Posts Tagged ‘life’

A Moving Meditation on Gratitude

I did not want to get out of bed on Monday morning. The clouds were thick and heavy with snow. The extra heater in my room had kicked on which meant the air was cold while I was perfectly snug under my four blankets and pile of pillows. It was Monday, which meant work was going to be nuts. It was Monday, which meant I needed to get rolling extra early to get to tai chi. Did I really want to go to tai chi? Was it worth it?

The clouds had started dropping their snowy burden by the time I hit the road. I was even going to be on time for once! When I got to the community center for class, there was chaos on the roof. From what I could see, they were putting on a new roof. In December. In Maine. In the snow.

The room was chilly as we were getting started, but the gentle movements kept us warmish. Among my classmates were an incredibly elegant woman, the woman I’d like to be at 90, and the woman I’m likely to be at 70. The group is cheerful and focused even as the room doesn’t warm up. The heater was broken, apparently. We all kept our sweaters and vests on and our rest breaks were shorter than usual.

I butted heads a bit with the instructor trying to determine whether the hips and shoulders move simultaneously or one leads and the other follows. She ended up telling me it was a beginner class and I really needed to ask that in a continuing- level class. Although she did suggest I learn a few more moves before I level up.

On the commute down to work, I found myself surprisingly grateful. I suspect those roofers make more than I do, at least I hope they do given their work conditions, but I have the skills/training/talent that if I end up with an outdoor job it will be by choice, not necessity. I was chilly in class, but I do have proper layers to wear and I know how to wear them making a cold building no reason to skip class. I’m grateful for all of those people who have trained me well enough in my physical pursuits that I can ask beyond-beginner questions in a new pursuit. I’m grateful I can touch my toes and square my hips over the correct foot. I’m grateful for the current instructor that takes it pretty well in stride when I’m being a pest.

I’m grateful that I have a warm bed and a backup heater. I’m also grateful that I know how to handle waking up in a cold room. Moving fast is key. I’m not sure I’m grateful for the job, but the paycheck makes reaching my goals more possible than not having a paycheck at this point in time.

I’m not always as aware of how good I have it as I maybe could be, but I was on Monday. It turned out, tai chi was totally worth it.

Regaining My Power: Success?

To live an average middle-class life it costs a family about $130,000 per year. To afford a two-bedroom apartment in Maine, a worker needs to be making at least $18.05 per hour. Nationally, to afford a one bedroom apartment, a worker needs to be making at least $15.50 per hour. Remember these numbers.

In the last few months I was offered and accepted a permanent position with a company. Like many similar companies, they do temp-to-hire most of the time which means that for 90(ish) days, their new employees are without insurance or job stability. It’s a 90-day interview. I like the company, they like me. Now that I’m a “real” employee I have insurance and paid vacation along with the limited job security one gets these days. They are proud to be offering competitive wages. I’ve certainly seen worse for similar jobs, though I have heard of better in the area.

I am making $14.00 per hour. Please refer to paragraph #1.

The solution to this, of course, is to “get a better job.” The problem is that this is a “better job.” I’m not flipping burgers, here. (The fact that burger-flippers deserve a living wage, too, is a discussion for another day.) This job doesn’t require a college degree to do the work but good luck getting an interview if you don’t have either a degree or a fair amount of work experience. It’s an office job where I get to be in a temperature-controlled environment and stare at multiple computer monitors all day long. This is supposed to be a job to strive for.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not about this particular company twisting the screws on us poor workers. I believe that they genuinely believe they’re doing well enough by their workers with what they offer. I’m not silly enough to ask them to do well by their workers at such an insignificant level as the literal interface between the customers and the company, but I think they are earnest in doing well enough. The problem is the paradigm in which a company can earnestly offer wages that are competitive in the local economy yet still offer too little to allow them to afford a one-bedroom apartment.

This, of course, leads into my current personal struggle. I have had a job, mostly full time, for pretty much my entire adult life. I have not had a minimum wage job since I was shelving books at the library at 16. When I wasn’t employed, I was living off of my own money, such as it was. Since I sold my last horse, I have no outrageous spending habits to support. Yet, despite all of that, I am living in my parents house because it wouldn’t have been long before I was homeless if I hadn’t moved here.

