Categories
writing

The Bittersweet Diaries

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I got inspired to take what I learned while trying to find how a cousin and I were related to tell a story. As the world seems to be inching closer to yet another world war, I saw what my children were thinking and feeling and what my neighbors were doing in their day-to-day lives. We are all doing our best to survive, just as they did before the other world wars.

My maternal grandmother, Cora, was three years old when she was orphaned. Her father died after a fall at the brick factory where he was working, and her mother died of cancer a few months later. She and her siblings ended up being taken in by their aunt and her husband. She was six years old when the war started in Europe, and she was eight when the United States joined the war.

Unfortunately, I can’t ask her about her life during that turbulent time, because she died in 1999. She was only 66. She had led a very hard life and had made both good and bad choices throughout her life, as one does.

The truth of it is, I hated her. I was sad because my mother was sad, but my mother had not kept secrets about what had been done to her and her half-siblings as she grew up. When I became a mother myself, I hated Grandma Cora even more for the choices she had made.

It was only when I began trying to figure out how I was related to my cousin Destinie that I began to really piece together the tragedy that was Cora’s life. She was born into poverty and spent her entire life trying to survive as best she could. According to my mother, Cora’s aunt treated her and her children like they were demon spawn, so I can only imagine how cruel her life with that woman must have been. I figure that Rose only took her and her siblings in out of a sense of duty to her dead brother rather any sense of love or compassion for the orphaned children.

Her husband John was different, though. According to my mother, John was a kind person who enjoyed spending time with Cora and my mom and her younger half-siblings. She also told me that Cora spent a lot of time with John, even dressing like a boy and using the nickname that John had given her, Toby. That’s probably how she got her own mechanical knowhow, and it may have been what drew her to her first husband, a mechanic named John. (That John was not a good man, but that’s a another story for another time.)

As I learned more about Grandma Cora, I began to hate her less, until I didn’t hate her at all. I still hated the bad choices she had made, choices that had hurt her children and herself, but I understood why she made those choices. She was born into poverty, orphaned as a toddler, and basically stuck in survival mode her entire life.

So, her life inspired a story. There isn’t a lot about people growing up in poverty in rural northeastern Missouri in the 20th century (or in any century, for that matter), but my research and my knowledge of the choices Cora made as she grew up and became a mother and a grandmother have inspired me to write a fictional account using elements of her own life and her own choices.

Will it be complete by the end of November? Nope. Will it ever be published? Maybe. We’ll see what kind of story emerges from my mind and if it’s worth sharing with the world. The voices of the poor have been unheard for a very long time, but that’s starting to change as access to communication media continues to grow. Stories are starting to be told, and voices are starting to be heard. It is my hope that we can all build a better, more compassionate world from the telling of the stories of those the world once chose to ignore.

We are here.

We have always been here.

Categories
Reflection

Between the Shadow and the Soul

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” ~ Carl Jung

My husband Michael is part of Mankind Project. It’s a movement that is working to help men fully embrace themselves and feel comfortable expressing themselves honestly and fully as the people they are. They are combatting the toxicity that has created a society where men are only considered manly if they express themselves with only a handful of the emotions all humans possess. Since I’m not a man, I can only bear witness to what comes of the Mankind Project within my husband and his friends, and what I have seen is a lot of positive changes and growth for both of us.

Michael is a therapist, and while he cannot and will not act as my therapist, there are things that manage to osmose through the professional life/private life barrier. Some of those things are from his education, and some of them are from seminars and what he has learned from the Mankind Project. Michael has created a safe space where I can express my emotions and separate my feelings from my thoughts. I didn’t even differentiate between thoughts and feelings until we had one of our many long talks. Sometimes those talks started as arguments that evolved into us sharing our truths and expressing our true thoughts and feelings. Our relationship keeps getting better and stronger as we become more mentally healthy.

One of the things I have resisted very hard is the idea of the “shadow self.” I’ve denied its existence and tried to justify everything I’ve ever said or done in a way that allowed me to maintain the illusion that there is no darkness within me.

But there is darkness.

Oh, yes, there is darkness.

Michael has shared with me the saying “That which you resist persists.” I take it to mean that the more I deny the existence of my shadow self, the greater the risk of the things I want to keep hidden breaking out. I must accept everything about myself in order to be the person I want to me.

Will I be sharing the details of my shadow work?

No, I will not. The journey of acknowledging and accepting the shadow self is very intimate and personal. My journey is not like anyone else’s, and my work is not like anyone else’s, so sharing the details of that work won’t be useful or helpful to anyone else. However, I may have future blog posts that are inspired by what I discover and the work that I do.

That being said, it’s time to get back to work.

