn all that was needed to know in order to choose rightly; today I know that I can never know enough….

We grow more susceptible to ideologies that promise easy solutions, black-and-white values, and we often require a palpable enemy ‘out there’ to hate since that allows us to avoid self-reflection… individual sensibility is easily swallowed, moral nuance forgotten, and responsibility for individual choice avoided…

To free ourselves… we go the next step… and ask: ‘What is this touching in me?’ ‘Where have I felt this energy before?’ ‘Can I see the pattern beneath the surface?’ ‘What is the hidden idea, or complex, that is creating this pattern?’ ‘Is there something promising magic, Easy Street, seduction, ‘solution’ here, when, as we know, life will always remain raggedy and incomplete?’

What offers hope?

Some people could find the meaning of their suffering and finally align their spiritual compass with the purpose of the soul.

Finding meaning, not having meaning walk up and say, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” Finding meaning, not angrily tapping your foot while you wait for some authority figure to say, ‘You are so amazing.  You are rated an A plus person.”

Finding it is very hard in a dark time, because we may lack the strength to do the most basic chores, let alone take time to consider ourselves emotionally and spiritually.  It may be easier, though, because as you may have noticed, in the dark, the bright spots call us, and satisfy, more powerfully.

First quote from Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing, pg. 191

Quotes from James Hollis’ Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, pg. 163-164, pg.176

Image: “The finding of Moses who is rescued from the Nile by the maidservants of Pharaoh’s daughter,” Bartolomeo Biscaino, 1650-57, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 

Carry that Weight

I’ve been thinking about supporting my own body weight.

Also I am supporting my body weight.  Don’t worry.

Recently I took a yoga class about arm balances.  I had previous to this thought, arm balances are for people who are strong.  Who have upper body strength.  I do not have this.  I am female, so I don’t have much naturally, and it’s fine.

While I am thrilled that regular yoga and stretching has given me a higher kick (I love kicking!), and most of my life I’ve done a lot of standing and walking, so my legs felt strong, I never really got into it with my arms.  I was just like, whatever guys, do your thing.

I went ahead and did the workshop because my teacher is so kind, and I know she is coming from a genuinely loving place.  That makes me reflect on other people who got me to do things: the youth leader who convinced me to be a chaperone on a trip to Juarez, leading me to realize I loved working with scrappy city kids, and working with people who didn’t have much money; several teaching mentors who again and again were like, you can do this.  It’s fine.

Lately I’ve been ending my evening yoga with moving from a squat to standing upright.  Apparently being able to get up from the floor without using your hands is a good fitness test.  Anyway, usually I can do it, but last night, I almost fell back, and grabbed my dresser to keep myself from hitting my head.

I spend a great deal of my time trying to prevent myself from getting hurt.

It doesn’t work that well.

I’ve also fallen, or almost fallen, several times lately when I’ve climbed on the furniture to hang a picture or place a bit of stained glass in a window.  I’ve stubbed my toes, lately.  The indignity, the outrage of having a thing be where you didn’t think anything was!  The anger at having your body fail!  Even in a tiny way.

At the workshop, I learned some ways I could practice, and build up to, supporting my weight with my arms.

I don’t know that I need to go anywhere with that particularly.

But it felt significant to know that I could.

The fear of not being up to the task is insistent.

The fear, now, of making a mistake physically (mask wearing, hugs, hand washing) is amplified.

I know that if I got covid, I would have no control over how it affects me.  None.

Supporting my own body is a focus for me right now because I used to have a deliberately physically active life.  Teaching keeps you on your feet and moving around all day, every day.  I got a place near enough the university that I could walk.  I was used to doing 3 miles from that, and part of it a crazy steep hill.  I was used to hauling things, books, groceries, what have you, because I like having actual activity be part of my fitness, useful activity.

Now I move around so much less.

And when I do, sometimes I’m swimming.

We can still swim.  Public pool, lessened capacity, and my people I talk maskless to (though not close up, and never inside), we claim a corner of the pool, and are quite successful in keeping it our little safe zone.

