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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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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what did yalom say?

Death.

Yesterday I had some fall-out in my heart and I knew it must be real as I ran my fastest mile yet at 6:33.  Not fast in the world of fasties but showing me my own propensity to run away from my problems.  I start to kick up my feet as fast as I can and reach my elbows out ready for the inevitable crash down a dirt road.  Forever trying to get back in my body I start yoga in savasana—corpse pose.  All of yoga is preparation to finish class in this same pose.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Death anxiety forces us to the place of business thinking.  The thinking that dictates if I just find that right person, that right job, that right mountain, that right adventure, I will be complete.  Completeness seems to lie in taking in life on life’s terms knowing we are all somehow failing horribly and also creating beauty beyond the ways that we can see and think about.

Finitude.

There are limits and bounds on life.  This life will end.  There are limits and bounds on the current state of how one is feeling as well.  The sun will set on the horizon of knowledge, there is no absolute trust and thinking in absolutes is pretentious.  The acknowledgement that we are finite and limited beings thrown into a time and place discredits that there is any ultimate truth.  What is truth now may not have been truth then and future truths are unknown.  There is no ultimate reality.  Objects in reality are relative to the subjects perceiving them. We comprehend with finite apprehension.  Chaos that is incomprehensible underlies every aspect of empirical constancy.  Chaos itself, rather than ideology, God, or even the visible world is the only determinable absolute.

Responsibility.

I’ve made poor choices in my life.  Recently, I made a few big ol’ poor ones.  I’ve made mistakes in shifting that responsibility to events out of my control and thusly I feel out of control.  Love did not make me do this or that, geography can only have so much bearing on my actions.  I am who I choose to be and no past or future event is responsible for that choice.  Bad faith is thinking my childhood made me a broken being and leads me to pretend that I have no option than to be who I have become.  This creates evasion from responsibility and a sense of loss.  I am just the product of the chaos around me.  Think of the discord of the Christian who has lost his faith.  Or the devoted wife who has lost her love for her husband.  The academic who thinks they must toil ten or twelve hours a day in research and publications.  The lawyer pleading his guilty client’s innocence.  The basic refusal to face the fact that all of these situations can be other than how they are.  There is responsibility in choice.

Loneliness.

The sacred path is a lonely one.  To embrace one’s true nature is scary like swimming upstream.  The chest can feel like one is drowning.  To feel unconnected and unlike others creates great anxiety.  It comes not from lacking people or objects but from truly facing what and who one is.  There is a myth that we can expand in our power to defeat life’s hurdles—death, disease, decay the entire time trying to hide our carefully tucked away loneliness. Embracing one’s full self will only serve to create loneliness which seems so shameful we choose not to share our pain, our deep fears, our deep crustiness that fuels us to do unspeakable things.  Our pursuit of love, companionship, marriage, denies the basic precept that we are born alone, we will die alone.

Suffering.

We can tolerate all sorts of suffering as long as we can create meaning.  That car wreck was chaos but there is choice in the response to stimulus.  My Dad died in a tragic manner but it set in motion a series of events that let me create meaning through becoming a counselor, examining deep and moving grief.  Some ways of making meaning can be positive and others terribly negative.  There will be no clear end to any suffering but there will be a clear end to becoming a victim of circumstance.  That happened because of this and this is how I will respond.  In suffering there is the uncomfortable motivation to change to move toward calm, peace, shed the pelt of anxiety.

Meaninglessness.

The ultimate nihilistic grappling.  Anxiety, apathy, alienation, nihilism, avoidance, shame, addiction, despair, depression, guilt, anger, rage, resentment, embitterment, purposelessness, madness (psychosis) and violence all create this sense of victimhood.  Why did this happen this way?  I experienced some extreme meaninglessness after changing careers and taking a trip down that road of the gypsy life.  Fun for now, depression and emptiness later.  This feeling that can a sense of being stuck in an ice tray ready to plop out into the next chaotic event.  Or, it can spur the need to create meaning in chaos, to choose how to fill up that ice tray again and use the cubes to quell that fire of the soul that will always evoke change.

Evil and demonic.

