Of Sadness & air plants

For the first time, until two minutes ago I forgot what my blog looks like.

I have within the last three months mislaid my detachable keyboard to my Surface, not knowing exactly where it might be, as it isn’t necessary for Netflix binging.

I had to dig my journal out of a box this morning and go on that familiar hunt for pens.

Fortunately I haven’t developed cramps in my fingers in typing thus far, but this all goes some way towards explaining the aching agony of my soul of late to say that I have not invested any time in writing. Writing reminds me that I don’t do it enough and that makes me feel guilty so I don’t bother. My head tells me there’s nothing interesting to say.

ArchesBut dammit I’ve spent the last year moving, from the UK to the East Coast and across the states to the Northwest. And that surely must be tell-able. But it feels like nostalgia and not something that will help in my present, especially on days like yesterday when my five year old bursts into tears at not painting a dog’s mouth the way she wanted it and I know instinctively that this has little to do with the art project. I see the photos of friends we’ve left behind which she has pulled off her cork board to look at and I know she is feeling the same way I do: lonely and sad.

Here’s a story: we downloaded three films for our 6 day drive cross country – Coco, Ferdinand and Inside Out. The first two I’d seen, but not the latter. She would never watch Inside Out to the end, saying that it made her ‘hot’. Only a few weeks ago I realized it’s the story of a little girl whose parents moved across country and she had a hard time emotionally dealing with the sadness. Parenting fail on a grand scale.

So we watched it together in bed yesterday, curled into a blanket. Like a typical 5-year-old she didn’t watch it with great attentiveness all the way through, but I had to leave the room to ‘pee’ for fear that I was going to turn into Sadness in the flesh, on my face on the bedroom floor. And did I tell you (no I didn’t since I forgot about my blog) that I have had one celebrity encounter while in Portland? The one and only voice of Sadness (and also Phyllis from The Office (US)), smiling sweetly at me over a display of shoes at my store.

I knew that this move would be hard, really I did. And it has met every expectation in that regard. I thought it would take a year, and a year it’s been (5 July). But I didn’t really factor in the two-step move we’ve taken on, only just settling in Portland in April, so really that countdown button has been reset and I’m bracing myself that it’ll be next spring before all feels right again. So how do I cope, let alone thrive, in the meantime?

Thinking of rootedness and settling down, it just doesn’t feel like something that can be forced, while hoping that we will move to a new neighborhood instead of The Pearl (which lies just outside of Downtown) and that we will transition as jobs come into place. This brings to mind those air plants that are trendy right now. They don’t require dirt to grow and thrive, though in the wild they do need a substrate and the right conditions of course. Perhaps life right now and indeed over the last year, and maybe even eternally in some ways, for the Schellerts has been lived within a terrarium to protect and nurture us til our roots meet our new home (read communities, neighborhood, contextual identities). In the meantime, I know for certain I need soul watering that keeps me going, and that includes writing as a form of self care.

Til the next post, homies.

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Of Sadness & air plants

America the traumatized

Having arrived on July 5th, we’ve seen a lot of American flags around. It’s not like it’s unusual to see American flags hung proudly; my mom flew an American flag out front of our house when I grew up. She had one that was flown in front of the Capital Building in DC for a time. And being so near Independence Day you would of course expect flags out en force. And so they were.

But they haven’t come down.

Living in the United Kingdom for so long has sensitized me to American peculiarities such as this. It’s unusual in a global context to see a nation’s flag so proudly displayed not only by institutions but by individuals, and it’s most certainly odd to see individuals flying them off the back of their pickup trucks. It’s not that other nations are ashamed of their citizenship or culture, they just don’t feel the need to display it as brashly as Americans. It’s like Americans are afraid that their civic dreams might die if they don’t keep it in the world’s face, or even their own faces.

Today those flags are at half staff. I’m reminded how much America and the world has changed over the course of 16 years. I’m like most Americans, having a 9/11 story. It was early morning in California and I found myself having the oddest dreams with horrific details of planes hitting tall buildings. I’m not psychic – it was my alarm clock which was set on the radio, waking me up with news of terror infiltrating my dreams. I finally came to and realized that it was real. I rushed in to wake my housemates with the news. We all sat around listening, in tears, dumb-founded. We later went to college and were all sent home.

We lived in the flight path of the John Wayne airport in Orange County and along a busy freeway. That day and the coming days were eerily silent as planes were grounded and traffic was quiet. And life never has returned to normal, broadly speaking, for America. I think the nightly news reveals this without any question.

