Transition

I may have mentioned before that I don’t handle transition well. Change: it’s scary. It’s unsettling.

John and I just went through a MAJOR transition. We moved back to Maine. We’re selling John’s car (2005 Saturn Ion, Standard, 60,000 miles and in great condition if anyone wants to make an offer…) to become a one-car family because we live within easy walking distance of my job and John is working from home. Oh yeah…we’re also both working 25 hours a week and making more than we did in Massachusetts with a lower cost of living, which means we are (for the time being) partially retired. I can walk to my best friend’s house easily, my youngest sister lives only 20 minutes away, and our parents live less than two hours away. Our apartment is beautiful, and we’re in a position to start seriously looking for a house to buy.

This is  all very, very good, right? Of course right.

So why does change still feel so sucky?

I mean, I can identify the small things. Moving is tough. Dealing with car registration in a new state is a pain in the rump, but okay in Maine, because I know how to handle myself with the BMV, thank you very much. Weevil infestations that come with renting in old building that clearly needs to be cleaned more deeply are skin-crawling. Living in a small apartment with a spouse who is home most of the time is an adjustment. Transitioning from “We socialize on long holiday weekends only” to “We socialize several days each week” is weirdly exhausting, especially for introverts like John and I,  though it’s a good kind of exhaustion.

And there are so many positive things. We have time on our hands, which means we’re not feeling deprived of time if we go to bed early enough to get up at six in the morning to go for a run. We have time to get fit together. Transitions like this are also a good time to trick yourself into thinking you’ve always eaten better, so we’re doing well on our most recent “eat better” challenge. We both have ample time to work on our creative projects…which is why you should be seeing more of my blog again, lucky you. Our apartment has better sunlight. I have sunny space to grow my plants outside of my car. I can start biking again. There are so many farmers’ markets it’s insane. I have connections to people who are connected to the crafty world of Portland. I have many friends nearby for the first time in three years.

Change is apparently still a challenge for me even under these absurdly positive circumstances, however, because I find myself struggling to shake a chronic case of the grumps.

Someone give me a solid kick in the pants so I can move on and feel settled, would you?

Moving Right Along

We’re moving! Oh, you didn’t know? You must be one of the three people who reads my non-knitting posts who I don’t know in real life. Yes, I care about you three SO much that I wrote that announcement and looked up this video just for you!

Forgive my flippancy. It’s just a “be flippant or curl up and sleep” kind of day for my mental energy. Moving is horrible. We don’t have that much stuff, as stuff goes, and I’m super-organized and therefore still half-packed from moving in two years ago. (Moving Tip #1: If it’s going to end up in a closet to be stored most of the year, pack it in a big plastic tub that it can stay in after the move! Genius, right here. ) The process of calling all the utilities and the landlords and scheduling trucks and getting boxes and changing your address and figuring out the insurance change in a new state, well, it’s all just insane. Pure and simple.

Working two jobs on top of the process has my brain split in so many directions I feel like I can’t get anything done. Plus, brilliant me, I decided to try to implement a shift in my eating/exercise habits because I’ve been feeling serious sugar drag. More energy from reduced sugar is awesome…but I forgot that when you go temporarily cold turkey on carbs to reset your brain’s sweet cravings to be fine with whole grains and fruit, there’s a withdrawal period of headache-encumbered crankiness. Yay.

As I’m packing our belongings in this mental state, I find myself throwing a lot of stuff away while hollering, “Dammit, why do we keep so much trash?!?” John, bless him, understands the source of my crankiness and recognizes that I’m yelling at myself. He spends a lot of time laughing at me, which helps me keep everything in perspective. But dammit, I do keep a lot of trash. Maybe it’s the general moving crankiness, or maybe I’m getting less sentimental at this point in my life, but I have thrown away about 75% of the tchotchkes and knick-knacks and greeting cards that I have hoarded over the years.

My rule used to be that I had to keep something for every single memory so that in the future, I would be able to pick up the item and remember the story that went with it. What my ten-year-old scrapbooking self did not understand is that your memory goes downhill pretty quickly once you hit adulthood. It’s frightening. I know for a fact that nothing goes into my Memory Box without being connected to a story I cared about, but as I sorted through it, I realized that I didn’t even have a hint of an inkling as to what half of the items meant. The physical connection just wasn’t enough to trigger the memory, possibly because as I’ve gotten older and made more memories, I’ve had less time to spend handling the objects and remembering. And while it makes me sad to throw away these items that once meant something to me, the truth is that I don’t care about the items. I care about the stories, and those are already lost, because it’s not bad enough that we can’t hang on to life forever: we can’t even hang on to our lives while we’re alive.

See what I mean? I am a royal cranky-pants right now.

