Capitalism, consumerism, Higher Education, individualism, Non-Fiction, Self Reflection, social class

capitalism, consumerism, and individualism

Capitalism is the idea that folks can invest their assets (not just income or monetary assets) into projects and products they feel are worthwhile.  The individual can generate and distribute his or her wealth.  The assets are used with knowledge of self, family, culture.  Lets say a landowner is sitting there and notices a pile of wood on his or her land.  The landowner might decide to trade this wood for milk from the farmer down the road.  They both decide on a fair trade (price) and both are happy to receive the product or project from the other.  There is a human element, and the wood and milk were readily available to each party.

Consumerism is the idea that folks desire to consume and own products for his or her gain or to elevate social status.  These products are not necessarily needed, nor provide long term wealth.  While the products may feel worthwhile they are consumed in excess or sold in excess.  The assets are used to partake in a social structure.  Let’s say that that same landowner saw the wood on his land.  He decides to put the wood in bundles and sell them for $8/cord at the gas station. The same farmer down the road takes his milk and sells it at the same gas station for $5/gallon.  They create labels and intense marketing strategies and the consumer starts to think this has to be the best milk and wood ever–even if they don’t need it or can’t afford it.  They must consume!  Now the value of both products is strictly monetary and sold through a third party who also profits.

Even as I write these examples, it is hard to separate the two ideas.  And the inherent problem or catch in each example is capital.  If I am not a landowner, I have no capital.  If I have no capital, neither system works.  Or both systems work incredibly well to keep those who invest, not necessarily those who consume, in a position of social or inherited power.  I found myself in this predicament during college.  I amassed debt not through the actual education (my entire college career was paid for through tuition scholarships) but through taking out loans to rent a home, eat, buy books, etc.  I did not take out these loans because I was lazy or lived a luxurious lifestyle.  I did so because I had no idea how to engage in economics or investments.  My ability to make sound financial decisions was affected by my lack of capital (resources).  I did not subsequently ignore bills because I was a criminal, or financially inept.  I simply did not have the funds.

Eventually, I earned my graduate degree and now pay bills on time.  Still have a lot of debt.  However, it wasn’t my academic talents or grit that got me out.  I had some help.  I was born into a white (lower) middle class family and was able to ask family members for help at times, although I learned nothing of investments.  I may have some inheritance but in the meantime I’m not a land owner, I know nothing of procuring property.  I’m not a home owner.  I cannot partake in the rentier economy I see benefit so many around me.  And I’m not sure that I would.  I’m not a hater of capitalism or consumerism, necessarily, but I see there may be a different way to do things.  I like capitalism because it encourages me to trade veggies and herbs I grow in my garden for other things I may need.  I get to evaluate my own needs within my own culture and acquire or sell/barter products and projects.  I purchase from local growers and vendors at the farmers market.  I like this.  Its personal, its enriching.  Its easy to demonize capitalism if one is not benefiting.  I’ve found myself in this pickle.  Now I see its more complex.

I think where I most get hung up is our identity connected to work.  The first question most folks will ask is “what do you do?”  Well, I’m a therapist.  But I’m also a gardener.  A runner.  Sometimes a scientist.  I have a wide skill set.  And I also get hung up on the phrase “he will make more money than you ever will.”  Yep, I know.  But that’s not my objective in life.  Yeah I want to buy things I need, live in a nice place, but I don’t need much more.  Of course I could amass wealth for “noble” causes and give away my wealth or I can give away social capital and my time.  All equally valuable to me.  With that, I understand that all folks are not like me and each person knows themselves best.  These are the individualistic principles upon which capitalism was founded.  I don’t want to get away from the unique needs of each individual or his or her decision to buy or consume what is best for his or her needs–independent of me.

I could be considered an expert in a few fields.  Only through the framework of public higher education so this is faulty at best because this is only one modality of knowing.  I can see someone’s situation objectively and perhaps provide some reflection to lead to insight.  But I never will,and never have, known what’s best for someone else.  I can guess at what products or needs folks might have and try to fill these needs through work (paid or unpaid) that I enjoy greatly.  But again, I do not know what is best for another person only being a true expert at being myself.  This form of individualism celebrates the capacity of each person to make their own decisions.  I can decide to not buy a home.  I can decide to find a financial advisor to buy a home.  This becomes tricky territory with the idea that all individuals are valued at the same levels, and that there choices are considered acceptable within the dominant framework.  They may not be.  But that does not take away from the individuals right to choose.

