Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How Much Does a Spoon Cost?

A friend asked a question in her own space about how people manage their spoons (if you're not familiar with 'spoon theory' when dealing with chronic illness or other conditions, please read this).  As I started to answer it, I realised two things: how much the answer has changed since I acknowledged the combination of chronic depression and anemia that saps my energy, and how much difference money makes.

Ten years ago, a skipped lunch on Monday would set off a declining spiral of energy and options, putting me in the position by midweek of trying to find a way to eat with an empty bank account because I just could not get the energy together to fix a lunch either the night before or in the morning.  I was working jobs with no paid leave where every time infraction was documented and enough of them would mean being fired, so something as simple as "I couldn't afford to get gas until my paycheck had cleared, so now it's 7:51 and I'm at the gas station eight minutes from work hoping the two gallons I can throw in here now will be sufficient, and also not mean I clock in late," was a serious source of anxiety, complete with "If I managed my life better I wouldn't be here right now.  I am such a fucking loser."

Today, if I eat out every single day in a week, I make a mental note to go to the HEB over the weekend, seriously, and at least get some canned soup or something, because I can't afford to do that permanently.  The difference between "I can't afford to eat out every day" and "I can't afford to eat today" is profound.  The lack of crisis, the lack of urgency, not having that feeling of despair when you fail at feeding yourself, completely alters how I approach my condition.  I allow myself much more leeway, much more weakness now, and sometimes just the moment when I can be gentle enough with myself to say "I can't walk four blocks from the free parking to the restaurant where we are meeting.  I will pay to park in the garage downstairs," is enough to renew part of a spoon I'd spent trying to manage my emotional wellbeing.

I'm not rich, not by any means.  But I am no longer living paycheck to paycheck, and have enough for any reasonable emergency expense (car repair, insurance deductible) in savings.  What this means is that often, in the *short term* I can prioritize self-care over saving money, and then at another point I can prioritize saving money over self-care, when I have an extra spoon or two, so that the pressures of balancing my life are spread over a greater area.  High energy day?  Obviously a grocery 'buy the stuff on sale' run, followed by prepping some freezer meals for the future.  Or clearing expired food out of the pantry and replacing my fast-and-easy crock pot staples.  No worrying about whether there's money in the bank for the groceries, so I can take advantage of the moment.

But the real difference is in *choice*.  Normal people, people who don't have to manage their energy and abilities carefully, have a constant choice of "Shall I do it myself or pay to have it done?"  They have only one immutable variable: can I afford it?  And, depending on where you are on the socioeconomic level, "can I afford it?" isn't a restriction that comes into play on every decision.  Whether or not you can do it yourself is a matter of free time and skill set, and you have some control over those.

A chronic condition that saps your energy or makes your daily activities painful adds a second limiting variable, one with fairly immutable boundaries, and it adds it to *every decision* from "Do I wear pants or a skirt today?" to "Do I pay $100 more for the ground-floor apartment with reserved parking spaces close by?".  The body will not do what the body will not do, and the more you limit one variable, the more you need of the other to balance a decent quality of life.  If you've got five bucks and unlimited spoons, you can make a pretty decent steak dinner and clean up after it.  If you've got 100 bucks and two spoons, you can have a nice steak dinner delivered to your house and throw away the plastic ware.  If you've got five bucks and two spoons, you can...eat bean and cheese fast food tacos or make a peanut butter sandwich, and either of those puts you short of resources on one side or another.

For too many years, I had to operate on a razor-thin margin of both spoons and money, so that a shortage of one cascaded to a shortage of both, derailing my entire life if I wasn't lucky.  The stress of that, plus my inability to afford the things I needed to be eating, exacerbated the depression significantly.  Now I'm in a place where I can build safety nets for the harder days, in the form of a freezer full of reasonably healthy ready to cook food, the ability to schedule buying gas and running errands when I have the energy for them instead of waiting to get paid, being able to pay people for things I'd otherwise have to do myself, like moving. 

How did I get to a place where I can afford to 'buy a spoon forward'?  

I could spin this tale of self-sufficiency, how I budgeted carefully and spent wisely, how I was willing to do without nice things while I maintained my single-minded focus on digging out of my hole.  And I did those things.  I also had a lucky few years where I was able to build up a little reserve of money and security because I didn't have to dip into my meagre savings to cover an unscheduled day off or unplanned expense.  But the most important thing was other people.

Friends made sure I ate when I was feeling low, buying the food for me if they had to.  Family helped me financially when the reality of figuring out how to manage all the things was too daunting.  People helped me figure out time management in a way that wasn't "Make a schedule and stick to it."  I was gifted my first crock pot (I have since bought a second one to replace it when it broke, because Energy Badger can put a roast in to feed Anemia Badger for several subsequent days) and a cookbook with 'fast and easy' recipes as well as 'prep ahead and freeze' ones.  Almost all the things I needed to turn my own efforts from 'treading water' to 'gaining ground' were gifts and kindnesses from others.

My employer provides me with the twin blessings of health insurance and sick days (without demanding a doctor's note or explanation!) and a couple of years ago I took the risk and told my boss, "Hey, in addition to the anemia I keep having infusions for, I've suffered for almost 30 years with chronic depression.  So I am struggling, but I wanted to let you know that I'm doing my best, I really am, right now."  It was a huge risk, in an at-will employment state, and I advise anyone considering it to be cautious, but it turns out I work for a pretty decent and compassionate human being, who never questions the fact that I don't look sick every single time I come back from a sick day.

My partner has been a huge help.  Just having someone who doesn't consider it a terrible imposition to pick up the slack on housework you can't do is a tremendous difference, the difference between 'to clean up I must put the plate in the dishwasher and turn it on and I think I can manage that' vs. 'to clean up I must unload the dishwasher I haven't had the energy to unload any other night this week, load it, run the first load, unload it, start filling it again, and hand-wash the pots and pans so I will sit on the sofa and cry instead.'

This is not a how-to for people who have to carefully manage spoons and money, who are living on that razor's edge, because it's incredibly cruel of me to suggest that the answer for them is "get a better job, a partner with the time and money and inclination to support you, and supportive friends and family." 

It's much easier for me to say to friends who've asked how you can 'give someone a spoon' when a loved one is really struggling, that there is a way.  Text them, "Hey, I'm heading to the grocery store.  Can I pick you up anything while I'm there?" to save them what can be an exhausting trip.  Offer to help them with housework.  For holidays or birthdays, ask them what *services* they need (deep carpet cleaning, help washing drapes and curtains, once-a-year cleaning/organizing tasks that the daily allotment of energy just won't cover).  The next time you're going to be near where they work, call them up and ask if you can drop some lunch by the office for them, or better yet, treat them to lunch.  Maybe they had a sandwich in the fridge, but maybe you're also the week's salvation.  If you borrow their car, give it back washed and completely full of gas.  Offer to walk the dog.  Mostly, just let them know you're available to help on their terms, and demonstrate that you're not interested in judging whether or not someone 'should' be able to do a thing.

Advocate for living wage jobs, especially for those with chronic physical or mental health issues, and for paid time off and universal health insurance.  Speak out against employer policies that require a doctor's note for a sick day.  Speak out against people who treat invisible illnesses as 'all in your head' or 'made up' and suggest that people should just lose weight, get out more, stop whining, or eat better.  That argument takes energy, believe me, and I have had to make the choice between engaging someone in it and having enough energy to drive home from work.

You can't make the lupus, or the depression, or the fibromyalgia go away.  You can't fix what's wrong or give your loved one your share of the energy.  But I remember a time when I'd spent literal MONTHS staring at my disorganized books, thinking "I love my books.  I hate so much that my books are in disorder, that I can't find them when I need them, that it looks like I don't respect them.  I wish I could organise them, but I'm just so tired."  A friend came over and spent two of her precious days just going through them, ordering and organising them with me, and at the end of it, even though it was hardly a life or death difference in my life, it was like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, that I didn't have to come home, every day, and feel ashamed at the reminder that I couldn't manage such an important aspect of my life.

That single gesture, over the following year, amounted to handing me hundreds of spoons, one every single day that I didn't have to spend convincing myself that tomorrow, really, I was going to do something about it but it was OK to let it go for one...more...day...

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Longest Night...Again

Blessed Yule, my loves.

To those holding vigil tonight, thank you.  To those who hold your vigils in a thousand different ways the year round, thank you.

Tonight we honor the idea of holding through the darkest times.  Of watching the sun go down, as the nights get longer and longer, and keeping faith that someday the night will be shorter than the one before it.  While the solstice marks the formal Longest Night, so many I know have been keeping their own vigils against fear and despair this year, independent of their place on the wheel.

'Getting better' is a long process, and one that happens by degrees.  From the bottom of the wheel, we do not magically run up the spokes from darkness into light; we embrace the slow transition from hardship to bounty, from isolation to community, from grief into celebration.  And always we know, as the year is a wheel, that even as we face our darkness knowing light will come, we must also know that the darkness will come again, and we will need those lessons we are now learning.

Tonight many people make much of "without the darkness the light cannot shine, you cannot appreciate the stars, you cannot embrace your joys."  To most people I know, darkness is most valuable when its contrast gives meaning to the light.

This is true, but for me tonight's contemplations run much more to "Learning to embrace and accept each turn of darkness as it comes to me gives me tools and lessons that help me survive the dark to come."

It's my nature and my honor to burn brightly through the darkest times; what is hard for those who do not do that to understand is that the light of your own burning means that sometimes, all you see when you look out is blackness, because you're blinded by the flame you tend.

