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Life Becomes Empty: Covid 19 On My Mind

Life Becomes Empty_ Covid 19 on My Mind

Life Becomes Empty: Covid 19 On My Mind

H. Bradford

03/24/20


Last month, I was busy celebrating my birthday.  There were always things to do, new hobbies to try, events to attend, and a whole world to explore.  I went to the aquarium, saw Harriet at the library, attended VIP Comedy Night, learned about pollinators,  went to Drag Bingo, enjoyed snowshoeing, skiing, birding, various activist events, a Cat Video Festival, had Mexican food on my birthday, got a new tattoo, and read poems for a poetry night.  The world felt more like a smorgasbord.  Now, it feels like life is an empty grocery store shelf.  It has been shocking to go from a socially engaged person to a homebody.  Two weeks ago, I was thinking that I might be able to go on an international trip next month.  I thought maybe things would not be so bad.  Now, I had to cancel plans to see my brother on Friday.   Two weeks ago, staff at my job had a taco pot luck.  Last week, we started having staff meetings by zoom.  My world has become quiet, small, and uncertain.


Like most people, I really didn’t take COVID-19 seriously.  In the past, there had been Zika, H1N1, MERS, SARS, and other viral outbreaks.  These all seemed to pass without much impact on my life.   It was on my radar as a distant thing.  I was substitute teaching when Italy went on lock down and there was the first major stock market crash.  Even then, it didn’t seem like something that would impact me other than the fear that it would complicate my trip and that my meager retirement had lost over 10% of its value in a day.  Later in the week, I met with staff at my job for a potluck.  We ate Mexican food and laughed about the mystery of the missing green Jell-o.  Did a resident abscond with a giant container of Jell-o?  Trump’s travel ban for Europeans coming to the U.S. seemed mysterious and even excessive at that point of time.  I still worried about my trip. Within the next few days, there were more travel bans, closed schools, the cancellation of my trip, the sudden cancellation of meetings and community events, and mounting deaths in Italy.


I was slow to comprehend what flattening the curve really meant in practice.  I attended my final in-person activist meeting on March 16th.  It was bittersweet, since I knew it was the last activist meeting I would attend for a long time. I went out for Mexican food that day because I knew that the following day at 5pm, all the restaurants in Wisconsin would be closed. Had I really understood the importance of social distancing, I would not have gone out. But, there was not that many official cases in Wisconsin. It felt like one last opportunity as the sun set on something I enjoyed.  Within the course of a few days, almost everything that structured my life collapsed.  There were no more activist meetings.  There would be no more trivia nights, reading at coffee shops, eating out alone, going to movies, spending time with friends, no more community classes or lectures, no birding field trips or presentation, no side gigs as a substitute teacher or the Easter bunny, no more travel plans, no more plans at all.   I felt completely lost.  I felt as though a cruel wind had passed through and destroyed the scaffolding that held my mental well being together.  This existential crisis was coupled with my obsessive surveillance of the news for the latest terrible thing.


What is left when everything is gone?  I was left with work.  This is better than many people, who suddenly lost their jobs.  My job at a domestic violence shelter is more secure since it is an essential service.  This is something to be thankful for, but also gave me a sense of impending crisis. Work over the next few months will become harder.  The population at the shelter is often sick. With more people restricted to their homes and more services limited by closures, we will almost certainly be busier.  My shifts have been busier with hotline calls, more cleaning chores, and more intakes.  Residents will have a harder time connecting to services, finding housing, and finding employment.  Staff themselves may become sick.  There are challenges ahead. Normally, I could face these challenges with the hope of travel, escape, hobbies, or other distractions.  Many of the distractions and promises of escape are gone.


All of this has been rather depressing and paralyzing.  I thought that I was a more resilient person and have been disappointed by my response.  On March 17th, I had a panic attack, which is something I haven’t had for quite a long time.  I sat on the floor, trying to breathe.  I felt anxiety again on the 19th.  It was that feeling I would have before running in a track meet or performing in a play.  A fluttery feeling that my heart is too fast and my stomach is too empty.  It is hard to explain to other people.  My feelings are, after all, very selfish and privileged.  While people die, lose their jobs, become seriously ill, or face innumerable traumas as healthcare workers, I am thinking about when I will travel again or the emptiness of not having many of my hobbies, doing activism, or going to restaurants.  And other people seem to be coping much better.  They are watching more Netflix, trying new recipes, organizing online yoga classes, and creating online communities for mutual aid.  I haven’t felt as able to transition.


Eventually, I will rise to the occasion.  The abrupt end to a version of my self was bewildering.  I couldn’t look at my goal book until yesterday.  The goals are a relic of another reality.  I won’t be going to RSOP’s spring frog walk or nature photography class.  I won’t be on the Audubon warbler walks this spring.  I won’t be substitute teaching or taking hot yoga classes before the Groupon expires.  I won’t be going to union meetings or really, any other meetings. I might not be camping at new state parks this summer.  The list of 140 New Year’s will remain incomplete.  I need to find new things and exist in new ways.


Today, I felt a little better.  I had another activist Zoom meeting.  It was again bittersweet.  But, I am thinking more about the future.  Later, I spoke with a coworker who was stressed about her financial situation.  It snapped me out of the selfish mourning of the way things were and the things I hoped for. I have to start rebuilding myself with new scaffolding, so that I can be strong enough to weather this.  I have to be strong and dynamic, vibrant and capable.   I need to find the fuel to fight, support others, and do the things that need to be done.  I will attend educational meetings via Zoom.  There is a talk on Alexandra Kollontai in April that I don’t want to miss.  I can write and read more.  I can look for ways to re-engage in activism.  I can start some seeds next month.  I can join virtual yoga classes and write new to-do lists.  This doesn’t change the fear for the future.  The worry over death or that we are headed for conditions unseen in the U.S. since the Great Depression.  The social distancing seems to remove some of the sense that I have agency in changing society for the better.  Things just seem to happen.  There is endless happening and the powerlessness of being atomized into households.  Still, I think I can pass through demoralization and loss and discover the emotional means for mobilization.  I can do, and fight, and support, and find new ways to be busy.  I won’t be quarantined with my demons.

 

 

 

Fabulous Birthday Freebies

Free Birthday

Fabulous Birthday Freebies

H. Bradford

3.1.20


Despite the grandiose name of this blog post, most of these freebies were not actually fabulous.  But, getting something for free is still pretty good.  Hence, I decided that this year for my “birthday month” I was going to try to get as many free things as I could.  Now, there are certainly more free items that one can obtain for their birthday.  But, I feel satisfied with my efforts and what I obtained.  While they might not all be fabulous, I can’t argue with something given to me for free just for being alive!  So, here is the list of my free birthday loot.


Hot Topic: $5 Off


Reward Members can get $5 off of any purchase in store or online.  I chose to buy a pair of snake earrings for $5.90. Thus, the earrings cost less than a dollar plus tax.  You might think that I am too old for Hot Topic. The large amount of Disney products they sell seems to support this claim.  However, I learned that uneven sized earring sets and friendship necklace sets seem to be popular right now. Yep, I am old and keeping up with the trends of the youth.  The offer expires about one month after the birthday.  Free earrings are pretty fabulous, so I will have to try to get another pair next year! http://t0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn%3AANd9GcSi1rJvbDt3d5dmEwRRr655-x5qoXEX0pg1OdtNK6iKbGCm8adiPG0pViyCE10&usqp=CAc

Photo from Hot Topic.


Olive Garden: Free Dessert


This is a pretty good deal, considering that desserts are over $7 at Olive Garden.  I almost forgot to take a photo. Like all of these promotions, you need to be a rewards member to obtain the free dessert, which appears as an emailed coupon.  The featured item is a Black Tie Mousse Cake. I don’t believe that a purchase was necessary, but I ate other food so I am not certain.  The value cannot exceed $8.50 and the coupon expires within a few days of the birthday. Image may contain: dessert and food


Starbucks: Free drink of any size


Starbucks rewards members can receive a free drink of any size.  I redeemed the offer on my actual birthday.  Unlike other promotions, it expires on the birthday, so it is good for one day only.  The pictured item is an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk.  No other purchase was necessary.