Categories
Self-Care

Weighing Heavily On My Mind…and My Body

TW: In this post, I talk about body image, mental health, and some bullying. If I missed anything that could be a trigger, please let me know. Thanks!

~*~

The last time I was a “healthy” weight for my height was nearly forty years ago. I was a normal four-year-old child, running, playing, eating, sleeping, learning, doing all of the normal stuff kids do.

Then something really awful happened. I won’t go into the salient details (if you’re a close friend, you know, and if you’re not, you don’t need to know), but after it happened, I started gaining weight. My family also experienced food insecurity, and I developed an eating disorder. Even though I did my best to avoid eating too much, I was encouraged to clean my plate and not waste food. I was also scared that there might not be food later, so I often ate as much as I could. Eventually, I was eating without being aware of how much I had eaten until the food was gone. I couldn’t even remember eating it. I was also very active, though, so I figured the fat would go away as I got older and matured into my adult body.

Unfortunately, kids can be pretty cruel. I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 32 years old, so all through public school, I was the weird fat kid who got picked on a lot. I had my small tribe of fellow weirdos, but we weren’t always in class or lunch periods together, so by the time I was in high school, I ended up bringing my lunch and eating it in the bathroom while crying because no one wanted me to sit with them, or they would come by the table where I was sitting and take the extra chairs so they could sit with their friends.

A girl in my grade who was also in the youth group at the church I attended called me “puta” all the time. When she got caught, she claimed she was saying “punta,” and nothing was ever done about it.

But I digress.

By my senior year, I had my eating fairly well under control, and I was in the best shape of my life, even though I was still considered overweight based on my weight and height. It didn’t take into account how much weight I could lift with my legs or how fast I could run at that time when my breasts were strapped down and couldn’t bounce out of my bra.

Still fat.

Still scarred.

My biggest refuge in high school was acting. I could escape myself. Even though I hated it at the time, I was always cast as the villain. I wish I had appreciated it at the time, because the villains have the most fun. But I knew I was cast as the villain because I was larger than most girls and had a deeper voice.

It was also when guys first started telling me that I looked like a man in drag. I didn’t look right. My shoulders were too broad, my walk was wrong, and I couldn’t do makeup or walk in high heels right. Even when I was close to a healthy weight, I was covered in scars in had weight in the wrong places.

Anyway, I wanted to major in theater in college. I was originally going to go to Hannibal-LaGrange College (now University), which was where my dad got his degree. He was the first person in our entire family to earn a bachelor’s degree. I went to meet the theater professor, and though she told my mother I had talent as an actor, I was too fat to perform on her stage. She told me I would need to lose 30 pounds before school started to even be a member of the chorus, much less a lead.

I ended up following a guy I was crushing on to Central Methodist College (now University) instead. I also started out in theater there, but the theater professor creeped me out so badly that I ended up switching majors. Unfortunately, I also let the guys at the school bully me out of using the weight room (I loved lifting back then) and the exercise facilities in general, and I was too shy and lacking in confidence to ask anyone to work out with me, so I ended up giving it up.

I was the first woman in my family to earn a bachelor’s degree, and I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life at that time (292 pounds). I was also engaged to my first husband and at loose ends with my life. I ended up working in a hospital for a little over four years, got divorced, had a really traumatic late miscarriage, lost about 40 pounds, left my job, and moved to Chicago when I fell in love with a guy who lived there.

I had my oldest child in Chicago and lost 30 more pounds during my pregnancy, leaving the hospital weighing 220 pounds. I went back to work the day I was discharged from the hospital. I also started having back pain. They tried to give me an epidural twice when I was giving birth to my Cherry Blossom (not her real name), and both times failed, so they had to give me general anesthesia when they had to do an emergency c-section to save her.

In spite of working two jobs and taking care of my baby, I regained the weight that I had lost and then some. I had postpartum depression and was binge-eating without realizing it. I remember I once made a dozen cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing and ate almost the entire pan without realizing it. I was horrified.

I eventually left CB’s dad and moved back to Missouri. I went through a number of relationships, and we moved quite a bit. I got back down to around 230 pounds and walked quite a bit while CB was in preschool. I also got professionally diagnosed with autism, which was a relief, because it explained so much about who I was and why I was the way I was.

After leaving another bad relationship, I ended up in St. Louis with my daughter. I rented a room from my mother and her fourth husband, and I helped out around the house when I wasn’t caring for Samantha. I still did a lot of walking, and I stayed around 250 pounds.

Eventually, I met my second husband, and we got married. I was about 270 pounds at the time. My husband made it abundantly clear to anyone who dared to say anything about my weight or my looks that he loved me as I am, and he had zero tolerance for any cruelty directed at me. I was able to finally get a full-time job and get back into college to start earning a second degree while my husband earned his Master’s degree.