Swimming, though, the water holds your body weight.  Is that the right way to put it?  When I climb out to go on the water slide (at least three times, and with no line it is glorious), I suddenly feel the weight of my body return, like an astronaut entering the atmosphere again.

Whoa.

Or like when you ice skate, and for a while, your feet still feel like you are ice skating.

I’m interested in supporting my body weight better.  This relates to changes I made when I had that spell of ill health, migraines and panic attacks and all.  I realized that if my belly did more to hold me up, my shoulders wouldn’t have to hold up the whole place.

A big part of figuring out the body weight is balance.  Pandemic has pulled out blocks in the Jenga game of my balance.  I struggle much, much more to balance.  As I mentioned, I stub my toe.  I trip.

Some of it is strength, some of it is balance.  And maybe the most important part of balance is laughing at yourself when you lose it.

If I actually scared myself (like last night, falling back from a squat) then it’s hard to laugh.  If I’m just in a class doing tree pose, I have made a lot of progress there in laughing at myself.  Basically laughing at myself got me out of my twenties and into my thirties.  So freeing.  I can record goofy videos for my students, or my nieces and nephews, and if Some Serious Person ever wants to Tell the National Enquirer, I’d be like, I know!  I’m so goofy!  What of it?

One of the strangest parts of these years of my life has been that with four decades of life under my belt, I do not feel more competent, or more steady.  I feel less competent, and less steady.

Oh life you joker.

I think some of that is my field.  As a teacher, I have been hurt deeply.  As someone who was always looking to mentors and people who were older, I find how often people value the new and the shiny over the voice of experience.  And then people started saying teachers should all get cyanide pills so they can teach through a pandemic because otherwise they don’t love the kids, and… straw, camel, back.

Times of weakness are opportunities to pause and observe.

So I will get on with observing how I handle my weight.

 

 

Smashing

Getting onto the turnpike, I thought how the poking out of a ticket from the machine was already ready for pandemic.

As I drove, the clouds were gargantuan and baroque, puffs and flourishes and light and shadow.  In New York, I gazed at the beautiful buildings.  Here, I gaze at clouds.  Or stars.  We have both.

I wondered if my anxiety was going to zoom out of control.  Maybe I wasn’t up to this.  I kept going. I was thinking about how long it would take me to get home.

Then at some point I forgot.

Past the empty racetrack, past the empty every place, I swooped off the interstate and made turns to get me to the spot.  Maybe my 16th protest in the last three years?

Protests of the last four years (okay, to brag, but also to remind myself I have done things):

  1. Anti-Trump, uptown, with Alec Baldwin (allegedly, I could only barely hear his voice)
  2. Pro-immigrant, Battery Park, with Chuck Schumer
  3. Pro-press, at the New York Times building
  4. First women’s march (NYC)
  5. Second women’s march (Lawrence)
  6. Pro birth control (KC)
  7. Pro gun control (KC)
  8. Black Lives Matter (KC)
  9. Black Lives Matter (Lawrence)
  10. Lawrence school board to protect teachers
  11. KCK school board to protect teachers
  12. Something during the day at Washington Square Park… I think we were doing a sick out, for immigrants, and I had a panic attack, so it was memorable
  13. Something in Lawrence that had to do with the Mueller investigation, honestly I’m not sure which moment of horror that was.  There were just a few of us, me and some people a generation ahead of me
  14. Anti-Trump visit (KC)
  15. Pro gun control (Topeka)
  16. Pro Medicaid expansion (Topeka)

I sent postcards to electors to beg them not to vote for Trump.  For two years, I made a list of what egregious harm Trump had done to our country that week.  I’ve written countless emails.  A few times, I even called, though I loathe the telephone.  I’ve done tons of research to refute arguments that were illogical, fallacious, or otherwise wrong.

I’ve read news, more news, more news, hoping that one of the stories will make me feel better or safer.  This doesn’t usually happen.

