May 01, 2014

Homeless 15: Terror by Night and Day

In response to a comment I made, a friend asked me yesterday in some shock if I was afraid of them. The question staggered me to a point that I've spent most of the time since sorting out why, and I have finally sussed out the reason that it rattled me so: I was astonished that the person even had to ask. Of course, I'm afraid of them! I'm afraid of everyone! How could this have escaped everybody's notice? And then I realized how much of my interactions with others is guided by this principle, and how unfair it is to all of you not to make you aware of this if you don't already know it. Without this key to the way my mind functions, my behavior must often seem bizarre, baffling, and infuriating. I need to rectify this. Today.

One reason it has taken me this long to start actively seeking a job again is that bosses and customers terrify me, to a PTSD flashback level. I can tear up just at the thought of facing some stranger who expects things from me, and may react harshly if I can't meet those requirements or do so in a way that does not satisfy their whims. I am afraid of everyone I've ever known. If we've met, then you terrify me. Those of you who are kind enough to consider me a friend, we are friends because I eventually came to love you enough that the love outweighed the fear, and I refused to deny myself the joy of your friendship any longer. That doesn't change the fact that I expect you to hurt me, to decide that you hate me for something about myself that you don't like, at any moment. I expect you to leave me.

You may be wondering, if all that I've just said is true, how on Earth did I end up so damaged? My fear that those I worship will suddenly become angry with me began with my father, at whose shrine I certainly always did worship as the most adoring "daddy's girl". It was a mutual admiration society that we had, and he was a kind, gentle man with a big heart. He certainly never demonstrated any violence toward me or anyone else in my presence. But he did have a temper sometimes, and I have been reliably informed that when he was younger, that temper could be dangerous to those around him. He changed dramatically when he accepted Christ, and I never knew that angry version of him, but he could still lose his temper at times, raise his voice occasionally, or demonstrate a bitingly sharp tongue. These times were what my brother and I have come to refer to as the "go silent and pretend to disappear into the backseat of the car maneuver". Since Dad's slightest hint of disapproval crushed me, his actual anger was a fearsome thing for me to behold, even though I knew intellectually that he would never harm me.

Dad mellowed as he aged, but I soon found a whole new fear of both my parents through no fault of their own, when they were each diagnosed with a fatal illness. Suddenly, the two people at the center of my life had become ticking time bombs, and I knew that when they finally died, they would carry my whole world out from under my feet with them, which they have now done. I am still rebuilding a life that doesn't center around feeling responsible for them, worrying about them, dreading and waiting for their deaths. So many people have died in my life. In my battered emotional head-space, I'm afraid of everyone I love, because everyone I love will die. I'm dating someone right now, and one reason I feel very safe in that relationship is because I know she'll be moving away soon for her job. I already know how this will end, what the worst will be, and I know within a narrow margin when it will occur. I knew going in when the patient would die. That's a luxury so rare that, having found that safety, I joyfully lose myself in it for as long as it will last.

They say you marry someone like one of your parents (which I specifically leave gender-neutral, as a member of the LGBTQ community), and I certainly married a man like my father in one major area--volatility, only much more so. Again, my ex-husband never raised a hand to anyone in my presence, but I spent a good bit of our life together worried about what innocuous comment or query of mine would annoy him and therefore draw verbal barbs with which I wasn't prepared to deal. The addition of a child only exacerbated this for me, as he was often irritated by her being a child--making too much noise, watching that same show one too many times, making a mess--and then we would get barked at, and I felt the need to protect her while at the same time feeling as if I was failing if I allowed some action of hers to annoy him. As I said, my father was such a good man, and he mellowed in the 25+ years that I knew him, but I no longer had the resources to start that process of mellowing all over again. Besides, I didn't want my daughter to have to grow up knowing when to meld herself into the backseat.

I am even afraid of my own daughter, because I fear unintentionally harming her, disappointing her, being unable to soothe her tears or meet her needs. I think every parent has these feelings, and I do manage to overcome them, because she needs me to and she comes first. But they would still be debilitating if I let them.

And of course, being homeless brought a whole new type of fear into my existence, fears for my basic needs and those of my daughter, fears for my comfort, because I am a creature of comfort when allowed to be. I won't attempt to deny it. But it also brought whole new levels of fear into my relationships. So long as you are my friend, and so long as I have to be surfing friends' couches, then you potentially hold my life in your hands at some future point. What if you become fed up with me? To whom will I turn for help until this nightmare is over? Where will I go? And if you're thinking no one would leave me stranded like that, three friends already have, one of whom was my brother. If you're NOW thinking that there must be something really wrong with me, if that many people had to throw me out, you're absolutely right. The whole point of this post is to admit that I have issues, and pull back the curtain so you can see what those issues are, in preparation for the next time that my fears drive me to unwittingly hurt or disappoint you. Still, when a friend is ready to throw you out, you become ever more fearful. I'm afraid you'll become angry enough at me to say horrible, hurtful things to me, even if that was not your initial intent. After all, my own brother reached that point with me eventually.

