Tag Archive | Michigan

I Chose It

Oh, ugh. I’ve been doing my connected breathing. Not as much as I should, but it is difficult because the standard is to do it with my eyes closed for 15 minutes at a time. Sometimes, that is not going to happen because I always have to be available to solve every problem Barry encounters, run all the errands, etc.

By not allowing myself a lot of distractions from dealing with my feelings, I see why people are so obsessed with distractions and entertainment. When one stops pretending that most of the stuff they do matters on some level, it becomes obvious just how insipid most activities are. Right now, I have a limited ability to make an impact on my daily life—because my life does not actually revolve around me. It sounds so obvious.

Last night, I went to the blessing and saw some of my New-Age-y friends. One of my favorite people told me she now has a new motivation for getting off the couch: Pokemon Go. She was telling us about how many people were in some park in Okemos when there wasn’t a holiday or anything else that would ordinarily justify the crowd and they were all looking for weird little things at particular spots and had to physically go to them to get balls or something from the game. It was great fun for her. I thought, “Eh? Why not? If it’s fun and doesn’t hurt anyone, go for it.” If you can find something entertaining to do and it increases your exercise level and sociability, there are worse things.

It just doesn’t work for me right now. Oh nooooooo. I am trying to let issues arise naturally. I just happened to pick possibly the most miserable time of year to do it in. The heat and humidity are becoming unbearable. The elderly, infirm, and the children are definitely at risk for the next few weeks, if not longer. However, I hesitate to bitch about the weather, given the fact that September is only six weeks away and when the heat truly breaks, it will be fall, instantly. Then the next season is snow-shoveling season. How do I feel right now? Hot and sweaty. Icky. Could I have decided to start the Presence Process during a less sweltering time of year? Maybe. But, like I’ve said before, this is my chance to allow the dust from last year (and perhaps many years) to settle and to figure out who and what I am. Now is the time and it is not as if I necessarily will have another opportunity to do this before the next wave of insanity ensues.

I feel like I am opening my eyes, waking up, looking around, and saying, “This is it? Where’s some chocolate and the remote?”

Painfully Slowly

I have no idea what is going to happen. Barry and I may or may not qualify for Medicaid, which would enable me to get help for him.

We may have to spend down some of our assets to qualify, but that may not be a problem, given that we might have to spend a lot of money getting the house sellable.

This level of uncertainty is enough to make me want to throw up. This is not an exaggeration. I feel like someone is stepping on my chest.

The pretense is gone. Of being middle-class. Of being able to take care of the house by myself. Of keeping my old hopes and dreams.

Getting rid of books, I have uncovered my collection of Pema Chodron classics, including When Things Fall Apart. I bought it when my life was much more stable and my insecurities were vague and haunting.  I am re-devouring it. I think I always figured I would need it someday. Someday has arrived.

The changes were so gradual I didn’t even notice. I am not alone. I looked up “Lansing, Michigan” on Wikipedia. The population chart says it all. Lansing’s population peaked at about 130k in 1970. It has been all downhill since. It is now about 113k, about a 12% drop. That averages about 370 people per year leaving. That leaves plenty of room for denial. “What population drop? You’re wrong.”  Who notices one U-Haul a day? The younger generation has no memory of a more prosperous, populated Lansing. I am not elderly; I just feel like it and remember what Lansing was like when I was a kid in the 1970s. It is a diminished town, but you have to be old enough to even know what the “good old days” were like. You don’t know any different until you visit a state where the population and jobs are growing. I visited Lynchburg, Virginia, a few years ago. I went to some strip mall there and hung out at the Barnes & Noble. First, there was nowhere to park. Second, people there are horrified at 7% unemployment. I spent time talking to locals. (Michigan’s at the time was about 15%.) In a country that gained over 20 million people between 2000 and 2010, Michigan actually lost population. But it happened so painfully slowly that no one noticed. Normal went from prosperity, youth, education, and good jobs to poverty, elderly folks, the disabled, ignorance, and welfare-eligible jobs. And nobody is still noticing.

“Painfully slowly” is the operative term here. Who wants to deal with change? The problem is that change = reality. If you are not dealing with change, you are not dealing with reality. It’s that simple. You are delusional. Just like me for so long. Then, when you do start to deal with the truth of impermanence, it is so unnerving as to be nauseating.

Stillness and Stagnancy

I have always been fascinated with stillness and silence. I feel like I am losing my interest in stillness because I have had so much of it lately.

