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April 13, 2008

This

You fell asleep with your face buried in my neck
breathing humid drops of air
curling the little hairs near my ear
holding my hand
Uma Thurman exacting her revenge
on the blue screen
with a samarai-
neither of us caring or
wanting anything else
but a few peaceful hours
of simply this.

Bonsai

Sunday, November 3, 2013 by Rebecca , under

There's a corner of my building -
near my door-
where people abandon their plants.
yellowed, crunchy lost causes,
thrust into sunny ubasute.
out of sight.
out of mind.
I, too, have abandoned many things I
once loved
for their own good
for a better life
I tell myself.
But yesterday, I took a little wizened bonsai
from the corner and
watered its tired, desiccated bones and
put it in my windowsill
a testament to second chances.

A Lack of Access Inwardly

Thursday, September 12, 2013 by Rebecca , under

I am Jack's barely contained
fury
red-rumming
typing furiously
rushing against the cynical tide
only to find
all work and
no play
a dullness,
a calm before the storm.

4 Minute Warning

Monday, January 14, 2013 by Rebecca , under

I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between quitting and walking away. You know what I mean. We all do. There are times when we give up on something because it is too hard, because we're lazy, because we're not willing to go the extra mile, because we're too afraid to push through it, because  we don't want to risk failure- there are a thousand reasons to quit something. I once quit a job because I wanted to stay at my friend James's house and play Risk all night. Quitting is something you do because, for one reason or another, you don't have the capacity (skillset, maturity, tenacity, etc) to see something through.

Walking away though, is a different concept entirely. Walking away is something you do for yourself because staying is bad for you. Not difficult, not challenging, not something you can tell yourself to just push through, but something that is harmful to you. You usually walk away from something you don't want to leave. You can quit something for a thousand reasons, but you walk away from something when you love yourself more than you love whatever you are leaving. It could be anything, but usually its a job, a person, a relationship, a dream- something you've devoted a significant amount of time and energy to. Nobody taught me how to walk away as a child. I think it might be one of those lessons you learn through trial and error, though sometimes I wish I'd been a faster learner.

How do you know when it's time to walk away? I think it's pretty situation-specific, but there seem to be a few common denominators.  In my experience, they look like the following:


  • Feeling exhausted. This feeling is pervasive—it's not some bad-day/bad-week/bad-month feeling—it seems to never go away. 
  • Feeling like, no matter how hard you try, you can never make any progress, despite working harder than you've ever worked before. In fact, it may seem like the harder you work, the worse it seems to get. 
  • Feeling afraid. Not the type of worry you feel about passing a class or getting a promotion you've worked for, but actually feeling yourself contract in some sense.  This may also manifest itself as a constant and relentless stress. 
  • Being unable to live in the present moment, either because it's too miserable or because you're so focused on a future when things will be better, you're trying to forget today exists. 
  • Finding yourself chronically sacrificing your health for XYZ. This could be not sleeping, not eating good foods (or not eating much of anything because you don't have time), not moving enough (because you're too tired, or you're tied to your computer), not taking time for mental health. 
  • Feeling confused. On some level, you just feel confused as to why something you care about so much is so bad. There seems to be no connection between what you think it "should" be and what it is, which creates a feeling of confusion. 
When you get to this place, it's good to realize that walking away usually involves some sort of loss, but that the loss that you think you will experience has probably already occurred; you just haven't acknowledged it. Walking away involves turning inward and trusting your own feelings. Part of you will want to stay just a little bit longer, to work just a little bit harder, to try a different approach, to... Unfortunately, doing so is usually dangerous. The signs above are warning signs- they are indicative that something is wrong. Problems resulting in these types of feelings are most likely in the process of coming to a head; to stay can often place you directly in the explosion. Or, oppositely, it can cause you to compromise and contort yourself, causing some sort of slow inner death. 

The decision to walk away feels right. It doesn't always feel good and it doesn't always make sense (because maybe you don't have a backup plan), but it should feel solid. Usually it takes some courage. Sometimes it may not be accompanied by a next step. I think this can sometimes be simply due to the fact that, until you let one thing go, you don't have space or capacity to see something else. 

There's a pretty awesome episode of This American Life called "Self-Improvement." The first story is about a guy who decides to walk away. I thought I'd include it just for kicks. 

Poem of the day

Friday, December 28, 2012 by Rebecca , under

Personal

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
.
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
.
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
.
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
.
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
.
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
.
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
.
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
.
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
.
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
.
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
.
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
.
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.
.

