Poverty Education

Rising from beneath: April 2021 NaPoWriMo, Day two

Today’s prompt is inspired by Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” It’s based on our own personal journeys. What might our experiences be if we took a different path?

No matter how many times I wanted or tried to veer from the path I was on, I wasn’t able to. Having travelled this far, I realize I don’t want to have taken a route other than the one I’ve been on.

Why?

People. My children and my grandchildren might not exist. Or, if they did, they wouldn’t be who they are. I wouldn’t have or know the people in my life, not the way they are now.

My life has always been challenging and full of stress. It’s made who I am. There’s more work to be done. I like who I’m becoming.

Rising from Beneath

I was told I could be anything I wanted…
But I wasn’t taught how and
I never met anyone who was.

I was told that if I had knowledge I would have power.
Helplessness was all I knew…
despite my accumulated information

I was told, “Aim high! Shoot for the stars.”
From my depths my aim was as high as other’s low.
I shot just to see the stars.

Years of climbing, fighting, struggling
Always landing back in the hole
Anchored by the trauma of my past.

Cycles of poverty and neglect,
Generations repeating the past.
Lord, let me be the last.

Breaking through, crawling out
Eyes blinded by daylight
Skin scorched by the sun.

Someone (not Churchill) admonished one and all,
“if you’re going through hell, keep going. It’s no place to stop.”
no longer energized, yet, here I am…still going.

I think it’s a good fight. It’s been a hard one.
Redemption, restoration, rebuilding
Self and relationships once lost.

Constantly feeling weak and lost
Continually infused with life’s breath,
Molded by refining love.

But wait, there’s more…so much more
Five decades to grow up.
Here’s hoping for another 3-5.

New battles rise up,
New fears to face.
The war against self goes on.

More to see, more to be.
My future resides with me.
My path lives in me.

Community Mental Health, homelessness, and our criminal justice system.

My family just had a wild and scary experience with one of our houseless neighbors. It was clear there were mental health issues going on, but, in this case the man was a clear and present danger in the way he verbally attacked and physically threatened my pregnant, adult daughter.

Fast forward to when the police showed up:
Do you want to prosecute?

As I’ve been actively involved with community mental health services, both personally and as a student training to provide peer services, I have learned that there is a community mental health response team that can work with the police…Project Respond.

As I have been neighbors with those who are houseless in my neighborhood, I have been able to establish at least a minimal relationship and connection with a couple of them over the years.

Their numbers have increased in my area in the past year. To the point there are three tents, housing I don’t know how many. I have watched them clean their area. Unfortunately, often that resulted in them filling out dumpster to the point I couldn’t dispose of my garbage.

As each new report of homeless sweeps and displacement increase, so does the number of people living on the sidewalk in my area.

Mental and Behavioral Health issues plague these particular men and women, to the point that it’s apparent they are functioning to the best of their ability. They need supports: materially, physically, socially, and mentally.

Back to the question: Do you want to prosecute?

Not really. It is a time consuming and unwarranted expense on us and criminalizing homelessness and untreated mental health issues doesn’t ultimately help anyone.

However, the answer becomes, “Yes,” in this instance because the physical and mental safety of my pregnant daughter and grandchildren is at stake.

It is also the only way to potentially give this man an opportunity to connect with mental health services to get the help he needs…except, without stable housing and food security, one can’t readily follow up on those services.

We have to do better. We have to care more and put that care into action instead of passing blame and responsibility around.

So many people are against providing social services. But, without social services and community supports, these problems only grow.

Social Justice and Being Christian

Forgive this interruption in the regularly scheduled programming about my job search journey. This is just too important to me to not talk about.

This past week I was in a discussion with several others regarding social justice issues like homelessness, stereotypes, what we believe about them, and how we act on them as followers of Jesus.

A significant part of the conversation was regarding those who experience homelessness, with much of that centering on those in chronic homelessness, who often deal with substance abuse and dependence issues.

There were the usual questions about the whys and wherefores of “those” people’s choices and lifestyles. We also touched on the changes and so-called solutions in our society which foster the problem of homelessness and its impact on society.

When we got around to what to do about it, that’s when we got down to the nitty gritty of our role as Christians and individuals. How do you love people who may be unsafe, living in unsafe circumstances, who reject the social services they may have access to? How do you determine if someone will or can benefit from your involvement? What does relationship look like in this context?

One person stated that we can’t know what to do unless we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading. But, what if you’re like me and have difficulty accessing and discerning what the Holy Spirit may be saying?

Look to Jesus. Not to be trite, but, what would Jesus do?

• Make eye contact.
• Listen without judgment.
• Offer a willingness to understand.
• Treat with dignity.

It’s not our job to solve homelessness or poverty, as individuals. Those are goals to be worked toward, for sure. However, what we do know that it’s our job as individuals to love our neighbor, including our neighbors without four walls and a roof.

How to do that? Take time to get to know one of “those” people, even if it’s just to share a cheap fast food meal, a conversation on the corner, or offering a garbage bag so they can pick up their debris. These acts are acts of relationship and relationships are what Jesus is about.

I’ve experienced homelessness more than once in my life. The longest period was as a teen in relationship with a much older man who was, essentially, a professional, low-level con artist. Other times occurred when my mental health crashed and I couldn’t hold a job at the same time as my relationship’s toxicity clashed with my anxiety and mania…only I didn’t understand that’s what was happening.

I didn’t have substance abuse issues, but, my mental health issues, which weren’t recognized or understood by me or others around me, created an inability to toe the line of organizational and societal demands and expectations. Encountering someone willing to actually see ME and not just my circumstances or my history was priceless. It afforded me a sense of dignity that can only come from being seen and treated as if I was worthwhile and that I mattered, whether or not I could conform or meet the expectations of others.

