Concrete - by Sherrie Thai (creative commons)

Bathed in Concrete

Personal
Concrete - by Sherrie Thai (creative commons)

Concrete – by Sherrie Thai (creative commons)

Many moons ago – back in the dark ages, AKA “Before the Internet Was Everywhere,” otherwise known as 1998 – I was sick. I didn’t know I was sick. I thought I was just very, very tired. And since I had always been on the weak side, never extraordinarily energetic, I figured that was just my lot.

Because I didn’t blog then, when I wrote about what was going on I did so in (probably really bad) poetry. I say “probably” because I have no idea where those sheets of paper are now. I think they were even printed on a dot-matrix printer, of all things. We’re talking way-back-machine stuff, here, kids. At any rate, I don’t remember any of the poems, but the gist of one of the short ones was essentially that I awoke each day feeling as if I had been bathed in concrete. I wore that concrete suit all day long, chipping away at it slowly, and just as I was starting to see daylight it would be time to go to bed and I’d start all over again in the morning. It was, needless to say, a frustrating time. Only I didn’t really have the energy to even be frustrated by it.

I went to my doctor at the time, who – after a series of tests – told me it was all in my head. I am not making that up. That is what the doctor told me. And, because he was wearing a lab coat, I believed him. And that made me feel worse.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about what I did during the time that I felt so tired. Perhaps that’s because my life then was more about what I was not doing. One thing I know is that it was during this period that I quit my band. I had been able to pull it together every time we had a show, and yet in the end I was just so tired. Looking back, it was one of the worst decisions I could have made – that was one of the few high points in my days, band practice and shows – but I didn’t know that then. Instead, I quit the band and spiralled.

At some point in 1999, I eventually decided my doctor might not have all the answers and I started seeing a naturopath. I paid (dearly) for those appointments – not covered by insurance, naturally – but they did tests differently and told me I had a thyroid disorder. I was hypothyroid, he said. Severely so. He put me on the first dose of synthetic thyroid of my life, a medication I’ve been on in one form or another ever since.

He saved my life.

I had had moments in my teen years when I had suicidal thoughts, but it wasn’t until 1998 that I think I truly understood why someone would want to end their life. The lows were so low, there seemed to be absolutely no way out – or an “out” I could even see or work toward. When I started taking those pills, I only had to wait a few weeks before I felt like I could climb mountains. Later in 1999, I actually did climb mountains – literally – when I walked up Alps and Pyrenees to watch stages of the Tour de France. I could never have contemplated doing that the year before, and I cried when I looked out over the valley of the first mountain of the trip. I had come so far.

I have changed doctors over the years, but an endocrinologist has been on my medical roster since 1999. I see my endocrinologist more often than I see any other doctor in my life, getting my blood tested up to six times a year to make sure the medication is at the right amount. The dosage of my medication has changed periodically, but only incrementally. Overall, while I’m still not what you’d describe as an energetic person, I’ve led what feels to me like a normal life since 1999. A normal life that felt something like a miracle at the time.

About two months ago, however, I changed the medication I’d been taking, and the dosage was so wildly different from the other drug that (as it turns out) I was taking a much lower dose than I should have been for the first month. As a result, I have spent the last few weeks in a haze. It’s not as bad as it was in 1998 – not by a long shot – but it has the same color, the same flavor. I’ve been exhausted, spacey, unable to focus, and depressed. I know it’s temporary. I started taking a higher dosage of the medication last week, so it’s only a matter of time before that kicks in and I start to feel more normal, but in the meantime I’m dragging around concrete boots everywhere I go.

I apologize if I’ve sounded “off” in any conversation I’ve had with you recently, or if I’ve been slow to respond to email. I’m not myself. It’s an unsettling feeling. The good news is that, unlike in 1998, this time I know that I will feel like myself again – eventually.

creative commons image by AK Rockefeller

No One Left to Speak For Us

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creative commons image by AK Rockefeller

creative commons image by AK Rockefeller

I stood over my laundry on December 14, 2012, dumbstruck as CNN kept saying that there had been a school shooting in my hometown of Newtown, Connecticut – surely they meant someplace else? someplace bigger? When it finally sank in that, yes, it was Newtown, I crumbled over the ironing board and wept. I cried for days, weeks, on and off. I still cry when I think about it. The news was then, and remains, too devastating to contemplate. And yet? I was hopeful. Finally, I thought, finally something will change. Congress will act. The American people will rise up and say they’ve had enough. Certainly, this can’t be swept under the rug.

And yet?

Here we are, 18 months later, (at least) 74 school shootings later, and the latest one is on my doorstep on this side of the country. An as-yet-unnamed student walked into Reynolds High School in Troutdale first thing this morning and killed a freshman boy before police said the incident was “contained.” It’s a polite euphemism hiding the fact that not one but two kids lost their lives today.

For all my weeping after Newtown, I find that today I am resigned. I am sickened, heartbroken, and angry – and after those feelings come and go I open a new brower window and go back to my work. Which makes me more sick, heartbroken, and angry.