I suppose then, on the fourth of July, I write about American ideals witnessing very viscerally all that could be deemed wrong with our political or public values.  But,  I do believe most folks have the freedom of choice and as we advocate for immigrants we advocate for these folks to choose to come here legally or illegally and that his or her right to profit once in the country are the ideals upon which capitalism was founded.  It’s perhaps America’s own trend toward consumerism that causes us to pay wages that are unfair to continue to create a culture of scarcity.  One can choose to work at a job at a higher or lower wage with or without great benefit or risk.  But these jobs and choices have much more meaning when we are creating things we need, directly selling to one another, creating humanity.  When we find a task that is, as they say, our life’s calling.  And that is capitalizing one’s own inherent worth.

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone’s task is unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.”

-Viktor E. Frankl

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go off on them

I sat washing dishes wondering how to make the start of this blog different. The 4:00 am wake up time, the smell of coffee, sweeping my house, dragging in the dumpster.  But, maybe that’s the thing.  Life isn’t meant to be so gosh darn dramatic and I wonder why I create it that way so often.  I woke up prepared to peruse social media profiles and realized that trap—I’ve shown my insecurity in this area and it will always be attacked by the random human predators that exist all around us.  So, instead, I looked at pictures of the kiddos I work with.  Throwing rocks and sticks in the river, cutting trees, dragging said trees up a hill—this is what I live for.

Just ended a sentence with the word “for” forever feeling I’ve mastered grammar enough to start to be creative.  I find others using words in text “mebbe, afosho, fer, yer” and others that I use to enhance my communication hiding behind an accent that doesn’t exist—at least not here in the Rocky Mountain west.  I am told of a woman who has some crusty toward me because her partner took a “in a relationship” designation off of Facebook and started to like my posts.  Took me awhile to even figure out who this person was—all profile pictures cartoon characters and abstract drawings.  I didn’t even know.  I feel empathy at this point—I have plenty of men in my menagerie unknowingly causing strife.  I wonder if I would invite a man to my home even if I was in a relationship.  This is not what I live for.

I’m feeling especially at peace during my most recent break up cycle.  None of it matters anymore.  Screen shot my shit, hateful man club.  Try to get me fired.  I can save time by speaking of my poor behavior here on the electronic page.  Slamming my fist on the door like a cop threatening “if you don’t want a shit show on your front step you better answer your phone.”  The shit show starts with a fist and then escalates to me screaming the first and last name of the aggressor along with a date of birth.  Screaming like  mad woman, acting incredibly immature.  Back in April when I was in Laramie I woke up to my best friend screaming “fuuuuuuuuuuck you”  and I remember feeling such pain in his words.  No excuse for me but in my life sometimes it ends up I feel I need to scream to be noticed.  Go off on them.

Will I lose weight this time?  Will I become a better runner?  Will I start to see a local more or head to Flagstaff or Fort Collins to see others?  I’m so excited this time because the insecurities have melted away.  Can’t fire me.  Can’t intimidate me.  So some have a negative experience in my yoga class.  That’s not about me.  I can adventure now with the best of teachers who don’t have to describe their accomplishments—they live them.   And now I know the mountains and trails won’t change anyone.  The quiet soft heartbeat of the earth chugs along no matter where one may be.

“Those who travel to the mountain tops are half in love with themselves, half in love with oblivion. 

-Robert Macfarlane

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titanium spoons

I’ve been wanting to write lately but notice I speak of the same things over and over in blog posts.  Losing a friend and lover, creating meaning out of the loss.  Gardening as a metaphor.  I went to writing group the other evening and was excited for a friend who is really shining in her writing.  There’s a few older eccentric men that come to our group and harsh her for picking out a little tavern to host our writing.  Small talk deemed a distraction, people turning into mosquitos.  I found myself in tears in church on Sunday listening to her sermon about riding her bike across the country.  I don’t feel the need to compare us any other way other than we are both on a journey.  Both writers.  Both searching.

I want so much to go down the rabbit hole of analyzing my past cycle with the old flame.  I think awful theories of subconscious creation of pain through other women, attacks, lies.  I think what was different this time was giving in a bit more to the freeze reflex.  I laid first on a plastic mattress on the floor and then a futon mattress and kept whispering “light as a feather, stiff as a board” while hands pressed all over my body.  I told myself to be quiet, that this might make things better.  I did not touch back.  I did not kiss.  I let it all happen and felt my stomach curl into knots.  I remembered parties of my youth sleeping on a carpeted floor in a trailer while some stranger pressed against me.  Paralyzed.

Instead of trying to make my demise all about cheating and lying, I can just default to values once again.  I don’t have many possessions and call myself a minimalist but I think survivor is a more fitting term.  I spent money like crazy in college and will forever suffer the consequences of my need to feel good…right now.  I sit on the couch in anxiety and watch an Amazon cart fill up with materials for solar power, titanium spoons, objects.  I stop to put down a spoonful of hillbilly beef soup I had made and laugh.  Why on earth won’t a regular spoon work?  Why do things need purchased?  Why so much time spent trying to figure out what to buy?  I see the cycle of capitalism and consumerism played out right in front of me  under the guise of “my land, my tiny home.”  Ownership.  Possession.