Image may contain: drink and indoor


 

Noodles and Company: Cookie or Krispie


Noodles and Company Rewards members can get a free cookie or rice krispie bar for their birthday.  The promotion expires near the birthday. If I remember correctly, it expires within a few days. I redeemed the offer on my birthday.  No other purchase was required.

Image may contain: food

Qdoba: Free Entree


This is one of the better deals, since most places only offer a dessert item.  Rewards members can have a free entree for their birthday. I forget when it expires, but if I remember rightly there was at least a week after my birthday to redeem the promotion.  The pictured item is a vegetarian burrito bowl. No other purchase was necessary.

Image may contain: food Perkins: Free Magnificent Seven


I don’t really like breakfast, but hey, it’s a free meal.  I actually planned on letting my friend Adam eat this, but he was not feeling well.  So, neither of us was keen on eating the eggs, pancakes, and meat item (for Adam). I ended up eating some of the pancakes.  No other purchase was necessary, but I ate an appetizer and iced tea.


Image result for magnificent seven perkins

Photo from Perkins


Caribou Coffee: Any Drink


Caribou Coffee offers a free any sized birthday drink.  To access this deal, you need to be a rewards member. No other purchase is necessary, but the promotion expires a week after the birthday.  My drink of choice was an Iced Matcha Latte with oat milk.  It is less sweet than the Starbucks version.  It was pretty fabulous! Image may contain: drink and indoor


  Dairy Queen: Blizzard


This isn’t the best deal, since you must buy one to get one free.  But, if you happen to have a friend who wants a Blizzard or feel like eating two, you can get a “free” Blizzard for your birthday.  This promotion appeared in the Dairy Queen app. I forgot to take a photo until I was nearly done, but this is a Double Fudge Cookie Dough Blizzard.  This was the Blizzard of the Month for February.

No photo description available. Marcus Theaters: Soda


To my great surprise, when I went to see the movie Parasite, I was informed that because it had been my birthday, I could get a free junior sized soda.  Even a small movie theater soda is around $5, so this was a pretty good deal. To get the free soda, you must be a Magical Movie Rewards member.  I didn’t get a free movie, but I went for $5 movie night, so it was a pretty cheap visit to the theater.  That was pretty fabulous!

No photo description available.

No photo description available.


 

Subway: Cookie


The final free food item that I received for my birthday was a cookie from Subway.  To get a free cookie, you must be a rewards member, but no other purchase is necessary.  The coupon was valid until about two weeks after my birthday. It was not the most exciting birthday freebie, but nice to end the month with one final thing.  Yes, this was a bit anti-climatic, as my brother pointed out, but I was happy to add another item to my collection of birthday freebies.

Image may contain: food


It’s March now, so the birthday fun is over (mostly).  I had a fun time trying to find some birthday freebies and it gives me a starting point to up my efforts next year.  Other places with freebies include Applebees (dessert), Texas Roadhouse (appetizer), and Jersey Mike (sub sandwich).  Of course, none of this is really “free” as I am doing the labor of providing free advertising for these corporations by sharing this information.  I also get more advertisements from these companies because of my reward memberships.  The companies most likely recover the cost of these “free items” in my spending over the year.  Nevertheless, it is fun to get something for mostly free!


						
					

140 Resolutions for 2020

140 Resolutions for 2020

H. Bradford

2/9/2020


Last year, I had 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  This may seem like a lot, but, sometimes a person needs to Go Big or Go Home.   In all reality, my New Year’s Resolutions are more of a “wish list” of things I should try to do over the course of a year.  Some resolutions (such as reading 40 books) take more effort than others (send Valentine Days cards or wear more leopard print).  Some of the resolutions are more subjective.  For instance, the fruit of the year is apple.  What does this mean?  Eat more apples?  Learn about apples?  Ideally, these sorts of resolutions are a way to focus on a theme or topic to learn about or experience.  If I add more resolutions next year, I may need a microscope to read all of them!  In any event, here are my 140 New Year’s Resolutions in their lengthy glory.  I wonder how many I will check off from the list?


Resolutions140

2019 Year in Review

2019 Year in REview(1)

2019 Year in Review

H. Bradford

2/09/2020


Typically, I would try to write up a “Year in Review” in January, but I just haven’t had time.  Where does the time go, I don’t know!  Thus, my year in review is ready near my birthday instead.  I will say that 2019 started off on a low note, but improved towards the end of the year.  My health, mental health, and finances were a little topsy turvy, but it was also a year of adventures and perseverance.  By the end of the year, I pulled things out of the fire and ended feeling optimistic for 2020!


Depression:


One downside of 2019, was the return of my depression.  This was a struggle between December 2018 and August 2019, with the worst symptoms occurring in December through the spring.  Most of the depression was probably work related, which isn’t something I am at complete liberty to share. I will only say that there was an intense period of labor struggle accompanied by a high attrition of staff.  In the end, I was one of the “last ones standing” or staying at my job. During the struggle and once it was over, I felt rather bleak about it all. I was depressed enough that I withdrew from some people and actively considered suicide.  However, since it wasn’t my first experience with depression, I also sought out some therapy. While I only attended a few sessions, it helped me hold myself accountable for my mental health. Eventually, things improved and I was better able to get a handle on my depression.  It is good to be at a place in life where I’ve had enough experience with depression that it will never be as destructive and debilitating as it was in my early 20s.


Gallbladder Surgery:


Another downside of 2019 was the sudden onset of painful attacks in my chest and back area.  One of these mysterious attacks sent me to the ER in February 2019….while celebrating my birthday!  It turned out that I needed gallbladder surgery. I had my gallbladder removed in April. The downside of all of this was the financial cost to it all.  Even though I have health insurance, the entire ordeal cost me about $6000.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, selfie and closeup Financial:


Owing to the unexpected expense of a visit to the ER and gallbladder surgery, I felt more stressed about finances than usual.  Coupled with student loans and car repairs, there were some financially stressful moments this past year. However, in the end I was able to manage these expenses, develop a payment plan for the medical bills, and pay off my car early in September.  I also picked up overtime on every paycheck between January and August at my primary place of employment. This helped with my financial security. I even increased my 401 b contribution and tried out a few new financial tools such as Acorns and Mint.  I am also proud that by the end of the year, my credit score reached a peak of over 760.


 

Work:


I worked….a lot.  As mentioned, I picked up quite a lot of overtime at the shelter.  Aside from this, I continued to work at the WE Health Clinic, as the mall Easter Bunny, and substitute teaching.  A downside of the year was when the work schedule I had enjoyed for four years was changed. However, I was able to eventually move to a work schedule that seems to work just as well.  This caused some distress during the interim between the old and newest work schedule. Also distressing was the loss of many of my coworkers after a protracted struggle. Thankfully, things have settled down into a less conflict ridden status quo (even though the struggle was lost).  It was an empowering experience, even if all consuming for a while.


 

Union:


I became Vice President of my union this year.  I feel proud of that.


 

Central America Trip:


In January 2019, I visited Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.  I spent the most time in El Salvador and had a really great time. Highlights included seeing many wonderful birds, visiting the Copan ruins, hiking up two volcanoes, not getting sick, and visiting historical sites related to the civil war in El Salvador.

Image may contain: tree, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


 

Inca Trail:


Another travel highlight was completing the Inca Trail.  I visited Ecuador and Peru in November and December for three weeks.  The Inca Trail was physically challenging, but I am proud of myself for having made it!

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, smiling, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


 

Galapagos Islands:


I also visited the Galapagos Islands in December.  I loved seeing the unique wildlife and celebrating evolution.