And sometimes, when it's at its very darkest, and your flame is hard to keep going, you have a moment where you're afraid you're going to lose it all, that the light you hold will go out, and you'll be there, alone, in perfect pitch blackness.  Because, well, you know that theoretically there are other people out there, tending other fires.  But what if they're not there, what if your flame goes out and you were...the last one burning?

Coming to peace with that fear is one of the hardest things, to say "I will burn as long as I am able, and when I can no longer burn, I will embrace the darkness."

For the last ten years, when my own flame has faltered, in the dimming of my light I could make out others, holding flame to help me rekindle.  I have not yet failed in my winter burning.

But I have, several times, come to peace with the prospect of my light failing entirely, of being lost, alone and blinded, and that willingness to embrace the darkness not as a foil for the good times, but in itself, has given me a strength and an understanding I never really imagined I could have.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Innocent While White is More Privileged than Criming That Way

I've been sort of contemplating how to put a real explanation to my own understanding of privilege as I experience it, and today during a conversation with a friend, this memory came up:

During college, I worked in a gas station, and there had been some isolated robberies of local stations.  One night, due to an electrical malfunction, the silent alarm went off.  I found out about it because my district manager called to see if I was Ok, and then the 911 operator called.  She asked me if I'd pressed the silent alarm.  I said, "Oh, I just got off the phone with my district manager about that; he said the alarm company called him.  No, I didn't push the button.  I'm not sure what happened.  No one's robbing the store."  She said, "Just yes or no, is there someone there in the store with a weapon?"  I said no.  She said, "Is anyone listening to you?  Is anyone at all there?  Are you being coerced?"  I said, "No, nothing like that.  I haven't had a customer for ten or fifteen minutes, even.  It's pretty slow tonight."  She said they'd send police.  I said, "Sure, if you want."  There was also a discussion about how I couldn't come out the 'front door' because there were doors on opposite sides of the store, but I would come to the east door.

Somehow this got communicated to the responding officer as 'suspected robbery in progress, employee may be hostage.'

Over the next ten or fifteen minutes, I continued stocking the cigarettes (pulling cartons out of the cupboard and stacking them up), dropped money because the alarm call had reminded me to check the drawer (opened the register, took out money, counted it, put it down behind the counter out of sight), and did the nightly liquor count (crouched down behind the counter out of sight, occasionally popping back up with a bottle in hand).  Meanwhile, a member of the police department arrived on scene and watched me do all these things, through a western window that didn't allow him to see any of the rest of the store.  I was not wearing a uniform, a company shirt, a nametag, or anything else to mark me as an employee.  Flannel shirt, baggy pants, combat boots, concert tee.

I eventually noticed the police car in the lot, and went over to the western door to wave at him and tell him it was OK.  There was no one in the driver's seat, so I stepped out to look around.  A hissing noise to my right caught my attention, where I found a cop, with his gun drawn, motioning me over to him.  He kept hissing, "Ma'am, are you all right?  Who's in the store?"  I told him, "I'm fine, there's no one in the store."

He had no reason to believe that the person who'd been pulling out cigarettes and liquor, and cash from the cash register, worked there.  But when I told him I was fine and there was no one else there, he got back in his car and drove away.  Didn't go in.  Didn't look around.  Didn't ask for any proof that I worked there.  Didn't call my boss and ask him to confirm my identity.  Didn't even ask my name or to see my ID.

At the time, I thought the overreacting cop with his gun out was just funny.  But in recent years, looking back at that experience, i understand just how differently that situation might have gone down if I hadn't been white.  How the fact that he was standing there with his gun drawn wasn't scary because it never occurred to me that he might shoot *me*.  How I didn't immediately think, "I should put on my company shirt so they don't think I'm a robber."  How it just plain never occurred to me to consider that 'not being a criminal' is not always a shield.  How easily I assumed that no one would ever think I might rob a convenience store by looking at me.  How somewhere, in the back of my own head, the perception of 'who robs a convenience store' was fueled by TV images of black gangbangers with their guns held sideways, and no one could possibly think that was me, so I felt safe.

Whether that particular cop would have reacted differently isn't the issue; the full set of experiences I had that dictated my expectations in my relationship with law enforcement is.  The words 'unjustly accused' or 'police brutality' belonged in tidy one-hour chunks of Law & Order or NYPD Blue, because those were a fiction I'd never seen personally.  In my world cops had mostly been, if not strictly helpful, at least benign.

There's a thing floating around that is 'criming while white', people talking about getting away with various crimes because of their white privilege.  I think that's probably less effective than understanding that inequality in justice and enforcement is not about whether I can get away with petty theft or assault without police treating me like a criminal, it's about how I can 'get away' with the daily experiences of my life that way.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Blood Harvest

As I was taught it, the harvest comes in three parts each year.  The first harvest, generally speaking, is gathering the early bounty of fruit and tender greens, the second harvest is the late summer/early fall reaping of the fields, and the third harvest is the butchering, done once the weather has cooled enough to keep meat through the winter.

The general associations with each harvest persist, because the *concept* of the harvest is integral to modern paganism as it's practiced, but we've moved away from the practical reality of it as we've abandoned our agricultural lifestyle.  'Harvest' has come to be synonymous, for many modern pagans, with getting what you've worked for, a reward to for the energy you've expended.

We mostly talk of how we reap what we have sown and tended, how we gather in all that we've planted.  We talk of projects coming to fruition, and at most we look out over our backyard gardens, pleased with the bounty we've brought to our own table.

In that transition to metaphor, the real meaning of the darkest harvest is often lost.

The first harvest is a collection of bounty.  Fruits, new shoots, tender growth the fertile earth really can't help but lavish upon us.  We celebrate sweetness, what is rich and delicious and delicate.  We preserve little of this first harvest, because it is meant to delight, not to sustain.  Perhaps we make some jellies, flavor oil or wine or vinegar, but even what we save of this harvest serves to accentuate life, not sustain it.

My celebration of this harvest has grown out of a delighted gratitude at all the world gives me, even when I do not tend it.  I take joy in beauty, in wonder, and in the general abundance of the life in the world.  The sacred earth of the first harvest is freshly turned and fragrant, soft beneath my feet.

The second harvest, the grain and the root, is the workhorse.  We gather what we've carefully tended, pulling in all that our own hard work has brought to fruition.  We honor the seeds that we've planted, and we celebrate a world in which directed energy brings useful reward.  From the second harvest, we take the daily bread, the sturdy beer, the unglamorous turnip.  Most of it is saved away, preserved because we will depend upon it later -- and because unlike salad greens or strawberries, a few weeks in a dark cabinet doesn't much change a potato.

For the second harvest, I honor my own hard work and practicality.  I take time to appreciate the fruits of my own labor, the work of my life.  The sacred earth of the second harvest is beneath my own nails and ground into the cracks of my hands.

The third harvest is the darkest: blood, sacrifice and loss.  What you brought into the world, that which you have tended, and loved, and cared for most patiently, you must kill.  This is no bloodless scything; the dark harvest requires you to face that sacrifice, look it in the eye, and destroy it entirely.  Take something you have loved, slit its throat and spill its blood, and then butcher it for your own survival.

The sacred earth of the third harvest is the cooling earth of oncoming winter, softened and warmed only because it is soaked in blood.

For the third harvest, I honor and acknowledge my own loss.  Friends and family taken too soon, or those whose passing marked the end of suffering.  Missed opportunities, friendships broken, love that failed to sustain a relationship.  I sit with the empty spaces in my own heart, and I respect that as the veil has thinned and the Wild Hunt rides, Death walks among us not as a stranger, but as one of us -- and that I walk as Death as well.

That is the nature of this harvest.  To honor loss and sacrifice, to respect the full cycle of the year,  I can't stop short with a barrier between myself and my own identity as destroyer.  I can't stand as protector only, guarding that which I love from all who would injure it (including myself).  I cannot only nurture, I cannot only collect and tend the bounty of the world.

I must, for this harvest, be willing to look at my life, see what must die for me to thrive, and end it as quickly, mercifully, and completely as possible.

This year, nothing seems particularly fit for the blade.  In past years, I might have offered a token sacrifice, given up some trait of personality or favored object, but my understanding of sacrifice has deepened: one must not only lose something much beloved, but that spilled blood must have *purpose* to be sacred.  So I hold my blade ready, and I bide my time, and my only offering at the moment is my willingness to accept my own dark goddess.

Blessed be the light and the dark, and all those beloved.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Just Another Lady Without a Baby

I am what the parlance of courtesy calls a Woman Of A Certain Age.

That age is the one where motherhood becomes progressively more risky and unlikely, and where a childless state becomes clearly a matter of failed biology or deliberate choice.  If, by my time of life, there is no child I am assumed to either be committed to that or incapable of anything else, and how I am perceived as a woman is often based in which pigeonhole I occupy.

When I meet new people, one of their first questions is "Oh, do you have kids?"  That I'm usually asked that before I'm asked about jobs, interests, hobbies, or non-offspring family is telling.  We still view women primarily in light of their status as mothers, and other concerns remain secondary.

My reasons for not having children are complicated; they are also my own.  I am not inclined, or obligated for that matter, to share them with strangers.

But my simple 'no' is insufficient.  There must be a reason, and I owe that reason to the world.  The silence that follows an uninflected, "No, I don't.  Do you?" carries a weight and dimension of its own, as the listener tries to figure out if I am to be pitied, envied, or judged.