.
by Tony Hoagland

Another election

Saturday, November 3, 2012 by Rebecca , under

The election is coming up on Tuesday and I wanted to weigh in on some thoughts I've had.

After Obama got elected in 2008, I sort of fell asleep on politics.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I have had my fair share of grandstanding these last four years- gay marriage, the death of Osama bin Laden,  the arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of Tim DeChristopher, some of the more ridiculous (and terrifying) state attempts to ban abortion, the racism of pretty much EVERY law Arizona has passed in the past few years, etc.  But these awarenesses are mainstream- a passive receipt of knowledge with maybe a little action, repressed frustration, and the occasional blowup of emotion when the stupidity gets to be too much.  My reactions are tepid, fleeting, and shallow.

Partly this may be due to disillusionment in general with the populace.  I think that happens as you get older and see more of the world.  It may also be due to the fact that I've been busy with school and work and have been traveling more and seemingly have less time for everything that I used to hold on to.  Mostly though, I think it's because, as a liberal, I did exactly the opposite of what I advocated in 2008: I assumed that Obama would do the right thing.

Here's what I said in 2008:


The problem is that, by declaring him [Obama] savior, we are essentially condoning this compromise for the long-term. We expect him to save us from ourselves, not acknowledging that we are creating a monster as he strives to attain that position. A mere man cannot be president. Barack Obama would never be president of the United States. He has to become an aggregate of the masses (the companies, the individuals, the 'demographics') in order to reach that spot and by the time he does it, he will have acquired all our worst characteristics in the process.

We can't give him a green light because without our voices, he will fail. Without our protests and our criticisms and our caution and our policing, he will become just another politician who got to the white house and proceeded to do a little good and a lot of harm. We can't go starry eyed on Obama because he needs us to save him from what he is becoming for our sakes.

He will disappoint. They all do. But, while he still has the capacity to listen (and I believe he does), it's important that we continue to remind him why we are voting for him, and why he has to reach a little farther and become a man again, in the most difficult job in the world.

Shit.  I hate when I don't take my own advice.  And fail he has, in so many ways.  Illegal wiretapping that outshines even the Bush era, more "inherent" presidential powers, the junking of habeas corpus, acceleration to the slow death of labor unions, inequality, a bank bailout that fucked homeowners by trillions of dollars, and an increase in the gap between the extreme rich and the rest of the country.  When he did right, (healthcare reform, getting out of Iraq, Sandy, overturning Don't Ask Don't Tell) we slumped even further into liberal stupor.  Only the conservatives, injected with high doses of down-home morality, were pitching fits about Obama, and their arguments, tinged with racism and anti-intellectualism, have never held my interest.  

We, as citizens, did not hold up our end of the bargain.  I feel relatively confident that Obama is going to win a second term, despite the fact that it's been called a close race.  It has always seemed unlikely that Romney will win.  The Republican party is split, Mitt Romney is a tough sell outside the Mormon camps, and it's always difficult to oust an incumbent president.  I could be wrong, but I don't think so.  In fact, I fervently hope I am not wrong, because despite legitimate anger at the Obama administration, nothing has convinced me that a Romney presidency would be any better for the vulnerable populations on whom the election always makes the biggest difference: the poor.  

If the healthcare law is repealed as Romney has stated is his first priority, it reads as a billions of dollars setback to our country.  If more cuts are made to social programs, as Romney has promised, the people who need these services will be directly affected, even though the rest of us might financially benefit in the short-term.  I don't expect to see a renegotiation of NAFTA, a rise in minimum wage, greater support of labor unions, respecting the powers of habeas corpus, limiting presidential oversight, or any of the things that are lacking in the current Obama administration.  The difference is that, with Obama, he promised those things to me (in 2008 and in 2012) and I could potentially hold him accountable; Romney doesn't feel those things should be enacted in the first place.  So yes, I damn well hope Obama wins.  I also hope that Democrats retain the Senate and add more members to the House.  And, it would be great if those people stopped bickering and actually got to work.  Enough with the moralizing, enough with the finger pointing, enough with the outrage- please, please, please, just do your damn jobs.  This sort of wish-making always reminds me of THIS:



However, I find myself cringing at the idea of voting for the "lesser of two evils."  I mean, I did that with John Kerry back in 2004- I didn't believe he was all that amazing, but I didn't care just as long as he wasn't George W. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth; Obama didn't do the things he said he would do.  That's partly my fault, partly all of our faults, and partly his fault.  If he wins this next go around, I promise I'll give a shit about how things play out and at least make some noise about them.  If he doesn't win, I'll probably be yelling regardless because there will be infinitely more issues.  But does he really deserve my vote?  I don't think he does.  

