eastbound • moment

While driving home tonight I came upon a blockade of traffic on i4. There was a construction merge up ahead. It was well alerted if you were paying attention to the road.

I had been in the far right, because sometimes I like to drive like a little old lady, and the merge was into the far left. I slowed to the posted speed, was able to take my time, signaled with ample time.

Getting into the middle lane, I could see from the aggressive way the rusty white van next to me was driving that it would be simpler for me to slow and pass in front of the vehicle behind it. I rolled down the window and waved thank you. Times like this I wish I could do something more to reward other drivers for being kind. I want to click their like button or send some sort of emoji.

Making the next left merge was a breeze. The construction zone was only about a mile. I stuck to the posted speed limit, out of courtesy to the construction workers. There were no accidents, no one was rude to each other, the whole thing took around 5 minutes, everyone went home alive.

Thanks, Orlando, for that random moment of zen.

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Yesterday I participated in United Against Poverty’s Quack Attack 5k. United Against Poverty is an organization committed to helping people create a sustainable life and lift themselves out of poverty. They believe in the hand up philosophy, that you can do more for a person by enabling them to do it for themselves.  The race was a very new experience for me, I’ve participated in plenty of charity fundraisers but it was the first time I was on the organizer side of things. It was an interesting insight into events like this.

My experience began at 4am, up before the sun and the birds. I dressed as quietly and got ready to leave as possible. The dog did wake and tried to follow me to the door, the expression on his face indicating he thought it was a strange time for a walk but he’s ride or die. Upon realizing he wasn’t coming, he happily took my place in the bed and returned to snoring. I slipped out the door and began my half mile walk. There’s a certain romanticism around 4 in the morning. I visit this time like a love affair that never quite worked because of the inconvenience. The world is dark and still, it belonged to me and me alone. 4am feels like being in a mall or a theme park after hours, only that it’s the entire world that’s gone away. I made my way the familiar path from my house to the town center, aware of the absence of all the small noises of life. It was refreshing, soothing, energizing. I dreamt of maybe find a way to visit this time more often in my life. But now as I write a day later and my circadian rhythm is still resetting the idea is less appealing.

I arrived and stood in the line to check in. I couldn’t help observing the other people that were there. Who were they, what was their relationship to the organization. Some were clearly high school students collecting volunteer service hours for credit, but for the adults were harder to pick out. Who was here because it was court ordered; who was like me because they believed in the cause? How many of them had be helped by the organization and were volunteering because they’d found community and purpose within the ranks? I’m a people watcher at heart, I love to observe and see how much I can figure out about a person. Everyone has a story and I enjoy imagining what it could possibly be.

Once we were all checked in, we got to work setting up the finisher zone, getting water and snacks ready, posting signage, and preparing the “chuck a duck” area. Pretty simple stuff, nothing unfamiliar for someone with an extensive background in events. Where I was helping move cases of water, a man was doing his best to organize the setup. I quickly picked up on what he was trying to accomplish and began directing others to help me with the projects. Soon he was delegating to me and I would then turn to my small team to get it done. I was surprised to find out later that he was just another volunteer and not part of the organization’s staff. Just goes to show that most people are more interested in being told what to do than to be the one that takes control.

Once set up was complete we were given our duties for the race itself. Most of us became Course Monitors. We were to stand along the route, assist in traffic management and just keep an eye on the runners. With some time to kill, my team and I got some coffee and chatted, getting to know one another. I became self conscious of the fact that I can no longer talk to teenagers as if they were peers. Instead I began to chat with a woman who I discovered was here on vacation. She shared with me her tales of traveling  and volunteering. I found that to be such an extraordinary and novel concept. Really though, what better way to see a city and get to know the people than through service?

