Marcela’s World is a No-prayer Zone
Someone posted a very disturbing (to me) thing again recently about how saying shit like drive safe ‘is really just a prayer.’ What this particular piece of bla bla had to say, is that whether you like it or not, you (in this case me) are praying. Prayer is a distinctly ‘god-tinged,’ religious, spiritual etc etc… thing. You can call it whatever the fuck you want, but don’t tell me how I am to (mis)interpret words to take on what you need them to mean, especially when I utter them. When I tell people to ‘drive safe,’ what I mean is: there are fucking morons on the road or ice, or fog, or Elk, or lions and tigers and bears, and it is a reminder to them to pay-the-fuck-attention! Not a prayer. Again, you call it whatever the fuck you want, when you utter it.
I cannot, simply cannot do another god-tinged thing. I cannot read it, I cannot co-sign it, I cannot. I will not. If you feel it’s ok to god all over me, overtly and/or covertly, why in the fuck is it not ok for me to Atheistically-realist all over you? It is not that I don’t have faith, it is not that I refuse to believe in something, or that I don’t believe in anything. I have faith in real science, I have faith in my ability to do everything from fuck up to succeed and all points in between, and generally I tend to do it in a manner of proportions most epic. As well, I most certainly have a strong, very strong, belief: I believe in reality. I refuse, to believe in something that is not there. I refuse to believe in nothing. I refuse to allow something outside of me to take credit for all the good/bad/hard/easy/beautiful/ugly things I’ve done/survived/been subjected to over the course of my life, and conversely, I am neither cursed/blessed nor unlucky/lucky. I wasn’t handed recovery, and no evil force made me use substances, no one ‘gave’ me an education, a great kid, years of success and/or crash and burns of previously noted epic proportions! Shit happened/I made shit happen, I broke, I fixed it, I worked my fucking ass off, I rinsed, lathered and repeated. At times, I have been supported (and not) by a handful of humans. Real, fleshy, humans.
My life, what was, what is, is the direct result of circumstances, some beyond my control, and the available to me choices I made/make in the midst of said circumstances, with whatever capacity I possess(ed) (or didn’t/don’t), at any given time. My best and worst are not always the same depending on everything else going on in my worlds. Whether said choices have led me to the next epic or mediocre, yeah fuck that, I don’t do mediocre, but I digress, whether those choices have led me to the next epic success or fuck-up, has everything to do with reality, there is nothing fucking mystical or mysterious about it. The bear didn’t bite my friend’s ass when she was out on a bike ride in the sticks because of some weird fucking cosmic correlation, and it didn’t have hidden meaning. The bear bit her ass because she was in the sticks, on a bike, and scared the fucking bear when she came around the corner, and because the bear was a fucking bear. Kinda like I am not the fucking elk-whisperer, I just keep moving into their home and native land. 1 + 1 = 2 whereas 1 and 1 together mean 11, but it’s still true. And that shit, comes from a girl who hates MATH, cause it’s the only really ugly four letter word.
The bear bit her fucking ass because it’s a fucking bear. I say drive safe because I want them to pay-the-fuck-attention. I do not fucking pray. You do whatever the fuck you want, believe whatever the fuck you want, and allow me to do the same without your overtly covert missionary drivel.
Clear? Great. Peace.
I recently signed on as a blogger for a fundraising effort for the YWCA, The Rose Project. The myriad issues facing women young and old, are addressed here, and very near and dear to my heart, in more ways than I can articulate. This is the first post of many I have in the works in support of this effort. Please check out the site, contribute with your hard-earned cash as you can, and enjoy some really good reading, written by some really smart folks.
In the course of my informal social research on Ashley Madison (AM), I formulated the following thoughts: Monogamy is a personal choice, morality is pliable at best, and utterly subjective at worst, so these two concepts in and of themselves offer little in the way of answers to the question at hand. I have turned this question over in my mind to the point of distraction, and put it forward to my various networks. There is little consensus and so many opinions that I could have written a book, but I was able to pick up on several themes.
It seems to me, and apparently to others, that when we choose to be in a committed, monogamous, relationship, whether dating, common-law, or religiously and legally sanctioned by marriage, we have entered an agreement with our partner, to be, duh, monogamous.
The folks I communicated with agreed that the trademarked AM tagline is very telling and I keep coming back to it, and its underlying messages: “Life is short. Have an affair.” I believe that at least part of what is so attractive to people about AM and similar sites, is that at the core, we have become a culture of entitlement. One in which everything has become a matter of fun, adventure, personal rights and deservingness, and the pervasive attitude that everything, including humans, is replaceable. If we’re not getting what we want from what and whom we have in our lives, we can get a new one, a better one, a different one, and it’s OK, AM says so! Life is short after all; we should have our cake and eat it too! Our wants have become perceived as needs, and perhaps, a growing laziness to do any real personal work, driven by unrealistic expectations of love and good relationships, are also at play. In Why Women Cheat: A Married Man goes Undercover on Ashley Madison, Charles J. Orlando discovers that many of the women want more (attention) than they have in their committed relationships, but are unwilling to leave their partner for any number of seemingly valid reasons; including standards of living provided by a spouse, staying for the kids, staying for social standing, and the like. It feels like a copout to me. My professional life informs me that well-adjusted, separated/divorced adults can provide great co-parenting, and come to good decisions about money, without living, and modeling, a lie.
The other question I keep coming back to? Why would I commit, lead my partner to believe that I want a monogamous relationship, when I don’t? What happened to just being straight up? Even if I have simply changed my mind about what kind of relationship I want? What has happened to personal integrity? I am reminded of the simple, but oh-so-difficult-to-live-by Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz, specifically, Agreement One: Be Impeccable With Your Word. Translation: be honest; don’t lie, don’t deceive, if you have agreed to be in a monogamous relationship, don’t cheat; you have given your word.