I have neighbors who are unsheltered. Many experience alcoholism and dependency on other substances. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they panhandle. Sometimes they collect cans and bottles. Sometimes they do none of the above. They often do what they can to keep the areas they occupy free of debris. However, sometimes they don’t have a way to gather and dispose of garbage. Just like they don’t have consistent or frequent access to laundry or bathing facilities.

I’ve witnessed them helping and looking out for each other. They’ve helped me carry things too heavy for me to carry up a flight of stairs…without expecting or asking for anything in return.

Of course not everyone in these circumstances is friendly, open, or safe. There’s a lot of history of personal trauma for most people living on the streets. Substance abuse and addiction is very common for trauma survivors and those experiencing mental illness.

It’s easy to look at someone on a corner with a sign and make assumptions based on what you think you would do, given the set of circumstances you believe they are in. But, you don’t know them or their story. You can’t, unless you take the time and make the effort.

Donating money is easy – whether it’s to an organization or directly to an individual. Choosing any degree of relationship with an uncomfortable other is less easy for most of us and it’s not possible with all people at all times…but, it makes more of a difference and more impact than you may believe.

An open letter from a fat woman

Dear Everyone (including fellow fat people),

I realized something yesterday. I don’t enjoy being asked if I’ve lost weight or gotten smaller. This question is usually asked by those who are slender, generally healthy-looking, and physically fit. However, others who are also overweight will ask the same question. Often this question is accompanied by facial expressions and asked in a tone of voice which indicate the person is issuing a compliment and an encouragement. For those who are aware of the mental/emotional health issues I deal with, this question is followed up with, “You look happy, like you’re doing good/better.” It occurred to me that I feel neither encouraged or complimented most of the time. In fact, part of me feels frustrated and defeated, less than.

I had two people who I know love me and care about my well-being ask me at two different times yesterday if I had lost weight. Last weekend a third person asked the same and two weekends ago, someone asked me if I had gotten smaller. Four different people over a two-week period of time, all of whom hadn’t seen me in a month or more, asked me if I had lost weight. Each time, I felt obligated to say, “Thank you.” However, because I’m almost compulsively honest, I followed that up with, “No, I think I got smaller but then got bigger again,” because I know how the mental health disorders I experience have manifested in the past three months, as stressors in my life have multiplied, almost exponentially, and that I’ve been abusing myself with food. I know how my body feels, how clothing feels on my body, and how body has changed shape again in response to the binge eating and unhealthy food choices I’ve been struggling with.

Why not just accept the compliment and keep the rest to myself? It’s dishonest. I feel like I need to be truthful with myself and with others. If I were to say, “Thank you,” and move on, then, part of me would believe the lie that I’m doing better than I am and that the issues I’m having around food aren’t “that serious” or of concern. In the world of addiction and recovery, that’s part of the slippery slope of denial and it’s dangerous on many levels: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

For me, being fat is an outward sign of my food addiction and binge eating disorder. It is a sign that the depression aspect of the Bipolar II Disorder and the anxiety part of the PTSD are in more control than my rational self and spiritual being. If I accept the compliment and move on, then, I experience a sense of shame about these things, because I’m keeping them hidden from people I care about and who I know care about me. They need to know that I’m not okay. I’m not doing better, and that I still need them to be aware that I need them to see the truth that I’m not well and need their continued awareness that I’m still at risk.

This compliment is also an unconscious form of fat-shaming. It sends the message that I’m more acceptable if my physical appearance fits into an idealized shape more like theirs. These same people wouldn’t express their concern for my mental or physical health by asking me outright, “Have you gained weight. Are you doing okay? Is there something going on?” That question doesn’t get asked because it’s considered rude to comment on someone’s obvious weight gain. Why is it rude? It’s rude because gaining weight is often accompanied by a sense of shame, a sense of failure, and we are conditioned to avoid pointing out people’s shameful things in public ways . . . unless we’re doing an intervention, we’re assholes, or we’re talking about celebrities and other public figures.

Complimenting a fat person for losing weight sends the message that you believe they are less acceptable when they look more fat and that looking less fat makes them more acceptable. It reinforces the belief that no one wants to see a fat body, therefore, as long as I’m fat, no one wants to see me, because they won’t see me, they’ll just see my fatness.

In some ways, being fat and trying to lose weight is like being poor and trying to get rich. Society sends the message that being fat isn’t acceptable. You can exercise it away, you can eat it away, you can choose whether to be fat or to be thin. To some degree, those are true statements. Society sends the message that being poor isn’t acceptable. Get a job. Get an education. Get a career. Save money. Set a budget and stick to it. These things are also true, in certain ways. Yet, none of these things acknowledge very real barriers and systemic forces which exist and make those things more than challenging for people experiencing obesity or poverty.

Root causes of obesity go beyond eating too much of the wrong food and being physically inactive. I can’t tell you how many thin people I know who eat junk food all day long and live primarily sedentary lives. As a matter of fact, I lived with one for 18 years. There are genetics, mental health issues, ingrained generational patterns of lifestyle, physical health conditions, financial capacity, and life obligations which all factor into whether a person is fat or not.

Root causes of poverty are equally complex. I know people who work multiple jobs, don’t spend their money unwisely, shop with thrift, and work to save their pennies, but who remain poor. It takes money to make money. In order for someone to get an education that, MIGHT, lead to a good paying position, on a high earning career track, there has to be enough money to pay for the right education, often at the “right” educational institution. There has to be enough money to keep the bills and basic necessities, such as housing and food, stable. There has to be enough money to pay for the supplemental educational tools. In order to save money, the student repayment debt, as well as the costs of housing, food, transportation, clothing, and health insurance cannot meet or exceed net earned income. There has to be enough time and peace to allow for homework to be focused on and done well.

