Saturday, January 29, 2011

Good Grief

We spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff. We work and work and work in order to buy stuff or pay for stuff that we've already bought. We spend lifetimes apart from the things that are important and the people that we love. A lot of times we buy things that we hope will make spending time around the people we love more fun. We buy things for our loved ones so they will know we love them. We make arrangements to get away from loved ones so we can make more money, and then buy food to eat with them. Largely, we are apart, lonely, wishing we could just feel happy. We wish we weren't social. We even tell people, "I'm kind of a lone wolf. I don't really hang out with anyone." We are ultimately terrified of intimacy, needing it so much, but afraid to indulge it. Masking this with staunch individualism, independence, and a cavalier attitude. The reality is, we need each other. When all's said and done, that's all you get, just this life and the memories and connections you either make or break. And that's it.
I visited my friend last night, in the depths of despair and grief. He recently lost a lot and is trying to piece it back together, attempting to reconcile the fact that life doesn't stop when you lose someone, the world marches on oblivious to your pain. I think the thing that is most heart wrenching is his regret. Now that the person he loved is gone, he just wishes he could have been better at intimacy. He wishes he could have gotten closer, could have allowed himself to ignore that fear of cloistered, claustrophobic, intense shared emotion. After all, there is some responsibility in it. If you're going to be close to someone, you are volunteering yourself to work at understanding and considering their feelings as though they are as true and important as your own. And not only is the effect of this intimacy all you get in the end, it turns out it is one of the single most important aspects of human psychology:

He also talked about vulnerability. He said tragedy makes you feel so vulnerable. Suddenly, every thing that ever made you feel vulnerable in your whole life is there, salient, standing in the room, watching you, blinking. Sure we forget, the images slowly fade, but really the only thing we have to buffer these tragedies is our connection to others. Our desire not only to be close to others, but to allow others to get close. Easier said than done.
I think of my own experiences with intimacy, some of it lovely and confidence building, some of it a scene I would just prefer to look away from, the same intuitive sense that tells me not to look at a Youtube video that will ruin my faith in mankind. I see myself watching a movie in my bedroom alone while Hazel is on the computer in the other room alone. I see myself choosing to text throughout a face-to-face conversation with a friend. Why does this distance seem easier? Why do I avoid people? Why am I so afraid of the very thing I need?
I'm going to push myself through that wall of resistance. I'm going to reach out a little more. It doesn't take some dramatic psychological catharsis. I don't have to join a cult of caring. It's really as simple as saying it. As brief as a hug, as non-imposing as asking someone how they're doing and really listening to the answer. I want the people I love to know that I care. I want to embrace them when I have the impulse to push them away, hug them when I want to scream at them. I only get this one chance, and it's worth a try.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Merry income tax return

$1.48 cash
$9.87 food stamps
4 days 'till payday

It's income tax return season.  You can tell a person's income bracket by their giddy eagerness for a W-2 form.  I just filed mine and look forward to a hefty return. This time of year is the real Christmas for poor families, believe me. I've thought about changing the date of our celebration many times. It's the one time of year we can spend with abandon and join the ranks of all the "real" American Dreamers. The singular annual moment we can get that plasma TV, or hell, I would even settle for  bra without a broken underwire that impales me in the ribs. 
But just for a second,  I would like to take pause and consider, what do we spend our money on? Head to Walmart about now and you'll see us income tax returners on a buying spree. We're like an insincere alcoholic after rehab at the liquor store, but with a huge chunk of money. It's hard when the only cash you've had for months went immediately to bills. It's tempting to go to Walmart and buy cartloads of shit. I've been there. I know this might sound like a dirty word, but I wold like to figure out how to save money. I mean, if I can have the discipline to spend right up to the very last penny, can't I have the discipline to save 5%? I like to say this, but I won't be doing it. What, you ask, will you be spending your tax return on Kristy? The glamorous answer is: I already spent it.
All my tax return is going to  good ol' Sears Credit Cards. Which is like saving 5% every month and I won't feel like I'm licking the man's balls every time I drive my payment up to Northtown because otherwise it would be late. I admit, part of my financial hardship is due to credit cards. I thought I was missing out on some vital part of life, and that if I charged a vacation and some meals out and those super cute kids clothes that were on clearance at The Gap it would somehow complete me. Completion I suppose, complete retardation. Now I get to pay for it. I knew this was coming, and now have to look for ways to enjoy my austere life as a fiscal monk. 
It's a double-edged sword really. Sure I would like to make more money, but honestly, I kind've like the fact that the federal government sends me money every year. I really like the fact that my money doesn't support a war in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's astonishing to consider that the US military spends $1.4 trillion dollars (that's as large as the federal deficit!) on military spending each year.  

Meanwhile the desperation mounts, a DSHS recipient goes to jail for firing off threatening e-mails to Christine Gregoire because he was panicked about his medical benefits being cut. 17,000,000 children live in food insecure households in the US and an elderly person goes without medication because it's too expensive. In droves, we plunge into the precipice. I sometimes wonder what it would be like if everyone elected to make incomes that put them at zero tax liability? What would happen? Would the war machine come to a grinding halt? Would congress get laid off? Would the Postal Service implode? What would happen if we insisted that the money is re-directed towards improving quality of life? What if poverty became a form of protest? If we don't have a choice in the matter, we can at least make it sound cool. It's not so bad if you can celebrate Christmas on Valentine's Day.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Am I Here?

$1.48 cash
$22.32 food stamps
5 days 'till payday

I am bored, thumbing through Oprah and Real Simple, half-distracted by child-care co-pays and a formula for exactly how many miles I can drive my car with my tip money from work ($8.52 = 82.5 miles). I skim through the articles featuring all the latest trends I will need to become beautiful and successful and a perfect housekeeper.  The largest photo on the page is a plum-colored cashmere sweater. It promises everything. The price listed is $652. Shit. That leaves me out. I guess I'll have to do without........ everything. A few pages later there is a helpful photo-illustrated article with exercises.......... for your shoulders. Fuck. Now I have to have beautiful shoulders too. I begin to ponder my own soft folds, an anatomy lesson in and of itself. I wonder if there may be a shoulder consultant I could schedule between dropping off paperwork at DSHS, finding a babysitter for the kid, and getting to work by 2:30.
My mind starts racing. Who the hell are these people that spend $652 on a cardigan? I think of everyone I know. I picture them buying a cardigan for $652 dollars. I laugh.
I begin to realize the precipice that the majority of us live next to each and every day. No, it's true we're not eking out a life in a landfill, and not to detract from this greater social problem, but I find that what is actually happening right now, in this particular time and place, has never happened before and is rarely, if ever, represented in a truthful way.
I have decided to try to represent this tight rope walk because until we have real examples, how can we ever begin to fill in the truth?
I would like for this blog to become a chronicle of my life, focused mainly on the balancing act at the precipice. No, I haven't fallen into it yet, but every day Americans topple over as a result of a perhaps singular event. Someone becomes ill or injured and can't pay their rent or mortgage, families declare bankruptcy because they were using credit cards to buy groceries, someone becomes unemployed and the foreclosure process avalanches. I believe we are the majority. I believe most people cling perilously close to the edge of what is commonly believed to be "a good quality of life" the definition of which is, always changing, relative and completely personal.  I believe we need to reconsider the $652 sweater and develop beautiful shoulders from gardening and swinging an axe. Our concepts about what is important need to change, we need to shift away from how we categorize excess. This process needs to include the consideration of mankind, not just the self.
Two winters ago, Keavy hosted some Masai dancers from Kenya in his home for a few weeks. One night we decided to take them on a tour of the downtown YMCA. They loved the pool and panicked the lifeguards when they started jumping on the wet deck for some curious and enthusiastic children shouting from a water noodle. The Kenyans chuckled and talked excitedly, jabbing each other in the ribs with their elbows until we reached the fitness room. There was the hum of the stair steppers and treadmills, pony tails bobbing, and men doing the breath of fire. The Kenyans were stunned. They were completely speechless, silent.  Mario, the most proficient English speaker, said, "What is this room?" I imagined why the fitness room made no sense to them. I began to imagine a life, my own, that could be improved by my time spent on the precipice.
So I am swinging my axe here, on this blog and raising my glass to the precipice. May it be infinitely more thrilling than a $652 sweater.