Contemplation: A Night Alone in NYC

I am back to the question of affordable housing and space and “home” as of late.

Is NYC my “home?”  Should I make it my permanent home? Can I make it my home?

In a way, it seems ludicrous and outrageous.  Who do I think I am?  Only wealthy people can live here now. It is not the place of free thinkers, writers,  immigrants, refugees, artists, and political progressives it used to be.  Those days are long over.

Yes, I have been here now since May.  Yes, over the past few years that I am lucky enough to come to NYC , I never want to leave.  But is that because I have made my own life so miserable in Michigan, or because my life in Michigan is just not a good fit?  What about my son? I am his guardian.  Michigan is “my home” even if I do not have a physical location to call home.  It is where I am from.

It is true I have wanted to live in NYC ever since I was a child, because I loved to read and many of the writers I loved lived in NYC.  But, let’s get real; that is why tons of people want to come to NYC.  I am not unique.  Yes, I  wanted to live in NYC after learning about social/artistic movements. (Or California) But so have a lot of other people.   When I applied for graduate school in New Jersey years ago, I applied to that school because it had the number one women’s studies program in the country, it was near NYC, and it was by the ocean. That was my criteria.  I don’t know why I did not apply at a school in NYC, but I had no idea what I was doing.   I Just knew I wanted “out.”  I did not feel I really had any agency or choice in the matter, but I was determined that my son and I were getting out. Out of Flint, out of the life that was supposed to be in the cards for us.   And then so I could get the degree to live the life I wanted to live, to be healthier than my family; to be able to help others who had helped me so much and to whom I felt eternal gratitude. I wanted to be able to give back.

As I mentioned before, the graduate school made a mistake and sent me an acceptance letter when they meant to send a rejection letter so I drove out to convince them that I could do the academic work  after they told me they made the mistake–but before I drove to the school in New Jersey, I drove instead to New York City, before cell phones and GPS’s, I had never been here before, and by myself. In the middle of the night. I had a map.  And then I saw a big sign on the expressway that said, “NYC 100 miles” or whatever it was.  So, instead of driving to the hotel to get the sleep I needed after driving 12 hours like a normal person would do, I followed some random sign to NYC and then drove around for hours in the city.  To this day, I have no idea where I was in the city, I just remember driving around thinking, “I did it, I made it, I am in NYC.” I felt so happy.

When I lived in New Jersey, I came to the city a lot but it often felt daring–like once you went through that tunnel or over the bridge, all bets were off.  You may or may not come back out.  It never occurred to me to live in the city, though.  I was always lost in the city as I have a horrible sense of direction.

Fast forward many years later.  I don’t have space to myself but I don’t dare complain as  I am fortunate to be here, many people who I know would love this chance, to be here even for a week.  And  then to have nice friends to stay with and a place to stay. But I also very much value my own time and space in my life and I have had literally none.

But, this past week, I have  been staying in a little apartment by myself, taking care of another friends place as they went to South Africa.  (I wound up realizing it was impractical for me to go so instead I am staying at their place. I love it here!)

I can navigate my way around the city much better by the day. This spring, when I first got here I said I was going to make it my goal to explore every crevice and crack in the city. A lofty goal, one I could spend my entire life trying to meet–I like the idea, though.

I keep thinking about what it would mean to get my things out of storage and make a commitment to “move here.”  Earlier in the week, I took the subway up to the most northern part of the Bronx as people say it is cheaper there. I wanted to see what I thought of the area and if it was something I might be able to swing. Is it worth it to spend all the money I make on rent, in essentially a closet,  and then I will have to deal with all the things you have to deal with in the city, just to be in NYC?  I have been without a home for almost four years now.  I love my friends and I am grateful but I am starting to feel eager to have my own space. But I know what I am dealing with per the city, it is not as if I am not in reality.  Life is tough everywhere if you don’t have money to live but it is especially hard here.

This past week, I had a chance to practice what it would be like to be in NYC on my own so I am now giving myself some pause to consider how the experience has been.  I have been lucky enough to have the experience without having to pay every dime I make on rent.

I like it. I want more of it.    A couple friends suggested that I look in New Jersey again because rents are cheaper there but I don’t want to live in New Jersey.  I already lived there years ago.  I did  not like it there why would I like it now?  What is the point of living in New Jersey when I want to live in New York City?  The way I am looking at it right now:  it would be cheaper for me in the long run if I look at the amount of “free” things I can do in the city that would cost me money outside of the city. For example, there are many free or reduced yoga places. The Al-Anon meetings would be free anywhere, but I really like the people here.  There are many free cultural events.  I love the library and I now have a NYC ID card.  I live here.   This is my home.  I feel free relatively speaking.  I don’t feel like I am waiting to live, I am living.  The city forces me to be my best self or I will be swallowed up and eaten alive.  It is definitely one day at a time and everything could change tomorrow.  Some days are too much but if I had my own place, I could swallow up those moments in a safe space, maybe.  Unless neighbors are screaming and fighting, and the sirens are too loud.

What would it be to get rid of most of the things I have in storage and just bring the few essentials here to the city?  What could I do with my car?

I have spent most of my life working to pay the rent without much left over anyway, so what is the difference? At least in the “off time” I would have things to do that I like. True, I cannot kayak and there are no solitary walks in nature, no beautiful beaches to sit on.  There are rats and cockroaches and bed bugs. And tons of hot, sweaty people all smashed together in a subway, in lines, in aisles, on the sidewalks.  It is noisy and obnoxious.

