driving lessons

i got my driver’s license last month.  i am 32 years old, have been teaching for the past 3 years, and am engaged to my pregnant partner, and i got my driver’s license last month.

when i was 12, i read that 50 simple things kids can do to save the earth book, and then immediately after it read kids can save the animals: 101 easy things to do.  i was finishing it in the car, and decided to become a vegetarian.  we’d been running errands all day, and my grandparents pulled into mcdonalds.  horrified, yet lacking creativity, i ordered my usual cheeseburger.  soon, i decided that i would cut out red meat and until the middle of my first year of college declared myself a “partial vegetarian,” eating fish, chicken, and turkey, but not beef or pork (that mid-first-year of college moment was when i decided to be a total vegetarian– now i’m more pescetarian).

the books made me more patient with the fluorescent light that took forever to turn on, in my great-grandma’s bathroom, and it made me an easily thwarted crusader for paper, rather than styrofoam for my school’s lunches.  (after a letter to the principal, i got called to the office for i think the only time of my entire school career, for a conversation that went something like this: principal: “i hear you want us to stop using styrofoam but instead use paper instead.”  me: “yes, please.”  principal: “well, the styrofoam is a lot less expensive than the paper, so we have to keep using it.”  me:  “yeah, i guess that makes sense.  thanks anyway.”)  i bought the greyish, fibrous recycled looseleaf paper, and used it religiously, horrified when the boy i had a crush on complained about it.

i had seen the old lorax movie many times as a child, and i knew i was someone who cared a whole awful lot.  i didn’t do everything right, but i did what i knew about, as much as i knew how to do it.  to this day, in my head, there is a dying person in a hospital bed during the nuclear apocolyptic endtimes, who’s life is either prolonged or ended by the extra lights i turn on in a house (but only lights… and refrigerators and cars… trigger this thought– computer use, temperature control, stereos don’t).  i was responsible for life to continue on this planet by my choices.

early in my sophomore year of high school, there was a horrible car accident involving some of my classmates, and one of them died.  we weren’t friends, but i felt the loss, because i thought she was cool but i was too shy to talk to her.  around the same time, one of my pen pals also lost a classmate to a car accident.

so, as i neared my 16th birthday, and people started to ask me about getting my drivers’ license, the combination of environmental responsibility and terror of dying a horrible fiery death took away all motivation.

when i was 19, i did try to learn.  my mom and i went out in her pick-up truck, cruising around some school and church parking lots.  but as soon as we went on the road and i saw another car (across the median, in the furthest possible lane), i pulled over and burst into tears.

i’ve never been clear on my relationship to driving.  as a passenger, i’ve tried as hard as possible to limit myself to trips people were making anyway, getting a ride to errands with people already going on them, or asking for a block detour to run an errand i need to run.  realizing how terrifying riding the bus can be sometimes, and then biking more, helped me get over a lot of the fear aspect, but there’s always been resistance.   i cannot figure out if it’s self-righteousness, fear, god, prescience, preciousness, or what.

then at the end of last school year, i had to make a choice.  i could either follow my amazing colleagues and the wonderful students at my school to a school that is entirely inaccessible by bus (up a giant hill, it is a 45 minutes walk from the nearest regular bus stop), or i could gamble on a move to another school– and it looked like it was probably going to be a middle school.  meanwhile, t was pregnant, and i decided that the responsible thing to do was to get a drivers’ license.

i hate that kind of responsibility.  that decision between “how do i help the people closest to me?” vs. “how do i help the whole world?” (and it sounds like parenting is a lot of that)  there have been times where i’ve wondered if my time waiting at bus stops was getting in the way of my world-saving time, but in general, i’ve always felt really good about my decision not to drive.

now, i have a drivers’ license.  i get up in the morning, get ready for work, and then drive through the woods to get to my job.  it is gorgeous.  sometimes there are deer.  sometimes there are turkeys.  it’s crazy to remember that i’m even in oakland.  my favorite part, though, is listening to music.  i’ve been resurrecting cds from my collection, bopping along to wonderful and hilarious selections, like the disney peter pan soundtrack, a lot of ani difranco, and the andrews sisters’ greatest hits.  i relish my dorkiness as others pass me.

but my exercise has gone way down.  i’m trying to fix that in other ways, but the balance hasn’t been reached yet.  and it’s stressful.  it’s really really stressful.  riding the bus, you aren’t in control of this giant thing and sometimes you hear scary people say scary things, but you can retreat into books.  you don’t have to be present and in decision-making mode the whole time.  one of my friends whose been teaching me to drive, outside of that context mentioned that she read a study about how people in modern american society all show symptoms of ptsd, and she thought that made sense.  i do too.  and during one of our drives together, i asked her if she thought a lot of it had to do with cars, because i do.  these giant metal death machines that move with the merest touch of a foot but that are fueled by greed and war should NOT be how the majority of our country gets around.  i am now one of those people, but i am not okay with it.

