Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Spirit of Who Needs Plans

We started our second Nashville Friends Meeting's Growing In the Light spiritual formation group yesterday. We did an all-day retreat at the meetinghouse and will continue it until around 5:00 this afternoon with a break to participate in Meeting for Worship and then lunch. We're doing a lot of talking about spiritual practices and our own personal journeys. The main theme, this year, is that we're working through a series of exercises leading us to each write our own spiritual mission statement. I've been working on pulling this together for months and months so I'm actually pretty bored with the exercises but everyone else seems to be enjoying them and I do like the discussions about them.

Yesterday, I awoke with a headache and uncovered that I was actually pretty stressed about leading this GItL. Last year, Caroline and I worked together and it was our first time and so I felt less pressure to "perform". This year, Caroline couldn't do it and no one else volunteered to help, and of course, now that I've done it before I should know what I'm doing. Well, you know that I'm always flying by the seat of my pants (where in the world does that phrase come from? I must look it up sometime) and never really feel like I have a grip on what I'll be doing before I just plunge in (or take off, if it's a flying metaphor). In spite of that, I think yesterday went well. We had eight people and two others are to join us today; a variety of beliefs and life experiences within bounds of white, middle class and pretty well educated (we have 3 therapists in our group!). I do hope that one of these wonderful people steps up to offer to help me. I'm such a big idea person and I'm not very good with tasks. I just need someone to remind me of what I committed to do while it's still helpful to others to get it done.

I've got big-time chihuahua brain going on right now. I've actually been praying a lot but my prayers are mostly intercessory prayers for people I know and love who are having a hard time. I don't feel very close to Spirit, though I know Spirit is there: the distance is mine and not deliberate.

Flying By the Seat of One's Pants from

This is early aviation parlance. Aircraft
initially had few navigation aids and flying was
accomplished by means of the
pilot's judgment. The term emerged in the 1930s and was first widely used in reports of Douglas Corrigan's flight from the USA to Ireland in 1938.
That flight was reported in many US newspapers of the day, including this piece, entitled 'Corrigan Flies By The Seat Of His Pants', in The Edwardsville Intelligencer, 19th July 1938:
"Douglas Corrigan was described as an aviator
'who flies by the seat of his pants' today by a mechanic who helped him rejuvinate the plane which airport men have now nicknamed the 'Spirit of $69.90'. The old flying expression of 'flies by the seat of his trousers' was explained by Larry Conner, means going aloft without instruments, radio or other such luxuries."
Two days before this report Corrigan had submitted a flight
plan to fly from Brooklyn to California. He had previously had a plan for a trans-Atlantic flight rejected (presumably on the grounds that the 'Spirit of $69.90 wasn't considered up to the job). His subsequent 29 hour flight ended in Dublin, Ireland. He claimed that his compasses had failed. He didn't openly admit it but it was widely assumed that he had ignored the rejection of his
flight plan and deliberately flown east rather than west. He was thereafter known as 'Wrong Way Corrigan' and starred as himself in the 1938 movie The
Flying Irishman.
The 'old flying expression' quoted above (although it can't
have been very old in 1938) that refers to trousers rather than pants does
suggest that the phrase was originally British and crossed the Atlantic (the
right way) prior to becoming 'flies by the seat of one's pants'.

Wow! Wrong Way Corrigan is totally crushworthy! Who knew? He's cute and funny and wacky! Now I've got to run to the library and pick his movie up. Wheee!

(And didn't that just totally prove the chihuahua brain...)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lesson in Humility- Redux

Yeah boy, see how far I've come. I wrote about my increasing awareness of my own snobbery and class bias and then, in my very next blogpost, I used a term that I find incredibly offensive to describe someone who I felt to be "less than" me. I awoke this morning with the words ringing in my ears and feel a deep sense of shame to have used them. Nevermind the fact that many people have no problem with this term; it is terribly offensive on many levels to me and I used it anyway.
Here's what I wrote:
"His mother worked in the laundry room of the hospital.
She was (pardon the expression) "white trash": Old couch on the front porch, go out in public with holes in her clothes kind of poor. I really don't know how he got the ambition that he had but he wasn't like the rest of his family."
I was even aware enough of what I was doing as to "apologize" before writing it, in the "pardon my french" kind of way. How utterly hypocritical.
So, why did I do it? I was writing about my first boyfriend's mother. She never liked me and, frankly, she wasn't very likable (the entire year and a half that Steve and I dated, she referred to me as "what's her name"). I wrote about her using the words I've always used when thinking about her; words I grew up hearing: They're concise and descriptive. But I wasn't writing a novel. I was writing an essay in a spiritually oriented "journal". Golly, if I'm not going to live up to my highest self here, what hope is there for the rest of my life?
Again, I am terribly, terribly sorry to everyone I offended. I am ashamed of myself. Obviously, I've got a lot of work to do to unravel these awful prejudices I have about people and the words I use to describe and label them and myself.

