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the law of the jungle

I am an intense person.  This has been pointed out to me.  In order to keep my whole person from shattering at the thought of all my faults I reframe these comments to think I’m passionate.  The other day I was on the phone and was trying so hard to explain why I felt a local organic farm was injected with privilege.  I couldn’t get my words out and sounded as if I was starting a war against young white farmers.  The friend helped me tease out my words and she said what was in my heart—“oh you want to make organic farming more accessible!”  YES!  All of my work in the social justice arena comes down to money.  Classism.  Poverty.  Social currency.

When I first came to Colorado, I was living in the San Luis Valley.  These were some great farmers markets.  Garlic, onions, potatoes, even some osha sprinkled into the mix.  When I was younger, I was involved with an apprenticeship in Laramie, WY at Elk Mountain Herbs.  I learned about herbs of the mountain west.  Herbs that grow in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet.  Yarrow, nettle, redroot, Oregon grape root, bedstraw, curlycup gumweed, plantain, black cohosh root, wormwood, elderberry.  I had a kitchen drawer full of dried herbs that I would combine into a daily tea or tonic as its called in the herb world.  Tonics are preventative medicine with tinctures serving for more acute illness.  I stopped at the farmers market in Alamosa, CO to talk a bit to a farmer about osha.  He realized its value and I felt as if I found someone who understood the distinct healing properties of whole plants.

The ranch in Elk Mountain had received a grant from the USDA to grow osha commercially and when I took my apprenticeship I was also in a magazine writing class.  I decided to write about the curative properties of osha, although the story was never published because osha has an endangered distinction due to being over-picked around herbs schools of the southwest.  In simple terms, osha helps regenerate the cilia within lungs.  Its best taken when you feel a cold or respiratory illness coming on.  A tincture can be made, or the roots can be chewed on.   Usually, the herb causes coughing right away and tastes of strong celery.  I interviewed Michael Moore, a very talented herbalist who has since passed, outside Reeds bar one night on the phone.  He talked about how osha was so special in the southwest it could be traded for money, gas, etc.  Since I’ve moved to Pagosa Springs, not quite as many folks know about the value of osha or more likely I’ve not met these folks yet.

During my apprenticeship learning about the medicinal aspects of herbs, we also learned about the magical properties.  Yarrow and dandelion were deemed “desert island” herbs that could be used for many purposes.  We learned catchphrases like “eat them, don’t weed them” or “research causes cancer in rats.”  I think what I liked best about this course is that I felt I was becoming more in charge of my own health.  I was noticing what herbs grew on my hikes around southeast Wyoming and collected nettles taller than my 6 foot frame at Elk Mountain Ranch in Wyoming. This stuff felt accessible and much of what we knew about these herbs was collected from indigenous cultures—American Indians, Latino/a’s.   During the course, a medicine bundle was found in Arizona assumed to be 500 years old containing osha.  Ligusticum porteri.  Strong enough medicine to be worn around the neck in a bundle for healing and good fortune.

What does all this mean for gardening, organic farming, foraging? For me, it meant I could learn to produce or find my own medicine and food.  It meant that I could take a hike and have even more purpose taking and giving from the forest diving into permaculture before I had even heard of the word.  I’ve only recently started growing plants and herbs and wonder why I haven’t tried this before.  But then I stop and remember that I’ve got to meet myself where I am.  The cost of organic gardening is more than just the $100 of seedlings in my garden.  Its learning how to grow, harvest, cook, having the mental energy to prepare a meal.  I’m a straddler of social classes, forever aware of my debt yet forever aware of my privilege.  I know about herbs.  I have space for a garden.  I can buy osha, or I can trade my goods and services.

