Wednesday, November 21, 2012

30 days of gratitude

So, the current hot thing on Facebook is to post one thing you are grateful for each day. I think this is fantastic. I also know there's no way I will remember to do it. Between trying to remember to take a picture for my 365 each day (and sometimes really messing that up) and my having stepped back from FB a bit (the natural reaction of someone who believes fervently in the ideals of this republic but not it's current 2-political-parties-equals-every-issue-boiled-down-to-2-black-and-white-sides fever pitch of people doing the internet equivalent of yelling at each other) there is little chance I would remember to think up a moment of gratitude each day, dwell contentedly on it and then post about 30 different things to be grateful for this month.

Too bad. It's not only a great idea but this year, more than most, I have a lot to be grateful for and a need to focus on that. Even though I struggle to see all the good each day this year has been one that has held a lot of gifts in it. This year more than any I need to give thanks for what I have instead of noticing what hasn't seeded itself in my life . . YET.

The other thing to say here is that . . . shuffle . . . cough, cough . . umm it's been awhile since I've written. Sorry.

Frankly, I've been in a pretty head-down mode of "apply, tutor, interview, exercise, apply, apply, apply." Making all of the moving pieces of my life fit together has gotten harder and harder as I take on tutoring (which if I'm honest, I really enjoy but which, by design, has to happen at less than thrilling times), still try to catch up with people I love (and feel as though I'm always not giving someone enough time), make myself sweat for an hour and eat healthy and applyapplyapply. With all of the lesson planning and applying, my writers-brain has diverted itself a little to helping kids write their essays and helping the me wrangle some cover letters worthy of sending out.

Ok, Christie, enough rationalizing. Just write this entry.

1. I am grateful first of all for my friends near-and-far who read this blog. I am grateful for you if you are reading this entry after such a long hiatus from posting here. I am grateful for everyone who has read an entry and talked to me about it in person, by commenting, or on FB. I appreciate using this as a conversation starter and love it when I get to be part of those conversations.
2. I am grateful for the sudden motivation to action I had 15 months ago to start writing. I don't know if it was spiritual or something deep inside myself screaming to get out. I am grateful for wherever it came from, from all the writing that followed (here and otherwise) and grateful for this site. I am grateful for the catharsis and the therapeutic value of putting my insides on the table and being able to sort them out and assign them words and meaning. I am so, so grateful for what that has done for me in this year and change. My friend Alejandra recently posted a lovely quote from Plath, "I write only because there is a small voice within me that will not be still." My voice is not nearly so interesting as Plath's, or even as much as Alejandra's, but I am so glad to have rediscovered it and to have warmed up my ability to speak clearly about what matters to me and why here.
3. I am grateful for this song which reminds me that we all go through times where we feel stagnant and bruised by life and that the world continuing to move forward and brings us with it. Hopefully with the people we love.
4. I am grateful that I have had these many months to catch up on something close to 6 years of sleep deprivation. It's weird because, of course, being unemployed is no picnic. But in the land of no picnics, I sleep well knowing I've done my best and then some.
5. Somewhere in this year of structuring myself only as much as I want to (psssst! That probably means my days are more structured than they have to be since I like structure and abhor a vacuum in my schedule) I've discovered that I like exercise to be part of that structure. I'm grateful to live somewhere with such an abundance of recreational opportunities. I love hiking, as it turns out, and biking is thrilling.
6. I am also grateful that this time has given me the opportunity to eat when I'm hungry. Not because, "I have to have lunch before I get on the road," or "this is the only time I can eat before my meeting." This has meant that I've discovered recently that I can no longer really over-eat. My body just doesn't do it anymore. Food can be good, food can be amazing, and when I'm full, it's just over. I know that the monster of FRED lies in wait and can trap me again when stress hits or my life and schedule change again but for now, I'm grateful to not be fighting that battle. As it turns out, the secret for me is attention to protein, a real breakfast, lots of water, grazing my way (using healthy choices and one serving of caffeine) through the 11am to 5pm time frame with no actual meal, and then a real dinner. My calories are lower than they ever have been and my jeans can now pull on and off without me having to undo them. Woot!
7. I have loved learning to ride a bike. More than I can say. And I'm so grateful to my boyfriend not only for finding the right bike for me, not only for making bike shopping un-intimidating, but for teaching me to ride it. There is really nothing like getting up to speed and maneuvering down an arrestingly beautiful trail.
8. I am grateful that I had some big falls on said bike this Autumn. I know that sounds weird but those falls were amazing moments for me. I went down. AND HARD. And I sat there and thought, in this order, "Ow. Ow hands. Ow crotch. OW." and then, "Hmm. Ow, but ok." I shrugged my shoulders and stood up and kept riding. It was somehow a metaphor for this year.
9. Dry erase. Yeah. You read that right. I LOVE dry erase. Loved it in grad school when I was teaching, loved it on my at-home dry erase board (What?! You all had one too! What, you didn't? Well, I did and as a Linguist, I don't know that I could have explored my logic homework fully without it.) and love it now for tutoring. Teaching a new concept on dry erase is the most fun that can be had in the world of tutoring, I'm convinced.
10. I give thanks for pistachios. And bacon. They are salty and crunchy and gloriously gluten free.
11. I am seriously so very thrilled that while people I know and love were inconvenienced by Hurricane Sandy in NYC, NJ, and CT but not a one of them were in harms way during the storm. Many went without power or heat, and my brother lived in a hotel for several days, but no one was acutely flooded or had things dropped on them. Thanks to whomever arranged that relief.
12. Following on that thread, so pleased that they were all able to let me know they were ok so I didn't worry.
13. I am grateful beyond words that I've managed to keep music in my life this year, even though the habit is expensive and I can't afford the outlets I was putting energy and resources into last year.
14. I am grateful for an amazing guitar teacher. For reals people, not only has he been able to individualize instruction for the kind of student I am (I have no talent AT ALL for the instrument but make up for it in determination and dedication but I do know music from other instruments and care a lot about learning the theory as well as the mechanics), but he also has a way of making messing up part of a larger lesson I learn about myself. He also has been incredibly patient with my ever changing schedule. Thank you Eric! I am lucky to have you!
15. I am so lucky to have so many friends who trust their children with me. It fills places in me to have those special connections with "my kids" but also to know that those parents trust their friendship with me enough to let me grow a separate friendship with their precious children.
16. Everyone is expressing gratitude for their friends. I have to do mine separately - can't lump them all in together -  but will say that I am so very lucky in this realm. I have friends who are family, friends who make me laugh, friends who love me even when I'm ugly and wrong, friends who lift me up, friends who push me, and friends who teach me. I am so lucky to count my siblings in that list, and my boyfriend too. I am a lucky, lucky woman. And I'm grateful for the trains and planes and smart phones and iChats and texts and Skypes that let us be WITH each other even when we're all moving in different directions.
17. There are no words for the depths of thanks I have for Rob and David who not only love me when I'm ugly and wrong and broken, but who unfailingly think of me as beautiful and worthy and smart. I am grateful to have the kind of friends who can have the hard conversations with me, and who did that on New Year's last year in the early moments of absorbing the loss of my job. I am more than grateful to have them not only as my friends, but as the kind of family that said, "No, you'd come here if you couldn't stay in Colorado. What timeline should we put on talking about that? "
18. I give thanks for Wil who sent me jobs, shook me into action, helped me whip my resume together and who keeps finding creative ways to remind me that this isn't about ME it's about HOW THINGS ARE. I am further grateful to have this smart, creative, analytical, funny, discerning person continuing to push me to think of myself as an educator and a force for good in the world. It's merely a bonus that we also have a weekly online get-together where we block it all out and watch zombies. Smile.
19. I don't have words for how important Susan has become this year. She was always indomitably amazing and beautiful and talented besides, but this woman also sends me jobs, has friends walk resumes in for me, prays for me, and lifts me up and pushes my ass into gear. She is gorgeous and sassy and reminds me every time we talk that there is no measure for how much she loves me. I want to be Susan when I grow up.
20. I am lucky to have Brett and April in my life. Doubly so because they were the family of my ex-fiance and elected to "keep" me instead. They let me love on their kids, treat me like family, and make me laugh harder than I thought possible.
21. In the waning hours of my employment with Kumon, I attended an outside conference in Denver and met there a wonderful woman with sass and finesse and smarts to spare. And she is known as my Peef. (Pretty Face = PF = Peef) She and I have shared a lot of heartbreak and frustration this year, and what is remarkable is how fast we realized, "hold the phone, this one is important." What is more remarkable is that while sharing all of this heartbreak and frustration, we are generally laughing our asses off. Hold the phone, indeed.
22. Rebecca! Rebecca left Kumon before I did, and thank goodness, because it allowed us to forge a friendship before I left Kumon. This woman is wise and lovely and hysterically funny. She is kind and supportive without foregoing any of her strength and I adore that we can not see each other, sometimes for months, and then just fall back into enjoying each other's company.
23. Gaberilla, I miss you. But that makes the times I do get to spend with you sweeter. You are a rock star.
24. K-bomb, you are still my girl. It's been hard to spend as much time with you as I want because I'm broke and tutoring, seemingly every night, until the end of time. I'm grateful for your patience while I try to bring my life into focus and for how insightful you are. You get me. I love that about you. Also, you drink car bombs with me.
25. I am grateful we re-elected Obama. I don't know if his tax plan is better than Romney's. I have no idea if he will turn the economy around as fast as someone else. And I don't think he is the saint Dems make him out to be. But I might've lost faith in this country otherwise because in some substantial ways this election was about women's rights. I want to believe this country won't pull itself up by keeping women down. I also dig how his humanity still shows through even after leading this mess of a nation for 4 years.
26. Job hunting is hard, hard work. (If you don't believe me, try it sometime.) But I'm thankful for this chance to reinvent myself. To dream bigger. To believe that my values and skills can meet in one place and make a difference. And I'm grateful for the people who keep pushing me to do that, helping me with networking, giving me suggestions, loaning me money, taking me out to lunch, writing me references, and all manner of support.
27. Not having health insurance is beyond scary for a girl like me, but I give thanks that I have been almost insanely healthy this year and have rarely needed my meds.
28. I am grateful for a therapist with a sliding scale. Hells yes I am.
29. A year ago today, I had just broken up with my then-boyfriend. It was messy and hard and didn't have to be. We broke up suddenly, I cooked for 12 hours straight, and then carried my feast up to a friend's house (Rebecca's, actually). I am so grateful that after on-again-off-again relationshipping with him I saw that I couldn't keep doing it. I am grateful for everyone who helped me separate out that while I might still love him, that didn't mean  I could stay in a "sort of" relationship. If I hadn't moved on, that would still be coloring my image of myself as needing to make things work even when they don't. And it would have kept me from meeting my current boyfriend. Those are important for separate, but related reasons. I'm grateful for what I learned from James, and I'm grateful to know I needed more, and deserved it. And to have found someone worthy of that.
30. In short, I am grateful for safety, and health, and the chance to be better. I don't need more than that today.  I am grateful for music and nature and friends and good food. I am ready for my job search to be over, but thankful to be ready to move into my next great thing. Grateful. For lots.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fine tuning nutrition for food sensitivities

Recently I was with my best friend in New Jersey. We lived together for years, and even after we stopped living together, she had only moved to the adjoining apartment building next door so we still saw each other a LOT. Then I moved 20 minutes away and she and I met up for brunch and drinks and made a point of coming to each other's houses as often as possible. Then I moved here. . . she got married and got pregnant and WOW things seemed to speed up and I missed it. It was amazing to see her and how life has changed and stayed the same.