Image may contain: Heather Bradford


 

Winnipeg Road Trip:


I went on a road trip with my mother to Winnipeg.  For me, this was in part to observe the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg general strike.  We kept a busy schedule, visiting museums, the zoo, camping, spending time in nature, catching an outdoor concert and First Nations festival, and much more!  Visiting Lake Winnipeg was also a highlight. We learned the hard way that the U.S./Canada border point that we wanted to cross closes at 8pm.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, beach, outdoor and nature

Five New State Parks:


One of my goals is to visit all of the state parks in Minnesota.  Each year I try to visit a few new ones. One of the parks I visited was Forestville Mystery Cave, which is located in southern Minnesota.  Although I usually go alone, Dan was kind enough to go with me, indulging my desire to see the largest cave in Minnesota. I also visited Itasca State Park, which is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  After visiting the park, I stayed with my father in Bemidji and we went to Lake Bemidji State Park together. We walked along the bog walk. Another nearby park was Schoolcraft State Park, which isn’t that impressive but is known for an old white pine.  I also visited Father Hennepin State Park on a day trip, but did not see the famous albino deer. Image may contain: sky, outdoor, water and nature

Where the Mississippi River begins


Friends:


I can always be thankful for my friends.  Adam, Lucas, and I went to Madeline Island and Houghton Falls for a memorable adventure together.  The three of us also went for a hike up Carlton Peak, while Adam and I did a few other hikes.  As I mentioned, Dan and I also went on an adventure to Forestville Mystery Cave.  I also had a great Halloween, as my friends and I dressed up as the seasons.  Although we didn’t win the costume prize, I felt proud of our costumes and had a great time dressing up as dry season! Image may contain: 6 people, including Heather Bradford, Jenny Hoffman and Bryan Bongey, people smiling, people standing and hat


39 Books:


I read 39 books last year.  To some people this may seem like a lot and to others, this may seem disappointingly low.  Some highlights include The Last Days of the Incas, Handbook for a Post Roe America, The End of Roe v. Wade,  The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, 1491: Before Columbus, Eels, Frankenstein, and a few books about Yemen. I always try to “read my age” so, I will have my work cut out for me when I am 80.


135 Activist Events:


I attended 135 activist events.  This includes meetings, protests, pickets, social justice educational events, etc.  The number is down from the last two years. Image may contain: 4 people, including Heather Bradford, people smiling, people standing and outdoor


133 New Species of Birds:


I saw 133 new species of birds in 2019, many of them in Peru and El Salvador.  A highlight from Minnesota was my first Boreal chickadee. Image may contain: plant and bird

Socialist Action Split:


The socialist group I have been a part of since the early 2000s split this past year in November.  This was a bit awkward since I had been the Vice Presidential candidate for the party. While this role was far outside of my comfort zone, on a personal level, I really hate disappointing people.  So, I regret if I disappointed the SA comrades over this matter. On the other hand, a large number of comrades were expelled over dues payment (which followed a long debate over Syria, analysis of imperialism, and trans issues), so leaving was the principled thing to do.

Image may contain: 2 people, including Heather Bradford, people smiling

From Leftist Trainspotters, the cover of SA news shortly after the split, before my photo could be removed…


  Socialist Resurgence:


Those who left or were removed from Socialist Action went on to form a new group called Socialist Resurgence.  There is a healthy energy within the group, even if we are small. The new group has made my local branch more politically engaged than it has been for a long while.


  New Activities:


Each year, I try to challenge myself to try new things.  A few things that I did that were new this year include attending a burlesque show, attending a mycology club, visiting new state parks, visiting Madeline Island, trying some new foods like Lingonberry ice cream, rose apple, cherimoya, rambutan, and Hibiscus Lacroix, making a bat house, attending a roller derby event, hiking at high altitude, becoming certified in mental health first aid, etc.  I wish that I had enough time to do roller derby, as that seems like a really fun sport. I also wish I had time to become more knowledgeable about fungi.


 

Old Activities:


I kept up my regular hobbies of reading, birding, camping, travel, hiking, and writing.  I didn’t write in my blog as much, but I felt pinched for time. I took a watercolor class, continued gardening, took a community ed class about preserving herbs, played community soccer, went cross country skiing and snowshoeing, attended Planetarium classes and events, tried DuoLingo for Russian and Spanish, and so on.  I also started to attend a poetry club and even read poems at an event about body autonomy. I failed to keep up with dancing, yoga, bicycling, and violin.


 

Facing Fears:


I also try to face my fears each year.  Playing co-ed soccer meant facing a fear, since I felt uneasy about playing soccer with men.  I also don’t enjoy substitute teaching very much, since I am afraid I will make a mistake, disappoint the teacher, be unable to control the classroom, or somehow my logins won’t work.  So, each time I sub, I face my fears. My short tenure as VP for Socialist Action and doing more writing for SA and SR also means facing fears, since I fear that I am not smart or knowledgeable enough.  I fear disappointing my comrades by “not being good enough.”


 

New Year’s Resolutions:


I had 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  I completed about 64 of them. I don’t feel upset about this, as 100 is quite a few.  For those who are curious, the black resolutions are ones that I completed and the red text are resolutions I did not complete.  There is always room to grow!

100 New Year's Resolutions(1)

A Rock and a Hard Place: A Story About Poverty and Wishful Thinking

A Rock and a Hard Place

A Rock and a Hard Place:  A Story about Poverty and Wishful Thinking

H. Bradford

3.11.19


I grew up poor.   Of course, poor is relative, and to some degree, everyone was poor where I grew up in rural Minnesota.  The median household income in Cromwell in  2016 was $26,094.  In contrast, Duluth, a city about an hour away, has a median household income of $45,950 So, it is a poor area for this region.  Against this backdrop, my family was poor, owing to the fact that only one of my parents regularly worked outside of the home for most of my childhood, my father’s employment was fraught with periods of layoffs and injury, and because my parents were very young when they had me (my mother was in high school).  While I wasn’t the poorest of the poor and benefited from support from my grandparents, I grew up aware that we didn’t have the nicest home (a trailer in the woods), best toys, braces for my teeth, other families seemed to have more, and that finances stressed my parents out.   I remember one winter when my father was laid off of work, we ate potatoes and eggs during January and February.  I remember wanting things to be better for my parents.  I remember, in about the first grade, wishing that Santa would bring us more money.   As a child, I really didn’t have the tools to understand poverty, how it works, how to escape it, or that escape from poverty is atypical.  In my immature mindset, poverty was something best escaped through some miraculous circumstance.  For instance, Charlie Bucket escaped poverty by finding a golden ticket in his chocolate bar and surviving the maniacal factory trials of a mad capitalist by virtue of his….virtue.  The Beverly Hillbillies escaped poverty by finding oil on their property.  Following this theme, I was convinced that we would escape poverty by finding a valuable rock.  This happened twice.


The swampy yard of my childhood featured at least two large rocks.  I would climb on one of them, which was mossy and would have been a good location for a rock garden if it wasn’t set in a swamp or shade.  Another rock that captured my imagination was located inside the forest across from our driveway.  This rock was also located in one of many swampy pools near our home which was ideal for finding frogs in the spring, but would dry up by summer.  Something about that particular rock captured by imagination.  It was gray and jagged.  Like the other rock, it was large enough to sit and play on.  Perhaps because it was deeper in the woods, surrounded by ferns and other prehistoric plants,  half submerged in a vernal pool, I imagined it was associated with dinosaurs.  I imagined that the rock had something to do with the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It became obvious to my mind that it was in fact, a meteor.  I knew, on a scientific level, that meteors are rare and valuable, so I decided that this was going to be our golden ticket out of poverty.   On a superstitious level, whenever we saw a meteor streak across the sky, my mother told us to say “money, money, money” as fast as we could, until it disappeared and perhaps money would come our way.  I was always disappointed that they never lasted long enough to say the incantation more than a few times, if any at all.  Money certainly never came of it.  In any event, I convinced my brother that it was a meteor.  It probably isn’t hard to stretch the imagination that far, since it was a large rock in the middle of a forest.  Obviously it got there somehow, so why not outer space?  My mind was not geologically grounded enough to consider glaciers.  My brother and I dragged my mother out to this meteor, convinced that it was going to make us some money.  She followed us to the rock.   Maybe she cautiously hoped that we had indeed stumbled upon something of value.  Just like Antique Roadshow, undiscovered wealth was waiting to be found.  I showed her the rock and explained the characteristics that clearly made it a meteor.  It wasn’t.  I don’t remember what happened after we brought her into the woods.  But, we never became wealthy from it and eventually I forgot about the rock and stopped playing in the woods.