Some things, some folks, some events—are evil.  Not bad, just evil.  It is what it is.  Not an act or pattern, sin or crime, but rather what leads us to damage, be damaged, and suffer pain.  Social destructiveness.  Evil could be considered the thing that inhibits personal growth and expansion.  The acts that limit potentiality, curtails freedom, fragments the personality, diminishes interpersonal relationships.  But it is somehow needed to change.  Well that was certainly evil and I’ll not do that again.  Denying evil is denying one’s existence.  To embrace our own evil qualities is to embrace them in others not to fully eradicate that which is unpleasant but integrate into this ride of life.  Evil creates the angst that moves the train of change forward down never-ending tracks.

 

 “Life is a spark between two identical voids, the darkness before birth and the one after death.”

― Irvin D. Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept

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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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soul standing cool

I sat down to look for a writing prompt on the internet sick of my stories of the same guy, the same feelings, the same place. But, maybe thats what writing is all about–dissecting events through details to make sense of things that evade my understanding. I used to write in a style that I adopted from the Beats–journalistic, shocking, filled with the iconic hobo character who I found so fascinating. In college, obtaining my English degree, enamoured by Medieval literature and freshman colloquium examining great Western works.

My favorite authors did not turn out to be the Beats and I became disillusioned with tales of acid trips and anti-government articles that only seemed to birth a generation of folks who read the works to recreate the dissonance of following rules and partying in secret. I’ve never met a true anarchist or many others who take politicking out of the two houses–right or left. This year, I’ve decided not even to follow politics. I understand that acts being performed anger folks, but why not try to take that passion to a micro-level. This is how my favorite author emerged in my life–Marcel Proust. Master of non fiction and detail.  In writing group the other night a very long sentence in my writing was pointed out and I lit up inside–writing like Proust.

I wake up at around 4:30 am and open my whispy white curtains and collect empty Powerade bottles gulped from in between dreams of nature scapes that return to me over and over and as I drive down the curvy road to town I wonder if I have been here before surrounded by tall pine trees and sun beating down through thin mountain air. I fill the tea kettle with faucet water and make my bed, wash dishes while the stainless steel pot starts to giggle with hot bubbling water and pour over grounds watching foamy brown water give off a rainbow sheen glistening like an oil patch in a drive-in parking lot. I pour hot, thick liquid into my only coffee cup–red, black, and chipped and tilt the carton of almond milk for a small pour always sighing at that first drink.

Usually, I sweep the floors and find the swooshing of the broom bristles comforting as tiny piles of mountain dust and crusty chicken collect in little cairnes of my kitchen.  I cannot stand the feel of crumbs beneath my feet and become aware of my own idiosyncacies as others don’t seem to mind the tiny particles and remark on my affinity for sweeping. Archaetypes and metaphors come to mind–the Disney princess sweeping looking forlorn by the fireplace, the giant michevious broom splintering into a thousand tiny ominous brooms filling the alchemist’s basement with water. I remember last year and so many years when the piles of dust were filled with bundles of Lou Dog fur and I muse on another pet taking morning and evening walks that give me the swept earth feeling I crave.

I think on who would not mind my sweeping, who would take in my anxiety like an old cup of bitter micowaved coffee–still thankful for the symbol of morning elixir.  Still thankful to be awake with me.  Who would hardly ever tell me to slow down or speak up or talk about my intensity as if I can control the way I don’t seem to filter myself or the world. One who would be chill rather than telling me to chill letting my mirror neurons kick in and find peace in teaching yoga and meditation–meditation not cooling my fired up personality right away but invoking the cold waters of my soul shaking away the need to be clear and dirty palms up in offering of the person that I am exactly in this moment.

My favorite poets are from the Romantic era along with my favorite pianists. Chopin pieces filled with trills that I used to practice over and over at the piano bench my fingers like a broom, pinky sweeping over high notes and right hand jumping octaves to create the sweet sad sound of a nocturne. Whitman speaks of the human flesh becoming a poem and I see my spindly arms at the top of the page creating the metaphor of a storm swirling on a high prairie lighting up the big sky full of stars.  Stars I see every morning and night as I open and close the white curtains to my deck facing the world. And so I face the world in my poem-body and Proustian mind getting lost in the details yet feeling the glimmer of light in one thousand mirrors becoming one shining beam of energy, one focused point of my life.