AND at the same time, i am remembering that a good part of the reason i didn’t want to drive was because i thought that there was a possibility i’d like it too much.  and part of me really does like it.  it is sort of fun.  it is sort of easy.  i get to pick my music.  it is fast.

in the first couple of weeks of the school year, t expressed concern that maybe i was drinking too much coffee because i was so stressy.  but then we realized that i’m actually drinking less coffee than last year.  and there are definitely plenty of things to be stressed about right now so i chalked it up to adrenaline.  but at the birth class last weekend, as the teacher was talking about endorphins, and oxytocin, and adrenaline, i started to put a lot of it together with my driving.  my fight-or-flight time is way up, and my exercise time is way down.  just like much of america.

*sigh*

“i want to blog this weekend.  i have so much to say!”

“about what?”

“well…  driving… and gender.”

“what about it?”

“well, i want to write it down first, because it gets all garbled when i try to say it out loud.”

in other incarnations of this post, in my head, i’ve had really good segues and connections between these issues, because parenting is part of why i’m driving and part of why i’m thinking about gender a lot right now.  but i ended that driving part pretty nicely, so i’ll use that dialogue and this monologue to change the subject.

“what are you having?”

the question is like nails on a chalkboard to me right now.  it is a complete overreaction, i know, but when i hear it, part of me wants to snap back an adolescent (adrenaline-filled?) response about how that very question goes against the very fiber of my being and all of my beliefs, and how could they ask me such a thing and and and and and!

i don’t know.  and i won’t know even when i do know.  and i still think it’s totally irrelevant to who this little person growing in t’s tummy will be.  unless they want it to be relevant, and i know there are times when it is vitally important for them, and that’s fine.

it’s hard when there is something that you believe in so strongly that is so counter to mainstream thinking.  i remember a woman at a school i worked at in seattle, who was so upset about a family raising their kids to be vegan.  “how can they impose their values on their child like that?”  i didn’t say it (i basically never say “it” btw, whatever “it” is), but i had this epiphany.  if you don’t raise your kid by your values, you are raising them by mainstream values.  you are saying that what the mainstream believes is fine and ok.  and maybe it is.  it might be.

and then in my case, it’s so tricky, right?  i don’t actively want to have a transgender child.  i don’t NOT want a transgender child, but i don’t plan on raising our kid to be trans.  binary gender assignments seem to have worked more or less okay for most of the population for quite awhile now, so i can’t assume that any bit of it will chafe on my child the way it has chafed on me.  but i really want to counter all of the messages about what is and is not okay to be that our society feeds to all of us all of the time.  that is vitally important to me.  and the idea that our favorite colors, things, and way of dealing with the world are pre-determined for us, now even before we pop out of our parents that have the right plumbing to pop us out, makes me itchy, scratchy, irritable, cranky, tired, and sad.

how do i make my child’s self as filled with possibilities as possible, without limiting it by deciding that that limitless is important?  how does my belief in that limitlessness limit my child in a world that believes so gosh-darn fiercely in those limits?  how do make sure to honor the possibility that our kid could be totally gender-normative, without just going along with the culture’s assumptions that that is how it will be?

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you say “well hey, it’s about time” and i say “no, no it’s about love”

there’s a post i’ve been holding onto for months, maybe years. i’m actually sitting here trying to write it and have managed to get halfway through it twice before highlighting the whole thing and hitting delete. i think of it as the post that’s gotten in the way of writing here regularly anymore, but it just won’t come out either.