To me, food justice means empowering folks through knowledge.  And the best part about this knowledge is that it can feed the mind, the body, the spirit.  I’ve sprinkled elderberries around my home for protection, picked yarrow in big open fields, hung bundles of nettle in sheds to dry.  I have cut up my cucumbers and ate them with yellow pungent sprigs of dill.  Growing my garden has rekindled my interest in herbalism.  And now I’m on a project to leverage folks in Pagosa Springs to start talking about how to reclaim our food, reclaim our plants, get out of the isles of the grocery store and into the isles of nature.  I’m just not sure yet how to do this—I’m weary of talking with folks who already have power.  I feel that some of these organic farms run by young privileged kids is another example of cultural appropriation.  But how do I explain this?  How do I both celebrate and challenge what we are doing?  I do what I know and I write a blog that goes in all directions and begin to name what I think helps—knowledge of herbs.  Knowledge of plants.  I can “Robin Hood” this information and start to share what I know, redistribute my social currency.  Food justice can start right here in my heart.

“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”

Cesar Chavez

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doing the whole thing different

When I got to college I was so excited to become active in my beliefs that had started to crystallize. I started running with some self-identified anarchists and we organized Sunday lunches under the auspices of “Food Not Bombs” and dumpster dived to scoop up boxes of corn to make corn chowder. We took a shopping cart down the street full of cookies, discarded fruit and veggie trays–I still hold a strong belief that with a little utility one does not have to buy food. With even more utility one can rebel against capitalism altogether and avoid cash based purchases and contributing to the oppressive nature of capitalism. The one friend didn’t pay for food for a semester and I left bagels and apples at the stoop of his dorm door always eager to support someone in a difficult endeavor. Support crew for the fight against hunger.

Later that semester, Dick Cheney came to visit the University of Wyoming campus and it was during the heat of the Iraq war. I had put some flyers up that I collected from CrimeThinc essentially calling Bush a war monger. They were sometimes ripped off my door and I understood–this was Wyoming. This symbolic war for oil reached right into our own pocket books where I was attending college on a scholarship paid for by oil and gas profits. That was the thing–the state always poured these monies into education and I benefitted greatly from my education–arriving at college with almost 20 credits because I had told the high school counselor I would drop out or they could let me take dual credit courses at the local community college to finish up. We made huge banners that day and chanted our beliefs letting the world know that there were some Wyoming kids who did not support this war. My friend Paul would challenge me on my liberal politics and for the next few elections I registered as a libertarian.

I kept on with my social justice and in 2013/2014 I worked with another yoga instructor to develop my own non profit entity–Wyoming Mobile Yoga. The idea was that yoga had helped me heal so much I wanted to give this stuff away. It was very intentional–you don’t need a lot of stuff to do yoga. We even preached against fancy pants and used very simple language to teach avoiding that rich white woman vibe of the front range. No talk of expressing collarbones toward the sky but hey guys just friggin breathe–your probation officer can’t come in here. You are safe. Much of the work was teaching yoga to folks in the local drug court program and I managed to convince the senior management team to let yoga count as “self help” or an alternative to 12 step programs. Best believe that I had a captive audience of folks who would do anything to get away from the religion infused program created by upper middle class doctors in the 1930’s. I also taught at a suboxone unit in Cheyenne. In the basement of a church. Anywhere they would have me.

My next project was starting a food bank at the community college in Laramie. Over 50% of our students were living under the poverty line and I managed to get a program called Centsible Nutrition to come in and teach my freshman course how to cook nutritious meals on a dime.  Then, I hooked up with the College and University Food Bank Alliance and found a wonderful model for starting a simple food bank. There was already one developed in Cheyenne and students could come in anytime, no questions asked, and get a few food items and toiletries, too. I helped students to create resumes, find jobs. I served as a reference for a few students and helped them work towards whatever would help them become more self-reliant. Self efficacy is a magical thing. My politics at this point had become more quiet and I did not engage in the Clinton/Sanders war but tried to make the political personal. Helping women still feel valued in a time when I doubt I will ever see a female president. Trying to break down heirarchies in my own role as advisor.

