Monthly Archives: August 2018

This, That and the Other

It’s been a busy week. I haven’t done a lot of writing. Some weeks are about notes, research, sudden creative inspirations, edits and days with a foot in two worlds, the world of the auto shop I’m sitting in this minute with a rattling air conditioner in the window to combat the 100 degree heat index outside while mechanics do surgery on the inside of my old Hyundai to fix the air conditioning, and the world of my imagination.

Other weeks are just about life — activity, interaction with others, appointments, friends and unexpected opportunities, along with the small stories of household and routine, like the AC in the car suddenly ceasing to breathe chill and becoming as thickly humid and overheated as the land’s late August exhalations here in Maine.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

A long time ago, when I was a teenager, I got my first job as a summer lifeguard at the local outdoor pool. I loved it. I got trained as a water safety instructor, which means a swim teacher. I was also an IV-certified EMT doing volunteer fire and rescue work.

I’ve never lost my love of water and swimming, and I visit the pool once a week here in Maine. As a regular, I’m familiar with the staff and the facility. A couple of weeks ago one of the pool staff mentioned to me that a part-time position was opening up. Before I left that day I applied for the job and was set up to re-certify as a lifeguard, more than 30 years after the first time. Thirty years. How did that happen?

Now, of course, the process for getting certified is all online. There’s a book, a big, brightly illustrated textbook filled with pictures and graphics, but all the material in the book is also online. The first time around, I learned out of a small paperback manual with black-and-white line-drawn illustrations. The online course is about seven hours of audio, video, multiple-choice questions and written material. At the end, there’s a test. A few hours at the pool in order to practice skills (the most important part) completes the re-certification process.

I’m a good student and confident of my skills, but I unconsciously expected much the same learning experience I had the first time around. However, lifeguarding techniques have changed. The emphasis used to be on personal safety, as drowning people often panic and become dangerous to their rescuers. I spent a lot of practice time in the diving well with a huge college kid built like a tank while he pretended to drown and then tried to drown me as I tried to save him.

Now, there’s great new equipment and gear that make water rescue considerably safer, and the techniques have changed accordingly. Also changed is the way one approaches CPR. When I learned and performed ventilations as a first responder, it was, literally, mouth-to-mouth. Now, lifeguards are equipped with fanny packs in which they carry plastic ventilation masks and Nitrile gloves as protection from body fluids and possible pathogens. Everything, practice included, is done with the mask as a barrier between victim and rescuer.

Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

It’s a strange feeling to revisit this information. Lots of memories. I don’t know if I’ll get the job, but even if I don’t I’m pleased about the chance to review. I think everyone should take basic first aid and CPR, and it’s been a long time since I had a refresher. The first time around, I was the youngest lifeguard on the team. This time, if hired, I’ll be the oldest. What an interesting circle.

My partner and I love cats. For several years I’ve been uncomfortable with the problem of cat litter disposal. I’ve tried some of the more organic litter, but never found anything both the cat and I liked. The clumping litter is convenient, but I collected it in plastic grocery bags and never found a way to compost it. We’re trying to reduce our use of plastic and our non-compostable waste, and dealing with cat litter has become more and more of a problem ethically. My partner recently came across the idea of using wood stove pellets as cat litter, so we tried it.

I’ve never had a pellet wood stove. It turns out the pellets are small and made of compressed wood scrap, a little bit like animal feed to look at. They’re cheap to buy, especially if you buy a pallet at a time. Cat litter costs three times as much. When they get wet, the pellets dissolve into sawdust. Cleaning the box is like cleaning an animal stall bedded in shavings. I scoop out the damp sawdust and solid waste and throw in a new scoop of pellets. There’s absolutely no smell and less mess outside the box. If our old cat does get pellets between her toes and tracks them outside the box, they’re easy to pick up.

Best of all, we can compost now, and I can stop throwing away any kind of plastic shopping bags. We can switch entirely to canvas bags. Less to haul off to the dump.

My partner has a fleecy polyester blanket in deep, rich colors of brown, black and green that has been a bed for multiple cats for years. We recently cleaned out the little niche it was lying in. I went over both sides with a stiff dry scrubbing brush trying to remove grey and black hair belonging to long-dead cats and then we washed it, but it was still coated with cat hair. I had a lint brush, but that didn’t work at all. I also tried a damp sponge, which is what I’ve always used on upholstery and cloth to remove cat hair. A damp sponge works well if you do it once a week, but this blanket had no attention for years.

