Monday, September 14, 2015

A Rosh Hashanah Birthday

I'm not Jewish, so the title of this post might seem a little odd. Many years ago, when I first learned some the basic beliefs and rituals of Judaism, and when I discovered that Rosh Hashanah was usually close to my birthday, I began to use my birthday as an opportunity to reflect on the past year and consider where I'm heading now.

Today, my birthday and Rosh Hashanah coincide. (Please don't accuse me of  appropriating another culture, because my own religious tradition was begun by a Jewish teacher, so I feel perfectly comfortable observing what has meaning to me. In fact, I find a lot of beauty in religious holidays and observances of many faiths, and my own faith tells me that we are all on a path to the holy, by whatever path we use. So my path may take a lot of side paths and weave around the hillside a lot. I'm okay with it.)

So here I am, reflecting on the year I've had and what might be in store.

Last year, I was struggling to live abundantly with my depression. I've been pretty forthright about this struggle, and fortunately I have a great support network in place. So I was able to talk to my healthcare providers and get on top of it. We discovered I had extremely low vitamin D levels, which impacts mood quite a bit, and with supplementation, I feel a lot better. No one will ever have to convince me that vitamin D is an essential nutrient. I'm converted.

This applies to my general health outlook as well. I have been working closely with my doctor, nutritionist, and nurse practitioner to get my cholesterol, blood sugar, thyroid, and other important levels normalized. This has been the result of more than a decade of working on some of these health concerns, including the always scary and awkward process of finding a new doctor when necessary. And I am finally realizing that my own commitment, dedication, and mindfulness plays a big role in this process. (So I'm a slow learner.)

Nothing motivates like progress, so I am really motivated. And new research has some promising ideas on how to further improve my health, including my depression, so the doc and I will be exploring some of those ideas in this new year.

A year ago, I was actively involved as the regional advisor for the SCBWI and doing a lot of volunteering with my son's band and choir activities.

Now, I have officially retired from raising children. Not being a mom, since I will be that forever, and as many of you know, parenting adults is a difficult mine field to navigate. But the children are raised. I also retired from the regional advisor position. So it's time to move on from old roles and on to new stuff. I always feel a sense of revitalization and energy when longtime volunteer work or paid work ends and I can look forward to the newness of something else.

This means I am doing some different volunteer stuff. So far, with the Idaho Humane Society where I can play with dogs, who love the attention and never complain. And I can do more with the social justice causes that mean so much to me, especially Add the Words.

Speaking of which, at the beginning of this calendar year, a friend of mine asked us to select a word that would set the intention we had for the year. I chose "expand," with the express intention of expanding my world, my experiences, and my impact. I've been active with the Add the Words efforts for a few years now, and this year, I expanded that participation to civil disobedience that resulted in my arrest. I am proud of this arrest, and I would do it again. It has helped me realize how far I am willing to go in an effort to make the world a more just place.

Other ways I have expanded myself are by seeing new places, particularly in my own state. I'm sure I'm not the only one who forgets to explore my own backyard. I have gone to several places in Idaho where I had not been before. And some new places in other states as well. This week, I will visit a new country, as David and I take our son, Peter, to Wales where he'll attend Cardiff University.

The best way I have expanded my impact, life, and experience has been to make sure I speak the truth as I know it. For much of my life, I tried to be perfect, tried to be portray myself as a person who needed no help, and tried to not make other people uncomfortable by bringing up negative stuff. But the older I get, the less I feel like sparing the feelings of others at my own expense. (I care about the feelings of others, but not to my own detriment.) And an amazing thing has happened: whenever I speak my truth, the response has been entirely positive and constructive. It has helped me improve personal relationships, become a better writer, improve situations that were feeling stagnant, and opened me up to other people. If I'm lucky, maybe it's also helped some other people find their own truth. When I speak the truth of my experience, I find that others often feel the same. This is empowering, as where I once perceived dissent, I now perceive consensus. Where I have often felt separated from others, I now feel connected.

Of course, not everyone is comfortable with truth telling. I have been called bullying, intimidating, harsh, and other select adjectives. (Hey, on my my high school debate team, they named the Witchy/Snippy/Snide award after me. So I'm used to this.) I have found, though, that the people who have a problem with me are not having so much a problem with me as a problem with themselves. In more than one instance, others involved in the situation have privately thanked me for my candid comments, acknowledging that the people in charge are not interested in truth, but in the status quo. When this has been the case, I have been able to let go of the group, person, situation and move on. In the best circumstances, however, I have been heard and changes have been made for everyone's benefit.