Most importantly, I've been stark raving terrified of God since my first conscious thoughts, because He might become angry with me and send me to Hell. So, if I'm afraid of my Sustainer, the two people who created me--one of whom carried me in her womb--the person to whom I used to make love, the child I carried in my body, and the only other person my parents ever produced, can you think of anybody that I wouldn't be afraid of? Indeed, the closer I grow to someone, the more afraid I am of them, because their power over my peace and happiness becomes ever greater.

If I've ever not responded to a phone call, a letter, a text, it wasn't because I didn't want to--it was because the fear defeated me that day. If I've ever hurt you by doing something inconsiderate, something seemingly out of character that was painful, you could probably ask me what I was afraid of and running from, and I could probably tell you without much hesitation for thought. I'm not saying any of this excuses my mistakes, nor am I asking you to like these things about me, because I don't like these things about myself. The past year has been about working on correcting these things. I am only asking for patience, and forgiveness. The mere fact that I've begun seeking work again indicates how far I've come, but I'm fighting a lifetime of habits, and I will regress.

April 28, 2014

Monday Moment 12

Yes, friends, after a brief hiatus for an action-packed week, the Monday Moment is back! And there is more exciting news--there will be several reviews forthcoming this week! But that's a story for another time.

Ah, the first stirrings of an Indiana summer...I remember them well. In order to have all that beautiful greenery, one must endure sweltering heat and 98% humidity--though the thunderstorms that are also frequently required are one of the more enjoyable aspects of the experience. But in the early days, when summer is just building up momentum, there can be few places more pleasant on Earth. Bright blue skies cover fields returning to life in mazes of new growth or riots of color. Well, you can see for yourself. This is my home.

"Wildflower Fields"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

I stopped the car on the way to work and took this one. The road goes through two very big farm fields, and these are the wild flowers ("weeds," to the farmer) that grow before they spray them and turn all of them under...kind of sad, because they made such a beautiful photo.

April 16, 2014

A Faithful Friend Retires

The past year has been an extraordinarily prolific time for me as a poet.

In the Days of Sappho
by John William Godward

Indeed, I never really would have used that word to describe myself before. Technically, since I've written poems from time to time since I was about 14, I guess it is accurate, but in my mind, poets are people who have done something with their work, published poetry and established a name for themselves thereby, even crafted at least one poem that has touched the souls of and been beloved by many, many readers. I haven't done any of that, but in March, I did submit a completed manuscript of poems to a competition for first-time authors. And throughout this spate of creativity, I have had one devoted companion.

This little friend, produced by Peter Pauper Press, has received each poem I hammered out for nearly a year. It has suffered for my art almost as much as I did, poor thing. The scribbles, the wicking, the blotches! Each one tells a tale of the exhilarating journey we've taken together, as the small journal bounced around in my book bag, my crochet satchel, and on a few memorable occasions, any pocket available.

See what I mean?!

And now, only one blank page remains between its reliable old covers. I'm proud of us both, this journal and I, but I will miss its cheerful little face. Of course, I still have to finish that last page, right? Once I have, though, a successor is already waiting in the wings. Sentiment is all very well, but there are more poems to write, and I must be ready to chase them down to the page. I think any writing worth producing is worth wrapping in the breathtaking art of Gustav Klimt.

Wish us luck!

April 14, 2014

Monday Moment 11

"...As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Genesis 8:22) (NRSV)

The winter from which we are emerging has been long and brutal, seemingly without end. In the Denver Metro area where I now live, yesterday was ruled over by a snowstorm, in April, on Palm Sunday. But this morning, the sun is shining brightly, and has swept away all before it in demonstration of Spring's slow triumph.

"Seedtime and Harvest"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

These are the first little flowers to show their faces in my sleeping flower garden. I planted these bulbs last fall, and had forgotten all about them till they poked their little heads out of the dirt. It is a nice surprise, especially since they are of my two favorite colors!

April 09, 2014

"The Fry Chronicles": A Review

The Fry Chronicles: an Autobiography
by Stephen Fry

Great Britain is a very small island, and the number of great British actors is therefore a rather smaller club than the personnel involved in the bloated machinery of Hollywood. The result, in my opinion, is that autobiographies of British performers are easier and more satisfying to read, because the cast of characters is much more manageable. A lot of American actors' biographies that I've tried simply read like a "Who's Who" of people of whom I've never heard and names that I can't possibly keep straight. I didn't really have that problem with this one.

However, the real joys here are Stephen Fry's self-deprecating humor and honesty, the quirky way in which he marshals his thoughts, and his highly readable, thoroughly enjoyable writing style. He is the first to admit in these pages that he often comes off as smug, and actually is pompous at times. Moreover, his vocabulary is a truly formidable thing; I certainly encountered new words. Taken all together, these factors make Stephen Fry an acquired taste for some, and frankly unpalatable to others, but I'm a die-hard lover of Fry, and therefore of this book.

The Fry Chronicles is the actor/author's second installment in what I hope will eventually be a multi-volume autobiographical series. The first, Moab is My Washpot, covered his childhood up to the age of 17, and this one picks up from the first, extending to the year 1987. I anxiously await the publication of the continuing story.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Fry
Signature courtesy of IIVeaa

April 08, 2014

Sound of the Soul

Image courtesy of
Scandinavia Studios and The Sights of Sounds

For April, our resident singer/songwriter, Quinn DeVeaux, has served up a tasty Bob Dylan cover for his "7th of the Month" video series. His version of "Moonshiner" strikes true for this great-granddaughter of an Appalachian moonshiner. Enjoy.

