Words to the Whys

More than once I’ve been asked why I identify with, and therefore travel, the Sufi path. (It is a path, not a religion. You don’t have to be a Muslim to be a Sufi; anyone can travel the path, either solo or with the beliefs of your choice as a companion.)

I found online this delightful encapsulation of but a few pearls of Rumi’s wisdom. If you don’t know who Rumi is, you may want to check him out. His work inspired me above all else to follow the Sufi path of love, harmony, and beauty.

I edited what I found online into a form ‘suitable for framing,’ as they say. I did it as a reminder to myself why I follow the Sufi path, but then thought I would post it here. Perhaps you, too, shall find a pearl or two of wisdom for yourself. These are distillations of his work — if you really want to be blown away, read his poetry!

May all unfold beautifully for you,
Khabira (aka Jen!)
RumiQuotes

I blame Yoda

‘No try. Only do.’

Do; do; do. As Americans (but increasingly I’m seeing it in other societies as well), we’ve grown up believing that only when we are ‘doing’ are we of any value.

And as a sufferer of post-traumatic stress disorder, I have spent my life trying to ‘do’; trying to prove I was smart enough, holy enough, attractive enough, kind enough, hard-working enough, rich enough, poor enough, able enough, disabled enough. But whatever I did was never enough. Even if the governing agency/family member/ doctor/counsellor/priest/bishop/professor thought I’d done enough, I never felt I’d done enough. Always more to do! Never enough! I’ve never felt ‘enough.’

Even my last blog: I shared my wisdoms with you because, once again (but unmindful of my motivation), I was trying to prove myself, prove to you the wisdom of my choices, past and present. I wanted you to see that things really and truly do work out perfectly and at exactly the right moment. I wanted you to know I’m happy. Joyful, even! As someone who cares for me, you desire this, right? ‘This blog is a really cool way to tell you I’m doing great!’ I thought.

Yet no one believes me. I’ve been blown away by the reactions to my last blog. Perhaps it was cryptic, but that’s only because you haven’t realized those truths for yourself yet. (Look how long it took me!)

Perhaps it’s that you, too, are trapped in a ‘do-do’ world. Your frustrations come from not being able to ‘do’ anything for me. Oh, my beloved one, your unfailing love and emotional support over the years is more precious than you can ever imagine. It’s been the kind of love that has wrought miracle after miracle in my life. How can you possibly think you haven’t/can’t ‘do’ enough to help me? In fact, the kind of help you give (through your love and support) can be given from anywhere in the world. The miracles of Skype and such can help me to see your dear faces, but there’s not an app in the world that can generate the love I have from you, and vice-versa.

So many of you still wonder why I’m in Ireland. I’m not sure what you think I’m doing over here, but I can assure you that I am fighting still for my invalidity pension. I’m fighting for the disability allowance. I’m on pain medication (maybe this is why I feel euphoric?!) and can walk without my cane or walker. I started a statin for the cholesterol. I’m on the angiogram waiting list, and I may be able to get into a clinical trial for those who have Hyperlipidemia Type IIa. Next week I’m getting a biopsy of the breast lump. I’ve got my first appointment with a PTSD counsellor tomorrow. I got blood results back today, and my haemoglobin is over 13 — for the first time in ten years. (This means the B12 issue is improving.) Ireland is a good place for me to be. My body likes being here because it seems to work better. And did I mention it’s FREE? (Portland was great, too, but it’s too expensive to live there.)

If you’ve sent money, thank you. I am now warm enough (at last!). I can now afford to drive to the places I need to go for these treatments. Nearly all the services are at least half an hour’s drive from here and many are not accessible by bus.

You see, I’ve taken my own advice, the wisdom I shared with you in my last blog. Despite the reactions I’ve had to medications in the past, I’m taking them. Despite my aversion to drugs and my abhorrence of surgical procedures, I’m going to undergo them. I will not let past experiences or future fears make my decisions. I’m in Ireland and these health services are available for FREE (or nearly free.) And, I remind myself, I can’t make a wrong decision, especially if I’m in the right place.

Would any of you be able to do a breast biopsy or an angiogram? Of course not. I don’t need you for that, though. And I have Irish friends who check on me all the time. I’m having a ball in Fintown, taking Irish lessons, learning to play the tin whistle and accordion, attending local events, and just enjoying life. I have a huge house with no stairs, so I get around just fine. I love fixing it up. I’ve got a compost heap out the back for the garden I hope to tend.