The correlation between poverty and obesity is also a real thing. If you experience poverty, then your ability to afford the healthiest foods is compromised. Your access to those foods is compromised if you are reliant on public transportation because you can’t afford a vehicle. The time you have available to prepare home cooked meals is limited. If you live in poverty, you typically are either living with a lot of other people in a small space or may not have a home at all, so buying in bulk and storing food is not possible. If you are a parent of young children, living in poverty, you can’t afford to pay for childcare while you go exercise. Being able to afford a gym membership is out of the question and the money required in order to pay for supportive footwear for walking, jogging, or running is needed to pay a bill or buy school clothes for the kids.

I experience poverty, as well as mental and physical health issues which are all interconnected with the fact that I am morbidly obese. I’m working on all of those things and I have a lot of things going on in my life which demand my time and attention. I don’t enjoy being fat. It’s physically, mentally, and emotionally painful. I don’t enjoy being poor. It’s also a painful experience. I am doing what I can, as I can, to work on both of those things, but, I don’t know that I will ever be able to do enough to change either of those conditions in order to be acceptable enough.

So, please remember, complimenting someone who may look like they have lost weight, but you may not know if they’ve been working to do so, is not necessarily a compliment. Even then, compliment something other than their loss of fatness. Compliment their clothes. Acknowledge that they are exuding a sense of self-satisfaction and happiness. Or just tell them how happy you are to see them and spend time with them, without commenting on their appearance at all.

Sincerely,
A Fat Woman

Welfare vs Work in the USA 2013

Warning: Political triggers. If the topic of welfare incites your political troll, then troll on by. 

Disclaimer: This is long, but necessarily so. There are “from the horse’s mouth” facts and information about several “welfare” programs.

A woman I admire and respect tremendously, someone whom I share a spiritual faith with and value as having been a positive influence in my life, even for the brief time it was face to face and has now become another meme and link sharer in the Facebook news stream, shared something today that really lit a fire inside of me.

“No wonder we have the highest unemployment. . . .

On Labor Day 2013, Welfare Pays More Than Minimum-Wage Work in 35 States

A mutual FB friend, who is a member of the same church community where I met my friend had this to say: “Good ol’ Oregon!” to which my friend replied, “I want to move to Texas…”

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

That’s how I feel about right now, especially the, “Fire burn, and cauldron bubble,” bit. I am beyond heated, I am bubbling, boiling angry!

I am angry because the researchers and writers and propagandists are essentially stating that people on welfare would prefer to stay on welfare handouts because it is more profitable than working a minimum wage job. Then, the end of the article laments at how companies who essentially have built huge fortunes for their investors off of wage-slave laborers are being hurt by Obamacare’s requirements.

What?!?!

I’m sorry that the billions you have made off of the time, energy, health, and well-being of your workers and the ones most vulnerable to the insidious marketeering of your employment practices and non-nutritive, styrofoam valued products and services are now being threatened because legislation is now forcing you to do what being human should have inspired you to do on your own – take care of your employees and enable them to actually not become indentured servants in this post-postmodern era.

When this article talks about “welfare,” it lumps in a large variety of programs: SNAP, TANF, WIC, medicaid, housing assistance, utilities assistance, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Let me talk about each of these programs for a bit.

First let me establish my credentials: I worked for three years as an assistant manager for a for profit professional management company which contracts with housing owners who receive funding from federal programs under a variety of tax-credit and subsidy programs, the most commonly known of which is the Section 8 “choice voucher.” I worked for almost five years as a customer service representative for an electric utility company. I worked for three different fast food franchises of two of the named companies at the end of the article. I have worked for a community based social service agency while stationed in a state “welfare” office. I have been a single parent receiving cash assistance, food stamps, and medical benefits. I have been a working, single-parent receiving food benefits, medical, and childcare assistance. I have received WIC. I have received utility assistance. I have received emergency food. I am currently a non-working parent in a two parent household with the other parent being unemployed living in subsidized housing, receiving food benefits, and in between looking for work, waiting for a determination on the Unemployment Insurance claim, and not receiving cash benefits.

In other words, we have only the change in our daughter’s change jar and nothing else to buy food, pay bills, or purchase toilet paper. The only reason I can write this is because he worked hard enough to get caught up on all of our bills before leaving the over the road job, so he could find a job closer to home, because our family needed him here. But, I digress.

WIC – Women, Infants, and Children: $6 a month to purchase fresh or frozen produce or seeds for planting produce. A 16-oz loaf of bread or whole wheat tortillas. A dozen eggs. An 18 oz jar of peanut butter or a 16 oz bag of dried beans. 36 oz of specifically approved brands of cereal in their specified options. A couple of cans of frozen juice or their bottled equivalent. 1 lb of cheese. Approximately 3 gallons of milk +/- half a gallon. Breastfeeding mothers get a few cans of tuna or extra beans. Babies on formula get several cans per month, but I don’t know how many (Formula is EXPENSIVE!). Per month. Per child under 6 years of age. I could be misremembering some of the amounts, like the milk, and forgetting an option or two. All together, I would imagine that maxing out each available voucher and using them all in a month equates to less than $100/month per child.

TANF – Lifetime, time-limit per adult household member = 18 – 24 months, in most cases, to my knowledge. A single parent with two children receives less than $550/mo cash assistance in the state of Oregon. Prior to receiving cash assistance the adult(s) have to attend one – four weeks of job readiness and work-search classes. There are mandated job search requirements and action plans and goals that have to be adhered to or the adult members get “sanctioned” off of the benefits, reducing the monthly grant by their portion.

SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still known as Food Stamps: A household of three with zero income might receive $500 +/- each month to purchase ONLY food. No toilet paper. No diapers. No feminine sanitary products. No shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, or household supplies of any kind.

Utility Assistance: a) Every utility customer pays a few cents to a few dollars on each utility bill into a fund that provides energy assistance, including “welfare” recipients who pay for utilities (when there is enough money left over from paying rent and buying toilet paper). b) Once every twelve months. Different community service agencies administer different sets of energy assistance funds and how much is available is kind of dependent on how much money the utility companies received from their customers in the area, so there is no gurantee funds are available when needed or that a household will have the ability to call and get an appointment at the exactly right time. c) Maximum yearly assistance per household is $300 +/- for the year.

Emergency food: see Utility Assistance. Different programs administered by different agencies. A food box provides 2 – 5 days worth of food per household member. However, the government provided foods are insufficient to meet need. Which explains why I can get a food box with lots of cheap carbs like Hamburger Helper, but no hamburger to use with it, and cheap, knock off junk foods because people can go to the Dollar Store and purchase the required number of non-perishible items to donate so they can go see a movie at Regal Cinemas for “free” once a year. Some agencies allow emergency food boxes once a month, some once every three months.

Housing Assistance: Multiple programs, multiple funding streams, multiple income guidlines and eligibility requirements. Section 8 choice voucher or project-based (subsidy stays with the unit not the people living in the unit) uses the following formula to calculate how much rent is paid. Let’s use our single parent of two children who is receiving TANF:

Child credit $480/child x 2 children = $960/yr.

Utility allowance is the average cost of usage for same size unit in area, calculated annually.For our example let’s say $70/mo.

Monthly Cash Assistance: $550.00
X 12 months $12.00
Annual Income $6,600.00
– Child Credit -$960.00
Adjusted Annual Income $5,640.00
X 30% 30.00%
Annualized rent $1,692.00
/ 12 months $12.00
Monthly Rent $141.00
– utility allowance -$70.00
Monthly Rent $71.00

Wow! $70/mo for rent. WooHoo! That leave this parent $480 for electricity, household goods, laundry, diapers and/or replacement clothes the children are outgrowing, and transportation. A monthly bus pass is $100, unless there is a certified medical disability, then a monthly pass is $26.

If the property has the voucher, the parent waited 1 – 7 years to get a call that a unit was coming availabable and to drop everything and come fill out a new application ASAP. Bring all proof of citizenship documents for all family members, fill out a 1/4 inch thick stack of papers and documents authorizing all assistance agencies, people who help with periodic assistance, whatever form it may take, and any banking institutions, then wait 1 – 3 weeks for all documentation to be returned from the requested agencies and organization and for the management office to input the data and send paperwork off for approval or denial at the corporate level. If they are approved, then they give their 30 day notice where they are at, but have to move in and pay move in expenses concurrently with existing rent due at current place.

The housing provider gets to charge going market rate in the neighborhood. Project based housing is often in neighborhoods that have been targeted for gentrification, thereby raising property values and what market rate is for housing in the area. Brand new, eco-friendly, energy efficient apartments with all amenities can charge $850 – $1200/mo. in my neighborhood. My apartment was built in the 1970’s. No amenities besides the requisite apartment sized refrigerater and range oven. One laundry room with one coin washer and dryer set shared between six units. Less than 1,000 square feet. Market rent for this unit is almost $900/mo.

Sure the single parent of two on welfare is only paying $70/mo. rent. The housing provider is receiving almost 13 times that from the government in subsidies. This is just one type of calculation for people receiving housing assistance. There are many, many, many other types of Affordable Housing Housing Subsidies which fall under the heading of Housing Assistance.

As soon as the adult gets paid employment, they begin a transition off of TANF and receive Employment Related Daycare, meaning a portion of their earnings is paid in co-pays to a child care provider. At the same time, rent gets recalculated and increased with a slight modification for having to pay some child care expenses. SNAP benefits get reduced, and eligiblity for other services are reduced as well, including loss of Medicaid for the adult member after a transitional period. Oh, let’s not forget that all benefits are calculated off of gross earnings, not net. So, not only do all benefits decrease as the income increases, the increased income is taxed, resulting in a net paycheck that could wind up leaving the family with an overall decreased ability to be self-sufficient.

Oregon Minimum Wage is $8.95. Very few if any of the minimum wage job providers offer full-time employment. Let’s be generous and say that a fast food vendor is offering 30 hours a week employment at $8.95/hr. That’s $268.50/wk multiplied by 52 weeks, that is $13,962 year, more than double the cash assistance. Rent jumps to $255.05. Food stamps might drop to about $250 – $300/mo. Childcare copay could be $100 – $200 +/- each month. 

Let’s abolish most of the taxes, tax credits, and various forms of corporate welfare, mandate that all jobs are paid a standard living wage that doesn’t keep people from wanting to pursue their best selves, establish laws requiring employers to provide for their employees before their stockholders and owners, at least for business that are earning billions for owners, upper managment, stockholders and the like while crushing their labor force or eliminating it altogether and shipping jobs to other countries where human rights are not expected to be upheld.

Let’s establish a public child education and wellbeing system that begins at conception to help support, educate, encourage, treat, and build up ALL families, providing truly equal access to medical, vision, dental, mental health, art, physical education, and academics which promotes excellence in cooperative advancement for all, instead of falsely weighted apples to oranges competetiveness, one upsmanship, and building one’s success on another’s failure.

Let’s stop blaming the people and start fixing the problem.

A Song for Peace: Fly Like An Eagle

Kozo at Everydaygurus set this month’s Peace Challenge to music:

For this month’s Peace Challenge I want to invoke the power of music.

