Friday, September 22, 2017

Enough

Nature waits on a taken breath, gathering her will for the darkness ahead.

Balanced, we hang with her between light and darkness, celebrating the harvest of our days while quietly calculating: will it be enough to take us through what comes?

In days past, this calculation was much less metaphorical and much more specific.  Count the potatoes and the apples, the grain and the grape and the berries preserved; would they hold through the winter?  Would we reach Ostara safely, bored with our winter staples but grateful for their sufficiency?  Or would we stagger desperately towards it through the last weeks of a starving, terrified winter?

If a fire or flood destroyed a storehouse, if rats found ways into the granary or the rotten apple spread its poisons, if a neighbor's misfortune taxed our own stores to share with them, the calculations would be off.  Lives could be lost.

Even after the advent of supermarkets, the harvest still held literal agricultural meaning for many people.  My grandmother's well-stocked shelves of quart jars were a testament to the annual cycle of 'plant, tend, harvest, preserve'.  Sure, the IGA in town sold canned peas and preserves, but as long as she owned a garden, she trusted her winters to its bounty.  No matter the state of those dark country roads, she would eat.

Today, American abundance doesn't wax and wane with the fruits of the harvest.  Here in Central Texas, 'winter' is mostly a relative term.  We look forward to a respite from the baking three-digit temperatures and perhaps one or two good freezes to kill off the fleas and mosquitoes a bit.  Most people I know can't tell you when things are or are not in season for them locally, because they're available year-round in the grocery store.  Fewer people every year depend upon the agricultural calendar to set the course of their days.

So how do we calculate the balance of abundance against necessity?  Money, mostly.  There's also a complicated dance of tasks begun and completed, investments of all sorts coming to fruition, and the ripening of our relationships.  We've shoehorned the language of American prosperity and task-driven stress into the cycle of seasons.

We tend and we gather, but our fruits ripen throughout the year.  For many, Mabon is a symbolic holiday, when we stop to pay lip service to the gods of harvest and reflect upon our accomplishments for the year -- a tally-time for annual scorekeeping driven by the prosperity gospel that says good people work hard, hard work rewards good people, and those who deserve it will have enough.

But the true beauty of celebrating the harvest is not simply in "Look, I got stuff!" or even the deep Puritan "I have worked hard and so I shall not starve."  There's a deeper understanding to it, a moment of rest and release, when we relax into the understanding of, "Come what may, I have done my level best and I am as ready as I can be to meet it."

Modern life is beset by anxieties, by the constant feeling that one must work harder all the time, every day, to gain more and have enough.  For so many people, that reality never ends; life is a constant grind of gathering with never a moment to rest and say, "I am as ready as I can be for the winter, and now I must trust in the gods and myself to meet what is coming."

So today, for Mabon, I will not reflect with pride upon what I have gathered, and what I have done.  This summer has taxed me deeply, in any case, and so my harvest is a complicated understanding of my capacities and limitations.  With that harvest in hand, and all that the year has brought me, I shall instead stop and hang here, quiet, in that balance of light and dark to rest.  I wait with Nature upon her taken breath, as we ready the will to plunge into darkness.

I have done my level best to meet what comes, and I am as ready as I can be.  I trust in myself, I trust in my harvest, and I trust in my gods that it will be enough.

Monday, August 28, 2017

People Need To Stop Yelling at Houston

There are a lot of talking heads today yammering about how "Houston should have been evacuated," like that's a thing that could reasonably have happened on a useful scale in the available time frame.  I heard one commentator on NPR describing the people who evacuated as "the ones who took the weather forecasts seriously."  Sir, we ALL took them seriously, but we know some things I think you don't.

This highlights something I know about people who aren't from Texas, that has been evident in the number of Dallas friends being asked if they're flooding:  outsiders really have no concept of how large this state is, and even more they have no concept of how large our cities are.  The Houston metropolitan area would fill up most of the state of Connecticut, and at 6.5 million people, there are more than 30 states with smaller populations.

Think about that for a moment:  getting the population of the entire state of Missouri out of an area the size of Connecticut in 48 hours.  You can't travel south (Gulf), southeast (Gulf), or southwest (storm making landfall).  You have, at most, five major roads capable of bearing heavy traffic to the cities with the capacity to take in refugees.  The two nearest cities with significant evacuee capacity and experience are Austin, around 150 miles away down a lot of four-lane divided state highway, and San Antonio, about 200 miles from downtown on the Interstate.  Initiating a mass evacuation on that scale in under two days is just not possible.  The laws of math and traffic deny it, even with contraflow.  We saw that with Rita, twelve years ago.  People sat on the roads for days, out of gas and out of water and out of food.  If that storm hadn't hooked at the last minute, tens of thousands of people would have been riding it out in their cars on unsheltered highways.

OK, say the talking heads, including some ignoramus in the Governor's office, then people "should have understood that if they live in a flood plain and they're getting 25 inches of rain maybe they need to evacuate without waiting for a governmental nudge."  We're going to do a little exercise called "Plan your evacuation."  It goes like this:

1.  Do you have a place to go?  Friends or family out of the path of the storm, who have room and the ability to take you in for an unknown amount of time?  Can you stay there for a couple of weeks at least?  Do they have room for your pets?

2.  If you don't have friends and family who can take you in, can you find a shelter?  Does that shelter have space?  Will it be safe for your kids?  Do they have room for your pets (most don't)?  Are you willing to abandon your pets to the storm if no one has room for them?

3.  Do you have a vehicle that will make it to your destination?  If you don't own a car (many in large cities don't), who will give you a ride?  Is their vehicle in good enough condition to make it?  Local government will probably try to arrange buses or other mass transit options, but assume public transportation is full or may stop running at any time during a major storm situation.  Bus drivers also have families they want to protect.

4.  Do you know what to take?  You have, at most, a couple of hours to locate documents, decide what to take, and pack it for travel if you want to get on the roads in time to beat the storm.  Important documents, family keepsakes, photo albums, hard drives or portable electronics, jewelry, food and water for the trip, and anything you want to be certain you'll ever see again.  What will you pack your belongings in?  If you're not taking your own car, can you physically carry everything you're taking?  Do you know where your copy of your lease agreement or your mortgage information is?  Do you know where the copy of your home or renter's insurance policy is?  If those items are electronic, do you have the means to print out copies for when you don't have power to your phone or access to your cloud?