I have a “better job,” and I have future prospects at the company, provided they don’t take offense at this post. Somehow I’m supposed to be grateful for this opportunity. But grateful for what? For another 30 to 50 years of mostly getting by, hopefully, while someone else gets rich off of my work? A coworker is making now what they were making the year I was born, so in 30 years I may still be making $14.00. If I’m not doing it at this job, it’s not like any other “better job” would offer me another option. My supervisor was kind enough to tell us permanent hires that they’re always watching us; it’s like every day is an interview. She said it very sweetly, she’s very sweet, but the very idea of 40+ hours worth of interview each week is rather exhausting. She’s right, though. There’s no such thing as getting a job and being sure to keep it as long as you don’t do anything really, truly heinous.

I have achieved success. I have a job that will almost pay my bills and firing me out of hand is slightly harder than when I was a temp. I have health insurance whose deductible is only two weeks worth of pay before it kicks in (that’s the pay before I cover silly things like food and rent). I have the opportunity to reach up into middle management.

Could someone remind me why I’m playing this game again? I’ve forgotten.

On Raccoons and Reality

IMG_6927As you know, I have chickens. I have them for eggs, meat, entertainment, learning, and just a little dependence taken away from The Man. This spring I got more layers, turkeys, and some meat birds to expand my flock. For the layers, I got ones that lay cool egg colors. The meat birds were to see if I could butcher them myself.


Then the verb for my chicken keeping became had.


Here’s the thing — I could blame the raccoons. I could get angry or weepy and then go out and trap and shoot every last one of ’em. Technically that’s not legal until October, but I doubt any of the neighbors would complain. Then I could go out and trap and shoot all of their relatives that wander onto our property. Then I could trap and shoot all of their relatives that expand into my territory. It’s mine, after all (more or less), so I get to decide what’s allowed!

Or — I could look at it through the lens of reality. Despite their reputations and super-villain masks, raccoons are not evil. In fact, I suspect that they are thoroughly amoral like the rest of the natural world. They didn’t go after my birds because they wanted to hurt me or push my healing back or so they could cackle with malicious glee when I came out to see the death and destruction. They killed my birds because I left delicious, easy food that couldn’t fight back in non-raccoon-proof containers. Er, coops. That’s all. That’s reality.


I’ve been wrestling with an idea for a while and this situation helped me to define it. See, there’s the reality we’re sold and then there’s real reality. They aren’t the same.

Sold reality: Getting chickens is great for your health, encouraging exercise, fresh air, and laughter (have you ever seen a chicken run?). I’m taking business away from those awful factory farms and I’m doing my part to bring food knowledge back to The People. Maybe I can even start my own business with it. It’s happy and shiny and so Martha Stewarty!

Real reality: I accepted responsibility for animals that would find it difficult at best to survive in Maine without human intervention for a lot of reasons. Food and shelter from the elements were handled well. The massive amount of wildlife was ignored despite several warning shots. Also, egg businesses? They rarely so much as break even.

Now, I had a lot of excuses for not taking the threats more seriously. I may even have one or two legitimate reasons.

Raccoons and reality really don’t care.

This also extends far beyond fresh eggs and masked murdering bandits. This extends into every aspect of our lives, every decision we make.

My butt is dragging so hard on the way to work and I forgot to bring my mug to put coffee in. One plastic to-go cup won’t actually do any harm, right?

Raccoons, reality, and the Pacific Gyre don’t care.

I have to have a job to pay my debts and maybe, eventually, I’ll even get to pay rent again. The only jobs I can do are a 40-mile car ride each way. I gotta pay my bills.

Raccoons, reality, and atmospheric CO2 levels don’t care.

I need clothes. Not only are natural fibers out of my budget range, they’re such a pain to take care of. A few cheap, polyester outfits isn’t the end of the world.

Raccoons, reality, and the plastic we’re drinking don’t care.

I am not going to end this post with how we all need to go vegan and minimalist and if we hold hands and sing Kumbaya loud enough it’ll all work out in the end. I don’t know how to fix this. What I do know is that if we don’t become aware of the clash between the realities and do something to bring them back in alignment, real reality will win. It will win with extreme prejudice. That’s how reality works.

