Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Birth lottery

The following popped up in my Facebook memories:

The crap this morning reminded me that while I am privileged enough to choose not to be here next year…or even just not to be in this neighborhood in the evenings and on the weekends…my kids here don’t have that choice. I didn’t earn this life. It was given to me and I didn’t squander it, combined with a whole host of dumb luck (see last week’s post re: finances and cancer for one of countless examples).

I wrote this during my last year teaching in south central Phoenix at a K-8 school in a low-income, high-crime neighborhood.

A few of my junior high kids had been caught dealing and using drugs on campus. Kids who did well for me. Kids whose names I wouldn’t have expected on that list. I was heartbroken and was reminded that their reality and my reality were so different.

That I didn’t attend a school like that had nothing to do with me. That I didn’t grow up in a neighborhood like that had nothing to do with me. That I’ve never had to live in a neighborhood like that has some to do with me and some not.

The point is—and I said it in the quoted portion—I didn’t earn my life. I was handed my life and I didn’t squander it.

(Other things in my life, including good mental health, pro-social interpersonal skills, etc., I worked my butt off and earned.)

Certainly there are some people who are handed a life like mine or better and squander it, most likely because they didn’t work their butts off to earn the other parts. (Societally, we don’t really talk about and definitely don’t deal with the other parts.)

But the majority of people in dire financial positions aren’t there because of bad life choices. They’re doing what they can with what they have. Sometimes, what is innate in a person is enough to help them get out of that type of situation, but we can’t blame everyone else’s failure to do so on the stars aligning for those few.

We judge them, I believe, for one of two reasons.

One is that many of us are not many paychecks away from being in dire straits ourselves. We judge to shield ourselves from that reality, to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

The other is that we need to believe that we did this ourselves. Because it doesn’t feel good to acknowledge that we have basic needs met that others don’t through no fault of our own. Again, we judge to make it seem like a character flaw in them that we don’t have.

But it’s not our fault that they don’t have what we do, necessarily. No need to feel guilty. Use your privilege to help. Do a little bit of volunteering. Donate to places that are reputable. (Donate money or items that are useful, not just what makes you feel good.) Speak up on behalf of those who don’t have a voice, or whose voices are ignored. Vote for people who support programs that help those among us who need it the most. Give the guy on the corner a couple of bucks without sizing up what he’s going to spend it on.

My reference to finances and cancer in the quote above?

If I’d been diagnosed 10 months earlier, I wouldn’t have had any health insurance. If I’d been diagnosed two years later, I would have paid a lot more out of pocket. If I was diagnosed now, I’d pay at least 10x what I paid then. That, my friends, is sheer dumb luck … if you can call a cancer diagnosis lucky.

 

Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness

Budgets and teaching and capitalism

So … this is likely to ruffle some feathers, but that’s how things go sometimes. (I’m always amazed at things that ruffle feathers—this one, at least, won’t catch me off guard.)

There’s been a lot of media attention to teachers’ salaries, and it’s rightly deserved. We’re not appropriately paid for the work we do.

Lots of teachers have multiple jobs. Right now, I do some personal training on the side and teach preschool music once a week. I’ve taught lessons, done health and wellness coaching, sold lip balm, done copy editing, played gigs, and whatever other bric-a-brac comes up.

I do it because those are things I enjoy and I’m happy to have some extra spending money. (Well, and a little slice of that I was hoping to make my full-time gig.)

But here’s the thing: I can pay my bills and contribute to retirement on my salary and have some left over for fun. The only times in my career that this has not been true was when I have been working only half time. No leftovers at that point.

When I graduated from college, I had a decent little apartment, a car with a small monthly payment, some credit card debt, some student loan debt, and I could pay my bills and have a bit left over.

I no longer carry credit card debt, and, except for a bit in grad school, haven’t since I paid that off the first time.

With few exceptions (inspired by poor judgement, not poor budgeting), I’ve always lived in the type of neighborhood I would prefer to live in, in an apartment or house that was well-kept and affordable. The apartment over the karaoke bar next to the drug dealers is a notable exception.

I don’t owe anything on my car.

We just paid off my most recent student loan debt.

No matter this has all ebbed and flowed, I don’t need another job. I just budget what I have.

We eat healthy food. We cook most of it at home. I was able to feed my son and I for six months on food stamps without compromising the quality of our diet. I budgeted for food a little differently then, and there were a few meals with more expensive ingredients that we just didn’t eat, but healthy doesn’t have to be expensive, even when none of the food you eat has coupons.*

I am not much of a shopper, but I also don’t buy cheap plastic crap. Not for the kitchen. Not for The Kid. Not because “it’s so cute!”