Despite the new rebellion against materialism the consumer mentality it still very much alive.  Still worried about kind and quantity.  Two titanium spoons, one for the ex and one for his guests.  Security sought in numbers all motivated by the anxiety that there may be some missing out of what’s going on.  Someone else might build a better tiny home, be more sustainable, have the best batteries.  Researched  lifetime warranties a little more lying naked on the couch in the morning.  Throw away cactus plants, throw away male marijuana plants, throw away people.  I learned most about what’s important inside a concrete room for three months.  One spoon works great and takes on many uses.  A toothpaste box becomes storage, toothpaste becomes a whitening agent for v-neck tees.  Stripped of identity and objects, my thoughts become my only possessions.  A true shift from the inside.

I still am teetering on that rabbit hole wondering if I was used for sex, unbending like a 2×4, noiseless like a spider.  As I shower I feel my heart jump as I mistake the soap bubbles for a spider.  I remember a game I created called finger spider so I could crawl my veiny hand tendrils all over the body of that same dude.  Not frozen all the time.  But still scared, seeing paper tigers and toy guns.  The last nail in the coffin became a pair of skis.  I watch the crazy eyes emerge–the same ones contained in a video with all actors high on acid.  Folks sure do get crazy over the things that help them escape.  I’ve gotten pretty crazy, too.  The skis were traded back and forth until eventually they have ended up in my truck bed.  Its hard to bicker over possessions (skis) not giving a shit about skiing.  Its hard to admit I’ve been fooled again.  And so I write.  About the same things over and over with or without distraction in the tiny tavern of my heart.

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

― John Powell

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beyond a distant star

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am because I went to bed incredibly early last night.  And the night before.  I’ve had some interesting dreams recently and perhaps there is something I’m searching for in my subconscious.  I wake up anxious most Sunday mornings and then become irritable (irritability a symptom of anxiety as well).  I heard the expression the “worried well” the other day and this seems to be my fate.  I’ve been meaning to go work on my classroom every weekend and just don’t get around to it.  Tried to hike yesterday so proud of my new tires and promptly got stuck.  I started laughing and playing fetch with the dogs while my friend sat in the truck.  I feel I create getting stuck over and over to see the folly in it all.

I’m anxious for today as I’ve taken myself off the teaching schedule at the community center and will be teaching yoga at the school.  Teaching yoga used to give me the biggest shot of anxiety and I forever worry about teaching from the mat, using the same cues over and over, messing up my inhales and exhales, lefts and rights. I worry about who I will bother using essential oil at the end of class.  I was able to take a few yoga classes in Denver and felt a little better about teaching.  I teach from the heart, as authentic as I can be and I think I should give a little more space to myself and others to be perfectly flawed.  I feel I teach the same lessons over and over:  self-love, the impermanence of life, breathing as spirituality, non-violence.  I’m the last person you would think would teach yoga, trembling with anxiety and questions—this is probably why I teach.

I’ve reached all my goals again in too short of a time and feel my life has somehow gotten ahead of me.  I was able to get a space for an elementary school garden—bigger than I could have dreamed!  I check out the brown grass and wonder who can help me in this creation.  I’ll need all kinds of folks:  permaculture people, production garden people, landscapers, laborers, dreamers—I can see this garden in my mind’s eye as maybe a labyrinth surrounding a grow dome.  I’ve already got permission to use a grow dome space uptown and gently plop an apple core into the worm factory I inherited.  I’m trying to understand what I ought do with the community space and my own garden and find myself drilling holes into a plastic garbage bin for my own homemade compost bin.  That’s the best part about gardening—it’s all about slow, simple solutions.

Now what?  I find myself nostalgic for hot yoga and good food in the big city and watch pictures of aspens breeze by my Facebook feed and I realize I miss Wyoming.  But—when I was there I wanted more.  I felt restless.  And now I feel restless again because my only job is to be.  To do my tasks with mindful actions and thoughts.  I want to continue my play therapy practice and learn so much from all the kiddos around me.  I want to follow through on my garden project and see how much more I can learn from horticulture therapy.  I’ve got my eyes on all kinds of masters level classes because my pay grade goes up with every 10 credits.  But, secretly, I don’t think it has anything to do with pay but everything to do with feeling proficient at something.  I’m good at school and it always helps to feel good at something to start to integrate the things that are slightly beyond me.

