26 April, 2013

A day like any other

I was in Seattle for an appointment Monday and talked to some of the buskers and canvassers. I quickly became overcome with nostalgia of the time when I first moved to Seattle 4 and a half years ago. Staying in downtown, I eventually found cheap housing in the suburbs until I came downtown when I was homeless.

Downtown, even though it's rife with tourists and shops remains fascinating to me because of the diversity and activity of people and things. The shows and events quickly lost what little appeal they had and staying in a hostel until I had no money at all, I began to see a lot more of the darkness of the city. The drugs. The violence. The craziness. I always tried to be friendly to the homeless people, but when I became homeless, I began to wonder how much of what they were doing was an act. Dressing a little dirtier than they could, they could get more money. Feeling sorry for themselves, people would feel sorry for them.

I stopped giving money away, because it was inherently selfish, only done to make my guilt a little less prominent. I still tried to give a little to the Spare Change guys from time to time, because they were clean and I knew the money wasn't being thrown away at least, but I knew the guilt still haunted me.

Feeling empathy and actually doing real things are often quite different things. You can't really buy yourself into "heaven" if it is a place and it is a place based on merit just as you can't really buy other people out of their own hell. It's a place we all share. Together.

I flashed back again to Hagerstown. I volunteered at an art gallery while studying Multimedia, sometimes looking after it, sometimes cleaning and organizing art supplies. I had a few pieces up there and at a few other places but never liked teaching kids so I didn't. I stilll don't know if that was the right thing to do, but felt woefully unprepared and distant and often regretted it. I volunteer now at a Mental Health Community Center here and a feeling of obligation follows me when I go there, too. Something i am not sure exactly what to do about because I also have a very real need to actually do real things and not just volunteer all the time. At the clubhouse, I Mostly just cook lunch and try to organize their newsletter. I am going to miss that place and I am going to miss the old gallery in Hagerstown, but at the same time, I know life goes on and challenges await.

While I was walking around Seattle, I remembered quite a few things that day. It was a beautiful day, sunny for the first time in months and so there were a lot of happy faces. In Capitol Hill and Pioneer Square I saw some folks I knew from support groups and some I knew from the streets. I hung out in a Capitol Hill park, reading a book while overhearing a kid talk about getting clean. He reminded me of myself and a little of my friends. Listening to him talk about counseling kids and staying clean gave me a little bit of hope.

I walked to the bus late that night. A funny kid who had had a few drinks too many told the beautiful lady standing next to me that she was beautiful, many times. He was charming and harmless, but still I could tell she was nervous and many Seattlites eyed him cautiously, keeping an eye on them both but like polite Seattlites, keeping their distance. But he quickly disappeared when her bus came and she left.

I eventually arrived home, and now I am thinking about my bags, which are already mostly packed. I've moved around enough times to know that my social issues will follow me whereever I go, that no magical perfect job exists anywhere. I will feel like I'm making a bad decision whereever I go and whatever I do. I am thinking of perhaps teaching permaculture, just like I have thought of being a counselour or teaching in central America. I know there will be good things I have done and will leave behind and I think, if nothing else, hopefully I can say that I made a positive impact. Planted a lot of trees out here, led a lot of restoration events, tried to be active and do work despite my idiotic psychotic depression and anxiety, cooked a lot of good meals for $2 a plate. I hope it was enough.

I don't know.

It's scary.

I'll miss Seattle.

25 April, 2013

The kids are alright

Now that Washington state has OK'ed wine and liquor in grocery stores and we're well on our way to having weed being sold in restaurants(as a gourmet foodie thing), it probably won't be long before weed is sold in grocery stores, too. And what is the gateway drug these grocery stores give us? Caffeine.

It used to just be something adults had. That black coffee was a rite of passage. Something only inattentive parents would let their children near. Then came the soft drinks. Schools started with the soda pop machines to make a few bucks. The school lunch programs tried and some of them succeeded in banning this junk, but it's already here and it's here to stay.

