Category Archives: Knowledge

Even in the Pain There is Beauty

There are times, so many times, when it seems like there couldn’t possibly be another thing you could handle. No possible way you could deal with anything else.

And then life hands you another lemon (or whatever vague analogy you’d prefer to use) and you’re faced with the requirement of dealing with that too.

There are people who will tell you stories about how when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Or that when one door closes, another opens.

These are cute inspirational sayings but I won’t insult you with such simplicities. Sure, sayings such as these can sometimes help to uplift us.

But sometimes, life just sucks. And there isn’t necessarily any good reason why. Or any reason at all.

I can’t tell you why some people seem to constantly have bad things happen to them. Really I can’t tell you anything.

Because I don’t know.

I think a lot… about everything. One concept I inevitably come back to is that of reality.

What is real? How do you define real? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasyyyyy? (Sorry, sometimes I can’t help but fall into lyrics).

Reality is constructed, by those around us and ourselves. And what you believe, externally and internally, to be true is what’s real for you.

As someone who helps construct reality (and so MANY things in this world), you do have some say in how you construct your beliefs and perspective.

Bad shit isn’t going to stop happening because you have this knowledge, but this knowledge can allow you to alter your perceptive of said bad shit in the context of your life.

We can’t predict the future and we can’t control it. Neither can we control the past. Whatever you focus on is what life is for you at any given moment. Focus on the negatives in your life and that’s what your life is for you. Focus on worries, that’s what your life is. Focus on gratitude and positives and, yep, that’s what your life is for you.

It’s so difficult to not solely focus on the negatives when there are so many presented to you.

Like when your kid is sick and you have to miss school to stay home with them and your car breaks down so you can’t even make the doctor’s appointment you were lucky to get — this is when life seems overwhelmingly horrible.

Or like when your relationship with someone is stressed and you’ve been trying to deal with their addiction while remaining detached enough not to get hurt, but also attached enough to still care and you just can’t save them. Because you can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved and slowly you watch them change from the person you loved the most into the saddest stranger you’ve ever seen.

You start stacking all of these negative things, overlapping one another, and you’re stretching yourself out to continue at the same, or higher, level of productivity for an endless period of time. It’s difficult to see life as anything but negative.

But if you looked back at your horrible day or week or year, really look, you’ll see that there is likely positive things as well. The day your car broke down and your child was sick allowed you moments with your child that you both enjoyed and may seldom get to have. Even in the really painful moments there are spaces of positivity. If anything, there is growth and beauty in pain if we allow there to be.

So yes, shit sucks. But you do the best you can with what you have in this moment and you continue to work on improving yourself. People aren’t perfect. Life sure as hell isn’t perfect. You just keep moving forward, getting through each day. And as the Monty Python song goes, “Always look on the bright side of life…”

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Is There a Bigger Picture?

Recently it seems wherever I go there are people having a tough time. Having difficulty making ends meet, finding jobs, paying for all the expenses that somehow creep up at the worst possible times. Struggling with sicknesses, addictions, chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, deep depression and other mental illnesses.

People are working their asses off at jobs they don’t enjoy, that they aren’t appreciated in or compensated for. Racking up large debts to pay for secondary educations with the foresight that there may not be careers available to them when they graduate.

Parents who are stressed out from all of these things and still need to find a way to hold it together to be the moms and dads their children not only require but also deserve. Losses of jobs and houses, and lifestyles and dreams. Losses of people, expected and unexpected, but felt just the same.

Religious arguments and politics. Social injustice. Internal feelings of inadequacy; of lacking. And an overwhelming feeling of despair and disappointment.

It all leads to, let’s be honest, feeling like shit. Feeling like the world is on your back. That bad things just keep happening and will just keep happening. That no matter what you do, it isn’t enough. It will never be enough. It might make you start questioning what the “bigger picture is.”

Is there a bigger picture? What is the point of all of this? And will it ever get any better?

I can tell you this, I don’t have the answers and I won’t try and act like I do.