• Post a song or video of a song that has brought peace to your world. Feel free to explain how this music has created peace.

• Tell a story about how music “tamed the savage beast.”

• Write a song for peace. You don’t have to write the music, just the lyrics.

• Sing a song for peace and write a post about what you felt.

• Make a top 10 list of songs/artists that bring peace to our world.

• Interview a songwriter about what inspired them to create music that you find peaceful.

• Post anything about the intersection of music and peace.

I have always enjoyed Steve Miller’s, Fly Like An Eagle. If you aren’t familiar with or need to to refresh your memory of the lyrics, you can read them here. Initially, since I was about eight years old when the song was first on the radio, it was the feel of the music ~ a kind of quiet urgency to escape, which was reflected in the lyrics:

I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free

Later, as a young, single-mom, struggling to make ends meet while working with teen moms, I heard this song playing while out dancing and socializing with friends, and it struck me that while this song is about freedom, it is more about what that freedom should be in the context of social justice:

Feed the babies
Who don’t have enough to eat
Shoe the children
With no shoes on their feet
House the people
Livin’ in the street
Oh, oh, there’s a solution

I declared it as the anthem and theme song of social workers everywhere.

More recently, I came across a YouTube video of a live performance on The Midnight Special, “an American late-night musical variety series that aired on NBC during the 1970s and early 1980s.” (Wikipedia)

This 7:07 length version of the song was profoundly powerful for me, especially in the context of my Christian belief system. It opens with a beautifully haunting guitar solo, which I quickly realized was the Christmastime song, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

God rest Ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember, Christ, our Savior, was born upon this day; to save us all from Satan’s power, which long had gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy.

Hearing that oft sung, traditional tune juxtaposed with the ethereal psychedelic tone and rhythm in this version, combined with an arrangement I had never heard before, emphasizing the idea that the revolution for freedom is not about fighting, but about reaching out and offering care, comfort, and provision for those not able to attain it on their own.

Matthew Matthew 25:34-40 Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the people who have done what God wants will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you our guest, or needing clothes and provide them? When did we see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will say to them, ‘Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!’

(Bible Gateway)

While it has become the accepted expectation that governments provide funding and programs to provide the minimal necessities for the survival of their constituents, it never has been, and never will be the role of any governmental system to nurture, care, and love the individual people, simply because it can’t. The role of government is to perpetuate itself and to maintain its power and presence, hopefully for the betterment of its population as a whole. However, every governmental system has proven itself incapable of doing so because the people in it stop serving people and begin serving and maintaining the system.

Individual people are the ones who are ultimately responsible and accountable for how we show compassion, concern, and care toward the other people we encounter each day, whether they be familiar or stranger. This is a basic tenet of the Christian belief system and, as far as I know, most belief systems throughout our world – however distorted and obfuscated that message has become.

Intentional acts of kindness, from one individual toward another, have deeper and more significant impact in the lives of those around us, than any government, agency, or organization ever will, because of the attitudes and actions of the agents themselves being bound and limited by rules, processes, policies, and the agenda requirements attached by funding sources. The programs and services are necessary and helpful, but only provide a subsistence level of care to ensure survival and do very little toward aiding people to thrive and grow. That takes a personal connection.

Individuals like Kozo are revolutionary leaders sharing vision and calls to individual action. Another such person is John, founder of the Suspended Coffees community on Facebook.

I know there are many who shun Facebook because so much self-promotion, inane memes, petty drama, and horrific behavior is often displayed by so many users. I understand. However, there are MANY who are using it as a tool for constructive change. It is a tool which reflects those who use it.

John uses it to inspire others to step beyond the boundaries of their lives as individuals to reach positively into the lives of other individuals. He, Kozo, and many of my fellow bloggers and FB friends fly like eagles every day into and through the revolution of freedom for not just the bodies of their fellow humans, but also for freedom in mind and spirit.

Let’s become like eagles and join them, shall we?

Daybreakers: What happens when adjusting to the new normal doesn’t work anymore?

I’m not generally a fan of horror films. Gratuitous violence, gore, or mindless action bore me and I’m not entertained by the shrieking and shrinking terror of those who are still developing their pre-frontal lobes in sylph-like form. However, like so many, I am fascinated by vampire and lycan mythology, and often enjoy watching movies about vampirism and lycanthropy, in spite of the inherent violence and gore which accompany them. Movies containing moral and psychological conflict where the characters have to wrestle with their own beliefs, prejudices, and outcomes of choices they made really intrigue me. When a new mythological context for telling the vampire or werewolf story happens, and new dilemmas and complexities are explored, I can really sink my teeth into it and draw a lot from it.

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

“Daybreakers” is such a movie. When I saw the previews for it before finally seeing “After Earth” last week and I saw Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe, and Sam Niel were portraying principal characters in the movie, I knew I wanted to see it. The quality and caliber of other characters I’ve seen them portray and movies they have been in served to whet my appetite and intrigue me about the movie.

I was given the opportunity much sooner than I expected when I told my cousin about it. She loaned me her new, unopened DVD on Friday, when Luna and I visited her on the spur of the moment and wound up hanging out for two or three hours. When LaLa and her SpiritLove decided to take Luna with them on their excursion yesterday, I finally had a few hours to myself and decided to watch the movie.

The year is 2019 and the world has changed and adjusted to what appears to have been a pandemic of vampirism. An infection that has left the nearly extinct, highly endangered human species as the only source of sustenance for 95% of the population.

The striking thing is that the people in the 95%, once becoming infected, adapted, adjusted, and accepted the change that stripped them of their so-called humanity. They continued operating and functioning as if nothing had fundamentally changed in their lives. There was little, if any, recognition that absorbing the changes and accommodating their new normal was a massive societal agreement to operate in denial of the inevitable devolution and destruction of themselves and their society.

