Engagement and Escapism

Over the past few weeks, I have been asked if I wanted to ride a camel (YES!), play Pokemón Go (No), drink mead with Vikings (duh, Yes), go to Burning Man (No), and if I’m going to seek refugee status when *not if, when* Trump gets elected (ummm…)

Pretty much every morning I wake up wondering what terrible thing happened in the world while I slept. It’s a crap thought to have- made worse that I usually haven’t even had coffee before it snakes its way into my brain. Unfortunately, because of the field I’m in, and the company I keep, and my eternal attempts to be a ~Good Human~, I am compelled to seek out and am constantly bombarded by the awful. And right now- there is plenty of awful to hear about.
We have the continuing worldwide refugee crisis, a re-emergent war in South Sudan, terrorist attacks across the globe, Brexit, police brutality and violent attacks against police, xenophobia and racism and fear Fear FEAR. Everywhere, everyone is afraid.

And the question I have is one I stole from Eula Biss, an author I deeply admire, and that is: “What will we do with our fear?”

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Stencil for Eula Biss appearance at Duke University

We scream and cry, or march and protest, gather for planning sessions, we post our opinions online and blast those we don’t agree with and engage in in-fighting with others of the same mindset, point fingers and complain… and eventually it all gets to be too much, This cacophony of outrage and action is altogether too much. We grow weary of real life.
So, we run from it.

We find solace in cute animal gifs, bury our heads in video games, binge on Netflix, hate-read tabloid articles about the love lives and dramas of stars we don’t know or care about. It’s easy. It takes us out of ourselves and this world we live in where the theatre of tragedy is forced on us 24-hours a day.

The time is ripe for Pokemon Go, and Medieval Faires and Live Action Role Playing in the park. It may not be for everyone- some even scoff at these flights of fancy- but it makes complete sense. We may feel powerless against the tide of international conflict, but we can do our damndest to “catch ‘em all.”

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Knights at the Abbey Medieval Faire

I don’t play Pokemon, and I don’t dress up in a wimple and cotehardie. I don’t *often* watch cat videos, pay attention to who celebrities are “on the outs” with, or watch thinly veiled soap operas (okay.. except those two.. but we’re off-season right now). I read books and write, look at lowbrow/outsider artists on Instagram and listen to comedy podcasts. I also rode a camel. There is value in all of these things. Everyone deserves to check-out sometimes.

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Me and O… on a camel!!!

I’m getting ready for my second semester in grad school at UQ for Peace & Conflict Studies, which is actually my fifth semester- if you count my credits at UNC-G in the States- and there were years of work and activism before that. Extended time deep in action and intellectualism on the sticky subject of “peace” (whatever THAT means) will have an impact.
Some burn out and quit- go corporate, others dig in harder- really relishing their roles as jaded and bitter foot soldiers “for the cause.” Most are somewhere in the middle- eternally seeking the balance of emotional wellness and dedication to the work. It requires a sense of humour and willingness to do those things that help you check-out when you need it.

Through this journey I have met the most amazing, inspiring, sick & twisted people I know. People who can cite United Nations Security Council resolutions from memory and two seconds later make a most cringe-worthy gallows humour remark; curse like a sailor in the back room before going out to give an inspired speech on the state of gender relations in sub-Saharan Africa; work with young children on social justice and post-conflict resiliency and then go thrifting for additions to their creepy clown collection. Okay, that last one was me, but you get my drift.

The field requires a duality. Humanitarians and peace makers, activists and advocates, social and civil rights warriors are- at the end of the day- human, too. So, if you see us wandering around town catching Pokemon instead of “fighting the good fight” sometimes, know that we need that. If there is a social media blackout, it doesn’t mean that we’re not paying attention, it means that we need to decompress. It’s all too much sometimes.

And, all of us- every single one- needs to look at photos of cute animals sometimes to remind us that there is still good in the world.