Then I started getting sick. I was taking my birth control pills religiously, so I thought for sure I couldn’t be pregnant. In spite of adding Tae Kwon Do to my busy schedule, I continued to gain weight and ended up 310 pounds. Eventually, I went to the doctor and found out what was wrong.

I was pregnant again. In spite of taking my birth control pills at the same time every day for years, I was pregnant.

And after the ultrasound, I found out that I was VERY pregnant. I had just earned my camouflage belt in Tae Kwon Do before I found out I was pregnant, and I was not allowed to continue once the pregnancy was confirmed. I still felt like a fierce warrior for getting so far, though.

I also ended up having to leave college because they weren’t able to accommodate my needs as an autistic person. I probably could have continued fighting it, but I was still working full-time, and I decided it wasn’t worth it to fight.

A month after finding out that I was pregnant, our house burned down due to a bad electrical job at the junction where the main electrical line entered the house, taking just about everything we owned and our three beloved cats. All of my artwork, manuscripts, books, and irreplaceable items were gone. All of the things we had been given for the baby were gone. Our home was gone.

Fortunately, our community stepped up, and our Tae Kwon Do family stepped up, and they helped us get into a new rental home and helped us get furniture for the home and clothing and shoes for all of us. The Red Cross gave us a bit of money for food and clothes. AAA was the absolute best, though. We had renter’s insurance through them (and still do), and they helped us get into a hotel and then an extended-stay hotel while we were looking for a new home.

We had just moved into our new rental home when my OB/GYN got concerned about my blood pressure and wanted me to be induced to try and prevent me from developing eclampsia. I was given two trials of pitocin before my water finally broke. They wanted to give me a third trial of pitocin, but it had been 12 hours since my water broke, so I insisted on a c-section. The epidural was successful, but they were really rough with me during the c-section because my baby had migrated to the top of my uterus in the previous 12 hours (she had been sitting head-down on my cervix when I was admitted), so they had to pretty much dig her out.

Eventually, they delivered my Sunflower (also not her real name). She only had a 1 on the APGAR and had to be resuscitated. She was not breathing. Her next APGARs were 3 and 5, and her cries were strong. They let her stay with me instead of putting her in the NICU, and they checked her blood sugar before I fed her every time I tried to feed her. I was 280 pounds when I was discharged, and I was in the hospital for a week while they tried to get my pain and blood pressure under control. Sunflower stayed with me the entire week, except for a few times when I requested respite care.

Sunflower had trouble latching, so I started pumping breast milk for her. Fortunately, someone had donated a gently-used hospital-grade breast pump, and it worked beautifully.

Unfortunately, Sunflower had bad GERD, so she regurgitated a lot of what she ate. I don’t really have any memory of her first year because I was constantly feeding her, cleaning her up, changing my clothes, pumping breast milk, and doing my best to take care of everyone’s needs. I was hooked up to a wound vac and ended up losing my job because I wasn’t covered by FMLA and couldn’t return to work as quickly as they wanted me to.

Fortunately, Michael was able to get a job where he could also fulfill his internship and provisioning needs, so we were able to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, I developed post-partum depression and had to get connected with community mental health to get back on a good emotional track. I was put on a waiting list for a therapist, but I got to meet with my caseworker regularly.

Additionally, I ended up losing my eyesight in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The eyesight in my left eye was already weak, so I ended up being deemed legally blind. Unfortunately, when I went for SSDI, they decided I didn’t have enough work credits to qualify, and when I applied for SSI, they decided my husband made too much money.

And then COVID happened, and the parks were closed, and I didn’t feel safe walking around, both because of COVID and because of people who felt the need to yell at me for being out walking with my children, even though we were all wearing masks.

And my pain got worse. I always had chronic pain from an alphabet soup of abdominal issues, but it got worse. I was scared to go to the doctor, both because of the trauma around SF’s birth and my own knowledge of how unkind medical personnel can be behind closed doors, especially towards people on Medicaid (our state expanded the financial limits, so we qualified for it again, thank goodness). I made the mistake of weighing myself on a scale.

I was 380 pounds.

I ate less, I drank more water, I ran after my kids as much as my pain would allow, but I didn’t get any smaller. I felt angry because my husband could eat whatever he wanted to whenever he wanted to and didn’t gain weight, but I stayed the same.

We ended up getting cable bundled with our internet at a reduced price than what we pay now. I discovered My 600-lb Life, and I felt sad. More than ever, I’m beginning to understand that for some people, especially those of us with chronic pain, it’s easy to gain weight whatever we do. Losing the weight without medical intervention is really, really difficult, especially as one gets older. There is no magic pill or adorable space alien who can make the fat walk away.

