Archive for the ‘Caregiving’ Category

h1

The Privilege Paradox

2017.April.19

Everyone says if you’re a caregiver, you’re supposed to take time for yourself. If you’re stressed, you’re supposed to ask for help. If you’re hurting, you’re supposed to make sure you get what you need.

But the implicit assumption about all of that advice is probably gendered, isn’t it? Or at least reflects that the person receiving the advice is not already doing those things, or not already privileged to do them? These are responses to emotional labor, and emotional labor is gendered feminine in this Western paradigm. It is aimed at people who are socialized to always put others first and themselves last.

So what happens when the party in question is not socialized feminine? Let’s say, through flukes of bastardy and empathy, the person is a sensitive, compassionate male, who develops great need for healing from caregiving in all of those ways, but who has already over-extended the available support because his gender socializatoin has privileged him to unconsciously TAKE WHAT WAS AVAILABLE ALREADY.

Gender paradigms hurts men, but this is a rather nuanced manifestation of that harm. What happens when someone — through miracle or luck or careful learning has reached status of adult male while yet valuing the ability to cry, expression and honesty, listening to the experiences of others, and considering fairness and equality as attainable ideals — reaches his breaking point without ever quite discerning how much silent support and lack of discouragement he was receiving from others along the way? Maybe he counts himself fortunate, but just doesn’t grok the magnitude — how could he? How could anyone who hasn’t been broken by trauma ever really understand the scope of human generosity?

There are situations so intense, so enduring, that it is nigh impossible NOT to exhaust every resource that is available. In such situations, most people, however they are gendered, will take on an adrenal stance by default. If you can’t predict what’s happening for months or years at a time, you stop trying. You focus on being READY. You don’t know what for, you just know you’re going to be surprised and you’re going to have to respond quickly and effectively. It’s a survival mode. But if you’re socialized masculine, you’re less likely to realize how much you’ve received. What seems obvious to everyone else is too big to even notice.

And what happens when you come out of that long, arduous trial, and despite some progress you’re still pretty much in survival mode, and you’re trying to listen to all that advice given to emotional laborers (who are covertly gendered feminine) and you, you’re still privileged male. You’ve taken more than you’ve known, asked more than you remember asking, worn down everyone who had your back by doing things you never realized were problematic. You still think speaking with authority means you are competent; you still think if you treat people as equals they can return the favor; you still think that recognizing societal patterns about concerns of safety, judgment, bodily autonomy, competency, sanity experienced every day by people more feminine than yourself means you are above participating in them (or having them volunteered on your behalf — who has the time to demonstrate to every stranger that you’re one of the “good ones”?).

If you’re like me (and this is all me that I’m feigning hypothetical here), you speak up MORE. You ask for help MORE. You speak your pain MORE. You center your needs MORE. And to you and to people who haven’t been watching the sausage being made up-close, it looks like you’re being brave and open and taking care of your shit. You’re following advice given to all caregivers.

But to those who’ve been making your sausage so you could fix someone else’s… It waxes selfish. It grows entitled. It gets unwieldy. It becomes unsafe.

And because men are socialized to see things in rigid, discrete terms, you start to think EVERYONE ELSE is the problem.

Or if you’re aware enough to resist that kind of nonsense, then you invert it all and YOU become the worst person in the world. And that’s downright exhausting to all parties involved, because the only thing that takes up more space than a man who thinks he deserves everything is a man who thinks he deserves NOTHING.

I don’t have a solution yet. I have notions of listening more and learning through graduate school and calling on a larger, more deliberate group of friends for support (so no one person has to take on too much… theoretically…). I’m already radically shifting my relationship with digital and in-person connections (to the extent I can while also going to graduate school). I’m trying to bring yoga and mindfulness back into my life. I started laughing again recently; that’s been nice.

But at the end of the day (or at the end of an accidental online fall-apart steeped with obsessive communication expectations and a dozen or so friends patiently taking turns telling me the ways I can be unreasonable), I still gotta learn to filter. I still gotta learn to get people’s consent before I start unloading my shit on them. I still gotta stop setting down and picking up my gender when it’s convenient for maximal sympathy (because the privilege is there always). I even gotta stop framing the problem like it started with caregiving; there’s a powerful difference between a catalyst and an amplifier!

And while it’s nice to be able to (occasionally, selectively, consensually) ask really nuanced questions about how my healing interacts with the newly-mysterious greater world, I gotta learn more shit on my own, without being prompted/told/shoved in the right direction by an exasperated party.

To do that, I gotta slow down.

h1

Caregiving Will Be Intersectional or It Is Not My Revolution

2017.March.16

[This is a greatly abridged version of an essay I submitted for class last week. In womanism, personal, everyday narratives hold great value, so I aspired to merge my personal and academic trajectories. This shorter version should be more accessible to my friends outside of academia, but please let me know if there are any glaring inconsistencies or questions.]