5.  Have you taken pictures of all the valuables you can't take, for insurance purposes?  You need pictures of the front to show condition and the back for serial numbers, for electronics.  You need detailed pictures of your possessions so that insurance will replace them if you lose them all.  Anything you can't prove you owned, the insurance company has the right to refuse to replace.  How fast can you get those pictures, and where will you store them?  On a phone you might lose?  In a cloud you might not be able to access?

6.  If you're going to a shelter, or to visit a slightly dodgy friend with a roommate you don't trust entirely, do you have a way to hide and secure your personal valuables while you're there?  Predators flock to shelters, because they know that people have the entirety of their personal wealth there with them, and usually the means to identity theft wrapped up neatly in folders labeled "Important Documents."  Do you know that a shelter may simply give you a square of floor with a cot and a curtain, and you won't be allowed to carry all your possessions with you, if they don't fit in your space?

7.  Are you prepared to spend a day or more on the road to your destination?  Is your gas tank full right now?  Assume gas stations will be of little help along your route; they run out early on, and getting them restocked is a major endeavour for the companies who own them.  You'll need to turn off the AC and even the engine at times, to save fuel.  It's southeast Texas in August.  Imagine that it's over 100 degrees, and more than 90% humidity thanks to the approaching storm.  Can your kids and your pets and the elderly neighbor you're taking to safety stand that?

8.  How likely is your home itself to flood?  This is a trick question.  If your home is likely to flood, you probably know it, but the most recent FEMA flood potential designations may not account for the massive concrete-heavy subdivision that went in near you two years ago, or for the failure of a dam or bayou system nearby.  Harvey is filling homes with water that have never flooded before.  People who thought they were safe are bailing out their living rooms.

9.  How prepared are you to wait out the storm if you don't flood?  A lot of people can easily weather a few days with no power.  They've got camping supplies, or a generator, or just a real can-do prepper spirit.  As long as they stay dry, it's just a staycation as the city closes down around them.

10.  Do you have a job that you will lose if you can't make it back from an evacuation in a timely manner?  It's a horrible truth that a lot of employers will insist that their employees return to work immediately as soon as the roads are passable, and if you're in a shelter in Austin or San Antonio, you may find yourself out of a job when you can't leave your family there to go back to work.

Many people weigh the complications of an evacuation against the likelihood of a flood, think about who will be there to put out their house if it catches fire or to put towels under the doors to keep out small leaks, and decide it's safer to stay.

And many people in Houston remember 2005; a couple million people rattled down through this exercise and got to "safer to evacuate," packed up their lives and hit the road when Rita threatened the Houston metro.  All of us who were here in Texas then remember the pictures, of miles upon miles of parked cars on the highways, stopped with engines off to save fuel, people giving up and walking along the side of the road.  No food, no water, no bathrooms, no fuel.  There were texts from friends and family in transit:  "Still on the road.  Not moving.  No ETA."  I remember the National Guard trucks heading out of Austin, on their way to dispense aid in the form of gas and water to stranded motorists.  If not for a last-minute course change, Rita might have killed thousands of people trapped along the highways with nowhere safe to run.

Approximately a hundred people did die in that evacuation and there's no official count of how many pets were lost to stress and heat exhaustion.  Everyone knows at least one person with an "I was trapped on I-10 for 16 hours and moved less than a mile," horror story.

Houstonians who didn't evacuate aren't stupid, or arrogant, or naive.  They didn't have their heads in the sand and they didn't ignore the weather predictions.  They're people with a better sense of what's involved in a major evacuation, and what could possibly go wrong, than most of the people in this country.  Stop second-guessing their mayor, stop shaking your head at "those people" and mocking them for needing to be plucked off their rooftops by helicopters.

Help them.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Harvey

A mark on the severity of the situation in Texas:

Since I moved here in 2005, I've seen hurricanes in the Gulf, wildfires across the state, tornadoes nearby, a tropical storm that planted herself atop Austin, microbursts, and all manner of flooding.  Today, for the first time in all that time, my cell phone carrier texted me that they're waiving all call and text fees until 9/1 so people in the storm's path can communicate without worrying about money.  Call family, text friends, ask for help, check in safe.  Call 911 from the roof.

I joke about making pie for Hurricane Preparedness and whether wind chimes will make it through the storm, but I'm a couple hundred miles from the real action.  I won't flood, we're unlikely to have any property damage.  I'm at the edge of a storm that's hundreds of miles wide and covers millions of people.  I have friends worried about their flooded cars or water coming into houses.  There will be people who can't go in to work but don't get hurricane pay, so they've got to find that money in the budget until MAYBE they get some sort of disaster assistance.

The city of Smithville, about an hour east of here, is performing swift water rescues from houses.  Not rivers.  Houses.  People are being reminded that as they escape rising water, they need to take axes so they can chop through to the roof if need be; people escaping Katrina, you see, were trapped in their flooded attics and drowned.

There's a lot happening, and it's hard to keep track.  Midwestern friends, the reports I'm seeing match 1993 flooding, but instead of having weeks of watching creeks and rivers rise, this has all happened with about 48 hours of warning, and they're projected to see the water rise more.

Harvey's projections have been wildly divergent, but right now he's supposed to head out into the Gulf and come back into Houston.  This is probably the worst thing that could happen.  He will pick up more moisture and then, moving at a glacial pace, drop it all on a city where the storm drains are already full.

By all means, donate to short term resources.  Give to the Red Cross to support their shelters, and when the rebuilding starts there will be plenty of organisations helping out.

But...we have to have different conversations too.  Conversations about infrastructure, and about people who have no way to evacuate and nowhere to go.  Conversations about how we have to either work to slow climate change or work to build cities on the coasts that can withstand it.  Conversations about properly funded emergency management, and first response.  And conversations about how we can possibly survive the next 20 years if people consistently have to choose between safety today and safety tomorrow, with no chance to simply choose 'safety'.

These are hard conversations, but keep forcing them, keep having them, keep demanding them of your elected officials.  This will not stop, this will not go away, and if we just put Harvey into the category of Katrina, of "terrible things but what can you do?" then we're just going to watch more cities drown, and more people die.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Questions to Ask Before You Punch a Nazi

There's been tremendous debate of late over whether preemptive violence against neo-Nazis or Klansmen is appropriate and ethical.