One of the things that I've had to reconcile with since leaving is that she has new friends and neighbors she shares things with. I knew this was the choice I was making when I left, to not be her first person always. And Colorado has been good for me, but this part of having vacated my life in NJ has been hard. Strangely, it helps that as I visit her I get to know her neighbors and new people - this way I know my dearest girlfriend is in good hands, if not mine. So, we talk a lot about her social life and colleagues and I like to hear these stories. While there, she was telling me about her neighbor's daughter and her girlfriend visiting her and talking about life, the universe, and everything. She described it as, "she needed a lesbian mummy, so she talked to me."

Although I am not a lesbian, this makes sense to me. Just like when we go somewhere new for the first time it feels more re-assuring to meet a friend there and do it together, sometimes we find we need a buddy, a mentor, or a tour guide when we are metaphorically entering a new space we haven't visited in our life. I have had amazing mentors in my life, and still do. This friend I was visiting was something of my "big sister" in grad school - always just up ahead so I could see what the path might look like based on how she walked and progressed. I have spiritual advisers, nutrition and exercise gurus as friends, academic, life-handling, and technology advisers, people I turn to with science questions, and people I look up to for their emotional steadiness and boundaries. I often go it alone because I am fierce in my independence but I always have my back-up on proverbial speed-dial.

So, I was honored to be somebody else's mentor as they wandered into new and unfamiliar territory. Another one of my dearest friends (this one from college) contacted me saying he had a friend trying to be, "all gluten free up in that," and did I have any recommendations for her. Oh boy.

I remember how unwillingly I came to the conclusion that wheat and gluten might contribute to issues in my life. At that point I had already reconciled with letting go of as many carbs as I could, and the need to exercise about 10 hours a week to get results (note: not always possible in real adult life. But at least I know) not to mention some serious food allergies (certain cheeses, wine, rye). The thought of giving something ELSE up was untenable and pissed me right the heck off. In my irritation, I may or may not have told a couple of people that my friends who were going gluten-free were "buying into hippie bullshit and taking it too far."


Let me first eat some crow (because it is sans gluten!) and second apologize for whiffing at the question of gluten sensitivity - it was over 6 years ago, but I'm hoping the statute for apologies isn't up yet. Gluten sensitivity is a real thing, as are serious gluten and wheat allergies. It is my personal feeling that most of us get far more gluten than we need or is good for us or that we are aware of since gluten is the sneaky ingredient in many packaged, factory-flavored, or processed foods. (Sadly, this is true of soy as well, and soy is not that good for us.) I'm not a medical doctor or nutritionist, so my opinion isn't worth that much in the larger scheme of things, but my thinking is thus: it would be much easier for all of us to eat things in moderation if we knew what we were eating. Soy in moderation is no problem. Nor is dairy/lactose for many people. But when our systems are assaulted with sneaky-soy, disguised dairy, and lord-knows-what-else it is hard to know what we are getting too much of or not enough of. Since many allergies and sensitivities are cumulative it seems very plausible to me that many of us could happily eat bread and pasta a few times a week if we weren't also getting 27 servings of gluten we didn't know about just by virtue of eating things we don't even think of as wheat-based, or even consider as carbs (The one that always stumps me is liquids - tea, salad dressing, marinades. wheat-based flavoring. Really.).

So when my friend told me about his friend needing to make quick changes to her eating and being upset by it and a particular eater besides I was instantly transported backwards. I couldn't not re-feel the panic,   "Oh no! Giving things up is just a recipe for becoming that difficult, picky, hippie, judgmental eater. I don't wanna!" My first experience with this was in 2002 when friends were over and someone had made couscous with cranberries, walnuts, and dried apricots. I mean, really, it was too amazing not to eat. But for about four days afterwords, I was in searing pain. I assumed I had the flu or some such. you know, between wanting to flay myself to get at the root cause. Then, a few weeks later friends were over again and while we had availed ourselves of chips and beer, we had also put out healthy snacks. Cheese, crackers, apples. And dried apricots. I wanted to stop eating chips (I'd had my allotted two handfuls) so I switched to apricots. I ate a lot of them. Oh boy. Again, searing, lie down on the living room floor at 2am pain for about 4 hours. Followed by intermittent and awful gut feelings for 5 days. We now refer to this as the apricot incident. Since then, accidental apricots (dried fruit, really) have produced similar torture . . .

Oh dried fruit, you look so benign but you are the devil
(This was taken in response to the terrible and lastingly, lingeringly, lay-down-and-die reaction I had after eating supposed all natural apricots in 2009. I wanted to throw myself on the train tracks.)

Weeks later, I was in the kitchen describing this dried fruit mystery to my Jewish Ima (Ima means mother in Hebrew) as we prepared for Shabat and she said, almost absent-mindedly, "was it the preservatives they use?" Yes. It was. But it took me testing out dried fruit and other things with sulfites and preservatives in them (a granola bar, as I recall and some kind of pre-packaged dessert stuff) over the next six months before I knew for sure. Now, I read the ingredients on everything. (Yeah, I'm that chic.) I know if that snack has preservatives in it. I know if that nut and fruit bar secretly has dairy in it. I know if you've been naughty or nice. But, then . . . then I just suffered and a question mark hovered over my head. (As a side note: my friend, this Ima, is not only an amazing person, friend, and mother, but very wise in the ways of better health through nutrition and specialized diets. I should have known that the person who solved the apricot incident in 2002 would not be an over-reacting hippie freak about gluten in 2006.)

So, I put together some quick thoughts for my friend to pass along to his friend, but ultimately I emailed her directly and told her this story. She relayed that she was perversely glad to hear my pain lasted for days and days because she had been feeling like she was just whiny. I assured her that I understood she was not a horrible person but instead feeling sentenced as a hypochondriac by the mainstream medicine. She responded excitedly with a lot of caps and exclamation points because this had been exactly her experience. She mentioned that her primary care doctor basically sneered at her suggestion that dairy was an issue telling her, "you can't just become lactose intolerant overnight. It doesn't work that way." That's right, Dr. Know it All, it doesn't. She was probably much like me where she had other instances of eating too much dairy and thinking her reaction was about eating too much (of anything), eating smaller amounts of dairy and thinking, "that was fine, so dairy might be ok," and having smaller reactions collect up until it was the straw that broke the camel's back and the whole immune response came crashing down. Thanks very much for making those of us who experience incapacitation from our sensitivities feel like we're not only weaklings and delicate flowers but stupid, by the way. That helps.

I remember being told that I didn't have any gluten issues by a doctor. Ok. Perhaps by your measures, no, but I do know that when I limit gluten I have more energy, better concentration, better digestive response, my skin is healthier, and my allergic reaction to environmental allergies (pollen, dander, dust, etc.) decrease in severity. So, why wouldn't I reduce gluten . . despite your denial of what your patient is telling you about their life and symptoms . . . ??

So, I've found myself in this GF-mentor role to a really cool woman who is seeking similar changes in her life, and experiencing similar roadblocks in the medical community. I don't use this word often but I feel really blessed to be able to give back some of the knowledge and advice I've gotten. I realized as I was pulling together links, thoughts, and food recommendations last week that I have learned a lot about this. Then, when she and I started talking directly, I realized how isolating and confusing this experience is. Last week I also got to see and talk to my friend (and the best Ima I know) that while there's lots of talk about gluten-free, food sensitivities, etc. there isn't a lot of concrete story-telling about it and it is hard to separate the noise and the celebs sounding off about this from actual helpful information.

When my friend, his friend, and then Ima all asked if I had blogged about this I realized there may be a need for others to hear this story. The story goes like this: if you feel really bad when you do something, it is probably not good for you, no matter what someone else believes. You can label it allergy or sensitivity or whatever you want, but just like every guitar has individual responses and sounds, every person's body is tuned differently. Finding out about that and keeping things well tuned isn't a bad thing. No matter what your doctor says. 

But, here's chapter 2 of the story. You will second guess yourself at times and feel sure that you have somehow become a hypochondriac, a delicate flower/whiny person/hippie/anti-social food activist at times. This is because food is social in our society, and for someone who is not sensitive the idea that you can't eat cheese-and-crackers or drink beer isn't on their radar. When they are confronted with this you will feel bad, no matter their reaction, because the expectation is that we all can just sit around and eat and hang out. But the person with food sensitivities has to either plan ahead (which feels neurotic) or bow out (which feels like being anti-social) or say something and bring "special" food (which feels like being a crazy food-activist.). Meanwhile, that's not the only choice I had to stare down. I also was confronted with, "but everyone else is eating pizza. Why can't I have just one slice?" Well . . . because I have food issues and one slice is constitutionally impossible. And because, when trying to get your body to STOP reacting to everything you put into it, you have to go scorched earth and moderation is NOT the answer, at that moment.