So, I googled it. As you can imagine, this is a common problem.

My favorite solution was to obtain a paint roller, wrap the roller in duct tape, sticky side out, and store it, along with a roll of tape, in a closet, bathroom or with cleaning supplies. What a great idea! Fast, easy and cheap. However, I wasn’t sure we had a clean paint roller, so in the end I found a clean plastic dish glove, hung the blanket over the back porch railing, and rubbed it with my gloved hand. I didn’t have much hope, but it worked like a charm. Who knew? Cat hair came away in clumps and clots and floated down onto the grass, as well as adhering to my sweaty face. Too bad it’s not nesting season. I wore out my arm and the blanket looked a lot better, but there was still plenty of hair adhered to it. When I’d rubbed away all I could, I put it in the dryer with a fabric softener sheet on the air setting. A half hour later the dryer trap was filled with cat hair and the blanket was like new.

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev on Unsplash

I also spent part of a day kayaking with a friend on a lake. Too bad I’m not as graceful with paddling as I am swimming. Too bad my arms are about as strong as spaghetti noodles. Too bad I’m so inept the paddles clunk against the side of the kayak with every stroke. Too bad I can’t get the hang of using the paddles without having water run down them and into my lap, or inadvertently bumping my long-suffering friend in the head.

I had a fantastic time.

Then we spent a hot afternoon with an old friend of my partner’s shooting at round metal targets with various firearms and varying degrees of accuracy while I asked a thousand and one questions and continued my education on handling guns safely and developing confidence and skill in using them.

So that, friends, is what I have been doing instead of working on the sort of post I usually write. In the pause from writing, I’ve been refilling the well of creativity with everything, and with nothing. With what it’s like to be alive in the world. With sore shoulders from paddling, remembering old rescue skills and long days on a lifeguard stand in the sun, the challenges and joys of living with cats and the smell of cordite. With spending a morning working in my friend’s farm store chatting to locals, enjoying the animals and studying my lifeguarding manual. With heaving boxes around and shelving books during my volunteer hours in the used bookstore. All of this will somehow, some way, someday recycle into my writing, because everything does.

My car is ready. I’m off to pick up my partner’s laptop at the computer shop in air-conditioned comfort. Then I’ll go home and give this draft another look; decide either to delete the whole thing and start over or get it ready to publish in the morning. I wish you all a good week and a safe Labor Day.

Photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash

 

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Identify Yourself

Identity is everywhere. Identity theft, identity politics, job applications and social media profiles confront us at every turn. We are constantly being commanded to prove our identity, not only formally, as in logging on to our bank accounts, but socially, in order to justify our existence, our beliefs and our values.

Technology has created new challenges in the way we talk about, understand and shape our identity. AI is no longer a piece of science fiction, and evidence grows regarding websites, social media trolls and other online entities that successfully manipulate, divide and interfere with social discourse, information and opinion.

We are woefully easy targets.

Photo by Roderico Y. Díaz on Unsplash

Merriam-Webster online defines identity as “sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing; the distinguishing character or personality of an individual.” The online Free Dictionary says identity is “the set of characteristics by which a person or thing is definitively recognizable or known; the awareness that an individual or group has of being a distinct, persisting entity.”

Objective reality. The term objective means “(of a person or their judgment) not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.” (Oxford Dictionary; emphasis mine.) This means a purple-polka-dotted snake cannot claim the identity of a green-striped zebra, no matter how indignantly and vociferously it insists it feels like one. Personality disorders are recognized as such because those who suffer from them are not always dealing with objective reality. A purple-polka-dotted snake who wants to be a green-striped zebra is divided tragically from itself and others, not only other purple-polka-dotted snakes, but all others, because it persists in trying to behave and be accepted as something it’s not, ultimately self-destructing.

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash”

I’ve written before about labels, denial, arguing with what is and pseudo self, all of which ideas intersect with identity. Have you watched a potter at work with clay on a wheel? As they shape a vessel, one hand works inside and one outside. Identity is like that. The tribe we’re born into gives us our earliest sense of identity, and we take our cues from them. If our tribe is critical and we feel unaccepted and unloved, we internalize those voices and viewpoints and give them power in our psyche to mold our identity. At the same time, we go out into the world and our schools, jobs, communities, places of worship and other organizations identify us from the outside.