I laugh at myself now for having wanted to be a nun at an earlier developmental stage of my life. I admire the simplicity and silence. I knew I could handle the celibacy. I longed to develop spiritually and make a statement regarding our over-consuming, stupidly busy, and noisy culture. I now realize that at least some of my longing was nothing more than not wanting to deal with the real world, which I knew I was woefully unprepared for. Thomas Merton saw his shortcomings after many years of the cloistered life. He eventually took a lover in “M”. He said in a journal (quoted in Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness, where all these quotes come from), “I have surrendered again to a kind of inimical womanly wisdom in M. which instinctively seeks out the wound in me that most needs her sweetness and lavishes all her love upon me there. Instead of feeling impure, I feel purified (which is in fact what I myself wrote the other day in the “Seven Words” for Ned O’Gorman. I feel that somehow my sexuality has been made real and decent again after years of rather frantic suppression (for though I thought I had it all truly controlled, this was an illusion).” The hilarious irony of it all is that I now live a life of relative poverty and celibacy. I come close to living a nun’s life now. I am almost monastic now, and not by choice!

Merton recognized his own immaturity, something many never do. I am so glad I never had the opportunity to be a nun, not that I could have handled the obedience part of it. Obedience is a fine value—for a six-year-old. It is not an adult value and it is mutually exclusive to independent thought, meaning that the more you do of one, the less you do of the other. I have chatted with nuns and found them to be weirdly innocent. Their innocence is genuine, and entirely age-inappropriate. Imagine knowing you would always have your basic needs taken care of. They are girls dressed up in women’s apparel. Not having to deal with the real world makes emotional maturity completely superfluous and threatening.

Yet, I still kept seeking stillness and silence, even in a Buddhist context. Our culture is still obsessed with consumption, speed, and noise. The real world is truly insane at times. We all need an escape, a vacation.

What I understand now is that there needs to be a balance of activity and stillness. Stillness is like an island in a turbulent ocean, or, as Iyer states, a way station. “Indeed, Nowhere can itself become a routine, a treadmill, the opposite of something living, if you don’t see it as a way station: sometimes during his days on Mount Baldy, Leonard Cohen would get into his car, drive down from the mountain, and stop off for a Filet-O-Fish at McDonald’s. Then, suitably fortified, he’d go back to his house in one of the more forgotten parts of central Los Angeles and stretch out in front of The Jerry Springer Show on TV.” For years, I went to school and tried to work. Graduation was such a relief. I really needed a break. It’s been a couple years now since I’ve been in classes. Not doing anything meaningful, with a sick husband, in a house I can’t take care of, in a state lacking decent jobs, creates stagnancy. This is the ugly side of stillness. This is stillness gone wrong. The break was nice, at first. Now, it’s just meaninglessness writ large. It’s time to swim away from the island back into the turbulent waters, get back on the horse of life, however you want to put it. It’s time to move.

My Dukkha and Everyone Else’s

I was in an AA coffee shop when a worker there told me that many people who were instrumental in her initial steps in recovery were now relapsed.

My heart broke. I have been struggling this past winter. I let the whole world know through my blog: this is my life and, for the moment, it sucks. Apparently others around here feel similarly and are dealing with it even more poorly than myself.

Dots started getting connected. How long can people do without a job or even a remote hope of getting one? How long does one live without hope? Define “living”. I’ve been so busy digging myself out of my own pit that I hadn’t noticed others mired in theirs. The person telling me this did not know that just a few hours earlier my god sister told me that she had just lost her minimum-wage job because she couldn’t keep up with the output quota. Seriously? A quota for a job where you still qualify for welfare? And we wonder why so many people are “mentally ill.”

How can I help? I have to be more functional before I can reach down into someone else’s pit.

I looked around and saw that there is no longer any kid of social/financial safety net for people anymore. I don’t know if it is fixable or if we should just start over. It would not shock me to hear a few years from now about an ongoing suicide problem in Michigan. Hopefully, by then, I will be long gone. Living without hope or sunshine is a bit much.

But people do not acknowledge the problems because they have come upon us so incrementally. I hear people say all the time (including my god sister), “I’ll be fine.” They still falsely assume that a social safety next exists. It reminds me of an old episode of Roseanne. She and Dan were having financial problems and someone told her, “Don’t worry. Things will be fine.” Her response was perfect. “‘Standing on our own two feet’ fine? Or ‘eating government cheese’ fine?” In other words: define fine.