Do I leave behind me a string of miscarriages, fruitless pregnancy tests, weeping doctor visits?  Are there abortions in my past, surgeries to render me willfully barren and sexually agent, in defiance of my expected role in this world?  Have I been a careful creature, calculating days and pills and prophylactic success rates, limiting my pleasure by the prevention of procreation?

And then there's the Why of my absent motherhood.  Am I one of the Selfish Women, who puts her own needs and goals and desires above the imaginary child's?  That identity sparks envy from some, defiant sorority from others, and scorn from the largest part.  Am I a Failed Mother, unable to conceive or carry to term?  There's a smug pity she's often given by those who breed easily, and a careful empathy from those who've struggled themselves.  Did I want and lose my children, did I avoid or terminate pregnancies, am I one of the sad sisterhood of women who've borne and lost living children?

At my age, now, there is the question of whether I waited too long.  Did I put my own needs forward for too many years, only to be punished for it in my fourth or fifth decade?  Have I been desperately trying, am I even now willing a small life to take hold in my precarious womb?

There is, of course, the conundrum.  A woman who has children in her twenties, when it's healthiest but least fiscally sound, is judged if circumstance makes her unable to care for them, requires her to seek assistance.  A woman who waits until later years, when it's more stable but less simple to conceive, is judged for her selfishness; if she cannot have the children she planned so carefully to support others laugh behind their hands at her presumption, that she felt she had any right to dictate terms to Mother Nature.

I used to ease that silence for everyone.  I'd distill my reasons into a single sentence that let them, as accurately as possible, know where I fall.  Whether to discuss their own children with smug pride at my failure or resentment at my rejection, or simple sympathy.  Whether to offer banal platitudes about how nice adoption can be or how I must enjoy my freedom.  Whether to share their own stories of hope or frustration, whether to revel in a joyous sisterhood of unstained carpets and cheerio-free car floors.  I no longer do that, because I've spent enough time now validating and explaining my life, and I feel that at this point, I'm done.  Generally, if another woman answers with "No, me either," we talk briefly about our reasons -- not because we share childlessness, but because we share the experience of being that way in the world where we live.

In some communities this lot is easier.  Among my pagans and my nerd friends, being a parent or not is a data point.  Usually it relates to "Which things do I invite you to, and do you have kids I can use as an excuse to shop for tauntaun sleeping bags?"  The silence there is short, and usually ends in, "Yeah, I have kids, they're awesome/I don't have any either.  Oh, hey, do you like (other potential shared interest)?"  It's only in the more conventional, mainstream communities that I find myself staring into the uncomfortable silence.

When I really stop to think about it, it's odd that the pagans should be less fazed by my failure to fall into the role of Mother, for which they have a defined phase of the Divine Feminine's life cycle, but there you have it.  They accept it far more readily, perhaps because we expand the definitions of 'mother' and 'fertility' to encompass a much larger range of choices.

Within the next fifteen years or so, it will shift to grandkids.  And I'll be expected to explain whether the failed womanhood is mine or my daughter's (or my son's misfortune not to marry a proper childbearing girl).  The potential causes for my failure as a woman expand with each generational marker, as my family might had I started one.

I find that I don't ask the question myself.  I don't really know when I stopped, but it wasn't a conscious choice.  I just stopped wondering.  People will tell me about their kids, if they want to talk about them.

Most of all, I don't hold any sort of ill will towards those who have kids.  I don't covet their children, or resent their happiness.  My parent friends share their children with me, and I love them not as some sort of surrogates for my own, but as the bright and amazing beings they are, and the future they represent.

(the title of this blog comes from a Jenny Lewis song making the rounds these days, which is not precisely about this issue, but inspired the thought process)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moving Beyond the Destiny of Biology

"Real women have curves."

"Meat is for the man, bones are for the dog."

Oddly enough, these are supposed to make me feel better about myself.  They're supposed to reassure me that my callipygian form is inherently superior despite the constant media pressure to slim down, that the hips that defy decency with every miniskirt I've ever attempted make me a more natural woman.

And man, did they used to.

I have failed, most of my life, at being a Normal Female.  I mean, I could have aced that test, if I'd known (and then cared) to try.  But until I was old enough to be set on my path, no one told me there were expectations.  By the time I figured out I was a Weird Girl I was faced with a situation where fitting into the mold required giving up things I really wanted, so I took my Outsider status as if I somehow deserved it.

That was, of course, at about the time I discovered boys, and boys discovered me, and...well, that didn't really go as intended.  I am bound by the genetics that gave me a solid frame and a certain ample build to go with it.  It was, when combined with my tendency to be 'too smart', the kiss of death to any sort of Normal Womanhood.  When I discovered sexuality, we added too passionate and too assertive to the list.  Later, I found out I am also too strong, and too self-assured.  I am even, occasionally, too competent.  Ultimately, it all just becomes 'too much'.

It was like I'd been given a cup, much much too small, and when I overflowed it everyone looked at me in disgust, because couldn't I just increase the pressure on myself to keep it all at an acceptable volume?  Couldn't I just let go of the parts that didn't fit, if the pressure wasn't sustainable, and confine myself to what the cup could hold?

Along came the 'real women have curves' notion.  I won't lie, it probably saved my life, because it was the first time I'd ever heard anyone suggest that the cup was inadequate.  It was like a door opening, and I admit (with a certain sadness) that I leaped to the conclusion that anyone that cup DID fit was obviously less of a woman.  It wasn't that I failed at fitting into societal gender norms or body image norms.  It wasn't that the norms themselves were the problem.

The problem was skinny bitches, obviously.  They were clearly in charge of the cups.

I'll leave for another day all the ways that women are conditioned to hate one another based on who does or doesn't fit into the body mold.  There's actually a much deeper problem there: the idea that anyone gets to decide what a real woman is, or who gets to call herself one.

Every woman is handed the same size cup at birth, and only the barest fraction of women fit it perfectly.  Smart enough to be witty and charming, not smart enough to be threatening.  Appropriately curvy, but not one inch more so.  Helplessly self-sufficient.  Just outgoing enough not to be a slut.  At some point, almost every one of us is an Outsider, and that can be terrifying.  When those doors slam shut in your face for the first time, the echoes can last for years.

There are two choices if you don't want to be an Outsider forever.  You either refine your definition of 'woman' to fit the women who are like you, moving the target so that you never have to feel the sting of noncompliance, or you broaden your definition of 'woman' until no one has to.  We're encouraged in a thousand ways to do the first.  Fat shaming, body policing, defiant anthems in praise of curves, magazine articles (with photoshopped size 0 models on the cover) telling us that men are evolutionarily conditioned to prefer women with curves.

The second is scarier, I'll admit it.  Because if I expand the definition, broadening the range of whom I'm willing to consider a fellow woman, where does it stop?  Fat girls?  Skinny girls?  Old women?  Preteens?  Those are all easy enough, because don't we all share biology?  I mean, hey, ladies, periods suck, amirite? <insert bra shopping joke here>

In the pagan community, there almost always comes this moment when that fails.  We have women's circles, women's gatherings, women's retreats, all manner of things to connect you to your inner Goddess, and they're all about solidarity of womanhood, and then all of a sudden, someone wants to come into your woman space who hasn't always been a physical woman, and maybe isn't one now.  And...what do you do?

Michigan Womyn's Fest and Pantheacon have failed, in spectacularly public ways, over the years.  Instead of seeking solidarity, instead of seeking to expand the definition of woman to embrace personal identity and self-awareness, they reduce the notion of womanhood to biology.  If you're not born and raised a woman, here's another cup you can never fit into.  Womyn's Fest is particularly insulting, because they say that you cannot be one of them unless you were raised experiencing the discrimination and prejudice most women in this country face, but that if you weren't, you can attend as long as you lie about it and don't get caught.  In other words, discrimination is a necessary part of our gender identity, but if you didn't share that *particular* suffering, it's acceptable to lie your way into sisterhood.

I was lucky enough, by the time I started thinking about the question, to have trans* friends.  That's lucky because on a purely academic level, it seems perfectly fine to draw that line at genetics.  When you don't really have a face to put to it, haven't really heard someone talk about struggling with gender identity, you can just figure on putting the line where it's most convenient.  But when the people on the outside of the door have faces you know, you really can't do that.  So you say, "Come on in, honey, you can stand by me, it'll be cool."

At that point, for me, something amazing happened.  When I expanded my definition of who gets to be a woman to identity, my own identity as a woman expanded.  Suddenly it's not about my boobs or my hips or my lunar annoyances.  It's a matter of who I really am, down to my core.  When I drop that limit, I drop things that limit me as well.  The more diversity we apply to the possible origins of a woman, the more diversity we have in her outcome.

When I see that game being played out, that target of 'real womanhood' being painted on yet another moving reference point, I try to step back and remember that limitless moment, that door opening.  Instead of embracing another divide to make myself more acceptable, more palatable, more secure in my place as a woman by excluding some not-quite demographic, I repeat, "Anyone who wants to be a woman is a woman," because that means the converse is also true:

A woman can be anyone she wants to be.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


A gun-savvy friend once gave me the following advice:  "Do not own a gun you are not willing to pick up.  Do not pick up a gun you are not willing to load.  Do not load a gun you are not willing to carry.  Do not carry a gun you are not willing to draw.  Do not draw a gun you are not willing to point at a living  being.  Do not point a gun at a living being unless you are willing to pull the trigger.  Do not pull the trigger unless you are willing to kill.  In short, when you purchase a gun, accept the possibility that you will kill a living thing with it.  Do not draw a line and tell yourself you will go so far and no farther, because the moment's choice to move from one step to the next can happen so quickly there is no time for reflection."