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Just a wombat, chillin’ in the Winter sun
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The Place

One year ago today, I submitted my resignation letter. It was not an easy decision, rather one I lost much sleep and spilt many tears over. I was leaving a place that had become my home, the people inside my family. My children had grown up playing in the halls. We went there when I wasn’t working just to be with our friends. I loved it there.

But I had to leave.

I found the place in 2008, when I applied for a student internship with another organisation housed in the same building. I started as a student, became an intern, and then moved into contract work before securing my dream of official on-the-books full time employment. I was ridiculously happy there, until I wasn’t.

The place trained me in documentary arts, offered me opportunities I never would have otherwise had, and introduced me to many people who have become lifelong friends. My exposure to the various means and methods of true-storytelling is one I am deeply grateful for. The men and women I met, that I cried both happy and sad tears with, admired from afar and then got breathtakingly close with, whose babies I held, and who helped raise my own children, will always be with me. I thought for a long time that I would be there forever. I imagined myself retiring from there some day in the far distant future.

But I quit because I could no longer sit in my car in the mornings, dry heaving and dreading the day- wondering when the relationship with my job had turned toxic.

  • Maybe it was when I found out that I made a dollar less an hour than the guy I had replaced. The guy who was prone to disappearing without notice. The guy who did it so frequently that I was initially called in to contract work because no one ever knew if/when he would show up to work.
  • Maybe it was when I realised that my suggestions for improvement were being ignored, but when things went wrong I was the one left cleaning up the messes.
  • Maybe it was sitting in a meeting, listening to one of the faculty go on and on about doing a documentary project with the Fight for Fifteen group. He was lamenting that some people don’t even make $15 an hour, and actually said “I don’t even know how they live on so little!” The director was looking right at him, with me next to him- nodding in agreement. But she knew full well that I didn’t make that much. So- were they saying they couldn’t imagine how I lived?
  • Maybe it was when my beloved supervisor left and I did both his job and my own for over six months while they searched for a replacement for him. Or maybe it was when I applied for his job, but wan’t qualified for it. Or maybe it was when they hired a replacement for him that I had to train to do the job I wasn’t qualified for. Or maybe it was when she actually said that she didn’t know why my job even existed because she didn’t really need “an assistant.”

Ultimately, it was all of these, plus a million other slights, that lead to me leaving. As much as I adored the place and my coworkers, my job sucked and I wasn’t valued by my supervisors.

It felt like divorce.
No. It felt worse. My divorce was actually a relief.
Leaving that place was cutting myself off from something I still had (and have) a deep-down love for. It still hurts me to think about it, though I know it was for the best.

A week after I turned in my notice, I received a call from one of my former superiors. He said that the director had seen a post I had put on my private Facebook page (she had never accepted my friend request). It was a benign post about leaving the place. In the comments thread, a friend and I bantered about some of the things that once made me cry, but were kind of funny now that I was gone (no room here for the desk-saga now). I did also say the place was “kind of a mess right now.” He said the director was furious with me, then made some veiled threats that essentially amounted to recant or we’ll make life very difficult for you. I was coming back to assist with one of the Summer institutes, and was told that I would make sure everyone knew how happy I had been, and that I had better not say anything crossways. And I did. And it was true, mostly.

I never did delete the post. I stand by what I say- online or off.

One year ago today, I left a place that inspired and tormented me. Brian left his job within the same week. We celebrated and freaked out for a few days before going on to other jobs that we both loved and found rewarding- working with people who genuinely appreciated our efforts, and where the pay was vastly greater.
What I got from the next job was LOVE (and pastries!). I began to rebuild my self-worth and remember that it isn’t okay to cry before, or at, or after, work every. single. day. I met new amazing people and had time to enjoy them. They were happy for, and kind to me. We ate pizza together on my last shift there before coming to Australia. It was the only time I cried over that job- because I had to leave.