Image result for rock with dinosaur toys

A random image of dinosaurs on a rock from FreePic


The second rock incident happened much later.  I went on a road trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario with my grandmother, brother, and mother.  I was about fourteen years old.  On the way back, we stopped at a rest stop or overlook, and I saw a large, clay colored rock.  I was convinced that this was an agate.  I suppose traveling up the North Shore of Lake Superior I had agates on the brain.  I convinced my brother that it was an agate.  Although it was dull and reddish brown, I was sure that if we loaded it into the car, then cracked it open, it would split into two perfect agate geodes.  The otherwise dull colored rock had a specks that glistened in the sun, which to me indicated that it was secretly an agate.   This was around the time my parents divorced and we were moving on to a new life in a low income apartment, on food stamps, in a new single parent household in Isanti, MN.  A magnificent agate would have been a huge help.  My mother was reluctant, but once again I got my brother on board.  We both convinced her to load the forty or fifty pound rock into our vehicle.  After all, we couldn’t possibly leave this opportunity for wealth behind.  It road around in our vehicle for months.  Eventually, my mother asked a rock collector at the county fair about it.  The expert scoffed at the idea that we would find such large agate.   But, we didn’t know how agates formed or how they would have broken up into smaller pieces over time.  I was disappointed that it was….just a rock.  It was a rock and an unwanted passenger in the backseat of our car.  I think we eventually rolled the rock onto the lawn of our low income apartment complex, which upset the management.  The last I remember was seeing it rolled up against a tree by the parking lot.  Did we get into trouble?  Did they make us move it?  Did they know it was our rock?  I don’t know.  I just know that once again, we pinned our hopes on a mineral miracle. Image result for agate geode

What I imagined we would find inside the rock….

              

I’ve been thinking about these stories lately.   It seems foolish that I believed, on more than one occasion, that we could escape poverty by finding valuable rocks.   But, these ideas are really no different than some of the other faulty thinking regarding poverty or social class.  For one, the idea of discovering something valuable to escape poverty is a common narrative in society.   I already mentioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  The Antique Roadshow, and Beverly Hillbillies.  Any story involving hidden treasure similarly follows the notion that wealth is out there waiting to be found.   Lottery tickets similarly create the notion that wealth is out there.  It is just a matter of the right numbers at the right time….and SOMEONE has to win.  Even if the odds are low, it COULD be you if you just participate.   The Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes also reinforces the faulty thinking that wealth is something that can unexpectedly happen.  Game shows also promote this idea, as contestants compete for money or prizes.   Of course, some skill might be involved, but a person’s ability to solve word puzzles, guess the correct price, or answer trivia questions is generally not a surefire way to make it ahead in society.  In another example, one of my favorite children’s stories was called Silly Simon, about a foolish young man who was abused by his mother and could never do anything right, until his silly antics caused a princess to laugh.  He was awarded gold from a king for this feat.   This teaches that wealth is something that can happen in just the right circumstances or with a not so useful skill-set that suddenly has value.   Another common trope is the orphan who is adopted into wealth, such as Annie, Oliver Twist, or a low rated TV show that aired when I was a child called Rags to Riches.  At least I never once imagined escaping poverty through adoption!   I grew up in a world informed by Publishers Clearing House, scratch tickets, stories of orphans and treasures, game shows, etc.  At the same time, never once did my pre-college formal education tackle the topic of causes of poverty.   This is a disservice to children, who are often bullied for their social class.  I remember my brother was once upset that a classmate of his (in Isanti) said that our family lived in the dumpster by the school.  I remember a classmate (in Cambridge) picking on my family for using food stamps and another teasing me because my family didn’t own our own washing machine (which I hadn’t even considered a sign of poverty until teased for it.  I liked going to the laundromat).   If children are not raised to understand social class, then being poor is mysterious and easy to blame on lack of luck or some kind of flaw.

Image result for silly simon


Even as I entered college, I really didn’t understand class.  I felt embarrassed that everyone else seemed to have stories about going on vacations that involved sailing in Greece or backpacking in Europe.   I didn’t want to talk about myself.  (Of course, at this point in my life I have traveled a lot, but upon graduating high school I had never been on a plane and felt jealous when I met college students who had studied abroad in high school or went on elaborate family vacations.  I felt less than them!  That this was not a matter of money, but that I wasn’t “good enough” to have these opportunities.  But, these feelings motivated me to prioritize travel).  I felt ashamed that my parents were not doctors, professors, business owners, lawyers, or any of the other prestigious professions that other students’ parents seemed to have.  I felt that there was something wrong with me and my family.  I felt that I was inferior.  That if I was smarter, more attractive, harder working, more talented, more outgoing, less strange, or any number of other qualities, that I too would have an exciting and successful life.  So, rather than analyze the difference between myself and other students I met as a matter of socioeconomics, I felt that I was defective.   Internalizing being poor as a flaw or a failure was just as faulty as believing that wealth could come from meteors (or lottery tickets, sweepstakes, game shows, etc.).  Yet, this is more insidious and pervasive.  It is something that I believe to some degree even to this day.  Being poor….it did make me flawed!   I have crooked teeth because we couldn’t afford braces.  I have a crooked spine as well.  We didn’t have access or an understanding of psychology, so some of these needs also went unmet or unknown.  So, I am not the optimal person I might have been in other socioeconomic circumstances.  Certainly, I am a passable person and everyone has flaws.  Yet, for all of my passion for learning, all of my talent, hard work, or any number of positive attributes, I will never be “living my best life.”   In parts, I am to blame.  A scarcity mindset prevents me from taking too many risks or living too freely.  I will never feel empowered to quit a job I don’t like or make major life changes because in the back of my mind, I know that there is a lot to lose and fear of going without. Image result for living my best life

Yeah, not really.  But life is….okay.


The narrative of self-determination  is perhaps the hardest one to overcome.  I can rationally conclude that success does not come from meteors, agates, game shows, or lottery tickets.  Yet, I have not quite abandoned the notion that with hard work, education, talent, risk taking, determination, etc. I should be able to accomplish my goals and dreams.   This is the narrative that our educational systems socialize us to believe in the most, as in the context of capitalism, educational systems need to justify their own existence by promising that education can help us become self-actualized, successful people.   So, this is why I find myself up against a rock and a hard place.   This is also why I think we need to be careful about what kinds of stories we tell ourselves about class.   We must abandon the language of “living the best the best life,” goal digging, girl bosses, slaying and narratives of self-made successes.   This isn’t to argue that everyone should adopt “learned helpnessness” or the idea that nothing we do has an impact on our environment or life outcomes.   Instead, I think that narratives about upward mobility or class should be tempered by socioeconomic realities rather than individual efforts.  This itself is contested, as conclusions about upward mobility vary depending upon how this is measured and defined.   For instance, the U.S. Treasury Department posits that upward mobility is a reality for low income Americans, who on average see their incomes rise over time as measured by tax returns.  If one defines upward mobility as entering a new tax quintile, then yes, upward mobility is possible.   Marxists define things more broadly, as class is about a relationship to production.  A quintile increase in taxed income may not translate to increased access and control of capital.  Because upward mobility is not operationalized by Marxists as increased status or income, social mobility is less common in socialist interpretations.  In this broader view, capitalism itself is prone to instability and declining rates of profit over time, so income gains are never a given and always challenged by a profit motive that is inherently at odds with high or even stable standards of living for most workers.  But, one does not need to be a Marxist to understand that life is limited by class, and compounding this, it is limited by gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc.  It is also limited by job availability, unemployment trends, globalization, new technology, etc.  You can work very hard, have many talents, educate yourself extensively, make all the right choices, and you can still end up working menial, unrewarding jobs in which you worry about retirement and live paycheck to paycheck.