I keep waiting for it to get old.  Some days it does.  While I do work a lot, the work is not stable nor does it pay well but that is true wherever I go. It has already been established that I, like all adjuncts, am deeply exploited. I need healthcare.  Last week I applied for jobs that I am overqualified for; they still do not pay well, but they did have a healthcare package. I noticed lots of other people applied for those jobs, too.  I also started researching what one has to do to get in line for a lottery for affordable housing–it is a lottery–and like a real lottery, the chances of nabbing a place are slim to none.  There are too many people here, and not enough jobs or affordable homes.

I like the lifestyle of NYC minus the expensive part. I like being able to walk to friends homes, or to the store.  Yes, it is a pain sometimes to have to limit myself but it also forces me to be more conscious about what I am going to put in my body, since I have to buy it and walk five million miles in the heat in order to consume it.  I like the fact that there are “awakened” people here.  And there is so much to do, so many options, that it is overwhelming. Do I want to go a book signing? Free yoga at Riverside Park?  Last night I found out that there was free opera at Lincoln Center outside for the next week? What about a museum?  A protest?  I love the fact that yesterday a bunch of women marched down Broadway bare-breasted because they feel women should be able to go topless just like men.  Would I do it? No, but the spirit made me happy.

I loved the spirit of the protest art/statue of Trump in Union Square-people were not morally outraged, they were having fun, taking pictures of the emperor with no clothes, before the NYC parks took the statue down, with this explanation, ” NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.”

It is this spirit I love. I think to myself, OK, I took the big step to come out here and I have had this experience. Maybe it is best, now to think about other cities. I have been fixated on NYC all of my life. But maybe I should consider moving to Colorado, where it looks like healthcare there might become universal.  People in Colorado report being “happy” and “healthy.” It is a liberal state.  Michigan is the worst–it scores very high on the depression scale and I can see why.

But I am rambling now.

Yet, what city would have such a come-back to a naked Trump?

I don’t know what the outcome will be, I go back to the other friends apartment tomorrow.  But I do know that despite my absolute pain for my son, I am also simultaneously grateful that I have had these moments.  It is true that I have been socialized to be invisible, to think I don’t matter, to think my feelings don’t matter, to think I don’t have a right to have what I want, and to be critical of the fact that I am even having this conversation–because who do I think I am?  I know what time it is, economically, in this country.  It is the absolute worst time to live in the most expensive city in the country. And I am sick. And haven’t I already learned this lesson? I keep going where I don’t belong and I try to belong.  Some people get to travel the world, other people have to stay where they “belong.”  That is how it is.   I seem to not want to stay where I belong.  I am tired of being in other people’s spaces as much as I appreciate the fact that I am fortunate enough to have people who let me stay with them. I want a space of my own.  But it feels impractical, and too much to ask.  I picture myself trying to make the leap, and winding up on a park bench, with a sign attached to myself, “You should have chosen the practical route.”

I don’t have the answers, but I do plan to continue to document it the best I can, when I have moments to do so.

 

 

 

 

My Role in Perpetuating Racism

Last night I was at a gathering with new friends, and old friends and with some people who I don’t know very well or was meeting for the first time.

To be honest, I did not want to be there as I just wanted to wallow in fear about my son and sit in silence as I have only a couple nights left at this place where I am staying by myself and I cherish the moments I get to be by myself as it does not happen very often.

But I went even though I did not want to go.

One of my very best friends was there.  She recently got out of the hospital for depression. (Oppression?) She is the deepest person I know.

I hope she does not mind that I am writing this piece.  I love her very much and am thinking about my own part in perpetuating inequality in the dynamic last night.

And what kind of a friend I am versus what kind of friend  I would like to think I am.

In my quest to “pass” per social  class, I failed to step up to the plate when it came to issues of race.

And that is an example of my own white skin privilege. That I could “pass” to some degree just by my white skin and nodding my head and acting agreeable.

I give myself a big fat “F” for my behavior last night.

I even lied twice in the conversations to someone who has a PhD and is a member of the “old guard” of academia in order to fit in.  I  worked hard to present myself as someone who has a prestigious educational background like everyone else in the room, like someone who is informed with world/political views, like someone who is well travelled, like someone who was more like the dominant group in the room, like someone who does not have a sick and chronically homeless son, like someone who does not have her things in storage, like someone who is a member of the academic world in a real way, not in a piece together online teaching adjunct sort of way.  The truth is I barely made it into academia for reasons that have everything to do with social class and I am barely hanging on now.  My own persistence is what got me into the elite school and then I spent years reeling from the shock of it all and paid a big price–some would say at the expense of my son.  I am not sure I would go there, because I believe all women should have access to education, even though I know what most people thought when I took my son across the country to enter a PhD program that was way out of my league.  I paid a high price because I kept taking out money in student loans to try and make it work and to try and fit in.

And here I am again, trying to fit in to a world I don’t fit into and at the expense of my friend, who is a Black Woman and with whom I share a similar class background to some degree, although in other ways, not so much as I did not grow up “poor” in the inner city, I came to poverty after I left home at 17 and even more so when I became a mother, living in the city of Flint.  My friend and I met at the “elite” institution many years ago when we were in PhD programs and formed a bond, and while I do not understand racism, we did understand that we both did not “fit in” at the university and we had similar worldviews. We both also struggled with depression and disgust at the games played in academia.