Or rather, I don’t have the answers for you.

However, I have found the answers for me. Right now. In this moment.

Is there a bigger picture?

Do you want there to be? You are the captain of your life, whether you feel like it or not. In this moment, the bigger picture for me is this: Much of life has been beyond difficult, filled with trauma and tribulations and shit stacked so high against me that at many points I couldn’t see around it.

To be honest, my current life isn’t really any less difficult than it has ever been. But the bigger picture, for me, is that I can’t see having gone through all that I have and survived to just let my life be wasted. For me, the bigger picture is a trap. Looking too far in the future (or the past) blinds me from looking right here in the present, which is the only place I am truly capable of being in.

What is the point of all of this?

You know, I’ve mulled this question over since I was, at minimum, 15 years old. I haven’t ever come up with a definitive answer mainly because there isn’t one. There is no one answer to this question. The point of “all this” is whatever you want it to be.

Do you want to be the wealthiest person in the US? In the world? Do you want to discover an unknown entity or invent the world’s next innovation? Do you want to be the best parent you can be to your children? Do you want to be happy?

The meaning of life is vastly different for each person. For me, in this moment, the point of “all this” is to do the best I can. Right now. With the knowledge and resources and abilities that I have right now. And if tonight when I go to bed I realize that the day didn’t go as I had hoped or planned or even liked, well then tomorrow I will get up and try again.

Will it ever get any better?

At various times throughout my life I have been in places that, regardless of what anyone said to me, I would argue that no, it will never get better. I could point to the current place I was in (which was horrible). I could point to every past place of agony and depression and anger and despair. As if to showcase my evidence of how much everything is shit and always was shit and always will be shit. But, you know what?, complaining and arguing about how much my life sucked didn’t do anything other than allowing myself to sink down into it even more.

So, right here and right now, let’s lay it out. Life sucks. Life is hard and sometimes it seems like horrible things will never stop happening to us. Fair assessment?

Now let it go. Really. Putting the majority of your attention on all the things that are shitty, it doesn’t help you. While you’re busy getting stressed and upset about all the things that, right now in this moment, you can’t change you are missing out on all the wonderful things that are right there.

Sometimes all you can do is keep moving. Just keep waking up and doing the best you can. Just keep swimming as it were, like the fish in Finding Nemo.

Sometimes you need to change your perspective. To acknowledge the bad and let it go. To choose to focus on the positive things you do have in your life. To be grateful.

Are bad things going to keep happening? Yes. And good things too.

Stop PIPA / SOPA

To start, check out Wikipedia.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

As you can see, Wikipedia has “blacked out” their US site for 24 hours. Many other sites are participating in a full black out of their content or symbolically blacking out portions of their sites (such as WordPress.com).

But why?

To bring attention to two bills currently making their way through Congress — PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) and Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

As someone who utilizes the internet daily in many ways, especially in expanding my knowledge and developing my creativity, I am opposed to these bills and the implications they have.

I urge you to learn more about PIPA and SOPA and contact Congress to oppose the legislation.

PROTECT-IP is a bill that has been introduced in the Senate and the House and is moving quickly through Congress. It gives the government and corporations the ability to censor the net, in the name of protecting “creativity”. The law would let the government or corporations censor entire sites– they just have to convince a judge that the site is “dedicated to copyright infringement.”

fightforthefuture.org

Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business.

Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.

google.com

Tell Congress not to censor the internet NOW!

http://www.fightforthefuture.org/pipa

https://www.google.com/landing/takeaction/

http://stopthewall.us/

I Walk Down The Street

Many years ago in my life I was in a situation that I didn’t like. I was a teenager, struggling not only with being a teenager but also with some serious mental health issues. I remember at the time feeling like I was doing everything I could and being extremely frustrated that, despite my efforts, my life did not change.

At some point during this time period I was given this poem:

I think the first time I was given it, I didn’t even read it. I was given this poem on several other occasions as a teenager. Eventually I read it but, seriously?, this person is stupid! Just don’t walk into the hole, right?

