Monday, March 30, 2009

Cats and Peace

I have a cat who is very smart, who I used to think was very dumb. When she does something irritating, and you stop her from doing it, she just keeps doing it until you give up, or waits until you're not looking. When we first got her (at which time, I should note, I was working in a school) I mistook this for a lack of ability to learn. Actually it just meant that she was smart enough to realize that I'm not all-powerful. Lots and lots of kids in school are treated as "dumb" for the same reason. Or "he's smart, but he has no common sense" which is seen as even worse.

Because Kasey is smart, she knows how to manipulate people to get what she wants. She knows there are certain times of day when I always come out of my room, and at those times will wait outside the door until I open it. When I do, she runs inside, and then under the bed where I can't reach her. This used to cause a lot of headaches and bad mornings and yelling and cursing and stomping, not just at her but at anyone who was unlucky enough to get in my way until I either got her out or got over it.

One day, I finally gave up. It was a day when I didn't have to rush off to work, so I just let her stay under the bed. There's nothing under there that could hurt her, anyway. After just a few minutes, she came out and laid on the bed. When I saw that was all she wanted, I suddenly felt bad for all the chasing and yelling and stomping. I went and sat by her on the bed and petted her, and she started mewing, purring and rubbing her chin on me as if I were the greatest person in the world. This was a cat who was never affectionate, and up to this point I'd been convinced that she deliberately tried to piss me off. I realized then that it hadn't been about the need to have her out of my room; it had been about my need to be in control. Unfortunately, being in control meant that both of us - and my poor mom, who had to deal with my bad moods - were miserable. If I let go, we could both be happy.

Today she ran in my room again, and if she'd gone straight to the bed it would've been fine, but lately she's been going to my spare desk. I don't like her getting up there because there's piles of stuff on the desk and she always knocks something over, so I tried to put her out of the room. She wasn't going to let this happen and ducked under the desk. I sat down and called her, sweetly, but she's not stupid enough to fall for that trick and just stared at me. I started to get all exasperated about how mean this cat was and how I wished I had a dumb cat who would just listen.

Then my unschooling philosophy hit me and I thought about what my goal here was. Was the goal really to have the cat out of my room? No, I didn't care if she sat on my bed, I just didn't want her knocking all the stuff off my desk. But she didn't want to knock all the stuff off my desk either. She just wanted to sit by the window. I was the dumb human who put a big desk in front of it and covered the desk with stacks of flimsy junk, after all. It dawned on me then that her goal and my goal weren't incompatible. I moved a few things around on the desk so they wouldn't fall over so easily, and went about my business. The cat jumped up easily without knocking a single thing over, and that was that.

Our goals were only incompatible when I made them that way. When it was her will vs. mine, a battle of "I'm not gonna let her get her way!!", somebody had to lose. But when I stopped to think what the goal really was, there was a compromise. The same thing applies to relationships between humans, except the consequences are worse. If I make my cat "lose", she might pout a little and not trust me as much next time, but she's probably not going to harbor emotional scars. But if I make a friend or a spouse or a child lose, I might make them see me as a tyrant, or they might believe all my bullshit about how stupid they are and how much I hate them. In either case the relationship will be damaged. In the latter case, they might be damaged. That's too high a price to pay for winning a battle of wills. But if I compromise, both sides reap more than they've sown: the relationship improves, the house is peaceful, and a problem has been solved.

And even if it is just a cat, by being kind to her I bring that much more kindness into the world, instead of taking some away. Not only have I given some to her, but because I didn't get mad I'll have more to give out for the rest of the day. The world doesn't have enough kindness to go around, or enough peace or love or joy either. But you can add to it, and every little drop counts.

Week of Freedom: Wednesday

And on the third day of Christmas, it occurred to me that maybe these posts would be more interesting if I just mentioned our activities, rather than making you read about every time I read a blog post or pick my nose or whatever. So this time, you get a summary. (I don't know who "you" is, since I don't actually have any readers. But then if this is being read, I guess I do. If a post falls on the blog and no one is there to read it, does it make a sound??)

Lunch (for me) was a sausage dog and microwave mac & cheese. Yum!

Then the neighbors came over to shut off the electricity to the old trailer we're having torn down so the poor guy doing the work doesn't get electrocuted and die, and also to rudely helpfully nag suggest that I get a "nice government job". Apparently being without a job for three days is unacceptable and totally everyone's business to correct. Yeaaaah.