I’m generally healthy, which is part luck and part work. I had good insurance when I went through chemo, which was all luck.

My car hasn’t been hit, so I’ve not dealt with those expenses. I recognize all of this and understand that people have expenses that I don’t deal with.

But how people define “needs” baffles me sometimes.

If you don’t have enough money to pay your regular bills, then maybe Christmas cards at half off still aren’t in your budget. Or new clothes, even if they’re on sale. Or a trip to visit people, even if you miss them a lot.**

Scale back the need list. Live more simply. Cook at home. From ingredients. Use all the food you buy. Stop the endless stream of incoming.

If you’re in limbo with your place to live, choose wisely. (Moving just to save money needs to be a fairly drastic move to actually save money, but it might be an option.)

Someone on a teacher thread was complaining that they were making $60K (in my metro area) and couldn’t make ends meet; that makes me crazy.

On a larger scale, if you have less crap, you can live in a smaller space. Smaller spaces are cheaper to buy or rent, they’re cheaper to heat and cool, they’re easier to maintain.

The amount we spent on our house (just over a year ago) is substantially less than the amount we qualified for. Our spending would look quite a bit different if we spent up to what the bank deemed was our means.

Our culture is one that very highly values buying stuff. Occasionally it values actually owning the stuff, but mostly, we’re just encouraged to buy.

If, in this situation (like so many others…) we can just be a bit mindful, we can slow down the influx of stuff, we can have more money for things that are important to us (which might at first be getting rid of debt, which is not at all fun but so very important), and we can have more time to do things that are important, because we won’t have to work as much to sustain our lifestyles, and because we won’t have to spend as much time taking care of all the stuff we have.

*I had the advantage at that time still to live in the neighborhood that I lived in—there are many grocery stores within a couple of miles—and to have a car, and to have a kitchen and things to cook with and electricity. These are all hurdles of chronically impoverished people, and I don’t feel that my situation and theirs are at all comparable.

**There is an exception to this, but I’ll write about it another day.

Posted in differences, ebb & flow, meandering

Right now…

From my Facebook memories:

“Lots of sirens in the distance. I am snuggled in my bed. Every now and then, I am struck by just how different everyone’s experiences are right in this moment.”

I wrote something similar at some other point as well, while a few close friends were going through drastically different things simultaneously: one had a baby the same morning another closed on a house while another had a parent die while another was packing to move out of her house and marriage.

Sometimes I think with a long view about people’s life paths.

But in this case, I’m thinking just about this moment in time.

In the time that I’ve spent writing, people have died, people have been born, people have been taken to and released from prison. Kids have started and ended school. Job shifts have started, ended, and dragged on. People have been intimidated and liberated. Loves found and lost. Ignorance perpetuated and eradicated. All of these interactions have involved at least two people, sometimes many more. Ripples begin to move.

It’s amazing anything works at all.

Posted in differences, meandering, mental health, vulnerability

Hurt people hurt people

My biggest question is: how do we fix it?

People’s past experiences predict how they’ll treat people currently.

People who treat others badly have a history that leaves them with wounds that prevent them from behaving in pro-social ways.

All of these anti-social people (ASPs for ease in the rest of this post)—from sexual predators to KKK members to your verbally abusive aunt to the bully on the playground—have a history of trauma. Their experiences aren’t all the same, and, in some cases, their experiences administered to a different personality wouldn’t even be traumatic.

Doesn’t matter.

Given that bad behavior is a result of trauma, we should, as decent human beings, have sympathy or empathy for what has brought ASPs to this point.

But as adults, we’re responsible for taking care of our own baggage, so ASPs are responsible for working out whatever it is that makes them like that; they don’t just get a pass because bad things happened to them.

But as humans, if we’re so triggered by our pasts that we can’t give benefit of the doubt to people or we can’t be open to learning about other people’s experiences, then we’re certainly not in a place to own our own shit and subsequently work to clean it up. So ASPs aren’t in a place to be able to take ownership of their behaviors.

But also as humans, it’s our responsibility to stand up for people who can’t do it for themselves—which means standing up to ASPs on behalf of those who they’re trying to cut down.

This goes back and forth forever.

So how do we give enough love to ASPs for them to feel secure enough to look at themselves, realize they’re behaving badly, and get a damn therapist while not at the same time condoning or enabling their behavior?

I have no answers. But I’d love to have a conversation. What do you think?

Posted in about me, differences, know better do better, mental health

Traveling through life on a different train

This is something that I’ve thought of in defensive and angry contexts but am now thinking about when I’m not triggered…

Some people who I talk to totally understand weird crazy shit in my brain. I can talk about a reaction to something that I know isn’t a rational or logical reaction, and they get it.