My new goals?  Dig up my utility and figure out a way to ski mostly free.  Get the plans and folks for the garden project written down.  Manifest it. Learn to communicate better with parents and teachers, teach some parenting groups, help my school to become trauma informed.  Get a handle on this anxiety.  Let go of the past, forgive those who have hurt me.  Try a running race that challenges me.  Quit drinking Michelob Ultra and start to see the world through sober shimmering eyes once again.  Get out in the woods.  Camp, hike, learn to read maps.  Take more classes, but only if they are free.  Save my money to spend it on my legacy.  Learn the ways of the river.  Dig deep for even more resourcefulness to this mostly free, as well.  And as always, love myself, practice non-violence.  And breathe.  Always breathe.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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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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no mistakes, just experiments

This morning my friend is running another marathon. LIke his 300th or something like that with about 70 wins. He calls himself a weekend runner and works 40+ hours a week and eats almost exclusively pizza, fries, and bacon. He tries to get about 100 miles a week and I watch his Strava as he endulates between 8 slow miles to work and then sprinkles the pattern with sub 5 minute/mile sprints that defy my logic. He’s stacked and doesn’t do much cross training. He’s one of those–the 1% that just has an affinity for running. I worry about his obsession but am also highly impressed and probably a little jealous. We all have our gifts and talents and how neat he found out about his.

I’ve started gardening this year and its changed the way I look at my goals. Everything has become cyclical. I’m already working on amending the soil for next year’s plot trying to figure out how to build a deer fence and researching “off season” gardening. I’ve got a worm farm saved in my ever growing shopping cart on Amazon but try and temper those impulses–I haven’t bought a thing yet for this garden. Someone described my approach as a slinky, I’m going round and round in circles but going up. That’s how a garden works–whatever isn’t consumed is still used. I start thinking differently about food and get excited about watermelon rinds, banana peels, coffee grounds. I start to say things like “healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people” and “slow, simple, solutions.” The garden has become a metaphor for my life.

There is no winning the gardening. I’m very inspired by the huge bushy bunches of tomatos and kale at the community garden but am not too worried–I will get there! Any flower or growth is a victory to me and I start to realize more and more I’m a process oriented person. Even if something won’t grow–its food for other plants. Even if I have no yield–the soil has been worked by worms and roots and is only becoming a better home for next years plants. I start to relate the whole thing to adventure running. There is no destination, no need to go fast, and the best part is the journey. Of course I’m super pumped to eat a home grown tomato raw with salt but I also love smelling the pungent spiky leaves and stalks of each plant. They don’t like their leaves wet and I can relate hoping my feet don’t get too wet today on a hike I’ve got planned.

Plants are like people. They don’t want a shower in cold water and so I have a black bucket that I fill each time I water and let it rise to temperature. Plants like their space and grow nice and tall when they’ve got room. They want to stay warm so I stack a thick layer of straw around each plant and notice someone has done the same with the potato plants in the community garden. Plants won’t be rushed–they grow just how they know how each day and yet it does happen rapidly–the kale and arugula have taken off and grow back with fury each time I pinch off the thick green leaves. I feed them stinky compost but bread and meat are no good for the compost tea and I start to wonder how good either of those are for me.

What will my friend do when he wins all the races? When he nabs his 2 hour 30 minute win in Washington? Stop and go, stop and go, medals, t-shirts, pint glasses. I keep hounding him to start ultras with me hoping that he will start to garden with me too. I think I’ve reached all my goals. I can’t think of anything else I want to win, to achieve, I’m so ready to just be. I’ve got my dream job, my dream house, my dream town. It’s all simple and little and perhaps narrow but each time I pour water at the base of my little plants I feel connected to the larger world. Each time I pray I feel the energy of other human beings. My yoga practice is now running, gardening, play therapy. I’m healing through planting, growing right along with my garden. I don’t know if its fair to try to bring my friend with me but simply become aware of how we are approaching it differently. But, I still hope he wins if thats what he wants. And what I want is to enjoy it all and bask in the sun of all those small little things that create this big, big, life.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

— Janet Kilburn Phillips

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this is all just a ride

I started the morning looking up how to make my 2WD work in winter. I know I should have bought 4WD but was smitten by the little rear wheel drive Ford Ranger truck. I’ve wanted a little truck for awhile now and remember my Dad’s 4WD Jeep Comanche truck. I learned to drive a manual in the high school parking lot in Gillette, WY and slowly solidified my skills delivering pizzas for Dominos. The truck did not handle well at all on ice and I was always surprised when my naive self pressed the gas and moved sideways instead of forward. Driving, for me, is like everything else. I’m good enough with the manual transmission but am careless at times and have slid across snow highways more than once somehow always finding a soft bank of snow in which to slam and land.