The normal translation of dukkha is “suffering” and I think that covers the more dramatic and sudden situations, but there is also another translation that I simply love: “unsatisfactoriness.” I think that covers the bulk of human experiences: not quite fulfilling.

I feel like my job now is to get on my own two feet so I can help others.

Earth Hospice or Midwife

“As other wise ones have observed, we who are now in service to our planet cannot know whether we are deathbed attendants to life on earth or midwives to a new age. Both callings have similar characteristics: a sense of awe, complete attention to each moment, a thinning of the veil between life and death. Whichever side of the coin we are enacting, we are blessed to be of service.” “Coming Back to Life” by Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, p.87-88

This is where I am at. For me, the situation is also personal and stark: Barry’s eventual death is my rebirth into the next phase of my life. The end of my life in Michigan will be the beginning of my life elsewhere, probably Virginia. Letting go of Christianity in favor of Buddhism, should I choose any religion at all. The collapse of Michigan’s economy and the abundance of jobs on the coasts.
I’m neither here nor there.
I just want to be part of the solution.

What’s not happening?

Is there a way to advocate living in the present moment without inadvertently promoting hedonism? I see many of the problems around me as coming from short-term thinking decisions of yesteryear, with people doing what felt good then. Now the “chickens have come home to roost,” so to speak. Is there such a thing as “living in the now” and having a sense of responsibility?
I was talking to someone yesterday that has owned businesses in the past in the Mid-Michigan area. I was talking about how the Michigan economy seems to have two main problems: people who have no skills thinking they should make $20/hour for doing very little and employers seeking applicants for jobs requiring advanced-level skills while offering $10/hour or less. He completely agreed on the first point. I have no idea what he offers compensation-wise to applicants. I don’t get the impression that he even fully understood the second point as being problematic.
One guy at our table (at the wedding reception of my best friend’s son) said that these problems are natural and will work themselves out in a generation. I responded that I do not believe that Michigan has a generation for these factors to find a more normal equilibrium. There will simply not be a sufficient number of educated people left to attract businesses of any ilk.
I have been watching educated people, such as my friend working in Washington DC and living in Maryland, leave Michigan. She left a $10/hour job here for a $22/hour job there with the exact same skill set. Good luck, Governor Snyder, trying to get her back here. I have watched this for years. I even watched it in the last church I went to. The kids left Michigan seeking opportunities and then the parents followed, wanting to be near their descendants. The implications of that staggered me and were completely lost on the rest of the congregation, as far as I could tell. Not only are the young people are leaving; they are drawing their parents away from Michigan as well.
The business owner talked about how he worked 70+ hours a week. No wonder he doesn’t see the consequences of his choices. He’s busy catching the next plane and making the next meeting.
Thinking about this last night (and being over-caffeinated to boot, not a good combination) made me realize that it is almost impossible to notice things that are not happening, especially when ridiculously busy. I missed the exodus for at least a few years when I first started business school and did not awaken to reality until 2007, when it left me totally disoriented for about six months. I walked around in a state of disbelief. How did I manage to miss so many of my classmates, not to mention staff and faculty, leaving? What else did I fail to notice? But how do you notice the person who doesn’t sign up for classes for next semester? When dealing with the trauma of living, it is very difficult to keep track of what is going on, let alone keep track of what isn’t happening.
Then reality catches up with you. At some point, you need the input or contribution of someone you know or a group of people at your church or school or wherever and they aren’t there anymore. How long have they been gone? The assumption that they would be there when you needed them has gone from being perfectly reasonable to worthless. They left and you didn’t even notice. In a school setting, perhaps that is inevitable. In a church, it’s nothing short of devastating. The people are leaving and telling others, “I left and I don’t think they know I’m gone yet.” That, my dear friends, is the ultimate anti-evangelism.
The only solution I can think of is to deliberately have fewer commitments, at least to the point of not working 70+ hours /week. Perhaps this is an intuition issue. I don’t seem to have any. I am just thinking that someone, somewhere, would have a more immediate approach of figuring out the right questions to ask. I seem to only figure them out after-the-fact. And, even then, people don’t want to hear what I have to say.
I want to solve problems, not just be a buzz-kill. How do you notice in the present moment things that are not happening anymore (that need to be)? How do you get stressed-out people to think in the long-term? Don’t people need some hedonism? Can people endlessly put their nose to the grindstone without some relief? Can we find things that feel good now that don’t do long-term damage that future generations will have to deal with? Am I talking about a level of discipline that is unheard of in modern culture? What would a good Buddhist response to the short-term thinking that is destroying lives and economies?
I went hunting for an applicable Buddhist quote. I kept finding quotes on compassion (whodathunkit?) and discipline. What I did find was a quote from my favorite nun, Pema Chodron. I think it addresses the issues I am referring to: improving conditions for people and having a sense of responsibility for how our actions are impacting others. I am starting to realize that I just don’t fit into normal society anymore.
“We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.” Pema Chodron (quoted in Wisdomquotes.com)