“I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.
One world is aware, and by the far the largest to me, and that is myself,
And whether I come to my own today or in ten thousand or ten million years,
I can cheerfully take it now, or with equal cheerfulness, I can wait.”
― Walt Whitman

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lint on the lens

Sometimes, lessons aren’t learned until the mistake is repeated over and over like a cup of morning coffee–bitter yet soothing at the same time. I went back to the same situation that has caused me so much confusion this past nine months. I justify that I want to be loved, want to be held, want someone to run with through the trails of life. I want to be challenged and supported. I want to be heard and I want to listen. Drawn in once again through social media, “Why you blogging my shit, why won’t you say hello at the grocery store? You can at least be civil.” Seeing him sends my heart right up to my throat where my words are suffocated and my chest collapses as my rib cage and my backbone disappear.

We ran around 15 miles in the short lived four day attempt at normalcy. Parked at town hall we made promises I knew I couldn’t keep. I wrote letters filled with lies to keep the pain around one more day–self harming of the soul. He wanted to warm up for a run and I suggested a mile approach to a hill. We started off and I could hear his feet clomping in Chacos wearing my too short running trunks and a long sleeve shirt smelling of strong sweat and cinnamon. Breath pumping out the lungs and legs tired for the first half mile then feeling my flow as the steps sync into three per breath–my sweet spot. That flow was not shared, the sweetness lost and later I was called out for not being an expert, award winning runner who has never completed an ultra. Always less than.

The demands began the third day where he was frustrated with friends, frustrated with me. I imagine going back to someone who you painted to your friends as a villain would cause discord. The same thing was happening in my life as I avoided my friends and sister too scared that I was wading in toxic sludge. The sludge became thicker and thicker as I was told to apologize for threatening to report child abuse. I wasn’t even entirely sure when this threat occurred outside of naming my observations of developmental delays, selling drugs, alcoholism. Who am I, anyway. I’ve made these mistakes but without children forever frightened to fail as a mother and acutely aware of my own faults at potential parenting having this deficiency used against me in the bitter fights.

There’s always moments that I cling to, when he cried and said he wants help to stop being an abuser. When he apologized and expressed shame for being a narc. But, this came back to him. He was sorry about what he had done to himself and his image as someone who tells on people, unconcerned about the effects of going to my employer and how that might play out in my concerted efforts toward professionalism. I’m towing a thin line, must remain at my best, must be the mandatory reporter, and slowly realize how very much he puts me at risk. At risk to be hurt by him. At risk to get caught up in the drugs and boozing. Smiling and trying to show interest and support of a booze infused river trip. Giving a judgmental glance when another party story is recounted.  Shame, confusion, disappointment.

Get out. Get out. Get out. My heart would beat quickly to these words when the fights ensued about my failure to grovel on my knees to make his life easier. Fights about how knocking on the door for twenty minutes shows care and concern and is completely reasonable and prudent. Fights about missing running, missing my writing group, driving 25 minutes to stare out the back deck at Pagosa Peak asking the mountains to tell me where is my mind in all this. I was too hurt to forgive, too eager to point out how prior acts were emotionally dismissive. Then, I’m attacked for being inadequate, unable to act in a submissive manner. “You know, I just realized we are not equals. You can discipline your body but you can’t discipline your mind.” I’ve got degrees like coats hanging in the closet with other accomplishments that mean nothing in this world. And I feel ridiculous clinging to my past goals.

“You are such a negative bitch. I can’t stand you.” This time the word bitch meant nothing to me. Just another rage fest where projection would be the trip leader rowing down a whitewater river with pour overs, strainers, all kinds of obstacles with potential for danger. I become the bearer of uncomfortable, embarrassing, and annoying emotions. I need to apologize for being negative as I’m told I’m not equal to others. I’m a horrible runner when I crush the hill I’ve been running for weeks. I’m weak in my mind when I’ve achieved a masters–like 8% of the population. There is truth and confusion in everything that it said. I start using manipulative tactics and digs to recover myself and then I question my body, my mind, my heart. I see clearly that I’m wanted for control, to augment something that is missing–compassion, empathy, regret?  And I see clearly how I react in error projecting my own shortcomings–I don’t know much about rivers.  I don’t know much about being in a marriage.  I have my own struggles deep in my heart that were put on blast.  Always a good way to invoke change.