The sun finally began to rise, which caused the area to be enveloped with fog and the temperature which had been comfortably chilly all morning seemed to have dipped. Luckily it had cleared up nicely by the time the race started and even warmed up. A crowd of spectators mingled along side us volunteers and it began to feel very familiar. The runners were off and as they passed I gave my best efforts to hoot and holler and cheer them on. I ran out of things to shout pretty quickly but so what, there’s no need to be novel and inventive when yelling at a running mob. It was when we got down to the very back of the pack with all the slowest of the walkers and it no longer felt appropriate to call “Go runner, go!” that my enthusiasm waned. The final walker passed, followed by the sweep car and we asked each other “Ok, now what?”.

I never thought about these things as a runner. What are all these people doing when we’re not running through? What do they do when the pack has passed? There wasn’t much course equipment to be packed up, especially where we stood. So I grabbed a trash bag and wandered around collecting whatever litter found, even though I guessed that over half of it wasn’t from the race. I don’t understand litter. I don’t get why people think it’s ok to just leave garbage laying around. This area in particular has trash bins all around and the neighborhood is full of affluent, educated folk. Is the idea of carrying your rubbish a few feet to the next bin that foreign?

Once I got to the point where I was probably picking up garbage from the New Year celebration I decided to sit for the first time since I’d arrived. At this point runners were crossing and participating in the various activities set up, including “Chuck a Duck” in which people gave a donation to throw a rubber duckie into a duck shaped pool float in hopes to be entered into a raffle. A volunteer sat alone manning the station so I joined him and struck up a conversation. Everything about him said veteran and sure enough we discovered that we had a lot in common because of the military. He told me of his ambitions to work as an EMT but how dismal the pay is. This baffles me. How do we still under-compensate vital professions like this? Why is it that if you exist at the bottom of the ladder, no matter how important your job is, you get the smallest crumb of the cake? This led to a political discussion, intermixed with snarky observations about misbehaving children. Something about those who come from the military community, we all seem to have a very similar sense of humor.

Once the event wrapped and the crowd dissipated we began to take it all back down. Strike is always my favorite part of event production, just tear it apart and put it away. We chased down duck faced balloons out of the fountain and bushes. Chairs and tables stacked and returned to their respective owners. The big truck arrived and several of us jumped in and began stacking cases of drinks on to pallets. Things were going smoothly until a sense of urgency moved through the group as they realized how close they were to clock out time. Suddenly the cases were coming on to the truck faster than we could stack, bottles were falling all over, the stacks were getting uneven and unstable. I had to take over in calling out what to pass up to the truck loaders but even still people were just putting whatever they had in their hands on the lift gate. And then our crowd of volunteers suddenly disappeared even though not everything was packed away. By 5 minutes til clock out, most of them were in the line to sign out.

We managed to get it done, even though by the end we were having to get pretty creative about how we were stacking things in the truck. If I’d known how much was going it, I would have been a little more diligent about how the truck pack would have gone in the beginning. Truck loading is, after all, a skill proficiency for my industry. With a little creativity and skill we got it all loaded and were done. I felt about as tired and ready for a shower had I run the race myself. The event was a wonderful success, the participants all seemed to really enjoy themselves and over $60k was raised for a particularly important cause. So grateful to have been a part and am looking forward to being a part of more.

The Paladin’s Burden

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while but never quite sure how to approach it. See, I fell out of the habit of posting my writing a few years ago. I got a little too honest and it hurt some people. I’m not sorry for what I said but it was devastating to find out how powerful my words were. So I just stopped. I got gun-shy, worried about the repercussions of every post. Am I going to say something that someone is going to take the wrong way? Does this really need to be discussed in a public manner? Do I even have anything worth writing about? Is this ethically, politically, and grammatically correct?

For the sake of the handful of people who chose to take my words as personal offense, I abandoned my craft. In doing so I abandoned my audience, the people who I’ve been speaking to all along. The people who read what I have to say and identify. The people who come up to me and say “Hey, I really loved that thing you wrote. It meant a lot,” or “I feel that way too. It was so helpful to read the perspective of someone else and know I’m not alone.” I turned my back on those people. I stepped away from a core value; integrity. I backed down from who I am, I stopped sharing vulnerable things with people. Anyone who claims anxiety can probably agree on one thing, if you make yourself vulnerable then you will get hurt.