This action of mine has made me revisit her with a clearer perspective than I've ever had. I see that she was probably very depressed and unhappy. She was trapped in an unpleasant job due to a lack of education and having three kids to support. My mom knew her in high school and told me years ago that she was crazy about Steve's dad. She got pregnant, they got married, had three kids and he left. Because he was an alcoholic (Irish Drunk was the name given to men like him-usually very happy but sometimes "black" angry), I imagine the years they were together were probably bad. She never really had anything that was hers. She never owned her life. She relied heavily, both emotionally and financially on her oldest son. She disliked me because I was taking him away from her. I understood that even when I was 15, but her rudeness was inexcusable to me. Now, I can see how closed she had to be, how judged she probably felt. I can see why she would dislike me (I was a perky know-it-all). She died about 10 years ago of a heart attack when she was in her late 50s. Her name was Ruth.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Peaceful Warriors Training Camp

My previous post was about why I think military service holds appeal for many young people. In this post I'm going to write out my vision for a non-violent alternative to military service.

What I'd like to see is a peace activists training organization. It would combine elements of the military, the Highlander Center, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Civilian Public Service. It would operate much like military basic training: Recruits would live together in barracks with a drill instructor for a set amount of time, learning basic skills, discipline and regimentation. They would learn team building and trust in one another and in authority. They'd spend the first 6-8 weeks learning basic things such as woodworking, how to use tools, group cooking, and basic survival skills. They'd also do some amount of classwork learning about non-violent social action and studying conflict resolution from the personal to the global. They'd study the teachings of Gandhi and what the Highlander Center did; they'd learn about the Lunch Counter Sit-ins and other real examples of peace action. They'd also study self-defence through aikido or another non-aggressive method.

Next they would learn about current, active peace work throughout the world. They'd study about AFSC and Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Corps. They'd learn about all the kinds of opportunities for work there are and then they'd choose a field of study. The training camp would provide education to train the recruits in whatever area they wanted to pursue, possibly through a community college but maybe also with paid staff or volunteers. I envision areas of study such as medicine/first aid, firefighting/natural disaster management, community gardening/sustainable agriculture, teaching, water resources, sustainable energy, building/architecture, land reclamation/forestry, midwifery/family planning and the like.

During this time, they would be working and doing community service projects, spending time with local or regional non-profit agencies. During study breaks, they may travel to other areas to do internships or more intensive work.

I see this as a 1-2 year program. I think it would be good to consult with many cross-border and national agencies to learn exactly what skills would be valuable to them and try to structure the program to teach those skills.

The program would have to be privately funded, not taking any government money.

The recruits would be paid some amount for participating in the program and upon completion would earn something extra. In exchange, they would commit to X amount of service upon completion.

The recruits would also have to understand that they would submit to the authority of the program and give over their identity as "civilian" to that of "peace warrior" (in the way that a "hero's journey" makes one die to one's old nature and accept a new identity. The U.S. military is brilliant at enacting this rite of passage for recruits--one of the only powerful, active rites in our entire society.). The program would be hard and challenging and would not allow for the kind of dissension or questioning of authority that we so often see in the liberal community. In other words, if you trust the organization enough to want to take from it, you also make a real commitment to give and to follow the structure and rules.

The Appeal of Military Service

Jeanne, over in her blog "Social Class & Quakers", recently wrote about military recruiting and what alternatives Quakers have to offer. She brings up some very good points but, from my experience, misses some important points. She suggested that Quakers (and other peace churches) need to step up and offer scholarships to young working class and poor kids who have few other choices but to enlist in the military to earn money and/or job training. But the point that I think is missed is that a whole lot of those kids do not want to further their education. I was one of those kids. Without going into too much of my personal history, I had no direction when I was graduated from high school other than knowing that I did not want to go to college. My parents begged and pleaded and finally got me to agree to go to a school which was supposed to train me to be a travel agent (I've done about every kind of legitimate work there is but I've never worked as a travel agent). From about 4th grade on, I HATED school. I remember sitting in elementary school (probably during math class) literally counting the days until I would turn 16 and be able to drop out of school. Well, I made it to graduation but did not want to put myself into any position in which I had to feel like a dunce ever again. No thank you. I got a job managing a fast food restaurant and have been working my way up from entry level jobs ever since.

In high school, I took the ASVABs rather than the SAT or ACT, even though I wasn't really interested in the military. This was 1983 when there was still a good amount of stigma about women in the military (if I were graduating in the same position today, I probably would consider it). When I'd get the mailings from the Marines saying they were looking for a few good men, I'd think "who isn't?" and throw them in the trash.