Later, as an adult, still struggling with many of the same issues that plagued me as a teenager, I was again given this poem.

Reading it, I understood that the person in the poem wasn’t actually walking into a hole in the sidewalk. It was a metaphor. And it made a lot of sense.

The title of the poem, “Autobiography in Five Chapters” is aptly named. I won’t dissect the poem because, like most poetry, each person interprets it in their own way. However, I will discuss the implications to change.

Change really centers on a few things. First, we must realize that there are things that we cannot change and that we have no control over. Next, we must be aware of our own actions and behaviors and acknowledge them as our own choices and responsibility. And last, we must desire and have the courage to make different choices.

It’s obviously an over simplified description of a life-long, complex process. As a teenager I viewed my life much as the second verse in the poem. I continually made the same choices and was surprised that I was in the same place. It simply wasn’t my fault.

With time and a lot of effort to be more aware of my choices and responsibility for those choices, I shifted into a viewpoint somewhere in between the third and fourth verses in the poem. I made the same choices and ended up in the same place, but I wasn’t surprised anymore and I knew how I had gotten there. Eventually I was able to avoid the choices I had made out of habit. And by doing so avoided the outcome.

At present, I’m very much present in the fifth verse of the poem. I’m making new and more aware choices. I realize that those choices are mine to make and, if I don’t like their outcomes, I am always free to make a different choice.

There are parts of life that are out of our control, that we cannot choose and we cannot change. But the majority of our lives and things come directly from choices that we ourselves make. We are in control of those choices and any change we wish to make for ourselves. So often we lose sight of all the choices we (unconsciously) make and all the choices we can make, by focusing too greatly on the few we cannot.

Someone once told me that there are always choices, and they were right. It’s your life. It’s your choice.

The “First” Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving Americans across the nation gather with family and friends. Huge, multiple course feasts are prepared, with all the fixings and favorites. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potato pie. Cranberry sauce. Corn. Green bean casserole. Corn bread. And finishing with desert (if we have any room left in our stomachs!). We give thanks and rejoice at the bounty we have before us.

There’s traditions in each family around Thanksgiving. Special dishes of food. Perhaps viewing the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Or a football game. These traditions are special to each gathering, to each group of people. We take comfort and joy on this day as we reflect on what we are thankful and grateful for.

This aspect of Thanksgiving, of being mindful and aware of our gratitude, is one I support and enjoy. I have much to be thankful for. However, the myth of Thanksgiving is something I strongly disagree with and that I find upsetting. Especially as it’s taught in our public schools.

I wrote about my disdain on how Columbus Day is perceived and taught earlier this year. I am equally appalled by how Thanksgiving is presented, especially in schools.

My oldest daughter, Z,  is in 2nd grade and for the last three years I have needed to “re-teach” her about Thanksgiving. This year she told me her teacher had read the class a book about the Pilgrims coming to America and how the Indians helped them. She told me about “the first Thanksgiving” where the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down and shared dinner on that day. In 1st grade she shared a similar story with me that she had learned in school. And in Kindergarten, she brought home a photocopied book she had made, the first few pages are shown below.

Looks real peaceful. Smiling Pilgrims with a gun and a solemn Native American.


So… what’s so wrong with any of this? Why am I upset over it? Honestly, I’m upset and saddened because what I was taught in school as a child, and what is apparently still being taught to my daughter, isn’t true. When I mentioned to Z this year that what her teacher read the class was a nice story, she defended the story of the first Thanksgiving by telling me that it really happened.

It didn’t. The story of the first Thanksgiving that we have been told is a myth. A legend.  The idea of Pilgrims and “Indians” sharing a peaceful meal is entirely fabricated.  There were many days of thanksgiving, both amongst the Pilgrims and in Native American tradition and these were celebrations of a successful harvest season. Much more of the myth is, well, myth, right down to what the Pilgrims and Native Americans wore or ate.