Preparation in the Present

I have been looking for Buddhist quotes regarding the present moment. I haven’t quite found what I’ve been looking for. What I find, particularly in Zen, is the concept of being intimate with the present moment or activity, withholding nothing. That is not the same as the idea that this moment is the only moment.
Buddhism always brings me back to reality. The emphasis is always on the ephemerality of this moment, the never-ending change of this moment, not a denial of later, future moments. Anicca is the ultimate reality; solidity is the fantasy.
Since nothing huge is going on in my life at this time (yea!), I have been trying to do a little organizing for when Barry passes. I’ve been chipping away at this for a few years. Perhaps I am just paranoid, but while lying in bed, sometimes I listen real hard to try to hear his breathing. I’ve started writing his obituary, a morbid but necessary task. The main reason I do such things is because I know that I will be overwhelmed when the time comes. I will have no excuse for not having done everything in my power beforehand. Lots of people are blindsided by a loved one’s passing; I have no such defense.
Part of me wants to just focus on now. I’ve dealt with so much in the past few years. That is the irresponsible part of me. “Don’t worry about later. Everything will be fine,” it tells me. Will it really be fine, if I don’t take careful steps today? I look around at Michigan’s economy and the answer is NO. I see people all around me just waiting for the good-paying jobs to come back. The smart people continue to leave. (Why would an intelligent person stay and make peanuts for their skillset?) The exodus of talent and education from the state guarantees that businesses looking for talent will look elsewhere. Maybe it will be fine thirty years from now, when the powers that be finally deal with reality. Until then, it is so very not fine for those who remain. Pretending that this moment is the only moment only compounds the problem.
We all need to deal with the temporariness of things, making plans and accommodations for the predictable. We can only make those preparations in the present moment. This may not be my preferred way of spending a beautiful summer day, but the alternative is to risk being totally overwhelmed when the weather sucks and everyone is demanding instant answers and cash.

The Practicality of Minimalism

Reading Everything That Remains feels so good. It gives me what I am looking for: an example of how the authors got from Point A (high-powered careers) to Point B (minimalism). It’s as close to a mentor as I may ever find. It offers the encouragement that if they can do it, I can too.

Not everything in the minimalism world is useful. I looked up images of minimalism online and found some fascinating architecture. I found cold starkness and weirdly sharp angles. It was more artistic than functional. One room had such a tight “corner” that I almost laughed. No vacuum cleaner was getting into that! The last thing I am interested in is one more thing I cannot clean.

I don’t know the specifics of what I want in life, but I do have some general principles. Number one, I am not interested in being a good, little victim. I don’t want to be the victim of my stuff, worrying about my crap when I go on vacation. I feel like my possessions tie me to a physical location, the location of the possessions. I have no passion for spending my golden years cleaning my stuff.

My refusal to be a victim of my possessions is related to my wanting to not be stuck in Michigan. I literally don’t want to be tied down geographically. Michigan is my place of origin—and humiliation. I am done with the bizarre expectations of MIT qualifications for jobs that pay Burger King wages and then employers trying to pass off the responsibility to the applicant. “You just didn’t meet our qualifications” translates in reality to “We plan on hiring so-and-so’s brother,” or “You might expect a more living wage and are therefore unfit for exploitation for our purposes.” I am fluent in HR-speak (my undergrad emphasis for my BBA was HR) and know that it is in the employer’s financial interest to make the candidate feel unqualified, rather than understand the truth. My friend that moved to Maryland left partly because her co-workers in Michigan routinely declared bankruptcy. Workers in Michigan are the epitome of the frog in the kettle. The economy has gone downhill slowly enough and been depressed long enough to the point that they think it is normal to declare bankruptcy every seven years. They take their economic victimization as a matter-of-course, not wanting to move elsewhere and perhaps learn a few more skills in order to increase their paycheck exponentially. Getting paid crap for high-skilled labor is pure Michigan. I choose self-respect and freedom, even if it means letting go of almost every possession I have. Such is the price of freedom.

