Occupy Conundrum: How I got here in the first place

I am, by nature, non-confrontational, although I do love a good debate. I am also, by nature, a Libra, which means I weigh everything—ad nauseam—and at times, to the point of stagnation. I love supporting education, the arts, the environment, animals, humanity, etc. However, I am slow to adopt causes, mostly because I can see both sides of an issue and consider the pros and cons of both. The Occupy Movement, though, is another story. To be honest, I don’t know what is being decided upon in general meetings or in the committees are being formed. I’m not entirely clear how the movement truly started, except that Adbusters placed a bug in the ear of someone—or some ones—who rose from their complacency to hang out on Wall Street. What I do know is that I’ve been hoping for a revolution in this country for a long time. Something bloodless, peaceful. Something that compels the people of this country to take a hard look at what it has become. I’ve felt very alone for years, wondering how I could change what seemed unchangeable. I’ve watched this country go from one of innovation and wealth—a place that people immigrate to in search of the American Dream—to what it has become: a government controlled by corporations and a populace controlled by debt.

I was born in 1967 and grew up during the 70s and 80s believing in capitalism and the possibility of having it all. I’m no longer convinced. I hold a bachelor’s degree and ABT for a master’s degree, both in English. I began working at 15 and over the last 29 years, I have had paid work for 23 years. The six years of unemployment included staying at home with my daughter and finishing my undergraduate degree. When I divorced seven years ago, I took half of the combined debt plus all of my student loans. Being self-employed with a few clients and working on my master’s didn’t balance out my debt. Rather, it increased. And now, along with millions of other Americans, I have joined the ranks of the unemployed because my job ended. A job, I might add, where the salary left me below the median income for California. Salaries were frozen for the three and a half years I was there, and every year cuts continued, starting with benefits and ending with two weeks worth of furloughs. Needless to say, given the cost of living in California, I wasn’t making enough to meet my needs and pay all my debts. I’m not now, either. To be honest, I think I was financially better off in 1985 as a teenager making around $8/hour. It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t see how I can possibly ever get ahead. Of course, our system is set up for failure and the personal is reflected in the government. Or vice-versa.

Spiritually, I believe there is an infinite amount of wealth to be had in the world and that ultimately, no one should be homeless or hungry. Do I believe that the Occupy Movement feels the same way? I don’t know. What I do know is that our government, along with the corporations and banks, don’t. They want what they want and they don’t care about who or what is sacrificed to get it. And frankly, I’m tired of it. Beyond supporting the movement and considering myself one of the 99%, I don’t know what my next course of action is. However, I’m willing to step up and do what I can to make the world a better place for myself, my children and humanity. Occupy Movement, here I come!

Occupy Conundrum: I’m finally coming out of the activist closet

I recently had a political discussion with a conservative friend on mine via Facebook. I decided that rather than continue the political debate there, I would bring it to my much-neglected blog. This will be the first in what I plan to be many blog posts on the Occupy Movement, rather than Facebook comments, because this is a bigger discussion than just “I’m right! No, I’m right.” And because as I writer, I’ve been writing as a reaction, rather than an action. It’s time to stop that. And so…

What spurred this post was a discussion on Facebook. It went something like this: A link was posted with a comment condemning some of the behaviors in the Middle East (using children as human shields, women as sex slaves). (In fairness, it should be condemned. It’s morally wrong.) I commented that we needed to look at the atrocities our own country commits (unnecessary police brutality, soldiers raping young girls/women and killing civilians) before condemning others. The conversation ensued back and forth, with comments about videos not showing all of the details coming from the “other side.” I almost responded to the last few comments made, then realized that we were playing a game of “I’m right! No, I’m right!” So, I came here instead.

It was the video point that stopped me. I’ve seen videos. They’ve seen videos. Have we all been watching the same videos? It was pointed out that the Occupy Movement protesters aren’t going to show everything. I would argue that the opposite side does the same. It’s an impasse, but it made me pause. How do any of us know, who aren’t at the protests, what’s really going on. We don’t. But there is a solution. Rather than continuing this argument with people I do consider friends, I’m going to educate myself. I’m going to visit Occupy encampments and protests to see what is really going on. I am one of the 99%–but I want to see for myself who and what I am supporting. I would encourage anyone who is unclear about the Occupy Movement to do the same. For those who feel that they are not part of the 99%, I would encourage them to think about why.

The only way any of us can make sound judgments about which side to choose is to educate ourselves beyond what anyone tells us. Let’s think for ourselves, even if it takes us out of our comfort zone.

The Conundrum of Money and Abundance: A hate-love relationship

So, what is money, anyway? A bunch of paper that has been given a value that supposedly is backed up by something harder to carry around, such as gold bars. It’s what took the place of trade (you have what I want but I have nothing to trade for it—here, have some money). It pays for goods and services, some of which we need, like food, gas, electricity and shelter. And really, we all know what money is. We can pull it out of our wallets and look at it. So, perhaps the real question is, “what does money mean?”

Money is the root of all evil. Wanting it means you’re an associate of the devil It’s materialistic, it interferes with our spiritual growth, it’s power and control—someone else’s over us—like the devil… So, apparently, according to the general, Christian world view, the devil needs money… well, technically, he doesn’t but he knows we do, and he’s part of the earthly plane, just like the rest of us. A plane, if you will, that is made up of materials, like earth and stuff.

There’s a theme here… material world=materialism=materialistic. So, money is evil because it belongs to this plane. Blah, blah, blah.

And by the way, God doesn’t want or need money, being on an ethereal plane, so why should we? Well, we aren’t god, for starters. We live here on planet earth. And since we aren’t using trade and barter for survival, we need money.