After the school shooting earlier last week at the Seattle Pacific campus, I was reminded of that famous speech by Martin Niemöller, the German pastor who, after World War II, criticized the German elite for not doing more to stop the spread of Nazism before it was too late. His words were turned into a poem:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Many of us are asking now, as we asked after Newtown and so many school shootings before that, what will it take? What is it actually going to take for something to change? I confess that my own answers to that question are getting more and more outlandish and disgusting. But I no longer have any faith that we’ll do what it takes – oust members of Congress who are firmly in the pockets of the NRA so they can finally enact meaningful gun control legislation – without something disgusting and outlandish happening.

What will it take for you to act? Don’t offer your thoughts and prayers. We don’t need those. We need your action.

If you can’t be bothered to do something, to say something, then you deserve exactly the society riddled with unpredictable gun violence that we’ve got. If you can’t stand up against terrorists like the NRA, even when you haven’t lost a loved one to gun violence, then eventually there won’t be anyone left to speak for you, either.

Send a #NotOneMore postcard to your elected officials right now. It takes 10 seconds. Then do it again tomorrow. And the next day. And every day until they listen. And please, please, please – remember this on election day.

Stop the NRA -- creative commons photo by Elvert Barnes

Gun. Control. Now.

Personal
Stop the NRA -- creative commons photo by Elvert Barnes

creative commons photo by Elvert Barnes

I don’t know how anyone can look at this latest mass shooting and fail to see a crisis around this country’s attitudes toward both guns and women. We needed gun control decades ago. Our government is complicit in these murders so long as they let the NRA bully them into inaction or – worse – actions that actually inhibit efforts to keep people safe from gun violence.

Gun control now.

  • How the NRA Enables Massacres
    In the USA, "we’ve allowed a group of rich, entitled thugs who run an operation fronting for arms dealers—guys who represent a minority position on pretty much every issue having to do with reasonable regulation of firearms even among gun owners—to dictate our policies to cowardly, careerist politicians."
  • Elliot Rodger’s fatal menace: How toxic male entitlement devalues women’s and men’s lives
    "Just as we examine our culture of guns once again in the wake of yet another mass shooting, we must also examine our culture of misogyny and toxic masculinity, which devalues both women’s and men’s lives and worth, and inflicts real and daily harm.

    “I think of the millions of other women and girls whose names the public does not know, but who have been forced all the same — by institutional forces larger than themselves, by systemic and enduring misogyny and racism, by the sheer bad luck of being at a given place at a given moment — to become statistics or symbols of our culture’s profound disregard for the humanity of women and girls. I am reminded of all of them and I don’t know where to put the pain and anger that comes with that. There is no possible vessel large enough to hold it all.”

  • Christopher Michael-Martinez’s Father Gets It Right about Guns
    "The war against euphemism and cliché matters not because we can guarantee that eliminating them will help us speak nothing but the truth but, rather, because eliminating them from our language is an act of courage that helps us get just a little closer to the truth. Clear speech takes courage. Every time we tell the truth about a subject that attracts a lot of lies, we advance the sanity of the nation. Plain speech matters because when we speak clearly we are more likely to speak truth than when we retreat into slogan and euphemism; avoiding euphemism takes courage because it almost always points plainly to responsibility. To say ‘torture’ instead of ‘enhanced interrogation’ is hard, because it means that someone we placed in power was a torturer. That’s a hard truth and a brutal responsibility to accept. But it’s so.

    “Speaking clearly also lets us examine the elements of a proposition plainly. We know that slogans masquerading as plain speech are mere rhetoric because, on a moment’s inspection, they reveal themselves to be absurd. ‘The best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’ reveals itself to be a lie on a single inspection: the best answer is to not let the bad guy have a gun. ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do.’ No: obviously, people with guns kill more people than people without them. Why not ban knives or cars, which can be instruments of death, too? Because these things were designed to help people do things other than kill people. ‘Gun control’ means controlling those things whose first purpose is to help people kill other people. … And the idea that you can be pro-life and still be pro-gun: if your primary concern is actually with the sacredness of life, then you have to stand with Richard Martinez, in memory of his son.”

  • I Am Not an Angry Feminist. I’m a Furious One.
    On the awful backlash toward the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter:

    "They don't believe us. Hundreds of thousands of women from around the world can weigh in and tell their first hand experiences and there are men out there — seemingly reasonable and intelligent men — who still refuse to admit that maybe, just maybe, we have good reasons to be afraid. A 22-year-old kid spouts the same misogynist rhetoric that my coworkers and I receive in our inboxes on a daily basis and goes on a shooting rampage with the expressed purpose of punishing women for not giving him the sexual attention he felt entitled to and we're still told that we have no right to be scared because #NotAllMen are like that."

Contact your Senators and Representatives. Ask them to stand up to the NRA – for the sake of everyone you know and love.

The End of an Era

Personal

toyota3

In early 1996, I was 24 years old. I had been out of college for less than two years. I was working as an administrative assistant for a mediator in Portland, and living in a one-bedroom basement apartment in southeast.

In the 18 years since then:

  • I joined a rock band, with whom I lived in a town north of Seattle for a little over a year, touring up and down the west coast for three years.
  • I met a guy, bought a house, got married, and got divorced.
  • I worked my way into and online community management travel writing for the web, when the internet hadn’t even been a thing during my college years.
  • I embarked on a freelance career I didn’t think would go well, and that I still love two years later.