Yesterday, I got a call from Southwest Growing Partners of Colorado that I had been chosen to be a community organizer for Pagosa Springs. Yes!!! The idea behind community organizing is to support great social and economic equality, extend the social safety net, break-up concentrated corporate power, create worker ownership cooperatives, credit unions, extend full civil liberties and open discussion, encourage true democratic participation (not just representative democracy that preserves the illusion of participation and consent), and encourage greater political democracy in the country. It’s grass roots work–starting with neighborhood empowerment. The organizing starts with the idea that problems facing rural communities do not result from a lack of solutions but from a lack of power to implement these solutions. The major distinguishing factor in community organizing is thats its social justice focused on power. Those in positions of power often act in self-interest. The idea is to act in the interest of those who lack the most power.

The personal is political and I feel this is where I can practice some of these ideas and thoughts. I recently decided to disengage from an unbalanced relationship. I was perpetually put in my place by a very controlling man who I watch post liberal memes and videos but who lacks some foundational beliefs. The domination of women is related to the domination of our environment and land and as a white male of privilage there was no convincing him of his own inherited power and wealth. Trying to convey the low level stress of living in poverty has been lost on so many of my friends who attend private yoga lessons after paying for a latte. Or the purchase of land using retirements funds and no need to work due to amassed wealth. That’s the thing–you have to have capital to succeed in capitalism. And so while stupid and small I am partaking in a symbolic act of resistance and taking back my power. He might dominate and control another woman and might buy all the land in the world and post pro-gay memes but its the micro level where change happens. If I can redistribute my power and “Robin Hood” the crap out of all the privilage I have, I think things will change. They already have.

“Community organizing is all about building grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a common, passionate cause. And it’s about ignoring the conventional wisdom of company politics and instead playing the game by very different rules.”
-Tom Peters

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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

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things i lost in the fire

I’ve been in this space more than once.  I created this place.  The desert.  The mountains.  Wherever, whoever, however it takes to learn what I need to learn.  I have learned so far that some things can orient me more than others—the smell of sagebrush after rain, the feel of cold wind on my cheeks, my own hands rubbing up and down the lengths of my quadriceps enveloped by the sound of my breath keeping me grounded.

I remember when I was younger trains gave me that grounding, that rhythmic breath that I craved, safe, so safe—depending on speed I could count by seconds the sounds of each car to the next crosswalk, long sighs and short whistles like sheep dipping one by one over the horizon and out of the ears of a small child wrapped tight in cotton blankets.  Sometimes, the cars of trains so pronounced that the ever-present paranoia of anxiety becomes overwhelming with the thought of derailment and destruction.

And the breath goes in and out and the train comes and goes and the chest heaves and caves.  I wonder if the body teaches lessons like work teaches lessons or if I can learn to tell the two to take it slow, let me integrate, or if that’s my own defense.   And the breath goes in and out and the lesson comes as it should it the smell of French pastries and the feel of dried tears on my cheeks orients me once again to the present moment.

With a wooden whistle, would it be known what it’s like to have an ear to the track and call up the train breathing heavy like a powerful dragon?  Does a penny feel the heat of the belly of a train before its flattened?  Does a train wreck happen slow from behind or are Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner really able to cling to the elastic sagebrush for that long before falling …just little questions with simple answers and the long low wail of the train lulls babies to sleep.

“I would like to visit the factory that makes train horns, and ask them how they are able to arrive at that chord of eternal mournfulness. Is it deliberately sad? Are the horns saying, Be careful, stay away from this train or it will run you over and then people will grieve, and their grief will be as the inconsolable wail of this horn through the night? The out-of-tuneness of the triad is part of its beauty.”
― Nicholson Baker

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spiritual vomit

I spiritually vomited all over myself last week.  I felt the panic and fear come on Monday and I ran out of my house to get away from my trembly dog who shows me my own anxiety through ear flapping and panting.  Running away in shame knowing that my frantic energy has affected him but these are the moments I spin out and cannot take any outside stimulation.  I feel out of control, triggered, scared, like a child.