Maintaining the facade of normality by getting up everyday, going to work, hiring military and police to round up and keep those affected by lack of access to the critical resource, called Subsiders, who are no longer able to fit in, appears to be the primary concern of most.

As human blood becomes more scarce and unobtainable, more and more of the population degenerate and devolve while the effects of the infection affect their brains and bodies and they are reduced to instinctive attack mode toward those who still appear to have what everyone needs to survive.

The symbolism and metaphors in this movie can be drawn in many ways:

• Amorality of corporations in conjunction with government preferring to seek answers that maintain status quo.

• The role and motivations of the power players in big pharma focusing on creating dependence on substitutes for symptom treatment over looking for cures, since cures will inhibit profit.

• People make awful choices, overriding the wishes, free will, and convictions of their loved ones, out of self-certainty, fear, and the need to be right.

• On a societal level, it’s easier and more acceptable to believe in and hide from the overt and immediate personal danger of a less privileged population fighting for survival than to recognize and hold our individual selves accountable for the part we play or taking personal action to create solution. We want someone else to blame, someone else to be responsible, and someone else to save us from our own folly, without expecting us to change.

The correlations of how members of our society criminalize the actions of those marginalized and devalued by the effects of poverty, mental illness, and the physical and psychological effects of these things are unmistakable.

One of the things that I truly appreciated about the movie is that it doesn’t oversimplify the cost and sacrifice necessary in order to hold onto hope, achieve solutions, and fight for the things that matter in affecting change. The solution and cure is unexpected and risky. Once cured, survival is not guaranteed, because the fight isn’t about obtaining a cure as much as it is about going against the established rule of might and those who have invested themselves in personal gain by maintaining the status quo.

The true horror in this movie is how easy it is to accept the unacceptable. The redemption comes once the hero understands his own capacity for change and acts on his convictions and values.

“Daybreakers” is rich and complex. This is a movie that has appeal to more than fans of the horror genre. It has sufficient violence and gore to satisfy them, but the exploration of relational dynamics between parent and child, siblings, societal classes, and racial tensions means it can appeal to a wider audience as well.

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The Croods, Charlie, Bionic Woman, and Wonder Woman

The last time Keith was home, our weather had gone from upper 60’s to low 90’s in less than a week. One of the things about Portland is that we tend to have cool – cold, wet weather, with sporadic and intermittent encounters with the sun. We joke about liquid sunshine, webbed toes, and growing moss on ourselves. Sandals and shorts can be year-round attire for some (along with flannel shirts over t’s, stocking caps, and puka necklaces). Others break out the shorts, tanks, and neon white skin after 65 moves toward 70 on the thermometer. Every Summer, we manage to get into the 90’s and sometimes the 100’s for at least a week or two, occasionally we get a heat wave and drought.

After so much cold, damp, wetness you’d think we would relish and enjoy the heat, and we do . . . for about a minute. Then the complaints about the heat start coming. We seek the shade, shelter our eyes and sunblock our skin. That usually happens when external temperatures match internal ones in the mid-80’s. Reaching the 90’s, and the 100’s sends many of us indoors to malls, WalMart, and movie theaters seeking the cool, recycled air of the A/C set to freezing.

The second day of high temps had our little family at the indoor pool for an hour or so before everyone had to vacate for scheduled swim lessons. Then we decided to head East into the city of Gresham to the little third run movie theater where a family of three can watch two movies, share a large bag of popcorn and two 32 oz sodas for under $25.

The matinee movie was, The Croods, a fun animated, fantasy about one prehistoric family’s fight for survival in a land filled with a lot of dangers and competition for scarce resources, and subsistence living at a time when their very world was about to end and their lives transformed forever.

The key tension in the story is between Grug, the dad whose role is to keep his family alive and safe; Eep, the teenage daughter who wants to stop hiding in the dark, pushing the limits of the light, and pursuing her own interests; and Guy, the newest evolution of the human species, on a journey to escape the end of the world, seeking the land of Tomorrow, full of innovative ideas, bringer of light and fire.

Grug has kept his little family safe and alive, when all the others around them perished and were destroyed by predators and natural disasters. He’s done this by leading and training them to be a well-oiled hunting pack, each member in the role and position tailored to their abilities, strengths, and character. The baby even has a role in the hunt.

The initial sequence of the family hunting and competing for the same resource as every other creature in their area is hilarious and exciting. It is probably the most entertaining point of the movie. It’s also a pretty perfect representation of generational, chronic, subsistence living in poverty and lack.

The lessons Grug has learned and teaches his family are:

• The outside world is full of danger and others who are trying to get the one thing you need to ensure survival, before you do.

• The thing you need to ensure survival is almost impossible to attain unless you stick together as a family and everyone sticks to his or her part.

• The thing you need to ensure survival is rare, well-guarded, and has to be taken by any means necessary.

• Once you get it, there won’t be enough to go around and sustain everyone in the family.

• The time, effort, and energy expended to attain the one thing leaves no room for anything else.

• The only way to survive is to always stick to the one way of attaining the one thing and never deviate from that. Fear is good, change is bad.

Grug’s mantra is, “Don’t ever NOT be afraid!”

Eep is tired of being afraid and hiding in the dark. She craves the light and pushes the limits and boundaries established by Grug, simply so she can touch the very last bit of light with her fingertips. Somehow, with a deep longing and yearning, she understands that staying alive by hiding in the dark and existing on fear is not living. She can’t get her dad and family to understand that and she feels stifled and stuck, knowing there’s got to be a different way to live, but no idea how to do it.