As a part of opening myself up this way, I have also been able to see and accept traits in others that previously might have annoyed me. I have recently come to the conclusion that each of us has at least one quirk that means we need different coping mechanisms, and that's okay. For example, I have one friend who has anxiety to such an extent that almost every situation causes her some level of anxiety. But she doesn't expect the world to change for her, nor does she limit her own life because of this. Instead, she forges ahead, learning ways to deal with her emotions. She handles it. I find this not only impressive, but also refreshing how open she is about it. Another friend has a hard time understanding others who don't see things the same way she does. She holds so tightly to her convictions that she can't see how others don't find her point of view obvious. This gets her into arguments, but she tries really hard to listen well. She often has to apologize later for not hearing the other person, and she handles it. Someone else I know has to play through in her mind all the possible horrifying scenarios that might happen. Once she's done that at length, she is usually okay with it.

What this has helped me see is that each of us has some issue, some problem, something that disables us--but we can manage those. We can cope, work through, start over, try again, and most of all, be authentically ourselves without apology and hope that the world will  understand and accept us as we are. It makes me more accepting, and it makes me comfortable being authentic and expecting to be understood and accepted for who I am.

I am really looking forward to this year ahead. I have so many ideas and inspirations, which bring new energy and that builds on itself. There is possibility, dreams to reach for. May we all be written down for a good year.

L'shanah tovah

Thursday, June 18, 2015

After Another Shooting

Dear America,

I am so tired and angry today, as I know a lot of you are. Why, why, does this keep happening? I am not going to get used to mass shootings, or any shootings, occurring every day. The President is right—no other advanced nation in the world has this problem.

Twitter is crowded with opinions. Racism. No, mental illness. No, terrorism. No, gun control laws.

I call bullshit. It’s all of the above, but it’s all part of a much bigger problem. Apathy.

We live in a crazy-producing society, unique to the U.S. We seem to accept that corporations with billions of dollars get to do whatever they want; that the government won’t, can’t, and shouldn’t protect its citizens; that no matter what we do, we have no power.

We are content to go buy our cheap merchandise at Walmart without thinking about the fact that this company and the family who owns it are raking in our money while refusing to give their employees even the tiniest benefits. That they and other corporate greed mongers refuse to pay employees a fair living wage. We continue to balk at paying taxes in order that folks with legitimate mental illness can get the care and treatment they need. We allow the government to dictate what will be taught in schools based on test scores, rather than paying teachers what they’re worth and trusting them to do their jobs.

All the while, we talk, and talk, and talk about how awful this latest mass shooting is and wring our hands and pray.

I’m sick of it. We are the problem. All of us. I admit, I enjoy a life of white privilege. But I hope I don’t allow that to lessen my humanity and my desire to continue fighting until all people have the same privilege.

When will we as a society put aside our short-sighted, narrow-minded, self-serving attitudes, get off our asses, and get to WORK? I mean the kind of work that can counteract hatred and violence. The kind of work that involves risk, pain, sacrifice. The kind of work that is uncomfortable.

It could be any kind of work. There’s so much of it to be done. It could involve actually going to vote on election day, even educating yourself about the candidates and what they stand for. Don’t have time for that? Do you have time to hang out on Twitter and debate whether this latest shooting is about hatred or gun control? It could be actually helping out on a campaign for a candidate who wants to fight for a higher minimum wage or the rights of LGBT folks to be included in our human rights laws.

It doesn’t have to be politics. It could be building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Or feeding homeless people a meal. It could be volunteering on a suicide hotline. It could be prison ministry. Or environmental activism. It could be neighborhood community building. The list is never ending.
If, instead, we are content to sit on our butts watching reality TV, complaining about big government, and holding onto our fear, then we will continue seeing more of the same.

I’m sick of it. It would be so easy to flee to the mountains and ignore the pain. It’s my first inclination. But we need more of us to stay here and do the work. Get out of our little houses made of ticky tacky and really start caring for each other. Stop debating what needs to be done. It ALL needs to be done. Just go do it. Every shot fired, every day, should propel us to work harder, care more, fight longer. This is OUR country. WE are the ones who are responsible.