“Social change, for womanists, begins with healing.” — Layli Maparyan, The Womanist Idea

Second to shutting up and listening, the most important action I’ve found for shifting perspective as a person of privilege is to serve someone else in a holistic way. Beyond parenting or merely putting a friend up with a broken leg, the type of care I mean is on the magnitude of years; in my case, the care recipient gradually declined (as opposed to improving, or adapting to a new baseline) and both parties were irreversibly changed. My time as a caregiver, which began in 2011 and only ended last month, allowed me to see deeply into my loved one’s humanity and, simultaneously, gave me my first glimpses into the womanist perspective. The parallels were not apparent to me at first, but as I have begun to study womanism formally, they appear as relevant as two feet conveying one person. Early on, I had a mirage of “community”. For four years (about twice as long as I’d been caregiving at this point), I’d invested my time, energy, and money into a local network of people around an ideal of ethical sexual liberation; my instincts were telling me my grandfather would need me, and that I would need a community space to return to once he was gone, but I had no religion, no core friends groups, not even an alumni association or book club. I did not, then, recognize the difference between a “community” and a “network” (let alone an online one), nor even really how you could convene hundreds of people around a single word or phrase and end up with radically disparate values there. It would take another two years years to realize “my people” were not really my people at all.

Early on, I was trying to make sure that no matter what his state, there were still two lives being lived between the two of us, but a person who is losing their mind can be hard to anticipate and to reason with. Because I was always primed for an emergency, I developed physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion, which I would then replenish by leaning hard on the dwindling friends who remained close (most of my peers, I have since learned, simply didn’t know what to say, so they remained silent). I prepared for worst-case scenarios, but got a very gradual, very smooth decline. Poised as I was for an emergency at any moment, I learned some hard lessons about self-care, but they only slowed my descent. I even tried to re-envision it as a spiritual practice — what better practice for mindfulness than tending the every need of someone whose worldview was shrinking? — but I lacked the discipline, training, and support to see it through. Any and all negativity that arose was redirected toward picking apart my lifetime of misspent advantages and unfixable transgressions. As his light faded, so did mine.

I discovered womanism on Twitter, but did not immediately see the connections with my experience as a caregiver. When time came to move my grandfather into a memory care facilitiy, I resolved to study and support other caregivers, but also to include and humanize the broadest range I could. Who knows better about the delicate balance between caring and obligation than those whose framework is grounded in a generational history of caring for other people’s children and chaotic affection for their own. In an introduction to her The Womanist Reader, Layli Maparyan states that women of color, particularly black women, are the most qualified to lead social change because they “have been at the bottom of every social hierarchy created by man, particularly during the four centuries of the modern era, and multiply so, based on the interaction of race, class, and gender hierarchies and systems of identity”. In her second book on womanism, The Womanist Idea, Layli Maparyan invokes spirituality not just as a corollary of womanism but as an essential component, including six detailed qualities of womanist spirituality, “eclectic, synthetic, holistic, personal, visionary, and pragmatic”. Caregiving is, for me, a spiritual exercise for these same reasons (as if my “instincts” hadn’t been enough of a clue!).

Beyond spirituality, Maparyan also cites the following as qualities of womanism: antioppressionist, vernacular, nonideological, and communitarian. Caregiving is antioppressionist because it shows us a dynamic where privilege is irrelevant. Serving in such silence must needs demonstrate to the caregiver who they REALLY are when no one is looking. Vernacular also takes on new meaning in a caregiving dynamic, as the caregiver must communicate at whatever level possible with the care recipient, be it an accent, be it a mumble, be it a gesture and a specific hallucination. The caregiver must be nonideological not only with the care recipient but also with the limited resources available. Caregiving, like womanism, is about real life, not about politics. Finally, caregiving is communitarian, because caregiving calls for absolute compassion and absolute service, to see the humanity in a person or persons who may not see it themselves. Everything caregivers practice on their care recipients and on themselves will make them more compassionate and understanding community members — if it does not break them, which reiterates the community’s investment in the individual as well. Like many womanist texts, an absolute choice of the individual or the community (and not some balance of the two) harms all parties involved.

Academia is the only realm I know where a smart-but-broken white guy can research what just happened to him in a broader social context while also developing a lens created by people historically oppressed by his predecessors. The death of my grandfather has created emotional and financial hardships, but it has also tempered my resolve to help others and has cleared the way for me to focus on my studies as never before. The rest of my story, however interesting, no longer feels important; I am simply writing from where I am.

h1

“An American Dream”: Eulogy for Ed Hodson

2017.February.18

I want to tell you about The American Dream: I don’t believe in it.