I trace my fingers on collarbones and hip bones. I take in a big whiff of sweat and the subtle smell of wind rubbing shoulders and calves. I came back for this. I came back for vulnerable tears and talks of the future with gardens, rivers, trails, supporting me in my PhD, supporting him in his education. I’ve done wrong by reflecting the behaviors–blaming missing my run on another, refusing to apologize and admit faults, using sharp jabs and questioning every thought and act. I watch my friendships improve, I watch my job performance improve, I watch my trailrunning improve, I watch my yoga following grow. But I can’t seem to get this right. I can’t seem to change in the moment when I’m scared, frustrated, lost in love. And so he left. And so this is a blessing.  I can use my anger as fire to cleanse my own hard stuff.  I can use my negativity to become critical and engaged and I can use my body and mind to climb out of that hole like a crab from a bucket.  And the claws of that other crab can no longer reach me. I am free.

“YOUR ABUSIVE PARTNER DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH HIS ANGER; HE HAS A PROBLEM WITH YOUR ANGER.
One of the basic human rights he takes away from you is the right to be angry with him. No matter how badly he treats you, he believes that your voice shouldn’t rise and your blood shouldn’t boil. The privilege of rage is reserved for him alone. When your anger does jump out of you–as will happen to any abused woman from time to time–he is likely to try to jam it back down your throat as quickly as he can. Then he uses your anger against you to prove what an irrational person you are. Abuse can make you feel straitjacketed. You may develop physical or emotional reactions to swallowing your anger, such as depression, nightmares, emotional numbing, or eating and sleeping problems, which your partner may use as an excuse to belittle you further or make you feel crazy.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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small town, big mistakes

Every other time I’ve written of the past 9 months its been romanticized, dramatized, creatively approached, over-analyzed.  And now, I will tell the story of how I made enemies in a small town.  I moved to Alamosa in July to work at a college where I thought I might be able to make a difference.  I left home, and arrived in Colorado ready to make friends with anything that breathed.  I was in a job that I was pretty awful at, as a dorm director.  I have no idea how to supervise and I’m no good at giving directives.  I did not do a good job at managing people or a dorm.

In the midst of feeling sad about losing my dog of 16 years, my Grandma, and my home state I made some pretty out of character moves that I’d spent the last 7 years of my life trying to absolve.  I was Tindering like crazy and that was my first sign.  I went on a few dates with men I wouldn’t look at twice.  Some dates turned into overnights and I started manifesting behaviors of college.  It didn’t matter though–here I was in Colorado and had taken a demotion to come here.  I was ready to be open to that identity stage of life.  Who was I?  A woman who Tindered, clearly.

That’s how I met the person who I can comfortably say has tried to ruin my life. More signs of careless behavior.  I drank my first road beer in his car in 7 years.  Over the summer, I manifested some behaviors that were extremely alarming but freeing.  Living out that college experience on steroids trying to create intimacy through false connections.  I made decisions that were out of character and I dated man who I constantly fought with, had panic attacks over, and who treated me like I was less than.  I finally deleted his last messages today in which he says I’m a fucked up piece of shit who is leaving the children of this town worse off.  Those words are burned into my brain.

In the midst of substance use and an extreme loss of meaning I started to make moves to come live in the place where this man lived in Pagosa Springs.  I didn’t know much about the town or the people only that I was miserable in my job and wanted the intense relief that came with this man.  He was nothing less than an addiction and came with all the fallout.  The dishonesty began early and he cheated on me only to wait until we were at the bottom of South Zapata Lake Trail to tell me after driving up a back breaking road.  I wasn’t as upset about the act but the way in which it was revealed–we could turn around and drive the road back down or I could suck it up.  Only the beginning.

I could recount all the terrible shit in paragraphs but I’ve already done that as I prepared to face this man in court because I felt the courts had to intervene by the end.  But back up.  Moving to be with a pretty unhealthy person I found a place to live on Craigslist.  The landlords were very nice, did yoga, had a beautiful child.  Graciously enough, they let me borrow their Jeep in one of my fights with that man. Then, it started to feel a lot like what was happening with that man.  I didn’t set clear boundaries at first and hearing them fight reminded me so much of my fights.

I took care of the child occasionally and watched the home while they were gone to various destinations.  I didn’t understand the rentier economy until I came here where folks purchase properties to rent out as income.  A complex system of ownership that usually indicates some privilege inherently.  The landlords and that man owned property and a big piece of me didn’t understand how no matter how hard I worked I was perpetually bleeding out money.  This was pointed out and used against me often and I just become more and more resigned to folks despising me for any real or imagined faults.