She is much smarter than I am but I was able to pass last night simply by having white skin.  Everyone else in the room was white but her.  I noticed the dynamics in the room and yet instead of doing anything to disrupt the social order that I was conscious of, I did my part to keep it going although I was not conscious as to why until later last night, when I thought about it some more, and agonized over my role and why I did what I did.

I am not trying to give myself a free pass today, to invent excuses for myself, but I do know my motives.  I was trying to fit in and it felt like I sort of was for a change and I was not going to give that up since most of the time I don’t feel I fit into that world.  I was passing and I liked it so I kept the façade.  To the point of lying, even.

In general, I notice I spend a lot of energy resisting stereotypes, in a number of ways, as I had internalized this notion that I was a loser, a poor single mother, naïve,  not smart, etc. when I was younger.  When am I going to let this go so that my issues do not impact others?

I really do not know what to do to make it right.  Even if I brought up the dynamics to others who were in the room, I don’t think they would see the dynamic the way it unfolded and the way it was because they have enough class and race privilege to not have to “get” what I do get, to some degree. I would have had to be more subtle about switching the dynamic up last night to level the playing field for my friend and I did not. I could have done something like ignore the bourgeoisie aspects of the conversation and focus specifically on what she was saying instead of working so hard to try and fit in.   I helped ignore her, too.    I suppose it is a blessing and a curse to have the “outsider” consciousness so I can see more deeply but I don’t like it when I have to look at myself in the mirror and see someone who participated in a dynamic that at least in theory, I say I am against.

I have gone to a few Black Lives Matter events while on the east coast and cried the entire time, and then I felt bad for crying and analyzed that. I mean, why bother going to events that address racism if I cannot address the racism in my own life?

It makes it especially bad to look at my role in subconsciously thwarting my dear friend,  who just got out of the hospital for depression.   No wonder she is depressed.

I am not sure what I can do to make it right. I am sorry.  The only thing I can think of to do is to be more aware of these issues in the future so I don’t betray people I love in order to try and fit in because of my own class baggage.

 

 

This, I Know

My son is dying and there is nothing I can do.

Mental illness combined with substance abuse for years.

The systems are not equipped to handle the complexities of mental illness.  Especially not in Michigan, especially not in the US, especially not if you do not have money.

This is how it goes:

Blame the mother.

Do not look at structural conditions.

Do not look deeply at genetic/holistic issues.

Put the suffering teenager in isolation for weeks on end.  Rack up a bill and send it to the mother to pay.  Because the state makes money this way.

Forget to give him his medicine while he is in detention facilities.

Do not listen to the mother.

Blame the mother.

Because she is a single mother, and without power.

That’s OK, because  I blame myself, too.  It is all good.

Not really.

We don’t want your kind here,

in this town.

Put him in a state mental institution but do not look at the issues of trauma caused by the state and caused by other issues.

No deep therapy for you.  The funding is cut.

Cannot get a bed for him in the psych ward because Medicaid in Michigan only has a limited number of beds available and the hospitals  that are available are not the “good” hospitals.

Ditto with the substance abuse facilities.

Mental health says: the issue is substance abuse, we cannot treat him.

Substance abuse says: The issue is mental health, we cannot treat him.

Alanon says, let go, let go, let go.

How can I let go of my only child?

NAMI says fight.

My son does not want me to fight for him.  He wants me to let go.

He does not want to be here.

Over a year ago, he waited three days for a bed at the mental hospital.  One never emerged so they sent him to a very bad treatment facility.  Very bad. It should be shut down.  There, he met a therapist. Fell “in love.”

He has been living with her for a year. She keeps trying to break up with him because she did not realize how sick he was. “I am not putting up with this any more,” she says. She did not even do a proper discharge plan when he left the  “treatment” facility.

She is still employed.

The injustices pile on and I see rage.  I don’t even know how to explain what it is that I see and how to tell what has happened, it is so dreadful.

I never thought this would be my life. Or my son’s life.

There is nothing worse than watching your child suffer.

This happens to many people who are chronically mentally ill in this country.

This, I know.

 

 

 

To Teach or Not: That is the Question

Today, I was asked to teach a last minute course as an adjunct.  The subject of the course interests me since it is a women’s studies course that addresses issues of inequality, diversity, and social justice.

I am tempted to say yes, as my eyes glaze over from already too much work.  Currently, I am fortunate to teach online, even though it is all part time and at multiple universities.  There is no job security, I have no health benefits and as I have mentioned before in previous blogs, my health is not the best.  My eyes are also in bad shape, probably from overuse.

Decisions, decisions.  I have a hard time making them.  Teaching online has allowed me the freedom to be able to do my work on my own schedule, and with the comfort of a warm blanket.  I saw the advertisement and applied for the job, because it sounded interesting and the faculty who teach there sound  amazing.

But right now I am doing a cost/benefit analysis.  Is the energy I would expend in teaching the course worth the time and money?  Adjunct salaries are so low.  I don’t know the pay for this course, but I imagine that it will be around $2600.00 for the semester, which is the average/going rate.  I would have to commute an hour each way one day a week and the cost of commuting will be about $8.00 one way. But I know myself, and I will spend hours upon hours thinking about the students, the lesson plans, etc., etc. so by the time I am finished doing a cost/benefit analysis, I am in the red.

About eight years ago, when I started teaching online, I loved it and said I would never go back to face to face teaching again.  I love being able to sit with students words and papers and do not feel I am really good at face to face contact as I am extremely sensitive to the nuances of group dynamics and I do not want to injure anyone accidentally by reproducing inequality in my position of “power” as an adjunct.  After I would go home, I would analyze what I said, what I did not say, how I could have made the lesson better and exerted way too much energy into the experience.  I did this for years and wore myself to the ground. I still wear myself to the ground teaching for low pay but at least now I have the freedom of being mobile.

