Feeling the pain

Overall I’m the sort of person that does my best to keep as many people agreeing with me as possible.  In this blog I’ve written about music festivals, trips to the post office; things that most people, regardless of their personal beliefs, can relate to in some way.  But lately I’ve been having a hard time coming up with fluffy subjects to write about.  This is not surprising given what is in the news these days, with the uprisings in the Middle East, the natural disasters in Japan, and the not-so-natural one that is unfolding at their nuclear power plants.  Then there is our own country’s financial crisis and the fact that the tundra is thawing and the polar ice cap is melting at an alarming rate.  While the things within my own household are going along just fine, I am feeling the weight of the bigger things that feel beyond my control.  Some days I want to ignore the news completely because the knowledge one gains from becoming informed is painful.  And pain is to be avoided at all costs, right?

Well I’m starting to think that feeling a little pain is in order.  A few years ago I injured my back in a car accident.  The doctor cautioned me about numbing the pain too much.  If you can’t feel the pain, it’s easy to reinjure yourself, he told me, and it can make things worse.   And he was right.  On a few occasions I pushed it too far and paid for it the next day.

Maybe as a culture we’re taking too many pain killers; they come in so many different forms these days.  All of our distractions and obsessions can keep us from facing some pretty painful realities about what we’re doing to our planet, and consequently the people who live on it.  Watching the nuclear crisis unfold in Japan is like someone pulling off a Band Aid to expose a festering wound that we’ve numbed and covered up for too long.  Now that it’s exposed we can see that we shouldn’t have built nuclear power plants in one of the most seismically active regions in the world. It seems so obvious in retrospect. And the reality of what it could mean is beyond painful, it’s horrific.

And what other things are we choosing not to notice?  They are too numerous to count, and it’s overwhelming to start tallying them up.  And yet, how are these problems going to go away if we ignore them?  The answer is that they aren’t going to go away at all.  Nobody is going to rescue us from the damage we’re doing, not God, not the aliens, probably not a giant asteroid hitting the earth.  The problems we’ve created are only going to get worse unless we start paying attention, and taking action.  We can start by speaking up, questioning the system that allows corporations to degrade our planet and by demanding that human health and safety take priority over money.  We can start by educating ourselves about some of the things we’d like to ignore.  Even if means going outside of what makes us comfortable.  Even if it hurts.

Full disclosure

I learned a couple of years ago in a memoir writing class that it’s good to put some time and distance between certain incidents in your life and when you attempt to write about them.  My instructor said that you would get a sense when you started writing as to whether or not you’re ready.  I’m thinking that twelve years is enough, and I can finally write about the time I got arrested.

I’ve told the story dozens of times, each time laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole event, but something has stopped me every time I’ve attempted to write about it; probably because it was humiliating.  Putting it down on paper just makes me remember how awful it felt to see the neighbors drive by as I was handcuffed on the side of the road, how stunned I felt as I sat in the cold, barred-off back seat of the trooper’s cruiser and how angry I felt when my name appeared in the local newspaper’s police blotter the following week.

I hadn’t thought about the incident for quite a while, but it came back to me recently when I watched the video of a reporter getting detained by the security guards hired by a certain Alaskan politician.   The two young security men in the video  were trying to keep other members of the press from talking to the hand-cuffed reporter.  Their buzz-cuts and their determination to look official reminded me of the trooper, (I like to call him BabyTrooper as he looked like he was about nineteen years old) that decided to cuff me on the side of the road all those years ago.

Before I go any further I should reassure everyone that I am not a criminal.  Really I’m not. And I wasn’t at the time of my arrest.  I was a stay-at-home mom trying to finish up my Bachelor’s degree.  I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class.  I took my three year old to play group and I looked after the neighbor kids on a fairly regular basis.  For fun I was learning how to knit and how to make awesome homemade bread.  And no, I wasn’t one of those moms that lived an “after hours” life of partying and carousing around town.  My evenings were spent doing things like reading and watching movies.

It all happened because I didn’t deal with a fix-it ticket.  Two years before my arrest I had been pulled over when I was driving home from Soldotna because a headlight was out on my Subaru.  I got the light fixed within a few days, but I failed to take it back to the Alaska State Troopers office to have them check it off as having been repaired.  And for that oversight they put a warrant out for my arrest.  Little did I know that the next time I would be pulled over for a minor traffic violation (yes, another headlight out on the same Subaru) I would end up getting hauled down to the station until my husband could pay the $40.00 to bail me out.  (And before you start to imagine me behind bars please know that it didn’t go that far, thankfully.)