What I find myself clinging to is the hope that those stories have been pushed out by memories of better stories I’ve lived. If my brain has a finite capacity for personal memoir, I guess I want to hold on to the best of the best. And with most of my life hopefully still ahead of me (assuming the zombies and robots don’t get us first), I’d like to think that I have yet to live the best years of that life. Always onward, always upward, right? This makes it okay for me to let go of the junk that used to hold a memory. The same thought plays counterbalancing to the anxiety of a major move as well–things have  been nice where we are, really, but they’re going to be even better in our new location, closer to the people we love.

One hopes.

The Beast of the Season

There are two times of year that I adore. When winter shrugs off its snowy coat and melts into the muddy smell of spring, I revel in the way my heart lifts. When summers heat gives way before the chilly kiss of a fall breeze, I snuggle into the season with delight. You all know how fond I am not of change, but the extreme changes between seasons are different. They are magic.

Unfortunately, as I have slowly begun to grow older, my sinuses have decided that they are going to tow the party line on distaste for change. What used to be a minor case of congestion and watery eyes for a day or two each spring and fall has grown into a beast that rides around in my nasal cavities for weeks. It’s not a cute beast of the sort a body might be inclined to domesticate either. Full-grown allergies, my friends, are loathsome.

They’re also sneaky. Each year, they’ve been getting worse by degrees so small that I hardly noticed the change. It didn’t even occur to me that I could fight back until I was talking with my doctor about my fruitless battle against the ear wax that it seemed no amount of aural hygiene could keep from plugging up my ears last spring.

“It might not just be ear wax,” she told me. “If you have allergies, it could be congestion. Try taking a non-drowsy decongestant for a few days when your allergies are at their worst.”

In the spring, this worked like a charm. Two or three days of some generic anti-allergies-D and I was on top of the world again. When the allergies attacked this fall, I waited for what felt like it might be close to the peak of the bad allergy run and enthusiastically embraced better living through chemistry. I felt great.

The trouble is…the allergies haven’t gone away yet. My doctor said I should only have to take the pills for a few days during the worst of the season, but I’ve been waking myself up with sneezing every morning for a month now. It’s getting old. Chemistry, it turns out, can only take you so far. I had taken the pills maybe five or six days in a row when I noticed that I was feeling as hyped up and anxious as though I’d been consuming caffeine. Given that caffeine is on my list of things to avoid 351 days of the year, I didn’t know what to make of this until I recalled that non-drowsy allergy medicine is one of those substances you’re only allowed to buy in small quantities because it can be used to make some version of speed.

Sure enough, when I looked at the warnings, the box said to not take the stuff for more than a week at a time and noted that increased anxiety was a possible side effect. There you go. With great grief, I stuck the box back in the cupboard instead of taking my daily dose. Anxiety and I do not need to be spending any extra time in one another’s company, so I resolved to content myself with tissues and fluid and hope that the worst would soon be over.

That was when I discovered another weapon nature has tucked into the arsenal of the allergies monster. Sand in the eyes. I would be fine for most of the day, but come seven or so in the evening, my eyes would begin to burn as if some nasty thing was stabbing them randomly with pins. No amount of flushing or basic eye drops would reduce the agony. Even closing my eyes was painful. This went on for three or four evenings, putting me on the verge of calling my doctor, when John wondered in passing if there might be better eye drops for whatever was going on with my eyes than just the plain red eye removal ones we had in the cupboard.

Have I ever mentioned that I could spend the rest of my life kissing that man?

We went to the grocery store the next morning and sure enough, there are better eye drops. Being a person who was more fond of my optician than my pediatrician as a child, I have had all manner of things dumped into my eyes, but I was still unprepared for the hundreds of options we found in the grocery store, of all places. If this was a carefully curated selection of the most popular options meant to get the best profit for limited shelf space, then I don’t want to guess how many eye drop companies there are in this country. I’d like to say I’m all in favor of small companies and diversity in options, but let’s be honest. My eyes were in pain and the print was small…I went with the one on the top left that had the word “allergy” in large print on the box.

So far, I am not regretting it. My nose may still be in a certain amount of distress, but I’m counting myself lucky that I can see to enjoy the magic of the birth of fall.

Shift

I’ve been struggling lately with a girl in my program whose behavior has just been abominable. She’s not only constantly rude and disrespectful, but she makes the lives of the other girls a living nightmare. Every single day I’ve had her in program for the past two weeks I’ve had at least one child run out into the hall crying inconsolably. When I’ve talked to her parents, they give her a stern talking to in front of me, but I know full well that they don’t follow through with consequences. My hands are a bit tied…being an EEC licensed program limits what sort of consequences I can impose on a student, so I’ve been locked in this spiral of becoming more frustrated with her every day, which only inspires her attitude to new depths of evil. My temper was maybe two days away from bursting last week when something changed.