When I polled my friends and colleagues about their experiences with cheating, most admitted to having done it, and for the record, I have too. We all had various reasons and justifications, but the common threads in this piece of my social research are that we subscribe to monogamy, none of us felt/feel good about having done it, and all of us had intense guilt shame about it. Many of these folks also thought that any culturally accurate answer to the question of why it has become so popular to cheat, needed to examine how our core values in relation to throw-away mentality, has changed over time and in the age of consumerism, (perceived but unattainable) perfection, better, bigger, more.
Stuart D., the one public responder on my personal Facebook page, to a request for perspectives on why AM has become so popular, resonated strongly with my own thoughts about consumerism and the commodification and quantification of everything in our culture. He offered what is for me, a stunning insight into how sites like AM are contributing to the consume/commodify everything mindset, and how that is related to our ability to perpetrate violence: “Once we accept that people can be used and tossed aside violence is a very short step away if we are unhappy or unfulfilled in any way.”
I would add to that the scintillation of an adventure in a life fraught with responsibilities and meaninglessness, the (false) promise of complete anonymity (read: secrecy) because it’s the Internet, the pretense of no harm no foul, and the road to all willing infidels is paved in gleaming gold. In some ways, it is the Eldorado to feed the core of human greed; it offers the appearance of something (extra), and risking nothing. It has been my experience in life and love, that the greatest risk (and reward) of all is the vulnerability created with complete honesty and transparency in relationships. And maybe, just maybe, that is another of the possible answers to the question; Why it has it become so popular… to cheat? Perhaps it is because sites like AM provide the seeming opportunity of getting something, without risking anything, but most especially, not our oh-so-vulnerable hearts, and the potential of someone seeing our truest self.
And then there is the entire issue of AM and similar sites being an ‘online’ thing, and the disturbing trend of psychological disconnect that happens for folks in online interactions, and falsely feed ideas that these interactions are not as bad as engaging in person, even when ultimately, the encounters often become real time and real life, real cheating.
I invite you to consider the quote about Love in the image attached to these thoughts and share your perspectives on it, as well as the following questions:
Do you think that cheating is so popular through an online venue because folks feel as though because it was instigated online, it isn’t as bad?
Do you know anyone who has used sites like AM and what was their experience?
What are your thoughts on making an informed and thought out decision to use a site like AM, after having committed to a monogamous relationship?
What do you think about current cultural norms of replacing what is, or feels broken, as opposed to working on or fixing it?
Love is something Different – Melanie J. Williams
I was set to comment about normally reserving this venue for my personal poetry and other less political offerings, but clearly I have just met some of my writing if I think it isn’t political in one way or another. I have believed for a long time now that the Personal is indeed Political, and politics in one way or another are inherent to everything I do and write about.
This bit here, is literal in the political sense, and quite the tippy-top of the Iceberg in terms of the many thoughts I have about the political topic du jour here in Canada. I have however, come across enough nit-picking this fine day, to warrant just a little bit of an as yet under-caffeinated opinion.
We made huge strides in so many ways last night! So while all of the nit-pickers are busy looking for issues to nit-pick apart, I will focus on the good shit:
-Voter turnouts were the highest in decades (and not all of the numbers are in yet, particularly those of folks who registered on voting day, that queue here in Duncan was peopled well.
-Advance polls were the highest, 71% more folks voted in advance polling than in 2011 SEVENTY-ONE Percent!
-More Indigenous voters than ever before! Many communities actually ran out of ballots
-70,000 students voted in advance polls alone, and we know that historically student turnout has been poor…
-32 of 42 possible ‘no to Enbridge’ Candidates voted in, 7 pro Enbridge candidates defeated
-Trudeau actually has a lot of very smart plans for this country in terms of families and other social policy. This is huge in my world, HUGE!
-Harpo, and by direct extension many of his corrupt cronies are OUT for fuck’s sake! No outcome could be better than that fact alone!
The hardest part for J.T. is yet to come, and it is up to us to avoid jumping on the finger-pointing bandwagon when things don’t go exactly our way, because really, put yourself in his (or Obama’s for that matter) shoes, just for a minute, and think about what it might feel like to walk into and through the quagmire he just quite willingly and with such great effort and passion, inherited! We have as much to do with it as Harpo did, because we closed our eyes for 10 years and pretended he wasn’t there. If young J.T. starts going sideways it is up US to hold him accountable, whether we voted for him or not.
For the record: Green is my party, I voted orange, and red won. I feel as though we all did. And like I’ve eaten fruit salad, always a healthier choice than picked nits.
~Marcela: well nourished.
It’s odd(?) that I was just thinking the other day, yesterday, actually, of how important you, the book ‘Toller’ (which I dog-eared and re-read almost to destruction), the Great Strawberry Queen, were to me in my tortured youth. That book, the glossy full page photo of her in that book, kept me alive more than once.
You wrote in that book about having swallowed a large amount of some kind of OTC medication in the hopes of going to sleep forever, but waking up disgruntled the next day, disgruntled, surprised, about having woken up feeling slightly better than you normally did… made me smile then, makes me smile now, the thought of your surprise and disgruntled-ness! And the irony of it, of course…
RIP Toller Cranston, but in living colour! You, your brazenly beautiful artistry on ice, on canvas, in life and love of it, my experience of you, your life, is one of the things that shaped me. One of the very important things.