So, what should money mean? When it comes right down to it, it can mean anything we want it to. I’ve spent years telling myself stories about money—stories that haven’t served me well. I could tell them now, but they were over five minutes ago.

Here’s what money means to me: Love. Compassion. Joy. Inner Peace. Making the world a better place because we can help others and ourselves. A tool for us to reach our highest good and lift each other up. Opportunity to reach our destinies more easily (there is nothing wrong with easy, either, that’s another myth and another post).

Of course, by now you are wondering, “really, Pen Umbra, what is the big conundrum here? Sounds like you figured it out? So?” So, here’s the conundrum: I finally started embracing what money means to me literally five minutes ago. And the conundrum is that up to that point, I let fear be my driving force around money and abundance, thus at this very moment, my financial abundance is looking pretty bleak. However, it’s just at this very moment, and five minutes from now, it’ll look better. And here is why:

In taking stock of my money and abundance, I realized how often people help me in ways that aren’t readily identifiable to my financial well-being. Friends and family take me out to dinner. My sister buys tickets to the Museum of the Pacific for my daughter and me. A friend is giving me a webcam and microphone she isn’t using so I can Skype with friends in New Zealand and elsewhere. Skype is giving me the opportunity to connect with these friends and possibly a life-partner. My dad is driving four and a half hours to replace a belt in my car so I don’t have to pay for labor. My sister is coming to visit over the weekend to take me out to dinner and help de-stress me. And all these things that people have given me means I didn’t have to pay for them myself. Yes, it’s an odd way of looking at financial abundance—money I didn’t spend on these things means more money for bills, groceries, gas, et al. And the bonus—getting to spend time with loved ones.

Oh, the Tangled Webs We Unweave! Life lesson learned while untangling a capiz shell curtain

Anything that has become tangled can always be untangled. This takes time, patience and diligence.

No matter where the tangle is, starting with an end is the best course of action.

Sometimes more tangles are created during the untangling process. Don’t worry—they will have sorted themselves out once you are finished.

If it’s a really big tangle, you may need to look at it and work on it from different angles. Sometimes you even have to give it a few shakes to loosen the knot(s).

Occasionally, it’s necessary to pull apart the threads—a sharp, thin, pointy object may not be the preferred object, but it is often the most effective.

Once finished, you may feel a sense of relief, satisfaction and/or joy.

What are your tangles and how can you apply this strategy to your own life?

The Conundrum of Not Enough Time… or How to Nurture Yourself in 15 Minutes or Less

If you don’t have time to read the entire post, skip to the suggestions.

The Story: I was contemplating my current stress level and its effects on my body (exhaustion), and how I never “seem to” have time for me anymore, even the little things. I know that I am not alone. As busy parents, spouses, workers, students, and just people in general, we take time to make lunches and dinners, fold laundry, and scoop the litter box, but how often do we take time for ourselves and no one else? For myself, I seem to hit a point of “critical mass,” then spend two days exhausted and incapable of anything other than “stealing” away some quiet time and letting my inner child have some breathing room. As I pondered, I realized that giving oneself the gift of nurturance doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming. Here are some suggestions that take 15 minutes or less.

The Suggestions: Remember, nurturing yourself and/or spending a little time with your inner child isn’t about taking care of anyone else. This is about you and only you. For those consumed with schedules and deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), set a timer for 5 to 15 minutes. This way you can devote the entire time to being present with your “activity” without looking at the clock every 30 seconds. The timer will let you know when to stop. For those not consumed by timelines, skip this step.

Grab your favorite book and read, Color or finger paint with your children (instead of cleaning house while your child is being creative); don’t have children—color or finger paint with your inner child

Read a poem

Play with your dog or cat

Plant seeds or pull weeds (this is also very grounding)

Write one morning page (Julia Cameron recommends writing three, but for hectic schedules, it may be easier to write for 15 minutes and throw out the page count)

Don’t like to write? Fill a page with drawings/doodles<

Grab a glass of wine, cup of tea, or just yourself and go outside to look at the stars and moonWork on a jigsaw puzzle

Read or write a blog

Play a game of solitaire with real cards

Read your favorite children’s book to yourself

Admire the flowers in your yard (better yet, pick a few and put them in a vase)

Look at a picture book

5 minutes or less (if you just can’t give yourself 15 minutes)

Write half of a morning page (or however much you can write in 5 minutes)

Light a candle or two in your bedroom; change into your bedclothes by candlelight

Use your favorite, special cream after your shower instead of waiting for a special moment to use it

Wash up for the night by candlelight

Light a few candles before your morning shower

Sing in the shower

Play your favorite song from childhood while brushing your teeth

Pet your cat or dog

Wear mismatched socks (I highly recommend Little Miss Matched: http://www.littlemissmatched.com/ — they have women’s and men’s lines, as well as children’s)

Look at the moon or stars

Admire the flowers in your yard (better yet, go smell them)

Savour a small piece of chocolate

Put on your favorite, most comfortable pajamas long before bedtime

If you have ideas, please post them. These suggestions are mostly more in touch with the “feminine” side, because I’m… well, a woman, and to be honest, most of the men I know aren’t the self-nurturing-inner-child types. I don’t know if men nurture themselves or not, and if the more enlightened ones do, how they do it. However, for any men reading this, please post your thoughts–I’d love to hear them.

The Second Conundrum

How do I keep my ever adorable kitten Oberon off of my Wacom tablet so I can easily access my blog to post a post? I doubt that he understands the finer points of blogging, being a kitten and all. However, I must say that he does understand the finer points off being a cat, thus the behavior causing the conundrum.