I was doing a headcount when I realized that this girl wasn’t in the room. I walked out into the hall and called into the bathroom to see if she had gone there–one of our perpetual struggles is to get her to just let us know when she’s going to the bathroom or for a drink of water–and sure enough, she answered me. Her voice sounded sad, though, like she had been crying, so I coaxed her out into the hall so we could talk while I kept an ear and eye out for the other kids. Her troubles were nothing terrible–she wasn’t enjoying program because the kids don’t like her (I kindly didn’t point out that they don’t like her because she acts like a psychopath half of the time). She’s stuck with me, however, because her mother needed to go back to work.

As I stood with her for fifteen or twenty minutes, letting her spill out the minute details of her life and struggles, something began to dawn on me: this girl is no longer a child. She’s an adolescent, just beginning that transformation that turns many preteens and teens (myself included) into raging psychopaths for a while. I had been dealing with her as if she were still an older child, but what’s going on with her brain and body is so different that my approach was absolutely failing.

A similar thing happened a month or so ago with another younger girl who makes me crazy. This girl hates the other kids a third of the time, me half of the time, and the world three-quarters of the time. She has a habit of ignoring the rules and directions with a ferocity that had me on the verge of expelling her from the program until something shifted. I found out that she’s been diagnosed and medicated for a disorder that, more than anything, makes her hate herself all of the time. She is absolutely convinced that it is outside of her power to be good and when I heard that idea formed with her childish words, it broke my heart and drained all of my anger away.

I’m not going to say that life in program is suddenly easy with either of these girls, but I’ve hit the turning point with both of them that convinces me I can help them do well in my program now. Not just in obeying the rules, but in getting their homework done and being kind to the other children. In both cases, it came when I suddenly saw what it was that they were struggling against. Working with my kids has started to persuade me that people are pretty good at heart, but get changed by pressure. If you try to move a mountain by pushing on it with a piece of tinfoil, the tinfoil is going to get a bit warped. By seeing the mountain my kids are fighting against, I can shift myself off the mountain and help them become steel.

The reason I chose to write about this on Valentine’s Day is that it seems to me that the learning I’ve been doing about how to be a better teacher is a learning that can apply to any relationship. I suspect that I can learn to love people more (and by so doing, fear and dislike them less) by looking for the mountains that they may be struggling against. It’s an old truism, I suppose, but learning to live the idea takes a rather longer time than knowing it it my mind.

And slowly I am learning how to shift.

To Slay a Dangerous Discourse

I do not remember for the life of me how this conversation started this morning, but one way or another, John and I got talking about the fairly recent marches in Maine that were set up to draw attention to the social inequality between men and women when it comes to being bare-chested in public. Constitutionally, women have the equal legal right as men to be bare-chested in public, but the pragmatic reality is that women who want to be topless in public are seen as acting in a socially unacceptable way, while men are not.

 

This is a tough issue to wrap my head around. As John pointed out, what women would really want to walk around topless in a society where breasts are seriously highlighted as objects of desire? As I woman, I wouldn’t.

 

But last night I was watching a very upsetting episode of Angel which touched on issues of domestic abuse, as the show actually does with some frequency. Quick plot summary—a human with some demon in his blood has the ability to bring out the abusive side in men, and in the course of tracking him down, one of the good guys turns against one of the girls and threatens to do her serious bodily harm because she’s too much of a temptress and a slut (which she is absolutely not). It was an ugly episode before they managed to track the bad guy down, and I think it’s ugliness was so dark because it rang true.

 

A common idea that you hear about coming up in rape cases, words that a victim has to learn not to believe is, “Well, she was dressed like a slut, so she was asking for it.” And you read about domestic abuse where a jealous man can’t stand the way other men look at his wife, so he beats her for dressing like a whore, regardless of how she actually dresses. While these words won’t stand up in a court of law, you read about the women who stay in bad situations because they believe them.

 

It occurred to me as John and I were having this discussion that the inequality in the taboo of toplessness across genders is a reflection of a culture that quietly condones abuse of women for being sexual creatures. We live in a society that in subtle ways still puts the blame on Eve for bringing death to the human race, that reads the words out of Genesis, “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you” or the words of Paul to the church at Ephesus, “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord,” and whispers to our subconscious minds that there’s wisdom in them, regardless of the abusive context. It may not be overt, and it’s undoubtedly not intended to do harm to innocent women, but it is there and it does do damage.

 

Men, let me tell you something. If you’re fit and attractive, then walking around without your shirt on does make you more an object of sexual desire. The men on the covers of romance novels are not depicted topless or with tantalizingly open shirts without reason. But men can walk around topless in public without causing much of a stir because their power as humans has not been systematically reduced to their sexual appeal for which they have then been punished. The only difference between men and women being topless in public is the social perception that women’s breasts have such a powerful sex appeal that they will drive men into a violent, uncontrollable sexual frenzy that will disturb the public peace.