His point wasn't that guns kill people.  His point was that when you sit back, and think about how you will handle a situation, you envision yourself being calm, rational, making measured decisions.  But when you are frightened, or worried, or your adrenaline is high, your decision-making process is substantially changed, and escalation becomes reflex.

I'm reminded of this by the week's events in Ferguson, MO.  I can genuinely believe that the cops currently lobbing tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed protesters never intended it to be like this, that when they decided to join the police force, they intended to help people and not shoot them in the face with chemical weapons.  But there has been a long relentless escalation of police force in this country, and we're seeing it today.

Especially since 9/11, there has been increased funding for police departments to buy "anti-terrorism gear."  For many of them, this has translated to tanks and other 'breaching vehicles', riot gear, tear gas, and high-tech equipment, with the training to use it.  Even small-town and suburban police forces have been handed ridiculous funds for tools in the fight against terrorism, and they're consistently told "If you don't spend it all, you're off the list for next year."  So, they buy fancy new toys, because who doesn't like fancy new toys?

The danger of that is twofold.  The first is that many of those toys are *dangerous* to the citizens they're supposed to be protecting.  They introduce injury, and they escalate situations.  Those escalated situations create greater fear and outrage, which makes the cops more afraid they are losing control, which means they use more force to try and regain control, which means more adrenaline and more injuries and more fear, in a rising cycle until we find ourselves at today, with state Senators being tear-gassed, peaceful demonstrators being shot with rubber bullets, and news crews being arrested, threatened, and harassed.

The other danger is slightly more subtle: it convinces local cops that they have the ability to handle situations that are far outside their capabilities, because they have the tools and the training...but no experience.  Tools put the weapons in your hands, training teaches you how to use them, but *wisdom and experience* tell you when, and why, and to what extent.  This week's events are a profound failure of wisdom at pretty much all levels of the Ferguson and St. Louis County law enforcement structure.  There were so many chances to step off the escalation ride, and police have stepped it *up* instead.

They've gone so far that there's no way they can reasonably dial it back, so state and federal cops are being brought in, and I hope cooler heads eventually prevail.

Too often, cops are recruited and trained on the basis of being willing and able to use force to subdue.  I'm not naive enough to think that the use of force is never part of a cop's job, but it is long past time to stop, and examine why the pace of escalation is so often accelerated.

It's also long past the time to ask:

Why on earth does the fifty-three person police force of a suburban town of twenty thousand people need multiple armored vehicles?  What threat, exactly, did they reasonably anticipate, and why?

Because I think the reality of it is this:  they didn't anticipate anything.  Most of them, if asked "Who did you expect to use this on?" would probably have looked blankly at you and mumbled something about terrorists because they simply never thought that far ahead, never even considered the possibility that having those weapons would mean they'd end up where they are today.

My biggest worry with the militarization of the American police force isn't that it's a deliberate plot to suppress the population and its rights.  My biggest worry is the fact that it's a reflexive escalation based in unconsidered actions, that our armaments have long since exceeded our wisdom.

Monday, August 11, 2014

You Keep Using That Word...

Over the weekend, 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in what is being described as an 'officer-involved shooting' In Ferguson, MO.  More plainly put, he was shot and killed by a police officer.

As usual, eyewitness accounts differ from the police reports, but they all pretty consistently put Brown on his knees, on the ground, with his hands in the air to show he was unarmed.  Some describe a small altercation with police, some say he was put into a chokehold, some say he started running and officers fired on him, after which he knelt and surrendered.  Several more shots were fired, and Brown's body was left in the street for several hours.

Local residents, predictably upset, gathered to protest.  I've heard this protest called a 'riot' across a variety of news sites like this one, but the pictures look to me a lot more like a very energetic protest with a heavy and visibly nervous police presence.  Some store windows were smashed in, and a Quiktrip store seems to have taken the worst of the abuse, as shown in the pictures at the above-linked article.

Come to that, those Quiktrip pictures comprise the vast majority of the 'eyewitness looting accounts' I've seen.  A couple other storefronts, and a report of Wal-Mart employees 'taking shelter' and some folks banging on police cars.  There are some videos of people shouting, and running, but I must admit that when I think of 'rioting' and 'looting' I think of Watts, of the LA riots after the Rodney King verdict, of the 1999 WTO Conference in Seattle.  In comparison, I have to say that the rioters of Ferguson were decidedly under-achievers by comparison.

I'm not making light, not really.  I'm suggesting, though, that perhaps there are reasons that a few smashed windows and an angry protest might be better spun to the rest of the country as riots and looting, as further evidence of black people's lawlessness and dangerous instability.  It's entirely possible that the use of the word 'riot' instead of 'protest' to describe what really appears to be relatively peaceful civil unrest is being used to color the debate, because the word choice itself has become a weapon in race and culture wars.

That plays a part in the dialogue, make no mistake.  Funny note, when I did a quick Google search to make sure I had dates and facts at hand for each, I found the following common descriptors:

  • Watts Riots
  • Rodney King Riots
  • Seattle Protests

Interesting thing there, that the one made up of mostly white college kids is more frequently described as a protest, while the others, mostly made up of poor and middle-class blacks, are definitely riots.  If it were an issue of scale, of size of damage, then...why does Ferguson get to be described as a riot on the strength of one battered gas station and a few broken windows?  Coincidence, I'm sure.

I have three primary points to make in this.  The first is that a lot of people are going to spend the next few days saying "race shouldn't matter" because a dead teenager is a dead teenager regardless of ethnicity.  And you know, it shouldn't matter.  I'd be as outraged if Michael Brown had been white.  But I can't escape the belief that if Michael Brown had been white, he'd be in police custody at worst, and at best sent on his way with a "Kid, stay out of the street, that's what sidewalks are for."  Race does matter, because the structure that put him on his knees in the street, and that left him bleeding there moments later, is based on racial inequality, as is the structure that calls this action a riot and another a protest.

The second point is that people will say "Well, he shouldn't have run.  He should have stopped when he was told to stop, been polite to the officer, obeyed instructions, not given any reason to think he was resisting."  You know, given what happened to him when he tried to surrender, and given how often we see reports of brutality, of abuse, of beatings handed out to people who *did* follow police instructions, I can't really blame him, or any other person from a marginalised culture, for thinking maybe the odds were better running than cooperating.

And the third is simply this:  Every time you shoot a man on his knees, you give incentive to those who would rise from theirs.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Deciding Which End of the Electronic Leash To Be On

I have recently acquired a shiny new tablet.  One of the interesting things is that once I connected it to my Google account, it began to port over the games and apps I had downloaded.  I started adding or deleting things to customize the different devices.  The tablet, for example, is much better for netflix and several of the games I like.  I find that even though the screen is smaller, the phone works much better for chat and messaging.

I've been making choices about it based on the different roles I want each device to play, and it's been interesting to evaluate my changing relationship with technology.  Today was a pretty significant choice:  I am not going to set up my work email access from my tablet.

This goes to a deeper set of decisions I'm making about it, congruent with the fact that I got it in part to help me sort and manage my pictures (I may not be able to get tablet lightroom, but I *can* review and sort the pics so I know which ones go in the 'processing' folder and which ones go in the "I will probably never do anything with this" folder) and keep some books and movies on for downtime.  Eventually there may be podcasts, and I've already loaded a substantial chunk of my music onto it.  But I'm finding myself being very mindful of what I put on it, as far as 'productivity' goes.  Maybe I don't want to use it to increase my productivity further.

One of the defining characteristics of Gen X, more so than those who came before or after us, is that we wrestle with the changing role of technology in our lives, as it moves (for some) from servant to master.  When I graduated high school in 1991, computer literacy was a rarity.  Five years after high school, as I was looking to enter the professional workforce, suddenly computer literacy was a basic requirement.  Every desk at every job, every classroom, every home now had a computer, and life began to be increasingly affected by your ability to navigate your relationship with it.  The more you could integrate technology to 'work smarter' and get more done and be more accessible, the more likely it was you'd succeed.

Several of my first temp jobs used dialup e-mail accounts, so that you had to remember, once an hour or so, to sign on and check the company e-mail.  There was rarely any, but you had to check it anyway.  If you forgot you could still blame 'server problems' for a two-day delay and no one questioned it.  Today I can receive work e-mails minutes after they're sent pretty much anywhere, anytime, and my employer operates on that premise.

I have made the transition, as an adult, from having to seek out communication and connection to having to seek out opportunities to disconnect.  I have adapted to the world as it is, and I tend to appreciate the benefits of that connection.  But as I hear things like "I sent you a text and you didn't reply right away," or "I know you got my e-mail on your phone, why didn't you answer?" I start to wonder if I'll be among the last generation to feel that an individual has the right to set the speed of communication and response.

Lately my phone's been a source of mild anxiety for me.  If I want to play a game or check a website, it perkily lets me know that I have a voice mail, and an e-mail, and a couple of text messages, and a new update to download, and and and...

Its effectiveness lies in it maintaining that constant pipeline so that I can know, at a glance, what the world needs me to know.  The problem has been that I can't *give* that glance without getting the whole fire hose.

Enter the tablet.  It is purely for leisure, for doing things that feed me socially, personally, culturally, and intellectually.  I am deliberately choosing to use it in a wholly selfish manner.  The phone is a tool for communication, connectivity, awareness.  It shouts for my attention and points things out to me.  I'm considering uninstalling all the games and timewasters from it, so that it can be purely for staying in touch with the world. The laptop and desktop computers are for work, for things that require my words most of all, because 90 wpm on a keyboard is far preferable to 30 wpm on a tablet, and because that allows me to say "Now I will sit down, and I will work."