I joke about this workbook I scribble in here and there designed to help me with my self-esteem.  Shit gets better every day but I still feel my cheeks burn when I’m told—you’re intense, you are too much, you intimidate me, you are loud.  I internalize all these things but I’ve always been big and loud and would come tramping up the stairs in my childhood home singing or speaking languages that might have been just of our family clan.  We would yell, giggle, the neighbors commented on our loudness.

We all sang and had rituals like most families I’m sure.  Some of my favorite memories are the songs we made for our pets. Our three legged dog: “Tripod—no bipod, he is a friend of mine.”  Or our black sleek lab mix Albert: “Ali-berto gentille Aliberto, je te plumerai.”  Then there was our sheep dog Buddy who we would provoke by making the letter O with our mouths and wailing up and down, up and down so he would sing with us.

These things did not seem weird or intense or intimidating as a child.  As I find myself interacting with children, much more rarely than I wished, I find that they are the most accepting of me.  They even appreciate my weirdness, my intensity.  They know my intentions without my having to say so they know I still speak the language of un-nuance, of simplicity, of utter straight forwardness. And they speak straight forward to me, sometimes in a cheek burning way—Miss Jen you are sometimes pretty but sometimes not pretty at all.  And I say thank you because all I see is not pretty at all.  And so I scratch in the self-esteem workbook.

I don’t understand some of the unspoken rules of the adult world and have professionally crippled myself numerous times—in school, at work.  Anxiety is supposedly rooted in low self-esteem and in my tradition of receiving high marks, I’ve got A’s in both.  I think every day how I know I’m intelligent but if folks are too intimidated to listen, let go of that achievement.  I can listen to NPR but I still sing nursery rhymes in the shower.

I used to get pretty stinkin’ drunk to deal with who I was because in drunk world, Crazy Jen (the name I obtained for myself in my asshole years) was accepted that way.  People found it fun.  I was a pretend extrovert, the life of the party sliding around drinking fellahs under the table watching them vomit beer as I challenged them to shotgun contests.  Slamming my car keys into aluminum, drinking, drinking, hoping someone would stay until the sun came up and I became my true introvert self so we could talk about books and God.

I will vomit again I’m sure.  Maybe beer, maybe this confusing stream of spirituality but sometimes it’s not too bad to have the warm insides come rushing out, to feel the relief and release of pressure that builds constantly in a world that isn’t ready for my vibration.  Lou Dog, who has many songs and phrases, will continue to show me when I’m off the ol’ rocker and then the choice Is mine to act on the fear or to laugh at myself and use the mantra I heard a child say this week–I am what I am.

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” 

-James Baldwin

 

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wal-mart yoga

I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.

Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.

The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.

Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.

Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.

I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”

― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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an authoritive prohibition

I remember being a young girl and learning at church that I ought testify to others about my faith—ask them about their beliefs after we die. I learned in scorned looks and rolled eyes I might want to shut up. What you do after you die is none of my business. I learned in German class that the German culture does not engage in small talk and I became even more endeared the language that sounds so harsh yet can be so forward.

I gathered and collected norms about being polite through mistakes. Always the kid to be embarrassingly shuffled off for asking questions regarding subjects that were taboo. And now, it seems we are a bit more open as a society. I constantly overshare in my blog, spurred on by pictures of dogs and engagements on Facebook, opting to friend folks on social media instead of gathering the courage to talk to someone in person.

I think I’ll do it again. I’ll speak about that which is not talked about out-loud.  Money. I want to talk about the hushed subject that influences every minute of my existence. I’m at a conference right now in Indiana and end up in a per-conference session about moving from working class roots to middle class. I experienced myself chatting about my trip with the woman across from me because I had never been able to say these things outloud expect to my sister or close friends. And it’s very hard for me to get close to folks so you can imagine how that works out.