Now, I understand the importance of headlights.  I realize they are significant safety features on cars.  And believe me, I’m quick to get broken headlights fixed these days.  But honestly, is not dealing with a fix-it ticket an arrest-able offense?  Apparently it is.  I do believe that BabyTrooper could have handled it differently though.  Perhaps he could have asked me to follow him to the station, or at the very least he could have let me ride in his car without the handcuffs.  But I think he got a little charge out of humiliating the hell out of me.  And I blame him for the split-second of panic I still feel whenever a trooper drives past.

I’ve learned a lot from this incident and I hope in my writing about it I can pass on some of my hard-earned insights.  First of all, if you own a Subaru that was manufactured anytime between 1983 and 1995 just know you’re going to go through a lot of headlights.  It might be a good idea to keep a few spares at home.  And, should you get pulled over for having a headlight out, don’t forget the very crucial step of driving it over to the police station so they can officially make note of its repair.

Also, it’s a good idea to have an open mind when reading the local police blotter.  When the Homer News and the Homer Tribune reported my particular crime to the general public they didn’t explain that it was all over a minor traffic violation.  They left out the part about how the trooper, fresh out of trooper school, was trained to follow protocol but had not an inkling of common sense.  All it said was:  Teresa Sundmark, 29, arrested for outstanding warrant.   Which leads to the most important lesson I learned from the whole getting arrested event; sometimes, even though you’re a law-abiding citizen and all around good person, people will treat you otherwise, and at such times it’s helpful to hold your head high and not let the bullies and the uninformed make you feel bad.  And if they do, just tell the story lots of times and laugh about it a lot.  Then, when enough time has passed write it all down and hope that you can finally put the whole thing behind you.

Two ends of the driving spectrum

Getting your driver’s license on your sixteenth birthday was a rite of passage when I was a teenager.   I’m sure it still is for most of the United States, especially in rural towns where public transportation isn’t an option, but here in Homer it’s not uncommon for kids to wait a while before they get their license.  Some of them don’t bother until they’re about to graduate from high school and they realize they won’t always have their parents to drive them around.

My son waited until he was seventeen before he got his driver’s permit, which meant he had to wait another six months to get his license.  And here in Alaska we have “provisional” licenses, (thank God!) which means that kids can’t drive their friends around until they’ve been licensed for six months.

We were a three car family for a while.  Dean and I each have one that gets decent gas mileage, and then we had a Toyota 4-runner that we use for things like hauling the boat and getting firewood etc.  When our son got his driver’s license we let him use the 4-runner.   We thought it would be a good first vehicle for him; it’s pretty much bomb proof and it guzzles gas like you wouldn’t believe, which we thought would teach him about conservation.  Our idea was that if you can only afford to fill it up once a month or so, you learn to carpool and not partake in lots of frivolous driving around.  Our plan was working pretty well until the 4-runner died a couple of weeks ago.

It’s been a bit of a transition going backwards like that.  Our son, who finally got a job in order to support his driving habit, was loving his freedom, even if he did have to parcel it out.   And we were getting pretty fond of it as well.  When we no longer had to chauffer him around we found extra hours in our week.  With offers to pitch in a few bucks for gas we’d send him on errands to pick up his sister or a few groceries.  We no longer had to make late night runs to town to retrieve him from his girlfriend’s house.  It was nice while it lasted.

When you’re a driving adult it’s easy to take the freedom it brings for granted.  I certainly appreciate not having to ask for a ride every time I want to go somewhere.  Our son has adjusted pretty well to this step backwards, partly because it’s summer and he can bike a little, and partly because we let him borrow one of our other cars now and then.  And he knows it’s a temporary thing.  He’s young and can save his money for a car and soon enough he’ll be back in wheels of his own.

On the other end of the driving spectrum is my Granddad.   I don’t know how old he was when he first got his driver’s license, but last week at age 93 he finally had to give it up.  I saw him about a month ago and the thought of him driving was pretty terrifying.  He had trouble staying awake for very long and he moved very slowly.  Just getting up from his chair in the living room and walking the 15 feet to the kitchen table seemed to take an eternity and it looked like he could topple over at any moment.

His driving had been a concern of ours, especially my mother’s, for the past couple of years.  She and my step-dad have been the ones who have checked in on my grandparents, (who at 90 and 93 years old still live on their own), every chance they get, and have constantly tried to assess where and when to assert their help.  Respecting their desire to remain independent has not been easy.  They have ever so slowly slipped into that stage of their lives where independence isn’t always the safest option.  For example, on January 1st my granddad took my grandmother to her weekly hair appointment, dropped her off and drove back home, never realizing that the hair salon was closed for the New Year’s holiday.  My grandmother had to teeter across a busy intersection to get to a grocery store where she called home and asked my granddad to come pick her up.  When he answered the phone he couldn’t hear anything, so he hung up.  Eventually she got a ride with a cab, but when she returned home my granddad had no recollection of ever dropping her off in the first place.   Worrisome stuff, to put it mildly.