How frustrating that people don’t believe me, but then again, I have no control over how people are going to react to what I say or write. You’d have to see me to believe me, I guess. (And that’s where the irony of the situation comes in, eh?) After this blog, I refuse to try to prove myself again to you. (Well, I’ll try!)

I just want you to know that your doing ‘nothing’ but loving me is why I’m so damn happy. It’s why, over the past several years, I’ve said I feel like the wealthiest woman in the world even when I had only a dollar in the bank. Surely no one is loved as much as I am. You couldn’t do more for me if you had a million dollars. No, really!

I would have loved to personally email each of you who responded to my last blog, but I don’t want to spend all my time on the computer! None of us know when our end will be, but I hope mine comes when I’m either sharing time with you in my home, or out enjoyin’ meself.

Whether you believe I’m joyful or not is out of my control. I shall stop trying to convince you. Please keep my last blog (and maybe this one, too) handy. Someday, it won’t seem cryptic at all. You’ll understand that my words are the greatest gift I know how to give; they are symbols of my love for you. I’m trying to put into words things that cannot be described and that exist outside of the physical realm. There is no ‘try’; there is no ‘do’; there is only BE.

Take that, Yoda!

Top Ten Tips (or, The Tao of the Broc for her bewildered friends & family)

I started with four tips. Then it was six. Now I do believe it’s more than ten, but I love to alliterate, so what can I say? After the Tips, I’m afraid I’ve got even more to say. [Words of warning: don’t read this at work unless your boss is out of the office. You’ll be fired for time-wasting.]

I considered splitting this blog into byte-sized pieces for easier digestion, but I confess to a sense of urgency though it is not of a frantic, frenetic or panicky nature. If there is such a thing as serene urgency, then this drives my words. I assure you that I was utterly sane, sober, and compos mentis, at least for the two days it took me to pen this. Whether the life that resulted in the wisdom I share today was totally sane, well, I cannot be the judge of that. Many wise folks have been accused of insanity and worse. And yes, I am presuming to call what’s in here wisdom. It is the distillation of my years on earth.

I’m in the process of discovering whether I have the courage to accept the Truth of the Tips I share with you now. I am dealing with powerful health ‘facts’ right now that almost send me running to the nearest hole in the sand. The Sirens of Sensibleness, dressed in white coats and carrying lab results, shriek at high volume — and I can’t seem to find my earplugs. Answers are found in stillness, not noise; I know this. (Ah! Another tip…) This blog could only be written in the quiet hours when the Sirens were out of the office scaring other humans.

I hope you appreciate, after you’ve read this, the irony of my using the Internet — the goal of which is to provide ‘facts’ — to share my insights on the folly of relying on ‘facts.’ I love the ironies of Life. Perhaps that’s all Life really is…but I digress. And this blog will be long enough as it is. Let me begin! Bear in mind that these are in no particular order. You’ll get ’em as I wrote ’em.

TIP 1: Worry fixes nothing. It just gets in the way of either solving your own dilemma or being there for someone as they go through their rough patch. Worry is a waste of energy.

TIP 2: Respect the processes of others. I’ve noticed that when people can’t imagine themselves doing what you do, they tend to dismiss what you do altogether, or (worse) tell you you’re wrong to do it.

TIP 3: What looks to be bad/unfortunate timing never, EVER is. The secret is to live in the moment and not be swayed by [1] fear (read, ‘past occurrences or ‘future plans’), or [2] what others think of your in/actions. If you feel anxious, it means you either haven’t noticed how perfect the timing was, or you don’t have enough evidence to realise it yet.

TIP 4: Question everything you think. An updated version of Einstein’s ‘Don’t believe everything you think.’ Go ahead! Be brave enough to challenge your thoughts. If the Thought turns out not to be true FOR YOU, then thank It for being there when you thought you needed it, open the door, and gently send It on Its way. Notice how I wrote, ‘for you’? Here’s the real gem of this Tip: Each person has his/her own truth. Every raindrop has a different view of the sky, or the earth, or the cloud from which it descends. [Yes, I really did think of that one myself.]

TIP 5: If you stay in the moment, you’ll have the most current and reliable information upon which to base your decisions. I use ‘current’ deliberately. We are composed of energy and the vital information we require, whether spiritual or temporal, arrives when we need it, as surely as water automatically seeks its own level. The supply of information/energy is endless and ever-changing; thus the possibilities are endless. This is fundamentally different from predestination/fatalism, I might add.

TIP 6: ‘If-Only’s are an utter, complete waste of your life energy. Agonising over ‘If-Only’s not only diverts the stream of energy you need to make present decisions, but also destroys your ability to enjoy the gifts you have right now. Oh, for a while after my dad passed away and the mind-boggling events surrounding the doling out of his estate plagued my brain, I indulged in the ‘If-Only’ diversion. Want instant depression? Play the ‘If-Only’ game! I stopped playing, though, when I thought of the many gifts I have — and yes, I thought of you, for you are a great gift to me. I just had to tell ya.

TIP 7: Don’t confuse ‘facts’ with Truth. Epiphanies and ‘A-ha!’ moments are windows to Truth; ‘facts’ are bricks for the walls that hide them. The phrase ‘cold, hard facts’ makes more sense now, does it not?

TIP 8: Perception is Reality. Be vigilant that your perception is based on Truth and not ‘facts.’ Remember that each person’s perception differs from yours, just like those raindrops I talked about earlier.

TIP 9: Don’t deny another’s Reality. Focus instead on living your own Truth. Your life may be the window through which another discovers his/her Truth, but you have no control over this. Life becomes easier if you just assume that everyone is doing the best they can. If they could do better (as Maya Angelou said), they would.

TIP 10: If you feel angry or offended by someone, rejoice! Take this as an opportunity to add to your own Truth. An unquestioned ‘fact’ is blocking your view.

TIP 11: Facts are Truth’s shadows. That’s why they’re so mesmerising! They look like the Real Thing, but in fact, they have no substance.

TIP 12: Truth is in the mirror. And no, this is not the one in your bathroom. You will see yourself in every single person you encounter — the nice stuff, and the not-so-nice stuff. We can only see ourselves; we can only recognize what we have experienced. Once you get the hang of this piece of Truth, you’ll be addicted! You’ll look forward to every encounter… ‘what about this guy is me?’ or ‘Why do I like her so much?’ It really is all about You. Revel in it. (Perhaps this explains why, in the past, I’ve needed so much alone time. I could only take so much Me. Had to give it a rest!)

TIP 13: A life lived by ‘facts’ alone will not be a Joy-full one. Yes, it may have happy moments, but that’s because (as you will find on your journey) we’re already surrounded by happiness. It seeps through the cracking bricks we call Facts. We are meant to be happy, and (like that water I talked about earlier) happiness must find its own level, no matter the obstacles. When ‘facts’ fall away, though, through the window you’ll glimpse JOY. Why? Because Joy can only exist in Truth. ‘Facts’ obscure Truth; thus, they obstruct Joy. Happiness is cool, but Joy totally rocks. It’s my drug of choice.
[P.S. A society whose system relies on ‘facts’ — whether they be scriptural, scientific, or legal — at the expense of Truth cannot claim to be just, or to be dispensing justice. Justice without mercy must go by another name, for mercy, too, is a function of Truth. ‘Facts’ do not take one’s heart/intention into account. I’m sad to say that this has happened to Ireland since my last visit.]

***
Ah, I can almost see you! Nodding in agreement here; there shaking your head at my stubborn reliance on heart (Truth) over head (‘facts’). Welcome to my dilemma!

The health facts with which I am faced are, in a word, dire. If I listen to ‘facts,’ I could very well be down-hearted. (And my loved ones, you might be, too.) For example, if I listen to facts, then I must not fly because of the risk of stroke or heart attack. In ‘fact,’ I should never have flown in the first place. Please note that I did not get this wave of information until I came to Ireland and had blood tests here. Ooh, Life’s irony! You’ve got to love it! (And truly, I am not being sarcastic! I do love Life’s twists and turns and surprises.)

Oddly enough, my reaction to the numbers the doc showed me was a hand to my heart: an almost-universal sign for humans hearing Truth. (Pay close attention to what your hand does when someone gives you information. The hand-to-heart, involuntary movement is a human reaction to Truth. Watch for it.) This reaction also occurred when I rounded a sharp bend on the way to my current home, Fintown; I had to pull over to the side of the road to take it in. The view fit a vision I’d had after my heart attack in 2003 and a visit from a fortune-telling nurse. I rounded that curve in the road and realised, ‘This is the end of your journey, Jen.‘ Far from being depressed, I was filled with great joy. I knew I was in the right place.

So…do you really want me to live by the ‘facts’? I care for you so much that I’m tempted to succumb to the Sirens of Sensibility, but if I do, then I very well may not see you again. Truth is so much kinder than ‘facts.’ Or shall I continue to follow — and O! this is so poignant to me — my heart? My bruised, battered, stomped-on, oft-betrayed, full-of-love heart. When I leave, no matter what the cause of death may be, you can be assured that the real cause was my heart had had enough and gave up. I will have lived and died by the heart. I am very glad of that. Know that all I did, I did because I thought I was helping you. My heart was and has always been in the right place, I’ve finally realised. Duh!

Truth be told (and sure, this is the meaning of my writings today), the Truth shines so brightly that the ‘facts’ cannot be seen. ‘In the noonday sun, there are no shadows,’ as someone once wrote. Or, to put it in the words of one of Debs’ and my favourite songs, ‘I can see clearly now.’ It’s impossible to be afraid when Truth’s light shines so brightly. Plus, Truth does not have our timeline; it has no calendars. I could be here for ages yet. All I know is that I’ve been given a glimpse of Truth from a wide-open window. Since I’m still here, I’d like to get a few things in order so you won’t have too much of a mess to contend with when I go. I’ll be asking some of you for information or favours, but you must do what feels right for you. I’m trying to avoid a mess, but then again, maybe you need that mess. It’s all out of my hands, at any rate!

At some point I hope you realise how I’ve honoured you by sharing my Truth, but I realise that’s out of my hands, too. Let me leave you with things that maybe you can accept.

–Know that I’m not afraid. Truly. The light of Truth banishes all darkness, and thus removes all fears. Any fear, worry, or anxiety you’re feeling is your own. I don’t feel it.
–Know that you cannot make a mistake. We all stumble in the dark; that’s not the same as a mistake. If you could do differently, you would.
–Know that you help me most by respecting my Truth, especially if you don’t agree with it.
–Know that it has been an honour to meet you on my path. You have enriched my life in untold ways.
–Know that what you love about me is your own beautiful Self shining back at you.
–Know that you are loved, deeply and unconditionally, by me.

It would be lovely to see you again, that’s for sure. Inshallah, that will happen. But for now, sorry, I’m driving! Must concentrate. There’s a sharp bend in the road ahead. If the signs are to be believed, a bit down the road there’s a bridge under construction. I don’t see any workmen around, but that’s Ireland for you: either half a dozen fellas staring at a hole in the ground, or there’s not a workman in sight. The road I’m on is too narrow to make a U-turn, or I might be tempted to turn back. At least it’s a bright, sunny day. Nothing hidden. I like that.

Onward I go. Later, ’gator.

‘Can’t Connect to the Server’

It nearly always happens after I’ve given up. My pot of coffee is down to its last cold sips (like myself, no matter how I bundle it up, the carafe goes cold rapidly), yet another morning’s ritual has been denied.

Perhaps it would be fairer to say that I have replaced my cherished coffee-and-crosswords routine with one where I walk back and forth to the tiny portable modem stuck in one of the two Arctic-like rooms in which it works. If I’m not trying to place the modem where it’s happy, I’m cajoling my computer or massaging it gently, my finger on the mouse pad, trying to get it to relax and just link up, already. When kindness doesn’t work (and it often doesn’t), I hurl epithets; that never works, either. Most mornings I switch between my ancient MacBook and my ailing Acer. I try Firefox. I try Safari. In desperation one day, I must confess, I used INTERNET EXPLORER!! God help me…

Maybe IT — the Great Server — just wants to see me write, as I’m doing now? Engrossed in my task, I just glanced up to see the elusive Guardian Cryptic puzzle I’ve been trying to nab for three days. There it is! On the screen at last! Afraid to breathe, I hit ‘Print.’ OMG, it prints.

Of course, I’ve no more coffee suitable to drink now. Shall I go wild and make a fresh pot? [‘Do I dare to eat a peach?’] Feeling very bold indeed, I opt to try to print a SECOND puzzle, daring the Server to bestow an extra blessing; an extra miracle. First, though, I want to get this all down for my Broc blog. I’m having epiphanies here, so no time to waste.

I realise that I am the Cryptic Guardian’s servant, am I not? The Server has become the Served. The Server has no power; it is illusory. Nowadays, there isn’t even a ‘man behind the curtain’! I have given it power — my power, in fact — the power to control my life. And it doesn’t even register.

Ah. I just looked up at the screen. “Safari can’t open the page,” I’m told. Can’t or WON’T, I say to myself. I read on. “The server unexpectedly dropped the connection.” Indeed! Greedy little so-and-so. Simply must have attention all the time, eh? [Jen: MUST STOP TALKING TO SELF!]

The truth hits me: Yes. True. The server is not, for all my slavish attention to it, capable of anything but distracting me from Life, from the Reality I say I prize above all else. It needs nothing. I’M the one who needs attention!

I wonder…if I try to open Broccoli4Breakfast, will it open? It’s not a site for selling anything but my soapbox ideas, and there are no puzzling graphics to slow things down.

I try it. I’ve almost forgotten my password, but it comes to me. Hit ‘Enter’…lo and behold, it works! I hesitate, because I really wanted to put my New Year’s Day blog in first. But it’s not right in front of me, this blog is. Pay attention to what’s in front of me, that’s the ticket.

Et voila — you’re reading it.

I did it! I did it! I really, really did it!

Yes, I managed to crank out 50,000+ words to win NaNo for the fourth (or is it fifth?) time. Zippedy-doo-dah!

I’ve titled the book ‘Burying Octavia,’ and it really has been fun to write. I’d say I’m halfway through the story, if that. I had a writing partner this time, my young neighbour Mia, who has completed her first NaNo at age 12. She had to do 30,000 words. We met at my house several times a week to write, share our favourite bits of writing, and encourage each other. I never thought I could write with someone else around, but it actually made the whole process much more enjoyable — and productive. I wasn’t planning on doing it this year, but when you have an eager, brilliant young writer looking to you for direction, by gosh, you get it done!

I’ve already had a publisher contact me about the book. Pretty exciting. Those of you who are publishing young adult fiction, though, may want to read Mia’s work. She’s an extraordinary storyteller and she’s only twelve. Wow!

We’re keeping our writing going, as neither of us has actually finished our book. We merely met the word count so we could be NaNo winners. We all do better with a bit of encouragement, right?

I’m going to put arnica on my aching muscles, anoint my feet with lavender, and see if I can’t find some good telly to watch. Time to rest after my big win.

Watch this space, as they say…

New book. New address. Old friend.

Well, I may have had to leave my PhD program, and I may be unemployable these days, but I can still use my education. I just started another NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) despite the fact I have a perfectly good, already-written novel that just needs a bit of TLC.

The new one is called Burying Octavia and is about a PhD student who discovers that a famous classical poet actually stole his most famous poem from his scribe, a woman masquerading as a man (secretaries back in the day were men, not women). The news is not accepted with joy by the academics who have based their ivory-tower lives on this famous poet. In fact, murder and mayhem will result. I hope it turns out to be an absorbing tale.

I’m living in Ireland now, for those of you who don’t know. It’s the only place I can afford to live on the tiny Social Security disability pension I finally won this last July, but it’s also a place of peace and gentleness for me. I need those right now. My father’s recent passing has brought up a ton of angst, grief, and questions despite our last words to each other, a month before his death, being “I love you.” I can no longer blame dad, can I, for my damaged self-esteem. In my emotional flounderings I have erroneously focused on one or two still-alive persons, hoping to fix blame on them for my inner anguish and torture, but of course that cannot work. Apologies to those who received that fallout.

Onward and upward. I’m hoping the focus on writing this new novel will help me exorcise some of the demons I’m dealing with. Communications are difficult from over here, so I apologise for not keeping in better contact. Know that I love you and think of you often. I’m always in your corner — as you are in mine. Now…on to burying Octavia!

Baffled

Why do lovers lie?

Why alter Truth’s face—

a nip here,

a tuck there—

botox that baby into a fixed, forced smile?

Then trot that tarted-up Truth onto a stage

Hope she doesn’t forget her lines

Add a laugh track

Pray the hidden Truth doesn’t stumble in,

tripping over the footlights?

 

True lovers love the skin you’re in

Cherish the wrinkles

Feel the pangs of your illness

Grieve at your losses

Hug your weaknesses close to their chests and murmur,

“There, there.”

 

Unadorned Truth is beautiful when seen through Love’s eyes.

Love isn’t blind at all.