April 07, 2014

Monday Moment 10

At times, the storms of my home can be terrifying, but they are awe-inspiring, they are truly majestic, and many of us learn to love them from our early childhood. Today, our resident photographer captures that power for those who may never have seen an Indiana thunderstorm.

"Dark and Ominous"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

Here is a little bit of what's going on in Southern Indiana, with the thunderstorms moving across the unplanted spring cornfields.

March 31, 2014

Monday Moment 9

Once again, our resident photographer brings us the hope of greening and rebirth we associate with Spring, even if many of us are still waiting for them to arrive, rather than actually enjoying them.

Tiny Joys
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

This is a cardinals nest I was watching last summer out by the picnic table where I eat my lunch at work.

I am one of the greatest lovers of snow and Winter I have ever met, and still I say, Spring, come back to us! We're ready.

March 24, 2014

Clef Notes 2

Photo courtesy of
Scandinavia Studios & The Sights of Sounds

Hey, gang! Just wanted to give you a heads-up about some excellent new videos from The Beauty of Eclecticism's resident featured musician, Quinn DeVeaux, which were recently recorded at Scandinavia Studios and available on YouTube through The Sights of Sounds.

There are performances of two of Quinn's songs from the new album, Originals:
          Hey Right On
as well as two covers:
          Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
          Moonshiner (Bob Dylan)

Quinn also gave a recent in-studio interview to The Bay Bridged, a San Francisco-area source for local music and entertainment. It's a conversation with the artist, along with a couple of his songs performed live, and is featured in their Artist Spotlight series of podcasts.

With such a treasure trove of beautiful, soulful music, I hope you'll all listen, enjoy, "Like," and create some buzz.

Monday Moment 8

This Monday Moment celebrates the joys of a world being reborn from hibernation. Here's hoping we all see them soon!

"Bleeding Heart"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene
Bleeding Heart flower is one of my favorites. It only blooms in the Spring for a short time, when everything is still lush and green.

March 21, 2014

What I Hate Most is Hate

Fred Phelps died this week.

If by some miracle you have avoided hearing about the subject, Fred Phelps was the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, an organization whose web address is "godhatesfags".

As a gay woman, still struggling to find my place in a new world I entered upon coming out, I felt like working through my view of this event here on my blog. I certainly don't speak for the entire LGBTQ community, and every human being has an innate right to an opinion. I just need to state mine, to help myself process a swirl of uncomfortable emotions. You see, I am, by definition, one of the people this man hated. It's a strange feeling, the moment you realize that someone you'll never meet, a complete stranger, hated you in particular. I have stood on the fringes of various groups who experience prejudice every day of their lives, trying to be an ally, an advocate, but this may be the first time I've ever been squarely within the hated population.

Emblem of the
"mountain holiness Pentecostal"
denomination into which I was born
At the risk of sounding like the Apostle Paul in his famous "I was a Pharisee" soliloquy (Philippians 3), I'm in an unusual position, because I was born and raised a Pentecostal, the daughter of a rural Hoosier Pentecostal preacher. I had a "conversion experience" at the tender age of 4, because I had heard my father preach that if I died without having done so, I would go to Hell. I have loved Jesus all my life, even though I was also afraid of Him. I was not only taught that homosexuality was its own special form of evil, but also firmly believed it for 30 years, which naturally led to a fascinating form of self-loathing, as I've known since I was 3 that I was attracted to both men and women, and more often to the latter. I may not have hated gays as people, but I certainly hated the concept, and felt disgusted with myself.

Fred Phelps doesn't anger me. His legacy of hate doesn't infuriate me. The whole thing makes me horribly sad. Seeing people virulently hate him back makes me sad. Hearing people say they hope he is burning in Hell makes me sad. Hasn't there been enough of wishing people Hellfire? Isn't that the point of this travesty? Fred Phelps hated because he was terrified, of a God he never understood, of what his country would become if behaviors that frightened him became accepted. I've been Fred Phelps, or more accurately, I've been all those little kids I see in pictures of Westboro protesters, getting indoctrinated before they can possibly understand the issue in question, holding signs proclaiming that the God who called Himself love, hates people He created. I was that child. I say, enough hate, toward those who disagree with us, toward those who dislike us for who we are, towards ourselves.

This is compassion lived. And it was lived for everyone. No exceptions.

Photo by Sailko

March 19, 2014

Homeless 14: Voices in the Wilderness

Flag of the State of Colorado

I've been a bit quieter in the blogosphere lately, because I lost about a week to another flare-up of toothache in that poor, beleaguered tooth that is crying out for a root canal. Now that I can once again limp along on over-the-counter painkillers, instead of stupefying narcotics, allow me to give you a truly astonishing update: the state of Colorado has experienced an extraordinary moment of clarity. God willing, this trend will spread.

Remember my first post about this needed root canal, when I explained that Medicaid refuses to cover the procedure? Permit me a brief quote.

The American public could be saved untold millions of dollars every year if Medicaid and Medicare covered conditions that were still mild and as yet easily treatable, but our governmental guidelines define catching and treating a condition early as simply "elective" procedures.