Well last Sunday when my granddad was driving home from church he rear-ended someone.  I don’t know the details of the accident but I do know that nobody was injured.   I can only imagine the scene with my very old, very slow-moving grandfather getting out of the car to assess the damage.  He used to be a great auto-body repairman and I would bet that before he realized that the accident would end his driving career he was thinking about how to make the cars look new again.

I haven’t heard how my granddad is dealing with the fact that he can no longer drive.   Even though the roads are safer without him behind the steering wheel, it must be a frustrating loss of freedom.   The good news is that he’s forgetful, so maybe he won’t remember how he lost his driver’s license.  Maybe his short-term memory will fail him in a beneficial way and the after-church, rear-ending incident will fade away leaving space for the memories of all the road trips of his past.  And my mom must be relieved.  There are plenty of things for her to worry about with her aged parents, but at least Granddad driving is no longer one of them.

Thinking about freedom

I have less than one month to finish my History of Psychology class and I should be studying instead of writing for fun.  I’m justifying my actions by convincing myself that I’ll be more productive after a break.  In reality I’ll probably just feel more tired.  I’m actually enjoying this class, although I’ll be relieved when it’s completed.  For now though, it’s giving me the opportunity to use my brain in ways it hasn’t been used in a long time.  There’s a good chance that a couple months from now I won’t remember most of the things that I’ve read, but for now it feels good to be learning.

Here is a sampling of some of this week’s deep thoughts:

Karl Marx thought that human behavior was controlled by society.  Sigmund Freud thought that human behavior was controlled by biology.  Erich Fromm considered the possibility that human behavior wasn’t completely determined by either society or biology.  He believed that humans have the potential to make free choices.  Here in America, in the land of the free, it’s easy to forget that the concept of individuality hasn’t always been a given, and in some cultures it’s still a pipe dream.   For example, if I had been born a peasant in the Middle Ages, then I would have stayed a peasant.  My life would have been predetermined by my birth.  But nowadays, at least in America, one can conceivably be born poor and grow up to be rich.  One can choose to get an education or maybe move across the country if they feel so inclined.

I imagine that being a peasant probably wasn’t much fun, but at least it wasn’t complicated.  Very few choices had to be made.  Life had structure.  If you think about it, it’s unlikely that peasants experienced mid-life crises.   Freedom, you see, comes with a downside according to Fromm.  He said things like loneliness, confusion and alienation are byproducts of freedom.  He went on to say that we do things to “escape from freedom” in order to avoid the discomfort that it causes.

He said we either a) submit to an authoritarian figure, or become one, b) become destructive to ourselves or others, or c) hide ourselves within the culture at large, making ourselves as inconspicuous as possible.

Each person, at least within our own culture, has to choose how to cope with freedom.  For most of us it isn’t all or nothing.  We experience it in varying degrees.  We try to find that balance of how much freedom we can tolerate, and then adjust our lives accordingly.

All of this has me questioning where I fit into the spectrum of freedom.  Do I try to avoid it or do I embrace it?  I guess it depends on the circumstances.  I do however feel thankful to live where I live, during the time when I live.  At least I have the freedom to consider all of these complicated issues.

Jury duty/Time management

On Monday morning I woke up at 3:45am feeling anxious about how busy my life has become.   Finally at 5:00 I got out of bed, made coffee and wrote in my journal for a while.  I find that journaling helps me narrow down solutions to some of the bigger problems I have to face and on that morning I wrote about needing to manage all of the different things I have going on right now.

When I enrolled in two classes in January I knew I was going to have a full schedule until the end of the semester, but a few unexpected things have come up that had I known about may have convinced me to hold off for a while on the classes.  Since the beginning of February we’ve decided to explore the idea of putting our house on the market, our son’s schooling situation has changed and I’ve had to increase my hours at work by six hours a week in order to keep some important benefits.

So how am I finding the time to write something other than essays for my class right now?  Well back in December when I received my summons to jury duty in the mail I thought I was being clever by deferring it to February and for the past two days I’ve been sitting on uncomfortable benches in the hallway of the courthouse.  Thankfully I had been warned about the jury selection process requiring an awful lot of waiting around, so I brought along lots of stuff to keep my busy.