And through all of that, I’ve been driving the exact same car. A 1993 Toyota Corolla I bought when it was three years old, when I really couldn’t afford the payments, but when my existing car was showing signs of giving up the ghost. I put a whopping great number of miles on that car during the first year I had it, driving to Portland from Seattle every weekend for awhile to see the guy I would end up marrying, and the car never failed me. It’s only in the last year or so that the car started using oil to the extent that I’d need to add a quart or two between oil changes.

Still, driving a 21-year-old car around isn’t necessarily the best idea – my mother had been worried about me driving anywhere for some time now. So, at the age of 42, I have just purchased only the third car I’ve ever owned in my life.

honda2

To be perfectly honest, the look of the Fit doesn’t thrill me. But, then again, neither did the Corolla. The thing that made it most challenging to let go of the Toyota, however, was knowing I couldn’t take the Petal window stickers with me. I had put those stickers in my car in 1996 when I joined the band, and (no surprise) I was the only band member left with Petal stickers in the window – my bandmates have moved on to other cars since then.

I am perfectly happy to have a newer car (with air conditioning!), and I’m going to love the great gas mileage, but I’ll always be a little sad that I’m not still driving around advertising my band.

Unless, of course, I manage to convince Ken to make new stickers…

creative commons photo by Alexis Lê-Quôc

Under Construction

Personal
creative commons photo by Alexis Lê-Quôc

creative commons photo by Alexis Lê-Quôc

The end of my street is blocked by orange construction cones and signs declaring that the road is closed. Workers closed the road not long after I moved in. They were already deep into a years-long project extending light rail lines further into the east side of the river. If I thought I would be staying in this neighborhood until the completion of the project, I’d be thrilled. A light rail station within walking distance of me? Excellent news. Since I hope to be long gone by the time the work is done in 2015, however, all I notice are the orange cones.

The road, they tell me, is under construction, and the progress report sign at the intersection tells me the project completion date. Being introspective lately leads me to think that my life feels very much under construction right now, though I have no project completion date. I don’t even have an estimate that I’ll overshoot by a number of weeks or months and over which local politicians will wring their hands. No, all I have are orange cones.

I know that despite my series of rough years recently that I am lucky. I don’t have enough work, but the work I have is work I like, and that allows me to live in a way I love. I don’t love my current living situation, but I know it’s temporary and I genuinely adore the neighborhood in the meantime. I’m dealing with the aftermath of leaving a 10-year marriage, but I am thankful that I had the wherewithal to leave and the support of family and friends when I did.

Despite the orange cones circling my personal work zone right now, I am more optimistic than I have been in longer than I can remember. No, it’s not despite the cones – it’s because of them. Those construction cones represent progress. They indicate movement. They tell me that work has started. There may be no project completion date I can put on a calendar, but it is satisfying to see the orange cones surrounding jagged holes in the pavement, hard-hatted workers hip-deep in the ground, shovels in hand.

Cutting through the surface to reconfigure what lies underneath can hurt, but letting something sour fester there is far worse.

I am doing my best to let go of the guilt, the sadness, the worry, the part of me that was willing to quietly accept unhappiness. There is nothing that offers hope so much as potential, so I am choosing to see the orange cones as harbingers of positivity. What’s under these top layers, what the workers will find when they dig a little deeper, and what they’ll build next – I don’t really know. Whatever it is, I don’t want to be on the sidelines anymore, watching from behind the safety ropes. I’m wading in, hard-hatted and shovel in hand.

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

The Answer to Life, the Universe, & Everything

Personal
by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

by Kevin Dooley via Flickr

On my 42nd birthday, an announcement.

Some of you already know this, although I’ve kept it relatively quiet in a more public sense. I moved out of my house early last June, and Chris and I are in the midst of wrapping up all the paperwork involved in our divorce. It wasn’t an easy decision to leave – perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever done – but I don’t regret it. I purposely kept the news out of public spaces until the mediation was done, but I did want to let people know what had happened, as there are many of you who still don’t know. I apologize for the format of this, if this is how you’re finding out, and I hope you understand.

For at least the forseeable future I am in a bit of limbo. I am in an apartment I don’t like (though in a location I love in SE Portland), and I’m not sure what I’ll be doing or where I’ll be living six months or a year from now. I’ve never been good with changes (I have sprouted more gray hairs in the past eight months than I can count), and this is by no means easy, though I’m trying to remind myself that it’s temporary. I have posted signs in my apartment reading, “This, too, shall pass” – and I’m reminded of a favorite André Gide quote:

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

There are plenty of clichés about change, but when you’re in the midst of upheaval they all sound so trite as to undermine what it feels like you’re actually going through. Since losing my job in 2012, I feel a bit like every time I was getting close to being on my feet again, something else would pull the rug out from underneath me. In this case, I pulled the rug out myself. So, I am at sea, yes. And somewhere out there lies my next port. I can’t see it yet. But I know it’s there.

So, bring it on, 42. Let’s see what you’ve got. I’m ready.

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