I don’t really think I’ve ever had the chance to believe in it, and neither have most of my peers from Generation X or the Millenials (I was born right in-between).

We younger people have seen so many great institutions crumble and cower,

that there has never really been the opportunity for most of us to buy in.

 

I have not grown up in a world where you leave a family farm to serve in the military,

you go to war but come back in one piece,

you marry your sweetheart, you spend your entire life working for one company;

you save your money, buy a car, build a home, buy a nicer car, put a little something back,

and then you retire, you get a cat, and you start wearing clothes that even you admit are “kind-y loud”.

There is no evidence whatsoever that the American Dream is real,

— I DO NOT BELIEVE IN THE AMERICAN DREAM —

but I believe in Ed Hodson.

 

And the greatest thing about Ed Hodson was how he could make you believe in yourself, too.

 

I think every person here knows that it would be impossible for me

to stand up here and talk about how great Ed was,

how generous and patient, how good-humored and impossible to anger,

it would be impossible to talk about how great Ed was without talking a lot about myself.

Our fates have been closely linked since long before I served as his caregiver for, oh,

5 years, 12 weeks, 5 days, and, let’s say one hour…

or even longer than the nine and a half years we lived together after E passed away…

You ask me to tell you what all I think Ed has accomplished?

I may as well just print my resume in your programs!

 

(That’s J-E-F-F-R-E-Y… yes, R-E-Y. Not E-R-Y.)

 

I’m going to try very hard to ignore the obvious and talk about the truths underneath.

That way, you don’t have to make sense of any of the weird things I do,

you only have to see the ways Ed has acted the same toward you.

 

I think we can all agree he was just about the nicest person we’ve ever met.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was calm and he was giving — and he was these things all the time.

Did you ever meet someone so reliable?

He worked hard, and he wasn’t afraid to learn something new.

He accumulated an impressive nest egg and then he

SPENT IT ON EVERY PERSON WHO WALKED THROUGH HIS DOOR.

He was shrewd yet he was humble.

He didn’t have a thousand talents, but whatever he had to do, he did it well.

If you proved him wrong about something, get this, he’d admit it!

He wanted your best because he wanted everyone’s best.

He might ask questions, but he didn’t talk down to you

and he genuinely seemed to have your best interest at heart.

 

(I’m told the guys at GM used to say Ed was the only person who could chew your ass out and you’d thank him for it.)

 

I never saw him raise his voice at anyone,

except during E’s last days.

Sleep-deprived and miserable, but still utterly devoted to her,

I heard them snap at each other the way some couples say hello,

but I knew it was fatigue and grief talking.

It wasn’t really Ed,

because I believe in Ed Hodson.

 

Over twenty years ago, I gave my mom some random questionnaire

(how well you know each other or something)

and it asked who your hero was.

I didn’t even have an answer, really, but Mom came back with “Ed”

and it was obvious she was right.

I scored her double on that one.

 

But ever since that day, I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what it was that has made Ed my hero.

Was it because he was so good to me?

because he was so good to everyone?

or both?

 

Or was it just that he made it all look

so

easy?

I learned one of his secret weapons over the last 5-10 years,

but it isn’t any secret at all.

Behind the scenes, there was always E.

You may have heard of “devotion” in marriage, but no one did it like Ed.

E was the decider for most of their marriage, and he followed her instructions faithfully.

And I mean, like, it didn’t matter if he gave you a twenty-dollar bill and told you

it was just between the two of you,

you can guarantee E had put it in his hand.

 

But I don’t just mean that E was the brains behind the operation.

I mean that Ed was able to be calm and generous because he was so deeply,

so comfortably, so securely

in love.

There are a thousand ways that we’ve all seen someone — maybe even ourselves —

say that everything would be perfect if only this

or if I could just that,

or if those people over there would stop doing whatever,

but deep down some part of us fears that we don’t deserve it

so we shouldn’t try quite as hard.

Or–or!

We all know someone — or have been someone —

who thinks we deserve something so much,

that we are so talented and lovable and clever,

that we may as well not even try, because that thing we want is just going to fall in our lap

so we shouldn’t try quite as hard.

 

Ed led the charmed life of never thinking too little or too much of himself and doing

EVERYTHING HE WANTED with it.

All he wanted was The American Dream: wife, home, career

— and the part they don’t tell you about the American dream —

to do it all while staying friendly

and effective.

Friendly and effective.

That’s the dream of America, isn’t it? Not just having it all, but having it all and remaining humble.

When we think the best of our country,

we want to believe that we deserve it because we are friendly and we are effective.

Well, I’ve already told you I don’t believe in the American Dream,

but I believe in Ed Hodson!

 

Do you know what Millenials call a straight-A student? The kind of kid who carries around a lot of books and studies all the time and is in a thousand clubs and never sits still?