it’s about my confusion about accountability to myself, from others, and to my meeting. it’s about calling and that falling away or shifting and not knowing where it went and not knowing how to ask for support and feeling bitter that it wasn’t just offered and feeling guilty for wanting other people to follow all of my whims and fluctuations. it’s about my desire to be more aware of others’ whims and fluctuations. it’s about accidentally almost joining a cult. it’s about the death of a member of my clearness committee. it’s about diversity and social justice and the question of if quakerism really is for everyone. it’s about how still and all, the majority of my friends are white. it’s about struggling as a teacher. it’s about crying at the meeting retreat two years ago because i just desperately wanted to give all of my students the type of experience i was having right then. it’s about how i don’t understand the valuable experiences my students have. it’s about wanting to write more. it’s about wanting to be more of what i think a quaker should be. it’s about living far from my meeting. it’s about feeling far from my meeting. it’s about feeling close to my meeting. it’s about unexpected phone calls from members of my meeting when i am feeling low or am across the country. it’s about feeling distance and then suddenly feeling overly close. it’s about being a grown-up. it’s about trying to infuse my teaching with quakerism. it’s about leaving and coming back. it’s about bitterness and angst and self-recrimination. it’s about deciding. it’s about not deciding. it’s about confusion, sadness, and joy. it’s about days slipping by. it’s about living.

maybe now that that’s all out of the way, i can start focusing on god again.

our lives had become unmanageable.

i went to quaker meeting today for the first time in, i think, over a month. it’s time for me to start making appearances, as registrar for the retreat, so i’m trying to push past all the cozy house things, busy craziness, and bitter-ish confusion that has kept me away of late.

and i’m really glad.

meeting today was very very vocal, and at first i was really resistant to the messages i was hearing. part of what has been making me reluctant to go to meeting lately has been my confusion about its relevance to my current life. when i first fell in love with the meeting, i was in a very different place in my life– i had time, and i had lofty, judgmental ideals. i still probably have the latter, but the realities of my life have dashed some of those. so, i’ve been having a hard time reconciling meeting as a relevant place for this person who is approaching the world so differently than i used to. is contemplation and “the inward light” only for those with free time and undemanding jobs?

and, of course, i know that, historically and right now, that is not the case, but… for me, is it? that’s been a big part of my questioning right now. because quakerism is both communal and solitary, and my busy-ness and the bitter disappointment of my job have really highlighted the way one can completely isolate themselves in this framework.

and then, in a brief moment of silence in meeting, after a few people had spoken, i had a good internal rage at god. a lot of these ramblings all came to a head and i was ANGRY about the girl who hates me and tells me i’m going to hell, i was ANGRY about the way that most of the students come from a culture where if someone hurts you, you believe you HAVE to hurt them back, i was ANGRY about the way my students punish me daily for trying help them, i was ANGRY about my helplessness.

but helplessness is where you meet god. in fact, helplessness is what we all have in common. they are as helpless as i am, and i am as helpless as they are. and helplessness was the theme that i found in today’s vocal ministry. and i needed to hear that. and even though even though even though i am still so upset that my students have these lives that are so hard and that even in my helplessness, i’m still supposed to help them, i also had this realization that god didn’t make their difficult situation, we did. not me and my students, but our culture, our greed, our lifestyles. my students are casualties of people forgetting that we are all helpless and we need to turn to something bigger and to each other. and that is something to be angry about.

but not really at god.

and then i was able, for the first time in a long time, to admit i was helpless and turn it all over.

i went home and talked to my girlfriend about it a little. a lot of the time, our different approaches to spirituality make me a little shy about talking to her about what happens to me at quaker meeting, but i was able to explain all of this. and we talked about that safety and security that we all want, that none of us have as much as we want to believe we have.

so, yes, i am powerless over the security, safety, and overall wellness, of myself, those i care about, and those i don’t know, and that is SO hard. and the only thing i can do is just turn it over to god. and that helps.

there are many sides to any story. there are many sides to my own stories. there are the stories i tell now and the stories i’ll tell tomorrow. and there are the stories that tell one part of how i feel right now, and stories that tell a whole other part of how i feel.

the important part of my last post for me was that Right Then, i was feeling Very Disillusioned. as i wrote it, i tried to express that it was probably temporary and that i also felt a load of other things. i was as frustrated with the person in question, and as sympathetic to my meeting as i was angry and disillusioned. it felt urgent and it still feels important that i wrote it from the lens that i did, because i don’t express that part of things much. and there’s always a part of me that wants more from quakers, that wants to push harder, that wants to hold the group accountable to the things that i’ve learned from quakerism to hold myself accountable to.

it hurt people. i didn’t want to hurt people. but it’s hard not to hurt people when one is speaking from hurt. (which is a potential lesson from our experience with that person.) but there’s also tremendous potential for healing. which was what i was going for. i was hoping that in being honest about how i felt about the situation, i could heal and the meeting could heal.