On one side, there are those who say that no verbal provocation is ever an acceptable reason for an escalation to force. and on the other side are those who essentially consider going out in public wearing a KKK hood or advocating Nazi ideology as throwing the first punch and rendering yourself fair game.

I'm not here to debate those questions.  Each of us must wrestle with our own feelings on action, nonviolence, and escalation.  I can't make that decision for you.  I'm here to help you decide, once you've accepted that you're comfortable escalating to violence, whether *this particular moment* is a good one for Nazi-punching.  You should always assume that violence will lead to reciprocal and escalated violence, because it always might.

So, some things you want to consider before you throw that haymaker:

Are you ready for a fight?  Not just "yeah, man, bring it!"  Have you ever been in a fight?  Have you been punched, kicked, beaten before?  Do you know how it feels?  Do you understand you could lose teeth, break bones, or end up in the hospital?  Do you have insurance?  How will you pay for a broken jaw?  Can you do your job with a broken jaw or your hand in a cast?

How many people are on the other side of this potential conflict?  Are you outnumbered?  Significantly?  How many of them look like they'd be happy to let their buddy tussle with you himself, and how many of them look like they'd happily jump in and get a piece of the action?  Is it possible that one thrown punch or even a shove could turn into a brawling mob?  Tip:  it is almost always possible.

Can the people around you handle the escalation to violence?  Are there kids nearby?  Are there disabled or older people who might not be able to get away from a spreading physical confrontation in the area?  Are you surrounded by people who have been advocating nonviolence, who may be placed in danger if you start a brawl with the skinheads across the barrier?  If you bring violence into a space actively and deliberately inhabited by those who seek nonviolence, you may make them unwilling targets of retaliation for YOUR choices.  Many of them are willing to take a boot to the head for justice, but if you choose to start the fight that causes that, then it's little different from you kicking them in the head yourself.

Is the opposition armed?  Are they carrying visible knives, sticks, bats, or guns?  Are you and those around you ready to engage a group of armed racists?  Do you understand that the moment weapons, even improvised weapons, become involved you start increasing the potential for serious injury, death, and felony conviction?  Do you accept the risk of serious injury or real jail time, and do those around you consent to that escalation?

Do you have bail money, or an arrangement for bail and legal support?  Once punches start getting traded the likelihood of arrest goes up.  Be prepared to cool your heels behind bars.  Are there cops nearby?  Are they wearing riot gear and carrying tear gas?  Are you ready to bring tear gas down on everyone around you?

Finally, one of the most important considerations:  is choosing violence the act of an ally or an expression of your privilege?  If you are or appear white, understand that the PoC in the area will suffer harsher consequences if a gathering turns violent than you will.  They are more likely to be arrested, more likely to experience police brutality, more likely to be targeted by the opposition in a free-for-all.  The color of your skin is a shield you can extend to those more vulnerable.  If you become an epicenter of violence, you strip them of that shield without losing your own protections.  Be mindful of what you may draw down upon those you intend to support, especially when the systematic injustice you showed up to fight means, inherently, that you will bear less of the brunt of your choices.

Overall, the choice to meet hate with violence should always be made with a full understanding of the possibilities.  We're living in a world where white nationalist terrorists murder protesters with cars and some states are moving to legalise driving into protests.  Our opposition is brutal, ruthless, and reactionary.  Choose your consequences wisely.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Eviction

This post will discuss female medical issues in explicit detail.  If that's not your thing, please consider this your warning and move on.  I am talking about this because I can't possibly be the only woman experiencing it and it might help others to know they're not either.  Also, I am under the care of several competent medical professionals.  If you feel moved to offer me unsolicited medical advice, and you are not a doctor (preferably my doctor), please rethink that plan.

About a year and a half ago, in the course of the collection of medical catastrophes that was October 2015, I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids.  As they were 'merely annoying' as opposed to the several other issues rated at 'genuinely troubling' and 'potentially life-threatening', I set the matter aside to address when I had the others stable.  Once my iron levels returned to a reasonable norm, and I recovered from surgery and then from food poisoning, and got my foot out of the orthopedic boot, I set about looking for a new gynecologist (I had fired my previous gyno) who accepts my insurance and isn't an hour from home/work.

Meanwhile, my periods were moving from the moderately heavy ones I've had my entire adult life to something else entirely.  Since my 20s, I've had periods that were slightly heavier than most people's, but still didn't seem to cause the kind of anemia my late 30s offered (I could give blood about half the time up until 2010).  It was about 6-8 ounces of fluid loss (including but not exclusively blood), measured using the menstrual cup:  two heavy-heavy days, two moderate days, a day of spotting at the beginning and the end.  I've always had a lot of clotting, ever since my teens, and that hasn't changed.

They gradually got longer over the last year and a half, though only a little heavier.  By last fall, it was two heavy-heavy days, two moderate days, and ten days of intermittent spotting just heavy enough to need some form of protection.  Sometimes there'd be a day or two of nothing, then SURPRISE!  I understand this is common with fibroids, so it makes sense that as they've gotten larger the periods have gotten more annoying.  Additionally, the clotting's gotten much worse, which makes a cup particularly irritating:  Check cup on schedule, cup is empty, wash hands, walk back to desk, feel breakthrough, return to bathroom, cup is full of single clot.  Empty clot, spend rest of day anxiously waiting for another clot while nothing happens.

After consultation with my gyno and another uncomfortable vaginal ultrasound, we acknowledged that the first priority is to get the bleeding under control so that we can consider fibroid removal vs hysterectomy without the crushing pressure of the anemia driving the decision.  I also explained that the recovery from any surgery needed to take into account the festivals at which I camp in April and October.  To that end, she put me on a 14-day rotation of progesterone in February.  She said, "The next period will be as bad as usual, but after that they should start to taper off fairly soon."  I talked to a friend who's got similar issues, and was put on the same rotation; over three months her periods went from 10 days of wanting to die including 2 days of hourly bathroom trips, to four days of "hey, that's not too bad!" I did a lot of research and by and large the treatment I was put on seemed to help a lot of women.  So, I was hopeful.