I got you, I always felt that if you could stay alive and practice your art in all ways, speak your mind the way you did, speak to me without knowing I existed, then maybe, just maybe, I could too.
All my love and wistful tears, for the early loss of a soul I felt such a kindred attachment to.
~Marcela: Unfiltered. Living in Audaciously Vivid Colour, and out loud(er). Always, louder, always going higher.
(Photos sourced from: Amazon.ca, http://www.skatepsa.com/In-The-Loop-Issue-2.html, https://www.facebook.com/TollerCranston, and http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/20973064_signed-serigraph-toller-cranston)
These thoughts on the oft-discussed, much-maligned, and generally well-hidden Skeleton Closet, are brought to you by the recently passed, over-marketed Hallowed ‘eve holiday, the ongoing media frenzy about Jian Ghomeshi, and my to-the-core life-force penchant, for telling you tales out of school; the school of hard, weird and often kind-of-unbelievable, knocks. You know; those which have been, and are, my life. You can be certain, that if I ever went to Vegas, which by the way I have no desire what-so-ever to do, but if I did, what happened in Vegas, would not stay in Vegas. It would be told, loudly and with the same wild abandon that I will tell you about the Skeleton Closet; my own, and more importantly, theirs, yours(?).
I have some insight, into the clandestine wardrobes used to secret away carcasses in various stages of life and death. The (un)haunted house of my own history comes replete with a maze of hallways, on several storeys, each boasting a conspicuous number of walk-in-closets, no, not full of shoes, but chock-a-block full of bones. Clean-picked, dead to me, bones. The only folks still trying to get a morsel off them bones are those belonging to a group I call The Pickers. Periodically, one or more Pickers will attempt to unlock the wide-open doors, and nit-pick at the well-polished skeleton bones I have left there, to decompose, rest in peace (as they should) for years.
These Pickers continue to try and resurrect my life story, pursue their sad little attempts to threaten me with my own past, from a wild assortment of tibulae, fibulae, lumbar and thoracic vertebrae, mandibles, and femurs, and have demonstrated a bizarre predilection for the parts they believe to be my skull and pelvic bones, in an effort to get inside my head, exercise their perceived right to examine my vagina, as if they actually knew something about me, my life, based on their interpretations of the white space, between said bones. Best Regards, Marcela is one such example, and if you want the pickings off the bones, the lurid, meaty-details of my personal human battles and victories, I shined up them bones in the Manifesto, and the 53 years of life and work previous to, well, this moment. Not that I’m done, a finished project, brand new me, just a more refined version of all erstwhile incarnations.
The idea that some Pickers still, no matter what I do right, by me and others, continue to pick is not the real fodder for this fable, they need to get over it, I have. Nor are the myriad and supposedly horrifying and lurid, meaty details on the yet un-picked bones in the Skeleton Closets I literally, and metaphorically walk into each and every day of my life. It is not that I am surprised or even shocked, by anything I am privy to by virtue of the various worlds I function in. Nope, humans do crazy, often really bad, really harmful shit. The real substance, the marrow, of the bones in this not-so-tall-tale, is the are-you-for-real(?) sadness and dismay I still feel, every time a well-meaning commenter notes how surprised they are to find themselves, or hear about, the kind of people seeking out my particular brand of human support. Apparently, elevated socio-economic status, education, professional designation, stardom, celebrity and/or noteriety and similar bla bla, absolve them and/or others from a), having a Skeleton Closet, and b), needing to fling open the door and cleaning that sucker out!
So let me just clarify that shit for you: the humble, the poor, the downtrodden, the homeless, the street people, can’t afford my services, unless one of the moneyed jockeys up enough and allows me to not-so-secretly subsidize them, which I often do despite, or perhaps because of, their (the moneyed) consternated and constipated off-gassings, gasps and protests, that it is not their responsibility to pay for other people’s poor choices and so on and so on and so on… but I digress, how odd… look over there, shiny-shiny unicorns…
Ok then! Seriously, the real meat here is this: Everyone, yes; every, single, human on this planet, over the age of just-born, has a Skeleton Closet, their own, or inherited, usually both. It is a huge point of commonality, and potential connection, between all members of the species called the human race. But instead of using our personal and collective bones to (re)build and re-invent, we hide, marginalize, stigmatize, victim-blame, soldier-gather against the already wounded, those too poor, too sick, too tired, too broken, by us, other humans and our anything-but-human systems and structures. We pick and re-pick clean the bones of those bereft of the capacity to hide their skeletons, for they have no abode in which to house and hide the closet, and in so doing, we conveniently get to compare the horrificity, yes that is a word, of our skeletons, in order to feel better about self.
And when I say we, I mean them; some but not all of the moneyed, the edumacated, the well-positioned etc and so on, in our ever-hierarchied culture(s). And when I say self, I mean them, you, perhaps? For you ought to know by now, unless you, like The Pickers, have chosen to pay attention to only the words you find useful in resurrecting your version of my (others’) life and truth, that the doors to my Skeleton Closets have been flung wide open, right off their hinges, for decades; at first by them and you, and then by me. For I realized some time ago, that a secret is only a secret, and shameful, when it stays a secret, which they don’t do very well anyway, by nature.
Interestingly, though not surprisingly; some of the most heinous artifacts and living monsters I have encountered, are the ones wreaking havoc in the be-dungeoned, mostly deeply buried and steel-vaulted closets, of the moneyed, the edumacated, the well-positioned and so on and so on. They continue to live and proliferate their brand of misery in the deeply flawed belief that they do not qualify at best, as struggling humans, and at worst, as really fucked up like those other people. And the truly tragic bit, the bit that breaks my heart and often triggers torrents of tears on my cheeks as I travel the highways and byways of this land, in the course of my mission to support them, and often the folks they unwittingly(?) victimize, is the ingrained-ness of it all, in the minds of the masses. The convenience with which the sheeple buy in.