Love sees every cell and adores it for its own perfect self.

 

That’s why lies and deceit make lovers weep.

Lies dim the lights

Deceit draws the blinds

The loved one’s beauty,

obscured,

cannot be enjoyed anymore.

 

And we are left

baffled.

 

May 21, 2014

DeKalb, Illinois

Lighthearted Nonsense on Growing Old(er)

In the mirror this morning, I noted with dismay a fresh crop of red rash on my nose. While today it may match my t-shirt, most days it doesn’t. Besides, I am rather sick of looking like Rudolph’s twin.

“Un-ex-plained rash,” said I to myself. For some reason it reminded me of the song “My Favorite Things.” Verses popped into my head. I reached for pen and paper and wrote this down.

Not my usual standard, I know, but maybe it will bring a smile to your face. It did mine. (If you’re in public reading this, don’t forget to put in your teeth first.)

[Sing with gusto to the tune mentioned above.]

Big boobs on old men and whiskers on women;
Leaky old bladders and straining for BMs;
Brown paper packages full of blue pills:
These are a few of an old person’s ills.

Lesions on noses and unexplained rashes;
Gums that are bleeding and Coke-bottle glasses;
Hitting the Walgreen’s for Senior Day deals:
They’ve got a few of our favorite pills!

When a pad leaks,
When a hip breaks,
or the food is bland–
We simply delight in the fact we’re still here,
and then we don’t feel…so…bad!

Onward and upward, dear Ones.
(From the not-so-old lady in DeKalb)

Reflections, New Year’s Eve 2013

“Reflections”: the perfect word to describe what this blog comprises. Those of you who follow my scribblings know how I love the mirror metaphor; it only seems right to employ it in this, my final blog for 2013.

On this snowy, silent New Year’s Eve, I let the year’s events parade past. I sit in the judge’s stand on a raised dais, saluting every entry, no matter how pitifully attired; no matter how richly festooned. I know now that when they first entered the parade, they were all dressed alike. Only now, with Time’s Mirror held tightly in my cracked and aging hands and trained on the past twelve months, do some entries appear larger, smaller, brighter, or faded. (It really is done with mirrors, you know.)

The relative worth of any given event is in the Mind of the Mirror Holder, is it not? What may seem like a tragedy to you is a source of joy to me, and vice-versa. I aimed this year to view everything as a source of joy. Overall, I succeeded. However, those poorly dressed participants in my Life Parade alert me that I still need improvement. They represent the parts of me I did not want to see; my courage failed me, and I turned away from the Truth in the darkened glass. I did not want to listen; I did not want to see.

For you—yes, you, the one reading this—are, and always have been, my Mirror. With unfailing accuracy, you reflect my true self, with all its embarrassing flaws and shining talents. If I thought you were judging me harshly, if I exploded in anger at you, if I wept with grief over what you told me (no matter how gently), I know it was not you. It was I who judged, who erred, who hurt another.

And so the year 2013 takes on another cast when viewed with gratitude and love. First, the easy ones in the Joy column: visiting Portland to meet Oona, Liora entering the world, receiving my M.A. in English, reuniting with DeKalb friends, making new friends in Utah, winning a poetry contest, teaching writing at a community college, walking again after spending a year in a wheelchair. Indeed, the whole experience of disability comes under the heading of “Joy” for me, as does my in-depth experience of poverty.

Without disability, I never would have gained the compassion that accompanies a major shift in perspective. I literally had the chance to view the world from a different angle. From that new angle, I discovered deep cracks and flaws running through the cornerstones of our society: employment, housing, healthcare, and education. I know that great efforts have been made to repair these flaws, and they have resulted in more access for all, regardless of gender, race, color, age, or creed. The whole system looks better from the outside; however, the fissures I saw in the four cornerstones continue to threaten the foundation. I hear it creak every time I’m turned down for housing because the landlord does not want to comply with ADA law; the building sways every time I limp into an interview room with my walker and see the look of alarm on the faces of the panel—this woman’s going to cost us money!—before the shutters come down altogether.