A lot of folks here are complaining about all of this down time but I’ve decided to welcome this unexpected reprieve.   Yesterday I got caught up on some reading for one of my classes, and today I’m getting the opportunity to write for my much-neglected blog.  I’ve also had time to reread the journal I’ve been keeping for the past few months which reminded me that problems I’ve been overwhelmed by in the past have come and gone.  It helped me relax a little and realize that I can do this; I can finish these classes, be a good parent and systematically work toward putting our house up for sale.

Who knows, if they keep me here a while longer I may even have time to finish Pride and Prejudice.  I started it in December when I thought I’d have plenty of time to plow through my booklist.  This jury selection process really isn’t so bad but if I am actually chosen to serve for this trial, which is expected to go for two to three weeks, I may find myself bursting into tears in front of the attorneys and the judge.  Either way, I guess I’d be off the hook.  I’m pretty sure they’d let me go at that point.

Fear and Fascination

When I was a little girl I sat through a lot of church services.  I’m talking two church services every Sunday until I was about fourteen years old.  Most of them have blurred together into one memory that includes the strong scent of ladies perfume, singing hymns and daydreaming the hours away while the pastor delivered his message.  Always at the end of the service the congregation was invited to go to the front of the church for an “altar call;” which meant we had the opportunity to make ourselves right with Jesus by recommitting our lives to Him and confessing our sins.

One service though stands out from all the others.   A missionary family from Calcutta visited when I was about nine years old to share their experiences and to gather support for their work with the poorest people in the city.   They told stories of leprosy, spiritual darkness and poverty the likes of which I could scarcely imagine with my limited Colorado small-town-girl perspective.  After that particular service my own personal altar call involved lots of pleading, praying and crying, not for the little children shown in the slideshows, but for God to please never make me go to India.

Perhaps my childhood fear of having to go to India actually planted the seeds of what has become for me a fascination with all things Indian.  Still though, going there didn’t really cross my mind until recently.  It seemed too far out of reach.

Two weeks ago at the library we received a greeting card from a young man who taught a digital photography class to kids in Homer.  The card featured a photo of his most recent students in a small school in northeastern India, not far from Nepal.  Something happened when I saw the card.  I went back to it several times over the day and looked again at the school children on the cover.   For some reason the card made it all seem possible.

My growing desire to go to India wasn’t something I shared with many people and I didn’t expect my family to jump on board with my crazy idea.  But much to my amazement they’re into it.  We don’t know any of the details yet, only that it will take about two years to save enough money to make it all happen.  A savings account has been opened. The beginning of a plan is in place.  I haven’t felt this excited in a long time.

A name that fits…

So I’ve spent a while trying to come up with the perfect name for a blog.  What I’ve discovered is that a lot of the good names are already taken, a result, I believe, of the fact that I’m always about a decade behind the game when it comes to technology.  But I think Lofty Minded works for me.  Imagining that I have something to say that others can relate to or care about seems a little lofty.  And all along the way I’m going to try to be mindful of what I say, and how I say it.  One of my very best friends has set a good example of mindfulness.  She thinks before she talks and as a result I trust that she will keep my secrets, give good advice and never respond in a way that will cause her to have regrets later on.

Right off the bat I want to say thanks to my cousin Bob for encouraging me to get my writing out there.   In a strange turn of events involving facebook I connected with him and know him better now than I ever did in the real world.  Maybe it’s because we have several state lines between us that I’ve trusted him to read some of my writing.  He’s always been kind, even when we’ve disagreed politically and more importantly, when I made him suffer through my not-so-good poetry phase.

What’s this blog going to be about you ask?  Well, sorry to let you down, but I don’t know yet.  After giving it some thought though I decided to start it anyhow.  One thing I’ve learned about myself that if I think too much about doing something, I tend not to do it.  I don’t want to rule any topic out at this point, although I’m going to shy away from politics for now.   What’s been on my mind lately is church, so that’s where I’m going to start.

I haven’t been a churchgoer for many years, and I don’t plan on going back.  But recently I’ve been missing aspects of it.  I miss the social network that comes with church attendance.  When my daughter was born 14 years ago the Methodist ladies made sure I didn’t have to cook a meal for two weeks.   That’s the sort of thing I miss.  And the music.  I don’t have many opportunities to sing (besides in the car or the shower) any more, and I do love the magic that happens when a roomful of people raise their voices together.    Most of my family of origin still adheres to the denomination I grew up in, the Assemblies of God Church, so by not attending or believing in its doctrine anymore, I feel a little like an outsider, which is a drag.

When it comes down to it, there’s still more about church that I don’t miss, so I won’t be changing my Sunday morning routine any time soon.    I’m just finally able to recognize that I have a few empty spots in my life since I stopped going.