Which brings me to the entire Jian Ghomeshi thing: Read the Manifesto in its entirety, please, and you will find a number of my realities relating to sexualized violence against me as a child, as a youth, as a young adult, as a wife and mother, not to mention that which was flung and forced upon me under the true horrors of widely held beliefs the like of you can’t rape a hooker, your girlfriend, or your wife. None of the perpetrators of said sexualized and other vileness and assault were the poor, the homeless, the addicted, those perceived as abnormal. They were the most upstanding, in mainstream’s view, of citizens, family men, business men, and professionals. And, according to them and the negative social response box, it was always my own fault, so how on earth would I find the gumption to report it?
Let me clear that shit up for you today. Right here, right now. 1) The age of consent was 14, and apparently no did not mean no to Al G. when he helped himself to my virginity. He raped me. He never owned it, even when I put him in front of it, especially then. Trying to pass me off to his family the night after as an 18-year old University student, spoke volumes. 2) Ed W., upstanding family man and lawyer knew it too, so as long as I didn’t jump up and down in protest after he and his lovely spouse fed an emotionally hurting 14 year-old babysitter copious amounts of all-manner of dope, he could engage in any activity on and with my body, not considered sexual intercourse. He is guilty of sexualized assault; she is guilty of co-signing it, by virtue of ignoring it, over and over and over again. His apology for ‘cheating on Shirley,’ his wife, does not count as taking personal responsibility. Ever. 3) The men who paid me rent for the agreed upon uses of my body and time, the ones who got a clear NO to certain requests prior to me ever taking a dime, the ones who chose to force their proclivities on my person anyway, did not purchase the right to do so. They raped me, sexually and otherwise assaulted me. Period. 4) The men I was married to and some that I dated; had neither the right to inflict their unwanted sexual needs nor their fists and boots, upon my body, mind and most importantly, my already broken spirit. Again, I direct you to the Manifesto for details, if you care enough to understand the context of how people get to how they get, where they get, and why it is such a grind to get back up, when they are consistently beaten to a pulp, literally and figuratively speaking, by the people who love them, and the systems designed to help them. And in this case, when I say them, I mean me. In the past tense of course, please remember, all the skeletons in my publicly aired closets, are dead, to me.
The purpose of this outing then, is not in any way related to a continuing process of letting go for me, it is done. The purpose is to answer, from my perspective and lived experience, this question: ‘What kind of woman won’t report sexual assault’? The language used in that headline is extremely problematic for me and a post unto itself, one that I will spare you, for now, but if you wish, check out the first bit of the Manifesto for a bit of clarity about that trigger. My answer to the present question, is as follows:
When I tried to tell people, about any or all of the herein noted acts of violence, abuses of sexualized and other powers forced upon and against my person, I was shut down, ridiculed, blamed, patronized, and on more than one occasion, beat up some more. In other words, re-victimized to the point where not saying anything, when these things occurred again, or about those previous, was safer than any other alternative; physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Period.
Which leads me to the brilliant deduction reached by another well-meaning commenter, who is about to make it off my friend list, in person and in the cyber world.
Well now that you’re over all of it, and have become this great, strong, warrior woman and champion of the underdog, it is your duty to out those bastards, make them pay. If you don’t you are perpetuating their nasty deeds, co-signing it the same way Shirley did. It is your ethical duty Marcela!
So let me just clear that shit up for you OK? Firstly, there exists no over, under, around, no shortcuts. Ever. There is only through. I have put more of my blood, sweat and tears into becoming this person, the one looking at you here, today, waded through more shit in my 53 years than most of them/you have ever flushed. As a result, I have a massive heart and compassion, for myself, for my tribe; my child, my aging mother, my man, and the other folks that I call my people. I even have compassion for the mis-guided bastards (m.g.b’s) that harmed me most. Take a quick flight On the Wing of my Dragon, for more on that bit. Secondly, I have compassion for, and am acutely aware of the people around the misguided bastards. Because as hard as I work at it, I cannot change others’ perceptions of some issues, and their children, their grandchildren, their wives, their mothers, their siblings, would also be harmed by any all actions I may choose to engage in against said m.g.b’s. The potential for all of us to reap the painful and unnecessary benefits of someone else’s need, for me to take up arms, again, is simply too great.
Mostly though, and hear this, please: Like so many other women I know, I am done waging war, battling, done and done surviving. I lived it; my life, my past, their violence, your/their negative social-violence response to it. I trudged and slogged and too often, almost died at my own and other’s hands in the midst of, or as a direct result of it. I have put in over two decades of W O R K and personal energy into surviving it, owning what parts I had in it, amending it, healing it, thriving not despite, but because of it. Therefore, I no longer need to wear it, or your/their expectations of what I ought to do with it in the service of other humans. Actually, I flat out refuse to do that, to me.
It has shaped me beautifully, and with grace even, but I do not live there. So, there is plenty of space for the Lookie-Loos, the Voyeuristic-Vultures known as the Pickers and anyone else who cares to dig around through the picked-over hand-me-downs, the mirror-polished bones, publicly closeted, in the hallowed halls of my previous lives. Welcome, to my (un)haunted house.
I no longer occupy my past. That; is the answer.
Clear? Great. Peace.
Yours with all the Love I have, the real-deal: MyLa: Utterly Unchained & Unfettered.