The sagging floors are most noticeable, strangely enough, in the hallowed halls of learning. There is no handicapped access to an entire floor of the DeKalb Public Library, for example, and it happens to hold all the texts pertinent to both my field of study and my fields of interest. It’s worse in the places in which I’ve been a teacher. From having no bathroom stalls that can accommodate a wheelchair, to placing instructional devices (PCs, document cameras, printers, copiers, even whiteboards) out of reach, colleges—especially the four-year ones—retain the marks of their elitist origins. Colleges were meant for the physically as well as mentally fit. Do you think I’m kidding? While doing research for my “Tales of the Crip” book, I discovered that only 9% of wheelchair-bound persons have a bachelor’s degree, let alone a master’s. It takes an incredibly strong desire to succeed to successfully navigate the gauntlet of barriers erected by institutions of higher learning. Disability comes under the “Joy” heading for me because I didn’t give up even though I wanted to often enough. Looking back at what I overcame to get the M.A., I marvel at my own strength. I never knew I could be so strong.

I also didn’t know how much I would benefit from poverty. Yes, after completing an M.A., the best job I could get was as an adjunct English instructor at Kishwaukee Community College. I didn’t mind; I was doing what I loved! As the book from the 90s urged, “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.” I so believed it.

Alas, the money must be coming from another galaxy altogether. The Kishwaukee position did not pay a living wage. But, thanks to people I met because I was poor—Dan Kenney from the Community Gardens, Heather Foulker from RAMP, Inc., the wonderful ladies at SVDP’s Food Pantry—I got and am getting by. I canned, froze, dried, and stored the vegetables Dan brought me from DCCG. Heather helped me get Medicaid and turned me on to free transport services so I could get to my new doctor. For the first time in seven years, I have medical coverage! Heather also told me about SafeLink, a free cell phone service. (By the way, my new number is 815-793-2099; “Please Make a Note of It.” :D) My dear friends Cat, Angie, Bonnie, and Jody donated so much to me—furniture, clothing, and kitchen items—that I feel RICH, not poor. I’m better dressed now than I ever was. (Okay, maybe that’s not much! I can hear you, my dear Mirrors.)

Technically, by American standards of poverty, I know I’m poor. I earned less than $6,000 this year. I didn’t or don’t have many of the things Americans think they need to survive—credit card, cell phone, pension plan, healthcare, savings account, Netflix. Oh, such First World problems! I’ve always had a roof over my head, a comfy bed, food to eat, and books to read. What I discovered, quite to my surprise and delight, is that this New Poverty is basically the old Self-Sufficiency.

With Self-Sufficiency comes a great deal of personal satisfaction, actually. New Poverty takes quite a bit of time: cutting my own hair; baking my own bread; soaking & sprouting seeds for making nut milks and healthful snacks; knitting, crocheting, and sewing accessories and gifts; taking the bus instead of driving (I used to walk everywhere; that’s what I miss most since the disability); making wise health choices and even creating my own health potions because I’ve had to be my own doctor for several years. Those of you who think that the poor don’t work for their benefits need to run this Red Tape Gauntlet at least once. (Think “IRS audit to the 10th power.”) “Free” medical care and other benefits require hours and hours of paperwork and waiting in lines and on (phone) lines, often simply to hear a rejection; moreover, swallowing pride, accepting inferior quality, out-of-date food and others’ castoffs are part of the deal.  This year I truly learned the meaning behind the phrase “beggars can’t be choosers.”

And that brings me to the other side of the Year 2013 ledger, the “Not So ‘Yay’” side. These are the events and knowledges I’m still having trouble finding joy in.  For example, I’ve learned for certain what I’d suspected was an American credo all along. It’s not only “beggars can’t be choosers,” but also there is a deeply held belief that “beggars choose to be beggars.” This Belief rents a fashionable, non-ADA-compliant apartment in a high-rise building owned by a company called The Only Success is Financial. This company is the one that manufactures Corporate Ladders and constructs the Sure-fire Paths to Success you’ve heard so much about. What their ads conveniently neglect to mention is that the Ladders end in emptiness and the Paths produce paranoia.

True success cannot be measured simply by counting the number of ladder rungs or steps you have climbed; it does not show up in bank accounts or pensions.  Success is measured, as George discovered in It’s a Wonderful Life, by how many people love you. Success’ stock goes up when you ease another’s suffering, or increase another’s understanding of his or her worth, or write a novel, or simply smile. Success is discovering your gift and then sharing it with the world you find yourself in, whether it’s a town of two hundred citizens or two million. It’s about realizing you have a vocation, and then following it.

Sadly, this year I discovered, irrevocably and irretrievably, that my definition of success is not valid in my country. My country suffers from the virus caused by Corporate Ladders and Sure-Fire Paths, a particularly virulent strain of which is “A College Degree Ensures Financial Success.” Because of the virus, thousands upon thousands of instructors now inhabit the environs of any given campus; we are special vaccines cultured in the agar of academia, ready to fight the plague of ignorance.

Ah, but here’s the rub: the College Virus and its antidote, like everything else, now operate in a capitalist medium, subject to the laws of economics so vigorously taught in classrooms once upon a time. Supply has exceeded demand; thus, those of us whose vocation is teaching higher education find ourselves worth practically zilch. “A dime a dozen” comes to mind. Adjuncts, like WIC and other welfare commodities, are available at embarrassingly low prices. What cost us so much to win—our degrees—are worth virtually nothing. Adjuncts are a new form of indentured servant, and every college, two-year or four-year, has them in abundance. We neither earn social security credits or benefits, nor do we earn enough to save toward eventual emancipation.

And so, I have succumbed. Because my vocation is no longer pay-worthy, I have applied for a slew of secretarial positions. Not a few of you have rejoiced that I am seeking fully benefited, civil service-type work. I’m afraid I cannot join in the celebration. I can only see that, because of the time I’m living in and what’s valued in my country, I have to abandon my vocation. I changed lives; I inspired people. How many of us get to say this? I had the great blessing of finding out what true success is. But now it is snatched away because my talents and strengths to inspire and to teach are not valued highly enough. I cannot make enough to live on. Age and disability play some part in this, I know; if I were thirty years younger, I could probably still get benefited work as a teacher. Countless applications later, though, indicate to me that at my age it’s not going to happen. “No country for old women,” eh?

In the “Horrible” column of Life in 2013, the Death of Debbie looms largest, obscuring all my other petty concerns and supposed tribulations. Yes, I know she wanted to be free of pain. Yes, I know she died as she wished, quickly and with (from what we could tell) minimal suffering overall. I miss her every day. I regret many things I wish I had said or done. Yet, because of her death, I am writing more than ever. I finished the NaNoWriMo novel I promised her I’d write. I’m writing this blog. I’m trying to get a “real job.” Are those enough to satisfy her ghost? Are they enough on which to hang my hopes for 2014?

Only time will tell, my dear Mirrors.

Death Keeps Barging In

Snappy title, eh? It’s the title for the book I’m writing this month for NaNoWriMo, that yearly challenge to write a novel in 30 days that I find myself inextricably drawn to.

Although based on a dream I had five or more years ago, and although I had started writing the story back then, I now find that it has become my dear Debs’ story. Debs died on October 23rd, 2013. I was there until about 7:30 p.m.; she died at 10:50. Cancer took her — lung cancer. Of course, she had been a smoker almost all her life. “SHE DESERVED IT,” say so many. Not I. Oh, no; not I. If you’d wanted to meet an angel on earth, that had to be Debs. She deserved nothing bad, not in my books. As far as ciggies are concerned, I was there when she took her first puff! She was there when I took mine. She never quit. I did. But I don’t think that’s the whole story a-tall, a-tall.

My novel is, at the end of the day, about mindfulness. It’s about not only living in the moment, but embracing that moment, no matter how difficult. It’s about being one of the “Now People,” an idea propagated by my dear friend Suz, and adopted by me wholeheartedly. No more being the historian, no more being the time traveller; just live in the now. It’s about knowing that you’re on the right track, simply by doing what you’re already doing. If there were another way, you’d be doing it. I’m approaching the whole thing with a ton of humor, as we should with all “serious” things.

I sat with Debs as she lay dying, and I promised her that I would write a book with her hopefulness, her helpfulness, her kindness in it. I warned that it would also have my sense of humor. Debs loved my take on life, the odd way I looked (and still look) at existence. I told her I would make it ‘our story.’ It’s not a history; it’s not time travel. It’s the “now” as we knew it, and know it. Many, many people mistook us for sisters over the years. As she lay dying, I could see my face in hers, and I saw at last what others had already seen. I’m to tell the story for us both.

Shakespeare (and I’m not sure where he wrote this; I got this from the email of one of my students) said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” And so it is. Were it not for expectation, would we have any worries at all?

That said, I expect to finish, I hope I finish, this novel. Whether I do or not is immaterial; I just know I heal as I write. I have to do this.

I’d say, “Wish me luck,” but that would only jinx things.

Peace out,

Jen