I grew up in the '90s and by then, Jolt Cola, the predecessor of Red Bull and 5 hour energy was just being introduced. It was hard to find but it was out there. When you found it, you felt like a drug addict. It had something like two to three times the caffeine of Coke. Nowadays, a trip to any of a few close, local grocery stores reveals a full 1/4 aisle of these drinks- all brands and varieties. Some of them in cans. Some of them mixed with coffee. Some of them in convenient powdered form. This stuff is everywhere.

And if you want coffee, Starbucks makes only the strongest, bitterest coffee imaginable. Diarrhea and visual distortions are almost guaranteed. Half of these coffeshops are even inside of grocery stores, right next to the energy drinks, booze, beer and wine.

It is very interesting that we don't take the caffeine problem seriously. I am not suggesting that having a cup of coffee or hot cocoa every now and then is bad or that even a cup a day is really all that bad(except for the withdrawals), but the easy accessability and marketing of these products as being cool makes them a strong contender for being the REAL gateway drug.

Just think- if caffeine is everywhere and perceived as safe, what's to stop you from taking a few of your friends ritalin or provigil tablets? When you realise there is very little difference between the two(at the dosages some of these energy drinks are at, having one or two is the equivalent of having some amphetamines or cocaine), what's to stop you from experimenting even more?

We send a very mixed message. Drugs aren't black and white. I don't like beer or wine but wouldn't mind having some weed butter available to purchase and yet, I really don't like the way it's marketed and glamorized. I hate that some idiot named all the weed strands names that sound like candy. It's fucking stupid.

Just put it all in a plain paper bag. The coffee. The beer. The weed. Keep the kids safe. Don't lie to them. Let them make their own decisions.Don't use it as a quick means to boost profits and then not want to deal with the consequences.

18 April, 2013

Trauma

We remember traumatic events. Be they good or bad. Years from now I still remember that I was sitting at home, drawing, on sick leave when my mom called and told me to turn on the news. I turned on FoxNews or MSNBC and saw the airplanes hitting the towers. I remember my dad telling me he had cancer. I remember when I rode in a police car and spent the day in a holding cell. I was looking up a recipe for Spanokipita when I heard about Boston.

There are things I don't remember that I wish I did. Whole weeks and months of my life that I spent working that seemed to flash by or not even happen at all. My grandfathers death. My whole high school experience was a numb, barely remembered dream. I vaguely recall the birth of my niece, although I was in a homeless confusion at the time and moved from one strange living condition to another. I remember the dumbest movie quotes but can't for the life of me recall any of Amerika even though I've read it at least 3 times.

They say that ongoing anxiety and trauma can result in a kind of numbed state. I vaguely remember many news events growing up- the Waco bombing, the airplane crashes but they seemed to happen so often, they merge into a kind of vague idea of what happened. At a few times in my life I have had tweakers as neighbors. At first I was agitated and would wake up when I would hear them at 3 in the morning or when they would start screaming. I quickly grew used to their erratic behavior and odd hours and even slept through their constant alarms.

I know this is not always a good response to terror- this apathy and anaesthesia that kicks in after all the adrenaline has run out, but it does help one to survive. I noticed it when I was homeless, sleeping along the Columbia River. At first I was persistently watchful, but over the course of weeks I soon became comfortable sleeping in the strangest places, dumpster diving and walking around in filthy rags.

Finishing up the newsletter at the community center today, it could have been any day. Nothing really especially memorable. People came and went. Meetings happened or didn't.  But then there was an incident. I don't want to mention specifics on here, even though I have a tendency to overshare, I will say it could be/have been a sexual assault lawsuit.

The event caused a lot of tension. Mostly because there was a lot of confusion surrounding how to react. A lot of anxiety. From me, I noticed a lot of anaesthesia and mental withdrawal. Things were resolved but I can't say for certain I will remember this event in the future. I only hope that if something important happens I'm not too traumatised to respond.

Sometimes

Since I live near a community college here in Bellevue and it stands between me and my weekly meetings with my case manager, I often find myself walking through the campus and can't help but flash back to my college days.