I did have a couple of very close friends who enlisted. My first serious boyfriend was the quintessential guy I'm writing about here. He was full of common sense but not "book smarts". He didn't do well in school. He was incredibly responsible and a really good guy. He played drums and fixed cars and worked after school every day from age 14 on. His family was very poor. His father was an alcoholic who left his mother with three children and never paid child support. His mother worked in the laundry room of the hospital. She was (pardon the expression) "white trash": Old couch on the front porch, go out in public with holes in her clothes kind of poor. I really don't know how he got the ambition that he had but he wasn't like the rest of his family. He wanted to better himself and he saw the military as the best way to do that. He joined the Navy and gained discipline and learned how to repair airplanes. Being in the Navy was very important to him. He was proud of serving his country, of wearing the uniform. He was not a violent person. I can't imagine him ever hurting anyone. He was gentle and kind. I'm sure that he didn't really consider the possibility of having to be in a situation in which he might have to kill someone, although he was, I'm sure, very good at following orders and would have done so if commanded by superior officers. I don't know that if he'd been given a full scholarship to community college he'd have taken it because the Navy represented something more than just training for him. In part, it was escape from his home and family's reputation and expectations; escape from our small town, adventure. He did not have a strong male role model growing up; I think the Navy was, for him, a rite of passage, a way of learning to prove that he was a man. No community college or regular college would ever be able to offer that.

My dear cousin Stevey is another of the type of guy I'm trying to describe to you. Stevey is very intelligent but really quirky and odd. I haven't seen him in almost two decades but value him and love him deeply. He was raised by his mom and stepdad (who adopted him when he was 8). His family did animal rescues and always had a menagerie of dogs, cats and horses: His family's home was loving but extremely chaotic. Stevey never really fit in with the kids in school and got by just doing his own thing. His family had moved to California by the time we were in high school so I never talked with him about his decision to join the Air Force when he was graduated from high school but I imagine that he did because he wanted to travel and explore the world. He made a career of it and retired after 20 years. I think he found success in the structure and discipline of the military that he could never have had in civilian life. Again, he is a gentle, funny, kind person. I doubt he's ever deliberately hurt anyone in his whole life. He didn't join the Air Force from any aggro impulse or for macho reasons; he just needed direction and discipline.

And this leads me to my oldest kid, Declan. He's 17. He's intelligent, creative, funny. He's very liberal, mostly, but is a black and white thinker. He's drawn to strong-willed, alpha males for mentors and teachers (most of whom, Chuck Fager being the exception, have been very strongly libertarian in their political leanings). D is smart but is acting sooo dumb. I just got a call from his history teacher (whom D really respects) saying that Declan has failed his last three history tests and is failing history. Dec enjoys history. He "gets it" and is engaged by this teacher. He just doesn't bother to do his homework or to study. Hammy and I have talked and talked and talked to him. Over the last 2 1/2 years that he's been in school, at various times we've grounded him, met weekly with his teachers, talked to principals and counselors, said that this is his "path" and he needs to learn to take responsibility for his actions and whatever else we could think of. Nothing has made the slightest difference. He's in a school for the arts which he absolutely loves. His girlfriend is there as are all his friends. He's playing in a band. He's doing music for a movie and a cable tv show. He just auditioned for the lead in a play. He started the year on academic probation and will probably be kicked out when the end of semester report cards come out. But that hasn't changed his behavior or attitude toward his academic work.

So, what will happen to my boy when he is kicked out of this school? The only school he'll be able to go to is the one we're zoned for, the "Bloods vs Crips" school that he spent a year at and HATED. ROTC is the only extra on the school campus besides cosmetology. I can't see him going back to that school and being successful.

Lots of kids do dual enrollment at the community college but, frankly, if we can't trust him to maintain passing grades at a school he loves, I can't see paying money for him to go to another school. He's painting himself into a corner that he's too young, inexperienced and stubborn to see.

If I weren't a pacifist adamantly opposed to war, I'd push him toward the military. The discipline would be great for him. He'd be honored for his sharp mind and problem-solving ability, for his self-control and ability to lead others. I believe he would completely thrive in that atmosphere. But I could never encourage my beloved son to go into a situation in which he would learn to kill. I love him too much to want him to put himself in a institution in which dying for a false ideology is a real possibility.