But isn’t that what makes us stronger?

During my brief time in this reality, I’ve learned that vulnerability can be an asset. When you open up to others, they trust you. If you are willing to take the risk of asking the first question, others will follow. If you are willing to admit you were wrong, people will forgive you. Vulnerability is a principle of leadership. For me to not be vulnerable with others is to cut off my wings. I have a deep craving to share my deepest darkest secrets with others. Back when I was a user of livejournal, I told the internet everything. I let them know exactly what I was feeling, exactly what I was going through. My best friends were people who read my blog and said “hey, me too.” I felt empowered in those days, I felt like I was my honest self, my truest form. Now-a-days there’s this feeling like honesty is too risky. If I am not careful I will hurt the ones I love, I will put career and reputation at risk, I will set the fire of my own destruction.

This careful person is not me. I am a rebel gypsy punk. I drive fast, I swear, I cut my own hair and I don’t give a damn about the world’s expectations of me! So how can I live in this confused state, my personality and self preservation constantly at odds with each other? Simple, I can’t. No longer will I fear the wrath of the Anti-Feminist and the Social Justice Warrior. No more will I worry about being the Good Girl. And no more will I censor myself for the sake of fake friends. My best friends are not because they are just like me. No, my tribe is built on seeing the honest self and respecting that. Be who you are. Even if you’re an asshole. I’d rather you be faulted and aware than giving a perfected persona and hoping I won’t notice.

I will.

What I have to say about self image

(this originally appeared as a reply to a friend’s Facebook Status. He posted a remark commenting on how different he thinks he looks in mirrors and photographs. I got on a bit of a rant and felt I had to share)

Looking in a mirror, it offers only one vantage of your body, which is how ever tall you are and where you are standing in proximity to the mirror. The angle from which is a photograph is taken can vary the image drastically. Think about force perspective. So when you look at a photo, it can be playing any myriad of tricks on your eyes. When you look at a mirror, you only get the one angle to view yourself from really, top down and more or less head on.

But it’s the one you see the most, the one you reinforce your feelings for the most. Every morning, if you don’t get up and decide you like what you see in the mirror, then you set yourself up for failure. You’ll be stuck waiting for that one reflection that portrays you in a way that you deem worth being proud of.

At that point there’s only one conclusion to be reached: Reality is based on unreliable data and that visual perception is a flawed and inconsistent sense which is not useful when judging any sort of worth when it comes to a device of mechanical purpose, like the human body.

Quick thoughts on Confederate Statues

They recently moved a statue honoring a Confederate soldier from a public park to a cemetery. As a humanist and believer in equality over division, I empathize with the desire to tear down the symbols of oppression and racism. I simply wish to caution the warriors of social justice to be careful we’re not just blindly white washing history.

I imagine if you were to poll the average person who patrons the park, most probably didn’t even notice this humble statue tucked away against a bush. And if they had, a percentage less would have actually read the plaque. I’ve read it. Well I read it once. A long time ago. The only thing that surprised me was that it was a Confederate soldier. It made no claims that stuck out to me as racist or proclaiming white supremacy. He was also a good old Orlando boy who fought and died protecting his home and way of life.

I think we must remember our history as it was, we must know our past. I  fear a world where we forget that the US once operated internment camps and we pretend the Civil War was only about slavery. We have the tools to show history in full Technicolor, why do we insist in keeping it black and white? No war is as simple as good and evil. To the victor belongs the history books. I think we should humanize the villains of the history so we can understand them, so we can learn from our past so we don’t destroy our future. It’s time to stop fighting the feuds of our ancestors.

Musings at Sundown

Here I sit, staring at a blank page again. I’ve come to write, but what I don’t know. The painter has it easy. He can just start with some random strokes and see where it goes from there. Me? If I don’t start with an end in mind, then I’m stuck rambling till I stumble on to a story.

I have this word floating around in my mind. Offworlder. I want to use it. I want to attach meaning to it. I want others to recognize that meaning. No I want them to identify with that meaning.