It was foolish for me to think that we would find money in the form of a meteor or an agate.  Even if we had, that money would not have sustained us for long.  I had so much hope back then.  But, of course, this is false hope and wishful thinking.  My favorite quote is “We must prefer a real hell to an imaginary paradise” by Simone Weil.  Of course, she was probably talking about some spiritual nonsense, but I have always interpreted it as it is better to think clearly without hope, than have false hope in ignorance.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hope that most working people will have a windfall of wealth, much less live their lives without economic hardship and worry.  There are no meteors, agates, winning lottery tickets, etc. to save us.  Even education, hard work, innovation, talent, etc. are not tickets to a better life.  A better life is secured through collective struggle, not individual efforts or accomplishments.  It is class struggle that shortens the workday, promises pensions, provides health care, mandates paid leave, and all of the other benefits that ACTUALLY do improve lives and creates opportunities.   Living our best lives is a function of the mass movements that seek to end war, protect the environment, provide public transportation, end police brutality, empower women, dismantle racism, etc.  So, I do have some hope, or at least, a methodology for betterment.

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

hiking pacaya volcano

Anxious Adventuring: Hiking Pacaya Volcano

H. Bradford

1.17.19

I recently went on a short trip to Central America.  With only a short visit to Antigua, Guatemala, I wanted to try to make the most of my time in the country.  I figured that one way to do this would be to hike up a volcano.  After all, the country has at least 37 volcanoes, of which, three are considered active (others are extinct or dormant).  Pacaya is one of the three active volcanoes and one that tourists can easily access for hiking.  Another active volcano in Guatemala is Fuego Volcano, which made headlines when it erupted this past summer, killing 190 people (with over 200 people still considered missing as of October 2018) and displacing almost 3000 people.  The eruption was the largest in Guatemala for about 40 years and was followed by another eruption in November that resulted in the evacuation of 4000 people.  The nearby Pacaya volcano has been continuously active since the 1961 (Wnuk and Wauthier, 2016) and in a state of mostly mostly low grade eruptions since the 1990s, with a major eruption in 2010 that resulted in the evacuation of several thousand people, several deaths, and the destruction of land used for coffee growing.  Pacaya’s volcano tourism took off after this eruption as tourists were curious to see active volcanism (i.e. lava, tephra (volcanic ash, rocks, particles) (Steel, 2016).  Despite the destruction and human suffering wrought by active volcanoes in Guatemala, I wanted to visit a volcano and experience the dynamic geology of our planet first hand.  My main worry is that I was going to physically struggle with the hike.  And, I did!  But not for the reasons that I thought!  This is a story of a journey up a volcano, but also a voyage through sleeplessness.

Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor and nature


Before leaving for the U.S., I booked a hike through Grayline one of many “day trip” companies based in Antigua or Guatemala City.  My plan was that I would do the hike the morning after arriving in the country.   The particular tour that I purchased included a visit to a hot springs and lunch and was a little less than $100.  There are cheaper tours and more independent methods of travel, but I felt satisfied with the price and convenience.   In any event, I departed for my trip with the idea that I would be hiking up a volcano on the morning after my arrival.  This would not have been a problem but for a few complicating circumstances.  For one, I worked a night shift on Wednesday night, then left for my trip on Thursday (directly after the night shift).  I was able to get some fitful napping on my flights but did not fully sleep Wednesday or Thursday.  Furthermore, my flight from Houston was delayed for several hours due to weather elsewhere in the U.S. which had stalled the arrival of my plane and disrupted the flight schedules of the airport.  This meant that I actually arrived at my hotel in Antigua at 4:00 am Friday due to delays.  It also meant that I was awake for about 36 hours.  It also meant that I was committed to hiking up a volcano on a tour scheduled to pick up at my hotel at 6:30 am.  It was not going to be a fun hike.  I attempted to take a two hour nap before leaving for the hike, but failed to fall asleep.


I wearily watched the landscape pass from the window of the van that took me…and less than a dozen other tourists…to the volcano.   There were several large hills and we approached a very steep looking volcano.  I thought that perhaps this was the Pacaya volcano and dreaded the impossible hike ahead.  Thankfully, it was probably the Fuego volcano, which is about 4,000 feet taller than the Pacaya volcano.  The van veered away from the larger volcano to a park entrance, where we were descended upon by locals trying to sell/rent us walking sticks.  A walking stick would have been a great idea, but I felt a little overwhelmed and pressed through the crowd to the visitor’s center.  In retrospect, I should have supported the locals trying to make a little money from a volcano that might otherwise play a potentially dangerous or destructive roll in their lives.  After all, Pacaya has erupted 48 times since the Spanish conquest of Guatemala (Steele, 2016).   I felt vaguely nauseated from fatigue and not sure how I would tackle the hike ahead.  Our group assembled near the start of the trail, where we were offered horseback rides up the volcano.  Taking a horse cost about $15, which was a tempting idea but I went there to hike up a volcano and I was going to hike up a volcano!   Hiking was rough.  I felt dizzy with tiredness.  I felt like a zombie, pushing my brainless body forward and upward with immense effort.  I was slow.  The hike was a relentlessly steep hill that never ended.  There were no flat areas.  Just…up, up, up, up.  The only redeeming quality of the hike was that it was shaded by a forest.  I wanted to cry I was so exhausted.  By the time I was hiking, I had been awake for 40 hours (with some cat naps in chairs).  The 40 hours had consisted of a nine hour shift at the shelter, a van ride to Minneapolis, two flights, a flight delay, a late arrival to my hotel, pitiful tossing and turning in my hotel bed for two hours, around two hours drive from Antigua, then THIS, the hellish hike.  I took two caffeine pills that only seemed to make my head swirl.  With each step I contemplated how far I would go before I gave up.  All the way, my sluggish, slow self was hounded by horse escorts hoping that I would give in and take a horse the rest of the way.  No, no.  I’m okay.  I don’t need a horse.  I really don’t need a horse.  No, I’ll make it.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this.  I checked my watch along the way.  I had read that the hike up only takes one to two hours.   At around the one hour mark we were told that we were close.  I heard two thunderous booms.  The explosive sound was exciting enough to re-energize me and I was able to complete the last 15 minutes or so through the treeless, drier viewing area.  It was hard all of the way.  I panted from exhaustion as I plodded along and cursed myself for signing up for the excursion.  But, I made it!  I made it!

Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, cloud, nature and outdoor

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, cloud, mountain, outdoor and nature

Image may contain: sky, mountain, outdoor and nature

 


The viewing area is not at the summit of Pacaya volcano, but it does offer a view of the summit as well as a view of nearby volcanoes.  The summit crater exudes smoke and gas, which can be seen from the viewing area below.  Another tourist I spoke with went on an evening hike and said that sparks can be seen flying from the summit crater.  This would be an impressive sight, but for her meant precariously hiking down the volcano in the dark.  The viewing area itself is located at about 7,500 ft above sea level and the summit is 8,373 ft above sea level.  It may feel a little disappointing that the tour does not take one to the very top, but I was happy to avoid hiking up the steep, hot looking slope.  According to blogger, Melinda Crow (2017), the actual hike to the viewing area is about two miles and covers an elevation change of about 1,300 feet or 650 feet per mile.  It felt challenging, but not absolutely impossible, as obviously I did the hike with minimal sleep.  In any event, I milled about the viewing area with the belief that the hike was done….but nope….the group then descended down some slippery dark rocks to a lava field.  This was discouraging as I had little interest in climbing back up or climbing up anything more.  I was quite content with the fact that we didn’t actually climb to the summit of the volcano as I was exhausted and it was hot and dusty out in the treeless black field of lava.  I could see a plume of smoke at the top of the volcano and was glad to be where I was.  The blackened valley featured a lava store and fumeroles wherein tourists could roast marshmallows.  This was a big attraction for me.  I had fantasized about roasting a marshmallow on the volcano, but with little sleep, mild nausea, and a strenuous hike behind me, I didn’t feel up to the task of digesting a puff of gelatin and sugar.   There was also a shop nestled in the valley, which sold souvenirs and I believe some snacks.  I really didn’t pay attention to the shop, as I was eager to begin the hike back while I had enough energy to keep myself from collapsing. The hike down was better.  The lava area was quite dry and the air was thick with dust.  My lungs were unhappy with me and I was glad to move away from the lava field and smoking crater.   The rocks on the way down were slippery, as they were often small and easily tumbled under my boots like the wheels of roller skates. Image may contain: one or more people, child, outdoor and nature Image may contain: Heather Bradford, standing, mountain, sky, outdoor and nature Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, plant, outdoor and nature Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, sky, outdoor and nature