It's at this point that someone invariably pops up to tell me the wonders of hormonal birth control and express amazement that I haven't been on it all along.  I agree, hormonal birth control is a wonderful thing...if you don't have migraines, especially migraines with visual auras.  I was never willing to take on a daily maintenance medication that increased my level of stroke that much.  It also turns out that it probably wouldn't have worked, if the progesterone was any indicator.

First period:  About normal.  Second period:  early.  I called the gyno and they said that since it was just a couple of days, it could just be my body adjusting to the schedule.  Slightly heavy flow, which was frustrating, but I told myself "Think how wonderful it will be when you taper off!"  Third period:  again a couple days early, arriving the Sunday morning of a camping festival I attended.  OK, annoying, but they should be tapering off now, right?  Also, gyno appt set up for the first time after festival I'm sure I won't be bleeding, because now my summer is open and I've got cleared time for recovery.  Heavy period.  Like, I've only had maybe ten periods in my life this heavy.  Three solid days of heavy bleeding, severe cramps for the first time in years.  I tell myself I'm ready for this 'tapering off' to kick in any time.

My gyno's office uses this electronic scheduler, where you go and pick out an appointment, but the scheduler doesn't allow you to differentiate between the actual doc and her nurse, who handles a lot of stuff very well but cannot have the "I think it's time to make surgery a priority" conversation with me.  The appointment I made for the first reasonable opportunity after festival gets moved because it was a nurse appointment, so I go into my fourth period of the progesterone.  The thing that I should have done was tell them how much worse it was instead of just telling them I was still having kinda heavy periods and some side effects.  They told me it usually kicks in after a month, but sometimes it could take longer, and if the side effects were too much, I could stop.  This is where I should probably have detailed the side effects, and the degree to which I meant 'still heavy' because when I told the doc about it in the appointment, her eyes got big and she said, "No, no, stop taking that, don't take any more of that."  Instead, having heard and read all the women talking about how bleeding less was so worth it, I soldiered on with it, unaware that the worst was still ahead.

So, about those side effects.  It started with headaches, which every site lists as a normal effect.  Fourteen days a month of what felt like low-grade dehydration headaches.  Lemme tell you, I was one hydrated motherfucker, because I kept drinking water to try and make them go away.  It never worked, but the massive water consumption is probably the only thing that saved my skin, when the hormonal widgeting started flinging the oil levels all over the place.  I haven't broken out this much since I was 15.  I also haven't had this much trouble regulating my moods since then either.  I've spent the last four months completely done with people's bullshit.  I've mostly managed to restrain it to 'snippy' but I've also unfriended about ten people because I just wasn't having any more pussyfooting maintenance of their delicate sensibilities and bigoted 'friends of friends'.  Turns out that part's been surprisingly good for my mental health; with 20% less fucks to give, I have heavily prioritized them.

However, the side effect that's affected me most is known as 'breakthrough bleeding'.  Randomly, at any time in my cycle, in amounts that varied from 'a few drops' to 'ruined outfit', I was bleeding.  Because this occurred in conjunction with an ankle injury that sidelined my cardio, I quit working out entirely.  It only took one instance of stopping mid-lift for a panicked rush to the bathroom to find that only the foresight of wearing a pad had kept me from bleeding all over the machine to make me extremely nervous about weights.  I stopped hiking, because a sudden rush of blood three miles from anywhere is a day-ruiner.  I've had to give up a lot of protests/rallies/marches because I couldn't be sure of bathrooms, of somewhere to check my "is that sweat or is it blood?" anxiety.  To say that I've missed these parts of my life is a tremendous understatement.

Uncertainty over whether Today Is A Bleeding Day has colored pretty much every aspect of my life for almost four months.  Yes, I carry pads everywhere, yes I wear them pretty much 100% of the time now, but the other thing about it is that it's demoralizing on a level it's hard for me to explain and the frustration and constant anxiety over whether I'm bleeding again is exhausting.  My body has been my ally, and I have been its, and now part of it is not cooperating with the plan we had by which I surrender a chunk of each month to it and I get my freedom the rest of the time.  I want to be mad at my uterus, but I know that it's not healthy, that it's decided to build itself some little fibroid friends and give away all my iron to them, but it's not really thinking as its best self right now.

Any of this, all of this, would have been on some level worth it, if it stopped the bleeding.  It hasn't.  This last period was something I can only describe as a nightmare.  Two days of showering while standing in my own blood.  A breakthrough while brushing my teeth that I was just too tired to fight so I finished brushing and then mopped up the puddle.  Less than an hour between cup changes (it holds an ounce, for reference).  The bleeding tapers off at night a little, so I can catch an hour, sometimes two, of sleep before the feeling of a breakthrough wakes me up to run to the bathroom.  I slept on a towel, just in case. I've bled on the office floor at work, I've bled on the bathroom floor at work.  Two loads of bloody towels in three days.  Just before I was ready to take myself to the ER and say "Something has gone very wrong," it slowed abruptly (there were no moderate days, just three days of non-stop then just over two WEEKS of very intermittent spotting).

Through all of this, I found the final fuck-you from the progesterone:  cluster migraines that happened to intersect with a round of weather changes to exacerbate them.  I hadn't had a migraine in two years; I got three in one week.  By the second day of excruciating pain, I had made up my mind to tell the doc that if she wouldn't take me off the progesterone I was finding a new doctor because I was absolutely done with that shit and never taking another pill.  Thankfully, her response was much more "No, no, that's not at all what was supposed to happen, clearly this is not the medicine for you."

In a perverse bit of luck, I started this entire progesterone debacle with dangerously high ferritin due to my liver's inability to cope with the last round of iron infusions.  I was lucky enough to escape any liver damage (in part because my ferritin's fallen from 1100 to 450 in the last two months to recover from the bleeding), but also lucky enough to have enough iron to turn into blood, so I am miraculously only my normal level of slightly anemic.  Score one for the Ally Body there, at least.

The only question at the gynecologist's appointment was which surgery and when, no question of whether.  I had essentially made up my own mind that fibroid removal was a losing game.  Last time I was checked, there are three and they are fairly large, so removal *could* have been an option depending on how they were attached, but I'm not even perimenopausal, so there's a strong chance they'd grow right back and I'd just begin a years-long process of regularly carving out chunks of a uterus I have no plans to use.  So, hysterectomy it is, about a month from now.  I managed to get them to move my surgery up from the last week of July, which would have been monumentally inconvenient for so many reasons.  I'll be out of work for at least a week; I plan to be hardcore serious about doing nothing that week but read books and pet cats.