Some people…don’t.

It’s fine that they don’t. In fact, how unsarcastically amazing for them that they can travel through life without this thing in their brain that makes them not react in unhealthy ways.

That wasn’t one of my cards. Am hyper-aware of that. Done lots of therapy. Am relentlessly working on myself and trying to heal wounds from decades past that keep getting ripped open by assholes present.

I suspect, at this point, that this will be a lifelong process.

Part of me is envious of people who don’t have this problem.

Part of me wonders if they’re just lacking self-awareness and don’t know they have this problem. (Unlikely.)

Part of me knows that they have other problems and we just don’t happen to talk about those, or those aren’t problems I have and am therefore not hyper-sensitive about, so they don’t set off the same reactions.

Part of me is grateful for my path, because while it has been really hard much more often than I’d like, it’s made me a hell of a person now. And I know that all hell I go through now or recently or soon will only serve to make me better.

Because I’m introspective. Because I’m resilient. Because I own my shit, learn from it the best I can in the moment, and move on to the extent that my crazy brain will let me.

Which is not to say that people who have had a mentally easier life can’t or don’t have any of those qualities—anyone could have any of those qualities. And the act of living through struggles doesn’t grant you introspection or learning—we all know people who have been through hell and are bitter, nasty, judgmental people as a result.

I was recently introduced to a podcast: Armchair Expert. Dax Shepard, a person I was previously unfamiliar with, chats with a different person each week. I’ve only listened to a few episodes, but I’m enjoying it. Easy on the brain, which is what I was looking for. (Most of my podcasts induce a lot of thinking, and I wanted something…different.)

Anyway, he sat with Jay Leno on a recent episode. What was striking to me about it was how differently they’ve experienced certain similar things. Dax points it out several times—”so that’s how a mentally healthy person thinks about that” (or similar). Which is what got me to thinking about it. Even though this is supposed to be a podcast that doesn’t make me think.

Oh well.

 

Posted in differences, know better do better, mindset, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

MLK

In my home state of Arizona, the only reason today is recognized as a holiday is: the NFL rescinded the Super Bowl in the 90s because we didn’t recognize it. Magically, we had a change of heart.

(It was “them” not “we” at the time—I didn’t live here yet—but we still tend to be in the news for impressively ignorant things.)

I have a lot of thoughts about today …

…about the incident at the protest the other day…

…about the exaltation of good people to “infallible”…

…about the state of race relations in this country…

…and all of the other “other” relations in this country…

…about how people speaking out for social justice are supposed to turn the other cheek while the denigration and exploitation of people in this country (to say nothing of elsewhere) rises at an alarming rate…

…about how I have the privilege with most of these issues to think about them and deal with them when I have time and energy because they don’t affect me directly…

…about how my employer is putting us through Deep Equity training, and what it’s like and what it means…

And I couldn’t tease it all out and come up with a post that didn’t wind all over the place (bring Dramamine!) or get ranty (I do try to limit rants and there was one just yesterday and a bit of one the day before).

I wanted an end product that was strong, thoughtful, and maybe would make one person think twice about any one of the myriad of issues that are part of all of this.

So instead, I just ask: when you see injustice, speak up.

You would want help if you were on the losing side of any of those battles.

Let your mind be changed by people who are walking the walk. You don’t know more about someone else’s experience than they do.

Posted in differences

Geographic friendliness

There is “common knowledge” about what the personalities are like in different parts of the country.

This body of knowledge told me that the people in the northeast—where I’m originally from—are rude and standoffish and always in a hurry—and that life is slower and people are friendlier in AZ.

I’m here to tell you that this “common knowledge” is wrong. (I can’t speak to its accuracy about other parts of the country, but feel free to fill me in!)

First, life is not slower here. People are in just as big a hurry—there just aren’t as many ways to get from here to there, and there aren’t as many people.

And, I think because most people here are from somewhere else, driving here is insane. I think everyone brings their region’s unwritten rules about driving with them, but everyone else doesn’t know them, and it’s just a mess. There are a ridiculous number of accidents, and most of the time, no weather to blame them on…

We’ve lived in this house for a year now and have met three of the neighbors: next door on one side came over, greeted us, brought cookies. On the other side, they have a bunch of kids and The Kid has played with them. We met their dad (presumably) when he came over to talk to us about tree roots disrupting the property line. And one other neighbor we met once.

I have to tell you—I don’t think that’s friendly.

We all have 6-foot concrete walls around our back yards. They call them fences here. Where I grew up, if there were fences, they were chain link or three-rail wood fences. Fences where you’d still have a conversation over or through the fence. You could see if the kids were playing. We knew all of our neighbors. (Maybe that has changed since I’ve been gone.)