AND THEN AND THEN AND THEN! It was warm, so we decided to go in the wading pool. See, a few weeks ago it got pretty hot, and this being Florida we assumed it was going to stay that way from now until, oh, Thanksgiving. So I went and bought an 8-foot-across, 18-inch deep wading pool to cool off in.

And then it got cold. By "cold" I mean approximately 67 degrees, which probably sounds like July to some of you crazy people up north in the snow, but to me 67 degrees means autumn. So the last couple of weeks, every trip outside has resulted in the following stream of pestering, from me to my mom:

"Why is it so cold?"
"When is it going to get warm?"
"Did the weatherman say it's going to get warm soon?"
"Why isn't it warm yet?"
"You mean it isn't going to get warm until THURSDAY?!?"

And so on. So today it was finally warm enough to go in the pool, although the water was ice cold since this was the first warm day in a couple weeks, so we froze a little. We also took the radio outside and blasted 60s hippie music like the Hollies and the Lovin' Spoonful, since the pool inspires childhood nostalgia. (Note that I was born in 1985. We move forward slowly around here.) I managed to get approximately 5 seconds of video of Frieda playing in the grass before the camera said MEMORY CARD FULL like a big party-pooping jerk. At some point I got on the trampoline to get warm, and looked down through the trampoline at Frieda underneath, and she kept jumping up to try and get to me. This was very funny, but I didn't get video of THAT because my memory card is full. Bah.

I do think I'm still "dejobbing" in a way. Life is good, much better than it was a week ago for sure, but not exciting and sparkly yet. That's going to take a little while. The voices of "live this way or else" are still stuck in my head and will take some time to dislodge. Right now I seem to be spending more time whining about cultural norms than cheerfully defying them. I spent about an hour ranting to Roni* about society's expectations of every single person to have a job, and then decided I needed to energize myself. A very hot bath with loud rock music playing helped a little, but I stayed in too long and crashed again. I tried to lay down, but I was sort of restless, so I got online.

A friend of mine was having some issues and needed to talk, so we talked for about 2 hours. Then at 8:00 I watched The Presidents on TV, and then Sarah (the person, not the dog) called and told me a little about the camping trip we're going on in April. I finished watching the presidents show, then listened to a talk on unschooling while straightening my room some. Sarah and I had made plans to play Magic: The Gathering the next day, so I looked through the Magic website a little. Then I went to sleep listening to music and watching Winamp visualizations.

*I can't remember the last time I had a conversation with Roni that wasn't mostly ranting. Poor Roni.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


One of the things that unschooling/uncollege/unjobbing has allowed me to learn about myself is that the more I'm able to live inside my own head, to ignore time and appearances and the parts of the outside world that aren't useful to me at the moment, the better I am. I'm more creative, calmer, wiser, more able to help people. I think more deeply and learn much faster, and I just all around have more energy and enthusiasm and light.

Everything in mainstream society says to live the opposite way. Be extroverted, be alert, be aware. Manage your time, follow a schedule, have an active social life. Never stop being aware of what others are doing, but never stop to think about what they're feeling. Never stop to think about what you're feeling either. Focus on the external; be neat and look tidy. Be productive. Go, go, go.

This is all fine if that's the personality you have. But for a lot of people, living that way is so counterintuitive that it crushes the real person they are. Focusing inwardly comes naturally; focusing outwardly takes some effort at best. At worst it is so mentally exhausting that it deprives that person of the chance for an original thought.

It also deprives the world of the original thoughts that person would otherwise have.

Autism is an extreme version of this personality, but it's not just people on the spectrum who feel this way. When my friends and I - some with autistic shadow traits, some without - all took the Myers-Briggs personality test, a majority of us came up as INFP, or Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiving. This relatively uncommon personality type means that we are the most introverted of the introverts. INFPs tend to be artists, writers, philosophers, musicians or particularly gentle stay-at-home parents. We and other introverts are the people who, as children, would sit at a window and just watch the birds for hours while we dreamed our dreams and pondered the ways of the world.

Unfortunately, mainstream society seems to have forgotten that the world needs such people. The internet has helped, but we are still discouraged, sometimes from birth, from being who we are. Stop daydreaming. You can't make a living as an artist. Get your nose out of that book. How will you ever get a date? Even if we have supportive parents, most schools are set up so that introverts get ignored while the teacher deals with the louder children (who, I hasten to point out, have their own set of prejudices to struggle against), or bullied and treated as outcasts. When we grow up, we find that the biggest key to getting the job we want - or the one we've settled for, after being convinced that the one we want is impractical - is not our talent or experience, but an interview that tests our social skills more than our job skills. If we want to date, we must either endure noisy clubs that make us feel awkward and unlikeable, or shell out hundreds of dollars for a website to tell us who we're supposed to love.

There is no easy solution to this, just as there is no easy solution to any other prejudice that's built into the collective unconscious of a society. But there are things you can do to help change things, bit by bit:

Those of you who are extroverts, recognize that not everyone thinks or feels the same way you do. If someone seems disheveled, or flighty, or awkward, remember that their best side might just be the inside, and that you haven't seen it yet.

Those of you who are unschoolers, take extra joy in the fact that your children can live on any schedule they please, and that this could be the thing that makes or breaks their confidence and self-expression.

And those of you who are introverts, recognize that what you can offer the world is valuable. That all the things you've been told about how lazy or impractical you are, were told to you by people who didn't understand what you do best. It's true that following your dreams may take more thought than going along with the mainstream. But dreaming, and reaching for dreams, is what you were born to do.

And for everyone: Always remember that your dream is someone else's dream too. Someone out there - maybe even someone you'll never meet - may gain faith from your faith in yourself. And even if your goal is only your own happiness, it's a worthy goal.

No act that adds more joy, more hope and more love to the world can be called selfish.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Week of Freedom: Tuesday

(Tuesday was a pretty boring day, really, but I've tried to distract you from that with excessive and questionably interesting photos and embedded Youtube videos. You're welcome.)

I woke up just after 10. Mama was gone to town so I made a toaster streudel and sat down to watch the History channel. They were showing something about the Lincoln assassination, which has been a big interest of mine lately, and they're showing more all day, so I thought I'd watch a lot, but just ended up watching one show. Around 11 I added a second coat of polish to my nails and then came back in my room to mess around on the internet. Frieda was whining so I took her outside a few minutes and checked on my plantings. (I don't know why; they're not going to sprout overnight.) Then I came back to the computer and chatted with Fez some, and made some changes to my blog layout and graphics.

At 1:00 I took a shower and got dressed. By this point I was getting kind of restless because Mama still wasn't home, and it's unusual for her to be gone more than an hour or two, so I was starting to worry. I knew where she was, but I hadn't expected it to take so long. I thought about making lunch, but I wasn't really hungry yet, so I just went back in my room. I had to put my headphones on for awhile because Frieda was whining and I didn't feel like sitting in the living room with her all afternoon, especially since the History channel had switched over to something boring about telephones. (This is why we want to dump Directv - we watch basically one channel each.)

Mama finally got home at 1:30, exhausted and frustrated from an appointment that took too long and went nowhere, so I made us hash browns and hot dogs for lunch. My book - Motel of the Mysteries - had finally come, so I read some of that after I ate, and then we went outside twice, first with Sarah (pit bull) and then with Frieda.

Then I got back online - Roni was on, and we had a long discussion about how her husband is tired of his job and hates school and isn't sure what to do, so we talked about different uncollege/unjobbing ideas. A lot of my friends have personalities that don't mesh well with traditional jobs - they're too free, too creative, too independent for that. Meanwhile I looked up the Museum of Science and History, because I've never been and wanted to know how much admission costs, and I found a page about volunteering at the museum, which I think I'd like.

Roni signed off and I decided to organize the kitchen cabinets to fit all the new food in. Well, the cabinet where the dry goods go was overfull, so I decided to put some things in canisters, but I didn't have enough. So I went to the dollar store and got two glass jars, and to the grocery store and got a few things we were out of, and some yeast to bake bread. When I got home I put up a few things while Mama cooked, and then I came in my room to eat and read blogs.

Look! Food!

Fez: Ooo, I wish I had open shelving, I just have cabinets.
Me: Those are cabinets. They're just opened.

Look! More food! In jars!

At some point my mom had cleaned out the living room desk, so we put the record player in and then I finished organizing the cabinets. Then I watched an episode of the Venture Bros., and read blogs for a long time - got sucked into a big discussion about classism over at Shapely Prose, which took a long time and got me all agitated. Then I took a shower, and played an online game of Literati (Scrabble) with Sabrina. Then my usual evening chat group (I make it sound so formal) signed on and Fez showed me this video of "extreme sheep herding":

Around midnight I started feeling restless and wanted to start up some late-night fun... maybe Singstar, or Trivial Pursuit, or something busy. But my mom has somehow gotten on a normal sleep schedule (!?!) and was sleeping out there. So I just came back to the computer AGAIN and turned on the TV and watched Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. I don't know why I only watch, like, three different TV shows. I complained of being bored and Buncy presented me with this:

I told him to remind me never to tell him I'm bored ever again.

I spent awhile longer chatting and then went to bed around 2am. I wasn't that tired, but I was bored and it was late.

Gratuitous cat photo:


She stares at me, just like that, all day long.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Week of Freedom: Monday

When I quit my job last week, I thought it would be a few weeks of just vegging before I started feeling like myself again. But so far my personality and interests are returning by leaps and bounds, and it's such a fun ride. I decided to record each day as it unfolds just to document the joy and share a little of how I live. I realize these kinds of posts can be incredibly boring, but also that some people love them (I'm one of those people - "day in the life" posts are my favorite thing on other people's blogs) so if you enjoy this sort of thing, here's day one of my doings report.

(I would have taken more pictures, but I find lugging a camera around tends to interrupt the flow of things, plus you do not want to see how I generally look while sitting around the house. It's scary.)


I woke up around 8:45, Mama was already up. She made waffles and I ate some and watched the Golden Girls. At 9:30 Mama wanted to go get cigarettes, and I needed to go to the hardware store, so I told her if she could wait till I got dressed I'd go with her. We went and got a big bag of potting soil, a trowel and cultivator (claw thing), and some onion seeds. Then we came home and I went in my room to listen to my iPod for awhile.

Around 11 I got a snack and sat down at the computer to talk to Fez and look up how to connect a computer to the TV. I want my mom to be able to watch Hulu when we get rid of Directv, and I want my music collection available in the living room. Then Roni signed on and I asked her too, because her husband has set up something like that, and we talked about hair henna and stuff. I also asked my mom about when my family had chickens, and she told me some stories about that, including the time my grandfather got attacked by a rooster.

I was thinking about where to put art supplies so they're easy to access, and I remembered that the huge secretary desk in the living room is mainly just collecting junkmail. So I looked in there to see how much space is in the main desk compartment, and found some calligraphy pens, so I sat down to practice some calligraphy. Mama was watching Monk (her favorite show now that they took Miami Vice off) so we watched the tail end of that and then part of an episode of Jeopardy. I knew a few answers about geography and one about Mother Teresa visiting AIDS patients (natch).

Then we went and took Frieda (dachshund) outside. I had mowed yesterday, so the sidewalk needed sweeping. I did that while Frieda and one of the cats ran around and chased each other in the short grass. Then I pulled up a few weeds and decided to go ahead and start my carrot and tomato seeds. We had found some containers in the shed that my grandparents had grown things in when I was little, so I put potting soil in those and sowed the seeds and put them in the sun. By now it was starting to sprinkle, but we saw the UPS truck going down the road and decided to wait and see if they were going to bring us anything. I was hoping to get a book I ordered, but we just got my mom's blood pressure medicine. I think my book is probably coming in the regular mail, anyway.

We came in and ate hot dogs and ramen noodles for lunch, around 1:30, and I caught up on some blogs and things for awhile. I thought about going to a new park I used to pass on the way home from work but never checked out, but then I remember that it was raining (short attention span). SO I decided to take part in last summer's rainy-weather pasttime of listening to Pink Floyd while playing my DS - while curled up in bed, of course. However, I didn't get to that because I went to the bathroom and then Mama sidetracked me by asking me to go get the mail. She didn't realize it was raining but I didn't mind - I ran through the rain and mud, in my tank top and shorts, to go get the mail. It was fun. We got the light bill - I was nervous that it was going to be high again, but it was low. WAY LOW. I was so excited I flung the water-stained bill right in Mama's face when I got in. And then I took a bath and changed clothes.

I came back to the internet for a bit, and started thinking simultaneously about henna and the desk. (It's funny how much thinking I can do at once, now that work isn't eating my brain cells like so many Pac-Man dots.) I decided that I want to get both hair and tattoo henna, and that we should put the record player in the desk - it's currently in my mom's room to keep the cats off it, but it doesn't get much use there. It'd be safe in the desk. I went in the living room to tell Mama about this and to paint my nails. She was watching Monk again so I watched a little of that while I did my nails.

