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Thursday, September 24, 2009

My First Sub-Culture Artist Friend

When I was twelve I used to make art at a table where each of us who shared the table was from a different race or culture. We joked that we all made "highly integrated" art. My art table friend was American Indian girl, who encouraged me to follow her home one day after school.

When we arrived, her whole family (seven more people) were sitting on two couches that faced each other. No other furniture except a lamp, a TV on a table in the corner and a coffee table. The TV wasn't on.

I sat down, squishing myself in where they made room for me to sit as she did. She introduced me to her family. We giggled a little about something that had happened at school that day. The conversation died down. I asked what the dog's name was after some time had gone by. Another five minutes went by. Her family members told me the story, a sentence at a time from almost every person there, about how the dog arrived and came to be adopted into the family. Another long silence.

I looked at everyone. They didn't seem to be expecting anything from me, so I just sat there. We sat for about a half hour. Her mom got up and offered us all iced tea because it was hot. We drank the tea and rattled the ice cubes together. Nobody said anything for the next half hour.

Then as if on some cue, everyone got up. We said goodbye to each other and they asked me to come back again and visit. They said they really enjoyed meeting me and was looking forward to seeing me again. They were happy their daughter had such an interesting friend. I wasn't really sure why they thought I was interesting. Then I walked home, feeling lucky I'd just been in another world where I could be interesting for just sitting on a couch keeping my mouth shut.

I kept making art with her and hanging out with her at school and lunchtime, but I couldn't figure out a reason to come back to visit her at her house and she did not press me to return. She said everyone she brought over to her house did not feel very comfortable there. I wanted to be different, but at the time it was just too strange for me too. I'd never traveled before and didn't really understand that I was going to a different culture when I was really just visiting that house down the street.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Helping a Disabled Person

Today I helped the person who handles my mail while I'm away in Hawaii to set up a blog. She's going to talk about having to handle California's budget cuts as a partially disabled person.

Tammy's blog is: here

Tammy has been awarded In Home Support Services hours. She has had the help of someone who gets paid for one day every week to drive her to her doctor appointments, carry things up and down her stairs and help her pick up groceries, as well as do some of the cleaning that would make her back worse. She's a disabled person who lives in Novato, CA.

Tammy can't drive because of the nature of her medication. She used to ride the bus everywhere. She would often walk from Fairfax to San Rafael with pleasure. Awhile ago, she fell on some ice on her deck and developed a slipped disc. Everything changed. Since then, she's needed a little bit more of additional help. Her doctor was nice enough to fill out a sixty page report to help her get IHSS hours.

Now California is cutting IHSS for those disabled people with less than thirty hours a week. I'm hoping that Tammy's blog will make it more clear to people what it is she is facing.

She decided to start writing this blog because of the lame and clueless suggestions that people were giving her. She found herself getting angry at her friends when they began to repeat what the newscasters on TV had said that she should get along without this IHSS help because she "wasn't REALLY disabled." She found herself screaming at people, "Well, who is going to help me? Because I can't live by myself!"

She realizes that being upset about this issue is going to drive away the few friends she had who might help her. She wanted some place to refer people to who thought they had suggestions so their suggestions would be more constructive.

Tammy jokes with her black humor: "By eliminating services, California is helping disabled people to hurry up and die." After knowing a little more about her situation, it's sadly starting to sound true.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Gaining Parental Respect

By the time I was a teen my mom was a widow. We used to have conversations late at night in the summertime, because we were both "night-owls." There was a time for me when I was sixteen when my mom and I suddenly realized that I had something to offer her. Finding out our relationship could work in another direction was a momentous occasion for me.  It was a significant shift between parent and child from a one-way energy flow - to the recognition that her teenager had meaningful wisdom to offer her that the she did not already possess.

My mom had already learned that it did not do any good to complain about relationships or circumstances.  The way she said it was "It's pretty useless to cry in your beer." I had the benefit of growing up in a household where there was not much bitching going on... (I know, that in itself was extraordinary!)

In this particular late-night conversation when things changed, I described to my mom what I was trying to do with my friends to allow us to uncover the reasons why we were having relationship problems. Of course, my mom recited her maximums about the uselessness of bitching and complaining about what was too complex to change. Then she realized that what we were doing was not merely complaining - it was a very original type of problem-solving for relationships that was working for us.

She got curious. She hung out with us kids and asked us to tell her more about what we were doing. We were more than happy to explain it to her and I guessed we did that successfully. She was impressed. She talked about it to her live-in house mate (who I hope was her boyfriend) and they used the same process to work out something that had been a problem for them.   The guy even thanked me and my friends for teaching the two of them how to communicate easier.

Another thing happened around that time. For some reason my mom and I were joking around about seeing each other in bad or good moods. It was a conversation along the line of how each of us knew to stay away and give the other person lots of privacy, and when each of us was willing to talk to the other. As an example of how the other person appeared to us, we mimicked the postural attitude of the other person in a bad mood or in a good mood. As my mom walked across the room trying to behave like me, I have to admit that I was completely shocked and did not realize how sensitive my mother was to my moods and how much she was able to notice about how I felt. She was also affected by how much she was influencing me with her own moods as I demonstrated to her how she looked to me when she was in a good or bad mood. This interaction led us to give each other permission to remind the other person to smile more often.

Many parents can never imagine that their child has something to offer them that is not tangible - although these parents are often the first to declare they have knowledge of who this child is that is not tangible. If you cannot describe and communicate in a way so as to become useful to each other, how can you declare you "know" a person? You only know a part of them. I would say that knowing only a part and attempting to bring forward that part (to the exclusion of all other possible ways of acting) encourages a lack of growth. People who know us well can sometimes have this awful tendency to encourage dependence, even while they are attempting to extend care in hopes of that person eventually not needing to be cared for! Really, a person who knows us well often knows merely habits and patterns and not our potential. In fact, some people inadvertently stifle potential. They seem to only want to interact with their preconceptions of who we have been for them. These expectations come from what they think they already know about us. These expectations can be tragically limiting.

Of course, one solution is to acknowledge the state-specific quality of the self and respect it. This is part of why adult children have trouble "updating" their relationship with their family members who seem to want them to remain the way they were. It's tricky to change your half of the relationship when the other person seems to want to address the outdated part of who you used to be. By doing the work to change yourself and the qualities of how your part of the relationship interacts with others, you inadvertently change the quality of the whole interaction. The other person eventually realizes that you are different and responds accordingly.

The other way is to take the relationship into different circumstances. People are different in different situations - and while interacting with different people who bring forward unique qualities you might have never seen in them.