Because I know I’m not the only one out there. That feels like this world isn’t quite their’s. We belong to a different place, different time maybe but can never feel quite satisfied in the current moment.

I think I’ll tell a story about a general who had come to this time of abundance and comfort to rest. Picked this moment specifically to lay down the tools of war and pass the time in peace. But the inhabitants of this time and place are all so disrupted. Anxiety, fear, stress, it’s all we ever think about. “Don’t you people realize you are what you think? If you think you’re anxious, then you are anxious!” in impotent rage.

Instead I think I’ll laugh happily and silently while I watch the dog try to get the cat to play by chasing her with a stick. This animal, as sweet and loving and empathetic as he can be, obviously does not possess the ability to think from another’s perspective. Neither does the cat. That trait along is what make the human species unique and alone. We are all so painfully alone.

 

At work, I was given a Mac book to use for my official computer. I have avoided using mac products since the domination of the iPhone became evident. I have resisted not due to dislike of the product or specific preference of the other. They are all ultimately the same. However, I do not believe in conformity and I will avoid it at all costs.

On the first day, I was on a deadline to finish a project and I didn’t have the patience to let learning a new system interrupt the flow I already had going. So I put it under my PC laptop and raise it up. The second day I made it a point to use it, to get the hang of it. I didn’t have all that much though that needed to get done so I really got the hang of web browsing. The past few days I’ve been using it exclusively, to the neglect of my Windows products at home. Now here I sit at home, writing for the pleasure of it and letting my fingers fly mindlessly over the keyboard, the skills of typing having been ingrained in me from such a young age that it exists in my mind like choreography. Each word is a box step, every commonly used sentence a well rehearsed tango. But my short cut keys. Copy and paste. Alt tab. Ctrl arrow. I keep stumbling, tripping on these once fluent movements.

The Mac.

I’m using the Mac hotkeys. The all powerful command button on the Mac keyboard is where my handy Alt button is on the PC. If it were the Ctrl button, this would be nothing, the buttons are analagous. But swapping Alt for a Command? This is subversion. There was no need to switch these! No efficiency gained.

Then I start to ponder, who actually did it first. Which standard of keyboard had been designed first? Is there some sort of patent matter that prevented the keyboards from being the exact same?

Maybe it was done to keep people from being able to jump ship so readily. Maybe the people who swear their iPhone is the best product on the market and refuse to ever stray from their beloved brand are simply brainwashed. They’ve tried other devices, but because there are slight, almost unnoticeable differences that would make an initial usage of an alternative product cumbersome and frustrating. That brief interaction can leave a lasting impression that the other product is somehow inferior because it lack’s the familiar product’s ease of use. Oh those subtle bastards.

 

Stolen Thieves and Shooting Stars

I never got a Pulse Tattoo.

June 11th of last year, I went to sleep in my bed tired and weary. I was defeated, emotionally exhausted, I had been involved in a very dark situation whose time to be spoken of has not come yet. My personal tragedy hung on my soul like a lead blanket. I went to sleep hoping things would seem less bleak the next day.

When I first saw the reports, the whole world dropped away. Stillness filled the morning. It was surreal. I remember feeling like I had after the Paris club shooting, survivor’s guilt of an event I wasn’t even present for.

But the show must go on and I had to go to work that Sunday. I had to put on black BDUs, dark sunglasses that obscured my face, and I had to carry an AR-15 into audience theater. The exact same weapon the shooter had carried. I thought of all the training I had to go through to be allowed this weapon. All the checks and balances I had to go through when handling the weapon. All the safety procedures and contingencies I had to learn. All he had to do was have enough money.