A “try-hard”.

Like that’s a bad thing. Or, I don’t know, maybe it’s the opposite of a back-handed compliment,

an open fist or something?

Well I tell you that Ed didn’t have to try hard at everything

(Ed didn’t have to try hard to love E and devote himself to her, for example),

but when he did try hard, he succeeded.

And when he succeeded, he kept on trying

and he encouraged others to do the same.

Maybe Ed was the original Try-hard.

 

Ed only ever had two regrets in his life. I say two regrets, but it was more like one regret

and one mystery.

The first regret was that he never used his G.I. Bill to get a college education.

It wasn’t a sad regret, like he was secretly building a time machine to go back and fix something,

just one of those lessons you learn the hard way and pass on so you can spare others.

Still, he gladly took every training GM ever sent him on (or the Navy before that),

he worked his way up the ladder until there was no room for him to grow

not without a college degree.

So that was his big regret, that he never got his college diploma.

The original try-hard wanted to TRY HARDER.

 

(Same, to be honest.)

(I believe in Ed Hodson.)

 

Ed’s other regret, that one great mystery out of life, was after E passed away when he’d say,

“I don’t understand why the good Lord would take away one spouse

and leave the other one behind.”

Ed Hodson, the original Try-hard, was sixty years into a relationship

— and six years into day-and-night caregiving —

and he wanted to TRY HARDER.

He didn’t think he could take her pain away, and he didn’t sit around waiting for a miracle or for someone else to do it. He just gave everything he had

because he believed in E

and he believed he was better with her.

 

Imagine living life so well

that you already knew when the best part was over.

 

If I were to write a book on how to live, it would be called “The Book of Ed.”

I have no idea what I’d say in it, but there’s probably be a chapter on loving people completely, and being open-minded about people (even people you don’t like), and there’d have to be one about how to eat all that sugar without gaining weight or becoming diabetic.

 

(I believe Ed Hodson had an excellent metabolism.)

Here’s something I said at E’s funeral.

It still fits.

 

In E’s final hour, Ed turned to us, tears in his eyes, E’s hand in his, and said, “I hope you all are lucky enough to have a 60-year love.” And I know E would agree.

For theirs was a love for sharing,

a love that cannot help but spread beyond the two people who build it,

a love that has lived and will continue to live within each of us who has been touched by it.

It has traveled with us to corners of the world where neither Ed nor E ever set foot.

It touches and soothes people whom Ed and E never met.

But we are not burying that love here, today. When generations have passed and Ed and E are ancient figures, possibly forgotten altogether, their love will still touch people, as it has for 60

[now 70]

years, through our actions and the actions of the people we meet, and those they meet, and so on.

So whatever your odds are for finding a 60-year love, remember, that you’ve already been a part of something that grand, and that it is yet a part of you. E

[and Ed] would be proud to know that this is [their] finest legacy,

to spread joy and love for having known someone so rare that you can’t help being changed forever.

 

And so here, today, 2017, I’d like to leave you with something Ed would say to me in his “Golden moments” over the last fifteen months. There were days when I left Ed and I was almost in tears, but there were days when I just felt invincible, and it was because of these words.

When he had a pretty good sense of what was going on,

and a pretty good sense what I was doing, he’d take my hand

and grip it tight,

and Ed would tell me, “Don’t you worry about me. I’ll be alright. You go live your life.”

I believe in Ed Hodson,

and Ed Hodson believed that we shouldn’t worry about him and that we

— you, me, the old, the young —

“You go live your life.”

h1

Extended Obituary for Ed Hodson

2017.February.14
The official online obituary was shorting and cropped some text, but you can view it and a slide show here.

This photo from February 2013 features Ed (early in his illness) and the author, his caregiver.

 

Ed Hodson quietly slipped out to reunite with his beloved wife Saturday afternoon in Arlington.

 

——————–

 

Ed Hodson was the youngest boy in a family of fourteen, raised on a family farm outside Joplin, Missouri. He was good at Math, and bad at History (he never saw the point in it), and so he and his sister Flora (AKA “Fid”) would help each other out. After he graduated from Alba High School, Ed got permission from his mother to enlist in the Navy, four months before Pearl Harbor. Through World War II, Ed repaired fighter plane engines in the South Pacific: Guam and Guadalcanal.

 

Ed met his great love, Marie Mainey, a waitress, on leave in Kansas City. When Ed finished his tour, he started training for General Motors in California, and E joined him there. They were married in Kansas City in 1946, and the two were inseparable until her death on April 7th, 2006. Those last few years of her life, Ed was her caregiver around the clock.