On BDSM (for those confused souls re: the Ghomeshi thing): in a true BDSM relationship/encounter, the power always belongs to the submissive, so if you don’t know what it is actually about, please, stop talking. Several years including BDSM with a beautiful soul and fellow (previously) harmed hu(man), allowed me to get, take power back in terms of my own sexuality, the healthy grown woman sexuality I enjoy today; the one I got to discover for myself, because all previous versions were assigned to me, by acts of sexualized violence, power over, and/or the box(es) called shame, internalizing oppression, and the like.
Image found here http://pumabydesign001.com/2013/06/04/
Hello friends, colleagues and above all, supporters of this movement! (For history and more information please click here). Also, this quick disclaimer: this post requires editing, 50.4 K was a long walk and I am tired, get back with better writing skills soon :)
For the second year in a row (for other walks/photos please click here), my fabulously social-justice-minded-son and I, walked 50 Kilometres (50.4 actually) on the Trans Canada Trail between Duncan and Lake Cowichan. It was great, it was exhilarating, because a) I got to spend that much time with my all-time favourite human on the planet, and b) I got to do something in an effort to show two people I don’t know, that someone cares, that someone actually gives a damn, and it was a gift and a grind, as always. And it happens in one of my favourite places on the planet, the community I call home, or rather a gorgeous hunk of trail in that community.
The way I see it, I had the privilege of spending a significant amount of time with my awesome (clearly, I am biased) living-in-another-town-adult-child, I got to spend a significant amount of time on the trail that saves my heavily-burdened social-worky-mind-body-and-spirit, a couple/three times a week, and I/we got the opportunity to be of service. win/win, hands down.
There was a bit of drama first thing after we set out in my vehicle to the trail head, I couldn’t find my watch and Kilometer-counter, so we determined (ok my son did) that I must have dropped it in my driveway getting into the car, and had to go back. This put us a little behind the start time I had planned, but really, we knew it was going to take all day, not my/our first Rodeo, so who’s counting minutes…?
It wasn’t possible to have folks at the trail-head in Lake Cowichan to help us re-energize with food and hydration – clean/organic and home-made of course, so we left a cooler full of health and yummy, including really good coffee, in my Trusty steed, Roger the Social-Working Rogue, and set out at 7:30 a.m. to do our first 30 K.
We walked 15-something K out, and turned around and came back to re-plenish, rest a bit, re-juvenate, and engage in trail-warrior first aid. This was my 4th big walk, and every year, my injuries are different. Kind of fits with the rest of my life ;) This year, blisters on my heels, and some unexpected shoulder pain were/are an issue, but I’m tough. That was at 1:39 p.m., and our distance walked at that point was 31.4 K.
Really, I am tough, but carrying 50 k worth of energy drinks, trail mix, fruit, grass-fed beef jerky and other necessities like moleskin Ibuprofen/Tylenol and water), is a bit much to ask, of even this energizer bunny :)
And then we walked back out 9 K, and turned around for the final 9-ish. The final 9-ish was not horrible for the first little while, but coming up on last few-to-go was starting to hurt bad and even though my ManChild and I never lack for full, rewarding, deep, meaningful, and often uproariously funny topics of conversation, we got quiet. We got back to Roger at 6:27 p.m., and had 50.4 Kilometers on the counter. 11 hours, with 10 of full-on (power) walking, the other hour included our almost 30 minute hydration/food/first aid break, and many, many quick moments of first aid and rock-out-of-shoe-dumpings. There was never any doubt that we would finish, we are not only determined, we are somewhat stubborn, but more than anything else, the why of what we were doing out there, makes the physical discomfort (during and after ;) quite bearable.
Which begs the question, one that is often asked; why don’t I/we just give to charities like everyone else, and get a tax write off? The answer is simple: I/we are not like everyone else. Ever. In most things we do, many of the ways in which we live life, and in what we believe to be the truth about life, the state of the world, and by direct extension, the human experience. And don’t assume, please, that I have created a clone named T.G.R.T.. I have not. I have taught him how to think, not what to think. It shows, and I do not feel ego-maniacal making that statement, I am grateful for all of the hard work I have, and continue to put in, as a parent first, and then, sometimes, a friend-type person. And I have never been afraid to have him pissed off at me, I don’t like it, but it never stopped me from setting what I believe(d) to be the good example, the appropriate boundary, and sometimes, just plain old laying down the parental law. Always, in his best interest, which to me means teaching him the skills to understand the world, and how to deal when life gets life-y, not bubble-wrapping him from it, not dumping my experiences of, and responses to it, all over him. Again, it shows. But I digress, how unusual for me…
Back to the why: I have experienced human struggle of every ilk and variety, and when I hit the wall running (out of steam) almost 20 years ago, there was support available to me. It came from various human serving agencies including those funded by Government at the time, from some members of my immediate family, from grass-roots movements with which I continue to engage to this day, but the single biggest difference between me breathing another day and taking myself off the planet, was the respect and dignity two professionals saw fit to treat me with. They, unknowingly, also had a great deal of influence on why I chose Social Work over Law when I began rebuilding myself, again, at a stage in life when most folks are looking forward to retiring in a decade or two.
The only reason I have become the ‘success’ and (hated, to me) poster-child of comebacks, is because those two people cared enough, to look beyond the outwardly apparent struggle(s), to get to know something about how I got there, who I am, my strengths, my shortcomings, and they saw, that in order to help me get back up, I would need the resources (of every ilk and variety), with which to stay standing. I am a keener, I took their outstreched hands, and have not looked back. See that streak of energy-love-compassion-brain-and-gratitude? That be me, and now, my kid. (For the stories, as told by them, of this year’s walk-donation-recipients, please click here).