Chapter 3 of my story goes something like this: I finally did a gluten free cleanse. It took 2 years of gathering information. Of seeing others go through it. Of having a conversation with a nurse practitioner advising my then-fiance about the psoariatic immune response that was causing systemic damage in his bod - arthritic plaques, skin issues, other allergies and terrible digestive discomfort. It took a LOT before I did it. I finally had to ask myself if I wanted to find myself needing to do it rather than CHOOSING to explore it. I also wondered to myself, "If my Jewish family who are Kosher can give up gluten, dairy, preservatives, soy and casein it can't possibly be impossible for ME. " And when I did it, I had to kind of wipe a lot of slates clean. I donated a lot of food in my house so that it wouldn't be in front of me. I shopped at three different places and cooked for two days. But I also had to wipe the slate clean in my bod. I got great advice on this when my trainer said, "Get some Psyllium Husk powder. Drink it in some water or apple juice every day." Omigoodness. No lies: it tastes like drinking sand. But, it scours your insides so that whatever is already in there stops plaguing you. When you're not continuing to react and start feeling better, it's easier to continue on the walk of not eating everything you wish you were eating.

Chapter 4 is of course the part where I talk about not eating everything you want to eat and how that goes. I won't sugar coat it (especially since sugar is something I avoid . . . ): it can be hard. More often than not it is disappointing when you have to special order something, see others relaxing with their sandwiches or pizza, and wish it was just that easy for you. But for me, I got to a point where the price to eat that way all the time was just too high. It was not only contributing to my weight and self-image issues, it was also making me feel physically bad. Once I started feeling better physically, the time and effort to plan my meals, carry "approved" snacks and read ingredients in everything felt so much more worthwhile. And then a magical thing happened . . . I had more energy so I worked out more. I lost more weight which made me feel even better and it became an ALMOST self-sustaining cycle. I say almost because I do still sometimes have to put some work into looking at what I've been eating and how to better tune that to my needs, schedule, and allergies. I also sometimes step out of bounds and have to re-pay the price and get the very painful reminder that this is important.

What was key for me was finding new favorites. I had to mourn my favorite crackers, and cereal and muffins. I went about two years without a bagel or pizza of any kind because I knew nothing else could replace them. I needed new snacks, new granola bars, new pasta, new meals to cook. I needed to be reminded that this wasn't a life of boiled greens and brown rice. I was lucky that the Ima-friend is a gifted baker and cook and makes desserts and meals where you cannot BELIEVE she replaced key ingredients. This opened my eyes to the idea that allergen-free food didn't have to be a grim, unappetizing life. It also was a model to me that not all "special" food had to be a specially bought affair. Some of it could be normal food prepared with a little extra care. I now revel in making meals that are "secretly" gluten free. Black bean soup and nachos. Stir-fry with rice-noodles. Crustless quiches and risotto. Oooops, guess my secret is out. 

But I also had a busy work life and couldn't always be cooking for hours. So I did need to find some products. At the time it seemed like it took forever to find things I liked that didn't make me feel like I was eating at the outcast table, but when my friend asked for recommendations for his friend I realized that now I have quite the list. The following products meet my needs (gluten free and preservative free) but it's important that everyone read ingredients on their own!

1. Basics - cookies exist. These oreos are goooooooood. Glutino and Newman's also make varieties of GF cookies but these are my faves.
2. Pancakes - when I want an easy pancake I do this mix. when I want something heartier this buckwheat mix is approved by me and my bro. Yum.
3. Cereal - I honestly have gotten away from eating a bowl of carbs but when traveling and at a continental breakfast I CAN eat "normal" cereal like Rice Crispies and Chex. Woot!
4. Snack Bars - crunchy ones, chewy ones, and downright delicious ones.
5. Pasta - the best case scenario is to find something locally made and available fresh/frozen, But, I will also use this quinoa blended pasta. My recommendation is to find something made with multiple flours. this will give a better texture than a straight "corn flour" or "rice flour" pasta.
6. When rice gets old . . . make quinoa! I know this is a funny, funny meme but honestly, quinoa has tons of protein and a great nutty, rich taste. So good.
7. Crackers - Lots of people (even non-GF folk) like Nut Thins and I do too. But for a real hearty cracker taste where you are less aware of ingesting rice-flour I'm a fan of these Crunchmaster crackers.
8. Pretzels - these are so good I can pass them off to non GF people!
9. Dessert mixes - I've never been a stellar baker so these mixes helped me feel less concerned about gluten free baking.
10. Beer - Alcohol in general is a problem. Even if you're drinking vodka and thinking "it's potatoes!" it almost certainly has grain alcohol in it unless marked otherwise. And spirits that have any flavors in them probably have "natural flavorings" on the ingredients list. "Natural flavorings" is code for "made with gluten." I just ended up drinking less, lost weight, and counted it as a win. But I genuinely love beer so after a couple of years I needed to seek an option. I mostly agree with what these folks have to say about good and not-so-good GF beer options. Once you decide which ones to try, then treat it like a scavenger hunt to go find it!!
11. Granola - omigoodness. this stuff is made basically in my hometown and sold all over now. So, so good.
12. Udi's. Wow. Everything they make is great. Breadbagels, and my fave, the muffins. Honestly, everything they make is so tasty that the non-glutarded will dig in too.
13. Pizza - let me be stone cold honest. I still have not had GF pizza that made my heart sing.

My recommendation is to get a few things in small quantities. then get a few more things. then a few more. Decide what you really like and then buy it in bulk. Amazon is actually a good source. There are some other sites with options too. Buying in bulk usually means a better deal and having enough of what you need around so that you aren't caught out. And if you have a local store that will do bulk orders for you, that's a good way to go too - that way you can try out things and order from the same place. I do a combination of the above since I live in the GF capital of the world (or so it often seems) but also in a place where specialty grocery stores seem to keep multiplying and the market bears insane prices even for "normal" food.

As I said, I also had to consciously change the way I planned meals, shopped, and thought about eating in general. I really used this as an opportunity to hone in on higher-protein, lower-carb, and more importantly, healthier carbs. In this light, quinoa and brown rice seems like a choice instead of an allergy mandate - more fiber, more vitamins, more filling. Win, win, win. Popcorn made on the stove? How awesome. Healthier because there aren't tons of crappy chemical ingredients in it and delish. V8 and cheese as a snack turns out not only to be a great way to quench the savory cravings, but more filling than eating chips. I can't lead you all down the garden path and tell you this is how it always goes. It isn't. I still fight some days because I just want a cereal bar, damn it! Or, oh, cannoli. Love. But I also recently stepped over the line with muffins, beer, flour tortillas and a couple of other carbs that weren't working for me, and I didn't enjoy the toll I paid.

But Chapter 5 is a beautiful chapter that many (though not all) people arrive at which is that having renovated their nutrition and healed their insides, they can sometimes return to old friends for a brief visit . . . Not unlike my seeing my friend in NJ for three days. My body has stopped being toxic and reactive now. I can eat one dried apricot - just one. I can sometimes have a sandwich or a burger or pizza and not feel like crap afterwords. I need to make sure not to put too many triggers together in one stretch, but I can sometimes carefully claim my reward for having done right by myself now.

This means that I'm not strictly GF anymore. I feel the need to give that disclaimer so that if anyone stumbles on this they are double-reminded to read ingredients for themselves. But, what I hope to accomplish is to open up the conversation more to people talking about eating consciously, what works for them, and how they arrived at that knowledge. This conversation needs to have non-crazy, non-celebrity, non-food-allergies-are-the-root-of-all-evil-and-you-will-never-be-sick-again-EVAR voices. But it also badly needs to happen in order to quiet down the din of "I must be making this up" that people experience (and sadly, hear from their DOCTORS. Ugh.). In coming weeks I have some plans to "interview" peeps I know who are navigating food in different ways in order to offer thoughts, suggestions, but mostly perspective on the idea that we don't all have to eat the same and that eating differently can feel like a terrible disruption to our "normal" but it can also be an opportunity to bring a lot of peace to ourselves in how we feel, but also how we think about food.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Aron Ralston Problem

So, somewhere along the way, about once a year, I encounter the same question. Trainings, conferences, magnets that  Whole Foods distributes, speakers at the yearly event for the the program I volunteer with . . . somewhere along the way, year after year, the following question is posed: What would you do if you could not fail?

Most recently, I encountered this question in a TED talk. (Yes, yessss, I post links to way too many TED talks . . . It keeps me feeling like I'm part of a learning community but somehow magically from my couch. There are worse addictions . . . )

What would I do if I knew I couldn't fail?

I'd write. I'd work for NASA mission control (A secret dream I'm just admitting now). I'd learn how to blow glass (no jokes, please) and I'd make a living by some combination of these disparate but thrilling skills. I'd jump out of a plane and dance and sing and take photographs and hike and climb and swim races. I would master the making of chocolate mousse.

I think that there's a lot of things we all would do if we knew we couldn't fail - flying and making really complicated stuff comes to mind. The question I've been wondering about is: what would we do if we HAD to? What would we do if our survival depended on it? What would we do even if success was unlikely because doing it was so important, or not doing it was reckless and wrong?

Asking ourselves what we would do if we didn't fear or face limitations is a worthy question. It helps us identify the limitations we assume, the weights we agree to when we rule things out. In turn, that leads us to consider if the limitations outweigh the passion we have, or if they are even real guard rails or just imagined ones. It helps us honestly own what we desire to dedicate ourselves to. It makes us speak what most makes our hearts sing.

So, I don't mean to sound jaded or removed from the idea of "what could we all achieve and contribute if we didn't have to pay bills and be grown ups." I watched Sesame Street and listened to "Free to Be" just as much as the next kiddo. I think dreams and believing in them are good and not to be squashed.

But, in the world where all of our dreams and plans aren't as we imagined them, sometimes it pays to ask, "What would I do even if there was no assured pay off?"

I refer to this as the Aron Ralston Problem.