I'm really looking forward to the division of leisure and productivity.  With the tablet, there are no conversations I tell myself I need to be following, no messages I'm chiding myself for not having the time to respond to, no notifications that People Need Me To Tell Them Things, no work I probably ought to be doing.  I can enjoy connectivity on my terms, with the whole array of available knowledge laid out before me, or simply a mindless color-matching game to clear my head.

Over the next few years, I'm going to be closely watching my relationship with technology, as connectivity and access increase, to make sure that I don't blur too many lines between work and play, between my time and others' time, between what I want to do and what I feel obligated to do.   I expect this to be a large part of the social battlefield, the fight between whether technology gives the world the ability to control you, or gives you the ability to control the world.  I will remain firmly upon the side of "My time is mine and you can't use an electronic leash to demand my focus unless I choose to give it to you."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Now I Am Prime Again

A year ago today, I was returning from riding roller coasters with my best friend, musing on what it really means to be an adult.  The entire notion that because of the hard work and effort I'd put into building a career and a community and structures and relationships, my fortieth birthday literally meant turning a profit riding roller coasters because it cost me less than a day's wages to do so, has colored my year.

The last ten years, more than anything, have been spent building.  Building communities, building trust, building relationships.  Growing into my own identity as a priestess, as a counselor, as a friend, as a woman.

The hardest lesson in these ten years is that though my choices have far-reaching effects, my power stops at the ends of my arms.  If it's not within my control, then it's a variable beyond my influence.

It's hard to watch someone you love struggle through unhappiness, unable to help him figure out the key, that it has to start in your heart and move outwards, because no amount of pressure will drive it in to your core.  I see people I love moving towards what look like painful life lessons, and I can only point and call out, "Mind that first step, there."  Sometimes I can't even do that, because they're so well-shielded against anything that will crack the facade of bitterly determined vengeful happiness they're forging.

It's hard to watch communities tear at themselves, and be unable to stop them because patterns of hate lie like railroad tracks, driving people inexorably towards conflict.  To hope desperately that common sense will prevail, as reason shatters upon the rocks.

It's hard to see people grinding themselves to nothing in the name of justice, compassion, and mercy, because there is so much work and it will never be done in our lifetimes but we cannot stop trying.  To watch hearts break as hope fails, and to work to gather the pieces and begin to build with what can be salvaged.

That little voice that tells me to take up arms and rise against the windmills that plague others has been a guiding force of my life, and it's only really been this year that I see:  It drives me to their battles to avoid acknowledging my own.

I can't say what's triggered this self-knowledge, this realisation that I must, in the next ten years, begin to get a real handle on the lessons I can use with my own two hands to keep my own life at the center of my priorities, but it's been a strong and powerful month.

A while ago, I began the process of reclaiming my life, of pulling back into control and learning to focus my energies on what feeds me in some way.  And this process of building a life outside of meeting the needs of others has been ongoing for about three years now.  But I see now that the realisations I thought were answers were only the beginning of a thousand more questions.

The first question I am asking, the one it is hardest to face, is "What can I build that serves me alone, that does not benefit me as a side effect of serving someone else?"

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Standing Down and Pulling Back

I am...overcommitted.

That's putting it lightly, in fact.  I'm deeply overcommitted and I've been pulling energy from my future by skipping sleep or putting off necessary tasks, borrowing against tomorrow and then tomorrow again when the day comes due.

Right now it's not at a danger point.  I haven't run myself down to the place where Traitor Brain starts to sound reasonable, but it's been getting there these last few months.  I've actually done a few things in the last couple of days that have silenced a large chunk of personal anxiety and stress.  There are a few large frogs on the horizon to be eaten, and then I should be able to have a serious quantity of ammunition for silencing the voice of doubt and self-destruction.

Part of the problem is that I don't want to give up any commitments.  I love the Dionysium and I like my job and I love the stuff I do for CMA and I get so much out of my two D&D games and Ingress and everything else, but I find myself finishing a load of laundry at 1:30 in the morning because one of the cats, motivated either by missing a few days (OK, a week) of litterbox scooping or anxiety over me being gone so much of the time, has started peeing on important things.

My problem isn't a problem; my life is a glorious buffet of interesting, wonderful people and activities.  I just need to go on a bit of a diet, activity-wise (note to self: we were going to find time to work out).

I'm not asking for help, necessarily.  I'm asking for patience and understanding.

Please keep inviting me to stuff.  A couple of people have told me recently "We didn't invite you, though we really wanted you to come, because you're so busy and we know you've been tired."  This level of opportunity for interaction isn't going to change.  There will always be five excellent things to do every day, and only time to do ten things a week.  I need to learn to balance that myself, and the only way to do that is for me to start learning to turn down invitations that sound really wonderful but that I just can't reasonably do.  I've begun it, but I'm not 100% (hell, I'm not 25%).  But let me sort out my priorities and activities as I can.

Please understand if you invite me and I tell you I can't make it, even if you know I'm not busy or doing anything that day.  The bathtub has to get scrubbed sometime, you know?  And some days I just need to sit on the couch and watch Netflix or DVDs, or sleep in and read.

Please, even though it's not the politest thing for me to do, understand if I flake off on social stuff at the last minute.  Sometimes I commit to a thing because it sounds SO AWESOME but I completely didn't think about the thing I was doing across town until 20 minutes before it.  A couple of times recently I've dragged myself to something I just had no energy for doing, because the *people* involved in it were people I care about and want to spend time with.  I need to stop doing that, and that's no one's responsibility or fault but mine.

Lastly, I'm still an extrovert.  I still require substantive human contact.  But for a little while, I'm going to need to be less proactive about initiating that contact, while I sort out my activities and priorities.  If you don't hear from me, don't assume I don't care or don't want to see you.  I'm just out of bandwidth for reaching out and I'm trying to balance things.  Feel free to give me a call or ping me in chat; work is intermittently slow these days so I often have time to talk during the day.

I just keep telling myself this backing off isn't permanent, that I'm not giving up anything; I just need, for myself, a little more balance and a little more focus on maintaining life stuff.

I love you all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

An Open Letter to Texas Democrats

One year ago today, I stood in the rotunda of the Texas Capitol among a sea of orange, speckled here and there with huddled clusters of blue.  I saw my friend Nakia, and she said to me, "you won't get into the gallery.  No one's leaving.  Come to the auditorium, we're watching it stream live downstairs."

So we herded in, and I saw more friends and familiar faces.  Hello, oh you're here, I'm so glad, isn't it exciting?  What's happening, who's that, what did he just say, isn't Donna Campbell just awful?  We held our breath, watching Senator Wendy Davis filibuster.  Occasionally we explained pieces of parliamentary procedure to one another.  We made note of those who stopped her, to ask long-winded procedural questions (and then to ask for those questions to be repeated and clarified) and extend her time -- just as we made note of her opponents.  Come next November, we said, we will remember all of you.

When Senator van de Putte entered the chamber, having driven from her father's funeral, a whisper went through the auditorium, rising to a righteous cheer.  We could do this, we thought.  They have to listen to us, we said to one another.  Older activists, those of us who recall the so-called Summer of Mercy in 1991, said, "This won't stop the law, it won't stop them from trying, but we are being heard.  We have risen, and we will not return to quiescence easily."

At one point, a woman near the center called out for a doctor, for EMS; someone had collapsed.  We made way for the paramedics, and dozens of women called reassurance to our fallen sister.  We assured her we would hold faith in her stead, we would stand for her as she was wheeled away.

As midnight approached, the other side became desperate, and then they began to break rules and to make them up, to ignore questions and speakers and procedure.  You could have heard a pin drop as Senator van de Putte stood and asked her now-famous question:  "At what point must a female Senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues in the room?"

And that was the signal, the trigger.

I remember very little about the next couple of hours, so much as that NOISE.  It had a weight, a mass of its own, compressed and vibrating against the walls.  We watched an ineffectual little man slam his hand and his gavel, shouting his mistake:  "This vote will not proceed until we have order!"  Order was nowhere to be found, and midnight passed, the session closed and the vote unrecorded.  Thanks to Senator Hinojosa, we still have record of the Republicans' attempt to record the vote illegally, and then pretend they had not.  And still the noise went on.  Chanting shouting screaming clapping laughing cheering crying, that wall of sound began to build a house where women could live safely.

That week, I was being treated for severe anemia, unable to stand for very long or walk very far, and that noise knocked me literally off my feet.  I faintly remember my friend, who had called me into the auditorium, telling me that troopers might be called to remove us, so we removed ourselves, filing out into the hallway and up the stairs into the rotunda.  And over our noise...THEIRS.  A rolling thunder cascading from the gallery, a roar of defiance and a thing of beauty.  I felt the world move, and begin to change beneath my feet.  In that moment, we were power incarnate.

So why, now, do I feel sad, unmotivated, disillusioned?

On this historic day, I've received seven e-mails from Texas Democrats.  Some are from the Davis campaign, some are from the van de Putte campaign, and some are from other Democrats on behalf of the campaigns.  I don't even read them any more.  I keep unsubscribing and still more come, from a new committee, campaign, or public figure each day.

Every day for the last year, I've received them.  Senator Davis runs to me to lay each fresh offense from the Republicans at my feet, and ask me for money to fight them.  Senator van de Putte tells me how we will beat them if only I will stand with her, and give her money.  Just five dollars.  Do I know about this woman who can't afford to give ten dollars a month, so she gives just seven-fifty?  How much can I be like her?  Have I heard the latest thing to be outraged about, and does it motivate me to open my wallet?