We Peace Fellows are often asked what we will do after our tenure here. If most of us were honest, we would just shrug and say “no clue.” But we don’t (usually). I have a stock vague answer I give when asked. We talk about amongst ourselves often.
Recently, another fellow asked if I would ever go back to work at the place. I would like to say “no way!,” but that would be a lie. If they asked me, I would consider it. But I don’t think they would. I gave her a vague non-answer.

One year ago today, I left a job that I loved and hated.
Today I am just about as far away from that place- both physically and emotionally- as I could possibly be.
And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

cds

When Life Gives You Bananas

One Sunday afternoon, a 13kg (that’s 28.6 lbs, ya’ll!) box of bananas landed on my kitchen counter.

B said “I thought you could do something with these.”

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Some context: B is a bicycle mechanic. He is quick to identify and repair problems, and he can be pleasantly chatty with bike-owners, and sometimes just blunt in saying “the best fix is getting a bike that’s not trashed” (which is a lot nicer than the way he actually says it, tbh), but fixing it as best he can if they really want to go with whatever terrible thing is happening with their ride.

I would give an example, but I don’t want to feed you any of my made-up vocabulary for parts and repairs- I’m pretty sure that “frappering the funtzhunny” is not a technical term. B also attended NASCAR Tech, where he got a solid education in MacGyvering rattletraps and getting them back in the race.

**Hang with me here- I’m getting back to the bananas, I promise.**

 

This combination of gifts leads bike shop managers to select B to work at various charity bicycle rides and races because- let’s face it- if you are teetering up in your clickety-clack clip-in shoes to a mechanic at a charity ride either A) Your bike is a piece of crap or B) Something has gone terribly wrong. In either case, you want someone like B there to cobble you a quick-fix and get your spandexed butt back on the road.

At these rides there is, inevitably, a table stocked with big orange coolers of water and/or Gatorade, energy bars, and bananas. Always with the bananas, so many bananas. There is such an embarrassment of leftovers that volunteers shove them off on one another, in a perverse game of potassium-overdose roulette.

 

We lost this round.

 

And so, I got to work making banana-y things. First up, the obvious- peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Which the kids thought was great the first time I packed them in their school lunches, but deferred when I kept offering them for the next week. I get it- I’d be gakked out, too. They don’t hold up well being knocked around in crowded backpacks.

So, I started on the breads: plain banana bread; then upside-down caramel banana bread; pineapple-coconut banana bread; pineapple-coconut-jalepeño banana bread; pineapple-basil banana bread; chocolate chip banana bread… is that all? I can’t remember now. My head is spinning.

I made banana chips, banana guacamole (surprisingly delicious!!), banana bars, banana smoothies, banana muffins, and banana candy.

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I couldn’t handle any more. So, I began smashing and slicing and freezing them, but we ran out of room in our tiny freezer, so I slogged on- the banana panic starting to rise.

Then, the bananas started getting suspiciously mottled. My house smells like a Runts candy factory. At this point, I am freaking out…. but, I can’t let them go to waste.

That Southern mama-voice at the back of my head was hollerin’ something about starving children and how I ought to be grateful for the abundance.

 

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I pressed on, dropping little chunks into the mouse cage, frustrated that they couldn’t eat any more than they did, despite their tiny tummy distended with the fruit. Why can’t you digest faster, you ungrateful vermin??? I think I saw one of them give me the finger after I offered yet another piece today. They’re over it, too.

 

I was thinking about placing them outside as bait for the possums, so that I could capture one and snuggle it until it scratched me to ribbons trying to escape. The possums here are really cute. But I don’t want them to come eat any more of our floundering attempts at a potted garden- they’ve already done enough damage to our.. whatever that plant was.

 

… and then, today, O came home from a friend’s house with some banana-fritters the grandmother had made. The uncle shrugged an apology, aware that we are “bananaed-out.” No apology needed- THEY WERE FREAKING AMAZING!

So, now I’ve got to get that recipe, because we are almost at the end of this box!

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