Following the volcano hike, the group was rewarded with lunch and some time at some hot springs.  At that point, I had been awake far too long to have an appetite.  Oddly, being sleepy tends to make me more hungry, but at a certain point of sleep deprivation, even digestion seemed like too much effort.   I watched the others eat their meals while I sipped a diet coke.  After lunch, or my non-lunch, we all set off for the series of pools.  There were two levels of pools of varying degrees of heat.  The hot springs were actually a spa resort called Santa Teresita.  I had imagined that the hot spring would be an actual bubbling puddle of geothermal heated water.  This was far nicer.  The complex featured 11 pools and a thermal circuit of several pools that switch between warm and cool pools.  I probably didn’t do the correct cycle of the circuit, but it felt nice to just relax in warm water.  It was no substitute for sleep, but it was restful.  While I didn’t sleep, I did take some time to lounge on a beach chair and vegetate in the sun.   The hot springs were a fun addition to the trip, but also complimented the volcano hike well.  For one, it was soothing for my weary body and two, the hot springs found in Guatemala are near volcanoes, where water may be warmed by magma.  Pacaya volcano is located about 10 km southeast from Lake Amatitlan where the hot springs were located, so it is possible that the hot water that I found so relaxing was heated by Pacaya’s magma. (Warring, 1983).  I am not knowledgeable enough about geology to know this for sure, but it was neat to think about the hidden connections within the earth.

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When I returned to Antigua, I had been awake for 48 hours.  My day continued with a walk around my hotel to explore the city a little.  I also ate dinner with members of a travel group that I would be traveling with for about eight days.  This kept me up until 10 pm, in what was probably one of the longest spans of time that I had been awake in my life.  While it would seem that after hiking a volcano, working my shift, spending a day traveling, and then…walking and exploring, I might have fallen into a dead sleep.  NOPE, I could not fall asleep when I finally had an opportunity for REAL sleep!  I had pushed myself to stay awake for so long that awakeness had a terrible momentum of its own.  At that point, I didn’t feel like a human being.  Just some hollowed out husk flopped on a bed, with an empty, buzzing head and tired limbs.  I finally dozed off at midnight, but was up again at 4:30 am ish for a day tour to Lake Atitlan the next morning!


Based upon this experience, I would offer the following advice to other travelers.  One important lesson is to NOT book strenuous activities on the day after arrival…as arrival can be postponed by weather.  I didn’t have much choice since my time was limited and I felt compelled to maximize it.  Another obvious piece of advice would be to avoid working a night shift…then staying awake to travel.  I also could not avoid this because I wanted to squeeze the most out of my accrued vacation time.  Taking the night off would have meant exhausting nine more hours of accrued vacation time.  Vacation time is precious.  The loss of a day is one less day I get to spend somewhere else.   My need to work and desire to maximize my time set me up for a very unpleasant hike.  As another general piece of advice, wear sunscreen, a hat, and bring a bandana.  The sun is pretty intense, especially on the lava field.  So….I scorched myself.  Also, the air is heavy with particulates.  So much so that my lungs felt heavy.  Wearing a bandana over my face helped my to endure the worst areas.  Thirdly, while I had attempted to be in OKAY shape before the trip (by jogging several miles a few times a week, using a higher incline on the treadmill, and generally increasing the amount of exercise I was doing before the trip), I was still sadly out of shape and struggled up the hill.  I don’t think the hike is something that needs to be taken THAT seriously, as with patience and slow effort, almost anyone without complicating health conditions can probably complete the hike.  One lesson I have learned is that there really is no substitute for hiking hills (as treadmill incline really doesn’t seem to replicate the real impact of gravity).  A better idea might have been visiting a place with many stairs and just forcing myself to go up, up, up.   My biggest anxiety was over if I would be physically up for the task (as I would have felt embarrassed to be TOO out of shape) but I think this was unfounded.  It wasn’t THAT hard, but it was challenging.  A final piece of advice was carrying small binoculars.  I brought them along so I could watch for birds (I only saw some hummingbirds during the hike).  Aside from birding, I thought they were useful in getting a closer view of the summit (even if there was not much to see but smoke).   In the end, it was worthwhile.  It was arduous, but I can always look back and think…”remember the time you were awake for …like 40 hours…and climbed a volcano.  I think you can handle this.”


Sources:

Crow, M. (2017, September 24). The #TravelTruth About Hiking the Pacaya Volcano in 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from http://firstread.me/pacaya-volcano-2017/

Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupts again (2018, October 12) retrieved 16 January 2019
from https://phys.org/news/2018-10-guatemala-fuego-volcano-erupts.html

Steel, M. (2016, September 20). Travels in Geology: Guatemala’s Volcan Pacaya: A feast for the senses. Retrieved January 17, 2019, from https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/travels-geology-guatemalas-volcan-pacaya-feast-senses

Warring, G. (1983). Thermal Springs of the United States and Other Countries, a Summary (Geological Survey Professional Paper, pp. 1-400, Rep. No. 492). Washington: United States Government Printing Office.

Wnuk, K., & Wauthier, C. (2016). Temporal Evolution of Magma Sources and Surface Deformation at Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala Revealed by InSAR (Doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University).

other useful source:

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/pacaya+volcano+guatemala

 

100 New Year’s Resolutions for 2019

100 New Year’s Resolutions for 2019

H. Bradford

12/25/18

Here are my 100 Resolutions for the New Year!

100 New Year's Resolutions

Intentional Living Grows Through the Bullets of a Journal

journal

Intentional Living Grows Through the Bullets of a Journal?

Capitalism and the Organized Life

H. Bradford

12/3/18

Mao Zedong once wrote that political power grows through the barrel of a gun.  I am no Maoist, but there seems to be a cult growing around the bullet journal.  It is enough to make me wonder if intentional living grows through the bullets of a journal.  It started earlier this year, when I noticed that my coworkers had very elaborate planner books.  I have kept a yearly planner and separate goal book for a few years now, but these books were always utilitarian.  In the books, I very plainly record my schedule and goals throughout the year.  These books were used to track my progress or organize my life.  I never considered the aesthetics of keeping a schedule.  Then, suddenly, it seemed that everyone had fancy books with stickers and colorful pens, in which they tracked the minutiae  of daily living.   It seemed like a lot of work…and a lot of cost…as these planners cost $80, plus various accessories.  Generally, I had been paying less than $10 for my planning supplies.  However, the siren call of stickers, pens, lists, and schedules called me to Michael’s, where I had a 50% off coupon.  I bought my own fancy schedule book, albeit a cheaper version.

Image result for bullet journal

Image stolen from internet.


First of all, I was surprised to find an entire aisle of the store devoted to planner books.  When did this happen?  I only noticed the trend this year, when suddenly everyone had these books.  And now, boom…a whole aisle!   According to the Star Tribune, the first official bullet journal was launched in 2014 by Ryder Carol and today over 281,000 people follow @bulletjournal on Instagram.  The goal of these journals, planners, or notebooks is to live more intentionally (Pearson, 2018).    Bullet journals are particularly popular among millennials,  who on average spend $60-80 on purchases at Appointed, an online store that specializes in paper products such as journals and calendars.  A London based psychologist named Dr. Perpetua Neo (whose name seems like a character from the Matrix or a diabolical machine) posits that millenials like these planners because it gives them a sense of control (something they don’t have much of in the face of wars, unstable economy, debt, etc.) (Babur, 2018).  That is an interesting theory.  Sure, I want control in my own life.  But, what is the end goal?  Why be in control and what must one be in control of?  Common categories for the planning products include finance, goals, health, and spirituality.  For me, I want to be more productive.  In this sense, bullet planners are something akin to Pinterest meets the scientific management of the personal life.  I imagine that if somehow I squeezed out just a little more time from my day, I would be a better person.  It is about control, but it is also about productivity and the self as a project.