There’s also many omitted details. Such as  in 1637, when the day of Thanksgiving was a celebration of the return of Pilgrim men who had traveled to Mystic, Connecticut and fought against the Pequot tribe resulting in the deaths of 700+ Pequot people. Or of Pilgrims robbing the graves of  the Wampanoag tribe and stealing their food (information that comes from a Pilgrim’s account of the first year). Rather than these events being altered, they are entirely left out.

My dismay over the Thanksgiving story as it is currently presented isn’t solely based on the omissions on how Native Americans were treated. Or the stereotyped construction of Native Americans being primitive and dumb. It isn’t from the way Pilgrims are presented either, as pure models on which to base our selves. My dismay is that we are teaching our children (and adults) that this story is truth. That the story that has been constructed as the first Thanksgiving is history.

Why do we teach false history? If the idea of the thanksgiving tradition is important somehow, then why don’t we frame it as a tradition? Why don’t we frame it as a story? When we frame it as, “this happened” we aren’t teaching our children anything worthwhile. James W. Loewen wrote in his novel Lies My Teacher Told Me that, “The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history. If textbook authors feel compelled to give moral instruction… they could accomplish this by allowing students to learn both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ sides of the Pilgrim tale. Conflict would then become part of the story, and students might discover the knowledge they gain has implications for their lives today.” (p 97)

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

History should allow us to learn from it. It’s my hope to raise two confident, intelligent children with the capacity to critically think and examine what is presented to them. And to be able to decide what is truthful based on their own exploration of such, not blindly believing what they are taught or told. It isn’t only the past history of our nation that we are misinformed on. The events that are currently happening in our nation are often misconstrued, censored and even hidden — by the media, by those in power and by the overwhelming fact that most of us aren’t even aware. Try googling ‘UC Davis Pepper Spray’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and see how aware you are of the events happening right now, in our nation.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the teachers and people in my life who taught me to critically think, to question, to examine and seek out the truth in everything.

Focus on Success

Some days are filled with frustration. With waiting. With anger. With lack of movement. With lack of change.

Some days, despite our best efforts, we don’t receive the things we need and require. We don’t accomplish the goals we set out to reach.

And we don’t hear the words we need to hear.

On some days, this is due to our own inability to hear them. Those around us are speaking words of praise, acknowledging our accomplishments and our successes. Providing support and encouragement in continuing to succeed and offering constructive criticism in an effort to encourage our growth in those areas. On some days, we are lost in our own minds, our focus elsewhere, and we do not hear all the positive feedback that we receive.

On other days, there is no one speaking words of praise. On these days we must speak praise to ourselves. We must acknowledge our own accomplishments and successes, encouraging ourselves to continue moving forward in our goals. On these days we must be patient with ourselves and realize that despite the lack of outside support and encouragement, we are doing a “good job.” We are doing the best we can and we will continue to do better. We must be kind to ourselves and speak positively of our accomplishments, noticing our strengths and weaknesses while weighing them equally.

At times I become frustrated as I continue to look for praise & approval from those who have never given me such. From those who continually choose to overlook my strengths and instead focus on my weaknesses.  I am not perfect. Neither are you or anyone else. We all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. To focus solely on either, in ourselves and others, is neither kind or productive.

We must try to focus on the strengths in ourselves and others.  Constantly receiving negative feedback (about our weaknesses, our failures, our mistakes) while neglecting any positive feedback (about our successes, our accomplishments) doesn’t make us feel good — whether the talk is coming from another person or ourselves. A focus primarily on negatives (even if the goal is improvement) brings our thoughts to “I-can’t-do-it” and provides supporting examples of such beliefs.

Identifying and acknowledging strengths provides a foundation on which we can build on. A focus primarily on strengths provides examples of times we have been successful, allows us to examine how we were able to succeed and empowers us by identifying methods that have previously resulted in success.