My weight is related to both trauma and chronic pain. I still exercise as I can. I’ve upped my water intake. I will be seeing a doctor as soon as possible to be examined and see what options I have to manage my pain and safely lose my excess weight.

I want to be healthy and strong.

I don’t want to be like this anymore. It’s not fun, and it’s not comfortable. I feel shame when I’m where anyone other than family can see me. My husband still loves me just as I am and doesn’t disparage my weight or my scars. He sees me doing my best each day, and so do my kids.

And at the end of the day, that’s all we can do.

Categories
Lore

There’s No Place Like What Could Have Been

I’m not sure how it happened, but a few months ago, I happened to stumble across an episode of Holmes on Homes on Destination: America. I was immediately hooked by Mike’s desire to help people whose homes were in bad shape. I also enjoyed how he educated his audience as he and his crew worked on the houses that were in disrepair. Eventually, I found Holmes Inspection, Buy it Right, Holmes and Holmes, and Holmes Family Rescue.

In addition to enjoying the punny titles, I enjoyed seeing the banter and underlying love between Mike and his adult children as they continued his mission to help people have safe, inhabitable homes. I even bought a gently used copy of his book, The Holmes Inspection, so I could continue to learn from him even when one of his or his kids’ shows weren’t available to watch. He also has a Twitter account and a website with an educational blog that is updated often. Thanks to Mike Holmes, his family, and his crew, I think I am better prepared for when we resume our hunt for our forever home.

There are a lot of shows out there that show home repairs by professionals, so why do Holmes and his family appeal to me so much in particular?

The truth is simple and sad: When I look at Mike Holmes, I remember the only time my father was happy when I was growing up.

You see, my father was born into poverty and worked a number of blue-collar jobs ranging from butchering animals to working on a factory line. Eventually, Dad went to work for Art Bross, a general contractor who went to the same church we did. My father had no formal construction training before he went to work for Art, but he had a keen mind and had been building things since he was very young. Dad’s strongest skill was carpentry, but he also knew how to safely run water, gas, sewer, and electric lines. Our “house” was a one-bedroom, partially gutted trailer. By the time we moved away, my father had built on a “front porch” that was actually a mudroom, two bedrooms, and a laundry room with a back door that led out to the clotheslines in the back yard. It wasn’t pretty, but it was watertight, warm in the winter, and somewhat tolerable in the summer, considering we didn’t have an air conditioner until Art gave us one.

My dad and his dad didn’t have a super-wonderful relationship. My grandpa had grown up in an abusive household and left home when he was very young, then served in the Marine Corps during World War II after he married my grandmother. I imagine he did the best he could, all things considered, and my dad gave his parents a place to live next door to us on the five acres my dad owned, but it doesn’t excuse the choices he made or how he and my grandma hurt my dad, aunts, and uncle growing up. To my dad, Art was the father he wished he’d had, and Art was happy to take Dad under his wing and teach him professionally as they worked together. Art was a man of integrity and heart, and his kindness helped my dad flourish.

It didn’t last.

Four days before Christmas in 1988, Art suffered a heart attack and died at age 66. Not only was my father suddenly unemployed before Christmas, he was suddenly without the person who had become a second father to him. It was sudden and traumatic. My father was also displaced because Art’s two “real” sons had their grief validated, as it should be, but as “just an employee,” my dad’s grief wasn’t recognized, much less validated.

Had things been different, my dad could have been the US version of Mike Holmes. He might not have been a TV star, but every home he touched would have had whatever work they needed carried out with integrity. Those projects would have built the right way, sturdy as an oak.

Unfortunately, things are what they are, and no amount of wishing will change the past. Fortunately, successful guys like Mike Holmes are around to teach what to look for in homes and contractors, and for that, I am grateful.

Categories
Lore

The Stories in the Stones

It all started with an email from a fourth cousin on 23andMe.com.

Destinie wanted my help tracking down where we were related along the Smith branch of the family tree. We both enjoy genealogy and are curious about where and how we are connected.

Little did I know that my fall down the rabbit hole would uncover one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in my maternal family’s murky history.

Growing up, my Grandma Cora would spin all sorts of wild stories about her past and her history. She was supposedly related to Jesse James. Then she had a pure Blackfoot ancestress named Little Bear Boat. She also spun tales about my mother’s biological father. By turns he was Mexican, Native American or all manner of exotic combinations.