9/11 Memorial Apex, NC
9/11 Memorial

Today we saw a 9/11 memorial in Apex. Someone has placed a laminated memorial of a firefighter who was killed 16 years ago. Someone they had known, presumably. Someone whose world has felt terrorized on a very personal level.

I commented to Rob this morning that it feels as if America is suffering from some form of national PTSD. We just aren’t coping well with this trauma. The signs of PTSD, as taken from the VA website are:

 

  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms).
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  • Having more negative beliefs and feelings.
  • Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).

 

“If our country were a person, we would view that person as anxious, reactive and reeling from years of trauma: major symptoms of PTSD,” writes Judith G. Edersheim, J.D., M.D. in her HuffPost blog Does America Have PTSD. I think it’s an interesting thought or metaphor.

I wonder, how might thinking of what’s going on now with America in this way lead us to experiment with healing actions to lead us gently out of this dark place of the soul?

America the traumatized

Finding a spiritual ‘home’ stateside

In two days we will have been away from our longtime home of London for a month. It’s been a month of visits to the swimming pool, niece’s birthday parties, road trips and catching up on American food (in place of American TV which is awful!). Our health insurance through Obamacare has finally come through, though we haven’t been told how to pay (and my word will we pay, even in spite of the subsidy – I miss you NHS!). Our daughter is on the list for Medicaid (didn’t ever think we’d be applying for that, but grateful it’s an option while we get settled) which will hopefully come through soon. I’m so thankful that the people behind her medical coverage are actual people and are willing to go off the usual script with us as our circumstances are a little irregular.

wild goosing.JPGWe have gone to three different Christian gatherings in an attempt at finding a Christian community who meet regularly. One was the Wild Goose Festival, set in the beautiful mountains outside Ashville, alongside the French Broad River where I got to dip my toes. It’s inspired by Greenbelt, a UK festival we love. Having returned to the southeast – I still think of it as the SOUTH – at a time of such turmoil politically and with so many injustices being made glaringly obvious, it was a priority of ours to get together with Jesus followers who were more along our wavelength. Having been brought up conservative Baptist by Southerners I had no idea, honestly, that you could be a Democrat/liberal and be a Christian. So returning to the states as the black sheep with my new identity, finding a people group to feel at home with was at the top of my list. And it was a great experience.

Wild Goose was much more basic than Greenbelt, with less on offer during the evenings, but the daytime talks were second to none. Unfortunately what was lacking was a clear space for meeting new people and hatching new plans. It was very program heavy, and the only open space we found was a lovely cafe providing cheap food for volunteers and others. Otherwise, unless you were going to sign up to theology school you really had to work at the networking. Still, the talks did inspire.

The next available Sunday we visited a church that has stripped its language back so completely to get rid of references to God, adopting a language that would not cause people who have had terrible and oppressive church experiences to have heart palpitations. I get that. But I miss the connection to the millennia-old faith, and this makes me feel disconnected to the greater story. We haven’t ruled the community out as a possible home for us as the children’s service was brilliant and our kiddo loved it. And being summer it’s hard to get a full picture of much of anything with people being away. So we’ll come back to that.

This past Sunday we visited a Baptist church. Yup. But get this – the minister was a woman! And get THIS: she was a lesbian. The church has a banner outside welcoming refugees and they regularly take part in campaigns promoting equality across the board. There were grey heads all over that place, listening to this queer woman talk about Jesus. It was paradigm shifting. They have taken their hymns (which I can only take so much of generally) and written new ones that talk about gospel social justice themes. They are much more of the church I grew up with, minus the divisive and judgemental garbage that saw so many of us leave. We will have to see what this means for our family however, as they didn’t have a children’s program for 4 year olds, and while G did really well sitting through the service it may not last. Rob also misses a more enthusiastic worship style. So again, we’ll see where we are led to settle for now.

Overall, it has been good to see glimmers – not glimmers really – more like beacons of hope here in my mother’s state of birth. I have my own prejudices against the south which I will readily admit to, but I also love the south, much like my complicated relationship with my mom I guess.