Those who've seen me have been very kind not to remark on the fact that no matter how much I worked out, and especially the more I worked out, my stomach has just gotten...rounder.  The fibroids, per what I hope is the last incredibly and uncomfortable vaginal ultrasound for a very long time, currently approximate a 24-week pregnancy in size, and expand my uterus up to my navel.  When I was really heavy, this was not so noticeable.  But the reality is that the only reason I can still wear half my clothes in the waist (all the pants are long since given up on) is that I lost fat almost as fast as the fibroids grew over the last year and a half.  I don't know what my body looks like without fibroids any more; I've been holding off buying new work clothes for four months because I have no idea what will change.

The size means that I can not do the easier, quicker, vaginal removal.  I'll have a thoroughly badass lower abdomen scar, and a slower recovery.  I only asked about the fibroids on the last scan, and not if I've still got any ovarian cysts, which I've had the previous two scans; the fact that they have been in different places suggests they may just be a function of when in my cycle I was getting the procedure (usually about day 14), or it may mean that she'll be removing a couple of cysts while she's in there.  Aside from that, she won't remove or otherwise interfere with my ovaries unless she has strong reason to suspect ovarian cancer.  I have no interest in abrupt menopause, so I appreciate that.

I've been referring to this as the 'nuclear option' for resolving the anemia, and it really is.  My periods have been a contributing factor, but the absorption problem won't go away, so I'll still need to monitor my iron.  However, I expect this will end the need for infusions, and I might someday be able to give blood again.  My only real regret is that robot surgery is not an option, so I can't use this to threaten the other organs with robots if they get out of line.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Faith

I've been listening to Hamilton while I work on house projects, as it's incredibly motivating.

While I acknowledge its historical flaws, it's got me thinking about the people who built this country.

In the latter half of the 18th Century, a small group of idealists fought a desperate revolution and wrestled a country from nothing into a collected group of states acting for the benefit of the whole.  Every history book I've read says that most of them expected not only to fail, but to die in the process, either in battle or hanged as traitors.

After the war, we almost fell apart again.  Ideas from every direction fought for primacy in the new government.  Slavery almost destroyed us before we began, egos clashed as acknowledged heroes fought for what they believed with words and pens, each certain that his vision, the one that had sustained him through revolution, was the one that had to carry through the ages.  A telling number of the contemporary narratives refer to the United States of America in terms of 'if' it will survive, not 'when' it survives.

The nation they created stood on shaky legs, propped up mostly by the charisma of George Washington, until we could establish not only a Constitution, but an economy and a foreign policy and a political process and an understanding of the role of the governed in government.  What would the role of the citizen be?  The journalist?  The worker?  The businessman?

For the last two hundred and some years, dedicated public servants have fought to build the structure that stands on that foundation, sometimes fighting one another.  We've faced civil war (slavery almost destroyed us again), disaster, fiscal collapse, scandal, and massive movements by internal demographics to demand equal rights to those originally established for white male property holders.  Each time, the foundation has held, and we've hammered out a new piece of the structure.

Two hundred years of judicial deliberations, each hoping not to weaken the structure.  Two hundred years of Congressional votes and Presidential signatures, honing law into a useful tool on the whetstone of the Supreme Court.  Two hundred years of soldiers and sailors, men and and women willing to spill blood for it.  Two hundred years of agency functionaries quietly building procedure and policy into a bulwark.  Two hundred years of journalism, demanding truth and accountability.  Two hundred years of voters, hurling their will into the ballot box to be heard and calling out their elected representatives with "...and I vote!"  Two hundred years of protest and riot, demanding to be heard when all else failed.

Here in the early years of the 21st Century, I am something the Founding Fathers never really anticipated.  A University-educated woman voting, owning property, working and holding her own money, advocating for other women in government.  They weren't even certain that what they built would outlive them, much less grow to encompass me.  But they did it; they had faith that what they were doing would stand through what they couldn't envision, and it has.

The nation is far from perfect.  There's still much to do to fulfill the ideals of universal equality and justice that even the Founding Fathers understood imperfectly (at best), but those ideals are an attainable goal.

But here in those early years of the 21st Century, I feel that what they built is in as much danger as it's ever been in.  The President is a dangerous maniac, Congress is complicit in his destruction of the structures that support this nation and refuses to challenge apparent abuses of power, and together they have the power to undermine and alter the Supreme Court.  Those quiet functionaries, who've been scrambling to run the day to day functions of the nation on dwindling funding, are being downsized and removed from their positions.  Institutional knowledge is being lost, judges are being challenged, the government is at war with the media, investigators are being fired and denied access, and our political system is threatened both by the fear motivating some Americans and the apathy keeping others out of the voting booth.

I'm terrified, quietly.  We're precariously balanced; if we don't motivate the voices of reason to ACT, the voices of madness will drag us over a cliff.

What sustains me?  Faith.

Faith that what they built, that two hundred years of careful consideration and balanced maneuvering and enlightened self-interest have supported and weathered this structure sufficiently to withstand the storm.

I believe that if the citizens will fight for it, what was hammered out in the last part of the 17th Century is strong enough.  But we have to fight.

It's not just voting, though we must do that.  It's also holding our leaders accountable.  It's funding and supporting journalists who ask the right questions and refuse to accept misdirection.  It's calling and writing and showing up whenever you can.  It's holding one another to a higher standard of honesty in our political debate.  It's rewarding integrity, not just victory.

This country was based on an idea of shared power and responsibility.  We are not merely the governed, over and outside our will.  We are the Citizens.  Our role in government was laid out over two hundred years ago:  speak our minds and our hearts, demand answers, and participate in the process.  We were given this power by people who, not even conceiving of all of us, believed in us.

Believe in them, and use it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Picking Up the Slack

When I began to pay taxes long ago, I made a conscious decision that I would not count charitable donations as a deduction.  I argued with my father about this for over a decade, and he never convinced me.