 

Ed and E enjoyed the nightlife in Kansas City, where they were also close to E’s family in Topeka and Ed’s family outside Joplin. E made an agreement with Ed that she’d handle their money if she didn’t have to work, and Ed gladly accepted. Ed was making an impression at General Motors; although he’d been training for airplanes, they ended up putting him to work in automobile manufacturing. A few years in, Ed’s supervisor was re-assigned to Texas and when asked to pick a team to go with him, Ed was his first choice. So in 1954, it was Ed who drove the very first car off the Arlington assembly line: a 4-door Pontiac Chieftain.

 

Ed worked his way up as a friendly and effective supervisor, who revitalized teams and resolved disputes throughout the plant. He was best known for his work in Repair and Trim, though. As the plant and the city grew, Ed encouraged family and friends to come work for GM, so many members of the Hodson family came to the area because of Ed. He retired from General Motors in 1980, as Superintendent of the Trim Department.

 

It took a while for Ed and E to adjust to living away from a big town like Kansas City, but they found friends and dancing in Fort Worth, and occasionally Dallas. It was in East Fort Worth in the late ‘70s that they met Betty Lawson, who quickly became their favorite bartender. Betty was estranged from her family (not too far from Joplin), so they all kind of “adopted” each other as family right here. When Betty became a single mom in 1980, “Ed and Marie” became “Ed and E” because Jeffrey’s first three words were “Ed”, “Mom”, and “E”. The ties of chosen family became unbreakable, and extended with the arrival of Kevin, and then later with Kevin’s kids, Chelsea, Skyler, and Ace.

 

Ed and E’s home provided a sanctuary of laughter and generosity, where these kids had more toys than they knew what to do with. Ed developed a green thumb in retirement, so there was plenty of lush outdoor space for the kids to play in. And when things got tough at home, which they sometimes do, Kevin and Jeffrey, and Chelsea and Skyler and Ace, knew they could come over to 1610 University Drive and feel secure and lots of encouragement.

 

Ed is preceded in death by his wife, Marie Teresa Hodson, and 11 sisters and brothers: Othal, Twila, Juanita, Cora, George, twins Jessie and Essie, Myrtle, John (AKA “Big”), Flora, and baby Bobby (plus two nephews who grew up alongside Ed: John (AKA “Little”) and Bobby).

Ed is survived by daughter, Betty Lawson; grandsons Jeffrey and Kevin Lawson; great-grandkids, Chelsea Wyatt and Skyler and Ace Lawson; sisters Velda Murphy of Plano and Iris Dowell of Buena Park, California; numerous nieces and nephews; and a lifetime of friends.

h1

The Self as Unreliable Narrator of Self

2016.October.16

search: define gaslighting

“gaslight: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” — Google

“Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.” — Wikipedia

“Gaslighting is the attempt of one person to overwrite another person’s reality.” — Everyday Feminism

There is a struggle going on in my brain. I think about it every day, but I don’t talk about it much because it’s so deeply personal I haven’t trusted myself to filter it outward through language. There are three prevailing forces, not battling each other like it’s a war so much as bumping against each other uncomfortably, like too many people on a subway platform; need for personal space aside, it only gets scary if one gets pushed too close to the edge, but then what is only an obnoxious daily ritual to others becomes a matter of life and death for that one, who is silently measuring their own balance, agility, and friction for a way to shift back where there may no longer be room.

I don’t know if gaslighting is the appropriate term, but I do feel like my own mind is making me question my own sanity.

The forces:

  • The human brain likes to give us the illusion of a static reality. The same instincts that see fluid movement instead of choppy frames when we watch a film reel also simplify our account of other people and especially of ourselves. It’s why stereotypes and binary judgments can be hard to unlearn. And whatever our relationship with the reality that people change, the brain especially doesn’t like to accommodate the fact that “people” include oneself. In other words, this force is the stereotype I hold of myself, foundational lens to all knowledge and experience.
  • My political and cultural inquisitions have always moved me toward greater acceptance and inclusivity, but only for the last 2-3 years have I honed the will to consciously identify and contradict privilege (especially male privilege; my childhood gave me unique perspectives on whiteness that have made those confrontations far easier by comparison).
  • Despite being exactly where I want to be in life, and with the people I want to be with, my mental health remains set by terms I don’t understand/recognize from the prolonged trauma of caregiver isolation and burnout.

With these forces so easily identified, it shouldn’t be hard to see how they play out: some potential* confrontation of privilege arises, I give it my activist zeal, but it shorts out my self-perception or de-legitimizes some important social memory/context. I over-commit to addressing it (being a caregiver has heightened my previous strength of “fighting fires”, i.e., dealing with problems as emergencies, to the extent that it is hard to see any problem as anything but an emergency) but underestimate the scope or otherwise approach it with inadequate resources. While the two forces in conflict crash into one another, my caregiver brain determines whether I will calmly choose a direction, take a moment to regroup, or crumble on the floor in anxiety. And since these moments often arise in my head, whatever support I have means I face them functionally alone. By the time I realize I even need help, I am often either incapable of asking or stuck in a situation where no one is immediately available (never mind whether this hypothetical person would be well enough versed in how my brain is working to be any help).

