Another Brick in the Wall

Hard Stuff, Power/Privilege, Rants, Social Justice, Systems, Uncategorized

Despite all the tensions between the police and so many citizens of Portland,  The Portland Police Foundation decided it would be cool to host an invite-only, $1000 per head play date with whomever they deem desirable. It is impossible to comprehend how an organization that supports a police bureau and union that publicly wail about how badly we (the citizenry) misunderstand and misinterpret its motives could think this type of event is appropriate, or even useful.

Am I on board with PPB offering a look into their training and operations?  Sure!  It would be great for them to host regular tours and visits for people who want to understand how officers are trained, how policy is determined, what resources are available, and build relationships with the Bureau.  It would provide more transparency, humanize both police officers and civilians, and maybe start to ease some of the tensions we’ve seen building over the last decade.

But an invite-only, $1000 per person ticket to exclusive police access?

The price alone is prohibitive for most people, and who knows how they’re going to select their “special” playdate invitees.  Regardless, the event seems designed to give a select group of people privileged access, thereby removing even the facade of police neutrality in dealing with citizens.  The fact that it’s hosted by the Foundation (and not the Bureau) is almost irrelevant, special access is special access.  Wanting to re-open the community academy is an admirable goal, but they honestly couldn’t come up with a different fundraising idea?

In many organizations, the recent DOJ investigation (which found significant problems with a variety of bureau practices and policies) would have spurred initiatives designed to start rebuilding trust with the communities who have been most affected by police violence and brutality.  Even when individual officers do good work, their efforts are undermined or overshadowed by a system of racist practices, excessive use of force, and seeming disregard for the welfare of black and brown communities.

An event that caters to the wealthy and offers privileged access not only deepens the divide and corrodes what little trust may remain, it feels like a giant “fuck you” to the rest of us.  Oh, and before I forget, who’s paying for this exclusive fundraising romp through publicly-funded police time and equipment?  Yes!  Us – the taxpayers!  I wonder how many other private foundations get the same benefit – a fully functioning public entity available for its personal fundraising use?  That the Foundation would do something that seems so contrary to the best interests of PPB (and its public image) and the people who live in this city makes the dig even deeper.

police public comment-wqs

The Myth of Expectations

Blergh, Hard Stuff, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Rants, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

I recently read a post from one of those “mindful” dating sites.  The author was writing about the “myth” of dating difficulties for people over 40.  She abruptly found herself dating at 45 and, despite all her friends’ dire predictions, was having an absolute BLAST! And you know what she claims is wrong with her friends?  They just have the wrong expectations!  If they would clean up their emotional bullshit and change their expectations, all the chum they’d been attracting would disappear and they’d suddenly have their pick of ridiculously awesome people.

I’m here to call bullshit on that entire perspective, and the implication that I’m just not doing my personal work well enough, that I continue to attract bad things to myself because I’m not working fast enough to unload my baggage.  This effectively makes every sh*tty thing that happens MY FAULT.  Because I’m not doing a good enough job being better.

Seriously?  I’m not doing good enough AT BEING BETTER?

Despite years of messaging about “creating my reality,” I have come to understand that most things that happen that are out of my control.  I get to control my responses and reaction and choices, but I’m not responsible for the fact that so many people in their 30s and 40s are hot messes.  Or that I get coffee with them.  Or that I lose my job, fight with a friend, or face ageism, or racism, or misogyny, or all that other crap that REALLY TRULY EXISTS.  Simply putting on my ruby slippers, clicking my heels, and breathlessly exclaiming “everything is wonderful, everything is wonderful, everything is wonderful” DOESN’T MAKE EVERYTHING WONDERFUL.

One of the hardest things to learn is that there are many, many things I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER, regardless of how much work I do on myself.  I still have to deal with bad dates, difficult co-workers, aggravating family, and a world that seems like it’s going to somewhere bad, really fast.  It’s not helpful to keep blaming me because bad things happen to me, in my life, and in the world.  In fact, it’s that message – that I can somehow magically control everything in my life that has led to bouts with anxiety, depression, and shame and guilt, all things that add to the already heavy burden of being human.