Scientific management was method of management developed by Frederick Winslow Taylor in his 1911 book “Principles of Scientific Management.”   The book was based upon lessons learned when he tried to increase the productivity of workers at Bethlehem Steel.  Scientific management involved such things as timing the workers, controlling their movements to improve efficiency, and paying them on the basis of their productive output (Mihm, 2018).  Taylorism is alive and well in workplaces today.  For instance, each time a work place does a time study to increase efficiency, it is following this century old method of increasing worker productivity by cutting superfluous worker activity and establishing benchmarks or output goals.  Amazon warehouse workers have been made to wear bracelets that track how long it takes to fetch items, which they must do each nine seconds (Salame, 2018).    From a Marxist perspective, capitalists try to increase the productivity of workers to increase their profits.  Workers generate profit for capitalists because there is a gap between the wage they are paid and the value of their production, which is called surplus value.  If workers were paid the exact value of their production, there would be no profit.  For instance, at one of my jobs I take photographs of Santa Claus.  This  generates $1000-$2000 of sales each day.  In order to make a profit, the photo company must make sure that wages paid to Santa, the photographer, and the managers is less than $1000-$2000 per day.  Of course, there are other costs as well, such as photo paper, the camera, costumes and uniforms, receipt paper, etc.  These are considered constant capital, that is, they do not generate profit and therefore, while these costs can be cut (such as wasting less photo paper) they are mostly money sinks.  On the other hand, labor is variable capital.  A lot can be done to manipulate variable capital in order to generate more profit.  Wages can be cut, productivity increased, work day lengthened, breaks shortened, staffing deceased, etc.  The matter of profit making is complicated by the fact that things such as competition, the replacement of workers with machines, and the need to invest in new technologies tends to cause profits to decline with time.  That means that inevitably, labor costs have to be cut and the exploitation of workers must be increased to remain profitable.  Scientific management was a way to increase profits by squeezing more productivity from workers.


What does all of this mean for personal lives or have anything to do with planners?  No one profits from how many books I read in a year, how many days a week I work out at the gym, or any number of things I might track in my journal.  However, I believe that the rise of bullet journaling serves capitalism in a number of ways.  For one, it seems that some aspects of bullet journaling apply scientific management to the personal life.  That is, if a person tracks their goals, daily habits, spending, fitness, or other facets of their life in an intentional manner, a person can eke out more productivity.   Productivity is viewed as a virtue in our society.  It is rare to be shamed for being productive or sad because your day was exceptionally productive.  Max Weber argued that the virtue of hard work associated with Protestantism (frugality, discipline, and hard work) were important in fostering the growth of capitalism.  While Marxists look to material conditions and would view these values as a part of the superstructure of a society, these sorts of values certainly play a role in the functioning of an economic system.  Capitalism functions a lot better if the workforce generally values productivity and hard work.  On the other hand, because we are overworked, we have little time for leisure and personal pursuits.  Our free time has to be regimented because it IS in limited supply.   My time sheet for two weeks of work at ONE job was 116 hrs this week.  I have two other part time jobs in addition to this.   My coworkers who lovingly fill out their journals also work multiple jobs.   There is no way for me to read 30 books, see 50 new species of birds, or attend 150 political events a year without some radical scheduling.  My desire for productivity in my personal life is a desire to live as something more than a worker.  My desire to work is the desire to sustain myself and have some extra for living (hobbies, travel, experiences).  The sad thing is that about 8 million Americans have multiple jobs.  Pretty planners might be a way to beautify the prison of work that we find ourselves in until retirement or death removes us from the labor market. No automatic alt text available.

I drew a volcano in my book.


Another aspect of this trend is gender.  These planners are marketed to women.  I was frustrated that the designs for the books, stickers, and other accessories were SO extremely feminine. The planner was full of floral prints, rainbows, unicorns, pastels, You Go Girl, Girl Boss, vapid inspirational words or quotes about being a free spirit or following your dreams, and other traditional gender tripe.  Why can’t planners have skulls, fossils, bats, moths, dark colors, swear words, quotes from revolutionaries, glow in the dark, scratch and sniff, etc.  I want a planner that says I will work until I die or that suicide is always an option.  I don’t need the “Happy Planner” (the brand I bought) since I think “The Scarred by Depression Planner” is a more accurate description of my way of life.  Why do women have to be happy?  What if someone wants “The Angry Planner” wherein you write your goals into little flaming piles of shit?  Anyway, I am sure if these planners remain popular, these products will start to appear (if they haven’t already) to draw more consumers into the market.  However, right now the planners are very traditionally feminine (which isn’t terrible, but just seems narrow and to me, indicates that these planners appeal to white, middle class women with semi-conventional tastes. .  The fact that these planners are marketed to women also indicates some things about society.  One, women don’t have a lot of time!  Planners are a way to manage time, which many women lack due to responsibilities as paid workers and unpaid workers who take care of children, elderly, or adult men by cooking, cleaning, and managing homes.   It also represents the ways in which women feel pressured to view their bodies and selves as an unfinished project.  Tracking diets, exercise, hobbies, goals, etc. are a way to become an ideal woman.

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  I drew a bird.  But will it really be …my year?


Anyway, I bought myself a planner.  I chose one with a travel theme.  I like travel and I want 2019 to be a great year.  I enjoy tracking things and I will admit that I view myself and my life as an unfinished project.  I am never enough.  I will never be enough.  I doubt that a planner will help me feel like a enough, but it might help me squeeze more productivity out of each day.  Or, perhaps it will serve as a memory book of all the things I did or tried to do in 2019.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with creating fun schedule books.  I just think this trend represents a certain way of existing within capitalism and patriarchy.  In previous societies, such a thing might be unthinkable because days, hours, and even linear time are concepts that discipline us into workers…and there was a time long ago when we weren’t workers or at least not the wage workers we are today.    I don’t think bullet journals are some kind of capitalist conspiracy to oppress us.  For people with ADHD it may help organize life in a useful way.  For others, it may be a fun, relaxing, hobby akin to scrap booking or more traditional journaling.  However, I do think that if a person is going to live intentionally, this should also mean intentionally questioning why we must be so productive in the first place and who profits from our sense that we are not enough!  Certainly the companies that make these books profit if they are charging $80 for them!  Health and fitness industries, travel industries, cosmetic industries, magazines, etc. all survive by the insecurities of women who feel they are not enough.  I am not above this.   I am not enough.  And because of that, capitalism will always be able to squeeze just a little more from me at work and at leisure…. No automatic alt text available.


Sources:

Babur, O. (2018, October 22). Bullet journaling is everywhere now. Our love of planners is about our desire for control. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/10/22/17996604/bullet-journal-control-planners-bando-appointed

Mihm, S. (2018, February 23). Amazon’s Labor Tracking Wrist Bands Have a Long History. Retrieved December 3, 2018, from https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2018-02-23/amazon-s-labor-tracking-wristband-has-a-rich-history-behind-it

Pearson, E. (2018, November 06). Bullet journals go mainstream as more people strive for an ‘intentional life’. Retrieved December 3, 2018, from http://www.startribune.com/bullet-journalists-jot-down-tasks-goals-and-memories-in-hopes-of-planning-a-more-intentional-life/499841641/

Salame, R. (2018, February 20). The New Taylorism. Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/02/amazon-wristband-surveillance-scientific-management

The Gender Question: My Pronouns

The Gender Question_ Unpacking my Pronouns

The Gender Question: Unpacking

My Pronouns

H. Bradford

10/21/18

Wednesday October 17th was the first International Gender Pronouns Day.  The goal of the day is to raise awareness of gender pronouns, including referring to people by their preferred pronouns and normalizing asking about the pronouns.  In activist circles, this is increasingly becoming commonplace.  Recently, both of my workplaces asked me for my preferred gender pronouns.  But, I can remember just a few years ago when I was asked for the first time to publicly announce my pronouns.  This is a reflection of how I felt and my own gender journey.