Senator Davis, Senator van de Putte, Texas Democrats, please listen to me.

Stop.  Just, stop.

Stop asking me for money, stop pointing at outrages, stop telling me at every turn about the newest mean thing the GOP has said.  I never heard about Abortion Barbie but from you, and you told me five times.  Stop telling me that we're going to fight them, we're not going to let them win, we're going to throw it all back in their faces.  You cannot light the fire of my heart with anger or indignation.

Tell me, instead, how qualified you are to lead.  Tell me what your vision *is* for my beloved adoptive state of Texas.  How will you draw green industry?  How will you manage the fracking concerns?  How will you improve children's healthcare options?  What will your energy policy be?  What on earth are you going to do about the schools, the roads, the trees, the fires?  Tell me, because you have not bothered to do so yet, what moves you besides fighting anti-choice advocates.

If I am willing to look, sure I can find platforms and positions and stated goals; I have to seek them out, though, take the initiative and do the work for them.  By contrast, every single day, Senators Davis and van de Putte bring their hurts, their angers, their resentments and their outrages to my inbox, hand-feeding me with them so that I'll be groomed to provide the funding they so desperately need.  I cannot live on this diet.

In 2008, I joined Barack Obama's primary campaign, and donated all I could afford in time and money to help him get to the White House.  I did it because, undecided and unsure he could even win, I went to hear him speak and he spoke to me of what he wanted to do, to achieve, to accomplish.  He spoke un-ironically of hope, of the belief in civic duty, of a sincere and specifically articulated vision for America.

I doubt they will ever read my words, but I have to say them nonetheless.  Senator Davis, Senator van de Putte, I want women of vision and purpose in government, and I believe you are women of vision and purpose.  I have faith in you, I want to support you.  As it stands right now, I will vote for you.  But I am not moved to anything more by what I have thus far seen.

I want to feel, rising through my chest, that roar that shook the nation a year ago today.  I want to feel the steps of the Capitol shake beneath my feet again, to weep with joy at the solidarity, the beauty of motivated women and men united not in hate or fear or anger, but in hope and love and fierce passion for one another's freedoms.

Senators, I am a woman of power and passion and prodigious vocabulary, all of which I would put at your disposal.  The fires that burn inside of me are strong enough to light the world, and I will add them to your own.  I will give you more than my vote and my money; I will give you my loyalty and my heart.

I will walk through flood and fire and righteous fury to follow you.

But you must lead me.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Meandering Through Maslow

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs outlines the journey from 'survival' to 'self-actualization'.  It's based in the premise that before you can deal with emotional needs, introspection, or personal growth, you have to begin by ensuring the simpler needs, and that once the simpler needs are addressed, you are able to turn your focus to meeting other, more social and philosophical needs.

Mostly, I think that Maslow's hierarchy appeals to me because it's in direct opposition to the idea that there's this inherent nobility in being poor, an idea I think people embrace rather than address the systemic inequality and injustice that cause poverty, but that's not what I'm really thinking on today.

What I am thinking about is how Maslow's idea seems to be based in the idea of evolving hungers.  When my body is fed, and rested, and my pure physical needs are met, then I can start thinking about safety.  Once I am in a secure place, then I can begin building relationships and community.  It continues on, with each need met introducing another need to meet.  We are, perhaps, destined to be perpetually unfulfilled, and in seeking fulfillment we do our most amazing work.

When I look at that pyramid of needs, at every level I see the same thing: find what feeds you.  On a deeper level, it makes me fully aware that a life well-lived isn't measured by how much you earned, or owned.  It's not determined by either the quality or the number of your relationships.  I don't even call how you changed the world an effective measure of a well-lived life.  For me, it's all in the answer to this question:

How much of what you do feeds you?

How much of your life fuels you?  When you consume, do you consume selectively, choosing things and ideas you can use as beneficial resources and building blocks, or do you consume emptily, just to fill a space?  When you create, do you light up your work with the active fire of a joyful spirit?  Are your relationships productive, nurturing, supportive and fun, or do you fill your time with people you don't hate, because it's better than being alone?  When you give your energy, your name, your focus, your love to a thing, does the end result nourish you in some way?

Last week I asked the question, "If there are things in your life that don't bring you joy, why do you do them?  Do you have a plan for replacing them with things that do?"  So many people cited "I have to pay the bills" and "I am obligated to do them," but they missed the larger question, one I've been asking myself a lot lately.  If there are large chunks of your life (for a lot of folks, they seem to occupy, oh, about eight hours a day...) that are just place holders, marking time until retirement, or death, or even just the weekend, then that's a third of your life you're giving up each workday without even fighting for it.  If there are relationships you maintain because you're afraid ending them will mean you failed or because you just can't bring yourself to walk away, then you're giving love to people who don't value it, or you, as they should.

So I find myself asking, what am I going to do to replace the parts of my life that don't feed me with things that do?  I certainly can't quit my job tomorrow and run away to...

Well, now, that's the problem, isn't it?  What is it, exactly, that feeds me, that would fill my life with purpose, excitement, and joy?  I have no idea.  When I was younger, I agonized over potential career paths, because I was certain that somewhere, on one of them, was the key to that soul-deep sense of a fulfilling life of purpose.  I never found it, or even got any indication where I should look.  I know on the small scale, the things that bring me joy.  Good friends.  Good food.  Reading until the wee hours of the morning.  A great glass of wine.  Writing, hiking, taking pictures.  Serving my community.  Helping my loved ones in ways that make them stronger and happier in the long run.

On the larger scale, what I really don't have is an idea of how to bend the larger arc of my life.  I can't think of a vocation or a career change that would fulfill me, I don't see a path I should be walking.  I have fed all the obvious hungers, with food or sex or sleep or creature comforts or friendships, and now I am faced with the hunger for a joyful life, and I find it significantly more complicated to meet that appetite.

I can't make a whiplash life shift, and I don't believe that's the answer in any case.  What I can do is stop feeding what doesn't feed me, and look for ways to replace the things in my life that don't contribute to my overall happiness and greater joy with things that do.  I just have to give up on the idea that I'm going to suddenly discover some grand and magnificent purpose that will click into place and turn my ambling, meandering life path into a clear trajectory towards a coherent and defined goal.

Friday, May 16, 2014


We love the image of the conquering hero, carried triumphant through the streets, and behind him we place the slave to whisper, "Remember, thou art mortal."

I have my own whispering slave, and I think each of us does. It's how we clip our own wings, and turn our strength to weakness. Mine waits until that moment when I see someone struggling and step forward to say, "Hey, do you need a hand with that?"

And then it hisses, "This is how Ted Bundy killed people."

My voice of mortality says no good deed goes unpunished.  It points out that altruism is probably not an individual evolutionary advantage, though the complexity of human relationships often makes it a social one.  It tells me I'm statistically more likely, running towards trouble, to be hurt or killed than those who run away from it.

There have been times in my life that I thought "I have made a decision that may kill me."  Maybe I got back on the road when I was probably too tired to drive safely, maybe I worked my way out onto the unsteady path before considering just how deserted the trail was and how far that drop went, maybe I called out that guy harassing women on the corner without knowing if he had friends, or even just a knife and a grudge.

The truth is that we never know until it happens which will be the decision that confirms the mortality.  Maybe it's as simple as 'I keep meaning to get that mole checked out, and putting it off.'  Or just stopping for the yellow light instead of gunning through the intersection, so that five miles down the road we cross paths with the speeding truck.  When you really consider it, every single decision you make every day could be the one that makes you mortal, and there's no way to know.

Kind of paralyzing, no?

When I first came to this understanding, this pure helplessness to predict a safe course, my impulse was to curl up in a dark quiet room and do absolutely nothing.  But then I came back to that thing I said earlier, about being statistically more likely to be killed running towards trouble than away from it, and I realised there was a qualifier to it:  by the trouble.  Running away from trouble, especially when they're other people's problems, only decreases the chance that particular situation will harm you. It can't make you safe.  You are never entirely safe.

The statistical likelihood of death is 100% for me, as it is for everyone else.  I will die, and in hindsight I will be able to see the choice or set of choices that led to the circumstances of my death.

This would suggest that the ideal course in life is to make every single decision worth dying for.  To live a life of such epic courage and adventure it gets its own soundtrack.  But I don't have that option.  Bills must be paid, tires must be rotated, sinks must be scrubbed and the laundry never stops needing to be folded.  It's hard to maintain that level of significance in every choice, to wash the dishes as if your life depended on how you did it, because it just might.

I release the small decisions, the ones of fate and chance, the 'do I cut through the parking lot or wait at the light?' the 'do I wear sandals or tennis shoes?'  It's good to weigh risks on decisions, but it's not reasonable to spend your life calculating detailed risk assessments for every left turn or breakfast taco.

Instead, I listen for the voice, for that hissing whisper just behind my right shoulder.  I interpret that voice as my subconscious alerting me to choices that define me, choices that give me a chance to *earn* my mortality and its rewards.  Yes, I tell it, Ted Bundy used people's kindness to prey on them.  But kindness keeps the mechanism of human interaction moving, and a life of choosing to be kind instead of afraid is worth living.  Yes, love leads to grief and loss, and it can end in betrayal, but in the life I want to lead that's a risk you have to take.  I may have few opportunities to live an epic life, but I have many many chances to live a pattern I'll look back gladly on creating.