The truth was that he was an ordinary married white guy who fathered two children on Grandma Cora and deserted her when she refused to give her second child (my mother) up for adoption. Up until then, she apparently believed that he was going to leave his wife and their many children to be with her. After she gave up on him, she married a mechanic who abused her, my mother, and the children they had together. He died at age 45, to the relief of pretty much everyone who knew him. My grandmother then married a man 14 years her junior 24 days later while her 16-year-old daughter was alone in a St. Louis hospital, giving birth to my half-sister.

Two years later, my mother married her stepfather’s younger brother, who was only two years older than her. Even though he was so young, he had been married previously. They had four children, and I, their youngest, was born seven years after they married.

But I digress.

As I tried to find out where my cousin Destinie (great name, by the way) and I were connected, I started to learn more and more about my own family. Some of the information I uncovered unlocked some of my living relatives’ memories, and the people who were just names on stones became more fleshed-out and real to me.

As I searched FindAGrave to find more information about the relatives who were no longer with us, I ran across so many people who shared my relatives’ names but had stories of their own.

And some of those names were children whose lives were cut off far too short.

And some of those names were aunts, uncles, and cousins I never got to know about because the pain of their loss was buried in time and locked away so that their parents could continue surviving and providing for their living children as best they could.

I will do my best to learn and carry their stories, and I hope that my own children and/or niblings will be interested in carrying those stories when I can no longer do so myself.

So it seems that I have taken my late Aunt Ruth’s position as family Loremaster. Remembering those who have gone on before us didn’t actually carry the title “Loremaster,” but it does now, and I will do my best to keep our family’s stories and memories alive until the day I become a memory myself.

Categories
Reflection

You Are Not Your Choices

I don’t know if you needed to hear that today, but there you go.

You may have made bad choices. You may have to live with the consequences of bad choices you made as a child or young adult. You may have to live with the consequences of other people’s bad choices.

That doesn’t make you a bad person. You are not your choices.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take responsibility for the choices that you have made, be they bad or good. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to live with the consequences of your choices or that you don’t take responsibility for how your choices have affected others.

Owning the choices that you have made is empowering. I’ve had to work hard to own the bad choices I made while I was focused solely on survival.

And boy howdy, I have made a LOT of bad choices. I survived abject poverty and a huge amount of trauma and instability when I was growing up. There was good stuff, but the bad stuff overshadowed so much, and most of my memories of my childhood are full of terror and pain.

And a lot of the bad choices I made were the result of being told that I was a bad person who deserved bad things as a child. I was told that I was worthless. I was told that I was unwanted. I was told that I was a mistake. I was told that I was a burden.

And sometimes, when you’re a person in a bad situation, there are no good choices available.

Sometimes, when you’re lonely, you make bad choices to make that loneliness go away.

You know only that you need, and you’ll do just about anything to fill that void in your soul.

You try religion, but it just tells you that you’re worthless and hellbound unless you believe God murdered his only son to save humans from the consequences of their bad choices in the afterlife. You see “saved” people mock and jeer people who are suffering.

You try other beliefs, but they have the same message in a different wrapper, and the people “saved” by those religions act the same as the people in the religion you grew up in.

You try new age stuff, but “manifesting” doesn’t make anything get better, and now you’re blaming yourself because you can’t shift your brain into whatever magical vibration will solve all of your problems.

You’re still not a bad person. Kicking yourself while you’re down won’t fix anything.

What you need is something else. Self-flagellation just gives you new wounds and no answers.

The first thing that helped me shift was learning that I am not my choices. I am a person, and I have made choices. Some of those choices have been bad, while others have been good. Some of those choices have had lasting consequences for me, while others have had lasting consequences for others.

I am responsible for my choices, but I am not my choices. I am even responsible for the choices I made when I was just surviving. I am even responsible for the choices I made when there were no good choices available.

The next thing that helped me shift was knowing that feelings and judgments are separate things. I can feel happy, sad, angry, content, hungry, tired, good, bad, etc. For example, I cannot FEEL that Alicent Hightower is a bad person because she wants to disinherit her stepdaughter so her children can rule. However, I can THINK that Alicent Hightower is a bad person because she wants to disinherit her stepdaughter so her children can rule. People who aren’t me might think that being unable to separate feelings from thoughts and judgments was strange, but that was the way I was brought up, and that was the tangled mess I grew up with in my head.

The biggest thing that has helped me start to shift was discovering that I have worth. To someone who grew up believing she was worth less than nothing because she was born into poverty as a female, this was really, really difficult. I’ve had a lot of therapy to untangle the pain and abuse that told me I was unworthy of good things.

When you’re blinded by abuse, pain, and twisted thinking, it is very hard to see the good, much less the opportunities in front of you.