Years ago I worked with a group of gifted and talented middle and high school students as a school librarian. None of them fit in terribly well with their classmates. A young man I was very fond of was quite lonely, as well as being brilliant, and he said one day he was nothing but the “fat boy.” He was sixteen years old, and seemed resigned to carrying the identity of “fat boy” to the end of his life. I told him, entirely sincerely, that I never thought of him as the “fat boy.” He was obese. Obviously, I noticed. But to me he was a funny, interesting, curious, compassionate, vulnerable human being. His weight concerned me because of the social stigma and quality of his health, but I never thought of him as the “fat boy.”

He could see that I was telling him the truth. I haven’t any idea what happened to him or what he’s been doing all these years, but I’ve always hoped he remembered there was an adult in his life who saw beyond the limitations of “fat boy” and recognized other pieces of his identity and potential. I hope he learned at some point that he didn’t have to settle for a life defined by his weight.

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Over the years of my lifetime, more and more people seem to never mature past teenage identity. We build websites, profiles and a social media presence, desperately trying to sell a successful identity for attention, true love, power or money. We are so compulsive about taking selfies that we die doing it. There’s an explosion of people seeking plastic surgery in order to match their digitally-altered pictures. We have the technology to alter hair color, eye color and physical characteristics, and we’re saturated with digitally-altered images on media that keep us firmly convinced we’re unattractive and imperfect as we are. At the same time, we socially reinforce and perpetuate ridiculous gender, racial and ethnic roles, limitations and expectations.

Perfect strangers insist on imposing labels on us, or try to bully us into choosing one label over another. It’s an either-or black-and-white world, and new labels proliferate like maggots in road kill, creating ever-increasing lines of division and arenas for conflict.

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

We are in such a hurry, we’re so overstimulated and anxious to not be left behind and to be validated, we’ve forgotten the simplicity of identity, and we’ve forgotten we don’t owe the world a public explanation or justification of our identity. Having a Facebook or Tinder profile does not constitute an identity. Having feelings and opinions about who we are is not an identity. Our carefully constructed pseudo self is not an identity. Our identity is not maintained and created by what others think, feel or say about us. Identity is not an endpoint, but a journey. Healthy identity is flexible. It adapts and changes as we live our lives. We are not who we wish we were, who we are afraid we are or necessarily who we think we are. We are not exactly who we were yesterday or who we’ll be tomorrow. We’re certainly not necessarily what others tell us we are, or must be, although objective reality always trumps our internal fantasies.

Our identity, like our power, is ours alone. We need not sell it or give it away, and it cannot be stolen from us. On the other hand, we must take responsibility for our own self-sabotage and mental disorders if we seek a healthy identity.

Healthy identity is complex and multi-dimensional. I’ve been daughter, sister, wife and mother, and I’m much more than any of those single roles. I’ve worked several jobs over my lifetime, but I’m more than any of those jobs. I have a physical identity in terms of vital statistics, Caucasian skin, blue eyes and female biology, but none of those markers identify me as completely as the fact that I’m a human being. A healthy identity also accommodates shadows, scars, less-than-useful coping mechanisms and behavior patterns.

“My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can. In both our work and our leisure, I think, we should be so employed. And in our time this means that we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy in order, ultimately, to replace ourselves.”
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

Tech allows us to create superficial fantasies of bright colors and pleasurable images, but those worlds are empty and brittle, like an enticing piece of candy that melts in a minute on our tongue and leaves nothing but the taste of sugar and artificial flavor. We cannot judge identity by houses, gardens, cars, vacations, pets, children, selfies, clothing, jobs or partners. Our possessions, our pictures and our memorabilia are not our identity. Somewhere, under all that stuff, behind all those pictures of success and happiness, apart from our fear and unwillingness to come to terms with our objective reality and our denial, lies the powerful, complex, fascinating, valuable person we really are, and that person longs to be identified and welcomed into life. That person longs to give and receive love, make a valued contribution and live authentically.

I’m interested in the way people self-define and introduce themselves. It always points to either what we ourselves feel is the largest part of our identity or what we think others will value or connect with most readily. This is what lies beneath every dating profile. What do we imagine prospective partners will be most attracted to? What’s the perfect thing to say which will limit unwanted matches and encourage those we imagine might provide whatever we’re looking for? How can we optimize the algorithm and make it work for us?