I know when I’m told that I’m, “doing a good job” I tend to not believe such. What does “doing a good job” mean? How is it defined? Statements like that are generic and don’t provide any supporting “evidence” that I, or anyone else, really did a good job. In acknowledging success we must be specific. For example, “You did a good job at setting the table. You really paid close attention to where the forks needed to be placed.” Not only did I offer praise but I gave focus to a specific aspect of success and used “you” statements to show objectiveness, rather than “I feel…” or “I think…” statements, which show my subjective view.

We could all benefit from an increased focus on strengths. While there is a space and time for constructive criticism, we as people also need to hear what we are doing well. We need to hear praise and acknowledgement of our accomplishments. We need to hear support and encouragement. We need to hear these things from ourselves but we also need to hear them from those around us.

Can we try to not only focus on the positives, but also communicate them – to others and to ourselves? I truly believe that we are all doing the best we can in this moment, given the knowledge, resources and support we currently have. Let’s tell those around us that we see the accomplishments they’re making and the things they are doing well. Let’s help them build their foundation for continued success and build upon our own in the process.

#ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Across the country (and even over seas!) young mothers are uniting in a discussion on a common topic – their experiences as a young parent. The hash tag #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear was started by blogger and former teen mom, Natasha Vianna about her frustration with comments made to young mothers. You can read more about how and why #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear started in Natasha’s blog post at the PushBack.

Clearly Natasha struck a chord with other current and former young moms, who have utilized the hash tag and shared their own frustrations and experiences. As a former young mom, I too joined in on the discussion. I was 19 years old when my first daughter was born and by 23 I had two daughters. The stares I received and the comments people have felt the need to share with me have, at times, been appalling.

Shortly after leaving my abusive, dead-beat boyfriend I was at my postpartum check up. My beautiful 6-week old daughter was sleeping in her car seat, as I sat in the waiting room filling out papers.  Two middle-age ladies who were sitting near by “whispered” to one other about how I was, “Just another one of those girls.”  It sadly wasn’t the first nor the last negative comment I have heard.

You’re doing a good job… for a young parent (& why is that surprising?)

Why didn’t you marry your [abusive] baby’s father?

Your life held such potential [it still does]

Really? You have two kids?

Its irresponsible of you to want your own identity and interests

 How unfair that teens are having babies when there are couples who are unable to conceive [no correlation]

I was fortunate to connect with a young mom group in my area at that time called MELD. Once a week several other young moms, myself and our children would meet. For the first hour we shared dinner with one another and our children. Afterwards our kids would be watched by volunteers and the remaining time would be split between sharing and education. As we shared our experiences with one another, there seemed to be an endless supply of rude, appalling things we were being told.  Though I have graduated from the group, I still keep in contact with most of the moms. I have also made amazing, supportive friendships with many young parents online.

Despite assumptions and stereotypes placed on young mothers, we are succeeding. I’ve completed a college degree and am working on a second one to become a social worker (working with young parents and their children). I’m a member of my school’s honor society and my GPA is a 3.549. My young mom friends have also graduated high school and gone to college.

As Katie of A Girl Like Me blogs: “We’re not all on welfare, and we’re not all party animals or sluts or druggies like the girls who give the rest of us a bad name. We love and take care of our kids just as much as ‘normal’ aged mothers do. We’re still intelligent and productive members of society. We grow up with our kids, and I feel like we learn more life lessons that way. The young moms I know are some of the wisest people in my life.”

Natasha Vianna blogs that, “Hearing the success stories of young moms can sometimes anger people even more. If we’re not falling into the ‘stereotype’ and have made something of our lives, we are told we are still a bad example! We are told we are promoting the concept of becoming a teen mom. When we fail, we get the ‘I told you so!”

The stereotyping and judgments placed on young parents is appalling and damaging to their success and the success of their children. General assumptions, such as the ones shared on #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear can be truly damaging. We are empowered by speaking out and sharing our experiences as young moms. I encourage all young moms, current and former, to join in the  conversation on twitter #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear