Friday, January 29, 2010

Homeland Security?

A few years back satellite imagery became available. At first it was only available to governments and corporations who were willing to pay for the mapping. It then became common place with Google maps.

When you look at a Google map, what you are actually seeing is a map made up of hundreds of pieces of mapping, all spliced together. When these maps first became available, the government was very concerned that terrorists would be able to use the maps to identify sensitive infrastructure so they censored any piece of mapping that contained such buildings. The result was something that looked like this.

Very smart. Nothing like hiding those sensitive areas. Might as well of put a big “bomb here” sign on it.

Because I am a government worker and use mapping in my job all the time, I was eligible to obtain these missing pieces for my Town. In order to do so I had to submit an application, my social security number, my driver’s license and be fingerprinted. Seriously. But I apparently cleared the security check because 10 weeks later I received the missing digital pieces. About 12 weeks later the government realized how stupid they had been and included all pieces of the maps for public use.

This week I met with the owners of one of these sensitive sites because they are going to make some improvements. I reviewed with them what the process would be and told them what plans would need to be submitted. Then their lawyer opens his briefcase and hands me a 1 inch thick document. Apparently they cannot give me any plans until I comply with the mandates as outlined. First I need to go through another security check. Then I have to provide a secure location in which to file the plans. Secure as in locked in something they have to approve. And they have to approve everyone who will have access to the key. Then I have to swear on my children’s lives that I will never, ever show the plans to anyone who does not have proper credentials. By this time I am looking at them like they have lost their frickin’ minds.

Now if they were giving me plans for a missile silo or a nuclear power plant, I might understand. But no, all they are adding is some office space for addition computers. What are they so concerned someone might see, you might reasonably ask? Where the water and sewer lines go into the building. Seriously. I guess because the terrorists might clog the sewer and force them to use a port-o-john?

If these guys weren’t all in suits and looking all lawyer-like, I would of thought I was being set up for a practical joke. But they were dead serious.

These are the people in charge of our national security.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Therapy #3 - Making My World Smaller

Therapy took a different turn. I thought we were going to discuss triggers and where they come from since I have so many triggers that I can’t match to any memory. But instead we talked about how I manage the response to those triggers and we tried to rank them from easy to hard to manage. For example, I developed claustrophobia, which is not a triggered response but was a direct psychological outcome, I suppose, of being held down for so long. There was a time I could no longer get on an airplane but my therapist said to me, “don’t let this make your world smaller”. Now I take Valium to fly. And over the years I have learned to manage the anxiety by always getting aisles seats, and always sitting by the door in meetings, sitting on the outside when in a booth, taking the stairs, etc. And I won’t even mention the changes I (and my partner) had to make to accommodate sex without me freaking out. All these behaviors have become so much a part of my life that I don’t really notice them anymore. But, as my therapist keeps pointing out, they still take a lot of energy on my part, even though they have become habit, and make my world smaller.

And so we went through some of the other triggers and how much, or little, work it takes to avoid them. Alcohol on someone’s breath - huge emotional trigger for me. But Martha and I don’t drink and neither do most of our close friends, so it doesn’t take much energy to avoid. Well except that many of my co-workers go out for a drink after work on Fridays. And as my shrink pointed out, they used to always invite me but I have always declined for fear of going to a bar. So what I originally thought had next to no impact, has again really made my world smaller - and less social. And now I realize that there are numerous invites I turn down because of this. Not good.

The smell of a laundromat is probably one of the most traumatic triggers - causing very frightening flashbacks and terror. But I don’t even know what that’s associated with. I’m sure my brain is doing me a big favor by protecting me from those memories. But it is really easy to avoid the trigger. We have laundry facilities at home, which strangely are no problem. And its rare that we are on vacation long enough that we need a laundromat, but then Martha volunteers to do it The only time I encounter a laundromat is every other Friday when I go to the bank, and only then if I walk from the bank to the grocery store in this plaza. I make a large arc through the parking lot. I barely recognize that I’m doing it. Very easy to manage and doesn’t really impact my life. But once again, the shrink pointed out to what length I am going to avoid a smell. Crap.

So while I have been congratulating myself on how well I have learned to manage these things (some better than others), I am now realizing just how much control they have over me, how very much they have made my world smaller. So the next goal is to reclaim some of my world, inch by inch. But I do fear that after so many years of learning to avoid these triggers, they are ingrained behaviors and it will be very difficult to see Paris. So much baggage. I'm exhausted before I've even begun.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Deja Vu, All Over Again

The other day Martha and I had another argument. Actually it was one of the same arguments that crop up fairly regularly. Twenty years together and we continue to have the same three arguments. Over and over again with no resolution. Money - she is a spender, I am a saver. Sports - school sports dominate everything, I believe in more balance. Child discipline - she waffles, I don’t.

You would think after all these years that we would have worked out these issues. But no. Instead we continue to fall into the same pattern - the argument, and day or so barely speaking to each other, then its over and we continue as if nothing happened. In an effort to try to break this pattern I decided to talk about t this morning:

Me: Why do we always have the same argument, over and over, and never resolve it.

Martha: Because I am always right and you believe (mistakenly) that you are always right.

Me: So we are doomed to repeat this over and over, like Groundhog Day? Don’t you ever get tired of it?

Martha: No, because you’re so cute when you’re angry and the make-up sex is always so good.

Me: So you don’t mind these arguments because of the make-up sex?

Martha: Works for me.

Actually, I think I can live with that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Off the Hook

I love the Naked Pastor. His cartoons and his website invariably have relevance to my life. When he posted this cartoon yesterday, I immediately had this sense of relief.

I generally consider myself a good friend. I am compassionate, a good listener, I have the freedom and means to be helpful at a moment’s notice, I don’t spread rumors nor listen to them, and I don’t thrash anyone, even when they probably deserve it. Most of my close friends have been in my life for better than 20 years and I have never had a blowup or bad ending with any lover, friend, acquaintance or co-worker.

Until these last couple of years. First, I became friends with the interim pastor of my church. But then she showed herself to be quite insensitive to queer people and issues. When I finally got tired of this and confronted her on it, she stopped talking to me. Literally. Would not answer an email. Would not acknowledge me in public.

Then in trying to heal the wound that this disaster created with my church, I began talking to one of the Elders. That was going okay until I asked her why the Elders had treated me so un-christian like. End of conversation. Literally. She will not answer an email either, even when it is only for some basic church info.

Then the new interim pastor got involved. I had only met him once before when he told me he would speak to the Elders and try to get some resolution. But I never heard from him again. Seems he “forgot” to follow up on that. Months later I emailed him because my daughter was mysteriously removed from the monthly birthday list of members. Hmmmm. He apologized for dropping the ball earlier and offered to set up some kind of meeting. Problem was that the language he used was very divisive in that “it is you vs. all of us” way. I wrote him back wondering if we couldn’t try for an “we”. And he immediately sent me an email that the conversation was over. Even months later, when I sent him information about a grant opportunity the church might benefit from - no response.

And I have truly agonized over these failures. Self evaluation. I do that constantly. What did I do wrong? Could I have handled it better? What have I learned? My confidence in being a friend was quite shaken. I did consider each of these incidents as personal failures.

I was talking to my therapist about it when she asked, what do all these people have in common? And I said, I criticized their words or behavior. And she said, yes, but what else? And I realized, they are all the leadership of my church. Ding, ding, ding. And when I got back to work, here was the NakedPastor’s cartoon. So I am letting myself off the hook. Finally. Yes, I know it took far too long to come to the obvious.

Lesson learned: Never, ever criticize or question church leaders. They will smite you. Forever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Church - charity or private club?

Recently two things happened which got me thinking about the effectiveness of the organized religion. One was the Haitian earthquake and the other was a newsletter I received from my church. Because of the devastating earthquake, there were hundreds of appeals to donate to charitable organizations proclaiming to help. And quickly there were emails and news stories about how to evaluate whether a charity was effective and where your money would be spent.

So what is the goal of organized religion? To bring people into a building to worship and hear the word of God as a community, or to go out and feed the hungry and clothe the poor as it seems Jesus taught? And how do churches measure up? Here are some questions from Charity Navigator:

Is the Charity efficient?
The financial health of a charity is a strong indicator of the charity's programmatic performance. The most efficient charities spend at least 75% of their budget on their programs and services and less than 25% on fundraising and administrative fees.

My church newsletter stated that $200,000 was pledged for the year and that 10% of that would go to missions. Ten percent ??? Looking at last year’s budget about $70,000 was for the pastor’s salary and benefits, another $53,000 for other staff and about $46,000 to maintain the building and grounds, and the rest miscellaneous expenses. Wow, 90 percent of the money collected goes to administrative fees, mostly salaries !!!.

Martha and I used to be regular and fairly generous contributors to the church. Until we found out how homophobic the parent organization was. We decided that we didn’t want one penny of our money to go to an organization who was going to spend it creating “dialogues” about the role of homosexuals in the church. Instead we took that money and put it in an envelope. And whenever we heard of a person or family in distress, we made a direct contribution. We found this to be a hundred fold more satisfying. In fact, we found that there was so much need in our community that the envelope had to be replenished numerous times throughout the year.

And quite frankly, the place I work (government) does far more in terms of charitable giving than I ever saw from my church. We have a box for donations to the food pantry that is constantly overflowing, we have a box for donations to those serving in the military, we adopt families at Christmas time and require numerous trucks to have all the gifts delivered. Our police and fire personnel are usually the first to know of a need and monetary donations are quickly raised and distributed to the affected family. And every co worker I know of donates time to other organizations and causes. So we obviously don’t need a church to do good deeds for us. In fact, at only 10%, churches are incredibly inefficient at it.

And they are wasteful at administration. In my denomination, there are three churches within 7 miles of each other, not even half full on Sundays. Why aren’t they consolidating buildings and staff? The savings would be huge. In fact, even a full church is only used a small percentage of the time. It seems an enormous waste of resources.

A friend of mine theorizes that churches would never willingly consolidate because everyone wants their own private clubs where they can control the rules. I would have once argued that churches are not “private” clubs because everyone was welcome. However I learned last year that that is not true. My church can decline membership to a newcomer, deny a baptism unless one parent is a already a member, and they can revoke the membership of someone based on any unsubstantiated complaint without any fair hearing. Not much different from the country club down the road.

Can your charity tell you the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal?
My church’s mission statement is this: “to glorify God by bringing people to Jesus Christ in an atmosphere of love through involvement in our community of worship, education, fellowship and mission.”

Their mission is to bring people to Jesus Christ? I can point to quite a few people, including myself, who were continually ignored, bruised, and kicked to the curb by the church leadership. In fact, my church seems to be very successful in disenfranchising anyone who does not meet their economic, ethnic or orientation standards. If they don’t like you, they ignore you. And this seems to be a common story among the disenfranchised and marginalized (ironically the very people that Christ chose to hang out with and minister to). Churches talk a lot about church growth. But with the enormous decline of church attendance across all denominations, it seems that churches are woefully failing at this goal also.

So why do people continue to contribute to such a ineffectual cause? What does church giving support? Do they mistakenly believe (as I once did) that their giving goes to charities and feeding or clothing the poor? Or are they basically paying dues to belong to a club whose members are guaranteed to be just like them?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Therapy # 2 - Defining Boundaries

Earlier in the week I had the first appointment with my therapist to start my journey to Paris, aka the place I fear most. Because the woman I see is first and foremost a friend, she began by redefining a professional relationship. I have been through this before. We usually go out to lunch or dinner on a fairly regular basis where the conversation can waver between friendly chatter and professional advice. But when I have a serious problem, it is back to regular scheduled appointments, in her office, no fooling around. Check.

She began by asking me what I had hoped to accomplish. And I started down the road of how I am tired of being afraid to go to sleep for fear of nightmares. That there are still triggers that, even after all these years, can stop me in my tracks, that cause terrifying flashbacks that paralyze me as they flip through my head like a viewmaster. However, the reality is that I can go through my life for very long periods of time without ever having a symptom. I really have a very loving, stable and abundant life. But then, someone or something flips a switch that reawakens it, I become super sensitive, the flashbacks and nightmares return and it seems to take a long time to settle back down. I am looking to have a little more control over that. I would also like to reduce the level of guilt I feel that is always running in the background of everything I do,

She suggested that I don’t “see Paris first” as I have been trying to do this for a long time, unsuccessfully. So we are going to break it into hopefully manageable chunks, carefully inching my way forward. My first assignment is to compile a list of those triggers:

-the smell of alcohol on someone’s breath

-the smell of certain fall leaves - which must be tree specific because the maple leaves and pine trees around my house do not bother me, nor do my frequent backpacking trips through the Adirondacks.

-The smell of a laundromat - I don’t know why this is, but I know I will walk way out of my way to avoid a laundromat in the plaza where I bank and shop. The smell is similar to a body slam for me.

-the smell of wet wool. Again, I am not sure why.

-Any exposure to stories on rape, corrective rape, torture, etc. Even just to write those words causes me too much distress.

-When the interim pastor of my church told me I was “breaking God’s rules” it tripped multiple memories of the religious, hateful language of that day. But that phrase just put me around the bend. I had heard it before.

Well, this is a beginning. I have never really thought about listing these things and I am struck by how many triggers are based on smell. I’m not sure this is complete but sometimes I am unaware of a trigger until I encounter it and then wonder what hit me. I believe the next step will be to be able to talk about why these things impact me so. And I suppose to try to discover what I am not remembering about the others. I am equal parts hope and trepidation.

Fortunately, this will be a long, holiday weekend for me, the weather is suppose to be mild and I hope to get away and do a little skiing. It will be good for my soul.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Going Home

I went home this weekend to celebrate Christmas with my family. I had a great time, as usual. It was the last of my Christmas festivities and hopefully now the end of the feasting ( my sister makes this crab meat dip that I can’t resist. Others politely dab a little onto a cracker while I sit in front of it with a ladle. Really it’s time to stop the food orgy.) My niece and my daughters were huddled together most of the time and I am very happy that, despite their age difference, they are growing very close. Martha and my brother-in-law debated all the latest Yankees acquisitions. And we celebrated my mom’s 85th birthday. Family at its finest.

Home. I keep thinking about the meaning of that word. My mother’s house is now a four hour drive for me, if I can get through New York City without hitting too much traffic. I moved to that house when I was 4 and left it when I was 18 to go to college and then went out to live on my own. I have lived in other places much, much longer than I ever lived there, yet it is the place I think of when I think of home.

This weekend my mom was once again talking about moving into an assisted living facility. The maintenance of a split level house and yard are getting too much for her. Casually I said to my sister that this might be the last time I would ever be in the house we grew up in. And so we sat up in bedroom and strolled down memory lane. We talked about how the room used to be decorated with Beatles’ posters, her half Paul, my half George. About the time she had her boyfriend over when my mom and I unexpectantly returned home and he wound up hiding in our closet for four hours until I could get my mother back out of the house. About how we used to smoke, hanging out the window so the room wouldn’t smell. If you go outside, you can still see the burn marks under the window sill from where we put the cigarettes out. We talked about how no matter how much my mother vacuumed, the floors were always sandy because we wouldn’t hose off our feet when we came in from the beach. And we remembered how often our mother would yell about that. (My sister can bring me to tears mimicking my mom yelling.) We talked about when we were little we always watched Friday night TV as a family and dad would make us root beer floats and junk food (thus starting a life long habit for me). For hours we talked, remember when this, remember when that . . . We talked. We laughed. We got a little misty.

I am a sentimentalist through and through. I only lived 14 years in that house but I seem to have a whole lifetime of memories there. I know that home is where the heart is and all that. But that house will always be home to me. I just don’t know how it will feel to no longer have a key.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Therapy #1 - See Paris First

Last year when too many triggers reopened deep traumatic wounds for me, I began to recognize the need to address issues that were leaking into my life in very unattractive and unwelcome ways. As I tentatively began this journey a fellow blogger, Janet from Mid-Life Clarity and Boychick (I really do miss her voice) sent me this poem by M. Truman Cooper:

Suppose that what you fear
could be trapped,
and held in Paris.
Then you would have
the courage to go
everywhere in the world.
All the directions of the compass
open to you,
except the degrees east or west
of true north
that lead to Paris.
Still, you wouldn't dare
put your toes
smack dab on the city limit line.
You're not really willing
to stand on a mountainside
miles away,
and watch the Paris lights
come up at night.
Just to be on the safe side,
you decide to stay completely
out of France.
But then danger
seems too close
even to those boundaries,
and you feel
the timid part of you
covering the whole globe again.
You need the kind of friend
who learns your secret and says,
"See Paris first."

Last year I took my first wobbly steps of that journey by writing a little bit about that event and its aftermath, albeit hiding behind the anonymity of this blog. This year I am resolved to “See Paris first”.

I invite you to come along.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Double Date

My youngest daughter Peachie has been dating a young man for over a year now. We like him. He has impeccable manners and treats Peachie very well. Yet we only really see him when he picks Peachie up, or before they retreat downstairs to watch a movie and/or do things I don’t want to know about. On Sunday they asked Martha and I if we would like to double date with them. Really, how cute is that?

And so we all went bowling together. Not really my sport. I don’t think I’ve ever broken 100 in my life. And my form must be terrible because I always seem to pull a muscle in my butt. I am still walking around with a limp. We laughed (mostly at me), we ate, we got goofy, we got to know bf much better. Really one of the best dates I've had.

Anyway, it was peculiar to see my daughter in a different role - girlfriend. They giggled together. They make inside jokes with each other. She beat him in one game and he congratulated her (a quality I definitely like to see in a male). When she wanted something, he took care of her. And vice versa. She had a knot in her shoe - she went to him. Wait a minute, hasn’t that always been my job?

More and more I experience these reminders that my daughters are growing away from me. Other people in their lives are taking care of their physical and emotional needs. It’s a very odd feeling to sit back and watch your child in a different role other than ‘your child’. I am reminded of a cross stitch piece I had done for her when she was a baby that said:

Dear Little One
I wish you two things,
To give you roots and
To give you wings.

She is definitely sprouting her wings. But I’m not sure I’m ready to see her fly away just yet.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Be Counted

The census is not necessarily the topic you've been waiting to hear about, I know, but bear with me for a moment.

It's coming up in March or April, and while it's supposed to be an accurate count of everyone in the country, there's no question that asks if someone is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

This is a huge problem. The data collected has a direct impact on issues that are critical to every American--issues like health care, economic stability, safety. And when LGBT people are not counted, individuals, families, and communities suffer.

The good news is that we can change this. Show your support of a census that counts everyone--say it right on your census envelope with your free Queer the Census sticker! And make sure to sign the petition telling the Census Bureau to make sure everyone is counted.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Looking Forward

As I wrote in my last post, I experienced two major changes last year - the loss of my church and the first steps to being able to verbalize one traumatic event in my life. And so as I look to the new year there are two things I am going to work on.

I am going to conquer my demons. My goal is to sit with my therapist and be able to relate all the details of that day of violence. She assures me that once I am able to do this, repeatedly, it will greatly relieve the flashbacks and nightmares and other weirdness I continue to experience. It should minimize the triggers but it will not take away the scars. And that’s okay. Those scars have become as much a part of me as my happy memories. I will also be using this space (which you have made a safe and supportive place) as a jump off point, as I find it is easier to first write out my thoughts. Sort of like putting my toe in the water first before jumping right in. I am feeling strong.

Second, I am going to start down a new faith path. I haven’t yet decided which path is right for me but the main theme will be that I need to live my faith. And to me that means more helping others. I was brought up in a tradition of volunteerism but I feel that I have gradually neglected that. When I first started working I worked for a very poor city and my main focus was on developing affordable and subsidized housing, tenant’s rights, grants for people needing help in making their homes code compliant, etc. I loved working with poor people. I now work for a rich suburban town and while my work has been environmentally important, it does not have the same “helping people who really need help” appeal. I used to do a lot of work for the schools my daughter’s attended, but now that they have grown, that work has fallen off. I used to volunteer at my church but that has now ended. Without my really noticing, my volunteerism has dwindled and I want/need to re-energize that part of my life. Having actually read the gospels last year, to me that seems to be the main teaching - do unto others, love your neighbor, whatever you do for the least person you do for me, etc. I am very excited about ramping up my efforts because I have always found helping others to be most fulfilling. I have gotten lazy. So whether I continue to look for a church that fits my community and missional needs, or I just focus on my personal spirituality and create my own missions, I don’t know yet. I’m not sure it matters. My first step is to start with me.

And of course there is the perennial “I’ll lose some weight”. This year I decided that for every pound I gained from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, I would make a donation to the local food pantry. Suffice it to say that they will be well funded for a while.

So those are my New Year’s resolutions. I am full of hopeful anticipation. Please share some of your resolutions if you are so inclined. I would be happy to be a cheerleader for you.

I wish you all a happy and healthy and successful new year.