It’s true – I do need to do my work, address my issues, and be the best person I can be.  It’s true that I do need to check in on my expectations, ask for feedback from friends  and professionals, and realize that sometimes I do make bad choices.  But sometimes, a bad coffee date or fight with a friend is just that, and blaming me for somehow creating the situation because I’m not an evolved enough person is truly, truly unhelpful.

unhelpful

Today is not a good day

Blergh, It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Rants, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

It just isn’t.  It’s been four and a half months of unemployment.  Four and a half months of ambiguity, uncertainty, and frustration.  Four and a half months of finding ways to “explore” my creative self, taking on volunteer projects, planning and preparing for future endeavors, reconnecting with friends, starting to network around the city again, and all the other ways I can milk this time off.

Believe me, I am grateful.

Even though the ending was hard, I am grateful to be out of my last job.  I am grateful to receive unemployment, grateful that I have no dependents, and that I have a gracious, affordable living space.  I am grateful that I had the means to seek help when I needed it, that I have a loving and supportive group of friends and extended family, that my life is calm and quiet, that I am financially able to care for myself and meet my material needs.  I am grateful I have built enough confidence to know that I will find meaningful work, and that I have a rich professional network to draw from when I do.

I am grateful for all of these things and still, today is not a Good Day.

The waiting is making me anxious, and I feel sedentary and stuck.  Positive self talk and forced cheerfulness are not welcome here today.  I’m finding things to nag myself about, and eagerly discovering fault in even the things I’m managing to well and consistently.   My toilet needs to be cleaned, I need a shower, have stopped cooking for myself more than one or two days a week, and can’t seem to make myself write every day.

I have no excuse for these things.  I have no dependents to care for, plenty of time, and few obligations, and yet my toilet goes unscrubbed and toenails go unpainted.  I’m not overly depressed or panicked, I’m doing the things I need to do, even if I don’t always feel like doing them.  But limitless, unbounded time isn’t the nirvana it’s made out to be, especially when there is are obvious ends.  If there were an end in sight, I believe there would be some sense of relief, of comfort in knowing that life will return to normal in 3…2….1….

I’m not looking for cheering up or placation or comforting remarks.  They wouldn’t work anyway because today simply isn’t a Good Day.

It's not your day.

It’s not your day.

Who’s promoting what?

Feminism, It's Personal, Rants, Social Justice, Uncategorized

If “fat” people wearing bikinis are promoting obesity, aren’t slender people wearing bikinis promoting eating disorders?  When I I watched this video and the lovely young narrator said that people have actually told her that her body, in a bikini, promotes obesity, I was speechless.

In a world where thin-ness is worshiped as a religion, the beauty and diet industries rake in billions of dollars yearly, a young, fat woman in a bikini is the problem?  Why is no one on public beaches screaming about thin people and how their bathing suit clad skinniness is causing eating disorders?!  If you want to be all science-y about it, there’s probably at least as much evidence that the pursuit of the “thin ideal” causes eating problems as there is that fat girls in bikinis promote obesity.

There is just so much wrong with both of these pictures I don’t know even know how to start.  Well, that’s a lie, I do know.  Where we start is by saying all this bullshit about fatness and skinniness and ideal beauty is exactly that – bullshit.  If I accept someone’s judgment about my body, some external bogus description, then I accept there is some ideal, set by some mysterious “something” and I’m not meeting it.

Fuck. That.

I’ve spent far too much time in my life hating my body for no good reason.  I’m fortunate that I didn’t hate myself enough to develop an eating disorder, harm myself, or give it all up and decide to live on cookies and kool-aid.  I’m lucky that I was able to struggle through a bunch of personal work and come out thinking that my body’s pretty great – healthy, strong, flexible, attractive, and doing a bang up job of getting me through life.  But hell – it took me most of my life to get here and I’m not 35 anymore.

I see so many women who expend SO much time, energy, and intellect fighting their bodies, and I feel so much grief and anger for all of us.  It’s all a distraction – a way to keep us focused inward, fighting each other and scrambling for crumbs, instead of holding each other up, and using our gifts and talents to make our world more wonderful. It’s a distraction and we’ve accepted it – we’ve internalized it to the point that we use it to put ourselves down.  No one else needs to bother, we do it all on our own.