So now, staring into the void of another ballot casting, I wonder if it's time to try a different approach.  Utah's has 6 electoral votes and this year, they're definitely going to Mitt Romney.  If I were in a state where my vote actually mattered as to who becomes president, I would begrudgingly do my civic duty and vote for Obama.  But my vote doesn't make a bit of difference in who becomes president.  So perhaps, I can use that vote to voice a hope.  A hope that someday America will break the iron fist of a two-party system and people like myself won't have to be compelled to support the lesser of two evils.  I think this year, I'm voting for Jill Stein.  I like her.  I think she's got character and values that represent my interests.





And Obama?  I'll be praying you win and gearing up for four years of givingashit this time around.  


Roots

Monday, August 6, 2012 by Rebecca , under


It's the middle of the day, Monday.  I've got comments from co-authors to incorporate, analysis plans to generate, and the GRE to study for.  I don't have time to write (or rather, I don't have time to write anything unrelated to what the folks are paying me for).  But, when you have to write, you have to write and all the world has to sit down and shut the fuck up for a minute until the words clear your head.  Then all other noise can resume.

DeAndre McCullough died of a drug overdose a day or two ago.  Mr. McCullough is really only known to me in fiction, through the HBO mini-series The Corner, which was based on his story, and through his in-person portrayal of Lamar, on The Wire.  I read David Simon's personal obit for him, and also the obituary (largely borrowed from David Simon's) posted in the Baltimore Sun. 

"If I close my eyes, the fifteen year old comes to me. His laughter, his wit, his foolishness and ridiculous rationalization mixed in equal measure with his goodness and honesty. I can forgive the addict who came to dominate that young life. I can let go of all the frustration and exhaustion that came with twenty years of faithlessness and hurt. I see, in the end, a man who was in great, unending pain. And I want him to rest now.

In spite of everything, I will miss him badly. I know because I’ve been here before. With Dinky. And Curt. And Ella. And Gary — especially Gary McCullough, the wounded father who in some awful way was a pathfinder for his wounded son.  When you tell yourself you are going to write a story about real people, you say so in the abstract, without any real sense of the beings you haven’t yet met, without any measure of the real cost of addressing actual human realities.

Well then, amid all of the easy labels and stereotypes that will now certainly apply, let me offer only the following:  I once had the privilege to know a boy named DeAndre McCullough, who at the age of fifteen had led a life of considerable deprivation, but who nonetheless was the fine and fascinating measure of a human soul. Everything after, even the very book that we wrote about his world, today seems like useless and unimportant commentary."                        - David Simon

My life is a little chaotic right now.  A process that we can call "evolution", but most of the time just looks like a mess.  I'm trying to figure out what to do with my program- to stay, to go.  Get it done, don't compromise on the big goals but stay flexible enough on the smaller details.  Regardless of what happens, the plan is to leave Utah next fall.  That feels right. 

However, this obit, this remembrance, took me back to where I first began when I got into this affair with the education and the experience.  I wanted to go into public health because I wanted to help.  Not just to help, but to understand.  I want to find ways to help with the dark places of human existence: poverty, drugs, violence, mental illness, sexual assault, cancer, homelessness, HIV.  It's an impossible summit if I expect to fix any of it, but I don't.  I've seen too much in the way of violence and despair throughout my own experiences to expect that.  But I want to throw my lot in. In the words of The Wire, I want to be "counted."  Getting my degree was supposed to give me new ideas, new resources, new understanding about this.  In a way, the education has helped in the way it was intended, but in many ways, I wonder if it hasn't removed me from the things that matter to me, deep down.  I wonder if I am tough enough to insist on those things taking priority.  If I am honest, I also want to make a decent living and travel all over the world.  So it's not all do-gooder mentality. 

I have to start fighting to find a dissertation topic.  As in, I needed to have one yesterday.  McCullough's obit reminded me that, this area- this need to put in some work toward alleviating human suffering where I can- this is what came first for me.  This should be a priority.  This is still worth aiming for.  I'm not going to compromise this by working on some bullshit data whose outcomes won't mean anything to anyone- it has to translate.   It has to help.  It has to.  I find it amazing that the ripple effect from individual lives can spread out like this- so that someone like me, who has never even been to West Baltimore sees this life, sees this tragedy, and is taken back, is refocused. 

back to work now.