In January, after a particularly nasty fight where I was terrorized in a vehicle for four hours in silence and left out in the snow, I had enough.  I sought counseling, still not ready to call what was happening abuse.  I was always thankful for the female landlord as she seemed sympathetic to what was happening.  But she became pretty nasty, pretty fast.  As I began to set healthy boundaries in my life, I finally stood up (via Facebook–I hate phone calls because I can’t say no) and said hey guys I won’t be taking care of your cat or home anymore unless I’m compensated.  I’ve been on call for your guests, cleaning up cat shit, and am generally over living in a dorm room.  To say it did not go well would be an understatement.  Within minutes, I received nasty voicemails and shitty messages on Facebook.  I became defensive and tried to outline how much I was doing which was met which how much I wasn’t doing.

I had written a rent check and some monies had been withdrawn that I didn’t account for.  I asked if they could hold off on depositing the check but they had already done so.  The interactions prior to this sometimes had a sting to them and I chalked it off to the couple being unhappy, arguing constantly, and even asking for marriage counseling from myself.   I just figured things would be gray in a small town and smiled and nodded that we could try that out.  There was perpetual defensiveness about the kiddo as well and my role in child welfare as if I was going to come knocking down the door and claim child abuse.  In the midst of all the interactions I was still using substances to deal with the pain.  I had not gotten into fights like this with folks in years.

After I tried to set a boundary with the landlords I was met with more texts about how as a “Wyoming girl” I should be able to get my truck out of an icy driveway.  Two men helped me pull my truck out and I started looking for another place.  I felt so unsafe living above a garage with two folks who, like that man, pointed out any faults and warned me that I would never survive acting like this in a small town.  I figured I’d eat it. I found a new place–the nicest of my life.  A yoga studio on the second floor, mountain views, it was a dream.  In the meantime, the check they had deposited did not clear and I walked out of my office one day to see the sheriff.  They had filed criminal charges which were quickly dismissed when I explained that I had forfeited my deposit and moved in and out late and early equaling a month of paying for an unoccupied space.

This was all in the midst of going back and forth with that man who always answered my texts after months-long absences and always started in on the same kick.  You have no friends, no one likes you, you use substances like crazy, you are a piece of shit.  There are things that are true and things that are untrue.  I did my landlords dirty by moving out suddenly but never at any point do I feel I monetarily effed them over.  I’ve bounced checks to my landlord before with the same poor planning, and made it right.  My prior  landlord for the past 7 years in Wyoming gave me a glowing reference to get me into the place I’m at now despite having a few checks that turned sour.  My behaviors were indicative of someone in a really unhealthy place. But I know I had intended no harm.

Fast forward to my last interaction with the man I moved to the small town for–I engaged him one last time with the hope that it would be a fun night and like my other ex’s I would leave in the morning to say goodbye until we were done with the cycle.  Instead, it turned into one of the most dramatic upsetting interactions of my life.  I had been seeing a therapist for a while now and just wasn’t convinced that my smart, beautiful self would become involved in an abusive relationship.  No way would a man threaten and intimidate me.  Yes, way.  This man went to my job and recounted every instance of poor conduct I had exhibited in the past 9 months. All conduct related to my time with him.

I went to the domestic violence shelter and prepared to file a stalking protection order.  Only in looking at the examples of abuse did it really start to hit home.  But, he never hit me.  But, he was actively trying to destroy my life.  In 12 hours it went from “I love you so much Jen” to “I want you out of my town.”  He is powerful.  He is smart.  And in his retaliatory fashion, filed an order against me.  Said I broke into his home and called him a dickbag on Instagram.  Sure did call him names but sure didn’t break into his home.  It almost worked, but thankfully I am in charge of destroying or building my life back up.  And so it ended on a Friday afternoon in court as I watched a woman and man argue over a protection order and I saw the archetypes of my life.  Woman crying, preaching about her degree in psychology calling the man a narcissist.  Man with mental illness, with some used car salesman lawyer and a bench full of friends, preaching about how a gentle banjo player would never attack a woman.  I filed for dismissal, he followed suit and I caught the eyes of the man as he left the courtroom.  It was over.