I'm still often painfully aware of my mortality, but I've stopped resenting that whisperer, because in trying to clip my wings, it's inadvertently pointing out opportunities to fly.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On Complexity, Nuance, and Lazy Storytelling

I first read "Game of Thrones" shortly after it came out.  I was entranced by the world, and the characters, and as each subsequent book was written I devoured it and began the long wait for the next.  "Read this!" I gleefully told friends, building a small community of people I could talk to about the books, swapping theories and ideas for what was coming.  I put a dent in a wall with the corner of the book when I read the Red Wedding; I had understood why Ned Stark had to die like a Disney parent, but Robb was supposed to WIN, dammit.

Initially, I wasn't particularly aware of a lot of the issues around which the books are problematic.  My view of racism was not particularly nuanced, so "Have you noticed that most of the nonwhite characters are kinda...savage?" escaped me.  Likewise, there's a remarkable tendency towards sexual violence, and most of the non-heterosexual characters are pretty bald stereotypes.  Most of that went right over my head, I'm sad to say, until friends began pointing out their own concerns.

My journey with the books and social awareness has been a long study in liking something problematic.  I started from the traditional rationalization positions: this is just a book, don't take it so seriously, there's much worse stuff in the real world, and so on.  Eventually, I did finally face the reality that this thing I love is deeply flawed, and it's flawed in ways that mean it may be perpetuating things I work against.  But what to do?

There seem to be three ways speculative fiction can address sexual violence and racial/sexual inequality.  There's the Star Trek approach of handwaving it all away in "and then we were ALL equal!  The end!"  Never mind that even in the magical equality of the Star Trek Universe, there are still some pretty glaring examples of racist and sexist casting and writing.

The second approach is to create the world where terrible things happen, but make your protagonists shine by inexplicably developing an aversion to the parts of your world that don't fit with modern sensibilities.  You give them parents who, in a world populated by slave labor for generations, raised them to see everyone as equal.  You give them an aversion to a 16-year-old bride when the entire culture is based on menarche as the signifier of marital availability.  Usually, the protagonist doesn't have a compelling reason for opting out of his entire culture besides "He just knew it was wrong."  You never put them through the process of examining that culture and evaluating it critically.  And most importantly, you create a world where you use horrible things being done to some people as a way to shorthand "My character is a decent guy because he opts out of this terrible culture I created!"  This is the most common approach, and it's the one I like the least because it's lazy.

The third approach is my personal preference, and it's best exemplified by Babylon 5 and the Song of Ice and Fire *novels*.  You create a world in which racism and sexism and bigotry are real, and then you force your characters to navigate that world as decent human beings with the socialization they would have had living in it.  Babylon 5 is notable for its frank address of racism, though they used nonhuman races for a broader view, so that it's less obviously a critique on modern culture -- but it still is.  Because guess what?  We live in a culture where some people think an accident of demographics makes one less worthy of basic respect and decency, so B5's constant struggle to blend disparate and sometimes incomprehensible cultures is a useful reflection of ways we ourselves often approach it.  Some work, some don't, but you end up really thinking about it either way.

Game of Thrones' racial representation is problematic and there's really no way to handwave around it.  I just have to say "Yes, there's some pretty blatant racism there and if I ever meet GRRM I'mma ask him what the hell he was thinking."  But the books' sexual representation is much more nuanced and interesting.  How does a decent person raised in a culture where there is no such thing as statutory rape navigate an obviously frightened and anxious child bride?  The notable scene between Danaerys and Khal Drogo in the book involves a lot of nonverbal communication and shared pleasure until her comfort level allows her to consent -- and lays the foundation for their loving relationship.  In the show, this was shorthanded to a painful, horrifying rape scene, which turns Dany's embrace of her culture and her marriage into an uncomfortable Stockholm-syndrome feel.

Tyrion's marriage to Sansa is another one of those nuanced situations.  He's been given a beautiful bride, formerly betrothed to a king and conditioned since birth to be someone's lady wife, and commanded to bed her by a father who's displayed a consistent willingness to murder those who balk him.  He tries; they get as far as taking off their clothes.  At the same time, he's looking at this terrified child, whose father his family murdered in front of her, whose younger brothers and sisters are presumed dead, who's been a hostage for months, and he just...can't.  Not because of her age, but because of the pure brutality of the situation and that he can't make anything good for her, just less horrible, and the least horrible option is "I won't touch you until you ask me to."  Sansa displays a lot of character in the book there, first steeling herself to endure it and then mustering the courage to ask him, "And what if I never ask, my lord?"  That chapter really seals her understanding that all her childhood fairy tale dreams are dead, that Tyrion Lannister is the only prince she gets.  This is glossed in the series, as he just sends her to bed like a child and drinks himself to sleep on a sofa.

The last piece in this puzzle of the series failing the books is Jaime's much-talked-about rape of Cersei.  In the book, it's an incredibly complicated scene that really demonstrates the complete dysfunction of their relationship.  So much of their relationship has been grounded in that whole "It's wrong, but I want it, but I feel guilty, but I want it," on both their parts.  In the series, it's...the creepy hate-rape of your sister next to your mutual dead child's corpse.  This makes me as angry as Drogo's rape of Danaerys does.  First, because hey, isn't there enough rape and brutality in the story without adding more?

Second, because it strips characters of a chance to develop.  Jaime's long and conflicted arc of becoming a better human being, of overcoming the single stain of killing Aerys Targaryen, just stops right there.  I can't see how the producers can possibly bring him back from this.  Cersei's loss of agency and depth there just makes her another boring victim for another angry man.  Drogo becomes just another savage possessing a woman who's been given as a gift, not a partner sharing joy with a fellow human being.  Danaerys' subsequent transformation into comfortable khaleesi makes no sense.  Sansa, who'd finally been beginning to develop past whining, becomes just another trial for Tyrion to manage (though the producers did keep the subtle beginnings of what might have been a long and comfortable friendship had circumstances not intervened).

It's a much more interesting story to watch people navigate complex situations than it is to watch them go through the motions of rebelling against the status quo and ultimately be destroyed by it.  To say I'm disappointed that the shows are taking a lazy approach the books avoided is understatement.

On the whole, I've been pleased with the adaptations.  I understand that in a book with hundreds of named characters, sometimes you need to combine a few or cut a few for the sake of a comprehensible story line.  I understand that some storylines that interest me may be trivial to the outcome, just there for worldbuilding, so they might not make the cut.

But destroying one of the things Martin really did *right* by facing questions of sexual agency and power, and reducing those situations to rape and torture porn for shock value, is a grave disservice to the whole series, and to those of us who've loved it for years.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Am Not A Shepherd And These Are Not My Sheep

The longer you work in festival or convention safety, the more likely it is you'll run into the perception that the rest of the people, the ones not on your team, are somehow the 'sheep', who need to be protected.  They are, as an aggregate, dumb and thoughtless and unable to make good decisions for themselves.  I've heard them called 'gomers' and any number of other names, all of which imply that we, the safety staff, are the only thing standing between them and their messy, embarrassing demise.

This is, frankly, bullshit.

The first team I worked on held this perception.  Perhaps it was a cynicism, or an egotism, but either way I'm faintly embarrassed now at the way I nodded, smugly, when it was explained to me that "We protect the people.  Mostly from themselves."  It was easy for me, because I only ever saw the people having trouble, to view those others as a collection of bad decisions and personal frailties waiting to happen.  It was easy to view myself as a voice of calm reason and sanity to a childlike population.  I bought into that particular line of patriarchy without even thinking about it.

As I began to consider my own warrior's path, away from my earliest influences, I evaluated my relationship with those around me.  I considered how we would interact, what role I would play in their lives, and they in mine.  It started to chafe at me, this perception of a mindless mass of helpless sheep.  These are people, I thought, my equals and my peers.  Together we form community, and together we create, sustain, and protect that community.

Over the last two years, as I've been training to lead my own safety services team, I've had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to lead and guide that team.  What would we do?  Would we be physical warriors, standing up bodily in the face of harm?  Would we be spiritual warriors, focused on magical defenses and energy work?  How would we protect the people?

The more I thought about my own history, and what I saw in it, the more I realised that I don't protect these people.  Not in the traditional way.  I protect this community, and that's something entirely different.

There is a part of it that is the taking up of arms, of walking into battle in the very real sense.  That is a minuscule part of this commitment, but many groups treat it as the default expectation, a physical defense against a clear threat.  They walk with swords and arrogance, looking for obvious battles, but when you begin by looking for a fight, you almost never find anything else.

No, the real work is elsewhere.  To speak up with integrity in defense of those who do not feel empowered to speak.  To model the actions you want to see in others.  To choose empathy and compassion in the face of anger and confusion.  To walk out among your community, opening doors and creating bridges, wherever you can.  To be a resource for clarity and understanding.  To build trust.

I consider what may happen, and how best to respond.  I marshal resources and maintain, in my head, a list of people who can be depended upon to be calm and patient when it is needed, and fierce and passionate when it is needed, and who have the wisdom to know which is which.

The people of my community will usually, if given good information and the time to think clearly, make reasoned, intelligent decisions.  When there is not time to think clearly, I have to call upon the trust that I have built rather than the authority I claim, to ask them to do something on my word because important things are at stake and I cannot stop to explain.

I worry, but with a plan.  What is the worst that might happen, I ask myself, and then what will I do?

Through it all, I remember that I don't stand between these sheep and the wolves.  I stand among these people.  I am of them, and we are united in the future of this community.  I am often asked why I'm so adamant about the difference between "I am on the safety team" and "I am on the security team."  The difference is that the safety team is always thinking about the health and the safety of the community.  They understand that flexibility and understanding are critical to the dynamic situations affecting the tribe.  The security team simply enforces the rules, by force if necessary.  There are too many instances of 'force' in that for me to be comfortable with it.