Again, back to the why: The very systems and resources and sadly, some of the humans in them, that were once designed to do exactly what I described above, provide a compassionate, context-seeing hand up, are failing all of us. I worked in the non-profits for many years, Government funded and Grassroots, in various capacities and levels of service, and in or around the systems that are meant to help people when life happens, like Income Assistance, Health Care, Housing, (dis)Ability). These are life issues, and even at their perceived and most violently hated, debated and judged worst (i.e. mental health, addictions and the like), still, are not personal or moral deficiencies (for more on that please click here and here), they are, life issues, they have a context, and we are all culpable in it. It is not ok to be globally connected, hiding behind our screens sharing internet memes about ‘Activist Actions’ (don’t even get me going on that), and watching our community members flail, while blaming them for their own misery, whatever shape and/or hideous form it happens to take. Yes, they/we need to own our part, remedy the parts we can, but I personally, and my son, and all of the folks who donated their time and money to us and our recipients, are not smoke and mirror activists, we walk, passionately, and with enthusiasm and love, many many talks, in this case, literally. And we don’t give a hoot (anymore) whether some folks like, or even hate it.
So, we do it because 50 K on a trail, some time and love intensive work on a campaign, some physical discomfort for a few days, lost income for a few days, is beyond worth knowing that the money, time and energy, mine, my sons, and everyone else who has contributed in any meaningful way, is going directly where it is needed most. To some humans who need it most, now, and get to spend it in the best way possible; based on what they need. Not on what we, think they need, or worse, think they deserve.
The most interesting and disturbing observation, piece of fodder for my next rant on this blog, is the following: the folks who can least afford to extend themselves financially, expend time and/or physical energy, extended themselves the most. The folks who are the most blessed in these capacities, the least. No harm no foul though, I’ll take anyone’s money for our Walk of Love, because that, is really and truly what it is all about. Love is everything.
That then, is why. Clear? Great. Peace. And thank you. Truly, from the bottom of our massive, well-lit hearts.
~Marcela & T.G.R.T.
PS: It is never too late to donate:
Internet banking e-transfer to:
I will also provide you with information via that email address about other ways in which I can collect your donation if e-transfer is not your gig.
Thoughts on Burnout, and my Social-Worky Soul
A few years ago, I was gainfully and happily(?) employed by 2 non-profits, in two full-time human service positions, very different from one another, but challenging, in a great way. I had been with both of these agencies for several years, in various capacities. I had the privilege of direct work with folks in one, and management in the second. Each supported the other by providing insider knowledge of the workings, barriers, and nuances of human service provision, from both sides of the coin. I was also actively pursuing a graduate degree in a demanding every-weekend-for-3-years-program, and was building the beginnings of a private practice. Yes, I had 3 jobs and was going to school. I was putting in about 90 hours per week. Yay me! I had no other life to speak of, and I had moved a very long commute away from my work and academic worlds (and personal supports), in order to achieve bliss during the rare moments, in which I actually got to live in the over-mortgaged home, I moved heaven and earth to possess, in an effort to achieve, said bliss. But that, is a different story entirely, one I will tell elsewhere. Oh, and I had just launched my then 19 year old ManChild. I spent the last 12 of his 19 years at that point, modelling what I thought at the time, was a good way to be in the world: Driven, striving, achieving, setting ever loftier goals, ever more impossible expectations for self, and inadvertently, those I served, including him. It was not pretty.
I was as driven by the injustices in the world, directed at me and the folks I consider my people, as I was by my own burning desire to prove certain people wrong, about whom and what I was, and I had many, many cheerleaders to fuel my passion. Go Marcela, we know you can, we know you can! Go go go, rah rah rah! Pom-Poms flying high, everyone I knew had my back, they were there for me! How I appreciated their appreciation! Adored their adoration! 2010 appeared to be a high point in my professional and academic life, I was already planning for the PhD. I could not, however, for the life of me, shake what had become a constant low-key discomfort, a knowing, that something, was very wrong. I thought out loud, about some of the following for the newsletter of one of my employers. It was never finished or printed, they were afraid, rightfully, for the funding that remained, I was afraid, rightfully, for my jobs. The foreboding, the dread in my heart, was bang on. It always is.
September, 2010 (edited, 2014):
I am passionate about my work. Anyone who knows me will agree with this statement. I am, admittedly, a social-worky type; I care deeply about human beings and human struggle. I want to do something that matters in my lifetime. I want more than anything, for struggling folks to have access to the resources that were available to me when I struggled. I believe, with all my heart, that even the most depraved, desperate and deprived souls, can be redeemed when we treat them with love, respect, and some measure of human dignity, but not, at the cost of losing or giving away our own. This is easier said than done. Humans in crisis are often difficult to love, I was. We must look beyond the obvious, beyond the attitude and defences, to their context, to understand their so-called choices. Our humanity must connect with their humanity, regardless of where they are, what they have done, to whom. This requires true grit, and unconditional positive regard; for them, and for us; who undertake the role of Sherpa, on what has become a gruelling trek, a mountaineering expedition, for too many ill-equipped, bare-footed, often inadvertent, hikers. For me it is not about us and them, it is we, together, trying to navigate unconscionable systems, booby-trapped at every turn with (more) bureaucratic quagmire, than even professional trail-blazers, social-worky types like yours truly, can stumble their way through, without sustaining serious injury to the body, spirit and psyche.
