Monday, August 14, 2017

Putting the call out

It's been a really scary few days here in the US. Make no mistake, the US has always had problems with racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, and other hatred of many varieties. We just don't have daily violent demonstrations on the level of what we saw in Charlottesville this weekend.

I want to make sure, those of you who read this, that I'm here, and I'm offering any help I can give. I have a roof and food to share if you need them. I have an ear (either in person or virtually) if you need to talk, vent, cry, scream, or just be distracted from the awfulness of the world. If you need an escape, I will do everything I can to help you escape.

Please remember, you are loved. Reach out if you need anything - ANYTHING. Be safe, be careful, and keep the faith. This kind of hatred and violence only flourishes if people remain silent. As we've already seen, people aren't taking this betrayal of human rights lying down.

Friday, July 28, 2017

State of Steph report

It's been a while since I've posted. There's been a lot going on, not all of it good. I'm currently taking a leave of absence from work while I try to get my mental health back on track, which can I just say is bloody weird. I don't spend much time and energy focusing on myself, and intellectually I know it's good that I'm doing so now - it's just hard to fight the "wrongness" of it, too.

The goal right now is to essentially be a lump for the first few days - reading, watching TV, and not doing much otherwise. I'm currently on a run of food micro-histories, which has been a lot of fun. I'm also hoping to spend more time writing, but I'm trying not to make this leave all about writing - if I did, I know I would just beat myself up if I didn't get "enough" done.

So. If nothing else, I'm hoping to blog a little more often, so hopefully you'll see a bit more from me here. Take care of yourselves, everybody.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Dragon-slayer

He thinks I slay dragons.
Me? I don't know.
The beasts I thought dead keep coming back
(Maybe they were hydra instead?).

I can only wound, not kill,
They bruise but don't bleed.
My blade drives them away for moment,
To wait and attack another day.

One beast, maybe two at a time,
I can fence and parry away.
But waves after waves, all coming at once
With more teeth that snap and claws that snatch
Dodging, biting, scratching, attacking,
All I can do is dance and pray
(Let my sword stay true, let my shield stay firm,
Don't let them in, please, don't let them win)
And my dance and my prayers aren't enough.

He thinks I slay dragons.
Me? Not today.
Today is for whetstones, and repair, and rest.
Today is for caves and hidden tears and sleep.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow, sword shining bright,
We'll see what these lizards bring to the fight.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Reaching a hand out

I grew up in the Southern Baptist church. My formative years were spent going to Sunday school and Awana on Wednesdays, reading the Bible and asking questions in class. That last part got me in trouble a few times, and I'm not going to say it was perfect, but it definitely left me with some strong beliefs beyond just a religious foundation.

Service is a big part of the church. The example of the apostles, who gave up everything to follow and serve the Lord and the people who needed them, is held as the Platonic ideal of Christianity. If someone has a need, you fill it. Sacrifice is part of the deal - you give of yourself to help others.

Now, I freely admit that I tend to go overboard a bit with the "giving of myself" part, and will put everyone first ahead of myself. Selfishness is still a really hard thing for me to accept, because my definition of what's "selfish" tends to include what most people consider "taking care of yourself." I'm working on it.

The important part, though, is that one of the main tenets of Christianity, one of the big pillars of the faith, is taking care of those in need. It's something I think a lot of "Christians" forget about, in their rush to keep their ideals and beliefs from being tarnished by outside influences. It's not just about faith, either - it's just being a decent human being.

If you're reaching a hand out, it should be to help someone up, not push them down or shove them aside. And it's perfectly acceptable to keep your hands to yourself if you don't have the strength to help someone up. It's even OK to reach out for help yourself.

Take care of yourselves, friends. The roads a little bit bumpy and dark, but we can make it together.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Power-saving mode

Recently, my work space has shifted, and I'm finding it's affecting me much more than I anticipated. Previously, I had been in a large team room with one other person, and we had control over the lighting in the room. As we both have issues with light sensitivity, this meant that the overhead lights were off most of the time. Additionally, the team room was in an out of the way corner, so there weren't many people who would drop by just to chat. It was a lovely space.

Now, my desk is in essentially the opposite of all of that. I'm in a cubicle surrounded by other people, many of whom are quite gregarious. I have no control over the lighting, and there are overhead lights in addition to two bit windows; as it's getting to be late spring/early summer in the Pacific Northwest, this means a fair amount of sun. It's definitely been an adjustment.

One thing that I noticed is that being in such an open space, having so many people around and near-constant interaction in person, is a lot more draining than I had expected. I've always been an introvert, so it's not completely surprising that dealing with people is draining, but it's become physically exhausting. Lately, though, I've found a way to help myself stay focused and productive - I let myself go into power-saving mode for a day, as needed.