When I think of my college days, I invariably think of my brother and sister's days as well. My sister's many boyfriends and girlfriends who would carouse the bars and clubs and games and events. My brother sneaking in at 4 am, making strange art projects, my dad finding pot in the car, his drunk shenanigans and funny stories, and then there's me. My recollection of college comes mostly from a corner in a library, where I would find a place to study or from an empty parking lot at UMBC. When I wasn't in class, I was dreading the long commute there. Most times, I envied my brother and sister because they seemed to be having a good time at college while I was miserable, eating my lunch in the bathroom, working in the stock room of a hardware and lumber store and spending my nights drawing pictures(this was before facebook) and watching strange art house films.

Flash forward years later. I eventually did go back and at least finish a certificate although the college experience was pretty sedate. I went to Hagerstown Community College and took half of a course load of graphic design classes for a few years. I made a few acquiantances there. Drank coffee with a few friends. Had a few utterly bizarre and clumsy dates but then college ended and life went on. If you knew Hagerstown, this isn't surprising. It's still a small town in Western Maryland that closes down at 5 every day. The main attraction is the Dairy Queen and the Valley Mall(not the vibrant downtown as the tourism industry wants to sell you). My exciting list of things to do included riding my bike, reading various things, from time to time, going to the new art or poetry opening and sitting at home, cooking and watching weird art house movies.

So there I was, walking through the college in Bellevue again, except even more time has passed. My sister now has a kid. My brother stopped smoking and goes to sleep at normal hours now. It's been five years since I've been in college and I realise more and more that life is pretty open-ended.

I can't read minds but I see the boy walking by himself and realise that could be me. I see a group of girls that reminds me of my sister and I suddenly realise I am quite older and quite different and all of this is OK.
The kids at school are really into fashion. Into cliques. Into identifying themselves. It's terribly superficial because as we grow older we realise how much more complicated we are than our likes and dislikes and sexual preference and religion and job. We realise how nobody really knows what they are doing.

I still worry quite  alot about being weird and asocial and introverted and wanting to sit at home and cook. I can definitely get into ruts and fear change quite  a lot. I still feel like an alien amidst people and think I always will. Hopefully I will learn to be more accepting of how I am and how my brother and sister and everyone else is and realise that college and life is not at all like how I thought it would be.

16 April, 2013

Seattle

Woke up at three for some reason could not sleep or eat
Read Andrea's blog and facebook and watched part of "Rango".
5 o'clock drank coffee(I know, I know) and went running at gym
The only thing to watch was Spongebob. Did not want to watch scare tactics about Boston.
Arrived to prep lunch. Finished Spanakopita, Veggies. Tried to keep H calm and on task but mostly non confrontational as he kept pacing in and out of the kitchen.
Snuck out at noon. R talked to me and I tried to dodge the conversation because of my appointment.
He had dyed his hair and his face looked like smudged makeup.
I should be a better friend sometimes to people.
Continued reading Chalice and Blade on bus while overhearing some homeless people talk about an interesting adventure they went on. Pretended to read while I listened.
Second bus breaks down.
For some reason I am not worried. Realise I have not eaten anything all day. Almost 2.
Other bus comes. La di da.
Bright sun in Seatle. So beautiful. Walk up hill to appointment. When Seattle is sunny it's fucking amazing. Everyone seems so happy.
Apologize to counselor. Don't know what to talk about. Parent issues. Relationship issues. I'm leaving in May. Afraid. I sit on my hands because I'm nervous.
Walk up hill. Talk to tattoo guy to see about getting work finished before I go.
See sun setting. Awkwardly following someone back down hill. Try not to invade space/follow too close or make them uncomfortable.
Give dollar bill to homeless man. He also wants the 5 I have.
Hold bus door for lady.
Sit and read at bus stop.
Seattle is amazing when it's sunny.