It’s hard to do better when you’re convinced you don’t deserve better.

It’s hard to break out of a prison of negative thought when you’re invalidated at every turn. Every thought, every emotion–everything about you is WRONG according to others.

Some people will tell you to just forget the haters, completely ignorant to the reality that for a lot of us, that negativity was LITERALLY beaten into us.

It’s not easy to break out of negative thinking, and that’s okay. Sometimes you need help, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard to stop making bad choices without help. Sometimes the consequences of your choices have you living in your own personal hell. It sucks.

The aha moment is learning that you have worth, just as you are.

The healing begins when you believe that you have worth.

The growth begins when you start making good choices.

Is it easy? No.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Does it guarantee success?

Well, that depends on you.

Know your worth and keep growing.

In the end, you will know.

Categories
Reflection

What Do I Want To Create In The World?

Wow. I thought the previous questions were hard.

This question? This one is super-hard. I can’t finish this blog without figuring it out. There have been times when I thought I knew, but…I don’t, I really don’t. I’ve had to sublimate myself because I’ve spent my entire life feeling like I had to apologize for even existing.

If you’ve never felt like you had to apologize for your own existence and make it up to people for your entire life, I envy you. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing.

It’s infuriating.

So, what do I want to create in a world where I have spent most of my life doing my best to please other people?

I want to create what pleases ME.

What is that, though?

I want to create a life and a legacy that lifts my family out of poverty. I want money to flow into our lives easily and so abundantly that we can start helping other people’s dreams come true, too.

I want us to have a nice, energy-efficient home of our own with a pool, a swingset, a tree house, and plenty of space for gardens, fruit trees, a fire pit, and stargazing.

I want to write with my true voice for an audience that supports and appreciates me.

I want to create art that inspires my audience.

I want to raise my children to be good people who make good choices, follow their dreams, and feel secure in being their truest selves.

I want to inspire everyone to work together to build a world where wealth is no longer considered a zero-sum game, and the rising tide of prosperity really does lift all boats.

I want to create a world where everyone has all that they need so that they have the freedom to dream, do, be, and create. The world of Star Trek will never exist as long as we dwell in the negative aspects of selfishness and treat wealth as a zero-sum game where there must be losers if there are to be winners.

When I die, I want my work to have meant something to enough people that I am remembered. If I am remembered after I die, no matter what lies beyond this life, I will live on in memory here as well.

Categories
Reflection

The Root of Most Problems

Jenna Kutcher asks, “What problem do you wish you could solve?”

I wish I could do away with greed and the negative aspects of selfishness. Some selfishness is good. It’s important to have boundaries, even if people call them selfish. It’s important to care for yourself, too, even if people think it’s selfish. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and you have to take care of yourself to be at your best.

Selfishness can be taken way too far, though. When paired with greed, selfishness gives us the world we have now: Billionaires with fleets of vehicles they’ll never use and more money than they can spend in a hundred lifetimes flourish while millions are homeless and starving and billions more are just trying to get by.

There’s plenty for everyone. Wealth and fortune are not a zero-sum game unless we give way to greed and selfishness. The greedy and selfish are never satisfied and don’t like to share unless they need to do so to improve how others view them and bring in more money.

We need to leave behind greed and selfishness and make sure the rising tide lifts all boats, not just the superyachts.

Categories
Reflection

It’s Not Fair, But It Doesn’t Have To Stay That Way

“What do you find unfair?” Jenna Kutcher asks.

That’s a good question. I find a lot of things unfair. The world seems very unfair, and it seems like most people don’t care about making it fair. I grew up with very conservative parents in a conservative church in a conservative part of Missouri, so I grew up with the idea that it was unfair if anyone got anything more than what they “deserved,” especially if they were unemployed or poor.

Ironically, I grew up in poverty, and getting aid from the state was something that my parents argued about a lot. It took us literally having no food in the house for my parents to apply for and receive food stamps.

Pride is great, but you can’t eat pride.

Speaking of money, the minimum wage is unfair. It’s common knowledge that it was set up to be the minimum for workers to support their families. And at the time that it was made the law, it did just that. Thanks to inflation and greed, the minimum wage isn’t even enough to support one person, much less an entire family.

Growing up, I heard, “It’s not fair–it’s Republican,” and it was seen as a good thing that things weren’t fair.

It is not good that things are not fair. There are so many people who lose out on opportunities for success because they were not born into wealth and don’t have the networking connections that come with being born into those circles. Even the ability to take an internship or a practicum is unfair, because most of them are unpaid, and people who don’t have wealthy parents or a wealthy spouse often have to turn them down. My husband had to take an unpaid practicum to complete his degree, and even though I was working full-time for $17 an hour, I still went into debt just keeping our family housed and fed.