I don’t notice a difference in friendliness in retail locations.

People here are more likely to require you to be like them in order to be friendly or accepting; there’s an undercurrent of hostility.

And there are snowbirds. They do not enhance the region.

Back east, there is a straightforwardness** and a lack of patience that I can see coming across as rudeness to people who aren’t used to it. Honestly, I think the only difference truly is volume of people. You don’t have 50 people trying to cram on a train car here. Because public transportation is for poor people. (This was a common opinion while debating whether or not to build the light rail.)

And sure, there are plenty of people in the northeast who are certifiably rude. But there’s no shortage of them here, either.

*shrug*

I don’t find Arizona—at least the Phoenix area—to be any friendlier or more laid back than Jersey was.

But the house next door and the house across the street are both going up for sale in the coming months. (Well, one for sure, and the other we’re assuming; might just be for rent.) I’m hopeful for excellent neighbors. And plan to go and greet them after they move in.

**What’s funny about the “straightforwardness” is that it’s pretty common—maybe to the point where it’s the norm, but I can’t say for sure—for people’s families to be champions at passive aggression. There is nothing straightforward about how families interact, except when they’re aggressive-aggressive.

Posted in differences, mindset

Noticing vs. complaining

As a child, I was an introvert and socially anxious and shy.

As a result, I spent a lot of time watching. I was so anxious about making a social misstep that I watched and learned quite a bit about how other people interact (for better or for worse).

As a result, I notice a lot.

Sometimes, these things involve me. Sometimes, they’re not positive. Happens to all of us. Not worried about it as a general rule.

Regardless of my involvement in them, these things are often interesting to me (I think sometimes I should have been a sociologist), and I initiate conversations with people about what I notice.

But I’m learning (based—ironically?—on what I notice about people’s reactions) that most people don’t (can’t?) differentiate between “This is something I noticed” and “This is something I’m complaining about.”

(The cultural “expectation” that women don’t say what they mean doesn’t help me on this. Saying, “I’m not complaining—I just noticed that _____” doesn’t often help. More on this another day.)

Is this a thing? Is it possible to just have a conversation about something negative without it being a complaint?

I think so, but my experience is telling me that my opinion is in the minority.

When I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a colleague who started to explain that she was just noticing, not complaining, I understood immediately what she meant and had one of those “she is my people” moments.

What do you think? How would you define the difference between the two?

Posted in differences, ebb & flow, meandering, storytelling

Tell me your story

I’ve heard so many stories of people’s celebrations … so many stories of Christmases not exactly as planned but still lovely … of new beginnings … of “probably the lasts” … of new traditions with old people … of old traditions with new people …

Thank you for sharing your stories with me. If you haven’t, please do, regardless of the happiness of the story. What made this year special? Or extra-happy? Or extra-sad? Or some odd combination of lots of things that maybe don’t even usually go together? With or without photos. I love to hear your stories.

Posted in differences, gifts, hope, thoughtfulness

A different kind of Christmas

While many of us have families that are less than ideal to spend time with, a couple of things have shown up lately that put some perspective on that.

First, in my On This Day on Facebook, my post about Santa coming to school has shown up multiple times. (Different days for different years.)

I used to work at a school in a very low-income neighborhood.

Our kids were the recipients of toys from a toy drive. Each December, Santa came to our school and gave a bag of gifts to every homeroom teacher (to distribute at the end of the day, and to be opened at home). One gift for every student in the school.

Kids, as you can imagine, were excited.

For some of them, that was it. Their Christmas present.

On behalf of those kids and kids everywhere like them, thank you for your toy donation. Thank you for not grumbling that it has to be new.

Some of them had parents that fit the low-income stereotype. But most of those kids had parents who loved them dearly, who worked two or three or four jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. (Where are the kids who eat free breakfast and lunch at school eating this week? Or over spring break? Or over the summer?) What a gift for them to receive something nice. I have always hoped they got something they wanted.

Also on Facebook the other day, the following story was shared by a woman who had been a tutor for Child Protective Services.

“I had a child once ask me if Santa was real. After much inner debate I told him the truth. He breathed a huge sigh of relief. Why? Because, as he said, ‘That’s why Santa never came to my house!’ He knew his mother was abusive and neglectful, but the thought of Santa neglecting him meant that he really was unlovable. Santa is great for healthy homes but we need to be very mindful of the homes that aren’t.”

And we can rant and rage and wave our tiny fists at the parents all we want. At the end of the day, we want physically and emotionally healthy kids, and we need to be more of a village to help that to happen.