And now I am left with a handful of enemies.  The landlords and that man have since become friends, I’m sure recounting what a piece of shit I am.  “Oh she didn’t pay rent.  Oh she was all fucked up all the time.  You’d think a counselor would be a little better in relationships.”  There are also others who are in the haters club.  A man who makes it his business to cheat on his wife.  A couple who drink in what I would describe a violent fashion.  I’ve agonized so many nights over who I became trying to get away from that man.  I became my 17 year old self trying to survive trailer parks and felons being sneaky to avoid any interactions.  Looking up folks on the internet to prove to myself that I had encountered a huge abusers club.  Researching mental health in rural areas to prove to myself that they collect poor, uneducated folks with a clan mentality.

But, now, I don’t know if it matters.  I don’t think anyone is right.  I don’t think anyone is wrong.  All I know is at the end of the day I have a handful of folks in the world who think I’m the worst person they have ever met.  And that might be their experience but this is not how I experience myself.  I saw myself as someone who will forever struggle with addictions.  I became addicted to the same old stuff and I became addicted to an abusive man.  I watched “Big Little Lies” over the weekend where the main character is in a horribly abusive situation and I became eerily frightened by the man’s behaviors that were so familiar.  Everything but the actual physical violence like watching a movie of my life flash in front of me.

And so, now, I’m getting better.  I’m in therapy and have rolled back the addictive behaviors across the board, quitting most everything except for margaritas and e-cigarettes.  A work in progress.  I’m a licensed counselor in Colorado now, and folks with far healthier boundaries than I’ve cultivated yet are watching my every move.  This means no illegal activity no matter if its legal in certain states.  And here’s what my counselor training has taught me:  healthy people do not respond to a boundary by sending cruel and threatening text messages.  Healthy people do not take time out of their day to talk shit on a woman they knew less than 3 months.  Healthy people do not find any excuse to party to the detriment of their relationships and family.  And so I will be a healthy person.  I will understand that my behaviors got me here.  Going back and forth with that man enraged him.  Refusing to pay rent enraged the landlords. But, in no case will rage set anything right.

I would still sit down in a room and apologize to all of them for any pain I’ve caused.  Lets all get some couples counseling cuz this ain’t working.  Get some individual therapy because there’s some serious mental health issues at hand here.  Set boundaries out the gate–I can’t take care of your cat or kid.  I won’t be in a relationship with someone who seeks to destroy me at any assertion of my power.  I’ve done wrong.  I’ve hurt some folks who I thought I would love.  I’ve done right.  I’ve loved the person who I will spend the rest of my life with–myself.  And so, I stay here in this small town and I find wonderful people who model healthy interactions.  I think about my life and what I want.  I want to be free of substances, free of poor boundaries, free of the drama that comes with being a big turd in a small toilet.  I will do better, I will be better, and I hope to meet you to prove it.

“You left and the world didn’t crumble.  I owe the universe a dollar.”

-Rudy Francisco

Anorexia, Archetypes, Biofeedback, Body Image, Bulimia, Capitalism, character study, Colorado, Construction, depression, desert, Dharma, eccentric, Existentialism, Expansion, Faith, Fear, Framing, Health Issues, Higher Education, Mental Health, Micro Non-Fiction, Mindfulness, mountains, Non-Fiction, Nostalgia, PTSD, Self Growth, Self Love, Self Reflection, Trailrunning, Universiality, Yoga

60 degrees

I sat outside my therapist’s office today and for the first time I realized that the brown shapes and figures on the wall were not construction on the building but were mountains.   Light brown mountains with a silhouette of tan and then a final layer of dark brown mountains.  I sat breathing and thinking about the mountains and why I had come to Colorado.  I came for the gorgeous outdoors.  I came for my spirituality and to further my career.  I didn’t expect to walk away from higher education and move to be a play therapist in a tiny town called Pagosa.  But here I am with mountains on the wall, mountains outside, and mountains in my heart.

