Category: Musings

How Do We Change the World

Two weeks ago I unwittingly devised a trifecta of ways to put myself into a depression: I read Naomi Klein’s tome on climate change, This Changes Everything, which was hands down the most depressing book I’ve ever read, if only because of the subject matter. I watched the documentary Cowspiracy, which floored me by showing how destructive animal farming is to the environment. And I watched all ten episodes of Band of Brothers, which was a great reminder that no matter how noble the cause, war really is pretty dumb.

Climate change is an issue that leaves me feeling the most hopeless. I have two children, and both have recently become parents themselves. I worry what kind of world we’re leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. Many of us do everything we can as individuals to tread lightly on the Earth, but is it enough? While I do take seriously the idea that change begins with one person, I also know that when profit is your only reason for existing, greed is usually the result. And greed keeps the corporate machine very well-oiled.

Which is why I watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. I’ve made several attempts through the years to practice what I preach and stop eating animal products, but it never stuck. My main reason for not wanting to eat meat has always been the inhumane way our animals are penned and slaughtered. The wake-up moment for me, however, was when Howard Lyman, a former cattle rancher, says “You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and eat animal products. Period.” This film really spells it out for me.

almkuh_01wiki(Photo courtesy of Johannes Kühnel, Wikimedia Commons)

(And I have to say, calling yourself an environmentalist these days is parallel with calling yourself a feminist. The labels have become so much more than the actual meanings of the words.)

I don’t know why it took me years to watch Band of Brothers. I love Damian Lewis, I love a good WWII drama, and I loved Band of Brothers. But nothing, nothing depresses me more than war. It seems these days that war is never-ending–and so little spoken of. We bomb, we use drones, we send our sons and daughters to the Middle East, and we pretend it isn’t happening. As a mother, I will never understand.

On a note of hope: I admire the nonviolent protests taking place on Standing Rock. I think this is the way we will change the world, by a group of like-minded people standing together against something they know is wrong. These brave people aren’t doing this on a whim, they’re standing up for all of us against the fossil fuel industry. I love how they call themselves protectors instead of protestors. I do realize we already have oil and natural gas pipelines snaking all across the country, but maybe it’s time to say enough is enough. We can do better.

There are so many issues these days that threaten to put me in a permanent state of depression, but that’s no way to live. And letting myself get depressed over issues that seem overwhelming and hopeless is neither effective nor helpful to anyone else. If adopting a vegan lifestyle and supporting those who stand up to the fossil fuel industry is all I have to offer at the moment, so be it.

I have no answers for anyone, only lots and lots of questions. And that’s at least a good place to start.

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Have You Missed Me?

As you might have noticed, I went missing for a while. I started a story and left everyone hanging, right in the middle.

How rude of me, and probably somewhat thoughtless to those who don’t see me outside the words of these posts.  My only excuse, and the real reason I went missing, is that it was hard.

Life became a daily cycle of feeling like crap and not wanting to bring anyone down to where I was. I didn’t want to talk about it, think about it, or put into words how hard it was. It was too close. I needed a break from cancer, so I took it.

Chemo is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, in every way you can imagine. I never doubted that I would survive, but I have no idea why I ever felt that way. Maybe I was naive, or in denial, or just plain stupidly stubborn  And it wasn’t bravery or strength, and I’m certainly no hero just for having survived cancer. Braver, stronger women than myself have fought much harder than I ever did and still lost.

I was simply lucky enough to be diagnosed before it had spread.

I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy, but cancer itself was also never the enemy. It was always just something that happened to me, a bunch of rapidly dividing cells that found a home on my left ovary.

Chemo and I, on the other hand, were never friends, and I cursed him often. He had a job to do, though, and because of that I tried to be as accommodating as possible. I hated chemo. Chemo was scary because I could physically feel, with each treatment, that his poison had the power to kill all of me, and not just the cancer cells.

medicines

Having cancer has been quite an experience, a very humbling one, to say the least. But it’s even more humbling to know that I survived.

Today I sit here on the last day of the year, reflecting on everything that’s transpired this past year, from the first inkling I had on January 4, the day after our wedding, that something wasn’t right, to a trip to the ER, surgery, chemo, and now, recovery.  While I was thinking about all of this, the thought crossed my mind that I should be ready to see 2013 go. Hell, I should be ready to kick it’s sorry ass to the other side of the moon!

But in all actuality I’m kind of sad to see this year end. In some strange way, I’m okay with all that’s happened. It wasn’t all bad.

I married a wonderful guy, one who challenges me everyday to see things in a different way and to be a better person. I logged a lot of good running miles the first five months of the year, and I’m slowly starting to run again.