I’ll leave this video link here for anyone interested in one of these beacons of hope I’ve encountered. He happens to be pastor of a church in my mom’s hometown. I’m sure she’d have diverging ideas about him, but he gives me hope for a movement I can link arms with here in this time to see the Kingdom come. Check it out if you’re interested. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTtRk8np7S4&feature=youtu.be

Finding a spiritual ‘home’ stateside

Thoughts on America, so far

Two and a half weeks have passed so far in our settling into life in ‘murica. It doesn’t feel like it’s really hit yet because life hasn’t had much chance to normalise so far. That and I’m still doing stuff like spelling things with s’s instead of z’s (zed’s, not zee’s) and too many u’s. And our daughter has had a few moments of homesickness which is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s summer break here now though so she won’t get into any real routine til late August, so we’ll just have to get by til then and hope that the incredible heat doesn’t stave off adventure. It’s hard to get outside much because it’s just too darn hot.

Driving around though I have had just a few observations. Since leaving NC 13 years ago, having lived here the 6 months before moving to the UK, I can see that there are positive changes. I’ve seen a lot more healthy food and variety available at the grocery stores (unfortunately it’s also very expensive). I’ve also seen a reasonable sized offering of authentic Mexican food ingredients (not just taco kits) in typical grocery stores in our suburban area outside of Raleigh.

I have also seen fewer Trump stickers than I had braced for (only two so far), possibly due to being inside of Wake County for the most part, but we have taken a couple long road trips. I am sure they are waiting out there for me somewhere en force though. Maybe on our epic road trip in August through Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky.

During our trips to the Appalachians and to Atlanta, we have driven though a few places where I noted a strong Hispanic presence, as evidenced by signs written in Spanish or people we encountered at stops. Thirteen years ago I was hard pressed to find acceptable Mexican food (coming from a town of migrant workers in California, I like to think I know Mexican food fairly well) let alone encountering very many Hispanic communities. But this time around, many of these pockets of Hispanics were in more rural areas, making me wonder about the feelings of those who have lived long term in these areas in seeing the demographic change. I wonder if they felt afraid and responded by tribally to keep out the outsiders. I thought about the rhetoric of Trump and his colleagues and how this has spoken to people seemingly in these types of settings who are pulling up the bridges to keep themselves safe.

Being from a pretty diverse area with a large Mexican and Mexican-American population I can’t imagine having this response to another group of humans entering my community, but scientifically I can understand that it’s evolutionary to react the way they have. And it’s something I want to understand and help overcome. I hope that these specific communities have dealt with it much more graciously than I’ve reckoned, and wouldn’t that be something to learn from.

I can’t say that I feel like I’m in a ‘honeymoon period’ like I’ve been warned of in dealing with reverse culture shock. But I do wonder if, due to our current lifestyles of no jobs and not getting deeply embedded yet into a community, we are experiencing a very surface understanding of American culture not unlike a tourist’s own experience. Because so far everyone is lovely, and the country is beautiful and inviting. But it does feel like there’s an anvil hanging overhead just waiting for the moment to drop, bringing a curtain down that’s covering up a whole lot of garbage.

 

 

Thoughts on America, so far

Moving ‘home’: an introduction

Equipped with the passports of our two home nations (one set which was hot off the press), my family returned to the US this past Wednesday. I look back at myself a week ago, sat in a London cafe not unlike the one I’m in now, reading back on journal entries from the past two or so years. How my heart hurt then. I  wrote like a woman abused by a lover, a lover who could totally do without her but she was unsure if she would survive without the lover. I looked back last week at these entries written about my love/hate for London and knew that this decision to return to the unknown and uncertain States was the right move.

I’m glad I did get to grab that sliver of time to reflect because here, in this cafe today, having come to mull over the theme ‘home’ for a storytelling event I’m taking part in next week, I keep fielding that internal question that has come every day: what the hell have we done. I knew the question would come and I don’t doubt moving has been a mistake, but I am struggling in these early days to know where to find my foothold here. Technology, culture, politics – they’ve all moved on so far out of my grasp. I truly feel like a foreigner in this landscape, however I do feel that I am able to connect to these people as my own. I feel a warmth there as I most always have with Americans in their open, honest and friendly approach. And now, again, I face a question I never stopped getting in 13 years of UK residency: “Why did you move HERE!?” Particularly now, people are a little baffled that at this time in history with so little appearing to be holding people together, why would we move HERE.

I look forward to using every opportunity to write about my experiences as an American returning to the states after so long. All your prayers and well wishes are warmly received!

 

 

Moving ‘home’: an introduction

Confronted by violence

Audible gasps at what was taking place outside filled the cafe which was occupied by people enjoying a rare Friday off work. Wretched from their conversations by an act of violence, rather a reminder of one from thousands of years ago, horrific and excruciating. I felt it too as I saw the crowd slowly entering my periphery carrying two heavy lumps of wood joined together as an instrument of torture and death. Sat here, fully intending to use this time to reflect on the reason for today, a stark reminder forced itself upon me.