On the other hand, maybe being in a group of people (students) face to face during this time, on the east coast, will be a stimulating experience, an experience I could use.  I am pretty isolated in many ways but I also prefer isolation. (reframe:  solitude) I prefer solitude.   People wear me out.  Am I ready to go back out into the world?  I wish the position paid better and offered benefits, then it would be an easy decision.  I teach for the love of teaching but since I have been teaching now for over 20 years, I am not oblivious to the obvious exploitation that comes from teaching as an adjunct. I am not deluded into thinking that a part time position would lead into a full time position or more opportunities.  I am too old, now, and too jaded. Too aware of reality.

Yet, I am still considering the position.  To teach–or not?

Is teaching keeping me away from my true purpose, as I spend all my energy nurturing others, encouraging others?  I lose my own spirit and my own dreams get put on a shelf in the name of work.  Always. I am often surviving, not thriving.    I was full of ideas and creativity when I was younger when it came to teaching and saving/changing the world.  But now, I am in reality. I know what time it is.   The world has been harsh.

I have not been writing as of late because I have been so busy working–or maybe that is an excuse.

I am not good at and never have been good at playing the game.  Is there a way to teach the course that allows me the space to by myself and have a healthy experience without overextending myself?

It’s interesting I applied.  It seems that if I have a face to face job out east, it makes it all the more impossible for me to ever return to Michigan.  At least for the semester.

Hmmmm.

Finding Peace in the Midst of the Madness

OK, I have been reading and thinking a lot about what is going on in the US politically, like most other people.  I identify as being a socialist feminist and so the Democratic Party has historically been  too conservative for my values and I especially am not impressed with the Clintons.  However, most of the time, I wind up voting Democrat as a matter of practicality  because we have a silly two party system in the US.   My values line up more with the Green Party and I did vote for Ralph Nader once.  This is not a post, though, about my voting history or why I wind up voting Democrat especially on the national level when I am further left on most issues.

It is about how to manage my own emotions and to find peace in the midst of this political madness.

First, since I teach sociology and come from the premise that the “personal is political,” I can understand why people are feeling very “personal” about politics at this time.  I also have been an activist in my life.  Not a big one, but still.

The country is in the last stages of capitalism and people vote most of the time based on their own values, fears, hopes, and belief systems.  All of this emerges out of their social location.  While it is true that some people do not vote in their best interests, and have a false consciousness, I am not interested in talking about that at this time, either.

I am interested in how I can hold onto my own ground without offending others or ruining my relationships.  I am conflicted because on the one hand, I realize that silence is  a form of complicity, and on the other hand, I want peace and I want justice.

I am a big Bernie supporter.  I found him honest, a breath of fresh air, and he gave hope to so many people who are strangling under the current system. To me, he represented real change and it is a sad day when someone like Donald Trump can be the outsider put on the presidential ticket but someone like Bernie Sanders is not.  The democratic party has become in my time more of what a  moderate Republican stance was like in the old days.

My values are this:  I want to have health insurance and I want health insurance for all. I want to see us decriminalize our outdated and barbaric criminal “justice” system.  I want everyone to have a chance to go to college.  I want to see wall-street contained. I want people to have mental health treatment.  I don’t want people sick and dying from a lack of health care.  I want people to live a long happy and healthy life.  I want people to be kind.   I want students to get relief from student loan debt. I want to see people have good paying jobs.  I want racism to be addressed in a real way.  I want to see people feel happy and healthy and educated.   I want mental health care and yoga accessible to all.  I want GLBT persons to move through life freely. I want all family forms to be acknowledged and a guaranteed annual income for all.  I want an end to war.   I want the police to be accountable to society.  I want people who have vast amounts of power and wealth put in check.  I want affordable housing.   I want people to have a chance to do other things besides work, work, work.   I want women to be able to have a voice and equal pay–not just the Hillary Clinton type of woman, either.  The US is one of the most unhappy countries and violent in the world and people are not healthy here, either.    Because of rampant inequality.

When Obama was elected, I voted for him. And I voted for him again.  I voted for him because he represented hope. I remember thinking, finally, we are going to see change and things are going to get better.

But I think they have gotten worse, as much as I like him personally as a human being,  I have not agreed with some of his decisions and I also know he has been constrained. But I have always liked his core essence.

I hate Hillary Clinton.  Hate is a strong word but that is how I feel.   She is no feminist in my book.  I hate her for so many reasons, but this post is not about that, either.  I wish I would not hate her but I do.  I want to move beyond the hate.   It is obvious she is the presidential candidate for the democratic party and  it has been obvious for a long time, she represents the status quo.  America is not ready for radical change unless it is Donald Trump. But I think “we” will be eventually.  We will have no choice.

While I teach controversial ideas and have strong opinions about many issues, I do try and stay open minded although this post may not sound like it.  I also have friends from all over the political spectrum.  I have seen friends of mine from Flint who are white and blue collar merge to the Republican side and they are now Trump supporters. I have heard shockingly awful things come out of their mouths.  Like when the Flint water crisis happened, they made comments that people were stupid to drink the brown water.  Because they had been “lucky” enough to experience white flight and move to the suburbs and to drink clean water.  I cringed when I listened to these comments, not only because they seemed ignorant and unkind, but because division and hate creates a breeding ground for fascism.  When “we” distance ourselves from “others,” the world becomes a dangerous place.