You’ll have to watch the movie to see how it all plays out. This is where I want to talk about the dynamics of girls and women trying to break out of the poverty cycle, from my own personal experience.

I didn’t grow up with a Grug or a strong family dynamic. So, I never had a strong sense of belonging, an understanding of my strengths and talents, or the structure and support of people I knew loved me and had my best interests at heart and just wanted to keep me safe and alive.

However, I did have the same sense that the life I had in the family I grew up in wasn’t living and something better and different had to be possible. I grew up when Charlie was a strong woman who could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man. Lindsay Wagner as The Bionic Woman and Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman, an Amazonian Princess in modern America were the icons for women and girls: Intelligent, strong, capable, and feminine. Mild mannered and traditional in their employment as teachers and assistants to the men in their lives, but heroic and capable of solving problems and averting disasters the men around them couldn’t.

Yeah, you know I wanted the tiara, bracelets, lasso, and invisible plane.

There was all the hype about women’s equality and the possibilities were endless. The problem was I didn’t have the stability and didn’t know how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I never learned to plan or set goals. I only learned how to survive and react to and adapt to the ever changing circumstances around me. I became a master at avoiding disaster, navigating shifting sands, and surviving. But I never learned how to live.

That is the journey I am finally on. It’s taken 44 years, but I’m learning how to live. I might even learn how to fly that invisible plane someday.

Let’s talk about stress, baby

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The other day I reblogged a post someone had written on seven things to do to reduce or minimize stress. You can read the original post, here

We all know that stress is a fact of life, right? All kinds of stressors exist, some viewed as positive, many perceived as negative. According to this article, found on the Mind Tools website, about the effects of long-term stress, “… the most useful and widely accepted definition of stress (mainly attributed to Richard S. Lazarus) is this: Stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that ‘demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.’ In less formal terms, we feel stressed when we feel that ‘things are out of control.'”

Contained within the article is a stress scale test, which has been around since 1967 and I recall taking back in 1990 in one of my adjusting to college courses – The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.

My current score is well above the 300 mark. This doesn’t surprise me and probably doesn’t surprise those of you who have become familiar with my life, personally or online. If I was a gambler I would bet that many of the people I know and interact with fall in the moderate to high risk stress categories.

As Mayhem from Allstate gleefully dramatizes, “Life comes at you fast,” and regardless of how we prepare and plan, things and people beyond our control can and do derail our plans and disturb our peace. It just happens.

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I’ve been thinking about stress and what triggers it for me. I really have been examining it in myself and in those around me a lot recently. Especially as part of my participation in the Circle of Security parenting group I participated in during May and June.

I have come to realize and accept that like, “beauty is as beauty does,” so too, is stress.

What? Stress is as stress does.

For example, a major event happened at the Opportunity Conference, which was a stress trigger, however the stress was minimized by how I reacted and responded to it. So, the stress effects of the event were minimized.

About six hours into the conference, there was a break and transition in what was happening. I was trying to figure out how to navigate to my next destination, via public transportation, with two extra bags and an original bag weighing 2-3 times what it had when I’d arrived, while dealing with what was certain to be a tired and less than cooperative Luna. The stifling, muggy, heat had taken its toll on me and I was in a fibroflare, with another 60-90 minutes left of the conference. One of the ladies at my table decided she would try to find a booster seat somewhere and give us a ride, but it wasn’t a done deal.

Lots of people were milling around in various conversations and about ten different product/information stations were being set up. Between the auditory overload, the semi-claustrophobia I have around crowds, the perceived lack of oxygen, and my pain/fatigue levels, I needed a break and escaped out the side door, which led to the back parking area, pulling out a cigarette and lighting up as I sought the company of a fellow smoker.

Just then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of pink and the bob of a golden brown pony tail disappear around the side of a car. By the time I got there, neither were visible. I rushed to the aisle in between the rows of parked cars to see that Luna was a third of the way down and moving fast. Fortunately, the direction she was moving in was toward a large play structure on the campus if the private school where the conference was being held. However, I realized that I was the only one aware of the fact my child had gone missing from the childcare area.

As I called her name, she cried out that she wanted to be alone. Then ran faster and started giggling as I chased her with my exhausted and shuffling gait.

I observed a couple of young men doing some work and called out to request their assistance. Luna had climbed to the top of the structure and was beyond my reach. The young man followed my instruction to block Luna’s escape path and I gave her the option of coming down the slide or being carried down. Since she didn’t come down on her own, she got carried down to me. Then I carried her back to the conference.

At which point I had a dilemma. I wanted to finish the conference, but needed reassurance that Luna would be cared for. I also didn’t have the energy to try to confront/deal with the childcare people, who were probably dealing with a lot of hot & cranky kids and parents. I knew that I had to say something to somebody, if for no reason other than they could plan better to prevent this kind of thing at future events.

I decided to approach the speaker and explain what had happened. She then introduced me to one of the event organizers. He was visibly shaken and mortified to hear what had happened and was completely taken aback that I wasn’t pitching a fit, yelling, screaming, and carrying on. He got his wife who was oversight for the childcare and she took over, making sure Luna was being tended to for the remainder of the conference and discovering what had actually happened for Luna to do what she did.

All was resolved and I went out and finally had my cigarette.

I’m pretty sure that 15 – 20 years ago I would have been freaking out and in a very loud voice, with very big gestures, and some impolite words I would have made certain that everyone in attendance knew what had happened. I might have acted that way two years ago, even.

Thankfully, I’ve learned a few things:
1) Kids are escape artists, especially mine. Even under the watchful eye of her hyper vigilant papa, Luna knows how to disappear. I’d forgotten to tell them that about her.