I also know that the first time a raccoon tries to get through the fencing with my new electric charger attached, I’ll be thrilled to report what to do with BBQ coon.

Finding My Power: Day 500

IMG_6836This is day 500 of my 1,000 Day Project. My jade plant and I aren’t exactly exploding with growth in our current habitat, but we’re working on it. I have a new job that lets me see my chickens while the sun’s up and the jade tree is putting out some new leaves. I think the jade plant is doing alright with her life goals, but mine need some tweaking.

When I started this project, I set some pretty big, poorly defined goals. In 1,000 days I would have a viable farm. After 500 I would have a life worth living. What does that even mean? I am in a better mental and emotional shape than I was 500 days ago, but I’m hardly living the dream. In fact, I feel like I’ve made more progress on the viable farm thing- 5 of my 8 birds are laying, my worms aren’t thriving, but they aren’t dead yet, and my turkeys were hits as the guests of honor at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I even have vague plans for increasing my flocks this spring and my beehives are sitting in my room waiting to be assembled. I’ve learned things, too- ducks get eaten when the coop ramp is too steep and ginger is really hard to grow when the house is kept at sweater temperature.

So why have I made more progress on the goal that’s further out and, from the outside at least, ought to be a harder goal? A life worth living? It’s all internal- easy! Just make up your mind and do it! Farming? Just the housing alone is giving me headaches and wallet cramps. The problem seems to be that to live the dream, one must first define said dream. It gets worse when one realizes the standard parameters used to deliniate such dreams don’t seem to quite fit, either. I don’t want a mansion, I don’t want to loll about on white sand beaches sipping overpriced daqueries. I don’t want a corner office or a Fendi bag. (Yes, I had to google Fendi to make sure it was a bag brand.) So what do I want?

I . . . don’t know.

I also don’t think I’m the only person in my general age range that has this problem.

I have leftover wisps and scraps of dreams I used to have, but none of them seem to fit any more. Is that because the dreams are wrong, or because I’ve contorted myself so hard to meet outside expectations that I no longer fit what’s right? For example- I have the ability to dress in a way that is totally suitable for and non-offensive to a conservative corporate office in Maryland, a dressage show, an organic farm in Colorado, a dancesport competition, a small-piece assembly job in Maine, or going out to a club. But now that I have a new job and a touch more cash to rebuild my own wardrobe- I have discovered that I have absolutely no idea what my style is. I no longer have the pieces, but I know the rules to pull off each of the above styles more or less successfully. But when I have the chance to put together something that makes me happy . . . I find myself slapping my own wrist over choices that I think others will think are wrong. How am I supposed to make major, against-the-grain, life-altering decisions when I can’t even muster the ovarios to wear the leopard-print blazer that I got for a song at Goodwill? It even looks good on me!

So the next 125 days will be all about me. Daring to wear that blazer. Chucking (donating) those shirts that are functional and make me cringe. Asking myself real questions and NOT editing the answers. I’m a “smart” person, so enjoying really dirty, physical pursuits is supposed to be “beneath” me. According to who? Do I believe it?I have spent an excess of time in politically and religiously conservative places. I’ve managed to shed some of the baggage they gave me, but how is this still defining me? Do I really want that pair of sleek black heels, or am I just trying to look “normal?”

This is not about pampering and cushy “me time.” This is not about self-absorbed navel-gazing to the exclusion of all else. If I do this right, a lot of the next 125 days have the potential to be quite uncomfortable. After all, do I really want to know how far I’ve wandered off my own path? It’s also not about self-flagellation for being swept up in the culture whether it meshed with me or not. It’s about figuring out what matters to me so I can go about rerouting my path back to the right fit rather than a convenient, conventional one.

I read this post a while ago, and it’s been rattling around in my head since then. What I’m after is the self knowledge work that is the equivalent to the self care of paying your bills. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy reading the books I know I like and daydreaming about one day I’ll get to . . . in order to protect myself. But in doing so I’ve shied away from the hard, uncomfortable, possibly painful work that would give me the ability to rather than avoid the things that chip away at who I am, to instead be able to let them roll off my back. I can keep making myself smaller, less offensive, and more fragile, or I can figure out who I am so when someone says “You’re this,” I can say yes or no with actual confidence.