[*Note: I have yet to identify a potential privilege that didn’t end up being real in some way, but I have often identified the wrong one for the problem at hand and gotten sidetracked from a more urgent matter, especially if I exhaust myself or other parties in doing so.]

I am coming to see how much baggage I carry with me. I never thought much about that slang as it became popular in the 90s, but I have seen (through recognizing my hoarding tendencies as I reclaim my living living space, through lukewarm reciprocity as I traveled to reconnect with faraway friends, through continual reflection over the role of my family of origin) how tightly I hold onto things material and ethereal. People. Ideas. Connections. Myths. As comical as it sounds, picture me carrying ten or twelve giant bags and suitcases, all so entangled that it is no longer possible to let go of certain ones without the whole pile crashing down upon me. I can’t look at that pile of baggage and tell you when it reached ridiculous or how to undo it; this was a lifelong accumulation, a slow tsunami of grief emerging from nowhere and everywhere.

Isolation, leadership, and masculinity have become triggers for me, but I still want to be motivated, I want to work to improve this world in idealistic fashions, and I don’t always slow down and examine the paternalism of logical, articulate, academic assumptions and statements. Making hard choices alone reminds me of caregiving. And asking for help reminds me of unchecked privilege. And not asking for help feels like perpetuating the toxic status quo. System error.

Loved ones have probably seen isolated examples of this short-circuit happening but may not realize how often or how deeply it’s happening. There’s usually a dilemma around it, so the deeper terror doesn’t get noticed. It doesn’t help that I lost some of the best allies I had in this process during caregiving because I would just emit my raw discomfort in all directions (I call it emotional radiation) and it was too psychically violent for them to remain close (they practiced self-care, and I am heartened by their having done so). I was unable to make meaningful new connections while I was caregiving at home. I kept my agenda full the first half of this year because I was trying to make room for all the people who had gone to come back (they didn’t). I am now too busy with school to make new connections elsewhere (and there I am nervous about how much of my particular crazy to share if it isn’t going to lead to a peer-reviewed article).

One of my primary assumptions for unpacking privilege is that I am fallible and don’t always understand my own reality, but if you deepen that doubt without breaks or support or reinforcement (and have you ever tried to take a break from your own brain?), the entire structure of perception itself starts to break down.  I thought my overall trajectory this semester would be simplifying my life: picking priorities and streamlining them, setting healthy boundaries, all that, but I’m starting to think I should be focusing instead on doing something about my life’s fractures.

My brain shorts out when someone close to me expresses displeasure or contradicts my understanding of reality. Buy they also call me on my mistakes, of which there are an alarming number. That’s when it feels like self-gaslighting, when I have to trust others more than I can trust myself. I say things and forget them — not from 6 months or 6 years ago, but like yesterday. So at the same time I’m trying to reprogram my brain to not default to “dadspeak” or presumptions of shared understanding, the programming itself seems to be more glitchy than I think. What if in updating an app on your phone, it suddenly forgot the program language or wrote an error into the operating system? Where do you find IT for a system you’ve built from scratch around your own experience? I have a therapist and she’s been instrumental in reprogramming my thoughts, but glitches are deeper, and I’m not sure how much she realizes I still try to do on my own…

I still don’t know how to deal with general anxiety; I assume and envy how those who’ve lived with anxiety for decades probably got an initiation, a process of learning to live around it when their lives were simpler and they had better support, and here I am waltzing in in my mid-30s like I’m capable of doing anything. Sometimes I think about that meme, “Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man,” and wonder if I am that mediocre white man. I’ve dug a hole so deep I don’t know how to get out or even how to describe where I am, let alone what help would even look like.

It’s possible I’ve always been this needy, but my needs were sated until I spent 4 years living two lives (not terribly well), taxing every faculty; I’ve been moving in the direction of balance and self-care for almost a year now, but I still stumble often (and it takes a lot more for me to get back up than I expect). Every emotional wound goes more deeply than it should. Every moment of confusion links to another. I relish the concentration of throwing myself into a project because it’s an excuse to focus and tune everything else out, but anything short of an obsessive deadline that will prove everything I can still do is at risk of disruption and distraction. I heal faster when I have too much to do (it’s easier to stabilize a bike that’s going fast), so I do grad school and graduate assistantship and part-time caregiving and two relationships and assistant parenting and therapy and yoga (ha) and dietary changes and commuting and friendships and social justice and queering my own identity because if I don’t do it all at once I will do worse at ALL of it (and I probably won’t heal).