I’m not buying it.  I don’t buy the labels, the sizes, the judgments, none of it.  No, you don’t look fat to me.  No, you don’t look flat-chested, or thick-waisted, or dumpy or short or lanky.  You look beautiful.  Focus on your health, be well mentally and emotionally, take care of yourself physically, but determine your own beauty.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t look stunning in a bikini.

Shite happens.

It's Personal, Obstacles/Challenges, Rants, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

tangle-of-wires

Unfortunately, it seems to be all that’s happening.  I’ve been distracted for the last couple of weeks, writing minimally, attention on other things.  It’s shocking how quickly that slight shift in focus has torn up my writing rails, twisting them into and out of recognizable shapes, drops, detours, and giant iron cobbles.

I assume this is part of the process, this disgust with my thoughts, words, inaction, distraction, and disorganization.  Perhaps I’m being rendered, fat and proteins separated into sloppy, sloshy piles for me to paw through, when I eventually re-orient toward….something.  Let’s hope the end product is better than a can of pet food.

Policy or pet peeve, who knows?

Corrections, Obstacles/Challenges, Power/Privilege, Rants, Systems, Uncategorized, Writing

Taking pictures in the facility is always a gamble. We’re supposed to avoid including doors, windows, building lines, and big pictures of the facility from the inside.  It’s a useless exercise, because a simple Google image search on “Coffee Creek Correctional Facility” brings up dozens of images of the inside and outside, including the satellite view. But I’m always careful to frame my pictures to include only the students, or equipment, or whatever.

Staff alone are allowed to freely use cameras (still photos only), the only inmates allowed to use the camera (even under staff supervision) work for LifeSkills. They take photos at events, yard photos, and so on.  But my department has a couple of cameras and I take class pictures at the beginning of class and again close to graduation.  Recently, I realized I hadn’t taken the first set of class pictures and we’re about a year into class!  Long overdue, we scheduled pictures, everyone got dolled up, and we had a lot of fun with getting people to pose and smile.  I have to admit, I gave anyone who struck a “prison pose” a hard time, but that only made us all laugh harder.

After we take pictures, but before we can let the women see or purchase them, the captain of the facility has to approve them.  She takes the camera and reviews each picture and decides if it’s “ok” or not.  She reviews the background, the poses, how close the women are to each other and whether or not they’re touching, their clothing, and anything else that might be suspicious.  If this sounds ridiculous to you, I don’t know what to say.  I suppose having the top level of management review individual photos taken by staff (who are supposed to know what is appropriate and what isn’t) could be considered an effective use of time, but that’s not my decision to make.

I took the camera to the captain and she started looking through the photos.  Almost immediately, she began scolding me because some of the women had their t-shirts untucked.  That’s right, she was scolding me because of how they were wearing their clothing.  She then pointed at one person and asked her name.  I told her and she said, accusingly “her shirt is too tight.  Why is she wearing a shirt that tight?  She must have modified it. Why is she wearing it?”

I was completely dumbfounded.  Did she expect me to have an answer?  Did she somehow think I was responsible for my students’ clothing?  What the hell was happening right now?  I said “Well, do you want to call her unit officer and tell him?”  She said “No, she needs to come see me.”  She wanted to scold this woman in person.  The captain of the facility thinks it’s a good use of her time to individually scold an inmate for wearing a shirt she thinks is too tight.  Still incredulous, I ask “do you want me to send her over?” and, of course, the answer was yes.

After all the complaining and scolding, she graciously allows me to keep all the photos and I leave.  I’m pissed.  Seriously pissed.  My students are supposed to know the rules and policies and adhere to them, whether I micro-police them or not.  I discreetly send the offending shirt-wearer over to the captain and dismiss everyone else for lunch.  When they come back, I give them a fairly stern “I don’t like being scolded for you wearing your clothing the wrong way, what the hell were you thinking?” lecture.  Not too stern, not too angry, didn’t call anyone by name, but unhappy enough.

When I finish, J raises her hand and says “In all our other pictures, we’re allowed to untuck our shirts and it’s not a problem. We didn’t know.”  And bam – I now feel like a complete a$$hat and someone who speaks before thinking or investigating.  I feel like that for a couple of minutes as I re-orient and try to make the best out of a bowl of shit soup.  I attempt to spin it as “Okay.  Going forward, make sure that you follow the ‘professional’ dress code in any pictures you take that aren’t in a casual environment” but it felt stupid and weak.  I knew they understood that I’d been given this information by the captain, but now I was caught between what the captain was saying in this instance, and what they’re allowed to do on a regular, ongoing basis.