At the federal level, nothing about this statement has changed. I firmly believe that we will see gay marriage as an uncontested, nation-wide policy before "fiscal conservatives" in government realize the fundamental flaw in current Medicaid and Medicare logic. However, the states are permitted to add any coverage they wish to their Medicaid programs, so long as they maintain the federal minimums. Let's hear it for the Colorado legislature! Several years ago, the Colorado Health Foundation provided them with facts about preventive care, and they have begun to listen. A quote from the CHF study:

The research is clear: investing in evidence-based public health programs could substantially reduce health care costs in Colorado. One study estimates that an annual investment of $10 per Coloradan in community-based prevention initiatives could save more than $232 million annually in health care costs after five years...  . 

Beginning April 1, Colorado Medicaid will be providing funding for preventive dental procedures, including *drum roll* ROOT CANALS! I still have to wait and see if I'm deemed eligible for the expanded benefits, and then whether or not my individual case with this tooth is approved. But I'm one step closer to saving my tooth, and for a few minutes, my faith in humanity is bolstered. I watched my parents die slow, torturous deaths because they could not do the things that their doctors recommended to prevent their deterioration; they had to wait until each new problem developed, and then simply have it treated, while we screamed as voices in the wilderness, "This is costing the tax-payers much MORE money!" without ever being heard. Indiana still doesn't hear that voice of reason. Thank God, Colorado has begun listening.

March 17, 2014

Monday Moment 7

In its many variations and convolutions, the Ohio River dominates the contours of my home. Our entire region is simply one of its attributes, another feature of a natural inhabitant that provided sustenance and transport in days gone by. We are "the Ohio River Valley," a beautiful place where allergy sufferers go to slowly, miserably die. Despite its pollen-heavy air, I love it.

"River and Sky"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

I was sitting in a riverside café on the Ohio River and this is what floated past the window. This is a little town called Magnet, Indiana, so named because the river currents used to push the boats on to the opposite bank like they were attracted with a huge magnet.

March 14, 2014

Homeless 13.5: And on the third day...

In my previous post--the writing of which was a harrowing experience--I predicted that it would take me 72 hours to pull out of the siege of panic I was under at that moment. By now, I know this pattern pretty well. Nothing about those three days was fun, but it's nice to have it confirmed for me that my instincts are good, and that 3 days is about standard now. It used to take about 2 weeks. This is definite improvement of my own mental abilities to fight back, and in the long-term recovery from my traumas.


You read Day 1 in real time--shear, unmitigated, relentless terror. Going to bed at the end of it is the best that Day 1 gets.


I wake up dreading a repeat of Day 1, but reminding myself all the while that dreading panic is the surest method to experience it. As a certain level of normalcy returns, this is the point at which the frustration really sets in, the fury at never knowing for certain what set me off. Mental wellness is a constant patchwork of bits that all have to be working at once in order to maintain stability. Are my meds out of balance? Is my potassium low again? Is my glucose (blood sugar) level far enough out of alignment to have triggered this? What's the date today--is an anniversary of a traumatic event coming up, or just passed? (You'd be astonished how often this factor is all it takes to explain an episode. This case, however, was an exception.) But the frustration doesn't help, either; it alone can exacerbate things, so let's get back to the business at hand. Watch how you're breathing, Jennifer. Yep, as I expected, you're taking quick, shallow breaths. Wonder how many days I've been doing that? I often don't realize, until the panic is upon me, that I've been anxious for some time, growing more and more fearful without consciously realizing it because fear is my normal state. Exercise your mind, Jennifer; force yourself to calm down, to recognize that there is no new threat, to choose peacefulness. All day long.


Light through yonder end of tunnel breaks. My rate of breathing has returned to a healthier state, and with it my adrenaline-crazed fight-or-flight instinct. I can feel panic at the edges of my consciousness; I know where to find it if I wanted to experience it again, but I'm back in some illusory control. My psychiatrist says that every panic episode is a chance to exercise, to practice these mental skills, to keep them sharp and in readiness. In other words, we've reached the "maintenance level," the point at which you know what to do when you get temporarily debilitated. And for many of us, folks, that's as good as it will ever be again. I live and I deal. But my body will never un-learn how to have panic attacks for no obvious reason. I did it, again, and each time helps me grow a little stronger. Now, if I just didn't have to do it at all...

March 11, 2014

Homeless 13: How I Got Here

Horrible nausea.

It's the nausea that starts first.

It has always been one of my worst triggers, and to this day, no one knows if the nausea or the panic arrives first, which is causal and which simply an aftershock. All I know is that when this pattern begins, the only possible relief is to weep until it passes. Crying doesn't make it go away; it just ameliorates it a bit. I feel slightly better if I sit, sobbing, than I do if I sit, dry-eyed and sure that any second I will simply come crashing out of my own skin. I'm issuing forth loud, bitter sobs as I type this. God, it feels better.

Dizziness, also.

That's another major trigger.

I think the dizziness may actually have been the precursor I tried to ignore, yesterday afternoon, when this bout was in its infancy.