I am not on Facebook a lot because it stresses me out.  I don’t like conflict or fighting.  I am all for a passionate debate but things have gotten ugly and personal.    And people who have been friends for years are name calling and defriending one another.

“Now that Bernie is out, you are going to vote for Hillary, right?” That is the question from my more liberal minded friends, to me.  Some are more progressive than others, maybe learning towards the Warren/Sanders wing of things.  “You better vote for Hillary, otherwise we will have Trump in office and he will ruin everything.”  There is this almost hysterical edge to the comments now, and it starts to feel like a threat.  Almost everyone I am staying with supports Hillary and even if they philosophically like Bernie’s ideas, they have not really struggled economically the way I have, and it does not seem like they really understand why I cannot stand her.  I was almost going to switch to vote for her until this last week where she re-hired Debbie Wasserman, after the email fiasco exposure and the blatant DNC bias towards Hillary, which when busted then blamed the issue on Russia for hacking into her email, are we living in the Cold War? Does she really think we are that stupid?  Come on!  Take some responsibility. The election was rigged!  And  picking this completely bland running mate, which was  a slap in the face to all progressives, etc. I could go on.  Is she listening to the people? No!

She is acting in a very privileged manner and people with more class privilege are the ones who are more argumentative about the issue, which I don’t really understand.  I am not asking anyone else who they are voting for or getting that tone in my voice.  It makes me wonder if I will lose my friends if I continue to say, “No, I am going to vote for Jill Stein, because I will never vote for Hillary.”  Hillary has done so many awful things I cannot stand to vote for her. I almost changed my mind but after this last week? Forget it!  And I am sure some Bernie supporters are making rude comments about Hillary supporters as well, but in my experience it seems that people who are pro-Hillary are the ones who are making the judgments and using their privilege/social power to assert their power/perception of reality.  So, I was reading comments on Facebook by a life-long friend of mine who is a lawyer, and he said he was going through his account and de-friending anyone who was moving to the Green party or not voting for Hillary.  He called Bernie supporters losers, “They are the ones who are poor, they never went anywhere in life. They are losers who have not grown up,” he wrote.  Ouch. I did not point out that he spends every night in a bar.

The former chair of my department invited me to “Like” Hillary on her Facebook page, which I also ignored.  Another friend of mine put an article up called, “Will Hillary come between friends?”

And last night, one of my friends texted an angry message, “If the Black Lives Matter Movement and Sandra Bland’s mother is going to support her, why won’t you?”

Good point but I would not respond to others this way so all of this is hard to manage.   I  am not poking at people for who they are voting for, or not voting for.  Maybe I should but it just gives me stress and I want peace first and foremost and I think everyone has the right to vote for who they want to without judgment.  At least in theory. 🙂    The “child” part of me wants to know why  everyone is getting so mad about who others vote for? And they are resorting to some pretty mean tactics too.    I do understand why this is happening sociologically, and maybe I am missing the boat, but I honestly care more about my relationships and friendships than I do about who is voting for whom.  I personally have my own thoughts about the people who are voting for Hillary or Trump and  I am not defriending anyone for those reasons, although I have defriended people before, for other reasons.  I even had one “friend” who defriended me because I would not defriend people who are more conservative.  Good grief, have we lost our collective minds?

Another friend of mine is inside the Democratic National Convention right now and she has been posting comments about how great Hillary is and I imagine she has been mocking people who are Bernie supporters, silencing dissent which is ironic.   She was historically an activist who wound up rising through the ranks of labor to now live a  very privileged existence–very privileged–off the backs of working people.  She is so far removed from what it is like to be a worker, it is not funny.

I am tired.  My life has been very hard and I can see the role my social location has played in why it has been hard.  Other people have had it worse, I know.  But it has not been an easy life and I am tired.    It is hurtful to me that others are not thinking of why I might have the views I do, based on my own social location since I understand why they hold the views that they  do, based on their life stories. I don’t like this threatening tone that everyone seems to be getting.  I mean, does my vote really matter that much in the long run anyway?    I love my friends and I  see why they would have the belief system they do.  But I am not writing, “People who benefit more from the system, who are way more privileged, are generally the people who are pro-Hillary.”  I could say that, but why bother.  It just seems hurtful and I don’t want to hurt people.  That matters to me more than who is voting for who.

Last night I saw another interesting article, where a woman posted something about how Bernie supporters were just so privileged and we want to take away privileges from others because we are privileged enough to not care about what will happen if Donald Trump is in office unlike the lack of privilege pro-Hillary supports experienced.  This was the first time I had ever seen anything that suggested Bernie supporters were privileged and in fact, this is not actually true based on the research.  But I read the article and the fascinating comments underneath the link  anyway.  My mind, which had been in post-yoga-brain mode, began getting stirred up.  Stirred up more about how much I hated Hillary and her privilege and her conservative pro-war, pro-Wall-Street, lying ways.  And then I wanted to start posting nasty stuff, too because I was thinking it.  So much for the restorative yoga class from earlier.  I wanted to write rude comments to others about checking their privilege that made them like Hillary.

For a long time, I could not sleep, because I kept thinking about the people I know who are voting for Hillary and how their social location is rooted in class privilege.  They don’t want to lose what they have because they have things to lose.  OK, I get that.  But why can’t they be more respectful of people who have not had the same path?