I’ve been rescued from my own follies in several cars and sometimes think I ought just ask after “What’s your name–do you have AWD and chains? I want to get to know you.” My first accident must have been about a week into getting my license. My first folly was probably the very next day after my 16th birthday. A friend and I were going between the two high school campus locations and I came barreling down a curved residential road and lost control, started to fishtail and watched a hub cap roll off into the yard of some poor citizen. They called the police and I was cited for wreckless driving. Shoulda been cited for a wreckless life then–smoking Marlboro Reds that I was always made to buy because I seemed older in my 6 foot frame. Next accident was a few days later and it was raining. The Mercury Marquis kept stalling out in the big drops and during a left turn I was hit. No one was cited but the girl I hit claimed injury. I liked her even less.

The Mercury saw its demise a few months later coming from the north high school campus. I gazed in my rear view mirror and saw a truck approaching quickly. I braced the steering wheel and was rear-ended by another truck at about 35 miles per hour. Had whip lash and a hurt ankle that had been slammed into the brakes but mostly I was sad that my car was jacked up. Another metaphor for my life–all my friends had to crawl into the passenger side door and we skipped school to drive around in the junker, hub caps flopping off whether or not I was driving too fast. I traded in the Mercury for a 1989 Cadillac Deville with Bose speakers. The car handled so well, accelerated quickly, and sounded bad ass jamming TuPac driving along country roads for extended roadies. I hopped on the interstate one night watching the electronic odometer blink going faster than 85. I drove to Village Inn one night to have coffee and wanted to change the Jimi Hendrix CD and missed a stop sign. I was T-boned at 35 mph and only remember the other driver screaming at me “There was a stop sign, you bitch!” Well, clearly.

I was careless for a bit after the Cadillac debacle and my Dad let me use the truck here and there. I liked the smell of old upholstry and oil. Rocks and the car smelled the same, full of hardened earth and the daily commute to the coal mines. I was eventually able to buy a 1986 Chevy Cavalier for $100 and was promptly pulled over for no insurance or tags. I didn’t even realize one needed these things to drive–always rolling around half clueless and not too worried about consequences. When I was younger I figured I didn’t wanna live much past the age of 29 anyway. The brown sedan had a bumper sticker on the back that said “Tweekers suck”and it made me laugh at the time a clear indication of my age and professionality. I used the little car to deliver pizzas and it actually handled incredibly well in the snow with a heavy metal frame from the 80’s before cars became hurling plastic rockets on wheels. It eventually just stopped working and I bought a 1999 Cavalier, blue, and tinted the windows and got a car “bra” as I called it to catch all the bugs. I think back to how I wrecked the car and can no longer remember just like the first year of college I owned the car.

I just remembered. I lived in a 3 story home and the neighbors on the very top floor had smoked a joint and dropped it in the couch. They caught the couch on fire and doused it with gallons of water and put it outside to sit like a charred dog who had eaten whatever was left on the counter shamed and looking longingly to be let back in. The couch reignited and caught my passenger car tire on fire. I didn’t hear it but the neighbors heard the oil pan blow up and I woke up to loud knocking “Laramie Fire Department–you need to get up and leave the house!” I stepped up out of my concrete basement stairs and saw the headlights of the car on eerily staring at me while flames licked the blue sides of the now totaled vehicle. The neighbors each gave me $2,500 (I didn’t not have full coverage–far too responsible and future oriented) and I bought another Cavalier. This time silver, I drove it back and forth from Gillette to Laramie dozens of time eventually selling it to have some extra cash when I started my life over in 2009. I bought another 1986 Cavalier and even drove the sucker to Cheyenne for training to work at Papa Johns. In the pizza biz again.

When I entered graduate school I had some extra cash and bought a 2004 Ford Focus. I had entered the 2000’s and felt super awesome about it purchasing a manual not necessarily on purpose but because the shoe fit. I drove the heck outta that car heading to Fort Collins every weekend to satisfy my hot yoga fix, parking in Whole Foods to eat salads and then to the theater to sit on the couches in back to watch movies that moved me to tears. The car came with me on my move to Colorado and I stepped outside of the Pilates studio in Pagosa one November evening and the thing wouldn’t start. Embarrassingly enough, I blew the engine from no oil. I had rescued a friend in 2004 for doing the same thing and while crushed I will still amused at my ability to be inept at simple tasks. I was rescued by one of my resident assistants and smiled as she described what she felt was a harrowing drive over the pass, sliding by “rock crumbles” that scared her enough to white knuckle the steering wheel. I was so thankful for her and every other person who had tied chains to my metaphorically stuck self and pulled me out of disaster.