My reasoning is that I pay taxes in my country in order to sustain the basic services that make up our social safety net and give people the opportunity to improve their lives: food stamps, education, housing assistance, medical care, and similar programs.  I have never in my life begrudged that my tax dollars go to those who have less than I do, not even when I barely had enough.  I don't set up litmus tests of who's 'worthy' of help and who's not; people who need help are worthy of help.  If we are to be a human and marginally civilized society, these are the things we need to pay for.  It's the base cost of being a decent human being.

In addition to paying taxes, I donate to charities that I think help the world, both internationally and domestically.  I give what I can, when I can, because I was raised to believe that there's always someone who can benefit from sharing what you have.  Some of these charities also receive taxpayer funding.

Why, I asked myself, would I rob Peter to pay Paul by decreasing my taxes based on my donations?  Why would I take tax money away from programs that benefit charities based on my own donations to those very same charities?

I'm not naive; I know that my taxes also go to pay for a number of things I find reprehensible: foreign wars, massive weapons buildup, an abusive prison system, the unequal enforcement of drug policy, corporate welfare for multinational conglomerates, among other things.  As I can't dictate which programs my tax dollars go to, I lobby against what I oppose while still paying for what I believe in, because the two are inextricably linked.

Until now.  

The current White House administration believes in cutting its support for all those things I donate to: food for the elderly, school lunches, welfare programs, environmental protections, the arts, public education, humanitarian aid to other countries, and healthcare for the sick and needy.  They want to cut out all the things that made me willing to pay my taxes each year, and increase spending on that which I begrudge.

So, thanks for that, Republicans.  You've finally managed to do what my father spent more than ten years unsuccessfully trying to accomplish.  I'll be tracking every charitable penny, accepting every donation receipt, and cutting down next year's taxes as much as humanly possible by forcing you to credit me for the money I spend doing your job.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Complicated Thoughts on a Day Without a Woman

Yesterday was International Women's Day, and like most things involving women, it was complicated and experienced differently by a lot of different people.

Over the last several weeks, plans for a 'day without women' were floated around the internet, with a lot of women talking about how we should opt out for a day.  Don't work, don't do unpaid labor at home, don't buy things, just remove our contributions from the common pool.  A strike, essentially, from being women in the world.

Oh, if only we could.

Most of the criticisms of the 'day without women' idea were valid and based entirely in why we need one and may never get one.  It was a thing that only women lucky enough to be able to afford a day off could participate in.  Women for whom a day without work means an irreplaceable budget shortfall can't afford to strike.  Women who are sole caregivers for their children, or for their parents, cannot take a day away.  Women in "women's professions", especially teaching and nursing, have to face the fact that the people who suffer from their strike day are vulnerable children and patients, not corporations or the public at large.  I saw a number of women explaining that if they took a day off, their already-outnumbered voices would be silent for a day, leaving the decisions and opinions in the hands of their male co-workers.  Women said, "I provide care for others' children, mostly women.  If I don't work, they can't work."  Too many women who could afford to take a day off said, "Well, no one does my work if I'm not here so if I take the day off, I'll just have twice as much work tomorrow."

I took yesterday off.  I slept late and did exactly as I wanted, which included a couple of house projects I've been trying to get to but haven't because I'm often exhausted from work and other obligations.  It was excellent.

I also spent a lot of time thinking about what I was doing and why I should or should not do it.  The day actually hit a minor guilt-bubble around the time I was drinking my coffee in bed, because how can self-indulgence be a radical act?

It is, you know.  Though it's not just women, women (especially women of color) represent the greatest portion of the demographic for whom the words 'day off' are a faraway vision of unimaginable ease and luxury.  Too many of us are working paycheck to paycheck and balancing a lioness's share of unpaid household labor.

Everyone deserves a living wage for a full day's work, and that includes women.  If you're working 40 hours a week and you cannot afford to feed, house, and clothe yourself without taking on roommates or extra work, then you're being exploited.  If you're working 40 hours a week and can't even afford rent on a space large enough for your family, you're being exploited.  If you're working 40 hours a week and can't afford to save for emergencies *or* retirement, you're being exploited.  If you're working two 25-hour-a-week jobs because neither employer wants to give you full-time benefits, you're being doubly exploited.  Mark my words, every company that treats its employees this way receives government subsidies twice over, first as tax cuts and corporate welfare, and second by having tax dollars supplement their employees' abysmal wages with public assistance to meet a basic standard of living.

If you can't trust your male co-workers or managers to speak for women or consider their input as valuable if you're not physically there to hold them accountable, you're doing additional and likely unpaid labor to have a workplace that treats people fairly.

Systems, like modern nursing, that are arranged with such spare staffing coverage that every minute of every worker's day is essential to keeping the machine from failing increase burnout, which decreases employee longevity and destroys institutional knowledge.  It shortens the lives of those who work under those conditions, and damages their physical and emotional health in the long term.  If a shift that 'begins' at 3 and 'ends' at midnight requires you to be there at 2 and leave at 1230 in order to exchange critical information, AND work through your 'lunch' to finish required documentation, you're working an extra 10+ hours each week, unacknowledged.

Teachers, who are predominantly women, work hundreds of hours of invisible labor a year, from spending time over the summer designing and creating room decorations to supervising extracurricular activities to hours upon hours of grading.  "It must be nice to only work till 4," they say to the woman struggling out to the parking lot at the end of a ten-hour day, with twenty-six term papers to read and grade over the weekend.

Some of this is why I stayed home.  I am, as the articles point out, privileged in that I can do that.  My job isn't endangered by a day off; my boss was slightly inconvenienced that a thing he wanted to know didn't materialize immediately upon asking it and he had to wait until today.  Rather than dismissing things because "Only privileged women can do them" I think we need to say "Hey, this thing that's only accessible to privileged women, I think they all need to do it because they can, and to acknowledge that being able to do that should be available to all."  When a protest is only available to those of privilege, one of the best uses of privilege is to do it while pointing out its universal inaccessibility.

That's not the only reason I stayed home, though.  One of the most defining characteristics of modern womanhood is the idea that any time taken for oneself and one's own priorities is time 'stolen' from what we owe the rest of the world.  Mothers make memes about hiding in the pantry to eat a candy bar and get a few minutes' quiet.  We glamorize the idea of being 'so busy' that a cup of tea or a glass of wine in one's own living room is an unspeakable decadence.  There's an entire culture based around the conflict between feeling obligated to social engagements but being so exhausted you have to cancel them and beg forgiveness from friends for 'letting them down' by staying in for a night.