I began to wonder if this Hillary versus Bernie versus Trump “war” was really a deeper symbolic reflection of social class, the economy, and who has what or not, so the fighting is really about this.    Anger at friends of mine who are voting for Hillary spilled over as I began to think of their class privilege and  (some of them) their unwillingness to examine their class privilege and how they are using their privilege to try and get me to vote for someone I cannot stand, who goes against my principles. I would not ask that of them.    How they started off with a more stable family existence and had more class privileges along the way so of course they are going to choose Hillary but why do they have to attack me for having a different view?  For some moments, I was  feeling more sympathetic towards the Trump supporters, for just a moment, despite his horrible racist misogynic terrifying ways.  But I could see why he would appeal to a certain group, because many of those people have also been thrust by the wayside with this capitalism system and yes, they are losing the power and privilege they either once had or thought they deserved.

I did not want to feel angry.  I did not want my brain going in five million directions.  I am engaged with the ideas and I want to be informed and vote my conscience but I don’t want to lose my friends.  I don’t like all this fighting.  I do think the fighting and fear are responses to what is happening in the country and throughout the globe on a much deeper level and people are scared.  Maybe another perspective too, is that at least people are engaged and involved.  Everyone is talking about what is  really going on for a change.  Sort of.

Some people want and need and deserve change.  Others do not want it or need it.   Yet what does this change look like if at the end of the day, friendships are severed and mean-spiritedness is the order of the day?

I could change my mind tomorrow, but for today I just decided I am going to stay as peaceful as possible and not engage in the madness.  I do understand that remaining quiet can be problematic and being silent can equal complicity.  And maybe I am not acknowledging the urgency of the situation or my own privilege or even my own self-righteous history when it comes to social justice ideas?   But maybe being silent in a sea of angry voices is necessary, at least for today.  I am angry, too, angry that so many people are suffering economically and with other forms of injustice and we make things worse for human beings on a regular basis by not listening and by being emotionally and economically violent.  Anger can be a useful tool.  But when my heart rate and blood pressure go way up and I start to feel attacked and furious,  I need to slow down to see what is going on and how to proceed.  At least for today.   Right now, I plan to vote for Jill Stein, and hope I keep my friends.  I think part of the issue is we just see different things, our consciousness is at different stages.  We see differently based on our social location.  Truce?

 

 

 

Climbing Out in Boston

The last few days in New York City took the wind out of my sails a lot.  So, I have had to stop and reflect a lot, after sinking into despair first.

I have now been in Boston for almost 10 days and the first few days, I did a lot of socializing and work, shelving the pain. Then, my friends left for vacation.  I am in charge of taking care of their cats and love doing it for many reasons. I could now sit with myself and thus, the spiral down and then finally, back up.

This is the first time I have had to be by myself in a space in months.  I have grieved a loss of my personal space a lot since I had to move my things into a storage bin but try to tell myself it could be much worse and this is an opportunity for me to move into another psychological space which will then help me find or create the housing space.

I am glad to have opportunities to experience other realities, which I would not have a chance to do if I did not have my things in storage, but the trade off is huge.  I am the type of person who requires a lot of down time and solitude and I like creating my own space. It is unfortunate I cannot have a home and get a chance to experience other realities, too, but my class position does not allow this to be a reality so this is the price I am paying.  I am not laying down and dying yet.

As progressive as I like to think that I am about sharing, I have historically not shared space well.  This comes from a deep need to be alone. I am not being comfortable with others in my space.   As of yet, I have never found anyone I can share a space with that has worked out well.  I am fine when I am in someone else’s space, or I would like to think I am. I am polite and do not make physical messes and try to leave the space better than when I found it.    I  think part of the issue is that I have so much pain, and do not want to impose  or inflict this onto others nor do I want to hear other peoples narratives about my pain until I figure out how to handle it myself.  I also want to give to others  but need to be in a grounded space to give to others and to do this I need to be alone.  I cannot give what is not yet inside of me or because something has gotten lost along the way.

I don’t know if the root cause of my need to be alone  is pathological or not but it is definitely something that I am used to being myself. It was no surprise to me that  I fell into a space of pure exhaustion from all the stimulation of NYC.  I was not expecting to get slammed by  the world right at the tail end so I could not wait to get out of there and could not leave fast enough.  I was eager for more space and green growing nature things and no more people.  I just wanted to be by myself.

And as much as I wanted to see my friends in Boston, I was glad that they went on vacation so I could have their beautiful home to myself.  They have wood floors, live in a beautiful neighborhood with huge big old houses and the light comes in just right; there are flowers to water and they have a cheerful kitchen to make food in.   They have a bathtub, I can take a bath.  There is central air.  I love their cats, too.   I was so exhausted  that instead of going out to see Boston while I have been here, I have stayed in the house.  For days.  I did not answer the phone, I did not go anywhere.  Before my friends left, I went to Trader Joes and bought food to eat so I would not need to go out because I knew that the most important gift of being in Boston was not Boston but my time alone.  I had fantasies about what I would accomplish while I was here alone, like a lot of writing and 100% healthy eating  but I could not manage to make the fantasy into reality.  However, I did get a chance to do some deep self-reflection and am preparing for another round of life, when I return to NYC.   I  do wish my friends would stay on vacation a lot longer so I could have more time alone, though, I am in no hurry to go back to NYC.  Being in their house makes me wish I had my own home and then I started to think about what I was doing (or not doing) with my life and fell into a space of internalized shame.  The shame goes like this:

Here you are almost 50 years old, with two advanced degrees but you are a lowly adjunct professor, you cannot help your son economically or emotionally,  you cannot buy a house, you have no health insurance and everything you try to do does not work out.    You have a ton of student loan debt and you have  too many health problems.   Why are you here and what is your purpose? 