Spent most of the rest of the afternoon browsing the internet and chatting on MSN, then took a nap around 4. Woke up at 6, ate dinner while watching Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. (He was in Tuscany, I think.) Mama's church had brought us over a box of food so I went to go check that out and put it away. Then I browsed the internet some more, looking at henna tattoos, and watched some shows about food. One of the shows talked about how potato chips were invented, so I decided to try and make some of my own. They turned out pretty good.

Then around 9:30 I found some online versions of Rush Hour and Tower of Hanoi (puzzle games) and played those. The rest of the evening was quiet, spent browsing the internet, chatting, and playing some online games. I went to sleep around 11, with soft music on, thinking about my early memories and how early childhood can shape a person's view of the world.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Q & A

Q: If you wanna make sure something gets read in our house, what do you do with it?

A: Put it in the bathroom.

I did it

I finally quit the job that was slowly trying to kill me. I'm not exaggerating with that, either - not only was I physically attacked by the students fairly often, but my immune system got so worn down I got sick and couldn't get well, and my depression - which had been kept at bay for a long time until now - spiralled to its worst in years. I had no self-esteem left and didn't care much whether I lived or died.

When I tried to tell some people - acquaintances, even close friends - how bad I felt, I was told "That's just part of adult life; get used to it." Not once was I ever encouraged to quit; nor has anyone seemed particularly happy that I've quit now; no one seems relieved at the idea of having the real me back. I don't know if people just didn't believe me, or if they think I'm stronger than I really am, or if they didn't care, or if it was a misguided show of support for what I was doing, or what. But I spent months feeling like I was just being selfish and that it was somehow "wrong" to quit; and even worse, that it would always be this bad anywhere I went.

I thought that when I quit I'd feel instant relief and euphoria at all the freedom ahead of me. Instead, I feel sort of disoriented, like I just woke up from a dream and haven't figured out yet that it's over and that I'm awake, here in my house. Part of me feels like the whole thing really WAS a dream, like I cannot accept that it was truly me who existed at this job. In one sense it really wasn't me, because in order to get along with anyone at work I had to stuff my real self down and create a pseudo-personality that was acceptable to others, tailor-made to their preferences. I had to be a Christian heterosexual virgin, live up to an obsessive-compulsive coworker's standards of cleanliness, dress so plainly I may as well have had a uniform, hide all my autistic traits so I wouldn't seem too much like the students and have people think I was "retarded", and never, ever suggest that I believe in letting kids have any sort of freedom or even that I don't believe in physical punishment. So in other words, I had to be someone who barely resembled me in any way. No wonder my self-esteem took such a massive blow. And since I was still too tired at the end of the day to be my real self again, I got the feeling that I was going to start becoming that person full-time if I didn't get out soon, and that frightened me.

So I think it's going to take some time to detox, for my subconscious and body and soul to realize that it's over and that coworkers aren't watching my every move and I can relax. It doesn't help that I also still have mono and I feel like my lymph nodes are trying to escape through my ear canals. But after a few weeks of rest and "dejobbing" I should be feeling a lot better.

And then it will be time for Beltainia.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Where I'm From

A mad/lib type meme from this template after reading Sandra's poem first.

I am from chess pieces in old jewelry boxes, from Little Debbie and scratched Elvis records.

I am from the white-frame house built during the Depression and hauled across the state line in the 70s; a horseless stable, a coop with no chickens, an empty kennel and a warm dog sleeping next to me indoors.

I am from the azaleas, the crepe myrtles, the creek surrounded by cyprus knees.

I am from still-life painting and nervous breakdowns, from R.A. Shackelfords and Bartletts and Holtons.

I am from free spirits grappling with their old-fashioned values, and sleeping with the radio on.

From "I have pet tigers, but they're hiding" and "when I was your age I was a girl".

I am from the tiny Baptist church that's too far away, from "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art". From "I think women should be able to preach, but the church says no" and "maybe we'll stay home this week and just watch the preachers on TV."

I'm from Miami and Georgia and Illinois, from cotton fields and Confederate soldiers, and flour sacks mistaken for ghosts. From sweet potatoes and cheese toast, sweet tea and corn muffins and Great Northern beans.

From the grandfather who shot a telephone, the uncle who died in a car accident and the grandmother who knew he wasn't the driver even before the report came out.

I am from home videos overdubbed with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, from a stable filled with belongings of cousins who've never lived here, and a tattered wicker trunk stuffed with dog show ribbons and faces I don't recognize. From a painting of Granddaddy with a cigarette in his hand, from Hummel figurines and scrapbooks full of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond, from boxes of quarters from 1884 and marbles from 1930.