Often, when people refer to Ralston, it's him having been trapped in the Blue John Canyon in Moab for 127 hours before freeing himself by severing his arm with a multi-tool. I watched, transfixed, as he gave interviews in 2003 and 2004. I read the book in 2005. I saw the movie in 2011. So, I'm a bit of a Ralston nerd, as it were. It's not the gore or the outdoorsy-ness. (Though, those things are cool, to be sure.) For me, I'm captivated by how he worked through things, processed, and figured out his options as the full weight of what he was dealing with settled on him. I mean that literally as well as figuratively since he was trapped by an 800lb boulder that suddenly moved as he was descending into a slot canyon and settled directly on his arm, pinning him between the boulder and the wall. He had planned to bike in the morning and hike in the afternoon, so he had only a day-trip's worth of water and food with him. What occurred to him first was that he needed to ration that, and that the water would be the bigger of the two problems. Having not been clear on his hiking plans with anyone, he realized next that even if anyone started looking for him, they would be looking too late, and not know where to search. I'm amazed that he survived long enough to have the choice to amputate because if it had been me I might have panicked and done things to make a terrible situation worse. Even if I hadn't, would I have been wise and focused enough to ration my food and water, recycle my own urine, use the rope and climbing equipment I had to allow my legs to rest and myself to sleep, and kept warm for five days? Of course we all want to say yes, but in reality, would I have been able to come up with all of those strategies while staring at the boulder trapping me and possibly causing my death? I don't know.

Somewhere on day two or three, Aron considered amputation but he also found it was very hard to use the knife/multi-tool he had to . . . uhhhh . .. get in there. He hadn't packed for technical climbing or camping so he had a fairly simple and dull multi-tool. Later  he realized that although the boulder trapped his arm, it also provided the leverage he could use to break his bones. This meant he could cut through flesh and nerves (soft-tissue), but not have to cut through anything dense and hard. The boulder that could have ended his life became the very means to save himself. That boulder, an incredible will to live, and a dull multi-tool.

And one other thing: the ability to do what was in front of him, without any certainty that it would work. 

What I always say when I reference Ralston is this: it's not that cutting off his arm meant he would survive. What's incredible is that by amputating his arm MAYBE he would live long enough to find water and people. He cut off his arm knowing there was NOT enough time to make it back to his car before he bled out and only hoping that he would find water and help soon enough.

Ralston knew he didn't have the water, food, or strength to last another night at the bottom of that canyon. If he had stayed he would have certainly died. But he made a choice that most of us cannot fathom without any assurance that it would mean that he would live. That's what blows my mind.

It's perhaps difficult to imagine our lives without limitations of time, money, training, responsibility. That's what makes the question of what would we do if we knew we couldn't fail an interesting mental exercise. I think it is harder still to imagine ourselves facing doing something where the probability of success is against us. What would be so important that we would do it anyway? Would we have the will to do something really hard, really painful, really unimaginably against our instinct if we knew it might-not-probably-would-not work?

When we watch Ralston interviews, or read about him, or (for some, best of all) watch James Franco on 127 hours, what we wonder, what I wonder, is Could I do what he did if I had to?

Stick a pin in that for a minute and let me ask this instead: how many things do we do with no persuasive evidence that it will work?

This isn't even me writing more about faith or belief. It's about trusting ourselves to go out and do things in the world (which, ok, for many people is wrapped integrally around faith and trust. Yes.) In college philosophy we examined the idea that we actually don't KNOW that the sun will rise tomorrow. It has risen every day SO FAR. But even that overwhelming evidence doesn't guarantee that there wouldn't be an event that could stop the sun from rising tomorrow. We believe it will because it's easier to go on the evidence of what has happened and because so much depends on it. But what about the things we do where we don't have overwhelming personal data to shore up our actions or beliefs?

I know several people who have gone skydiving, but one in particular who did it BECAUSE she was afraid of heights and wanted to push the envelope . . . right out the door of the plane, as it were. Who are these people who step out the doors of planes?! As human beings, knowing the statistics of sky-diving safety and safe jumps has got to be intellectually puny compared to the will to actually JUMP when terror has overtaken rational thought. But people do it.

All evidence from my life of . . . ahem . . . more than 30 years suggested that getting on a bike was a bad idea. Let's really think about biking for a sec: when I look at it rationally, ohmigoodness. It's aluminium tubing connected to two wheels that I'm supposed to balance on while speeding through the open air with moving traffic and/or other bikes around me? Yeah, that seems like a good idea! Moreover, I'd had bad experiences on bikes. Why would I ever get on a bike and ride dirt and single-track trails. And yet, that's just what I'm doing . . . for several hours a week. Also in the realm of sports, this may not be news to any of you, but most people don't like getting hit in the face. But I BEGGED my Sensei to help me come up with an individualized plan to get me from the beginning belt curriculum  in American Freestyle karate to the intermediate curriculum and to prepare me for sparring. I knew at the time there were no other women sparring in the dojo and that this would mean getting hit by men who were stronger, faster, and more advanced than me. Life-evidence would suggest that getting hit isn't fun, but I found some way to ignore that and suited up to get kicked and punched. Um, a lot.

We do other things, every day, that seem so hard if we really think about them. Why would we get up in front of a room of people and give a presentation? What imperative could be so strong as to motivate us to move past our natural fear of being vulnerable to do that? Or perform on stage? Why would we ask that person out knowing that there's just as good a chance that they'll say no as yes? Why would we move away from the people we know and love and make a new life somewhere else? As adults, I can tell you, this is very hard emotional work and takes weeks and months to settle out to where we can see if we landed in the right place with the right people. I did this four years ago, and a friend recently described her experience of trying to re-settle herself and meet people as being, "tired out by the small steady bits of courage it requires . . . " That was my experience for months. I mean, really? Why would we do these things?

And yet, we do. We run marathons and cliff dive and go to new countries. We get pregnant and labor for over 24 hours, we have major surgeries and move far away and give giant presentations and suit up to jump out of planes or get beat up by someone bigger than us. We do things that, out of context, seem INSANE.

I discussed with my therapist yesterday a time, at age 17, where I seriously sought ways to leave home. I was persuaded otherwise, and there was a brief reprieve, but I was prepared, that night, to pack a suitcase and go live elsewhere given some things that were just untenable at that point. Less than a year later I found myself completely responsible for the cost of my college education. At 18, I didn't know how to come up with $7-$10,000 of "family contribution" to college tuition. I'm not sure that 18 year olds are supposed to know how to do this. And each year I would tell the staff I worked with that I couldn't guarantee that I would manage to do it again, and that if they wanted to be safe, they should hire to replace me. And I meant it. I never knew, for sure, where all of that money was going to come from every year. But every year I did it, and thusly I graduated (without pause) in four years having constructed a complicated and rigorous concentration of studies (read: self-designed major), a network of amazing friends, colleagues, and mentors, and knitting together ten or twelve different things I did for money in order to afford life and tuition for that time.

So, maybe the question isn't, "could we do the thing which seems really scary and impossible if we HAD to?" but instead, "how do we know what we can do until we do it?"

I think the answer is, we don't. We can't imagine amputating our own arm, cutting through nerve with what amounts to a pocket knife (that we would struggle to use to trim a stray thread on our shirt), breaking our own bones, and hiking out of a canyon with no reason to believe that we would find help in time. But we also probably can't imagine ourselves doing a lot of things we end up doing until we find ourselves on the precipice of doing them. Although hindsight is 20/20, things don't always make sense looking up ahead too far. Focus in too closely and a pebble can look like a boulder. Step back and it is a minor speck on the road. We can't see the whole picture if all we're focusing on is the point at which we cut through our own flesh and endure pain. We can't see all the things that brought us to that moment, we can't appreciate being between a rock and a hard place and using those surfaces to squeeze ourselves out into what awaits us next.

So, I'll say it again - how do we know what we can do until we do it? In this way, the question of "what would we do if we knew we could not fail" takes on the same flavor. Both kinds of questions lead us to admit that we are more powerful than we acknowledge when we're just going day to do brushing our teeth and making coffee and deciding between chicken or turkey. Much more powerful.

Sometimes at those moments, it's important to acknowledge that failure is possible, and then move past that moment. Ralston describes knowing that he would die someday, maybe even (probably even) THAT day, but choosing that he wouldn't die standing in his grave in that canyon. He wanted, at least, to surmount that. He wanted, at least, to have done what he could to survive past that boulder or be somewhere where his body could be found. He acknowledged that he might not make it to medical attention, and then moved past it and did it anyways. And, when I'm headed down a really big hill on the bike I'm typically saying, out loud (Like a crazy idiot), "I might fall. That's ok. I've fallen before. Ok, this is really steep. I'm doing it. Here comes that tricky turn." Ahhhhhhh.

Game face ON!

Until I got to the bottom of that hill without falling, I couldn't imagine doing it. So, if I based the decision to move forward on what I could see, what had already happened, what I knew, past performance (which involved falling down that hill, getting up and then falling down again) the evidence suggested I should be thinking, NO WAY JOSE! But walking my bike down that hill without trying was unacceptable to me. What that left was accepting that I might fall. That I probably will fall on that hill again (it's a toughy) but that heading down it is better than accepting defeat. Game face on is better than pulling up the covers, trapped by the proverbial boulder.

All of this is to say, it is hard to keep applying with no evidence so far that it is going somewhere. My person said recently that this was most definitely an exercise in faith, which is interesting since he is probably a more spiritual person than I am and I am probably the more religious of us two. It requires faith, yes, but also the understanding while I don't have any data that my job search is leading somewhere, not doing it assures a continuation of things I'm not fond of. If it means thinking about how to take on a part or full time job that is less than stellar (probably admin. Siiiigh) in the next month or so and then running around to babysit, tutor, and do other part time work to "make up the difference" that is what it means. But. Butbutbut at 17 and 18 I had no idea how to support myself and pay an adult amount of tuition each year. And I did that. At 24 I did't know how to spar, and I let big men hit me in the face as a way to learn. At 28 I had no earthly clue what I would do as I was leaving grad school, but within a week of the semester being over, I had a job. Ralston describes the "miracle" of beginning to lose strength from the blood loss and no longer having adrenaline pulling him down the path. Of reaching the point where he'd have to climb up and out and just then encountering the rescue helicopter. But when he hacked off his limb, there was no way to know that would happen that way.