Sometimes I walk away from meeting a new person feeling overwhelmed and deafened by all the ways they labeled themselves and with no sense of the real human being I just interacted with. Instead of an easy, exploratory, getting-to-know-one-another conversation, I was bludgeoned with political jargon and identifiers, patronized and gratuitously instructed out of some kind of claimed expertise. It feels aggressive, weak and demanding. This is who I am and you will recognize my status, authority and identity! If you don’t apply one of my proud labels to yourself, you should. All the best people do. In any event, my labels are better than yours.

“I look like vanilla pudding so nobody knows that on the inside I am spider soup.”
Andrea Portes, Anatomy of a Misfit

Our identity is not for others, but for ourselves. We’re the ones who need to know who we are, experience our feelings and monitor our thoughts. We’re the ones in charge of our dignity, our sexuality and our choices. We’re the ones responsible for our own integrity. As my hair greys and my fertility wanes, I become more and more physically invisible in the world. At the same time, I’ve never been as strong, as resilient, as wise and as compassionate as I am now. I’ve never loved so well. I’ve never felt so whole or comfortable in my own skin. I have no social media accounts and no cell phone. I don’t use any kind of apps, dating or otherwise. My identity is strong and dynamic, and it’s not for sale or on display. In fact, I’ve always felt being invisible is a great advantage. People who attract no attention are invariably underestimated and overlooked, especially aging female people.

At the end of the day, a life well lived is about being who we are, objective reality included, because everyone else is taken. Or a fantasy. Fantasy is fun, but real life is where all the juice is.

My daily crime.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Why Does It Matter?

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash

It’s easy these days to feel overwhelmed and despairing. Life is increasingly unpredictable and the future uncertain socially, economically and in terms of climate. We’ve never before been able to discuss so many issues with so many others, or been exposed to so many different sources of information, so-called facts, and opinions. As our public education system flounders, fewer and fewer people are taught to think critically, which is daily becoming a more important tool in navigating our information overload.

I heard about a comment the other day on social media directed toward someone discussing women’s rights. The man commenting asked why we’re talking about something like feminism when climate change is so pressing. Why are we wasting energy on women’s rights while the planet is getting more and more difficult to inhabit, not in some hazy future but right now, today?

Photo by Nicole Mason on Unsplash

That question points to the reason we find ourselves in our present situation in the first place. Our social struggles reflect our approach to living on and with our planet. The thinking that shapes our social behavior is the same thinking that shapes our behavior as citizens on Planet Earth. If we feel we’re entitled to rape, rob or otherwise seize power and control over another human being or group of human beings, we feel equally entitled to use the planet however we want, with no thought of anyone else or the consequences of our behavior. This fertile, life-giving planet is our mother. We live on her body. The degree to which we cherish, support, honor, respect and appreciate her is the degree to which we afford the same treatment to women. It’s the same discussion. It’s not a coincidence that the increasing pressure on our physical survival is happening in the middle of the current social maelstrom.

I’m not a scientist, though I endeavor to be a critical thinker. However, I’ve done quite a bit of reading on the subject of complex systems and earth systems science, including Darwin’s Unfinished Business by Simon Powell, Animate Earth by Stephan Harding, Overshoot by William Catton and Gaia’s Revenge by James Lovelock. Everything I read confirms what I intuitively recognize.

Everything matters. Everyone matters. It’s all connected.

The days are gone when we can tell ourselves that what happens on the other side of the world doesn’t affect us and we need not pay attention or worry about it. We have so far exceeded the earth’s carrying capacity for our species that the actions of each individual have an effect on the whole. As human population oozes and bulges into every biome all over the globe, we also directly affect every other form of life: Animal, plant, insect, fungi and microorganism. We displace other species, poison their habitat and compete fiercely for resources. We have no sense of our own needs or the needs of others, but focus on what we want, and we want it allright now. We deserve it. We have a right to it.

Certain groups of men have no intention of sharing power, dignity and economic resources with women, let alone sharing the planet with fungi and Monarch butterflies. Some groups would eradicate cattle from the globe before learning how to integrate them back into the healthy complex system they were part of until we threw things out of balance with our numbers and ignorance. Others work to bar immigrants, saying they’ll take our jobs, they’ll soak up social resources and they’ll poison our communities with their foreign tongues and culture, too ignorant and short-sighted to grasp that we are only enriched and strengthened by the presence of other cultures.