I think about my life right now—in construction.  I’m framing out my neck, trunk, arms, legs, head, heart, and soul to become able to withstand the weight of the trauma and shitstorm that will always come.  There will always be a mountain to climb.  I can’t stop the storm that may happen on the mountain but I can stop aligning with the weather.  I can stop running into an open field or climbing higher and higher when I see lightening.  But right now, things are exposed to the elements.  There’s a cold breeze in my heart from all the times I’ve loved and lost. From grief and death.  Suicide.  There’s a dark storm of my thoughts beating down from the pain I create in my borderline states.  The waves of my insults to myself and others come crashing down the minute I cannot self-regulate.

I order a heart monitor thingy online suggested in my therapy session that measures my heartbeat as I move through different states.  Eventually, when the cat pukes on the floor or my lover threatens to hurt me because my crazy shit provoked anger, I just remember that pleasant green light I created with my calm heartbeat and exactly how I got there.  I’ve gotten there before—in yoga, in pilates, in the mountains, on the trails.  These things aren’t just my hobbies–they are my screwdriver, saw, drill, hammer, level, square, wrench.  I came to Colorado to access more tools, bigger tools, the mountains, the trails, the community of people who know how to use the metaphorical hammer of the outdoors.

And so here I am building the a-frame of Jen.  Something I have always wanted to do—build an a-frame.  And now I am the carpenter of my own life.  I can assemble the tools and materials with help from all those who already accept the shitty trailer house of my heart going on faith that I want to get better. The rafters of calm and contentment in equal measure will be set at angles of 60 degrees to one another.  Leaning on each other and the foundation of safety I have created from my core being.   I can then frame the doors and windows to let others see my home, see my heart, and let others enter here.  It will no longer be a place filled with sorrow and sadness.  Those things no longer have a place in the a-frame of my being.

I can see my home now.  Tucked away in southwest Colorado built on the dreams of play therapy and healing.  You will know it’s my home because it will shine in the night and beckon in the day.  The light of the peace and contentment that I cultivate will draw in wild animals, good weather, help to grow a garden, nourish my domestic animals, keep the stove warm.  You will see flowers growing all around for medicine, water flowing for healing. In that home will be me full of love and light breathing through any more pain that comes up.  I will know that this home is strong, sturdy, and that I built this serene space with my own two hands and with my own one heart.

Whatever good things we build end up building us.

-Jim Rohn

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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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high plains, high desert

The sky here in Alamosa, Colorado can sometimes feel so incredibly close yet so large, a giant glass fishbowl full of bushy desert plants and fine sand swirling around, piling at the bottom of a mountain.  Mountains are in all directions, optical illusions creating some to appear small as they curl their bottom lip of switchbacks and raise high eyebrows full of summits and passes treacherous in winter as snow that never sees the valley beats down on the chest of the high places.

 

The bowl of the San Luis Valley becomes soaked as irrigation and veins of water fed by the Rio Grande collect snow of mountain tops becoming all but dry in summer.  Rain becomes a welcome sign that miracles can happen in the desert and rainbows can form amidst the backdrop of peaks and valleys of Mount Blanca. The landscape and sense of place could keep me here for years as I begin to understand weather patterns and hear from the folks how the weather fits into their lives.

 

I don’t really know why I left Wyoming.  I know why I left Gillette–to go to college.  And I supposed I left Laramie for the same reason–to go to a different college.  I went looking for opportunity and here I found diversity in the short time I have been here. I become aware of myself as I observe my surroundings to try to understand how to be serve, really how to best empower those around me to serve themselves. I do not know what is best for those in the valley and it’s nice to become learner once again.

 

Some things change and some remain the same.  I travel with lavender oil and rub it on the foreheads of Coloradoans now and I teach yoga to students at this college campus.  I wonder about the prospect of taking the mobile model of yoga I started in Wyoming and try it out here.  How can I weave in the fabric of place through the stories of the people?  I suppose I can start by leaving the house.  I plan trips to trails and dream of backpacking trips up fourteeners but feel some tiny bit of flesh and bone is terrified while the spirit is bold and so I remain cautious.

 

I heard someone talk about the religious or spiritual connotations of the San Luis Valley.  Every religious figure or prophet spent some amount of time thinking about stuff in the desert.  The mountains provide a prompt to think about stuff in the desert and to slow down.  The fishbowl of the valley allows for integration in twenty minute intervals toward towns spreading out like petals from the Alamosa center.  I have arrived.  And will be here now in the high desert of Colorado nodding my head to the high plains of Wyoming.

 

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”

 

-Terry Pratchett, Jingo