of course, with blogs, honesty becomes one-sided and poisonous. whether you intend it or not. it doesn’t feel like dialog, and it can seem invasive.

i’m leaving my post up, because it’s true. it’s also only part of something. it’s not totally true. it’s not my whole truth, and it’s not The whole truth. but it’s true for what it is. and because there are posts before it and after it that keep it in context. our meeting wasn’t perfect, it did the best it could, it’s been amazing for me, i wish it could be amazing for everyone. that’s what i tried to tell. you miss that if you only read that post. that’s another scary thing about blogs. mine’s a conversation with myself and it’s easy to misunderstand things when you just catch part of a conversation. it might be a generational thing, i might be embarrassed someday, i regret that it was hurtful, but i think this blog serves the community best when the seams show. a flawless community is not real– as much as i wish it were.

i’ve gotten 10 visitors in the past few days that have visited my site from searching for cubbie, quaker, and blog. before these past few days, that had happened a couple of times, but once i became controversial, people wanted to find me. i hope that they will come back and see the calm days, the loving days, the joyful days. those are most days.

i hate that our meeting has caused people pain. i hate it because it has not caused me pain, and that makes me feel strangely guilty, very sad, and a little angry at everyone involved. who are you that you can not be perfect to me and also this person? who are you that you do not find the perfection here? who am i that i am willing to accept this place that has wounded you?

when i posted about feeling like an enabler, it was true. there have been times when i feel like i’m making excuses for abusive behavior to a wounded person. i am not wounded by these people, but i’ve seen it happen, and i’ve tried to make the woundings not true. “have you tried this? have you considered that?” i feel like i’m making excuses. there is a truth to the disconnect between mine and others’ experiences that is not abuse, but it feels so much like my experience of dealing with abuse that i don’t know how else to name it yet. i’ve known denial. i haven’t known this “one person’s medicine being another person’s poison” like this before.

since my post, i’ve gotten 3 phone calls and a few emails. i’ve felt embarrassed, stalked, hounded, and loved. every conversation, i expected some sort of cease and desist order, but instead, i got love. some hurt, some agreement, tons and tons of love. and not just to me. i heard about so much love for this man. and honestly, i’d sort of forgotten that part, even as i claimed to sort of remember. i’m sorry i forgot. i’m sorry if you felt like your efforts and care was dismissed. i screw up. and you still love me. i raged like i did because i believed we could handle it. i forgot that that could hurt you, but i knew i’d be forgiven. that’s pretty juvenile, i guess. i’ll try not to take advantage of that again.

talking with him that day reminded me that i need to be honest. and it reminded me that i have not been faithful to all that i should be honest about. i’ve talked in my clearness committees about my yearnings for scary conversations, and haven’t really done them. i initiated a one-sided scary conversation over here, not expecting the sort of follow-up it had, and was confronted with a number of scary conversations that made me want to show up at meeting with movie star dark glasses. but i didn’t. i held myself accountable to my words. and now i will start on those scary conversations that need to be had. the ones that don’t ambush– the ones where we choose to be brave and face each other and ourselves… and god or whomever is there to keep us safe there.

at meeting for worship this past sunday, there were a lot of messages about the world and all that’s happening out in it… and if we’re willing to listen to god if god asks us to go, move, and do something about it.

it made me itchy. maybe because i’m not as informed about the rest of the world as i think i probably should be. maybe because i don’t feel like i’m doing enough. maybe because i was in a place of judgment of other people that i couldn’t get out of. maybe i just had a soapbox.

these moments have happened before, where suddenly i find myself feeling so passionate and so frustrated about something in meeting for worship or other quaker things that i immediately don’t trust it. it must be so much from me that no light is coming in, and i’m blinded by my own self and my own agenda.

my concern about “diversity” is like that. it feels so big and important to me that i fear it’s just my own thing, and my real leading is elsewhere.