Image result for they them their name tag


The first meeting that I was asked to use my preferred gender pronouns caught me off guard.  I felt afraid and unsure of what to say.  I knew what the expected answer was…she/her/hers….and I felt afraid to say anything but the pronouns that would match my outward appearance.  I didn’t answer at all.  Meeting after meeting, I didn’t answer.  I dreaded when it was my turn to share.  I would simply say my name and something else (for instance what group I was in or why I was there), avoiding the question or trying to bury the question in other information.  Only a few times was I called out.  “Oh, you forgot to share your pronouns!”  I wanted the question to go away.  It seemed like some hokey, liberal trend to be inclusive- but really, it felt like an interrogation into the walled up parts of myself.   I have wrestled with gender identity, but came to no conclusions or worse, no plan of action.  Thus, I have slid through life avoiding the question and relegating it to some condemned, musty, walled off part of myself that could be attended to when I had the time, courage, or emotional safety.  The “gender question” asked at activist meetings forced it out of the dark corner that I had been avoiding.  I resented that.  No one shines a light in my haunted house! Image result for haunted house

Mn State Fair Haunted House


For some context, I have felt alienated by my femaleness.  It started sometime around the 5th grade.  I didn’t want to grow up to be female…or the “w” word.  I didn’t want breasts or a period.  I didn’t want curves or for people to see me as a woman.  I didn’t want to become…such an alien thing.  It is a feeling that has hung around.  I could provide more details or examples, as often creating a narrative of lifelong questioning is necessary for legitimacy.  But, I don’t care to and legitimacy does not have to be rooted in history and long stories.  In any event, despite feeling un-female, I wondered what alternative existed for me.  What else could I be and how could I become it?   Despite these feelings, I have generally presented myself in a feminine way (to some degree), with makeup, shaved body, and long hair.  Thus, to question or feel disgusted by and alien from my body and biological/social lot seemed disingenuous.   Worse, when I have talked to some people close to me over the years, the reactions have been that I must be mentally ill or just trying to be trendy….because gender dysphoria is cool.   This left me feeling a bit lost and defeated.  By my 30s I tried not to think too deeply about it.  That is…until that pesky question kept coming up!


I started to test out answers.  Mostly, when it came up, I said I go by she/her/hers and they/them/theirs.  No one cared.  The question moved on to the next person.  This was nice and gave me more confidence.  No one stopped the whole thing and said, “Wait!  You are NOT they, them, theirs…. you are just trying to be trendy here!  Call the gender police.”  Or, “They, them, theirs is for MORE androgynous looking people.  Clearly you wear makeup and have long hair.  You are not constructing gender properly.”  In the few instances where I felt that I needed to give an explanation, I said that I was gender questioning.  By cautiously answering…but being met with zero reaction or questioning, I began to feel more comfortable.   These questions felt invasive and loaded at first, but it turned out it was not an inquisition. Image result for gender police


What am I?  I feel weird calling myself a woman.  It just seemed so…not me.  It seems like a special title reserved for some other people.  I didn’t ask for this body.  There are parts of it I would be happy to be rid of.  At the same time, I think she/her/hers is appropriate for me.  Despite how I might feel about myself, the world sees me as female.  I am treated like a woman.  Each time I fear for my safety or am treated as “less than” a man, I am living a female experience in a female body (I don’t mean this to reify biological gender, but as a shared experience of oppression).  I feel safer in female spaces than in spaces dominated by men and I feel like I do not behave or present in a fashion that is gender queer enough for trans or non-binary spaces.  I present myself in a “feminine” way.  I have been subjected to and subjugated by female gender norms.  I fear aging.  I fear becoming too ugly or too fat.  My presentation of self is still very much governed by patriarchal gender norms for women.   At the same time, gender is socially constructed.  There is no feminine.  Long hair and makeup can be masculine, androgynous, feminine, or really anything or nothing at all.  Despite the arbitrary nature of these rules, my presentation has social meaning that is associated with femaleness.  I could reject this, but there is no real way to reject this as reconstructing gender usually hinges upon gender tropes.  Binary gender is such a part of our cognitive landscape that it is hard to escape.  Inevitably, it depends upon rejecting what is viewed as masculine, feminine, mixing up these characteristics, or inventing something androgynous (which is often stereotyped as thin and skewed towards masculine).  She/her/hers is also useful in showing solidarity with women.  I am a feminist.  Maybe I don’t always feel like a woman, but I live in this world perceived and treated as one.  I experience oppression as a woman and she/her/hers can be useful gender shorthand for these experiences and my solidarity with those who also experience this.


Although I am she/her/hers….I am also not these things.  It feels like gender is Schroedinger’s cat, which both IS and ISN’T.  Both things exist in the box that is myself.  I am female in body and experience, but also not these things, both because there is no female body and universal female experience and because I feel alien from the female parts of me (whatever those may be).   This is hard to explain.  To address the first aspect of my non-femaleness, well, femaleness does not really exist.  What is female?  Breasts, certain hormones, certain chromosomes, vaginas, or other biological characteristics?  Some females have some of these characteristics and not others, have all of these to varying degrees, or have some of these in some parts of life and not in others.   I have some biological markers of being female, but I do not necessarily want them, and being female is more than just biological rules and boundaries (which are themselves socially determined).   I would be happy to not have breasts, for instance.  I have always hated them.  I am actually really happy that mine are small, since I really don’t want these female associated appendages hanging off my body.  They serve no purpose in my life.  I have no intention of breast feeding, which seems like a body horror, nor enjoy their utility in sexual attraction.  Yes, I called it a body horror.  I feel that chest feeding can be wonderful and nourishing for OTHERS who are not alienated by their bodies, but to me existing in this body, the very thought of it seems like a torturous humiliation.  In this sense, and others that I won’t share, I am very much not a woman.


Femaleness is also related to gender roles, expected behaviors, and social position.   Where do I fit in to that?  Sure, I think that I am “feminine”, but I think that this is one facet of who I am and more or less just a part of the full constellation of human traits that everyone shares to varying degrees.  I am not “feminine” in some ways, in that I don’t necessarily follow female gender roles.  I am not particularly nurturing, not at all motherly or maternal, am emotionally reserved, not much for traditional roles of care giving and cleaning, independent and self-reliant, not romantic, generally more rational and scientific than spiritual or emotional, etc.  Once again, these are characteristics that get divied up between masculine and feminine, but are not inherently either.  Still, I think that bodily, emotionally, and socially, I have traits that I feel are masculine, feminine, and androgynous.  I don’t feel a close affinity with my femaleness, but I don’t entirely reject it either.  Thus, I really like they, them, their as gender pronouns.  I also like to go by H. as well as Heather, since I think it represents my non-binary self.   Heather is very feminine in our society.  I used to hate my name because of it.  However, I am trying to accept that Heather is just a plant.  It is a flower that grows in rocky, boggy conditions- with no innate femininity, masculinity, or androgyny.  The sound of the word Heather is not feminine, as people in other countries have similar sounding names which are pegged as masculine- such as Hadir in Arabic speaking countries.  I can be Heather and not necessarily be feminine.  But, I do enjoy when friends call me H.

Image result for heather plant


Gender is complicated.  I don’t have the answers.  I consider myself gender questioning because I haven’t arrived at my final destination.  I don’t know that I will.  There may be times in my life that I embrace my femaleness more.  Other times, it may be a source of pain and humiliation.  I haven’t always enjoyed getting asked what my pronouns are, but at the very least, I am starting to feel more confident.  At this point, I feel confident enough to say that yes, there is a they, them, their part of myself.  It doesn’t matter if I don’t look or behave in a non-binary way or reject gender enough.  I don’t need to be legitimate in anyone else’s eyes.  It is gender that is illegitimate, not me.  Even if my feelings ARE the result of being trendy or mentally ill, why stigmatize either? Traditional concepts of gender (and sex) benefit no one but those at the top of our patriarchal, capitalist economic system.   As my life progresses, perhaps I will feel bolder and ask to be H. or they, them, their more often.  Perhaps not.  For now, this is where I am at.  Thanks for asking.

 

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