Miracles for me tend to be smaller events, and not always as seamless in timing as I might like. I am a bit of an obsessive project manager, after all, and I do like to line things up perfectly. I can't wait for a helicopter to swoop in without doing the work to get on the path, is what I'm saying. It might not happen as I wish it would, but taking a paycheck-job, or making plans other than the perfect next thing is a chance to remind myself that I have done hard things before. That I have made it down scary and steep roads and will again. I'm really not expecting a last-minute movie ending or to be saved, nor for things to be as dramatic as all that, just to keep moving forward and look back some day and say, "I had no idea I could do that . . . until I did."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


A friend posted this on  Facebook recently, and "tagged" me in it.

Why, yes. That's me. I'm going to not concern myself too much about this word not being found in and accept this not only as a description, but a compliment.

It's probably no secret that I'm feeling a bit shocked to not yet be in the next job on my career track. I've gone through a variety of emotions about this from angry about my title and paycheck disappearing to grateful to be released from a job and set of expectations that was weighing me down to optimistic about new work possibilities to pessimistic about new jobs back to angry about the vagaries of unemployment and optimistic about applications to pessimistic about how "the system" (doesn't) work and all the way back to grateful again.

This trip I'm on is a funny ride. It seems to drag out much longer than the tickets I exchanged to get myself a seat on this roller-coaster would normally give me time for. It seems somehow as though I've been around the roller-coaster track more times than I thought I was signing up for. But at the same time, I blinked and it was September. I put in one breath at a time and before I noticed, I was one week away from the fourth quarter.

Roller-coasters being what they are, parts of this ride have been exhilarating and thrilling and even fun while other parts have been harrowing and crazy-making. But like the roller coasters I rode at Busch Gardens last fall, I'm never sorry afterwords. I get that not everyone is an adrenaline junkie, but I kinda am. I used to spar BIG men who were faster, taller, and stronger than me because the rush of getting a strike in was . . . well, a rush. I used to cliff dive. I fully intend to jump out of a plane someday and I love me some roller coasters. (It didn't hurt that I was riding with a stone-cold awesome pre-teen who also loves him some coasters and was stoked to share the experience with me.)

In part I love them because my dad trained me up early to love them. My mom suffers from serious motion sickness and my dad really wanted me to be able to get on rides with him so he started early by putting me on rides that spin and go up and down as soon as carnivals would allow it. But mostly I like these rides because the experience is thrilling and often thrilling+unnerving AND it never fails to make things look and feel different afterwords. Things we take for granted like walking and balance are suddenly not to be trifled with, my senses are sharpened and colors are brighter. I like the quick "boot to the head" perspective change.

This metaphorical ride shares characteristics with real roller coasters. I feel things differently. It causes me not to take things that seem "basic" for granted. I am forced to evaluate things in a different light and . . . while it's scary to step outside the bounds of how I always thought things should be, it's not all bad. For one, as I recently reported to a friend I had not been in as frequent touch with as I'd like to be, "This is scary and hard, but strangely, still happier than I was in my job at this time last year. "

The other thing that is not just "not all bad" but actually GOOD is that I am very, very awake and aware that I'm not just hoping/wishing for things to be better, but seeking change actively. It's not that I was completely unaware of this before . . . I mean, let's be clear. I knew I was unhappy and that things in my world had reached a dangerously, precariously, out of balance place in my personal sphere when I started this blog. But, I had no idea what to do about it. I had no perspective on the whole picture and so I could see good days and bad days, days where I wanted to live inside a box of cheezits and days where salad and chicken seemed reasonable and even preferable, and individual unhappinesses with work or family or myself or relationships. But all my senses were dulled by accepting less, expecting too much from myself, and not seeing the whole scene. Sometimes it takes things getting turned upside-down in order to see the whole picture. This is the use of roller-coasters.

And breakdowns. For some people this is the reason for drugs and mind-altering experiences. And for others jumping out of planes does it. But every once in awhile we need to remember that there's more than one way to look at things. Every once in awhile we need to have the snow-globe we're trapped in turned over so we can see THAT view and notice the things that seem commonplace otherwise completely anew.

Brene Brown jokes about her breakdown/spiritual awakening and how it rocked the foundations of her internal assumptions (roughly 11:20 in this video if you're interested). The joke isn't that she saw things more clearly and made changes to the way she walked through the world, and the impossible track and pace she had set herself to. The joke is that without what felt like a complete earthquake to her, she couldn't have had that epiphany and awakening.

I know the feeling.

My therapist and I have discussed that I was never going to pull the trigger. I had just enough in the tank to turn a vague "break" (one of many I will add) into a break-up but it took enormous piles of data showing me that that person was irrevocably locked into a cycle of denial and dishonesty with me. And I was left so miserably exhausted by the process that not only did I not have it in me to leave my job (even when the piles of evidence that the job had grown  unhealthy for me were so big as to nearly block out all other views), I had halted what (at that point) had been a year long job search because I just didn't have it in me. I was in line to board, but I was never going to get on this particular roller coaster on my own. I needed a solid shove to the center of my back.

This is why my therapist wanted to congratulate me on the day I lost my job. I get it now just as surely as I wanted to smack him in the face for saying it at the time. You know that "aha" moment you might remember having when everything came together as you completed a long algebra problem? I have this  in terms of LIFE on a near daily basis now.

Without a powerful force working to jolt and shake me out of the routine of being ok with things being less than ok pretty much all of the time I never would have calculated up the numbers this way and seen how sub-par had become so normal for me that I felt helpless to do anything but numb it. And as Brene says (and others, to be sure) in her TED talk about vulnerability that one cannot "selectively numb emotion." (15:30)  You can't say I don't want to feel X without numbing the more comfortable emotions. As she predicts, I numbed everything, and that meant I couldn't feel my pain fully but this also meant I couldn't feel my joy. Without joy, I couldn't reliably steer towards anything better. But without my pain, I couldn't be informed about what was truly wrong and wounded and needed to be tended to.

As Pema Chodron says, prophetically I think:

"In life, we think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem. The real truth is that things don't get solved. they come together for a time, then they fall back apart. Then they come together again and they fall apart again. It's just like that.

Personal discovery and growth come from letting there be room for all of this to happen; room for grief, for misery, relief, for joy.


Let the hard things in life break you. Let them effect you. Let them change you. Let these moments inform you. Let this pain be your teacher. The experiences of your life are trying to tell you something about yourself. Don't cop out on yourself. Don't run away and hide under the covers. Lean into it. "

When things fall apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times

It's hilarious to me (in a head-smacking-palm way) that THREE DIFFERENT PEOPLE recommended this book to me starting from last October . . . a month which we are now a week away from again. This is to say, a year ago, it was apparent that I was in trouble and needed some strategies and that was when I was with-paycheck as opposed to now, sans-paycheck.Wow, Christie. That was time well spent avoiding the truth, avoiding things that would help me. Siiiiggghhhh. (shakes head)

This is my ("fricken" 8:00) breakdown/spiritual awakening. Of course, as Brene calls us to admit . . . it may not be possible to have one without the other. I have to be angry. I have to be sad. I have to have the long, hard, two days I had last week where I panicked, cried, felt crushed by the weight of "what if" and then, ultimately, my face and head a mess, looked at my person and said, "I can't be tough about this all the time." And a few days hence followed that with the difficult question, "Can you please tell me something I'm doing right - I feel like I am utterly sucking at everything right now."

I have to remember the other parts of Brene Brown wisdom about vulnerability and shame (6:00 or thereabouts). "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change." She also says, prophetically I hope, "Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. "

When I am feeling . . . untethered and scared and dark and pessimistic, there are a few things I can point back to and know I am still better off on those days than I was on days I felt sure and grounded and had a plan I thought I could/should count on. For one, even when I'm feeling pain, I am feeling. For another, the realization that plans aren't always where it is at shakes the foundations of my life. But I think those foundations were pretty cracked and worn from all the weight of the plans I had piled on and on and on. I am still working on separating out could from should, and that is a dark rabbit hole for me to travel through. My whole life has been about what I SHOULD do. When my therapist said, "You have the kind of personality and ability where you could do things that change the world. But you never will UNLESS you make a complete break away from how you've done things in the past, the judgement, and the constant weight of expectation," I cried not from sadness but from recognition of truth staring me down.

Finally, pessimism is an interesting marker of hope. As a very wise friend said to me about my religious musings, "you can't be angry at a God you don't believe in." True story. I'd add to this that one can't be pessimistic about things they don't harbor some hope for. Another way to say this is that even when I'm feeling rooted in anxiety about this not turning out well, it means that somewhere I have some thought that i could turn out as a full bowl of awesomesauce.

Seeking powerful change can't come without fear, and that fear can't be navigated without vulnerability. This is a profoundly opening experience. I feel raw and skinless on a regular basis. (As I relayed to one of this year's bestest gifts, my new friend, the other day, this is not always helped by the fact that I am trying to learn three brand-new things all at once right now.) I make harder and harder decisions each week and am scared each and every time that I am on the precipice of the next choice that I will make the wrong one. But once the roller coaster turns on the track, I don't much find myself looking back. (Perhaps this is the gift of roller coasters - the velocity is so  great that it physiologically prevents us from looking backwards.) This means, I think, that despite all my vulnerability and dark and twisty moments, I am more confident about my core worthiness, my ability to build a life of meaning, and what may come than I was when I was working.

I have learned not just about leaning into pain and being it's student, but also that vulnerable moments are my best opportunities to be honest and brave. I have considerably more courage than I had ever plumbed the depths of. It's one thing to ride a roller coaster, and another to do it with your eyes open. But there is someone else very literally driving that train. So, getting on a bike that has to be powered by me (and perhaps more notably, balanced by me. Eeeeeeee!) is far scarier. The thing about doing scary things is that they leave you exposed. But it's that feeling, it's the "here I go, sparring someone much better than me" or singing on stage (alone!) that are most thrilling. I am most inspired and feel so much via those experiences that are most intimidating because taking charge of them, moving through them, leaning into them, reveals the me under-my-skin that is more powerful, authentic, and lovable  than I could see with my armor-skin on. "Do it anyway" has become a bit of a motto for me. "Risk it anyway," is the only way I can navigate this.