In the following days I vowed to do something, to get involved. I was going to go to the vigil but I felt like I would be out of place, I wouldn’t belong there. This wasn’t my club, this wasn’t my social scene. When I heard about the crowd size, I was relieved to know enough other people would be there and I could stay at home. I was going to go help make care packages, but I didn’t because I had to pick up a shift. My own personal trauma was an expensive one and I was going to have to dedicate my time to making money first. When I heard the Westboro Church was coming to make one of their ghaustly scenes. I went to the first funeral, to take a stand and show those rotten bastards their message was not welcome. They never did show but a mass of people did. It was quite the scene. There were experienced protestors and their lawyers there to make sure we were in no way endangering ourselves or disturbing the family. There were honest members of the community who had come out for the same reasons I did, to be on the front line. There were the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and they were fabulous as they could be. There were those who were there to satisfy their ego, to pat themselves on their own backs and to be seen.But hate never showed up. The funeral home was on a busy road and I remember feeling overwhelmed with a sense of connection and community everytime a vehicle honked in support. A lot of people honked and it was the first time I saw Orlando as a community and not just a collection of very separate tribes.

In the weeks following, my facebook feed was a wash of rainbow and pulse rate symbols. Every tattoo shop in town had back to back appointments of people trading money to be donated in exchange for permanent ink. Everyone had a tshirt. But it didn’t have the gross feeling of people trying to capitalize on the event, you knew it was all to raise money and to show on which side you stood. Orlando came out to say this aggression will not stand. Love shouted and hate could not be heard.

I never got a Pulse tattoo. I felt like I didn’t have the right to. While I know so many people in the LGBT community and I love them and support them, I am not one of them. From what I’ve observed, that particular tribe has some deep connections to each other, shared experiences I could never hope to relate to. I have not been rejected or oppressed in any fashion close to what they’ve experienced. I am a welcome guest in their world but I have not formed the bonds that they have with each other.

Press fast forward. Tonight I witnessed an expression of the mark this event has left on the artists. I attended “Stolen Thieves” a performance of the constantly evolving show, Varietease. The show’s creator, Blue Star, is the unofficial leader of the community, she has been a powerful voice for all the queer folk of Orlando and was brought into the national spotlight because of her position when the media descended on our town. If you’ve ever met this woman, you know she is a true queen but at heart she is an artist. She pours herself into her shows, her dancers become extensions of expression, each show represents a chunk of time in her world. I had been told she touched upon the Pulse event in the event, I wasn’t prepared for what she had created.

In the beginning, I wasn’t exactly sure of her message but I found the place I go to at the Venue where I stop trying to understand and capture everything and just experience it. The themes of loss, of fear, of anger became present. I became aware of how we are perceiving time throughout the numbers. We come to the moment of June 12th. The tone becomes aggressive as the dancers perform technically precise classical ballet movements to driving industrial metal. The dancers had worn black veils over their face, now they’ve come down to reveal just the eyes of each dancer. The all black costumes, flowing layers with utilitarian belts and buckles and straps have an oddly militant feel. For a moment I am reminded of the image of a middle eastern villain and I wonder if that is on purpose or my own conditioning showing. Interspliced throughout all of this comes the words of great leaders reminding us that we mustn’t cave in to fear and we must all continue to believe in the dream that all are created equal.

I’m crying. At first I don’t know why, then I decide it doesn’t matter. If I want to cry, I can cry and I don’t have to explain it to anyone. In the show I see the message I’ve been looking for. An understanding I’ve been coming to. It no longer matters what tribe you are a part of. If we are to heal, then we all must come together and stand against those who wield hate and fear as weapons. We cannot allow violent actions to spur us on to further violence. There are no easy answers now so what is the point in making things more complicated with lines in the sand. At the end, Blue announces to the audience this was about democracy, and it absolutely was. We mustn’t conform, mustn’t give in. We must be heard, but we must also listen. If we are every to stop atrocious acts from happening, we must stop holding animosity in our hearts. We make our enemies. It’s time to unmake them.

I realize now I’ve gone off in a bit of a rant. Sorry, I’m all worked up defending the Pepsi ad (that story to follow another night.) The point is, be the change. Get involved. Do more than pass around the same snarky articles about what an awful job the president is doing or how we’re all doomed. Democracy only works through participation. Those who participate make the rules. There’s a lot of different ways to participate, you just have to do it.

 

Sorry, this is a weak conclusion. I’m exhausted and loosing wind. Goodnight, offworlders. You know who you are.