When you look at your average smartphone, there are probably a dozen different processes running at any given time. The network is constantly checking for updates to the various social media feeds and email inboxes; different apps are in a state of readiness, waiting to reopen in an instant; and of course, it's ready and waiting for a phone call. This drains the battery, and the longer it stays in this state, the faster the battery will drain.

Putting the phone on power-saving mode helps the battery last longer until you can recharge it completely. It shuts off some of the processes that aren't completely essential - maybe you can force an update to your Twitter feed, rather than having every new tweet show up automatically. Things like that allow the phone to reserve its battery and focus its processing power on the essentials.

When I say I'm in power-saving mode, I am basically removing myself from the in-person energy drain by working from home or in one of the quiet rooms at my office. It's turning off the part of me that needs to be "on" when working face to face with people, being ready to handle any questions or random bits of chit-chat that come my way, and lets me focus on being productive with the things I need to do.

Ideally, I'll be able to adapt and not need to save energy this way every week, but in the meantime this has been helping me. I know I have a lot of introverts among my friends, so it might be worth figuring out when you can go into power-saving mode yourself, or what that would mean for you.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Words that hurt

I watched a video the other day that made me think. (Dangerous, I know.) One part of the argument being made was that it's not right to lump language that incites violence into the same category as language that hurts people emotionally, because it decreases the value of the words that incite violence. It took a little while for me to pick out why I didn't feel comfortable with that, but I think I have a handle on it now.

I was not a popular child. I read novels when I was six; had glasses when I was five (which, might I add, was in 1986, at the height of the Sally Jesse Raphael fad of glasses); and I never quite figured out that just because I knew something, it didn't mean that I had to tell everyone about it. I got teased a lot, is what I'm saying.

A lot of the insults rolled off my back, partly because I didn't see them as insults. OK, so I'm the teacher's pet - I can't argue with that, I frequently talk to the teachers after class about anything and nothing. I'm ugly - well, I'm certainly not what most people call beautiful, and Lord knows that puberty was not kind, so I can deal. I don't mean to say they didn't sting, and I spent more than my fair share of time crying in the bathroom, but I could move past most of them.

The ones that were harder to get over, though, were the ones where the intent was to make me feel like less of a person. An ugly kid is still a kid, but a bitch is something other than a 'normal' person. Those are the kinds of insults meant to treat someone like they are 'other,' to help define an 'us versus them' mentality.

Those insults hurt, of course, but they're more insidious than that. When you think about language that incites violence, it's frequently expressed along the lines of "Kill all the [slur]!" But think about how much easier it is to think that way, when you've already decided that some people are [slur]s, and so they aren't really people. Not people like you, anyway. And if they're not like you, well, it isn't like they really count, do they?

Language that directly incites violence is, obviously, a danger. But I don't think people should dismiss language that 'just' hurts emotionally - those kinds of words can make inciting violence much easier to swallow, even if you're not directly involved in the violence. There's a terrible power there.

Once again, friends, remember that words have power. Use them responsibly.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The musical Rent 20+ years later

Surprising absolutely no one, I was a theater kid growing up. I think I heard my first musical when I was about 11 or 12, and I never looked back. In 1996, the musical that all the theater kids fell in love with was Jonathan Larson's Rent.

As a kid growing up on military bases for the US and passing for white, I admit that I didn't really get a lot of the themes of the musical when I first heard it. It didn't keep me from listening to it over and over, memorizing the lyrics of "La Vie Boheme" even though I didn't understand all of the references. It was the show everyone was talking about.

This past weekend, I came across the movie of the musical that was released in 2005. I'd seen the show performed once in a theater, but never watched the movie, and so I decided to take a look.

The first thing that hit me was how many of the lyrics I still remembered - it's probably been at least 15 years since I've listened to the cast recording, but there it all was again. The second thing I noticed was how much of a jerk Roger is, holy hell. How that character didn't get just clocked, I'll never know.

Finally, the songs were a little different this time around. I always found the melody of "Will I?" haunting, and listening to it this time was no exception. But the first time I heard it, I was 15 - reasonably healthy, if a little out of shape; starting to feel the first signs of depression and anxiety, but not to the point that they were taking over my life. The idea of wondering if I would die without my dignity was incredibly far off to me.

Now? I'm 36. There are days when the depression and anxiety work together in their efforts to destroy me. My physical health is full of chronic problems that flare whenever they want to, meaning a "good" day could mean only needing a cane, or having a headache that doesn't leave me longing for the dark and the quiet. I've watched parts of my family come apart, and worked on creating a family of my own. The questions of that song are a lot more relevant to my interests these days.

Will I lose my dignity?
Will someone care?
Will I wake tomorrow
From this nightmare?