I once told someone my life was a string of second chances, and I’m fairly sure I’ve written about it. “That means you can’t get anything right the first time.” That is exactly what it means. I have to solicit help from the folks I’ve managed to create friendships with and if I’m stuck in the one patch of ice left in the driveway in March, I’ll find some fellows from Louisiana with nothing better to do to pull me out and buy me dinner. It feels less like manipulation and more like utility–I know someday the wrecked and stuck vehicles of my life will turn into careful, mindful, and safe driving in a car with electronic windows and all wheel drive. But, I’m still getting my kicks buying all my cars through private parties–negotiating the price and rarely paying more than $1000. I plan on putting snow tires on this truck and loading up the back with sandbags to put weight over the tires. The advice is to start in 2nd or 3rd to avoid the torque of 1st and to find an empty parking to tear around and see how the vehicle handles. Maybe that’s what this is all about–tooling around in the empty parking of my life to see how I handle. Pump the brakes of my personality and feather the gas of my need to do everything at once. After all, it’s all just a ride.

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”

― Bill Hicks

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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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a boy’s values

I had a dream last night–I was so hurt and frustrated in the dream taking my conscious feelings into subconscious dream world. I have been in Colorado a year and one day now and it’s been a year of much karmic growth and soul turmoil. My ideas of people have been challenged this year more than any other year and I’ve indavertantly pushed lots of folks out of my life to try and please one person. Last week, I started spinning out and got in a few text wars and its always the same sentiment, “Shut up about him. You are so selfish.” Cheeks red, heart racing I try to stay vulnerable but feel the callous words rise and hiss out of my mouth.

I think I am selfish and I think that’s a choice I have made. I’ve always been frightened to have children because I don’t want to repeat trans generational patterns that I uncovered in my family and marriage counseling class. I think children have an excellent way of curing any selfish tendencies. Especially in women. That child is a part of a woman’s body for months and then apart of a woman’s life for years. I take so much time sitting and thinking on my couch, laying in my bed and thinking, thinking at work. Sometimes distracted, my world is small. It’s hard for me to engage in friendships because I get bored easily, I don’t give away trust readily.

Yesterday I went to go see waterfalls and found myself nostalgic and missing last summer when I passionately kissed the man I thought I might love underneath a waterfall. The trails, the rain, the snow, the town I live in–all memories of a person and time that defied me. We stood in Wal-Mart to shop for a camping trip where I refused to apologize. He had grabbed some reusable bags from the back of his car and a boat part came bouncing out. He immediately began to lecture me on how I need to take care of his stuff. But–you dropped it. But–I don’t know your equipment. I never stay in the car or his life for more than a few days at a time and have no idea what is packed where.

“I hate your flaws, and if you don’t tell me right now that you do, too, we are done.” Ahh constant threats of abandonment triggering childhood fears and I play along and find myself wanting to be berated as I squeeze ice cubes out of a tray and watch a few dissolve in the sink. Maybe I can let it all melt away. The first panic attack happened when he brought me around his friends. Even now, as I’m ready to understand what happened I’m self-conscious because all around me are so sick of it. I am, too. But, this has become my life. I wanted to try so hard to maintain a relationship that it became my sole focus. And I want to heal. After the tightening in my chest I made the comment “your last relationship only lasted because of your stupid Christian dogma.” How does one shift their values? How does one lose faith and gain peace?

Through texts, traditions, teachings, and doctrine, religious communities and institutions convey values and belief systems to their members. These are the teachings that he had brought to Colorado and walked away from in 2012. I, too, had lost my faith but it was back in 1998 when I was so, so mad at God. It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve returned to these teachings and let these values mesh with what I learned in courses on feminism, multicultural studies, being around environmentalists, philosophers, people who see the human connection outside of the tethers of religion. I couldn’t figure out why he would treat me the way he did. Sometimes, I would go along with all of it seeing him as a strong hero in my life–my only friend who I could talk about my deep ideas with. But, it was manifested as manipulation and as I was made fun of for a trauma response I felt helpless.

Religious doctrine contains many texts and teachings that encourage domination over women. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands” (Ephesians 5.22-24 NRSV). Either by its silence or its instruction, the church has too often communicated to battered women that they should stay in abusive relationships, try to be better wives, and “forgive and forget.” To batterers, it has communicated that their efforts to control their wives or girlfriends are justified because women are to be subject to men in all things. They have been permitted to “discipline” their wives and their children all for the “good of the family.” Christian history is filled with examples of church leaders justifying abuse of women by men. Church fathers like Martin Luther unapologetically described their own physical violence towards their wives (http://www.nhcadsv.org/uploads/vaw-rolereligion.pdf)

I’ve tried to make sense and find validation through friendships but the sentiment is always “well you keep going back to him.” Yes, I do have lots of fault in the unraveling and I’ve become this nasty, negative person suspicious of anyone that exhibits passive aggressive behaviors or talks to me in a way that triggers all the insults that have been lodged at me. I have this basic belief that folks are good, that they can move toward change. I read scholarly articles on mental health and abuse and had a shift last week in which I uncover in Bancroft’s writings that abuse is not a problem of psychology but of values and beliefs. And while not overtly said each fight came back to me–I’m the problem, I’m lacking humility, my thinking and reality are altered. These are all true within the context of the relationship. I know I’m risking a lot by trying to project my views of goodness and purity onto a world that is neither all the time.