So, I continue to climb ever-steeper hills, traverse ever more treacherous mountains alongside the folks off whose misery I make a living. I try not to vomit every time someone says ‘oh good for you for helping those people,’ in a tone so patronizing and derogatory that the thought of gouging my eyeballs out with a rusty dinner fork, feels like so much fun. Those people; are my people, our people, human beings experiencing human struggle. Not one of them, not a single solitary one, raised their hand and said “this is where I want to be in life, this (insert human struggle of choice here) is what I aspire to,” when they were asked in grade one, what they want to be when they grow up. I know I didn’t.
Staunchly, stoic little social-worky type that I am, I trudge onward and upward, human dignity, social justice and plain old rebel adrenaline fueling my (com)passion and activist engines. The climb is more and more difficult, even for me, the energizer bunny’s jet-propelled twin sister, and I struggle to stay optimistic in the face of sweeping cuts to social (human) services. Cuts cleverly disguised as Community Development Ventures, Service Provision Efficiency Models, Transformation Projects and similarly ridiculous rhetoric and drivel, which at the core, is nothing more than the silo-ing and big-boxing of human services. It comes at the direct expense of society’s most vulnerable, stigmatized, marginalized, and barriered individuals, families and communities, and those of us sincerely engaged in creating meaningful change in their/our lives, and to the systems and structures oppressing us all. One cannot pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps when their boots have been taken away, and glass strewn on the ground they are to trudge on to do something with their lives. And us helpers, cannot help, how I despise that word, because our hands are tied behind our backs with restrictive/prescriptive and victim-blaming solutions, never mind the onslaught of one-size-fits-all of big-box human services. Pass me the rusty dinner fork, please, I am about to hurl!
I think about the young Aboriginal woman on my case-load, the one whose file I was forced to close, who will not see her child, the child who will not see his mother, because a funding contract has come to an end, and no other planning has occurred that will ensure their rights, their human dignity, maintain their mother-child bond and relationship. It appears that not much has changed in 500 years for her and her people; and anyone else who has the misfortune of a life context and experience that does not fit the box. I am tired. Tired of the victim blaming, tired of preaching to the converted, and above all, tired of convincing my people, that things will be OK, and that I will be there for them, that I’ve got their back, when the truth is, a month from now; I might not have a job. I see the steamroller coming but continue to stoically stand in its path, trying desperately to believe that good and evil are but silly concepts in a Harry Potter book, and that justice will prevail. I have to believe that the steamroller will not hit me, us. And I ask myself; stoic or stupid?
Fast-forward to June 2011:
The steamroller hits full on. I am flattened to the ground, melted into a puddle of toxic human-service waste. Lit on fire with the only spark that remains: self-loathing and a personal refrain screaming inside me: You failed! You were not strong enough! You did not know enough, did not do enough, you did not try hard enough! You are not enough! Burn.
One job went the way of a massive lay-off following sweeping funding cuts to the Province’s human service sector, as it pertained to child protective and related community services. These cuts to contracts induced the permanent folding of one of the very organizations that had a pivotal role in my personal success, so many years ago; one of the reasons I am in this work, stayed clean, got the kid back, got letters behind my name, made something of my wretched existence, and similar bla bla… . I know something about personal struggle. I have come through the other side of multiple life traumas (MoP&PP), harmful survival responses and systemic barriers, waded through more shit than many have flushed, all of which had reduced me, for a time, to what much of mainstream culture treats like so much manure on the bottom of their well-heeled feet.
The other job, the management position, the one it felt as though I had bled my soul into for the better part of 6 years, went the way of complete and utter burnout, and workplace bullying. Both were fuelled in a large part by the massive funding structure changes, the slashing of financial contracts to crucial programs, and a ‘new and improved,’ funder imposed, model of service provision. One that would see the organization morph from it’s against-all-odds-successful-grass roots-methods, to just another boxed program that in no way, shape or form, could work for the folks we trudged alongside, or for us, the professional trudgers with the benefit of lived experience, and privilege of letters behind our names. I was bullied by someone I had hired to help me, and then I was fired because I had fried to a crisp and was too broken to a) do my job well, and b), too tired to notice that I was being bullied and broken, until it was too late, on both counts. I take full responsibility for the parts that were mine, but I will encourage you to think about this from Vikki Reynolds. She is the first person to have articulated, well, my thoughts, position, confusion, about the internally and externally perpetuated myths on burnout, in the milieus and worlds I occupy, as a human helper-type:
Ideas of burnout sound like we’re not doing enough yoga or drinking enough water- and those are important things I do yoga and I drink water- but self-care is not enough to offset the issues of poverty, violence, and basic dignity people struggle with. Self-care puts the burden of working in unjust contexts onto the backs of us as individual workers. Work alongside people with more money, resources and status is less likely to result in what gets called burnout and can make those workers look more professional, when in fact all people’s pain is real, and we don’t want to be pitted against each other as workers. The problem of staying alive in the work gets constructed as a very individual project. Yet the issues are social and require collective actions and accountability.
This, and Vikki’s other various writings on this topic remind me of why I despise the term front-line, as a descriptor for direct work with folks in pain: it implies, rather explicitly, that they are the enemy I, and others like me, are fighting. When in truth, our enemy is a mutual one, regardless of any individual’s, family’s, or group’s personal or collective struggle. The enemy is the systems and structures of a world that is neither benign, nor fair, and nothing like, just.
Fast-forward to February 2014:
The bulk of my income for the past several years has come from self-employment in private practice, as a Registered Social Worker and Family Development Counsellor. My work includes negotiation, access supervision and documentation in child protection and/or custody and access disputes, mediation, counselling, group and individual life skills work, and compassionate interventions. It might, but might not; involve working hand in hand with the Child Protection System, the Legal System and/or Corrections. The only common denominator for all of this work is that the client pays me, not the systems. There is no specific demographic group; my people come from all walks of life and socio-economic statuses, levels of education, in all colours and ethnicities, and from all corners of the world. No, and no, they are not all sex workers and drug addicts. I know you were wondering. I charge sliding scale/income based fees, I subsidize the poor with the rich. Some days I feel like Robin Hood-ette, others, I just cringe that this is what the systems have devolved to: in some instances, I am the only game in town for someone to be able to spend more than one hour per week with their child(ren), and try to prove to their detractors, whom-ever they be, that they are worthy as parents.
There are no benefits involved, I have not been to the dentist in almost 4 years, no sick days with pay, no paid holidays, and other than the amazing woman I pay for clinical supervision/counselling, no support from an organization’s team leader, or team members/colleagues. At times, not even the police have my back when the shit hits the fan. And it does. I have had complaints filed against me to the BC College of Social Workers more than once, always by folks who did not receive the glowing documentation that they thought they were paying for. I am registered with the College by choice, because I believe that everyone in this work, regardless of your academic title or background, needs to be accountable to something other than self. And while I have never feared that the College would find me guilty of the crimes I purportedly committed against these folks, the process is time-consuming, laborious, and one that places the onus squarely on my shoulders, to prove my innocence.
On the flip side, this work is as challenging, in a great way, as any other in the realm of supporting other folks get to a better place, watching someone’s face light up because they ‘get it,’ and my clients’ success rate, is considered high. I attribute this to a very human and pragmatic style of practice, which places human dignity in the number one position in terms of practice principles, and taking context into account in the number two, along with the obvious best interests and safety of children, in cases where little people are involved. My sole purpose and goal in any new client/case I take on, is to work myself out of a job. Not great job security, but as far as I’m concerned, the only ethical outcome possible, is to support folks to get to a place where they do not require my services any more, and not to Social-Work or Therapize them to death for the sake of a continuing pay-cheque.
My job is never the same two days in a row, often takes place in several communities in the course of a day, and sometimes, I even get to do the job the way I believe it needs to be done. The money is better than in the non-profits per hour, but there is a very high financial, physical, and emotional output, and I certainly will not be able to retire any time soon. Most likely, not at all, there is also no pension plan. The cheerleaders refrain (go back a paragraph or two), turned a long time ago, from Go Marcela! to noises like ‘you have taken on too much, you should learn to slow down, have a hot bath, do some yoga, drink more water, you thrive on drama, and that client probably threatened you because you pushed his buttons or you did not write them a favourable report, provide the testimony they needed… .’ Let me be clear: I do not get paid to report, write, counsel, testify about what anyone wants to hear, I get paid to tell the truth, and if that truth sucks, I expect folks to change it, according to the plan we have collaboratively worked out, so that I can leave, knowing they are safer, stronger, than when I got there. Mostly though, the cheerleaders left when I crashed and burned. It appears, that a good chunk of my rah-rah team was a bunch of fair-weather friends, turned frightened-guinea fowl when the flames got too high, and the heat in my kitchen threatened to singe their happy perceptions of what my success and their support ought to look like. How unfortunate, that my reality blew up your fantasy. One of them hung around long enough to help me put out the blaze, start the next rise out of the ashes, but she’s gone now too. Please, do not misunderstand, I am neither bitter nor hurt, any more, just a little leery of what comes next.
For I am feeling it again, rumblings of 2010. I sense an anxiety that I am unable to shake, even when I turn my phones off before I walk into my safety zone(s), and set rigid boundaries around checking work email, doing paper work or making work calls from said zone(s). It, the anxiety, made an entrance a few weeks ago, and has become omnipresent in recent days, and fuelled by an incident with someone I have not even met. Someone I have refused to work with, because everything I know about violence was screaming inside me while talking to them on the phone. Someone who feels it is within their rights to threaten me (and others) to the point where I’m watching my back and looking for a certain vehicle around every bend. I have been here before. Literally.
To respond to the well-meaning but fairly misguided community professional I spoke with about this recently; yes, this is the work I have chosen, and yes, there is some risk involved, but that risk should not include the negative social responses and victim blaming language (Centre for Response Based Therapy) and comments I am subjected to on a daily basis; about the people I trudge alongside, about me and why and how I do this work. I repeat; let me be clear: most days, it is NOT the so-called clients that I lose sleep over, it is the response of so-called normal folks, and the oppressively convoluted systems and structures that shackle my hands behind my back, while they ask me to serve, and then remove the boots off my people’s feet, and mine, as we trudge, the ever more precarious trails and terrain of human pain and (com)passion. It seems to me, that I should not feel the need to defend everyone’s right to human dignity and personal safety, including my own.
Almost 4 years later, I still lose sleep over, I still pray for, I still think, I still wonder, about the young Aboriginal woman, about her child, about them, about their people, about my people, about their chances, about ours, about my part, about doing and being, enough. And once again, I ask myself: Stoic or stupid?
Yours, as always, Marcela: unfiltered.
February 14, 2014.
Postscript: I have thought recently, out loud and internally, that I need to be done fighting against, fighting for, fighting with, need to be finished, once and for all, with survival. And, I need be done supporting others in their survival. I must re-focus my energies on a quieter, gentler (Я)evolution, with a view toward thriving, living and working, guided by an ethic of love (bell hooks). Like her below, my favourite tree, stoic, but not stupid, unassuming, she still stands there, strong, despite, or perhaps because of, the carnage around her. I will visit her again, soon.
From Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May, 1955