 

I’m not sure how much of this is still physical exhaustion or poor nutrition or compassion fatigue or navel-gazing or being distracted by a confusing break-up 2 years ago or my failure to meditate with any regularity, but I can rarely get the question out before I fall apart. When I recover from one of these short-circuits (usually with help: touch, affirmation, food), it’s usually to focus on something else: relationship stuff, scheduling, classwork, logistics of my commute to school and work. The question that tripped me in the first place remains unanswered (often unasked).

h1

Tenets of a Tall Tour

2016.March.30

For centuries, young European men (and later, some women) would mark adulthood with a tour of the continent to see all of the art and hear all of the music and learn all of the things that were not yet digitized and available via free wifi.

Not one to take such traditions seriously (to say nothing of my limited prospects and habit of shopping clearance racks), I’ve decided to look to the Grand Tour tradition for antagonistic inspirations for my re-release upon the world. I’m calling it A Tall Tour, because I am in no way grand but I am quite tall.

Where the Grand Tour was structured and formulaic, the Tall Tour will be kind of scattershot and decidedly queer. Where the Grand Tour was one long journey, accompanied by servants and friends, I’ll be taking short jaunts wherever I can afford them, sometimes with a friend or lover along, most of the time meeting my company along the way. Where the Grand Tour was supposed to instill a sense of scope and develop lifelong connections… actually, that part sounds pretty good.

I’ve been cooped up too long. I’ve been out of commission too long. I need to reintroduce myself to the people doing the kind of work I believe in if I am ever going to find my own path amid theirs. I need to take all my navel-gazing about masculinity and privilege out into the world and learn how others have adapted, how others are demonstrating their values as much in action as in word. I need to see old friends and reconnect, see each other through fresh eyes. I need the long, quiet passion of a road trip (or several) to figure out my own patterns again. I need to take the pulse of my passions, to make sure I’m not reinventing wheels that are already in motion.

The purpose of the Tall Tour is to refresh myself and my perspective and apply those gains toward future projects and, most likely, graduate school (although I will only attend school locally, I can still learn from the syllabi and resources of programs elsewhere). I want to take my understanding of the world back into meatspace (i.e., not online, although I’m certainly still looking to learn more about how activists survive and work on the Internet). I’m especially interested in the nuts and bolts of intersectional activism, caregiving, and sexology.

And, of course, finding any excuse I can to connect these topics to one another!

So from now through late August (-ish… really depends on getting into grad school), I’m trying to take every travel opportunity that aries. When it’s feasible, I’m going to drive, incorporating multiple stops, but there will probably also be some flying (and if I get my druthers, trains as well). I will keep costs low where I can, but these travels are a centerpiece of my self-care and healing. (If you’re at all concerned how I’m going to afford this, I’m currently accepting grad school scholarships, gift cards to Southwest Airlines and hotel chains, and couch-hosting volunteers on these trips!)

What happens on those trips is very much determined by what events draw me and what people I meet there. I love activist cons, with movement workshops and self-care, and intellectually sexy spaces, with flirtation and openness and tying the intimate to the societal, and academic lectures, with lots of numbers to crunch and assumptions to check. I love little sidebars with just a handful of people. I love one-on-one exchanges over warm beverages. Anything that presents these connection opportunities and touches on my favorite topics is fair game. In spaces where I really know people and/or have been before, I might even present a workshop of my own.

And most of all, watch this space. I will hopefully have some good questions come up along the way, and I’m never as good at answering them alone as I am with friends.

h1

Hello, Emotional Labor, Nice to Meet a Familiar Face

2016.February.4

If I had readers, they might have noticed that last night I got really into a series of links educating me on the concept of “emotional labor” and ways it typifies the nuances of feminism. In the briefest terms I can imagine, “emotional labor” refers to any kind of effort given to take care of another person’s emotional well-being. Its significance to feminism is that the U.S. and most human societies socialize emotional labor as “feminine” and/or women’s work, therefor not “real” work and, coincidentally or not (ha!), un/under-paid. (Really, the articles I’ve been linking to do a much better job of explaining and you should go read them; I’m just trying to define my terms before I proceed.) The concept itself is not exactly new to me, but this succinct summation and eloquent framing go a long way toward filling some gaps in my ongoing healing; I am beginning to see the last several years as a single stream of emotional labor that wasn’t always conscious, contained, or consensual, and feel inclined to map and confront the whole mess if I’m to reinvigorate what’s left of my support system and be a more considerate human being moving forward.