Lots of domestic violence treatment programs last up to two years. It takes so much time to shift values and beliefs. I still cling to some of my outdated beliefs perhaps surreptitiously pushed into my head as Fox News played almost constantly in my childhood home. I start to google how to change ones values and it goes back to the awareness of values in the first place. I remember a car ride in which I stopped an insult in process and asked “Why do you think its okay to say that?” It stopped the meanness in the moment but was then brought up again later after peer consultation about how its okay for women to call men <insert name here> but men don’t have the same privilege. What I took away is that as long as the peers support the subordinance of women–its okay in the belief system.

I’m planting a garden today and took a run yesterday musing on how I would plant and then I saw some deer in a yard munching on grass and suddenly realized they might eat my garden. I have little shade so the little seedlings may get sunburnt. I feel that this first experiment might clarify my values. I anticipate a successful garden but don’t want to fall apart at its failure. I’ve decided to keep the whole thing as organic as possible and wonder how hard that might be. I will layer the mulch using the “lasagna garden” technique but wonder if I ought mix up the soil instead. So many fine details pass through my mind that I start to slow down to walk as I’m running to process all the factors. This garden is a process over years, over time, to hone awareness of my own growth process. I’ve made the choice to walk away from a man whose values I don’t admire and grow what I can instead.

Do people change? Yes–they do. It’s hard work that takes practice everyday and changing a core belief can change identity. You are no less of a person if you don’t raft all the rivers, climb all the mountains, bike all the downhills, ski all the slopes, earn all your turns. But folks sure do think less of you when you are self-centered, paranoid, indecisive, a complete loadie hidden beneath the fallacy of legal disassociation. I’m apprehensive to have written again on the subject but it gives me freedom to redefine my blame. Our values are very different. Living in the same culture we’ve clung to different ideas. I embrace my faults because I’ve come to understand that integration means letting myself acknowledge dark and light in my personality. Carl Rogers has taught me only when I fully accept myself in this present moment can I move toward change. I’m not sure if I’ve already said all these things, and I very deeply want off the merry-go-round. Until then, I will love, apologize, redefine, and make sure my beliefs create the peace I crave in my life.

“As I have explained in earlier chapters, abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy’s values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy’s values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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hair like falling rain

When I first moved to Pagosa, I was so curious.  Learning from everyone around me I truly wondered how things worked here.  I’ve always lived in some proximately to American Indian reservations and grew up knowing Blackfoot and Lakota people living near South Dakota.  I looked up information about Pagosa—first the trails, then old newspaper articles, editorial pieces by two gentlemen who maintain their own news sources.  Then, I looked up the word Pagosa itself and thought it was a Spanish word for “yellow pine” as Alamosa was the Spanish word for “little cottonwood.”

I moved here for the trails, for my job, and was able to explore last summer.  I took in the area bounded on the north—the Weminuche Wilderness.  Hiked up to meet the Contintental Divide from Four Mile, then later in fall hiked from Wolf Creek Pass on the divide down to Archuleta Trail to meet up at Big Meadows.  Drove to Platoro near the Colorado-New Mexico border, and spent days in the San Juan Wilderness running from the front porch of a friend’s house.  Haven’t made to Yellow Jacket Pass on the west but I live here now.  There is still time.

I’ve soaked in most commercial and hidden hot springs in the area, barring Rainbow Hot Springs which people will say is a 5 mile hike, but I’ve heard 8.  Yet, I still am a newbie, curious, wondering.  The skies here remind me of Wyoming and the clouds are wonderful right before the afternoon storm of the mountains that I grew accustomed to at 7200 feet in Laramie, WY.  Sometimes, the clouds reach down like fingers pouring rain on mountain meadows in the distance.  Turns out, American Indian (Navajo) men and women have their hair long because it symbolizes the falling rain bringing sustenance and watering plants, herbs, crops.

I started attending town council and remember one meeting where low-income housing was struck down but a $70,000 overlook structure was approved near the bridge at the center of town.  Perfect for the tourists to stand under jutting over the San Juan River and The Springs—the largest resort in town with over 25 pools.  Nice move for tourism, Pagosa.  I was a little upset that there is a slight housing crisis here caused by rentiers and lack of funds for subsidized housing but yesterday heard a bit more of the story.  Many of the lands are owned or homesteaded by Spanish and American Indian people  To develop some lands or put in easements for trails would displace peoples who have been displaced so many times.  I am still learning.