Shortly after my husband completed the unpaid practicum, I had our surprise baby (I was on birth control pills, and I became one of the 1%ers who get pregnant while using the pill correctly). My state’s rules regarding FMLA stated that I hadn’t worked long enough to qualify for it, so I lost my job. Fortunately, my husband was able to find a job with a pretty good nonprofit. Once he completed his degree and got his provisional counseling license, they immediately hired him as a counselor. He loves what he does, and he loves helping people heal, and it’s wonderful.

And it was just as well about me losing my job, because our new baby had GERD, and keeping her clean and fed was a 24/7 job. I don’t remember most of her first year because of the sleep deprivation I experienced, but she’s healthy and happy.

Unfortunately, during that time, I went blind in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The doctor I saw first said it was an inflamed retina, and it would heal in two months.

It did not heal, though the blind spot got slightly smaller. The eyesight in my left eye is considerably worse than the eyesight in my right eye, so even with correction, I’m considered legally blind.

The worst part is that it’s really hard to read and write now. I used to be able to read voraciously, and now I can’t. I also used to be able to type quickly with few mistakes, and now I’m a typo queen. It’s so frustrating. I feel like I’m being tricked by my eyes all of the time.

I ended up filing for disability, and I found out that SSDI requires “work credits.” I had no idea. I had been working up until a few months before I lost my vision in my right eye, and I had been freelancing (and paying taxes like a responsible citizen, but that didn’t count, apparently), but it wasn’t enough “work credits” for me to get SSDI. Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify for SSI because my husband made too much money for me to get it.

And that leads me to another unfair thing. CB used to get SSI due to her autism, but she doesn’t anymore because I worked and my husband now works. In fact, we have to repay the SSA because I misunderstood reporting. I thought I was supposed to let the SSA know if CB got a job or got married, but apparently, my income as her parent and my husband’s income as her stepfather counted against her. The child support CB receives from her father also counts as income, and I think that’s really unfair to her.

We’re in the welfare gap. We make “too much” to get all but the most extended of aid, like CHIP and expanded Medicaid, but we make too little to survive without going into debt and visiting food pantries just to keep everyone fed, clothed, clean, and housed.

And that leads me to what I find the most unfair of all: our society in the US is designed to keep poor people in poverty regardless of how hard they work or how much they sacrifice to escape it. Both of my parents are proof positive. They worked so hard that my father literally broke his back working, and my mother herniated her entire spine. My mother escaped poverty by marrying her fourth husband, who had an inheritance from his late father that enabled him to buy a home even though he was a factory worker. My father lived with my brother and his wife and my nephew until they decided to move to the St. Louis metro to get away from Columbia. They’re staying with my mother and her fourth husband while they save up to buy a house. My father will be living with them again after they are able to buy their house.

This is not fair at all. My parents should be able to live on their own with their social security payments, but they can’t. The expense of rent, mortgages, utilities, food, everything…it’s just too much for them to be able to live on their own, even if they want to. I should have been able to live on my own with CB on her SSDI, but it wasn’t enough, so I had to live with family until I married my husband. There was no way we could afford to rent anything on our own.

“What about Section 8?” you might ask. Well, here, there’s a waiting list to get on the waiting list for Section 8, and that waiting list is YEARS long. I wish I was joking. It’s the same story with housing vouchers. And even if you find a landlord that takes Section 8 or vouchers, the properties are often in dangerous areas and often in a state of disrepair.

And then there’s SNAP. It’s supposed to be “supplemental,” but I don’t know anyone who has SNAP who actually has money to get food besides what they get on their SNAP card every month. It’s not enough, especially to feed growing kids who need more than peanut butter, milk, and ramen noodles to grow properly.

Medicaid is pretty limited, too. Only a few doctors take it, and the wait times for appointments are typically long. On top of that, there are medical “professionals” who treat people with Medicaid differently than people with private insurance. It sucks. I used to be one of those people, and I regret it. It wasn’t right for me to look down on people. It sucks that it took me being on the receiving end of that disdain for me to discover how wrong, unfair, and painful it is. I’m actually terrified to go to the doctor or hospital for any reason, but there’s more to it than fear of being judged by people who are supposed to be helping me become as healthy as I can be. I’m back on Medicaid because the expansion finally passed, so that’s at least one way the welfare gap got a bit smaller, but it is still a gap.

Dental care for adults on Medicaid is a joke, too. All it covers is routine cleanings and exams. For any sort of dental work beyond that, you’re on your own. I’ve had to have damaged teeth removed because I couldn’t afford to have them fixed. Private insurance isn’t any better, and both my husband and I have teeth that are literally rotting in our mouths because we can’t afford to have them fixed.