While I have been in Boston, I observed the larger world.  What a mess. I am not the only mess.

I also  have been forced to come to some realizations that were not pleasant. Welcome to reality.  I was contemplating retreating to Michigan, with my tail between my legs because things are too hard here.  And now all I want is some peace and quiet.  And a quiet life to live out the rest of my days without having to deal with the world.  Some sociologist I am.

I had been romanticizing the city, forgetting that I take myself with me wherever I go.  Two steps forward, four back, I had been feeling better about myself and then in NYC a couple of things happened that are not big things given all the issues in the world, but really poked at my spirit.

As a sociologist, I know that society functions as a mirror and the mirror sees in a particular kind of way, based on how one has learned to see society, which has roots in social location.    From a sociological perspective, we learn our value and self-worth from this mirror.  The society is the mirror.  The society could be messed up but it it still a mirror.

I  have several choices when I don’t like the mirror. Resist internalizing the reflection or take the feedback and adjust accordingly/or refuse to adjust, knowing the consequences.    I can assess whether the mirror has any validity and then respond based on a deeper assessment, sifting out what I think, what I need to process, and what, if anything, I need to change.  Oh, it is so great writing this because it makes me sound like I move through the process easily, without protest, and that it is a pragmatic process.

Not so much.  The mirror caused me to fall into self-doubt and depression and then the downward spiral continued.  It took me days to work through these issues.  I don’t know if I have worked them out but I am back for the moment.  I must remember that change comes in increments, and it is not easy, and I am not going to always like the process. I reminded myself about culture shock, the concept and the stages. While New York City is not that much of a culture shock since it is a not a new place for me, there is a difference between going to visit and going there to “stay for awhile.”

I felt like getting in my car and driving back because it was all too much.  But there is no “back” to go to, really.  I am going to have to force myself through the process whether I like it or not.  I am trying to look at the feedback which inflated my spirit as useful and resist my negative spiral downward.  It is so easy to internalize oppression and if the societal mirror has reflected negativity to you over and over, it is even harder to resist.

Thankfully, last night I forced myself out of the slump and silence and into a political encounter that reminded me I am not alone and another world is possible.  I went to watch a film where a lesbian activist was ahead of her time–and she took on capitalism, the military, patriarchy, class, racism, gender, and homophobia.  Way before her time.  And she fought with depression, too, but seemed to also find a way to make social change within herself and the community despite it all.  The one idea, amongst many, that I got from the film was that all relationships needed to be about growth and liberation.  I felt liberated after learning more about her life.   After the film, people talked about the ideas briefly and then I went out for a drink and talk with one of the people from the film and she was extremely interesting and progressive and it was yet another reminder that we make ourselves as we go along.

Onward again.

That’s Not True

The other day, I was talking to a friend of mine about how upset I was when I read that some NYC police officers were harassing people who were homeless.  They were ripping up their ID’s and other belongings.  This was not surprising to me but she looked doubtful, “I have never seen that,” she said suspiciously. She has lived in NYC for about a decade now.  She thought that because she had not seen it, it could not be true.

While I would like to believe that NYC is beyond many of the problems facing the rest of the country because it is supposed to be more progressive, I know that this is wishful thinking.  The same problems are here, too.  Until there are real structural changes in place in the US, these problems will remain. What I like about NYC, though, is that there are some people who are actually aware of the issues and who believe that change is possible.  Not everyone is in denial. And the city is actually at least in theory doing something to stop the police from harassing people who are on the streets, which is more than what they were doing in the city where I was living.  It sounds like the police officers who were harassing the poor were at least being held accountable.  This is so different from Paradise City, where the police there refused chances to get mental health training that would help them respond to persons with mental illness in a more humane and educated fashion. The police there are free to run amuck, terrorizing and tearing into the lives of the homeless as if they (the police) were wild beasts.

Since I teach sociology, I spend a lot of time absorbing how other people see the world.  I get to know their belief systems.   And so I get to spend time thinking about what it takes to change belief systems.  Students typically understand when someone else has a rigid belief system, but they do not see their own.  Or if they do, they are determined to keep their belief system because their belief system is “right.”

“That is not true,” or “That does not happen in the US,” are common refrains.  Students typically have an easier time seeing the belief systems and structural injustices in other countries but a much more challenging time understanding that they, too, have a belief system that causes them to see in a particular way.  It is easier for them to believe corruption and injustice happens in developing nations but a lot more difficult to believe that these are issues in the US, because of how well socialized they are into the belief system.

In addition,  they are more apt to have empathy for people in poverty in other countries, as one example, than they are to have empathy for people who are poor in the US because they are socialized to believe that if you are poor it is your own fault because you made bad choices.   Students do not see this as a belief system that they have been socialized into, though, which is part of the problem.  They also do not see the structural injustices that exist in the US which makes it almost impossible to move into a higher class position and instead hang onto narratives that the “cream of the crop rise to the top, ” and that anyone can do anything they want to if they work “hard enough.”  They also see  moving up the class ladder as the ultimate “goal” of human existence.  They see something wrong with people who do not transcend their class.

How do we get people to re-think their belief systems and see what is really going on beyond their bubbles and belief systems?   While I have known that police, as one example, have had a pattern of racist brutality for years, advances in technology have changed the conversation to wake up people who have been privileged enough to not experience racism and police brutality.  Sometimes, students will think that police are getting worse but that is not it.   It is simple:  advances in technology have made it so the mainstream can now “see” what is actually going on.   Seeing is believing, I guess.