So, what is left for him? Peace Corps doesn't want him. AFSC doesn't want him. I know of maybe a couple of non-profits like Plenty that might make use of him but hippies make him crazy (their ethos is kind of the opposite of disciplined) and I know he wouldn't want to go that route (although, when he flunks out of NSA, I think we'll probably strongly push him in that direction). What he needs is a very regimented, organized, structured "boot camp" type training program; something that helps him to grow and discover his potential to BE something. That's what the military is best at, from the perspective of this civilian--identifying and developing the potential of young, directionless adults. And that's exactly what Declan needs most.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What's Up? Lesson In Humility

I’ve been wanting to blog but I feel I need to catch up here with an update before I write about anything else.
School’s been back in session for a month. My oldest is at the arts magnet high school. For the first time in his life, my middle son is going to public school: He’s in 8th grade at the arts magnet middle school studying visual arts.
Carmac is 5, and so, a kindergartner. We are homeschooling. He has had a very tough time with all the changes. Hammy and I have been noticing him acting in ways that he had developed beyond, like not wanting to be alone in his room and being afraid of the dark. He misses Zed a lot during the day and, although he has always been really good at playing by himself, he’s lonely. I’ve been trying to keep him busy and have scheduled at least one extra activity with friends each week.
I’m still working but not for much longer. One of the projects ended a month or so ago. I’m just doing phone work on the other one, which was supposed to end the beginning of August. The project managers keep telling us 2 more weeks but we still need something like 700 more interviews done, so who knows. I’m putting in 10-15 hours a week on that now, mainly working 3-4 hours each morning. It’s easy and pleasant work.
I’m beginning to look for a new job. About a month ago, I learned that Nashville is not part of the national framing sample for any projects I would be eligible to work, so I will not have field work offered to me for at least 6 months. I can’t go that long without an income. I’d like to work for a non-profit. I really enjoyed when I worked as a volunteer coordinator at Reconciliation. I’m great at organizing people and networking. The darn lack of education, though, really gets in the way of how I am perceived by potential employers.
I’m not enrolled in school. I just couldn’t justify upsetting my entire family and our finances. I’m pretty frustrated but I have to honor the needs of everyone, not just my own. Seeing how Carmac is with the changes we are already experiencing, I’m glad I didn’t force my going to school on him, too. Although, he may be happier if he were to go to school.
We’re still mostly car-free but my in-laws did give us a very old, very rickety car to pick Zed up from school with (his school is a mile from our house but the only two roads to get to it are highways with no sidewalks, so he can’t walk. The bus takes kids from the school to downtown and then he’d have to catch the return bus for a roundtrip time of almost 2 hours). Carmac and I are still riding buses most of the time when we go out.

So, hmmmmm. As my friendlymama blog is ostensibly about my spiritual journey, I guess the question I’ll ask myself is: How goes my awareness of God in my life?

And my answer is: I’m finding my way back to my path. I give myself props for not immediately going into, what my friend Kit describes as, “ego attack” which happens when one’s sense of security is threatened. Thus far, and this may only be because I am still generating income, I have been able to remain open to ideas for future employment keeping God’s will for me fore in my mind: I know that I would most like “right-livelihood” work—work that’s good for God’s world (which is to say, everything) but I trust God will help me find the path the opportunities in which I can learn and serve best.

I am coming to terms with some further awareness of my own class prejudices. I’ve written how I come from a working class background. But, obviously, I have had great privilege from my parents, genetics and many other things. The fact that I am very verbal and read extensively has allowed me to “pass” as well educated for most of my adult life. Because of this, I’ve been able to get jobs that I otherwise wouldn’t have qualified for. With my ability to pass as a member of the educated middle-class (liberal), I’ve distanced myself emotionally from my working class roots. I was bemoaning the need to look for a new job recently and beginning to allow myself to go into an ego attack and said the thing I always say when I get in that uncomfortable, fear inducing place, “I’m going to wind up working at Taco Bell!”. Well, I said that and then I just stopped and thought about what I said and realized that I am a snob. Sheesh. Am I better than the people who work at Taco Bell? Smarter? No. I’m luckier. I was given parents who made sure I spoke proper English and provided me with lots of books and modeled socially acceptable behaviors and so I have better options.
Last weekend, Zed was invited by a new school chum to go to a water park. I drove him over to the boy’s house across town. He lives with his mom in a home which reminds me a lot of the house in which my aunt and bi-polar, alcoholic, illiterate uncle raised their three children: Very small duplexes, close together, small children and semi-feral dogs running wild, people sitting idle in yards, watching everything that goes on. When I pulled up, a neighbor was on the porch and asked if I was looking to rent side B. I bristled, thinking, “Doesn’t it look obvious that I don’t belong here?” but of course it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t, no matter where I work or how much money I make.
I met the boy’s mom. She’s about my age. She’s very nice and friendly and seems a kind and caring mother trying to raise her son the best she can. She works as a manager at McDonalds. She hasn’t had the luxury of the dental care that I have. As we talked, I could relate to her and her struggles and successes (when the kids were at the water park, she was on a date at the lake). I’m not better than her. I need to learn to stop judging myself as if I am. I do not deserve to make more money than her just because I am more articulate than her. We both should have the opportunities for education that would allow us employment that fulfills our need for dignity and financial stability.
So, I’ve had that little lesson in humility, again.