There’s many story on the websites highlighting Pagosa but it seems that only the Anglo (French, English) stories are told bringing the forefront stories of mountain men highlighting the tales of the military expeditions and beaver trapping.  I heard these same stories in Wyoming fourth grade social studies, gnawing on pemmican probably watching “Dances With Wolves” so we could all feel good about the interactions between pale face (white people) and American Indians.  There are two main tribes in the area—Navajo and Southern Ute.  I found a story about the warring between the two tribes.  The story that goes into museums dotting the main highway 160 and highlights the towns cash cow—hot springs.

This is the story that they want you to hear:

There’s a tale of a fight to the death between the Utes and the Navajo to determine the ownership of the springs. Confrontation had marked these two tribes relationship for many years. Both recognized the San Juan River as a dividing line between their nations, but the springs was still a source of contention.

They decided each tribe would select one man to represent each side. The dispute would be settled by whoever emerged victorious, and the winner would win the possession of the Great Pagosa Hot Spring.

The Navajos selected a huge man who was famous for his fighting ability. Colonel Albert Pfeiffer volunteered to fight for the Utes. He was an Indian agent, and a friend of Col. Kit Carson, as well as an enemy of the Navajo and an adopted member of the Utes (having married into the tribe). His one request was that he could elect the weapons they would use, and he were chose Bowie knives.

They met unclothed, except for their breechcloths, and fought with one hand tied behind their backs. The Indian had the advantage in size, and the Colonel knew it. Suddenly, however, when the Colonel was some feet from his adversary, he made a very quick movement with his arm, his knife left his hand and was buried in the enemy’s heart.  The Utes were victorious, the Navajo withdrew, and never more did they lay claim to the “Great Pahgosa.”

But, there’s another story.

The war was not occurring so much between the Southern Utes and Navajo but the Navajo and white settlers.  The Utes and Navajo were ancient enemies, from what I’ve heard, but I can’t find much information on the internet other than the story above.  According the Southern Ute tribe website, the Ute people are the oldest residents of Colorado, inhabiting the mountains and vast areas of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Eastern Nevada, Northern New Mexico and Arizona.  According to tribal history handed down from generation to generation, the people lived here since the beginning of time.

Navajo is pronounced “NAH-vuh-ho.” This spelling came from Spanish– you can sometimes see the same name spelled “Navaho” instead. It comes from a Pueblo Indian word for “planted fields” or “farmlands.”  Think about the clouds and the long hair—these were people who cultivated crops in a place not known for the best growing season. The Pueblo Indians probably gave them this name because unlike their relatives the Apaches, the Navajos were farmers who lived in settled villages. Traditionally the Navajos called themselves Dine’é or just Diné (which means “the people”), but today most Navajo people also use the word “Navajo” themselves, especially when they are speaking English.

From the stories I heard, the Navajo were here long ago, and Pagosa does not mean healing or boiling waters but rather comes from the Navajo word “Pagosah” (although other accounts say it’s a Southern Ute word—depends on who you talk to) which means stinky waters.  The Navajo considered these lands sacred and white settlers kinda liked it, too.  The account I’ve heard is not that each tribe sent a representative but rather the military men transplanted the Southern Ute here, knowing full well they were considered an enemy of the Navajo.  Make it easier on the American government by letting them kill each other off.  Cultural warfare.  Scorched earth on sacred land.

Folks seem to believe that white supremacy is a modern day myth and racist ideology of hatred promoted by marginal extremist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan or the Aryan Nations. Often overlooked and neglected in this view are the structural inequalities that ensure the continued supremacy of whites over non-whites in all facets of social life.  Like putting two warring tribes in the same place.  Only advertising the stories that bring more white folks from the south to enjoy the land and dump dollars in a community that does have its issues with poverty.

I still stare at the clouds every day from my back porch thinking about hair like rain.  I haven’t cut my hair in years and now I will look at town council a bit differently.  Seek out the old families of color who have been here forever to hear the stories, to protect traditions that aren’t necessarily mine, but that I still hold in my heart and I learn about my new home.  This year I’m trying to grow a garden like I’ve grown my hair using the rain that forms over the San Juan mountains and recollect the adage that folks come to Pagosa to “heal, hide, or take a hike.”  I’m here to heal.  I’m here to learn.  I’m here to be.

“Don’t be ashamed to weep; ’tis right to grieve. Tears are only water, and flowers, trees, and fruit cannot grow without water. But there must be sunlight also. A wounded heart will heal in time, and when it does, the memory and love of our lost ones is sealed inside to comfort us.”

― Brian Jacques, Taggerung