I am definitely waiting around for God to show up and be like, good work, you learned the lessons of history.

Although I don’t believe in a God that works that way.

That God sounds like a jerk.

I’ve slept and not slept.  Eaten and not eaten.  Exercised and not exercised.

When I got out of my car, newly decorated with the signs I’d painted, I walked up to the group of maybe 20 people.  I chatted a minute with a lady who tried to read my sign, and so I held it up for her.  She was wearing a mask, and using a cane, and had a young girl with her.  The girl asked if she could take my photo.  Of course, I said.  A budding journalist and activist!

I walked up to the others, and they organized for a photo.  Someone took our photo.  The world of pandemic protesting is weird.  One lovely thing that usually happens at protests is that people share food, and stories, and go have a drink after.  During the pandemic they don’t do most of these things.  It sucks.

You don’t even get a good read on who is there, and you may not recognize them if you run into them again, because you only interact with them on Facebook, and at the event everyone is masked.

You try to smile with your eyes when you walk up to the group, because for all they know, you’ve shown up to scream at them with your corona-laced breath.  Or you’ve come with a gun.

I most often go by myself, so I try to take a lot of photos, when I don’t have a buddy there.

Had I been to protests before this?  Well, yes.  But I had taken some long breaks.  I began in animal rights activism.  We have gotten some of what we asked for back then: more humane treatment of animals raised for fast food was a big one.  There have been many victories in pushing back on the fur trade.

Right after the photo was taken, the organizer (whoever in the world that was) said we could go, because the meeting was online anyway.

I think God knew how much energy I had that day, and so I was only asked for that little piece.

And for the hour and a half I spent driving.  Looking at clouds, green fields, the sign for the Agriculture Hall of Fame, where I still want to go.

I test drove the ending of my [meditation? self help? activity?] manuscript.  The ending felt good, but it did not fix me.  My emotions still felt a mess.

I determined that for me, pandemic is like waking up in a mine field. Every day of the Trump presidency is like waking up, knowing there are more mines, but not knowing where they are.  Knowing many people will step on them before anyone can find them.

Yes it makes it hard to sleep.

Yes I still kick myself for the times I wished to live through something historically significant.

When I get back to Lawrence, I stop by the Dollar Tree to buy more plates to smash.

My thing now is buying $1 plates, smashing them with a hammer on my living room floor, and then gluing the pieces onto something.  And then grouting it.

It was my dream in high school that– in addition to living through something historically significant– I have a newspaper called The Grout Gazette.  This morphed into a different thing I worked on, but my joy in the word “grout” remains.  There’s something about that “gr” sound, isn’t there?  It’s not easy being “gr”een.  “Gr”over is one of my favorite Muppets.  And then “out,” such a pinched up word.

Immediately when I got home, I got my reading glasses on and started smashing.  I ought to do this in a deeper cardboard box, or inside a towel, ut there is some joy in seeing the smashing.  I sweep up later.  I pray that no fragment gets my cats in the eye.

Then I have this long, joyous, quiet experimenting.  Stripes.  No pattern.  A cross.  A flag.

Glue.  Piece by piece.  At first I thought fancy glue was necessary, but Elmer’s seems to do just fine.

And then grout.  Grout grout grout.  Grout is Mark Twain.  Grout is spittoons.  Grout is squeaky shoes.

So I sit and do my work.  Smash, arrange, glue, grout.

Yes everyone I know will be receiving mosaiced things for the foreseeable future.  (Well, I also learned to make room sprays with essential oils, so there could be surprises!)

I have to make things.  I have to.

Currently, “Law & Order” puts me to sleep.  I do bedtime yoga while a story plays out in its staccato way, like a ticker tape, and then I get in bed and listen to the story.  It makes a pretty good radio play, “Law & Order.”  Most things are explained, even if they are also shown.

Does it give me nightmares, hearing stories about attacks and violence?  It doesn’t.  The characters on the show are handling it. I watch them handle everything.  I’m so glad they handle everything.