I got a lot of reading done. It wasn’t always quality reading, but those fluffy novels got me through many hours of post-chemo nausea and fatigue so deep I could barely get out of bed. And I won’t even go into depth on all the hours I spent watching Breaking Bad on my iPad. I credit it for saving my sanity those first two worst chemo treatments.

I got a lot of knitting done, too, and set up an Etsy shop. I rediscovered walking. My taste buds are back, and a good, cheesy pizza is once again heaven on Earth.

I learned that my children have turned into good, kind, caring adults, and that they chose their partners well. I discovered that people you think you barely know can turn out to be nicer than you ever imagined. I realized that people want to help, that almost everyone is kind in their own way.

I got four new hairstyles this year: shorter, even shorter, bald, and now a quarter inch of baby fine fluff with a lot more white hair (or extreme blonde, as I prefer) than before.

That’s me on the right, in case you couldn’t figure it out. Everyone loves to rub my baby soft hair now.

I learned that you can become friends with someone and love them just through their words and emails, and that losing them hurts just as much as losing someone you’ve known your entire life. Friendships, like life, can be forged–and lost–in the blink of an eye.

The words “life is short” became real this year, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I appreciate more now, the so-called little things. Taking a walk outside, running without a watch, playing games with my kids, cooking a meal together, hearing a good song on the radio . . . I could go on and on. I try not to waste those moments.

But there is still a story to be finished, a resolution to be told.

So in 2014 I want to finish the story I started, if only to help other women and their loved ones, and to honor my friend Katie and all the women who didn’t make it. Even though you all know that I’m okay now, please bear with me for the next few months while I write up all the unfinished posts I started. Maybe something I share will help you or someone in your life one day.

So, as I bid adios to 2013, I have to admit it was a good year, if only for this one big reason: I’m still alive.

teal ribbon

Enemies and Rivals

We have met the enemy and he is us.  – Pogo

I’m tired. I work hard, I run hard, and I never seem to have enough fun. Everywhere I turn these days it seems someone is showing me their angry face, or I’m reading yet another snide blog post from someone who is angry at someone else who is taking all their hard-earned money and having a great life at their expense.

I’m so tired of the rhetoric.

The election is over and we’ve all moved on. Right? Wrong. And of course we shouldn’t just “move on.” That’s not how democracy works. We should all be ready to roll up our sleeves, dive in, and get this country back on track. All of us, We the People, not just the ones who vote the same as we do.

And that’s what is making me tired.

Seven years ago I started running. The people I run with are the best friends I have. We laid one to rest yesterday and perhaps it’s the reason I woke up this morning with these thoughts pushing their way to the front of my crowded brain. Things that once seemed important no longer do. Life is short, and I have some things to get off my chest.

My friends and I run crazy long distances for hours at a time, and no subject matter is off the table. Within my larger circle of running friends we rarely talk religion or politics, which pretty much mirrors life at large. I suspect most of us don’t talk religion or politics with our less close friends either. Within my smaller circle of running friends, however, religion and politics is what we talk about the most, kind of like what we do with our families.

Even amongst my less close running friends, we all get along great. We come from all walks of life, have very different jobs from one another, enjoy varying interests outside of running, and we break bread and toss back a cold beer together quite often. We really like one another.

Beer

Beer: the great equalizer

Of course we all stay in touch on Facebook when we’re not running together. But something happened these past two months. We had to choose our next president. For some people, Facebook suddenly became a battlefield. Things I never would have expected to see were posted, not just by my running friends, but by everyone. Some of the posts were funny, some rude, some mean, and some downright ridiculous. What bothered me the most wasn’t what was said — though some of it was very surprising — it was the vitriol behind the words, the hatred and disrespect if you felt differently.

The other day I read a blog post that disturbed me, but I couldn’t figure out why:

When we answer to each other, as we do now, we are only as successful as our neighbor allows us to be and he is only as prosperous as we permit him to be.

When one neighbor can pass a law or raise taxes on another neighbor, then we all lose making one man’s tax benefit another man’s income loss. This negative spiral of self-defeating tax and law resolutions causes every man to have a small piece of his own personal freedom (and income) taken away from him by his neighbor. In this way we each take turns taking from, and losing to, each other until in the end, everyone is just a slave to everyone else.

Many people feel this way. Even my better half leans in this direction, and I still love him. I find those words sad and cynical. What happened to being my brother’s keeper and all that? The fact that for this person his “neighbors” are the ones keeping him from personal happiness (and solvency), and his equating this to slavery, makes me wonder how we got so far off track. I appreciate his thoughts, though, because I’m trying really hard to understand views that are so different from my own.

(Personal aside that really bugs me about his post: he eventually throws in something about having to pay for his neighbor the teacher’s higher salary, health care benefits, pension, and school building improvements. Sigh. Those evil, greedy teachers who are once again out to steal money from those who have real jobs. At least he didn’t bring in the unions. For 18 years I was admired for being a teacher, and about two years ago I seemingly overnight became the root of all problems in this country, without even being a member of a union. Fighting teacher-hate makes me really tired. I apologize for the digression.)

Dog

Shasta asks the question: Can’t we all just get along?

The entire point of my tiredness is this: WE, the citizens of this country, are not the enemy. When did we let ourselves be convinced to turn on each other, to be each others’ victims and rivals? We’re spending so much time these days hating some other guy (myself included, apparently, considering my response to the aforementioned blog post) that we’ve lost sight of the fact that our country is only as great as we make it.

We own this place. Those people in Washington are there as our representatives. I live in Texas and I’m not a Republican. My congressional representatives rarely represent my views. That doesn’t mean I throw up my hands and cry uncle. I don’t want to go out and shoot up a school, either, but I do bitch and moan a lot because I earned the right to do so when I voted.  I continue to make my views known to my Senators, even though I rarely agree with their votes, because that’s the way it works. I have to trust in that. If I didn’t, I would try to change it.

As for taxes, of course there are problems. Teaching in a low income neighborhood for 20 years illuminated a lot of welfare abuse. I saw it firsthand. But here’s the deal: those poor families and their children who need assistance aren’t going anywhere. They aren’t going to magically disappear and suddenly leave more money in your pocket. Isn’t it better to try and help their children, and at least offer them a good education as a way out of poverty? If we can’t see the benefits of having good public schools, as a way of preserving our country’s future, without resulting to privatization and making a profit off our kids’ education, then there’s no hope for us. None. Hopefully those tax dollars will come back to us in the form of intelligent, responsible citizens. They won’t all be lost. I’m willing to help my neighbor with that, and I’m willing to see the bigger picture and think of the ramifications for the future, not just my own small, short life.

Poor people are not the enemy. A larger share of our tax dollars go to mega corporations in the form of tax breaks, grants, and incentives. These corporations then use our tax dollars to develop new products, which then leads to jobs being outsourced overseas to people who will work for pennies a day. Then these same companies turn around, pay the guys at the top six and seven figure salaries, and the corporation pays little to no taxes. Isn’t this just another form of welfare? Socialism? Capitalism? I’m not seeing many benefits to our country by continuing down this path. I’m not anti-business. I would love to run my own small company. But if you’re going to use my tax dollars, I’d like you to at least contribute something back to society.

We have plenty of money in this country, it’s just in all the wrong places. But, really, rich people aren’t the enemy either. We all know that. Let’s work on putting our money where it can be put to good use.

Maybe we should all turn off CNN and Fox News and start thinking for ourselves. Look around. Talk to those neighbors you resent so much. Bandy together and see what you can do to change the things you don’t like. Accept that there will be differences in your beliefs. Those differences are what make life interesting. Assume that most people are smart enough, and have enough common sense, to be able to make good decisions. Debate. Talk.

And, please, let’s get rid of all the catch-phrases and labels. Liberals, socialists, conservatives, entitlements, idiots, blah, blah, blah. I am not an idiot because I think something other than you. It’s not okay to belittle someone because they’re different. Please, be respectful.

Houston Marathon 2012

Houston Marathon 2012

I didn’t support the decision to go to Iraq. I had a teenage son at the time and worried about all the sons and daughters being sent off to die for something I wasn’t convinced was right. It hurt when others felt my nonsupport was unpatriotic and treasonous, as if the simple acts of questioning war and fearing for the safety of our troops made me less of a patriot. Now I shake my own head in disbelief at those who talk of secession. Is that a more honorable solution, to walk away rather than work towards a better future? I’m very confused by this.

It’s all much more complicated than I’ve stated. There are no easy answers. I would lose any debate on this issue, I’m sure, and get way too emotional for my own good. I’m just someone who is tired of the way we all seem to hate each other these days. I see it when I drive my car, when I buy groceries, when someone steals my lawn mower and my grill, and when people talk about others they don’t even know. I honestly think our differences are smaller than we imagine. We seem to have lost sight of the ability to “walk a mile in someone’s else’s shoes.” Compassion is not only reserved for those who believe as you do.

I sometimes feel as if we’re treating each other as opposing sides at a football game, with our future, the football, being thrown around so haphazardly. Us against them. Maybe we could take a lesson from my running group, all of us so very different, but all running — together — towards the same finish line. I think we owe it to each other, to our children’s futures, and to the future of this country that we all love.

We have a lot to lose if we don’t.