By today, the stark, naked terror had begun full-force. Nothing had dramatically changed in my life in the past two days. Whatever damnable alchemy ignites anxiety, depression, panic, PTSD and all its fellow demons, is simply marching triumphantly back through my body and brain. They have set up a squatter's camp in which to dwell while wreaking as much havoc as possible before finally being banished by drugs, therapy, and my own slow but sure techniques of battling my way back to daylight. For anyone who thinks that people like me "don't work" because we're unemployed, I defy you to do this for the 48-72 hours that loom ahead of me right now, and scrabble your way out, still alive and sane, on the other side. This will be by far the most hellishly difficult work I have ever done, as it is every time I have to do it.

If science and medicine knew why it happens, they would certainly stop it--I am by no means the only person in this country who is laid low by these attacks on a regular basis. There are millions of us in the US alone, all at the mercy of the kind of mental wellness issues that routinely take a massive bite out of the national workforce every year. After a lifetime of fears and trauma, any brain will eventually announce that it has had enough, that it demands some rest, and those of us who merely cry and feel genuine terror without any genuine threat are among the lucky ones. Some go to a place from which no one can ever help them return.

More of the secondary symptoms come into play now--hot flashes and sweats, waves of shame and guilt, fear at the stigma attached to these issues. There are reasons that I have never before written my way through one of these attacks. But how else can I ever share with you what this truly feels like, as nearly as you can grasp it without experiencing it for yourselves? And believe me, there is no one in all of human history on whom I would wish these sensations. Last week, on this very blog, I advised myself to write through anything, through everything, as a way to defuse self-defeat, as a way back to sanity no matter the hurdle, so I have written it out, and bared it before you all. The factors of my situation feel as if they form a bewildering, impenetrable web around me, and I often wonder how I will ever break free, but fundamentally, this is the reason I am homeless. Very generous employers these days still give smoking breaks to those trapped by nicotine, but I have never met one who felt comfortable giving breaks as needed to someone who has to sit in a corner, rocking back and forth with her arms wrapped around herself, crying.

I am not crazy. Depression. Anxiety. Panic. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Look them up. I am not insane. But something broke, and we live in a time when therapists still tell clients on a regular basis not to reveal any of these maladies to prospective employers, because they will be turned away, no matter how many laws supposedly protect them. Too much pain, too many years of waiting for someone to die, too many memories of a flood that saw boats drifting down Main Street, too many fears that I was doomed to hell because I wasn't good enough for "an angry God". Something broke, and until a merciful God and medical professionals and I can fix it, even finding a job is not my biggest problem.

March 10, 2014

Monday Moment 6

Today, my friend and the blog's resident photographer, Sarah, brings us an image for all those of you who fear that this winter may never end. Bask in this image, and feel the return of hope.

Summer Blooms
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

This was taken on a warm summer morning's walk down a country road.
Whenever I miss my home, I need only look at one of these extraordinary compositions to imagine that I'm there again.

March 07, 2014

Indiana of All Places

So, THIS just happened!

Yes, according to the Associated Press and LGBTQ Nation,
[f]our couples from southern Indiana are asking a federal judge to force the state to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
The couples are suing the state of Indiana in a lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in New Albany that seeks to overturn an Indiana law that declares same-sex marriages void, even if another state recognizes the union.
Two things glare off the screen at me in this report.

1. New Albany, Indiana, is a 30-minute drive from my hometown. I could take you there in my sleep. Some of my best friends in the world hail from New Albany. My father's family were all originally from there. It is part of that region of Indiana which was the last place in the country to succumb to Daylight Savings Time (and I'm still pissed that we gave in on that). We are the ultra-conservative, uber-isolationists of the state, and basically of the entire country. If this issue was finally going to erupt in Indiana, New Albany--and southern Indiana generally--is NOT the place I would have expected. Indianapolis. Absolutely. But not New Albany.

2. In every single instance of a federal judge ruling a gay marriage ban unconstitutional recently--and there have been a surprising number--someone FILED A LAWSUIT. Even the most liberal of our courts do not take action on an issue unless someone has the courage to put a case before them. God bless all those willing to make themselves vulnerable before the world on behalf of us all.

Something to Dance About

Good morning! It is the first week of March, and time once again for a new video from our resident singer-songwriter. This installment of the "7th of the Month Series" features a performance by the full band, Quinn DeVeaux and the Blue Beat Review, available on their new album, Originals. The song is entitled
and I defy anyone to listen to this beat without at least tapping an occasional toe.

March 05, 2014

An Insecure Writer Keeps Writing

It's time once again for all of us insecure writers to band together and, through our solidarity, get some writing done. I must say, February was the most prolific writing month that I've had in years, and that is no exaggeration. I wrote an entire poetry chapbook in February. When true inspiration roams back into your life, it is the writer's high par excellence.

Still, there is no escaping doubt. No matter what I'm writing, how easily the words are flowing, or how excited I am about a WIP (work-in-progress), at some point in the process of creating the first draft, the niggling voice of self-defeat will creep in. Great authors have commented on the fact that it is blissfully easy to create a first chapter, especially if you feel really confident that it's good, and murderous torture to write a second. The better the first chapter was, the harder it is to live up to throughout the work, and it is at about the time that you finish that first installment that the Greek chorus grinds into its opening chords: "Who is going to read this, anyway? It'll never get published, no matter how good it is, so why should I bother finishing it?"