12 April, 2013

The day after

I've been doing a lot more volunteer work than paid work recently. Planting trees, cooking at a mental health community center. I don't mind it- because I like doing these things and they get me out of my head. If I stay at home too long doing freelance art I invariably wind up cleaning the refrigerator with a toothbrush or huddled in a corner, afriad of everything. I wish things would magically get better, but the truth is, I don't think if anything gets better it will happen suddenly or easily and I don't think things will really just "get better". I've been afriad of everything my whole life. As far as the volunteer work, the remarks are good on my resume but I tend to spend too much time doing these things and randomly traveling facebook than doing anything "normal" or "future thinking".

Sometimes I forget how weird my brain behaves. Amidst the cooking and mundane chores at the community center we also have an art group. Sometimes, when I'm not terribly unsocial I can participate in the groups. We sat down for this latest group and it seemed straight-forward enough. The question was "Who are you and what keeps you from your authentic self?" For the first part, the answers ranged from I'm a man to I'm an artist to I'm a Christian were shared with the group. I declined to share because I couldn't decide if I was my brain, my physical environment or God herself.

The I that is me needs to stop thinking about this stuff so much because it's not really that helpful. Things are beter when I can leave my room and simply do something. But it always feels like a monumental struggle and sometimes I just give up because I am tired of it all.

I'll be starting an internship soon. Leaving the stable housing and unstable work situation here to try something different. My counselor isn't working out and I'm not finding work but still, moving across cuntry is scary and uncertain, even though staying here is just as scary. I'm not sure if it's the right choice or the wrong choice. I've laid things out on paper, but usually these things look clearer on hindsight. I'm not terribly worried about being homeless or starving, although I am terribly worried about other people and police.

There was an incident on the bus this morning. A man, either high or slightly manic was yelling in some foreign language, gesticulating loudly. Like the polite Seattleites we all are, noone said anything. The bus driver assured us she was calling the police. The man had a bit of lucidity and apologized. She still called the police.

I felt really bad leaving the bus because I could empathise with this man. But again, I was scared too.

I took today off to watch a movie, came home and took a nap, then woke up but was afriad to leave my room because my loud roommate was out, playing his Christian music and cooking and I knew seeing him would mean a ten minute conversation about his sexual conquests, and so I stayed in my room for an hour. Finally I got the courage to leave.

I hope that I, now 33, can have some sort of courage. I'm tired of being a failure for everything. To have courage it would not be to make money and talk about sexual conquests or to be a person confined to my body, but to at least be. Even if all I do is sit in a shack in the woods, make art and hemp yogurt and sing off-key.

I, now 33.

05 April, 2013

. . .

Life goes on, doesn't it? You hope there is going to be such a big change but then you look back and see that not much has changed and that what has changed has taken great effort. Broken things stay broken, slightly mended and never the same even if fixed. That weak knee or ankle gets better, but it never is the same as it used to be. I guess one can change where you live or who you live with but that it really doesn't change much.

I read about the old councils, such as the Iroquios Confederacy and how change there rarely occured, because it wasn't needed. Our modern bureacracy can barely affect changes because they are too turgid, so while change nowadays is desperately needed, due to comfort or overly complex rules or bureacracy, change simply doesn't happen, or if change does happen, it is sometimes something superficial that doesn't address the problem you had in the first place.

One example of this: In Seattle and many of the surrounding towns, they've started to use only paper bags and charge 5 cents. This is to reduce trash, especially of plastic bags, but it was such an effort for such a small thing, I wonder what we were hoping to accomplish with it?

And was the effort worth it?

I think the humbling thing about life is just how limiting ones influence is. How even after extreme effort, not much seems to change. I worked tirelessly on weekends for a year to remove ivy and replant an acre of forest only to see a completely needless parking lot paved over the area. It was saddening and humbling, and made me wonder more than once why I was putting so much effort into something that people did not want anyway.

The future of the world is scarier than ever, at least for the human race, with the global warming and widespread pollution, the political and social apathy and disillusionment and a million other things.
The truth is, it is going to be a hard road back. Little changes like removing plastic bags aren't going to fix the core of the solution or at least not fast enough. Removing weeds won't help if we keep building parking lots and new houses and polluting.

We could keep looking for new technology, building better cars, thinking that that is the solution, but what are we living for anyway?