I had to ask my employer to front my per diem for meals and use the purchase card to take an Uber cab to and from my hotel. I generally run out of money by the second week of each month and freeze food to be sure I can eat. If something comes up I take the risk of bouncing a check because I doubt I will ever fix my credit. I drive a 2004 Ford Focus with a cracked windshield that breaks on the regular. I wear shoes with holes and have two bras that fit. My sister and I often joke about how we wear yoga pants because they often have built in underwear. That shit costs money. Its superfluous in our world.

Even as I talk about money I find myself in a cycle of guilt and shame because oh well this isn’t poverty. It’s this unbearable space in between where I feel I’ve lost my street cred in a professional exempt job but still live in a studio apartment with stained, ripped up, carpet and dated sinks. I’ve never lived in a space with a dishwasher in my entire adulthood. Despite my salary my student loans will continue to cripple me for decades. In gaining more education I did gain social mobility but also debt. Trade one shit sandwich for the next.

I sweat and shake with anxiety the first time I have to bring a date to my home. I’m embarrassed about what they might think about my tiny place with Rubbermaid containers as furniture and my bedspread I’ve had for over five years. How might they perceive my closet with one pair of jeans and a few dresses? The last gentleman I dated commented on our third date how little clothes I have. He had two closets of dress clothes. He owned two homes. I feel I can’t date professional men and so I end up with twenty somethings working at restaurants.  At least I feel I can be myself but find I’ve nothing to talk about with them, we are simply in different spaces developmentally yet fiscally matched.

In typing this I feel a huge relief to detail how I live each day. Its gets easier as I get older because I’m not worried about how my shoes look held together with shoe glue. I’m not afraid to ask anyone for help when my car breaks. I don’t mind riding the bus.  Some man’s insecure comments about my wardrobe are just that.  The day might not arrive anytime soon when I don’t take extra helpings of free food at events or have more than the mandatory minimum of five dollars in my savings account. Now it’s known. I’ve named my working class roots and I will continue to work just as hard as ever.

“He who is not capable of enduring poverty is not capable of being free.” -Victor Hugo

Archetypes, Bible, Business, Capitalism, character study, Christianity, Church, Death, depression, Dharma, Dichotomies, eccentric, Existentialism, Expansion, Faith, Family, Fear, Higher Education, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, poverty, privilage, Running, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Trailrunning, Universiality, Wyoming, Yoga

the lies we tell

So, I’m single.  I’ve been in some committed relationships but I messed those up just like I tend to do with things of an intimate nature.  I don’t know how to shut up.  I don’t know how to keep things to myself.  I don’t know how to always keep the peace.  But I love these things about myself.  I am authentic. I am genuine.  I am Jen.

I cried the other day, the chest collapsing, stomach folding, breath catching tears because I realized I am simple and I am like everyone else.  I want to be loved. I just want to be the love of someone’s life.  Or one of the loves of someone’s life.  I want to at least be an important part of someone’s life.  I want to be worth the risk for someone.  I want someone to tolerate the anxiety of growth, of riding a huge wave of uncertainty.  I think I am worth it.  But I always question this and retreat back into my salty, crusty, self.

I will lie about some things.  I will pretend to be happy for someone because my real feelings aren’t appreciated.  I become so frustrated with the lies that people live to be part of the status quo, to be perceived as hip and contemporary, as totally normal yet edgy.  The marriage. The house. The car. The child, or children.  The investments. The 401k.  Store treasures in heaven, I say.  Store them in the heart.  Because we all die alone with nothing.  An inheritance is just sentimental perceived power.

I am poor in terms of American capital.  I have what could be perceived a middle class salary but I’m a product of a generation ridden by debt, paying tens of thousands of dollars for degrees that are marginalized daily.  I’ve been accused of spouting psycho-babble if I discuss theories of change.  I’ve been told I could never fully understand how to work with children because I am not a parent.  I still try to defend myself.  To what end?  I have stopped practicing clinical counseling because I don’t know if people change.  I don’t talk about books despite having a degree in English.  I am rich in my mind and heart but no one wants that currency.