In those moments, I find that nothing helps but the work itself. As many famous writers have insisted to aspirants, Write! For the love of God, write! Take questions like readership and particularly publishers out of the equation, or you are doomed before you begin. And when you feel discouraged, write more and write harder. If I type myself through that "slough of despond," I come out the other side feeling productive and refreshed. If, on the other hand, I give in to those voices for one second, I can look forward to at least a week of inertia, unable to write so much as a phone message and sinking ever deeper into a well of self-loathing.

There's a sidebar on this blog that is my public accountability, naked and utterly exposed before the world, of whether or not I have been writing and therefore mentally thriving. Every day that one of the page or word counts on that bar jumps has officially been a good day. The second that I hear my self-talk become laden with thoughts such as, "Oh, what's the point?" I immediately scream out my mantra in my head.

For the love of God, write! Now!

March 04, 2014

Homeless 12: A Damn Job

Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange
of the Farm Security Administration
This is one of the single most famous images
from the Dust Bowl/Great Depression era.
"Why don't you just get a JOB?"

About a week ago now, an old friend of mine from college asked me to address this question, because she knows that so many people ask it of individuals in a situation like mine. My friend understands what my answer would be, but felt that since I'm actually having the experience and she is not, I am best suited to explain the complexity of this question. I am grateful to her for the suggestion, and for her understanding.

Still, I put off addressing this issue until today, for two reasons: (1) The fact that I keep smacking up against the brick wall of this very question angers me so much that I'm almost incapable of crafting coherent sentences. (To all those who have helped me without judging me, thank you so much; you get why I'm infuriated sometimes, and your kindness encourages me to carry on.) I apologize now for the angry tone of this post; I sound angry because I'm...angry. (2) Having to try and explain this, demonstrate in words that it's not nearly this simple, craft a response that will broaden someone else's view beyond such facile "answers" to problems like poverty and homelessness, is a daunting--even exhausting--task at the best of times, let alone when conditions like PTSD reduce your list of daily goals to things like "remember to eat at least once today" and "take a shower." Yet, I will attempt it, and I hope somebody finds it useful. Allow me to deal with the larger question by addressing those two factors one at a time.

(1) Why does the question anger me so? I understand why the question exists, and why people who have never faced long-term unemployment or homelessness would ask it. It seems like there's a large helping of laziness involved in finding one's self in this position; after all, we live in the fabled "Land of Opportunity!" I get it. My anger can best be explained with an image, I feel.

Image on left from Simple Life Abundant Life
Image on right by Pineapple XVI

I have been a Christian my whole life, most of it spent as a Fundamentalist Evangelical, and I admit freely that the issues I'm facing now were only a distant thought to me, something to be "tutted" over, until recently. I get that, too, and I indict myself, first and foremost, as the chiefest of sinners (I Timothy 1:15). The point is, we will actually spend energy and internet space researching what the Bible says about essential oils! What Christ said about the poor, the needy, the hungry, was very clear. "Give to those who ask" (Matthew 5:42); "...freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8); "...give, and it will be given to you. ...for the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Luke 6:38). Time and time and time again and myriad times over, Christ instructed His hearers to give to the poor, with no exemption for WHY they needed help, how they got where they were, what the giver suspected the receiver would do with the money. NO EXCEPTIONS. Christ learned a trade; He could have earned His living. Yet He had "nowhere to lay his head" (Luke 9:58). I'm not even talking about me now; I have a place to sleep tonight, because one of my dearest friends in life took her Master's instructions to heart. I am talking about this country's schizophrenic behavior over the teachings of Scripture, always asking what the Bible says about gay marriage, and internet pornography, and marijuana, and twerking, and South Park--all of them things which the Bible never addressed because they didn't exist yet--and meanwhile hosting seminars in churches about how to control donations given to the poor to ensure that they're not used in ways of which churchfolk wouldn't approve. The beam and the mote. Look it up.
(2) Why isn't it as simple as getting a job? When I started writing this series, I discovered quickly that to be effective, I would have to publish for all the world to read details that I once would have shared only with my mother and a handful of my most trusted friends. Some of you have been impressed, some shocked, and some openly disapproving of me airing my private skeletons on a blog. To all of you, it's about to get really TMI ("too much information") in here. Sorry, but it's the only way I can answer the question.

One of my closest living relatives (and there aren't so many left that I can spare any) told me to my face that they would never believe my claims of PTSD, anxiety, and depression, never believe that those conditions left me unable to work, never believe that I was anything but a mooch and a professional victim. I'll never convince that person; I have their word on it. That conversation is why I feel exhausted by the thought of sharing all this. It feels pointless. But it's the only way.

Let's start with student loans. When I entered college, student loans were being sold to the youth of this country as "good debt," i.e. a sound investment in a lucrative future, and therefore not unwise or unsafe or short-sighted. And then, loan companies lobbied congress until those loans became virtually impossible to discharge even in bankruptcy. Guess what? Student loans are the same sort of indentured servitude as any other debt, and the next big crash we face will be as a result of student loan defaults. If you thought the "housing bubble" was bad when it burst, just hide and watch what the "student loan bubble" does to the economy when it blows. So I was in $133,000 worth of federal loan debt and $30,000 of private loan debt when I finished my most recent degree, and had been caring for both my disabled parents as best I could while a full-time student--undergraduate, then graduate--and sometimes working two jobs on campus. My mother called me during an exam once to say that my father had been taken to the hospital. Again. I had to call in one day and tell one of my bosses that I would miss three days of work because Mom went to the ER. Again. Are we REALLY that shocked that when my dad died, the panic attacks were so bad at first that I literally could not stand up off my bed? Could you hold down a job in that state? After expecting them to die since I was 16 (in Dad's case, and since I was 4 in Mom's), is four years of recovery time since I lost my mother that difficult to understand? And when I couldn't make monthly payments, the lenders slapped on late fees until my debt reached almost $500,000. My grandchildren couldn't have paid that off.