I say this by way of apology to my readers (who are also mostly all my personal friends. Nice how I can kill two birds with one stone, eh?) because my breakdown/spiritual awakening certainly wreaks occasional havoc on my writing. At the moment that I'm most dark and twisty, the tears and swollen eyes and second guessing don't lend themselves much to writing . . . hence the pause in the blog the last couple of weeks. And I can't promise a steady pace moving forward. I can't say what will happen next, or how I'll feel about all of this tomorrow. And I know that for every dose of wisdom and positivity I feel, there's probably enough negativity and difficulty and dark and twisty to seep in here anyways.

What I can tell you is that I am changed by these 9 months, and even on bad days, I know I am changed in good ways. I can tell you that reading Brene Brown's book, The gifts of Imperfection, speaks powerfully to me because perfect is so damaging in my life when joined by it's evil twin judgement (and it is ALWAYS joined by the evil twin. They are conjoined, for sure). I can tell you I should have listened to advice sooner to read Pema Chodron and I know that this won't be "solved" but simply change, and then change again. I need to be able to roll with that and so this ride is teaching me not to focus on much more than today (whenever possible. Ahem. Ok, let's be clear: I am still a planner. I still have a color coded calendar. Three, really. It's a process, ok?).

I know that I have to feel this much, and it has to be this alarmingly, gapingly open and vulnerable in order for me to really change. And I know I want the creativity, the innovation and the change. Novaturient, yes. Powerful change, progress towards a better me, regardless of jobs and title and paycheck, I HOPE.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Just like riding a bike?

You know when people say, "It's just like riding a bike?"

What is meant by this, I'm given to understand, is that once you know how to ride, you never NOT know how to ride again. The metaphor is about the kind of thing that once learned never leaves you - it stays in your neural pathways, muscle memory, etc.

There are things that fall into this category for me. I can make the base of a soup in my sleep, and driving is something I do outside of conscious thought. It comes to me reactively and kinisthetically, though of course it wasn't always this way. I also suspect that I will never not be able to swim - it is so central to who I am and I've been doing it for nearly 33 years.

Here's the thing about making soup, swimming, and driving though: they all have in common that they do not require balancing on two wheels, while propelling yourself down a road with other traffic, in the open air.

This is to say . . . that metaphor about riding a bike? It only works for those of us who LEARNED to ride a bike. Apparently, riding a tricycle at age 4 doesn't count. So, yes, I never learned. There was a brief moment where I rode a friend's bike, and there was a pink Schwinn in the garage that I rode down the street ONCE, but I almost instantly crashed it and then when trying to "get back up on the horse" I immediately almost ran into a moving car so . . . that was the end of that.

At a certain point, though, I just feel silly living in Boulder, practically bike-central of the universe (life on Mars notwithstanding. We have no idea what Curiosity will find after all), and the only man, woman, or child (kids here start biking by like 2 and 3 years old. I'm not being hyperbolic) not bike-ready. I imagine this is what my brave and gloriously beautiful friend felt like when she was thinking about learning to swim. It's daunting to think about making yourself do something you don't trust you can do, but at the same time, not being able to do it ends up meaning you have fewer options and are sometimes left out or find yourself self-excluding from things.

There is a club I'm left out of here: people commute, recreate, and just generally socialize and hang out on bikes. All. The. Time.

I just did my fourth year volunteering with Venus de Miles, an all women's ride. Every year I think, "That lady just rode SIXTY-SEVEN MILES. And I don't even know how to ride across this parking lot. "

Can't is a hard word.

It's all well and good for me to know who and what I am and what I like. I like swimming. I love reading and writing and music. I prefer chai to coffee. I could eat sushi and Indian every day of the week but meat with bones is a tricky proposition for me. I adore the soothing feeling of cooking and handling food. I like entertainment that makes me think or that is so lushly, over-the-top artistic that it engages that side of my brain. But knowing this doesn't stop me from watching Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianakis clobber each other in The Campaign, or going out to eat instead of cooking, or learning photography rather than capturing the world in words.

There are things that my circumstances and life prevent me from doing. I will likely not sprout wings and learn to fly. I can't get pregnant and grow people from scratch. I can't decide when I will get a job. I can't be as tall as the rest of my family. I CAN eat dried apricots, but I can't do so and hope to not suffer the allergic reaction to the preservatives. But signing on the dotted line for more things I can't do feels like putting up fences and walls in my life.

Even if they're there for good reasons, don't fences dare you to see what's on the other side?

It was on this theory that I capriciously joined a martial arts school 12 years ago and earned my black belt 6 years later. Do I have natural talent for karate? Absolutely not. But, after taking two classes for free, the idea that I would walk away from a good workout, a chance to be social, the opportunity to push myself, and a valuable life skill (discipline, character building, determination, and the ability to defend myself? Yes, please.) just because it was new/scary/hard seemed ridiculous. I had seen over the fence and needed to make the climb to get to the other side.

I was fortunate to have been pushed a lot as a younger child. I learned to read music and play an instrument (thought, not well). I was swimming on my own by age 3 and I was reading chapter books on my own very early. All that independence is a blessing and curse as an adult. I have decades of doing a very long list of things BY MYSELF. Musings on how well that has prepared me to accept help and support aside (ahem. Let's be clear: I stink at accepting help and support) there are other issues with all of this competence and independence. Bad news: I have years upon years of walking this earth never really knowing the feeling of being out of my depth; so, it's easy to think I should just keep going on the track of do-things-you-are-good-at. Good news: I know enough about adult learning to have considered in my career of training other people that adults need to be uncomfortable to learn. I once said to someone who asked me if I preferred teaching little, little ones vs. college students vs. adults, "with young kids you must always consider that you are not just working with them, but also their parents. So that is adult learning. And with adult learning you are always overcoming objections whether it's parents or formal training environments. " This is to say, I know enough to at least try and recognize my own objections and tackle them.

I don't want them to weigh me down as I try to push past the fences, so as much as it's easy and comfortable for me to walk around keeping to the things I'm already good and competent at, I know that I was as scared as everyone is when I had my first swimming lesson at age 2. And I know I felt WAY over my head when I took my first (and second and third and fourth . . . ) karate class, I was so scared to leave the The Happy Valley and a place where I knew everyone and everyone knew me when I went to grad school. But . . . what if I had let those become limitations to doing those things? If I had never let go of the wall in that first swimming pool, I would have to erase all of the miles I have pulled out of the water and all of the days where it was the place I felt the most peace and quiet and the irreplaceable feeling of being held up by something bigger than me. If I had never taken that karate class, if I had never gone back for another, not only would I have continued to be afraid and certain that if someone wanted to hurt me, I would just have to accept that it was going to happen. Not only would I have not found out the beautiful things my body can do (with more coaxing than most, to be sure, but it can do those things despite the complete dearth of grace in my limbs), but I would have missed out on the chance to turn my Jersey home into a place where, indeed, everyone knew me and I knew everyone. I would never have found my "Jewish Family." If I had never left Amherst and gone to grad school, I would have missed out on so many important people and thoughts and experiences and BEER, and I might have been lead to some other place in the world aside from my now-beloved Colorado.

I have said many times that as much as the level of responsibility and accountability I was required to take on probably too early in life has been difficult, it also means I really left home and embarked on a pattern of turning my new places and people into new homes and new families. This means I hav so many amazing loved ones that I share no blood with. I sometimes wish my early life was easier, but if that meant I had to somehow cosmically GIVE BACK those people I wouldn't do it.

This is the same - if erasing the scary and hard learning moments in my life meant I also had to give back the sense of accomplishment in getting my black belt, if it meant I had to not be a born-and-bread swimmer, if it meant I hadn't come to Colorado, well, I wouldn't do it.

The universe has been sending me messages lately, and so I have decided to listen. I was connected to a bike shop for awhile, and had many conversations with the mechanics there about bikes and how to learn to ride. My person became increasingly enthusiastic about biking and embarked on purchasing an upgraded bike and I found myself visiting many bike shops in this town as he looked at his options and seeing a couple of bikes that looked almost Christie-sized. And my friend, who once believed she couldn't swim and then set about to prove herself wrong said, "If you ever want to learn how to ride, you know where I am."

Riiiing, ring. Clue phone for you, Christie-bell. Time to BIKE.

I once ignored three messages from the universe. In the same day I saw the worst car accident I have ever seen. I mean, the car didn't even look like a car and there was visible human carnage. Then my locks froze not allowing me to get into my car. And finally, I was routed around the entrance to the highway I normally used when driving from Connecticut to Jersey. That night I was in a hit and run accident, in a blizzard, waited over an hour for anyone to help me, car totaled, and my neck and ankle were broken. I'm not in the habit of ignoring overwhelming messages from the universe anymore. So, when the universe kept on serving up BIKE to me, I got the message and accepted some help and support in getting it and learning to ride it.

As soon as the decision was made, but before the bike had been located and purchased I told my friend of the learning-to-swim fame and she said, "I knew it! I was just thinking how last year was year-of-the-hike for me, and how this year was year-of-the-bike. And so, if this year is year-of-the-hike for you, then next year will be biking for you!" Smile.

The real story here is, she LEFT her job and in the interim, as she was job hunting, she hiked all over Boulder County and now knows every trail. The trails and mountains are part of her story in re-centering her life around a healthier and happier job and work-life balance. She remembers trails not just as sights she saw, but feelings and prayers that she processed while out on them.

Not because I was intending to emulate her (although, if I wanted a role-model in physical and mental health, I could scarcely pick a better one), but because I was walking a dog in March and it suddenly got very temperate and mild this spring, the gym stopped calling to me, and the idea of, "I could use hiking as my cardio and be outside, thinking, seeing more of this gorgeous place I lived in," took root.