It’s all the same discussion. It’s all connected.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

We are only now beginning to glimpse the miraculous web of life on Earth, only now getting a sense of Earth as a sentient complex system, self-regulating and self-sufficient, and the knowledge may have come too late. Complexity is life. Complexity is resilient and creates the ability to learn and adapt. Any behavior or ideology that seeks to minimize, disrupt, or eradicate complexity is destructive. Those who work for purity, for homogenized patriotism, for the complete power of one religion, sex, diet, complexion, body type or expression of sexuality are actively tearing apart our world and our future.

Our inability to live peacefully and cooperatively with one another is our inability to respect and care for the land under our feet. Our willingness to tolerate slavery, sex trafficking and bureaucracy that destroys families, indigenous groups, human rights, reproductive choice and other natural resources is the same willingness to worship the false idol of money, buy whatever we want when we want it and discard it later with impunity. If we can’t buy what we want, we take it, or steal it. This is the definition of rape culture.

Complexity is about integration. One way to interpret the old stories is to consider each character as a separate part of the same psyche. In other words, we all have an innocent Red Riding Hood maiden inside us, and we all have an old bedridden grandparent, a parent who warns us of the dangers of leaving the path, a wily predator and a heroic figure who saves the day. A healthy adult learns to know and accept his or her shadow side, as well as more admirable characteristics. Spiritual wholeness consists of a well-balanced masculine and feminine, no matter our biological sex. If we are unable to integrate all these voices and archetypes, all these facets of personality, feelings and thoughts, and operate as a whole complex psyche, we’re crippled, and we’re certainly going to be unable to take our place as an effective, joyous and elegant part of the wider complex system of Planet Earth.

So yes, it matters. It matters if you use a plastic straw and throw it away. It matters if you toss your plastic cup out the car window. It matters if you support the tobacco industry because they’ve successfully addicted you. If you throw one less item away today, it matters. If you recycle and compost, it matters. If you stop rototilling your garden, which damages the soil, it matters. The way you treat the people and animals around you matters. We don’t have the power to stop or change the enormous transition we’re caught up in ourselves. We may never see validation, recognition or negative consequences for the choices we make, but those choices do matter, because we’re all inextricably connected, like it or not, deny it or not.

Megastorms matter. Lead in drinking water and cancer clusters matter. Water conservation efforts in Cape Town matter. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria matter. Fires, earthquakes and volcanic activity matter.

People matter, too. Our experience, feelings and thoughts matter. I don’t matter more than you or anyone else, but, as a living creature on the planet, I matter. The way I treat myself matters. My health matters, and my creativity, and my ability to learn.

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

If we can’t wrap our heads around the essential value and importance of each life, including our own, and support each individual in their personal power, we will absolutely destroy all non-human life on the planet and ourselves with it. If we’re really serious about equal rights, we need to learn to share our rapidly diminishing resources, and I don’t mean cars, technology and food delicacies grown half a world away. I don’t mean diamonds, designer clothing, private airplanes and yachts, and mansions housing a family of four. I mean basic food, clean water and habitable land. We each need to take responsibility for our addiction to instant gratification, convenience and all the latest tech, toys and trends. We need to let go of our entitlement and work together to create a sustainable standard of living for everyone.

So yes, food and water politics, sexual identity politics, human rights, healthcare, education, families and children and immigration all matter. They’re all road signs and mile markers. The question is whether we’ll travel in the direction of destruction or use these issues as opportunities to build bridges, enlarge our empathy and heal our disconnection from ourselves, from other humans, and from all other life, paving the way to managing climate change as elegantly as possible.

I know what direction I’m going in, not with hope of reaching some kind of utopia, but because it’s the only direction that makes any sense to me. Many, many people disagree with me, I know, and I’m going to have to fight the mob going in the direction of destruction. That’s okay. I never seem to be traveling in the direction of the majority, so I’m used to it, and there will be others going my way.

In the meantime, I walk the tightrope suspended over the paradox at the heart of modern life. I fight to maintain power and authority in my own life and use it for the greater good as well as my own benefit. At the same time, I acknowledge that I am but one life among uncounted living beings on the planet, spinning through space with everyone else towards an uncertain future. My power is present, but limited. If I make even the smallest difference for good in my lifetime, I’ll probably never know, and no one else will ever see, and that’s okay with me.

It still matters.

My daily crime.

Photo by Ivan Jevtic on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted