Loving people and building intentional communities

Norman Rockwell's painting of Stockbridge, MA

Norman Rockwell’s painting of Stockbridge, MA

For years I’ve struggled with what it is I’m supposed to be doing during my time here on Earth. I’ve talked in previous posts about many of the things I’ve done: union and community organizing, radio and podcasting, raising my kids. I’ve also talked about things I’d like to do, chief among them some kind of religious position, like being an interfaith chaplain or a minister-without-the-supernatural, which isn’t a real title in any church I’ve heard of.

Over the years, I’ve had conversations with a few important people in my life, particularly my friend Mike Roberts, about the idea of vocation or calling – the concept of a core quality or need that runs like a thread through life. For example, I initially thought mine was communicating with people. That seemed to make sense in the context of my various jobs, from organizing to media to music. I figured my main purpose was to talk to people in one way or another, usually to bring them together for some shared goal.

Several years ago, though, someone said a single sentence to me that completely changed my view of my vocation, and helped me clarify what I want to spend my life doing. I don’t mean that this person pointed to a specific job. Rather, he illuminated what my future needs to contain.

The person in question in John Holt. He’s a Methodist minister on Cape Cod. When I knew him, he was a Methodist minister in Canandaigua, NY. He was famous in our church for the crazy things he’d do – riding a bike down the center aisle of the sanctuary with a rubber chicken in the basket, for example. He’d left the steel industry and gone to divinity school, heeding his own calling. Then he dropped out of the ministry and went into non-profit administration, before deciding that a church was where he needed to be again. By coincidence, his church was very close to the town on Cape Cod where my parents briefly lived. So when I visited them, I asked them to invite John over, because he seemed like someone I needed to talk to.

At the time I was trying yet again to decide what to do with my life, and whether I should try to finish my undergrad degree so I could go to divinity school, either at a traditional university or somewhere like the Buddhist university Naropa in Colorado. I told John about my difficulties figuring out my purpose, and that’s when he dropped the bombshell:

“I’ve always thought, ever since I knew you as a teenager, that you need a job where you get paid to love people.”

(cue dramatic music)

Just like that, in that one moment, so much about my life became clear.

Now, as any of you who’ve followed my exploits over the past few years will know, that realization hasn’t led to a clear path. I’ve bounced around the country a lot since I had that conversation, and I’ve had quite a few jobs.

I know, though, that as I work out my life in the coming years, my main focus is on loving people, and on helping to build intentional communities where people feel safe to love and support one another. I’ll probably never lose my attachment to doing that in a religious setting, though at this point, given both my atheism and my lack of an undergraduate degree, I probably won’t do that formally. I could be wrong, but I just don’t see myself finishing my degree and then going to grad school, especially given my intention to stay here in central Pennsylvania till my kids graduate from high school in 10 years.

Instead, I’m trying as hard as I can to create intentional communities, whether that means the poetry series I started here, or the store where I now work (which is more a cultural hub and meeting place than just a store), or among my family and friends. As I look back on the 23 years since I graduated from high school, it seems clear that’s been a theme running through all that time.

I still hope to do things that are even closer to that core vocation, and I think I will. In the meantime, I’m content to always ask myself how what I’m doing is contributing to the goal of loving people and helping them love themselves and one another. I mess up a lot, like anyone, but I feel that if I can keep returning to this essential concept, I can stay on a path that will result in a life well lived.

Posted in Random Musings | 7 Comments

Three New Things You’re Into

Danny Barnes

Danny Barnes

I asked folks on Facebook and Twitter to tell me three new things they’re into. I took the idea from Danny Barnes. Here’s what they said.

  • Julie White: The show Scandal, Dharma yoga, the 7 minute workout.
  • Brad Brickley: The Flash t.v.show, G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice books, my health…again.
  • Robin Yukiko: 1. D&D 2. Coconut oil (cooking with/eating it and using it on my crazy hair 3. DIY shows and fantasizing about having a house I can fix up
  • Josh Rutner: Frankie Trumbauer, Frankie Trumbauer, Frankie Trumbauer.
  • Ren Ostrofsky: Arson, vigilante justice, and building strong interpersonal relationships
  • Daryl Shawn: The last tomatoes of the year, rye flour, Yob’s “Clearing the Path to Ascend”.
  • Jenn Weinzierl Binus: tea, knitting socks, teaching Josef to sew.
  • Jason Parker: Roasted cauliflower, Treme and walking in the rain
  • Tim Niland: King Crimson, Thich Nhat H?nh, New York Giants
  • Carter DeShazo: Sia’s Chandelier (song), Tazo Zen tea, and some new organic dog food for my Ellie
  • Sally Gustavson: Fires in the fireplace, Dr. Frank Semi-dry Reisling, and crockpot dinners
  • Caitlin Wynn Destiny: (video game), 90s indie and emo, and The Following (tv show).
  • Jack Wright: Latin bugaloo music movement, Roberto Roena, and New Orleans brass bands.
  • Martin Porter: I only eat various varieties of chicken and broccoli as per instructions from a nutritionist. I play Street Fighter 4 competitively. Brahms.
  • Christopher Gordon Forbes: Experimental metal…Henry Threadgills later work…n acrylic retarder gel….makes acrylic blend like oil paint.
  • Danny Barnes: homeboy sandman, mndsgn, and delayed gratification magazine.
  • Camille-Yvette Welsch: radar poetry magazine, Paper Doll Fetus (book of poems), throwing shit out. Does the last one count?
  • Hilary Gardner: Nyquil, Kleenex, cooking shows.
  • Betsy Hill Saueressig: Cough syrup, my Nebulizer in bed, and ibuprofen.
  • Jim Colbert: Cubism, songs about artists (this morning we listened to “Cezanne” by 5 Chinese Brothers, Stabil Ethanol gas treatment.
  • David Gibson: Commodore 64, cordless telephones, Friendster
  • Chris Hults: 1)Spanish pop music (Mana) 2)Augusto Boal 3)”The Diviners” by Jim Leonard, Jr. because I’m directing it next semester.
  • Chuck Ingersoll: 1. Champian Fulton (I didn’t know that, at times, she is an adventurous, female Mark Murphy. And that’s not sexist. It’s laudatory.) 2. http://blackjazzradio.com/bjradio.html It’s all dashiki jazz all the time. Great playlists. 3. Stitcher. Did not realize how functional, friendly, and handy it is until I got it on the Chromebook.
  • Bill Thompson: 1)Hats-Its getting cold 2)Raking-There’s a shit ton of leaves 3) Jackets-See 1)
  • Laura Waldhier: Mass Effect (video game), Unwritten (comic book), and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (book)
  • Ross Hammond: IPA, Robbie Basho, vests
  • Irene Jaglowski: I second “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, also, Emily Wells and cartwheels.

Singer/songwriter Robin Yukiko also asked her friends this question. Here’s what they said:

  • Kori Beyer: Cooking with pumpkin, ed sheeran (don’t judge), push ups.
  • Daniel Feit: Doctor Who, Desert Golfing (smartphone game), “Shia LaBoeuf” by Rob Cantor
  • Ben Bausher: San Fermin (the band), figuring out how to cook the rest of the cabbage from my CSA in a way that everyone will eat, and battlestar galactica.
  • Joanna Bridge: Books by Jill Shalvis, NCIS: New Orleans, how cosmic filaments affect star formation histories in galaxies.
  • Tosha Crow: American Horror Story, Artist Trading Cards, and my current book, “Summer of Night,” by Dan Simmons.
  • Jason Crane: XTC, Lonesome Dove, the poetry of Zbigniew Herbert
  • Dana Barattin: making pies, hibiscus tea, and personality disorders (i work with severe mental illness, and i feel like this group is very neglected and misrepresented!)
  • Marshall Biever: Four Year Strong (go down in history E.P. no shame.) Hanging out on the #4 and major 7th when soloing in Lydian, and mixed modality within a solo.
  • Jessica Henninger Crock: Pots, pirates, and striving for minimalism.
  • Christine Libutti: Amy Poehler’s book “Yes Please”, using coconut oil as make-up remover, and drinking hot cider before bed.
  • Keiko Takamura: Brendan Jordan (I am obsessed with this kid!), looking at #inktober drawings, Pentatonix (kinda guilty pleasure, but GAH they are so talented!)
  • Melissa Nilsson: Finally getting on the Parks & Rec train, the new podcast from This American Life, Serial (one story tod over many weeks), and pining for my Halloween yarn dreads. Haha, just kidding. XKCD dude’s book, What If.
  • Holly Chandler: eating low sugar/ketogenic, snow queens and wintry folklore, fragrances (candles and oils and the like) that smell like cedar, pine or the woods in general
  • Alicia Parker: 1. YA post apocalyptic fiction 2. Fancy picnics in hikes and 3. Going to bed early
Posted in Random Musings | 2 Comments

My experience as a stalking victim

Image via www.tntmagazine.com

Image via www.tntmagazine.com

Earlier this year I ended a relationship that I never should have been in; it was a mistake and I am fully responsible for my part in it. I tried to end it as cleanly as possible, under the circumstances. Unfortunately, the aftermath of this relationship has now greatly impacted my life, because my former lover has become my stalker.

I’ve never had any experience with being stalked until this year. It’s been a revelation — the amount of psychological harm that can be done by a person who just constantly shows up is more than I’d imagined.

In my case, my stalker is constantly at my job, where I’m the store manager. I work in a private business, but it’s a community gathering space. My stalker is there most days. She sits and watches me while I work. I actually rearranged some of the furniture to make that harder for her to do. But it still happens. And when she talks to people, she usually does it so she can watch me at the same time. She leaves notes for purchases at the counter, and this past week even came up and spoke to me.

My stalker has also befriended several of my employees, some of whom no longer speak to me as a result. She’s slowly made her way through the staff, telling stories about me and becoming part of their social lives. Now many of my employees know about our relationship without my ever having told them. And of course they know only one side of the story.

The combination of her constant presence and her connections with my employees has turned my job from one of my favorite things into a place where I often feel hunted and uncomfortable. I’ve started having panic attacks when she shows up, and I often have to leave the building to take a walk around the block and get myself under control.

I also have to be very careful about the people I’m seen speaking to at work when she’s there, because I’m afraid for them. She’s already begun following and investigating my friends on social media, according to their own accounts. I’ve even seen her watching me on the street when I’m with friends, passing by the same spot multiple times to keep tabs on me.

In this age of social media, we’re all more vulnerable to stalking than ever. My stalker’s Twitter feed, I discovered tonight, contains very little other than comments about me and conversations with the people I know on social media. I didn’t realize this until someone pointed it out. It’s scary to watch my stalker interact with the people I know online, none of whom know about her relationship to me.

Nobody deserves this. Yes, we had a relationship we shouldn’t have had. But that doesn’t mean my life has to now be derailed by this one mentally unbalanced person. I do my best to ignore it, but I live in a small town and I work in an even smaller social community inside that small town. I know I’ve now been demonized in the eyes of some of the people of this community, and I don’t think that’s merited by my behavior. It’s much harder to deal with than I would have thought. I’m working on it, both legally and through mental health resources.

It’s scary.

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POEM: I tried not to write a poem about you,

Click the image for a larger version.


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Dealing with deepening depression

Painting by Louise Udovich

Painting by Louise Udovich

One thing about depression is that for many people, including me, its intensity varies. In my own case, I’m always experiencing a background radiation of depression, but for months at a time I can control it well with drugs and therapy and meditation. Sometimes, though, it gets worse, and even those techniques can’t keep it at bay.

For the past month or two I’ve noticed more severe symptoms returning. I find it hard to accomplish simple tasks. It’s a chore to be around people. I have a real desire to hide in my apartment. It’s hard to concentrate. And I get anxiety attacks — sweating, shaking, a flight response, fast heartbeat, dizziness. I know intellectually that it’s happening, and I still do my three main things (drugs, therapy, meditation), but I can’t out-think my depression.

One of the most annoying things about depression for me is that it tends to lead to behavior that feeds back into the depression. For example, there are tasks I need to complete for people. I don’t finish them, which leads to guilt and anxiety, which makes the depression worse, which makes me even less able to complete these tasks.

All these years of therapy and meditation mean that I’m less prone to beat up on myself than I used to be. Even if I can’t out-think the beast, I can at least realize it’s there and try to be kind to myself while things are at their worst. And I know that I feel like I do because my brain doesn’t work properly, not because I’m a bad person.

As always, I’m not writing about this so that anyone will treat me differently. This has been happening for many weeks and I’ve been out there in the world, trying to be the best me I can be. Most people don’t even notice.

I’m writing about this because I bet other people I know are dealing with similar mental health situations, and they might find some comfort in having company. If I’d broken my leg or been in an accident or been diagnosed with a physical illness, I’d probably talk about it. I think the same should apply to mental illness, assuming the individual is comfortable being open. Everyone’s level of comfort varies.

Anyway, I’m working through this phase. I finally have health insurance, thanks to a beautiful friend, so I should be able to do more therapy and stay consistent with my medication. And I just completed my 800th consecutive daily meditation last night, and I don’t intend to stop now.

Finally, if you think you might be suffering from depression or another mental illness, talk to someone. Most of the time, you can’t talk your way out of these things, but there are ways to get healthier.

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POEM: The Giraffe


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