As I have hiked my way through the spring and summer (excepting almost all of July when it was too hot to bear. I now think of trails as particular thoughts and feelings I was trying to sort out too. And part of what has come to me is that this whole thing of not finding a job right away, needing to define my worth in ways beyond a paycheck and job title, getting very healthy and confident on the inside without leaning on traditional definitions of success, rooting out judgement and self-deprecation,and having to really be clear about what will and won't be good for me in terms of a job is "just like riding a bike." 
The metaphor for me isn't about learning something once and then never forgetting it, but about taking on the task of learning something even though and BECAUSE it is hard and scary but will lead to a lot more happiness and a lot fewer limitations. I need to learn to be ok with me, regardless of being ensconced in a career. Clinging to my paycheck and job title has gotten me into trouble in the past and created unhealthy expectations and balance, or a complete lack thereof. (Working over 80 hours a week seems so far away now, but man, I did that. Ugh.) When we get into the habit of putting wails around what we can and can't do, it becomes routine to not consider that there are other options. When I first mentioned to my friend that I could teach her to swim her instantaneous reactions was, "No." (I suspect what was in her head was actually closer to, "No friggin way am I getting in the scary-ass water only to nearly drown AND look foolish. Ahhhh!") But a couple of months later she was in the pool and making it from one wall to the other. There's always the option to look at something that is challenging and frightening and say, "I haven't learned to do that YET." My friends who are as enamored with The West Wing as I am will know this quote:

Dolores Landingham: You don't know how to use the intercom. 
President Josiah Bartlet: It's not that I don't know how to use it. It's just that I haven't learned yet. 

Even non-West Wingers will appreciate this clip. We could all stand to look at the things we don't do, haven't learned, or are unaccustomed to as things we COULD do if we had a chance to "get to it," - me most of all, as I tend to get stuck in my ways. I have nothing but space and opportunity to unstick and  get around to things now. I can learn to use the intercom, and to be alright with me with or without the job I want. And the story that I have to tell about this year isn't,"I looked for a job for X months and didn't find one," but rather, "Here's how I used this time to my advantage."
  • I hiked all over Boulder and beyond
  • I have consulted with two small businesses
  • I have networked with the the Boulder Chamber, and several other local businesses
  • I home-schooled a student to prepare him for 5th grade
  • I have been able to be the kind of friend I want to be
  • I cooked healthy food every week
  • I swam many miles
  • I started taking guitar lessons
  • I volunteered extensively for the worthiest cause I can think of
  • I learned how to ride a bike
And perhaps the most important thing is that, in doing all of these things, I now have a vision in my head of what I want for my work, my relationship, and my life in the future. (You know, creativity, spirituality, family, health,  opportunities, my values of contributing to the greater good and giving back, all those things.) And I believe I deserve it now.

I got on that bike about 2 hours after it was purchased. Yes, I rode on the grass. And yes, it was scary. But scary has a way of waking us up and I was thrilled by it. I ended up riding it a block home, rather than putting it back in my person's car. Wobbly, not very fast, and still struggling with steering. The next morning, first thing, 6am, back up on the bike to practice stopping and turning (which all really fall under the header of balance).

So, last night, after some conversation where I expressed that I want learning to ride to be hard enough to be interesting but not so over my head that I feel like I can't amass any successes at all, we rode a short trail. It. WAS. AWESOME.

It's wee but Christie-sized
(this is JUST after my first "real ride.")

To be clear, I am not awesome (YET) but for my second day of riding, to be out on a real trail, turning, trying to power through hills and soft sand (not my most successful moments, let me tell you) and steering fast through some curves and downhills, WOW. What have I been missing all these years?

So, just like learning to ride a bike, it's important to appreciate, as John Mayer sings, that "fear is a friend that you misunderstood." My therapist once said that when I'm feeling distressed, upset, anxious, triggered it is worth noting that it is almost always because growth and positive change are upon me. Those moments are my opportunity to live up to my value of being a life-long learner and to push myself to take down the walls and see a new view. And let me tell you, the view of things going by from a bike is pretty sweet.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chip on my shoulder

Recently, my friend 'Brina wrote a post about the tragic shooting of the Sikh worshipers in Wisconsin. She wrote on Facebook, as she was sharing it, that she had been hoping for a post that reflected the right response to the tragedy, one that encompassed her Christian beliefs. Finally, it occurred to her that she should write one. As a non-Christian, I was ecstatic to re-post it because it reflected the values of Christianity that I have always admired: Love God, and love one another and don't get all up into anything else until you're very sure you're doing both of those things perfectly.

Simultaneous to all of the shootings, Mars Landing, Olympics and everything else we've been responding to and absorbing, it's election season. Oy. I love how elections can shape our future and help us voice our needs and hopes. But at the same time, I hate how elections bring out the very worst in how people discuss difficult topics. We tend to find ourselves embroiled in conversations that turn into screaming matches and all-out verbal wars, acting as though we all need to line up on one of two sides to duke it out.

As I've discussed, I think we all lose out when an incredibly complex issue that has 42 sides gets reduced to a 2-sides only. I also note that when things are heated and everyone thinks their right to be heard is on the line (read: election season) people get meaner. We start saying snarky judgmental things in casual conversation like, "Well, I guess if you believe that __________ then it would make sense to think ______. But, I think . . . " Or, "No offense, but I think . . . " (Here's a quick tip: starting a sentence with "No offense" does not negate the thing you are about to say that would cause offense.)

This happens over dinner, in casual work conversations, and on Facebook.

This year, because the economy has been bad for several years, one of the big hot-button issues is unemployment and welfare. I've been treated to a couple of posts that have really troubled me on Facebook in the last week.

This one seems to suggest that people who are working and paying taxes should get more say than people who are not. Right on the heels of that post, I caught this one which seems to suggest that people collecting welfare/unemployment are more likely to support Obama in order to keep not working. Nice.

In the wake of these posts, much like my friend, I went looking for an article, blog, or something that would address what unemployment is meant to do, why it benefits our economy and society, and ways to express concern about those who may take advantage of or stretch the limits of the spirit and letter of these programs without lumping anyone and everyone who may be or may have "collected" into that group.

Nada. So, like my friend, I suppose I will have to write it.

I'll start here - I did what I was supposed to do. Moreover, I did it well. I went to college, and as a successful student, I then went on, after a brief hiatus, to graduate school. I have a B.A., M.A. and M.S. I worked hard both academically, and otherwise, to get those degrees. I read a lot, I wrote a lot, I presented and defended up the whazoo. Eventually, I also taught, researched, and jumped through those hoops. Because I was responsible for 9/10ths of the amount of post-high-school education I received, I also worked my arse off to pay for all of this. I ran a cafe, worked overnights at an Elder Hostel program, cleaned houses, house-sat, baby-sat, dog-sat and plant-sat. I worked an intensive work-study job during the "school year" and typically worked 2-3 jobs at a time in the summer. I ran offices, housed students, tutored, walked dogs, instructed karate, participated in medical experiments, and generally did anything I could do to make money, short of taking off my clothes.

Initials firmly ensconced after my name, I got a job and built a career and even got some promotions and offers of more.

I have skills. I can teach, develop curriculums, write, create presentations and trainings, public speak and present with the best of 'em, know a lot about education and small businesses, I can write a business plan, a project time-line and a press-release all in the same day and know how to project manage as well. I am a killer organizer. And I make award winning soups and can project manage a trip or dinner party like nobody's business.

So, let's be clear: I feel confused by my being unemployed for the better part of a year. And let's also be clear - it was never my PLAN to be sans career-type-job for this amount of time.

One more thing to be clear on: I really, truly, deeply, expected to be gainfully employed long before I ever had to go beyond filing the initial information such that I actually (gasp!) admitted I needed state-provided support and claimed my benefits.

The day I had to call and claim my first payment was well and truly bad. I paced around the house restless and unhappy. I flopped on the couch and stared at the ceiling. I looked at my phone with loathing. I sighed a lot. For hours.

I had come close to being employed twice in those first two months after being laid off and really thought I would escape needing to ever make that phone call. It made me angry and sad and miserably sick to my stomach to get out my paperwork and make that call. I almost didn't do it. I looked at my bank balance three times that day to convince myself it was really necessary.

But I did it because 10 years of school has a continuing price tag on it, and because my job ending doesn't mean my basic expenses ended and because, I reasoned, collecting this money meant being able to continue to look for a job in my field of expertise and not having to sponge off of someone in my family, which would necessitate a move, cost more money I didn't have, make me re-start my job search, and leave my landlord suddenly without a renter.

The thing to understand is that, as I have written, and as James Taylor sings, we are bound together. My unemployment doesn't exist in a vacuum such that it effects only me. It effects my family, my landlord, the trainer who lost me as a client, the stores I no longer shop at, the charities I no longer contribute to, and the doctor's offices I no longer visit, just off the top of my head. The things I can't afford to do are things that no longer go into my local economy. I don't necessarily believe that butterflies flapping their wings in Tokyo cause the weather to shift in Colorado, but I can tell you that collectively, when lots of butterflies stop flapping their wings, this change shows in an economy, and while Colorado isn't the most struggling economy, it isn't the best either.

I won't pretend that I chose paying my bills and being able to grocery shop as an altruistic gesture towards the state of Colorado. (I made that call because . . . my wounded pride isn't a good reason to shirk my responsibilities. ) But, I will say this: who does it help if I am UNABLE to do those things  suddenly? I have literally spent four days thinking of little else and really can't come up with a scenario where someone is positively effected by my suddenly not paying my bills.

Without an answer to that, I had to ask myself this: how would someone else like me deal with this situation? I have friends and loved ones who when they found themselves unemployed, were able to live off of severance and savings for some time, or had spouse who supported them. I did the former as long as I could, and I don't have the later. Restaurants, banks, clerical office positions, and retail won't hire me (I've tried) because I am "over-qualified." It's frustrating, but I also understand it - if I took those jobs it would be to fund my life long enough to continue job hunting in my field, and that means they would hire and lose someone rather than hiring and retaining a new employee.

I am lucky that I'm not trying to support children or dependents right now, so I don't mean to act as though I'm in the WORST POSSIBLE SITUATION. I'm not. The sky isn't falling. But, I also have to say that although I hateHateHATE calling the state of Colorado every two weeks to collect that "paycheck", I don't know what I would have done without that inflow into my bank account the last few months.