I sat here as a fellow onlooker, not as a participant, feeling a bit like the estranged child. Even in my distance, this very morning I forced my focus on the cross with a bloodied, battered Jesus, feeling like a bystander more than a disciple. Surely those who weren’t heckling must have been deeply disturbed by witnessing such an act, much as those who have seen an act of violence on the street have felt. I wondered if I had a right to grieve today, the right to feel that guilt that Good Friday carries with it. After all, I’m not one walking the street, carrying the cross.

Then I remembered that recent moment when my husband told me about a friend who took his life. We hadn’t spoke in a few years and never were close, but news of his death hit home and made me cry. I was upset for what he had been through, what had driven him to take his life, how that would impact his family and close friends. I felt like a bystander, rocked by the emotion of such a violent act that felt a bit personal. And I can’t say I questioned the rightness of my emotions so why in this case today, where I remember that someone was martyred, suicide with a cause, on the behalf of a messed up humanity, individually and systemically.

It’s right that my satellite soul which will always orbit around my faith, however flawed, weak or unapparent it might be on the outside, should feel the grief over such a loss. It is shocking. It is horrific. It was done, this act of passion, with a heavenly womb full of everlasting hope. Hope that reminds me today on this bleak depressing holiday, while I sip my coffee, that the violence will lose. All the horror and shock and injustice will be rolled away by hope and life.

I can’t imagine what I would feel as those women who gathered at the foot of the cross while Jesus drew that last breath. The devastation of that is something I can’t allow myself to feel because mentally I just couldn’t take it. Thank heaven I exist in the passage of time that I can see the hope more strongly than the despair, though that veil be thick.

Though we be confronted by violence, may we be met with hope. May it brace us for those instances where we are confronted by love when love is painful and makes us feel so vulnerable.

Confronted by violence

A racist’s confession and challenge

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I couldn’t have been more than 17 when, grasping the white supremacist flyer, my friend and I drove up to the gas station, pulled in and made our way to the pay phone. We didn’t have mobile phones in those days and besides, it was a higher call rate number. We brought out the flyer and dialed the number carefully, holding the phone between our ears. Some guy got on the line going on about the purity of the white race, yadda yadda yadda. We were titillated.

My yearbook from that year isn’t one I’d readily pull out to show off yet look at myself. The same friend and I somehow ended up privately sharing views on white supremacy, tagging SWP and other neo-nazi jargon onto each other’s pages. We each had friends who were not white and would have never seen them as lesser than ourselves, but for some reason we started entertaining the hatred, minus any specific face to associate it with. Perhaps it was because we’d both dated a guy before we knew each other who was all about the white power. He was also the only guy who ever hit me and was verbally abusive and, for shame, I dated him twice. But I think really for me, it was because I was angry at the world and at those black guys who wouldn’t listen to the word STOP, causing my friends and I to have to physically defend ourselves. We could have just as easily hated on student journalists, which they were, or high school boys, which they also were, but we chose black.

Let my 39 year old self be clear: There is no excuse for having SWP and 88 written proudly in your high school yearbook, surrounded by innocent messages of ‘Have a great summer, keep in touch!’ If I could have a do-over…

This isn’t something I talk about, ever. I was reminded of it when discussing the election with a friend who commented that his actions and those all too familiar words against women were in the past, and we shouldn’t hold it against him. I am steering clear of discussing Trump here, so won’t comment further on that, but I will say it gave me a moment’s pause, remembering my adolescent stupidity. And truthfully, as much as I try not to hold any prejudices against anyone now, I am still human and prone to doing so, but I am only too aware of this.

But seeing these reports and videos of the increase in racist attacks in the states, hearing people’s fears of being harmed, witnessing public figures both in Trump’s crew and those riding his coat tails say things undoubtedly reeking of racism, I have to let you know this about me. Because this behaviour cannot be ignored. For the sake of your vulnerable, impressionable teenagers and children and of course, for those who it would cause physical and emotional harm. You cannot pass someone up who is publicly declaring white power and that this is what will make America great again. Don’t assume they’ll go away. Let your children see you stand up and say this is not right, not acceptable, not what you voted for. Get out from behind your ballot (or lack thereof) and stand for something in your community with your whole self. Challenge racism (and all the other isms) as if your life depended on it.

 

 

A racist’s confession and challenge