I wonder why people need to see injustices before they believe it is going on?  And how can you help people see certain structural injustices that might not be so visible? How do you get people to rethink their taken for granted assumptions of the world and to deconstruct their belief systems?

Using the police example again, the other day, I received an email from the ACLU which provided an app to download.  The app allows you to record issues of police brutality and submit them to the ACLU. I downloaded the app and wished I had had the app a couple of years ago, when I walked into the emergency room to see my beautiful son being beaten by police officers while he was strapped helplessly to a bed, his arms and legs in five point restraints, bleeding from the mouth.  He was psychotic. It was his birthday.  The hospital destroyed the evidence and told me  I would “never” see the video.   To be honest, I am not sure if I wanted to see it anyway.

At the time, I did not have a smart phone nor did it occur for me to tape the scenario.  Later, I purchased a smart phone because of the incident, as a form of protection, in the event it ever happened again.  The smart phone is a weapon, for sure, although I also understand that recording the police is viewed as a threat so they would most likely retaliate when this “weapon” is introduced.  Honestly, when the incident unfolded, I myself could not get my head around it and I did see it.  I was there.   And if I were someone else listening to the story, I would surely think there was more to it.  When the police slammed me up into the wall and banged my head into glass, I would have thought for sure that I must have done something aggressive to deserve it,  but I did not.

I did yell, “stop it,” to the police and then they told me to leave the room, and I could not move.  I literally could not move. I just stayed frozen to the floor, unmoving.    So, maybe this was the justification they needed for their violence against me.  I refused their orders.  As a mother, there is no way I could have moved, though.  I was in shock and I do think it was instinct, too, to want to protect my child.  I also was most likely re-traumatized on a subconscious level since I had seen police shoot and kill my father although this was not what was in my thought process at the time.  I simply could not move.  I really did nothing except yell “stop it” and then it was as if I was frozen, until the police forcibly moved me.  I did run into the room when I heard my son screaming, like any parent would do.

If someone else were telling the story, though, I would think, sure, there has to be more to it. The police do not throw around middle aged white women in hospitals. But alas, they do.  As I mentioned before, I use this example with hesitation because it is very clear to me that race privilege most likely kept my son alive, and kept me from being killed or imprisoned as well.  I also tell this story with hesitation, too, because I do fear retaliation in the US.  When anyone speaks truth to power, there are consequences, and as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the person with the power has the power to define the reality. They can make up stuff, too.  That is the other scary part.  This happens, it is just “true.”

So last week, I was walking along and saw two white police officers shouting at a white man who was living on the streets.   I had just left Barnes and Noble, where I stopped to use the bathroom. Apparently, the bookstore would not let the man in and he wanted to use the bathroom just like me.  He had to go so badly,  he pulled down his pants to urinate on the streets instead. This is no longer a crime in NYC but  I was worried about the man and pulled out my smart phone discreetly and just lingered around. The moment I stopped, the police lowered their tone and showed more kindness towards the man.  They could see that I was watching them. I was a little bit nervous as I did not want them to think I was trying to provoke an incident but I did want to make sure that the man was treated in a humane fashion. I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to observe.  The police started being more gentle with the man and validated his need to use the bathroom, and told him they got it but he could not go in the street. Their calmer demeanor calmed the man and he became less intense.  It was very obvious the man was mentally ill.  I watched for a few more minutes, to make sure that the police were not going to beat the man up or hurt him and they sent him on his way with a tip about which church he could go to to use the bathroom.  I felt sad and wondered what it was like to not be able to use the bathroom. I really did not want to see an exposed man urinating on the street but I do get why he was fed up.   It was a case of my own privilege, too, as  I had no problem going into the bookstore just a few minutes before to use the restroom; the security guard did not stop me.  I moved through the pass go security point with no questions asked.  Because I was fortunate enough to be showered and wearing clean clothes. Because I am white.  Because I expected to pass go.

What would have happened had the incident turned ugly?  I wonder how the public would have responded if I was reporting with a different outcome?  Would people believe me if I said I witnessed a mentally ill man who was homeless getting beaten up by the police?  Probably not, unless I was talking to a population who are more enlightened or are familiar with police brutality personally.  The only way I could probably get the majority of the people to understand what happened is to show them via a recording. So they could “see” it with their own eyes.

It is hard for people to get their heads around things that are really dysfunctional and violent, it is easier to stay in denial, especially when you don’t have to see what is going on.  Then, you can also look for justification or rationale that the person must have done something to deserve or provoke the beating or violence.  It is much easier to dismiss many of the ugly realities that exist in the US, if you don’t have to deal with them. You can simply say, “that is not true” and go on your merry way unless you see what happened with your own eyes.

There are many things that I have seen in my life that I have not wanted to see or believe were true.  There are many things that I wish I did not know.  Sometimes, it is really hard to make sense of the injustices and abuses of power that I have seen, it is so unsettling it feels unreal.  It makes sense that human beings resist believing things that are too painful or hard to believe.  I myself would not have believed a lot of the things I have learned are true if I was not there to see the issues unfold firsthand but I certainly don’t wish many of these tragic learning experiences onto others, there has to be a better way to educate people.

We have a lot of work to do in this country, and one of the first stages of moving into a more conscious space is suspending judgment and being open to the idea that what you think is not true might actually be true.  At least that is a start.