We're supposed to 'have it all' by which 'having it all' means putting the job, and the family, and the partner, and the social expectations of activism or volunteering all ahead of the simple act of enjoying time doing the things that feed us emotionally.  Women who put themselves and their own priorities ahead of any of those things are seen as somehow indulgent and rebellious.

There's a backlash against the self-care movement to tell women, "Stop claiming your pedicure or leaving a dish in the sink is 'self-care' because it's not, it's just being selfish and lazy and pretending that doing what you want is emotionally necessary."

Pretending that doing what you want is emotionally necessary.

So many of the arguments regarding women's rights boil down to whether or not women should have the same freedom to do as we want that men have.  The same opportunities to attend colleges or be hired for jobs or paid fairly.  The same ability to set our own boundaries.  The right to do as we want with our bodies and our health care.

When you trivialize the idea that doing what you want is emotionally necessary, you undermine the entire idea of women's autonomy.  You undermine our identity as complete, independent, self-actualized beings.  So what if you think my pedicure is trivial?  It's an hour of time doing what I want, at the end of which I feel physically and emotionally refreshed.  So what if you think I should go home and do the dishes instead of staying at work to finish a project I'm really interested in?  I will spend my time to my own best advantage.

Ultimately, it becomes a revolutionary act to do as we wish without validation or justification.  It is pure rebellion to spend my time entirely on my terms regardless of what the world thinks I should do with it.  Whether it's a full day I can take as a 'Floating Holiday' thanks to my employer's inclusive policies, or just a half-hour lunch break on which I refuse to work 'off the clock' and instead read a book or take a walk, unashamedly claiming the autonomy of spent time is a basic human right.

And if there's a better day for me to embrace that rebellion than International Women's Day, I don't know what it is.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Little Winter's Thaw

For years now, Imbolc has been my favorite holiday.  A lot of people may not be familiar with it, so here's a quick explanation:

If you're among certain kinds of Northern European pagans, the year is divided into eight pie pieces, by the holidays.  Four of those holidays are the solstices and equinoxes, and then there's an observance bisecting each of those.

At the Winter Solstice, one of the things people do sometimes is to hold vigil for the sun to return after its longest night.  We watch the sun set, and then we stay up all night to watch it return.  It's a way that we can express faith that we will stand through the darkest times, until the light comes again.  We greet the return of the sun with joy, though winter's only half over, because we are now on the road to spring.

Roughly six weeks later, we come to Imbolc.  In agrarian cultures, it marked the lactation of the ewes, the first faint sign that the lambs were coming, and spring following behind them.  Long before the weather turned, before the earth quickened or the trees put forth their leaves, into the bitter grey there came the promise of spring.  Here in Central Texas, Imbolc is more likely marked by the first green shoots and budding wildflowers, to herald our brief and gentle spring before the brutal summer takes hold.

The reason that Imbolc is my favorite is that it's a marker of validated faith.  In the northern latitudes you can't see, at the Winter Solstice, any real indication that spring will ever return.  All you have is your belief in how the world works, that it will continue to follow the laws of nature that it always has, and then at Imbolc that faith is met with proof.

When I lived in the Midwest, I always knew that the worst of the year, the most bitter, brutal, demoralizing cold came in February, in the weeks following Imbolc.  No matter how mild a January thaw might be, there remained the looming threat of weather so cold it would freeze the gas lines in your car, burst your pipes, creep in around your windows to torment your sleep.  The worst of winter was always its last gasp.

As a modern, educated pagan who knows exactly how the seasons progress and why, there's less concern that the sun will or won't come back, and the cycle of the year becomes metaphorical.  Imbolc comes to stand for the moment when the darkness breaks briefly, to give you a glimpse of the coming light before the year plunges you into another harsh test of faith.

My country is in darkness now.  The long election season and the first two weeks of the new administration have cast a lot of people into despair.  We rightly worry that fear and ignorance have handed the reins of power to a dangerous madman, and that we'll end in war -- external OR internal.  The most vulnerable members of our society are at ever-greater risk.

There have been small victories, though.  Marches and protests, rogue government agencies, little wins over policy or polemic.  There is just enough happening to mark an Imbolc moment, a signal to those who crave light that it will come someday and give us the ease and abundance of full summer.

There may yet be worse to come than we've endured already.  There may be more danger, there may be more rage and fear driving our actions and our neighbors'.  It's not yet time to plant our gardens, or plan our leisure time.  We have more tests of faith before us, but we can survive them.

We must apply winter logic, though, if we're going to get as many people as possible through the darkness ahead.

Know your resources and use them carefully.  Check on one another.  Support and take care of your neighbors.  Stand up for each other.  Plan for the worst.  Keep your faith and believe in the better times coming, but make sure your root cellar is stocked to get you to them.  Trade what you have for what you need.  Fight the madness that accompanies isolation and despair with companionship, with music, with laughter.  Find a hearth and circle it with love.  Connect where you can, and fight where you must, but remember, always, that your only goal is to carry yourself and as many of the lives around you as possible through to the better days.

Together, in community with one another, we can reach spring.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Every Child a Wanted Child

When I was younger, I had a good friend.  I'll call her 'Jane' for the sake of her privacy.

Jane was born at the end of 1972.  Her mother had not wanted her, or her older sibling, but had no access to reliable birth control, and she had a husband with needs and expectations who wouldn't have allowed any child of his to be put up for adoption.  It became clear to me, the longer I knew her, that Jane's mother was one of those people who should never have had children, and she knew it.

Rather than try to become the good mother she was singularly ill-equipped to be, Jane's mom let the resentment through.  My friend was regularly beaten; she confided to me once that her mom had started using the belt on her upper thighs, because she'd had her ass beaten so frequently it no longer really hurt that much, and her mom had figured that out.

The thing that sticks with me, more than any other, is Jane finding out when my birthday was, and saying enviously, "You were wanted."  I was born *after* the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.  Our friendship fell across that historic cusp.

Since she could remember, my good friend's mother had told her, on a regular basis, that she wished abortion had been legal in her state.  She told her "If it had been six months later or if I could have afforded to drive to another state, I would have aborted you."  She told her "you never should have been born and I wish you hadn't."  She told her children "Your father left after you were born and it was your fault.  He wouldn't have left me if not for you."  Jane looked at everyone she knew through an age-related filter, with everyone younger than her living in this miracle land of being a wanted child, because the law hadn't forced their mothers to have them like it had hers.