I thought I had changed at one point but really I feel I floundered from who I was and then came back to the same person who would argue with teachers on principle, share my faith and religion to others with bravery and compassion, work hard and play hard.  I used to say I was like black licorice and hard to handle.  Why do I have to take on others insecurities because I stir up shit for others?  It’s exhausting being called a strong woman, which as all feminists know is a cover up for bitch.

I feel self-involved for writing this.  I am feeling spiteful today.  Yet, as I run to contemplate and meditate, I realize the world owes me nothing.  Folks may not love me.  It’s my job to love myself in order to create a loveable person.  I certainly do have some pathological tendencies.  I could be called a narcissist.  I have created the life I want.  I am a teacher. I am a writer. I am a friend.  And I can tell you even without the house, the car, the husband, the kid, the 401k, my legacy will last far into the future.

Folks don’t remember the quiet, well-behaved individuals who they have come across, just as they don’t remember the boring paintings in the dentist’s office.  What is remembered is the art that moves, the art that disturbs, the art that pushes buttons.  My life is a painting and with each stroke I will offend, I will repel, I will love, I will welcome, I will be.  And it’s the choice of others to love me, and it’s a choice I have already made for myself.  Salty, crusty, and loveable.

We tell lies when we are afraid… afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.

-Tad Williams

Business, Capitalism, Higher Education, Jail, Laramie, Micro Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction, privilage, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection

day sixteen-thoughts on education (why I want my PhD)

Having obtained my bachelors in English as an undergraduate and my masters in Counseling as a graduate student, I would now like to concentrate on a doctorate in Higher Education Leadership.

I am especially interested in community college leadership, having been involved in leadership during all stages of my academic career.  I was a strong student both in my undergraduate and graduate program and was able to audit graduate courses in my undergraduate years in creative writing which I used as a mode of self-expression.  During my graduate years, I served on several committees and was president of Chi Sigma—the Greek honorary club along with serving as an advisor to the fraternity and sorority executive councils at the University of Wyoming.

I bring my unique understanding of groups historically under-represented in higher education as a formerly incarcerated female drug offender, and participant in Albany County Court Supervised Treatment Program.  Those with criminal backgrounds have often been excluded from higher education settings, if through nothing else other than financial aid which is jeopardized by drug related crimes.

I am fully committed to highlighting the experience of marginalized groups in higher education and am committed to creating diversity in higher education institutions which include open lines of access for all students in the spirit of community college.

My main professional and personal goals are the same—to advocate for individuals to empower her or himself to discover his or her own wealth of resilience and knowledge and to leverage these same traits for social currency and reform.  I obtained my masters in Counseling because I wanted to help people and soon thereafter realized that people don’t need my help but they need my advocacy and the enriching experience of education to realize their own worth and potential.

My brother became incarcerated when I was ten and since that time of fragmentation for my family I have been interested in leadership and social justice as it relates to incarcerated individuals.  Then, becoming incarcerated myself, I firmly believe that my access to higher education is what continues to give my life purpose and is what has kept me out of jails and prison since.

I know that this work is my life’s calling.  I have consistently advocated for underrepresented and marginalized groups and I still see higher education as the great equalizer helping to integrate formerly incarcerated individuals into our larger community.  I believe I will be most successful in creating access to higher education having obtained my own PhD and provide a living example of the transformative nature of education.  In addition, I can influence social currency and power that comes along with a PhD to develop and implement programs that will make access to higher education much more equitable.

With a doctoral degree, I will have both professional and academic knowledge that will enable and permit me to help create and pioneer programs in the state of Wyoming and the greater United States.  These programs will help to reform social policy, create stable funding sources, gather stories and narratives, promote collaboration and dynamic interaction between higher education and correction institutions and open up the national dialogue on access to education and help to change ideology surrounding criminal justice and education.