2) Throwing a hissy fit, no matter how justified and necessary it may feel, only makes things worse. Behaving badly when something goes wrong and needs to be fixed, moves the attention off of solving the problem and centers it on my behavior, making me the problem people try to manage instead of the real issue.

3) No one intentionally decides to be incompetent or do things in such a way that is guaranteed to make my life more difficult, but treating them as if that were so may change their minds. Grace and mercy go a lot farther than punishing vitriol.

4) Ask for what you need, don’t expect others to automatically recognize that you are in distress or know what to do about it. Everyone has a lot on their minds and affecting their emotions. It’s hard to see past it at times.

5) Let go of worry and fear about what could have happened. It didn’t. End if story, so stop rehearsing the story that never was.

Disclaimer: it is MUCH easier to practice these things with strangers and acquaintances, but even more critical with loved ones.

So much of our stress is about the thoughts and emotions from past events being triggered by current ones. We have to learn the difference between what we feel and what is actually happening.

What tools and methods do you use in the heat of the moment to minimize your stress? How did you learn to do that instead of freak out? Is freaking out still your first reaction? What would you do differently?

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No Impostors Here

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A week ago, when I attended the Opportunity Conference to get help in the fight against poverty, I got connected with Nassandra, a young woman who has fought her way through it and has achieved educational goals I stopped dreaming about a while ago. We exchanged phone numbers, connected on Facebook, and scheduled a meeting for next week to discuss the things that have gotten in the way of me pursuing the education and credentials that we all believe will help bring an end to the cycle of poverty in my life.

I had forgotten that I’d told her about my blog. So, when she contacted me yesterday and told me that she’s read some of what I’ve been writing, that I’m a great writer, better than grad students she knows, I was floored. It was gratifying but at the same time, I wound up undermining it and said this:

Wow, Nassandra. Thank you so much. Writing is what I want to do, but my research tells me I need a degree to actually be employed as a writer.

Basically, even though I’ve been writing this blog for a year and a half, have gained more than a small handful of regular readers, and been asked to contribute my writing to a couple of other endeavors, I still – underneath it all – have difficulty accepting that others see me as a writer. I feel the need to qualify and clarify because I don’t want to be seen as if I’m presenting myself as something I’m not.

That was when she shared this:

“Often people (especially women) who have been or are in poverty have a very hard time internalizing any accomplishments. . . sometimes referred to as imposter syndrome.

I had never heard of it, but I did recognize it in myself, so I did some research.

According to Tara Kuther, PhD. Impostor Syndrome “is feeling that one hasn’t earned his or her achievements – that the achievements are the result of luck. It is very common among high achieving persons…” (About.com Graduate School – “What is the Impostor Syndrome”)

The Counseling Center at CalTech explains it this way:

Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

This inner sense that nothing a person achieves and accomplishes truly was earned or belongs to that person – that his/her gifts, talents, skills and strengths aren’t real and don’t matter can have devastating consequences in academic, professional, and personal lives.

People who are driven to succeed and appear incapable of celebrating an achievement before diving in and pursuing the next goal may be suffer from this. Others may be uncomfortable with and dismissive of compliments. Some may develop a front of bravado and superiority, acting as if they have all the answers all the time, needing to be the authority or “go to” person.

It is even possible that this inner sense of being an impostor can cause a person to stop achieving to his or her potential out of the stress and tension from worry and fear that their imagined fakery and inabilities will be discovered and so as not to be placed under too much scrutiny he or she may avoid applying or competing for jobs, grants, and scholarships.

The correlations between a childhood where emotional and psychological abuse and/or neglect, in either the home or other social environments, and where poverty, conflict and struggle to survive exist may all play a role, as indicated in this article where case studies of two successful men who struggle with Impostor Syndrome are detailed.

A recent example where that sense of, “If they only knew the REAL me, they wouldn’t say those things about me,” happened while I was participating in the June 28 Days To A New Me accountability group. As my final entry of the month, I posted this:

Day 28 – Team Pride

It was a very challenging month. Thankful to have been participating in this group because these have been the kinds of things that have led to me giving up on hopes, goals, and dreams in the past. Now, partially thanks to the lessons, encouragement, support, and mutual accountability I am making different and more constructive choices.

I figured out why that was, during the conference on poverty and opportunity I attended last week. The speaker, Donna Beegle, reminded me of something I’d once heard and forgotten:
For every negative voice/message/person in your life, three are needed to combat and overcome the negativity.

I have had few positive people and messages in my life with any kind of consistency and regularity. That is changing with the 28 Dayers. Thank you all.

The response I got was very overwhelming to me and I found myself shaking and crying uncontrollably for a few moments.

“Here’s the thing that you also need to commend yourself for. These voices are here for you but you still have to reach out for them and also share your voice with others.

We can attest to some packing it in after only a few days. You have to WANT it within yourself as well. And you clearly do. So, pat yourself on the back for sticking it through even when the big resistance hits.” Robert Kennedy III

I have come a long way on my journey, but realize that I do often not reach for things, partially because I have internalized messages that I don’t belong or that I don’t have what it takes to succeed and that the achievements and successes I have had were exceptions and accidents of chance, etc. rather than due to my own efforts and ability. This has contributed to me surrendering my hopes and dreams and giving up on myself. Which, in turn may have led to others giving up on me as well.

With this new realization and understanding, I now know another piece of the puzzle that is me and I am connected to people who are helping me fit the pieces together so that I can continue moving forward into creating the life I want.

Are you, or do you know, someone who has difficulty believing in his or her own personal achievements and accepting the accolades and rewards of accomplishment and success? Does fear of discovery and self-doubt haunt your thoughts and dreams or rise up to dissuade you from pursuing a goal or dream?

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