Change, Energy, and Movement

Change, Energy, Movement

Everything is changing and moving. I keep running into problems with people and organizations that choose not to change. Eventually, I must let them go. I cannot allow their limitations to become mine. How do you get people to change? As near as I can tell, you don’t.

I am tired of watching churches die due to their failure to adapt to the changing environment. Groups are more than happy for help—on their terms, of course. When young people walk away, older people seem to have the attitude, “Good riddance. We don’t need you anyhow.” The homophobic preaching continues, driving away the only demographic that might improve the church’s survivability: the younger people. They say, “This is how we do things around here. Take it or leave it.” My response is, “Okay. Bye. Good luck with that.” There is no point arguing.

I see the same thing in Michigan’s businesses. They want you to have a J.D. and tons of secretarial skills. Starting pay? $10/hour. When confronted with the disconnect, their response is instant: “We can’t afford to pay more.” But you can afford to drive away from Michigan everyone with more than a high school diploma? Really? What precisely do you plan to do when there aren’t any more educated people left in Michigan and you literally cannot pay enough money to keep people here?

When confronted with the alternatives of change or death, everywhere I look, I see people choosing death. It’s like a diabetic that refuses to eat less sugar. What they are doing is literally killing them, but they have no intention of taking life-saving measures.

These organizations demand that things be done their way, even as they empty out of customers/parishioners/employees. What can a person do?

What I won’t do is go down with them. Their limitations remain their own; I refuse to adopt them. They can sink, but they’re not dragging me along with them.

My frustration is that I feel like I have some very useful skills to offer the world—for a price. I have student loan debt and when I need to support myself, my volunteering days will likely be over. I didn’t get these skills for free, and neither will any future employer of mine. I can always learn more skills, but then my price will go up as well. My time is valuable and it will be treated as such.

If you pay minimum wage, you will get minimum-wage quality employees: low skills, no transportation of their own, and very possibly needing regular time off to see their probation/parole officer. I am willing to start near (not at) the bottom, but completely unwilling to remain there indefinitely.

People/organizations refuse to change/learn. How can I become part of the solution? What can be done to help people refusing to learn basic science and accept the reality of global warning? Just how hot do things have to get? I’m hoping my mother dies before things get too hot because she still lives in that pre-scientific worldview. (“If we don’t admit it’s happening, then it is not really true.”) What can you do with people who try to impose their morals on the next generation without any consent of the younger generation? Older people’s opinions are routinely dismissed, and this is why. Life is growth and change. To refuse to grow or change is a death sentence. Defending intellectual stagnation is not a good strategy for creating influence.

The old world is passing away. A new one is emerging. I will be part of the new world, whether I like it or not. I am just trying to find a place for myself in it. I want to be somewhere learning/growth/maturing are not synonyms for “heresy” or “insubordination.” I will never stop learning. I want to work somewhere that values growth. So far, I do not believe it is in Michigan, the Orthodox Church, or the Republican Party. I left the Republican Party many years ago, the Orthodox Church a few months ago, and Michigan is next, when Barry passes. If they choose not to advance in tandem with me, what other choice do I have? Only to kiss my brains, dignity, and common sense good-bye.

How long can I keep holding on?

How long can I hold on, here in Michigan? Maybe I’m a bad Buddhist, but living here is depressing. This has been a wickedly cold winter, unrelenting and dark. There is no sun, no warmth, no jobs, and now one of my best friends is leaving. She is leaving before the crack of dawn on Monday.

I’ve done a lot of shoveling. I had my vehicle towed simply to unstick it from my driveway. My vehicle started to get stuck earlier this week, so I asked Barry to give me a push. He complied, and promptly fell on his keister. Does this mean that I just basically can’t expect any help from him whatsoever? I guess.

This stress has made me susceptible to a never-ending cold.

Why blame Michigan? It could just as well be Minnesota (as far as cold is concerned), were I living there. Combine the cold with the lack of jobs, forcing my friend to move east, and the lake-effect snow and you end up with a snow-bound nightmare that just never seems to end.

I’m not sure how many more winters here I can take. It sounds horrible, but I hope to move next fall, whether that means Barry dying or being put in a nursing home. Maybe I’ll feel better come spring, but this is how I feel now.