PTSD. The specter that changed everything, when my body and mind said, "You've run on the adrenaline of waiting for someone to die for 32 years. Time to pay the piper." And because of PTSD, my student loans were finally discharged. For the next three years, the Department of Education is closely watching what I make; money from government aid doesn't count against this total, but I have a very tight cap on how much I can actually earn each month. It's not enough to live on; it's just enough to lose me the food stamps and cash assistance I spent the last 6 months fighting every day to get. "A job at McDonald's" would both starve me and cripple me financially, all without giving me enough earnings to get my little girl back. And make no mistake--that is not just my goal, but the reason I'm still alive.

Photo by LSDSL
"You shouldn't have taken out the loans, then," my family member insisted. Very helpful. If I could go back and tell my 18-year-old self that, I certainly would. I'm just waiting for my flying DeLorean to arrive, and I'll get right on that. Believe me, I warn every child I know who is planning on going to college someday to find some other source of funding, or learn to enjoy waiting tables. I didn't wake up one morning and decide to defraud anyone; I planned to become a professor and teach Religious Studies at a university. I still plan to do it. I am not so beaten yet that I have given up on digging out of this hole and fulfilling my dreams. If you are frustrated with me because I haven't yet become a productive consumer and contributed enough to the GDP, keep watching this space. Oh, and in the spirit of "Don't forget to tip your waiters!," thank the next stay-at-home mom you see for raising a future generation, and apologize to her if you've ever said that "women like that need to get a job"; she's got one. Look in the eyes of a homeless person who is much worse off than I am and say, "I love you exactly as you are at this moment, as Jesus told me to, and here's $20, because He told me to."

March 03, 2014

Monday Moment 5

Every week, Sarah Graybill-Greene, featured photographer here on The Beauty of Eclecticism, sends me an exemplar from her portfolio, and every week, it is my honor to display her work here on the blog. But when I opened this file, I actually gasped. This is an extraordinary image. Enjoy.

"Splendid Spring"

It was a Magnificent spring day. I walked under the apple tree, and it was alive and buzzing with pollen-hungry bees. The sky was so cobalt blue it was almost unreal. The sweet scent of apple blossoms under that tree was intoxicating. I just stood there for a while and took it all in.

March 01, 2014

When You've Been Nice Enough

A year ago this month, I came out to myself and the world. I totally overturned my life to seek some peace and happiness, because neither my ex-husband nor I was happy, and by extension, our daughter was unhappy because she was aware of the tension around her. A lot of shitty daily life has followed those decisions, but not as a result of them. From the moment that Michael lost his job (before I made my announcement), life was going to suck for all three of us until we found some financial stability again. Despite all of that, I am better off because of one simple word--FREEDOM.

La Liberte
by Jeanne-Louise Vallain

Some friends and family responded with concern that I had jettisoned everything I've ever believed in, my faith in God and my entire moral compass. That was an understandable reaction to such a dramatic "change" on my part, but it was incorrect.

Photo courtesy of
l'Association Club Historique Mozacois
"I...know nothing...but Jesus Christ and Him crucified." I Corinthians 2:2

Seeing me say that makes no sense to those who consider homosexuality and Christianity to be irreparable enemies, but now more than ever, it is the only mechanism I have left by which to guide my life. My declaration wasn't me thumbing my nose at God and all humanity; it was me finally being honest, and accepting that God preferred that I do so. Lying to myself for so many years literally damaged my mental and physical health, and lying to God is just a ridiculous myth we tell ourselves to keep secret things our own minds can't process. I haven't changed. I just started telling the truth.

I spent my life up to that moment trying to be a "nice girl," trying not to offend anybody or shock anybody or appall anybody. I've always been "odd" by the standards of the place in which I was raised, and I've always been blunt enough to embarrass my loving mother at times. But my father was my pastor, my mother was the church piano player, and I had a lot to live up to. Moreover, at various times in my life, my family and I lived in houses owned by the churches he pastored; the very roof over our heads depended, at least in part, on my and my brother's behavior meeting with the approval of the parishioners. By the time my father had to retire from ministry because of several heart attacks, I was in college, and the pattern of trying to behave was so ingrained in me that I was afraid, every waking and sleeping moment, of screwing up and pissing God off. I'm done.

God doesn't use fear on His children.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment." I John 4:18

I don't know who I pleased by living in constant fear, but it wasn't God by any Biblical definition; I don't know if it was pleasing to anybody. All I know is that I did what everyone said was the ideal--I didn't have sex until I got married; I didn't taste alcohol until I was almost 30. I've still never smoked anything, not a single cigarette, let alone anything more "recreational." My marriage was a disaster, and there are much worse things in life than having a glass of wine. Like the torment that the verse above describes. And believe me, for a long time and in many ways, my life absolutely was torment.