Was the captain correct, and the untucked shirts against a largely unenforced policy?  Or are untucked shirts a pet peeve and she was acting as if her personal wish were policy when it isn’t?  What is true?  And who, if not the highest ranking security officer in the facility, could clarify this for me?

The answer is no one, and this extremely minor incident highlights one of the thorniest problems in this institution:  The inconsistent and arbitrary nature of rule and policy enforcement.  The rules and policies themselves highlight the even bigger issue of balance between maintaining safety and using power/dominance to micro-manage and control every single aspect of people’s already limited lives.  I mean, is someone having their socks turned down really a threat to the safety and security of the institution?

The fact that I even tell myself “well, maybe somewhere, something bad could come from that” makes me feel like the insanity of normalizing this environment is only a short distance away.  Having to constantly evaluate every piece of information to determine its accuracy and relevance, and not being able to trust the people who should be the authorities is nerve wracking, especially since it’s rarely clear when safety really IS the issue, not just power and control.

Oblivia in Portlandia

It's Personal, Power/Privilege, Rants, Systems, Uncategorized

I moved to Portland in 2004 and couldn’t believe I was living in the same country. Everything here was different – strange and unfamiliar.  The architecture was different, the trees, plants, culture, streets, food, clothing, everything.  The one familiar sight was cigarettes.  When I saw my first smoker, I was shocked.  My only explanation for my shock is that I had completely unfounded expectations that Portland was a healthy, green-y kind of place, a place I would never expect to see cigarettes.

I was tempted to walk up to the smoker, grab the cigarette, and say “you don’t live in a tobacco-producing state, why are you smoking?” but I didn’t.  It took about a month before that urge went away, but it did and now I only notice smokers in order to walk up wind.  But I digress, so let me get to the heart of the matter:  Portland and its educated, concerned, oft-oblivious denizens.

There are times when living here is wonderful, but there are also times when I wish I were the size of a planet so I could give Portland the proper level of side-eye.  I’m talking about a city with a culture of self-awareness and social justice that goes about an inch deep – enough so that people feel a proper sense of outrage, donate money or clothes, maybe write a letter to the editor, march in a protest or sign a petition, Share or Like a Facebook post, and feel like they’ve done their part to throw a wrench in the machine, stand up to The Man, and support social justice.

By comparison, people here probably are more aware and more involved, so why do I say they’re oblivious?  A couple of years ago, a friend invited me to the symphony at the Arlene Schnitzer concert hall downtown.  The symphony is, almost by definition, a middle/upper class experience.  It’s usually spendy, the music is more appealing to a certain level of cultural literati, and there are expectations around clothing and appearance. [Yes, I know this isn’t *always* true, but it’s true enough]

So.  We’re sitting in hard, tiny seats, kind of squashed up on the people near us, getting ready to enjoy some type of musical performance.  This was just after Occupy Wall Street began, maybe early 2012.  A woman came onstage to go over the program and introduce the conductor and then, I’ll never forget this moment, then she said “Occupy the Schnitz!” and the audience roared with approval.

What. The. Everloving. Fuck?

Did no one but me see the phenomenal irony in a theater full of symphony-goers, many in (at least) the top 5-10% of Portland’s wage-earners, yelling in support of a movement challenging individual accumulation of so much wealth and the means used for such accumulation?

My mouth fell open and my eyes almost rolled out of my head.  Here was the epitome of the Portland paradox. [Portland paradox:  people who are simultaneously self-aware and interested in “issues,” but have minimal interest, desire, or motivation to critically examine their behavior or its impact on the very “issues” they support.]

I’m sure the people in the theater meant well, but did any of them go home and immediately divest themselves of stocks in those financial institutions responsible for the economic devastation?  Did they quit buying from businesses with sketchy practices, or doing business with all those unconvicted Wall Street criminals?  Did they go to shareholder meetings and demand accountability from CEOs and top decision-makers?  If they were CEOs, did they immediately take an inventory of their business practices and make sure they’re doing right by their employees and their communities?

Who knows?  I doubt anyone but me even remembers that evening.