 

No one would make that claim on a legal basis, perhaps, but that’s the subversive social discourse behind the discomfort women are made to feel for being shirtless in public. It’s a mentality that encourages both abuse and submission to abuse, and, forgive my language, but it’s a crock of shit. Men are not that weak and stupid, for one thing, and if certain individuals are, it is they who are the criminals. Not the women.

 

The answer to this problematic attitude could go one of two ways. It could go liberally into the territory of universal comfort with toplessness in certain situations (like the beach) or it could go to a mentality that finds male toplessness equally inappropriate. The real point is to not see female sexual appeal as more criminal than male sexual appeal. I know individuals who have this balance in their own views of the world, but I haven’t been one of them. On a knee-jerk level, I’m still not. I am far too much of a chicken to join a topless march given current social attitudes, yet I have no issue with shirtless men at the beach. It takes time to change your mind.

 

I guess the only point I’m trying to make is that, in trying to wrap my head around the point of these marches, I’m starting to realize that even such a seemingly innocuous social more like unequal comfort with topless men and topless women feeds into a much darker and pernicious social discourse that condones abuse of the innocent and will not be stopped unless we’re willing to face it and talk about it. For that reason, I’m grateful to the gutsy gals that bared their bosoms in Farmington and Portland in order to get us talking about the problem. And I’m grateful that we live in a democratic society where they are free to make a stir in the first place.

Water for Justice

Justice is something that people have been struggling to define for as long as we have some record of a human history, of our legends and myths. The fact that Plato’s Republic, a text that specifically wrestles with the question of justice, is still widely read today is a testament to the fact that we don’t really have a clear cut answer. Sometimes, though, I wonder if we’ve got it backwards. I say this because when I see injustice, I tend to recognize it.

And it pisses me off.

The most recent injustice that hit me was the current world water situation. John and I watched a documentary called Flow, which argued pretty clearly that the world water situation is pretty bad. In the poorest places in developing countries it’s downright dismal, but even in the U.S., it’s not great. We need to make some serious changes.

And that’s the problem. Change is hard. It’s hard to take a massive global disaster and react with effective and sustainable protest over time. It’s not always feasible to drop what you’re doing to get fully on board with activism in a third world country, or even in your own neighborhood. Even if you figure out what to do, it’s easy to lose sight of the why or to justify personal laziness by downplaying the direness of the situation.

That in mind, I am going to make a pledge publicly to make a few changes in my lifestyle that will have a positive impact on the world water situation. Those of you who know me, I’m asking you to hold me accountable if you’re willing. And whether you know me or not, I’d encourage you to follow some of this research through and make your own pledge.

Here’s what I’m pledging, and why:

1. Boycott Bottled Water (individual & water cooler-sized):

→ The pumping of bottled water over-mines groundwater, which has serious ecological repercussions.

→ It is not actually more pure than tap water.

→ It uses buttloads (a technical term) of plastic.

→ The plastic leeches more crud into the water, like BPA.

→ Transportation of bottled water adds to the overuse of gasoline and road transportation.

→ And, oh yeah, the water available at fountains and sinks everywhere is already paid for.

Find more info here.

2. Buy Organic Produce:

→ Most of the water use in the world is agricultural (upwards of 70%).

→ Organic farming methods use 30% less water and energy to produce an equal amount of crops with conventional, large-farm methods.

→ One of the major contaminants in U.S. water is a pesticide called atrazine that has been banned in the E.U. Organic farming doesn’t contribute to this (or any other) chemical contamination of the water.

Read more here.

3. Boycott Bottled Drinks in General:

→ Given that real change happens from within a community of invested parties, there are limited actions I can take against the injustices of privatized water in other countries.

→ HOWEVER…I am an American, which equals “consumer with a dollar vote that counts.”

→ THEREFORE…as long as Coke and similar companies over-mine the water resources of already poor countries and dump their carcinogenic industrial sludge on the local crops under the guise of “providing free fertilizer”…

→ I will not buy any of their products.

More here, note especially the section on water use.

4. Vote for Water Justice

Support politicians who support R&D for cheap, efficient, locally sustainable water delivery

Info on a cool set of projects (Thanks, Julie!)

Support politicians who support water regulation in the U.S.

Current “state of the water”

These things are a very small set of changes in my life, and honestly, they’re minor ones that involve me being more deliberate about my choices when I’m crabby and thirsty, or lazy before a vote. All the same, there are REALLY good reasons for making those changes, of which I’ve mentioned only a few. There are also many more ways to promote sustainable management of water, but this is a place to start.

For whatever it’s worth.

Oh, and by the way? Happy Earth Day!