Believe it or not, this YouTube video pretty much says it all for me.

I was too afraid to write what I wanted to write, to say what I wanted to say, to pursue "the desires of my heart." I gave up the best thing I've ever found because I was afraid that God would damn me to Hell if I didn't. I was terrified that I would let down my parents, my extended family, my dearest friends--even the ones who were rooting for me to stop living in fear--but most of all, I was terrified of God. If God is a Father, it made no sense for me to remain so horrified by Him; my own father didn't scare me, so why should He? And when I didn't die from the five surgeries performed on me a year ago this month, He finally got that through to me. He knows me as I am, and He loves me as I am. He doesn't hate me, as I dreaded that He would if I was honestly myself.

No one needs to agree with that, or even understand. It's just my declaration of independence.

This post was featured (with minimal editing) on Believe Out Loud on March 25, 2014.

February 28, 2014

Week in Review Omnibus

This post is a double-whammy, in which I will report recent progress on my latest writing goals, and announce the event from the week just past that I'm celebrating. First off, let's glance back at the goal I stated for myself at the beginning of February, and see how close to the target my aim carried me.

At the blog entitled The Five-Year Project, where author Misha Gericke recounts her publishing trials and triumphs, she also graciously hosts a monthly meme designed to encourage other aspirants, despairing or victorious. We announce our current ambition on the sign-up list for "Do You Have Goals?," and report back on our struggles to attain it. I listed for myself, "Get my first poetry chapbook published," and while that hasn't occurred yet, the first major hurdle is crossed, because I actually did finish writing it this month. The final count was 40 poems covering a total of 45 pages, including dedication page and similar materials. Sending it out to publishers is the next step, and I am currently awaiting the beginning of March and the arrival of my small monthly living stipend, out of which I will painfully scratch the $18 reading fee to submit the manuscript to Omnidawn Press' 2014 Chapbook Poetry Contest. Updates will be flying your way as events unfold, I assure you.

The other steps I have taken toward getting published may seem less obviously connected to that dream, but are a very necessary part of it, and constitute my celebration for the week. Thanks to the incredible generosity of a very dear friend, I once again have a roof over my head for the foreseeable future. I am still homeless, still sleeping in a friend's basement and therefore in more precarious circumstances than would allow me to be reunited with my daughter as yet, but she continues safe and happy with her grandparents, and I have a bit more stability in which to write, publish, and diligently seek permanent housing that will bring us back together. All of which I did full tilt this week; I am on a waiting list for subsidized rental housing, and I wrote roughly 10,000 words on a new prose manuscript (which muse has taken up where the muse of poetry has currently left off). As a fellow creative type advised me to recently, I will keep going until I succeed or die trying.

February 27, 2014

Homeless 11: A Suit of Armor

A few days ago, I finally got my car back, purring once again and behaving itself quite respectably after the mechanic replaced a starter which had given up the ghost. I wish to state here and now that I am extraordinarily grateful to the friends who contributed to my reunion with what my daughter refers to simply as "Blue Car." I am mobile again, thank God. For the brief time that I was without my own transportation, I learned some hard new lessons about how truly difficult my situation could become, and how quickly. I couldn't get anywhere or accomplish anything without walking to a bus stop (which on one memorable occasion was over an hour of walking), finding some cash with which to pay the fare, and spending an hour on what should have been a 15-minute trip because of  the fixed routes of public transport. I was grateful the buses were there, especially on a day that was particularly cold and found me without a place to go for several hours, but no one can claim that they are the easiest or most time-efficient way to get from point A to point B.

Photo by Goran Schmidt
Courtesy of
The Royal Armoury, Sweden
Setting aside the additional logistical problems that being without a car suddenly created--though I think we can all agree that I could really do without additional problems right now--being without my vehicle instantly moved me into a yet more dangerous category of homelessness. A working vehicle is like a suit of armor for a homeless person; it's a safer place to sleep than the park benches, a place to store things so that you don't have to carry everything you own on your person at all times. You can move quicker than someone who might be interested in harming or robbing you. In short, it is at least one layer of insulation between you and the actual streets. I have never felt more naked in my life than I did as a woman, walking alone on sidewalks in rough neighborhoods of Denver late at night, watching intently everyone who walked past, startled by each sound of footsteps behind me. Cars are such a rare luxury among the homeless population that some insist that if you own a car you're not really homeless. When your body and your backpack are all you have that you can still call your own, the level of constant fear, the incredible vigilance and suspicion you develop, preclude much healthy interaction with other human beings, let alone recovery from PTSD. The longer you're in that vicious spiral, the less likely it becomes that you will ever escape.

Don't get me wrong; I am painfully aware that a car is no guarantee of any safety. By the time I was 18, two of my friends from high school had died in car wrecks, and believe me, none of us who survived them were ever the same. But in my current circumstances, being without my vehicle was a step further away from stability, from all that I'm trying to accomplish--another huge hurdle between my little girl and me. Thank you so much, once again, to all those who helped put me back into a working vehicle. You did something for the least of your brethren, and I feel sure your reward will be great for it.
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