AHA! in that sentence, i found in myself my issue with… what i have an issue with that i hadn’t quite put into words yet.

my family moved a lot. i’m closer to 30 dwelling places than i am to 30 years old. it came out of a combination of wanderlust, poverty, and family ties. and then after i went to college, i wound up moving a lot, too. and i will probably move many more times. i want to settle down, but there’s always some reason why this place isn’t it anymore.

so that’s my bias, my lens– the one that moving is great and exhausting and important… and it takes you away. you move and you get to be a stranger, you get to reinvent yourself, you get to screw up and have it be okay, you get to be welcomed, you get to be missed, you get to be surrounded by people who are foreign and other. this happens to some degree whether you move across town or across the world.

and i can’t get easy with the idea that god calls us to that exotic strangerhood over the deep sinking in to our neighborhoods, into our communities, into the big scary issues that are always right there and ready to be dealt with. there’s poverty, hunger, injustice, violence everywhere– in ourselves, in our next door neighbors, and yes, in communities across the world. and there is definitely something to be said for taking us and our rights and our privileges across the world and using those to help people who have less rights and privileges.

but in this weird way, it’s easier than taking us and our rights and our privileges across the street and using those to help the people there. because we might both stick around. we might change things and they might stick and we might have to continue to be responsible.

do we move when the spirit says move? can we even hear, respect, and heed it when the spirit says to stay right here? wow, that’s so much less interesting. but i’m starting to think… maybe just for me… but maybe not… that it might be more important.

everybody’s got their something

i’m reading two books that are working as companions to each other:

if god is love: rediscovering grace in an ungracious world by philip gulley & james mulholland

&

wide awake by david levithan

i’ve never read anything by the authors of the former, but it’s in our meetinghouse library, and it’s been recommended by a few people (like robin m.). it’s a hopeful, helpful book about acceptance, love and compassion as part of what god is and what god wants.

david levithan is my favorite young adult writer alive today. i’ve read 2 other books by him, and each book he writes seems to fill an empty space in the universe. the books he writes the world needs, and he writes them lovingly and elegantly. this book is about a time in the not too distant future when a gay jewish president is elected! it’s set after “the reign of fear” and during “the jesus revolution” when people– especially young people– are embracing that whole love and compassion and acceptance part of christianity. it’s a delicious book.

***

the beyond diversity 101 training has been postponed until the fall. i’m sad, but it also makes things feel a bit more expansive. i don’t have to “get everything done” by the end of march. and i feel okay with exploring local options a bit more.

as usual, i got my head out from under the blankets by laying out exactly what they were with a few friends (of varying capitalizations) and experiencing their compassion with my confusion. golly, i love that there are people in my life who will let me be a brat for awhile and will actually scold me for calling myself a brat, rather than for the bratty things. because the only way to get through them is to just have them and accept them and to… get through them.

you cannot scold yourself away. you will always be there with your everything. and so will everyone. and accepting all of that is the challenge. and it can be a pain in the butt, but it can also be really fun.

yesterday, i had this deep conversation about peace and war and how war is so much easier to do than peace, but that peace is so much more worth it. growing up, i always wondered “can’t we all just get along”? and the older i get along, the more i recognize the difficulty in that, and how rewarding facing the challenge is. and how our current power structure works around oppression via war– the rich and powerful sending the oppressed out to fight those they wish to oppress. and how rewarding that is for the powerful and rich. and how hard it is to have hope living in that sort of power structure. we talked about utopian communities vs. making small changes but still being complicit in so many ways and the pros and cons of buying local food.

anyway… this came to me again on the bart to meeting and then again at meeting. i had this message about this difficulty and how meeting is a place to find inner peace to take into the meeting community to practice our peace skills for the broader world. i felt the familiar tingly feeling i’ve come to recognize as a nudge to speak. i took a deep breath and…

someone else stood. and said something very similar to what i’d been contemplating. and right behind me, i heard someone whisper something, and i whirled around and glared. except that i hardly faced them, couldn’t see, and whirled back immediately. which was SO RIDICULOUS! and so i started to sit there and beat myself up about it, which was also ridiculous.

i sat for awhile longer, facing my anger and my guilt and my pride and my frustration, and then i felt something deeper than before, and i stood and gave vocal ministry… in the second person! it was about that experience and ended with “and the message you were going to say is that peace is really difficult. and now you know it.”

***

other things:

* i’m feeling less cranky about my young adultness. i had some really enriching conversations with other young adults today which really helped me have patience with myself and remember some of the things to not be cranky about.

* i’ve been in a cranky-ish place in general. it always seems like when i am in a place of idealistic understanding of my place in the world, my patience with everybody is slimmer than usual.

* i’ve been testing a leading around a beyond diversity 101 training for trainers done by niyonu spann. i think i’m supposed to go, and i’ve talked to a few people about it, and am currently in contact with our ministry and oversight committee about some sort of group to help me test the leading and support me through the experience. once again, i’m just so full of gratitude at the support and love i get from these people. i feel like such a squeaky wheel, but people don’t seem to be covering their ears. it’s so good. thank you thank you thank you.