Now, it's true that I'm not chained to a desk 40 hours a week searching for a job. It's also true that job hunting is a different activity than it was even a few years ago - pounding the pavement often not only doesn't work, but has negative affects. I can go hand out resumes like candy, but that isn't necessarily going to get better results than working my network and having people who know people to walk resumes into employers and hiring managers for positions I'm interested in. And that approach takes time. I do this with gusto, in addition to applying for open positions online. And, yeah, sometimes I take a hike or go grocery shopping in the middle of the day and finish up my applications at night. But here's something: a lot of people in my community who DO work do these things too, and flex their work time around real-life. If I treat unemployment and job hunting as my occupation I am still in good stead with these behaviors. In point of fact, although the person who posted the pictures on Facebook that got me all riled up does not live in this community, I happen to know that he too flexes work time around his personal and family needs. So, if you see me out grocery shopping later, and it's still daylight hours, its probably worth considering that just like the worker who goes to his son's play or doctor's appointment during work hours, this doesn't mean I don't care about getting a job. It means that lots of life happens during daylight hours.

Some research on unemployment and job-finding rates also determined that I am in good company in terms of my several months of job hunting. This spring, research showed that for the first time, the number of college-educated unemployed persons topped that of non-college-educated and unemployed.  This means that the stereotype that many of us have (I know I was previously guilty of it . . . ) of the high-school or college drop-out who spent time bumming around and smoking weed with their friends and then got a job pouring concrete or whatever and then got laid off just isn't the picture of unemployment today. I have three degrees. I also have a friend who has a degree, experience in non-profit management and development as well as mediation and conflict resolution and has been unemployed for over a year. I have another friend who, with a Ph.D from an Ivy League University, collected unemployment for several months last year. People receiving this pittance aren't doing it because they're dumb and unmotivated, is what I'm saying.

Collecting unemployment requires not only that the person collecting certify that they are looking for work, available for work, and keeping a record of their search, but also that they lost their job through no fault of their own. The employer then has to communicate the same. What this means is that the apathetic jerk you may be imagining didn't go all Office Space on a printer, they didn't steal a stapler, embezzle money, or show up high to work. These are people, like me, who did their jobs, and did them well, but for financial or other reasons, their position was eliminated. It wasn't about the quality of their work, but about the longer-range planning and budgeting the organization they worked for had to do. In short, if you know someone who is collecting it might be worth it to revise your thought of them as being lazy now, or having been lazy when thy were working. These are, by and large, people who did good work, faithfully, and simply had the misfortune of working in positions that were downsized or for organizations that were struggling more than others.

How many of us are there? Well, that's an interesting question with a not-exact answer. The national unemployment rate fell to 8.1 in April of this year. This is good, no? Of course, having fewer people unemployed is good . . . on paper. But, the problem is there are government and statistical definitions that define "unemployed" as different from "jobless." This article talks about how 342,000 Americans actually just left the labor force and gave up this year. Although our unemployment rate fell, actually 169,000 MORE people were without-job in the first quarter of this year. That's great news, by the by, for someone like me who faced this economic and job-crunch crisis THIS YEAR. Ahhhhhhh. Worse: many companies practice unemployment discrimination and rule out resumes and cover letters from those who aren't working in a variety of ways. So, if by no fault of your own, you find yourself not working, you could really struggle to even get someone to look at you as an applicant. Which is ironic really, because I never could have launched this thorough of a job search before, when I was working 60+ hours a week on the road.

So, if there are no jobs out there or companies willing to consider you and you have looked faithfully for months and years, doesn't it feel reasonable to look at your other options? As this article says, "Many workers are leaving the labor force because of retirement or to collect Social Security disability checks. But an untold number have simply given up looking for work after long months or years of unemployment." Eeeeee. Skerry. The article goes on to quote an economist as saying, "If someone spends two years sending out resumes with almost no response, don't I give up or go back to school?" Umm, YES. It's been a scant seven months for me and since early retirement and disability aren't options for me, my other choices are school or start a family (which isn't a real choice, since I can't just run out and get knocked up given my medical issues and couldn't support a little one right now even if I could).

At some point, of course, unemployment benefits run out. I stumbled across an article that made me want to scream regarding this. This article lightly nudges the reader to consider that because people got jobs RIGHT after their exhaustion date (the time at which their unemployment insurance benefit runs out) there was at least some evidence to support the idea that as long as people are collecting they may be less motivated to job hunt and job-land. Ummm, hi. How many of those people took jobs that paid MUCH less than what they had been making when working, doing something that they never trained for and that does not position them to get jobs that will better match their expertise and former pay rates just because they needed to buy groceries? (I wonder also, how many people who are forced into that strategy also end up doing things that put more strain on communities and the economy like: moving back in with parents, claiming bankruptcy, etc.) I see no data on that. Cello!!

This is where the chip on my shoulder starts to show through - you may look down on me for not applying to work at grocery stores and gas stations and Targets that are hiring right now. I accept that this means, on some level, I am choosing the hunt and potential options over having any paycheck at all. But frankly, it would be better for everyone if I got a job that matched my work and education experience with a higher paycheck so I'm taking the gamble that I can find that. I'm not above cleaning houses or hotel rooms, or stocking shelves at Target (ahem! Look at the things I did to pay for school), and guess what? I will do my best to talk my over-qualified ass into those jobs if I still haven't found anything when my exhaustion date approaches. That doesn't mean it's the right choice today or that it makes me less worthy of unemployment benefits. Because for now, if I do that, I limit my ability to find the better job that allows me to build the kind of career that makes me a better contributing member of my community and economy. And, haven't I earned the opportunity to continue that search by being a working tax payer for 17 years and putting myself through school?

I guess what I want to ask people who are judging those who collect is this - imagine you worked for a company or organization for years. You got hired, got trained, and did your job well and even were asked to move up and take more responsibility. Then, suddenly, not because you did anything wrong, not because you failed to do your job or did it badly, your job was GONE. (If you want to add emphasis to this scenario, imagine it happens five days before Christmas) You only have so much severance and savings. And no spouse. And you took this job with the organization that is now eliminating your position in a far-away state where you don't have a huge professional or personal network. You have enough education to look over-qualified for the jobs you apply for outside of your field. Do you . . . not accept unemployment insurance on principle even though you are suddenly broke and without a good way to earn money? Do you write little slips of paper and send them in with your bills saying, "Sorry. I'm unemployed and don't agree with unemployment benefits?" Do you move into your mother's basement? How do you pay your bills then?

What I want to say is that I know, we all know, that there are people who manipulate these systems beyond all recognition of what they were intended to accomplish. But making anyone ashamed for losing their job through no fault of their own, or not being able to work, isn't a solution for them, you, me, our economy, or our frustrations.

This is me - my job evaporated. There were lots of factors that went into the company's decision to eliminate my position, but none of them had to do with any fault in how I performed tasks, completed projects, or discharged my professional responsibilities. Before that, I put myself through college and then grad school. That I did so without becoming skilled in the waitressing arts or learning how to shingle roofs means I can clean houses like nobody's business, and in an apocalypse (you know, where all the recently employed barristas disappear from their espresso-makers leaving someone like me who knows how to use one but hasn't done so since 1999 as the best choice) I could run a cafe and remember how to make a latte. But I have no recent, hire-able, hard skills like short-order cooking, pipe-snaking, or house-painting. I have a plethora of soft-skills like business planning and training and consulting. Where does this leave me? I can't run down the street and work at a restaurant or hire myself out to wield a band-saw. In fact, the first words out of my mouth after I got laid off were, "I just lost my job," but the second words were, "I don't have any hard skills. What does someone like me do in this situation?"

So, while people can say things about people who CAN work but don't overlook that I CAN work but with all of my degrees, and a workforce of college students or people with relevant and recent waitress/cleaning/office administrator/roof building/etc. experience competing, I CAN'T get hired to do any of those things.

Should I feel bad that I went to college and grad school and that my training and expertise aren't in food service or plumbing? If that is what those posts are saying, then I'd like to ask - why are we so hell bent in everyone graduating from high school and going off to college then? 

It is a hard fact that my degrees don't prepare or recommend me for taking whatever cleaning/retail/food service/driving/etc. job that pops up next, but it's not harder on anyone else than it is on me. So, making me feel like that is the equivalent of not being willing to work doesn't benefit the people who are angry about it, the economy, or me.

If someone offered me a job tomorrow that paid the same or more than my unemployment and used the skills I DO have, I would take it. Post-haste. I have spoken to many women in my mom's generation and before who said, "All I ever wanted was to be a wife and mother." Well, all I ever wanted was to be an astronaut. But then, the next thing I wanted was only this: to be smart and self-sufficient enough to make an independent life for myself. That's why I worked my tail off to put myself through school. I don't see collecting as more desirable than working. But, I also don't see how taking a job I'm not capable of performing well, or one that doesn't pay my bills helps anyone. If I can't pay my bills and go bankrupt or end up evicted, don't I then put MORE strain on the economy by needing even MORE severe interventional services? If I take a job that I can't succeed at, don't I then get fired for incompetence? That would make it very hard to find a job I CAN succeed at, thus dumping me right back into the collect-or-lose-everything cycle.

I fail to see how this benefits my community, the taxpayers, or my eventual ability to once again join the workforce, and contribute to industry and economy in this country.

Facebook posts that point at people like me who aren't working and place shame and blame for other's taxes and income on us . . . well, I'd like to first note I DO pay taxes on this income. And further, more importantly, this is a "there but for the grace of God go I," experience. I watched family and loved ones go through this thinking, "whew! Glad it's not me." And now it IS me. So, this means, if you do the math and realize I didn't DO anything to "deserve" this it could be you too. An old adage about walking in other people's shoes before judging them comes to mind for me because I'm in those shoes now for much longer than has been comfortable.

If all of this means I have a chip on my shoulder when discussing unemployment or other benefits for non-workers, then so be it. I hope you all won't be offended (sarcasm) if I keep it there while I sit on my ass eating bon-bons and taking bubble-baths. It goes pretty well with the cozy lifestyle I've developed around an income that is less than HALF of what I made last year, job hunting like it IS my job, lying awake with a panic attack about what would happen to me if, during this time that I have no health benefits, I fell down the stairs, and you know, generally leading a pretty worry-free existence.