Everything Jane had done to improve her life, from studying hard to taking up hobbies to applying to colleges and getting a part-time job, her mother met with, "Why bother?  You'll just ruin your own life like you ruined mine."  When she started dating, she was told, "When you've gone and gotten yourself knocked up, I'll take you to get an abortion because even you don't deserve a child like you."

I can't explain what it was like to be in proximity to this kind of toxic relationship.  Jane made me promise not to tell anyone because every time someone tried to help it got worse.  I was much younger then, so I kept her secret.

As the years wore on and we moved to different cities, Jane and I had our fallings-out.  She was always a difficult person to be friends with, so quick to reject friendship if she had any fear that it might hurt her, so guarded against trust.  But when she was in an emotionally healthy space the friendship was good and solid.  Jane at her best was bright, kind, and witty.

Looking back I wish I'd tried harder to hold the connection, but that was tough to do in the days before email, and cellphones with free long distance, and jobs that pay enough for road trips.  She started making some dangerous choices with drugs and sex, and the last straw for a close relationship was me trying to talk to her about that.  I was not particularly subtle or empathetic about it, and she was not open to having her slow suicide through deliberate irresponsibility called out.  She told me she should never have been born anyway, so why did it matter?  We spoke occasionally after that, but the real closeness and trust were gone.  Eventually, the relationship just dissolved, and she faded out of my life.

Whenever abortion comes up, I think of Jane.  I hope she's all right and that she eventually managed to get the help she needed to deal with her abuse.  I hope that she's never become the mother she feared she'd be if she had kids.  I hope that her life, today, is one of joy and freedom.  Every so often I put her name in a search engine to no real effect, and I'm not even sure what I'd say to her if I found her.

Most stories of the days before Roe focus on the women, the ones who lost their lives or suffered desperate health crises as a result of a botched illegal abortion.  We tell a lot of stories about women whose lives were derailed or forever altered by a pregnancy and motherhood they didn't choose.

We talk about how now, because abortion is not as readily available as it should be, we have not reached the goal of making every pregnancy wanted and healthy.  We talk so much about the effects of abortion restriction upon the women who are forced to bear by them.

I can never deny, though, that the deepest part of my own opinions on the necessity of safe, legal, accessible abortion doesn't come from my own identity as a woman, or from my belief in my bodily autonomy.  It was formed by being helpless to stop the pain of a child who would not have existed if abortion access had been a reality for her mother.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Compersion is Not Just About Romance

If you hang around polyamorous circles long enough, you run into the concept of 'compersion'.  It refers to the state, when you and a partner are involved in multiple relationships, where a partner's happiness with another person brings you happiness because you're genuinely invested in their own well-being and you don't view that relationship as a threat to your own.

Whether it's a natural outgrowth of healthy polyamory or a general goal some people struggle towards is a matter of hotly debated opinion, and I'm not going to weigh in on it here.  I'm here today to talk about a different type of compersion: the manner in which it relates to the people your partner loves but is specifically not involved romantically with.  I'm talking about seeking compersion with your partner's friend group.

I am part of a large, caring, close-knit tribe.  We're loud, loving, honest and heavily invested in our success as individuals and as a group.  Many of us struggle with some form of chronic physical or mental illness, so we support one another on the bad days and celebrate the good ones.  We've got a diverse skillset that includes domestic, medical, technical, literary, financial, and social skills, and each of us is happy to put those skills to use to help one another, so that we all benefit from what we each have.  Without this group, my depression would have claimed me years ago; other friends would have failed in things they wanted or needed.

Over the years, some of the people I've dated have been intimidated by my tribe.  They see this group of unfailing advocates as somehow arrayed *against* them, in competition for my time, energy, or affection.  One poor fellow once told me, "Well, I just feel like if they don't like me, you won't like me."

He had it backwards.  If I love you and they see that you love me, my tribe will look at you through that filter, and if they don't understand what I see in you, they'll try to find it, try to build a relationship with you, try to meet you on some common ground, because they want my highest good.  They are invested in me being well and happy, and they consider anyone who is invested in me being well and happy as their ally.  It takes a lot for them to say, "No, I'm sorry, I know that this person is important to you, but I can't accept them."  And in most cases, that starts with a partner rejecting the friends, not the other way around.

The effects of having a tribe like mine have been twofold.  The first was that I chose not to pursue a relationship with anyone who treated my tribe as adversaries, and I feel that I'm much better for it.  If someone couldn't respect the people who love and support me as an important part of my life and necessary to my emotional health, then that person wasn't committed to my happiness.  My partner, on the other hand, has been delighted to find that I had such a wonderful support system, and he has really enjoyed building relationships with them.  Our wedding was a celebration of shared happiness surrounded by people committed to supporting it.

The other effect is that I view my partner's friends as MY allies in his happiness.  He has a group of good friends, and I have made it a point to know and have relationships with his friends, because if they are the people he enjoys and loves, who share in his triumphs and support him in his troubles, then they're on my side because they're on his.  When he goes out with them, and has a good time, I get the benefit of seeing him happy.  When we hang out together, we all have the shared baseline of valuing my partner upon which to build our own friendships.

That's where, for me, non-romantic compersion comes into play.  I have some interests my partner does not share.  He likes to do some things I either don't have time and energy for or an interest in doing.  If we tried to be everything to one another, tried to be the sole support, then we'd both be less happy.  But I can see him come home from an afternoon of games with his buddies, or plan to go out with a friend to see a show, and celebrate the joy he has in doing things he enjoys.  When we have separate experiences, we have things to talk about together.  Even in our monogamous relationship, we can embrace the things and people outside our relationship that make one another happy, and take our own pleasure from it.

Too often, I see the partners of friends or loved ones look at established friendships with suspicion, as obstacles to be navigated or power struggles to be won.  I've seen partners who treated friends as competition for a finite resource, and that hurts everyone.

Love is never a finite resource; time is.  And you have the choice, in your relationships, to compete for that finite resource and ensure that someone doesn't get enough of it, or to share it with the people who, when your beloved's demons come calling, will stand beside you as you help to fight them.