I also owe SSA for “overpayments” to CB due to me misunderstanding their rules when I got married and got a job. I thought that I was only supposed to inform them if CB got married and/or got a job, because the money was for CB, and I was managing it because I was an adult. I’ve had to renegotiate their repayment because of inflation, but it was an unintentional mistake on my part. I haven’t tried to fight it, though.

As for me, I’m legally blind and disabled myself. I tried to get regular SSI, but even though I had paid into the system all of my working life, I didn’t have enough “work credits” since I lost my eyesight to qualify for it. As for SSDI, my husband grosses too much before taxes for CB to get SSDI, much less me.

So I’ve had to try my best to sell my art and my writing, and when that fails, I’ve had to ask my friends and family for help just to keep my kids fed and in pullups. I want to EARN money to so that I can feed my kids fresh fruit and vegetables and be able to donate to the food pantry that helps people in the welfare gap and below instead of having to rely on them to supplement our meagre food budget.

Once upon a time, a working adult could earn enough at the minimum wage to support a family of four. Their spouse could stay home and tend to household duties and children, knowing there was enough money to pay the bills, feed everyone well, cover hobbies, take a vacation every year, and donate to charities and/or individuals who needed help.

Somewhere in the 80s, the people in power in the US decided that earning wealth was a zero-sum game, and that the rising tide shouldn’t raise all boats. Those in power decided that it wasn’t fair that there was a safety net capable of lifting people out of poverty, so they set about demonizing the poor, especially single mothers and people working menial jobs like cashiers and food service workers. It was ugly, and I was raised to believe in it. I hate the fact that I ever embraced that ideology. I hate that I thought trickle-down economics worked.

I was wrong. It is not the wealthy who create jobs or hold the world on their shoulders. The job creators are those who spend the money they earn or are given rather than hoarding it. The people who hold the world on their shoulders are the ones who do the work that the wealthy deem “menial” or “below” them. It’s amazing how much the world stopped when food service workers, stockers, cashiers, janitors, housekeepers, daycare workers, teachers, aides, healthcare workers, and truck drivers caught COVID-19. Some were able to return, but many became disabled, and many died.

We need to get back to letting the tide raise all boats instead of just letting the rich add to their fleets of yachts. The poor deserve to be able to make it out of poverty, and this country has the means and ability to build the nets, ladders, and bridges to make it happen.

This isn’t a zero-sum game. Everyone can prosper, if they are given the tools to focus on thriving instead of merely surviving.

We can do it, if we choose to do it.

We can make it fair.

Categories
Reflection

What I Fear Most

Now this is a question that has a LOT of answers. The previous one from How Are You, Really was difficult because I cannot recall a single time I’ve ever danced with glee.

But fear? I fear a lot of things. Right now, I’m terrified to go to the doctor because I haven’t been in years, I’m morbidly obese, and I know from my time working in healthcare that medical professionals often talk negatively about patients, especially ones that have taxpayer-funded insurance and/or are fat. Additionally, it has been my experience that physicians treat losing weight as the panacea for all health issues.

I’m especially terrified that I’ve got a reproductive organ cancer that may get missed because whoever I see will be so focused on my weight that they ignore any other potential causes.

Frankly, although I have experienced suicidal ideation as a result of my depression and trauma, I want to live at least long enough to see my children reach adulthood and live as independently as possible before I die. For CB, her best case scenario is being able to live on her own with some supports, but I’m doing my best to accept that she may end up having to live in a group home as an adult. For SF, she will likely be able to live on her own without any problems, depending on her income and where she decides to live.

I don’t want to die yet.

Even bigger, though, than my fear of not being able to watch my children reach adulthood and succeed, is my fear that my life has meant nothing and will not be remembered by anyone, not even my children. All of the hardship, poverty, abuse…the thought that it was all just a pointless human experience that meant nothing in the long run hurts a lot.

Sometimes, though, my depression is even stronger than usual, and the fear of dying forgotten doesn’t matter anymore. I have to fight the pain to make sure I stay right where I am for the people who love me and want me to stay.

At the very center of my soul, I want to stay alive and be at least a part of something that will allow me to be remembered positively.

I am afraid that will never happen, though. I’m afraid my children will remember my anger and my pain rather than my love for them, the strength I used to process my trauma, the way I laughed like an asthmatic donkey when something was really funny, the pride I felt at their achievements, the stories I told, the things I created, and all the things that made me me.

In Final Fantasy IX, Freya’s character quote was, “To be forgotten is worse than death.”

I fear being forgotten.

I hope I am remembered.