A shepherd protects and tends the flock, but he also culls it for his own sustenance.  A sheepdog will ward against danger, but if it becomes hungry enough it will turn into a wolf in the blink of an eye.

A warrior walks among the people, of the people, and stands united with them for the good of all.

That is what I want to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shifting Anxiety into Clarity

Today I turned off a set of Red Cross notifications.

When I got my new phone, I set up my Tornado Alert Warnings to include the Kansas City and Lawrence areas, where I used to live and still have many friends.  A few weeks into tornado season, I am struck by two things.

First, that I used to spend a substantial part of every spring fairly blithely living under the reminder of constant potential doom from the sky.  Sirens once or twice a week wasn't that unusual.  I formed the habit of making a mental note, in every building I regularly occupied, of the lowest and most sheltered ground.  Each year I checked and repacked the small bag containing a change of clothes, some emergency cash, a flashlight and other necessities, without really acknowledging it as a tacit admission that I might face an actual tornado or have the roof blown off my apartment building by a microburst and need to grab the cat and run for shelter.  In all that time, I never saw a tornado though the city I was in was hit more than once.  I became blase about the danger because I was both used to it and personally untouched by it.

Second, that at some point in my life I created this fantastic and beautiful network of people, reaching across the country and around the world, and as a result my world has become very small.  Today alone I am thinking of a shooting, tornado warnings, two children in my community facing illness, people facing the loss of loved ones, friends who are out of work, fearful for their futures, or worried about their own health.

Facebook keeps me in touch and aware, and e-mail, text, and messaging let me maintain a network of love and support.  I have found that network a lifeline in my own daily experience, and I'm grateful for the ease with which an "I love you and you're in my thoughts," can fly hundreds of miles in a second.

But at some point, I have to unplug and hope I will hear what I need to hear as it happens.  I turned off my notifications for Douglas County and Kansas City, not because I do not love the people who still live there, but because I cannot share their ever-present awareness of dangers that will almost certainly never come to pass.  There is nothing I can do, except light my candles and hold fire and faith.

I was an Army Brat.  I spent my childhood forming fast friendships with a changing population of peers, and then walking away with the knowledge that I might never see those best friends again.  I've been running my adulthood that way, but now I keep the friends as an ever-expanding network of deep emotional connections.

But I'm having to refine and reframe the way I manage that network, all the time.  A few years ago, it was evaluating my relationships and choosing to focus on the ones that supported and empowered me.  More recently, I've been looking at a lot of my interactions and choosing to focus on those where I had a chance to change someone's mind or make someone consider a different viewpoint.  Today, I'm choosing to step out of the reactionary mode, trying to give up that constant awareness of where my love and support will be needed next, and shift to simply giving it where it's asked.

To my gods I say, I am not abandoning my love and support for those who are important to me.  I am not changing how I feel, or how deeply I wish for their happiness and success.  I am simply pulling back my constant threat awareness and trading worry and anxiety in for the calm faith in love and community.

I love you all.

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Am Apparently My Own Bloodless Coup?

Over the last several days, I've been slowly wrestling with the possibility that the anemia is forever.  That it's not a matter of making sure I get enough of the right kind of iron, that this is not a thing I can eat my way out of.  That something is wrong with me beyond my ability to maintain my own health myself.

Two weeks ago, I had what I thought was the last hematologist appointment for half a year.  Everything looked good, she said, hemoglobin and hematocrit numbers holding steady.  My color is back, my energy is up.  My hair and nails have been growing much stronger and thicker, my skin is better, and I just, overall, feel healthy.

Then, Monday morning, I got a call from the hematologist's office.  My serum iron is in the 30's (normal is 50+) and my percent saturation is 9% (normal is 12).  Four more infusions.  Four more lost days of work.  Four more trips to the chemo lab to sleep away three hours in a Benadryl haze.  Four more anxious moments as I watch the first injection of the iron solution, knowing that if I have a reaction this door may be closed to me forever.  Four more weeks of my body pulling energy away from cognition and motivation, to turn the glut of iron into healthy blood.

What the numbers mean, by the way, is that I'm walking a tightrope of deficiency.  I have enough oxygen in my blood *now*, but one false step and I don't have the reserves to cover it.  One bad nosebleed.  One nasty cut while slicing vegetables, and I can't replace what will wash down the drain.  And as the cells die, I'm at the very edge of being able to replace them.

Through it all, the anxiety.  Is this just what my life is now?  Semi-annual injections of something the entire rest of the world can get from a spinach salad or a hamburger?  Watching for the pica, the shortness of breath, the cracked nails and the diminished energy, all the little ways my body tells me it's failing?  Second-guessing every groggy morning and every brief moment of chill?  Looking, every time I miss it, for a new metric that would have warned me?  Accepting, after each episode, that that wasn't the right way to track it.  Even a home iron test wouldn't have found this; it tests hemoglobin and hematocrit, which were fine.

Adding 'hematocrit' to my spell checker, because it seems I may need to be using it a lot.  It suggests 'crematorium' instead.  No, thank you, spell check.

The scariest thing a doctor can say to you is "I don't know why this is happening to you, and I don't know where else to look."  I have no symptoms of deeper problems, no signs of cancer or internal bleeding or failing bone marrow or my liver gone rogue, mad with the power to destroy blood cells.  That would be reassuring, except...I have no symptoms of anemia either, and I seem to have that.

Feeling simultaneously betrayed by my body, which is refusing to conform to the agreement we made in which I will give it good food and exercise and it will function as I need it to -- and compassionate towards it, because I can feel myself *trying* to compensate, to keep up, to do what is needed with what I have.  It really doesn't help that within five minutes of the confirmation phone call, I started feeling cold and dizzy and weak.  No, I told my feet, I can feel you just fine, dammit.  This is psychosomatic and you KNOW IT so stop it!

The thing is, anemia doesn't kill you, because it's resolvable and treatable.  It's not a thing people really die from, because iron is easy to replace, until it's not.  Once you have a reaction to the iron treatments, your options become very limited.  I've been in the lab, once, when someone started to have a reaction.  He said, "It's swelling.  It doesn't usually swell like this.  Is something wrong?"  I drifted into the Benadryl haze about that time; my last conscious thought was a panicked glance at my own injection site.  When I woke, he was gone.  I don't know where he went, or what his options are now.  I asked, once, what if I can't have infusions any more?  The nurse looked away and said, "Don't worry about that right now.  Just focus on getting better."

The part of my brain I call Traitor Brain is having a field day.

"You're broken," she says.  "You have bad blood.  There are secret things wrong with you, things you should have seen, but now they're going to kill you and you're missing the significance of the only warning you're being given.  This is your fault, for all those years when you couldn't get a job that gave you insurance.  You'd already know what was wrong, but you were too busy being a fuckup to have the stability to find out."

She also says, "Get over yourself.  This isn't a real illness.  This isn't a thing.  You know people with real things.  They have real, bona fide illnesses and you're, what, a little chilly?  Put on a fucking sweater and tough it up.  Look around that fucking chemo lab and then say you're afraid with a straight face, that you're dealing with anything even close to what those people are facing.  You should be ashamed of this, it's stupid narcissistic weakness."

I know that Traitor Brain is a bitch and she wants me to fail.  That's why I named her that.  I've had her on the run pretty well the last year or so, and she's trying to make me pay for it.  I repeat her words here, because when I say them out loud I can hear how full of shit she is, but when she's hiding in my head, those insidious whispers are self-reinforcing.

There's another voice, too.  It says, "Um, what if there's nothing wrong with you?  What if this is just...how you are?  How your body works?"  I have started finding things on web searches that say that with steady hemoglobin levels, lots of women function fine with a serum iron in the 40s if they're not having any symptoms.  That's not far from where I am.  It's possible, remotely, that I am at a confluence of 'does not absorb iron well' and 'turns serum iron into hemoglobin VERY FAST' so that what looks like cruising disaster is actually my normal state of being, and my crises were triggered by something as simple as "eating a heavily vegetarian diet without noticing."  This is where the lack of insurance comes in.  I have hemoglobin levels from 10 years ago, and they were low, but I've never really had regular serum iron tests when I was healthy.  I have no baseline, just the last several years of extremely problematic hemoglobin levels.  And in the absence of that baseline, the doctor treats what she sees, and what she sees is blood on the dangerous edge.  I'll talk to her about the possibility of it, and she's been very receptive, but "I think this may be an OK place for me to be as long as I'm careful" is going to be a hard sell.

I've wrestled with talking to the people in my life about all this, this week, but there are so many people who are important to me, that I knew I'd have to have this conversation too many times, and I'd forget things, or get angry when the same suggestion came from five people who didn't know I'd already addressed and considered it.

The long and the short of it is that while I've always considered my depression a chronic condition, it was something that I didn't really need medical intervention to manage.  It's been something that just *knowing* about seemed to help.  But this is the first time I have fully had to face the idea of the anemia as a chronic condition, one I must maintain with medical treatment, instead of an occasional one.  I can no longer shrug it off as "I should eat more steaks!" and ignore the possibility that there is something to be concerned about.  That's been really hard for me, this week.

And let me say one last thing:  every hemogoblin joke, every Magneto reference, Every goofy picture of iron toys, every offer to staple things to me because "every little bit helps, right?" is a blessing.  Making light of this is helping me, tremendously, navigate a very difficult and scary course.  My twisted, disturbing, irreverent and loving friends continue to remind me that I have chosen to fill my life with the right people.

I love you all.