Twitter: Emotional Labor

The Source

The more I learn about gender roles, the more I see myself fit the pattern of female socialization, especially the aptitude and availability to provide emotional labor. Conversely, long before I started to question — and eventually denounce — masculinity whole, I only felt cursorily like a man or male. I didn’t feel like anything other than male (i.e., trans), I just wasn’t enthusiastic about what my assigned gender was supposed to say about me. To the extent that I have been able (and thanks to a long list of privileges I can name in a future post, I have had more ability than most), I just kind of wade on the banks of male-ness without ever getting out of the water.

I’ve almost always lived between worlds, able to see the subtleties of both sides (and eventually, more than two sides), granting me perspective as a superpower. But it also creates a weakness — a person who can see many things is going to be especially vulnerable to that which ze does not see; my blindspots have been few, but devastating. The more I could see myself within the greater scope of humanity, the easier it became to eschew entitlement (which I define as the active embracing or promotion of privilege as earned/deserved/appropriate), but any time I could plausibly frame my privilege as equality- or merit-based, I would do so. What was missing, even in my antipathy toward masculine, was a more-than-superficial understanding of the ways other people might defer to me in a way that is so subtly consistent that I don’t even know to question it. It takes a patient, yet vocal, friend or ally to call me on my shit (emotional skilled labor?), and yet I assumed every friend was fully aware, capable, and empowered to do so.

The Flow

From November 2011-November 2015, I was a 24/7 caregiver to an elder from my life who had entered the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. It felt like both an appropriate use of my skills (such as compassionate attentiveness, adaptability, generous communication) and a fitting tribute to all the ways he and his deceased wife had changed my life. I had woefully inadequate help during those years. The rest of my family, who had never bonded quite the same as I had (although there are reasons that account for certain chickens coming before certain eggs), was unwilling and/or unable to participate, and his extended family were older and strewn across the country. I leaned heavily on my Internet friends, but none of them really knew what I was going through or how to help, and most of them faded into Facebook’s arbitrary feed algorithms.

That left only my loves (and thank goodness for polyamory; if I’d only had one partner during this time, she’d have run away screaming). And let me just say that being there for a caregiver is its own special meta-caregiving Hell. It was nearly impossible for anyone (or any aggregate of someones) to give me what I needed because I was giving too much. I felt I had no choice; in turn, I gave them no choice.

So back to the flow of emotional labor: I was taking care of a sick old man who missed his wife, who developed all kinds of uncomfortable afflictions that compromised his quality of life, whose medical care was erratic due to abrupt changes in his doctor’s practice, whose family was far away and whose friends had mostly already passed, and whose mind was every day becoming more foreign and unreliable to him. I held space for him every day and let him think his thoughts and feel his feelings, setting aside my own. I held space for his siblings, who would call to check on him and write letters as they gradually lost the ability to hold any sort of dialogue with him over the phone (sometimes they’d visit; that was invariably exhausting). For a while, I tried to hold space for his old friends and associates, certain they’d miss him and call to check on him, but few did. I managed his finances and his lifestyle as he would have, including lunching out at least once a week, even as I knew he would have been embarrassed to be seen in public like that only a few years ago. I tried to maintain our shared house, willed to me since I was four but now over fifty years old, but there are no classes for pseudo-homeowners and he was in no shape to tell me all the maintenance tasks he was forgetting to do. I lived both of our lives for us.

I tried to hold space for myself, but my efforts were pretty misguided. I missed travel the most and tried to get people to come visit me (living in Texas is exhausting if you don’t get recharged by people with fresher perspectives once in a while), but visitors flaked out and the rest became high-pressure stressors/stressees due to my overwhelming expectations. I tried to maintain a link with activism, but without an active role it mostly reduced me to crying over losses and watching others celebrate the victories.

My loves held space for me. Tremulous, loving space.

Then their lives went to hell in their own right. Between the three people who stuck around until the end, there were sudden job losses, loved ones with cancer, intimate betrayal and the end of a partnership, offspring with suicidal ideations, moving to new (less than ideal) places, death of a parent, and the usual heartbreaks of politics and friendship and living in Texas. I tried to be there for them. All of them. Often at the same time. While still caregiving 24/7. And dealing with my own heartbreaks and emerging medical issues. I’d like to say we were able to hold space for one another, but that feels too clean, too simple. They held space for me, as best they could. I told them they had to let me hold space for them. I told them they should find ways to hold space for one another. I called it “survival mode”. They called me out for talking down to them with “dad voice”. I asked, “What’s that?”

Because I’d never had anyone who talked to me with that voice. I just thought I was stating the obvious.

Let me tell you, survival mode will see even the wisest and most cautious person wielding privilege like a male billionaire running for office. And if he has the superpower of perspective, he’ll see around just enough corners to have an excuse for every encroachment and never, ever see the flow of emotional labor for what it is:

CAREGIVEE>CAREGIVER>META-CAREGIVERS

And because I am attracted to caring, generous, and thoughtful people, the flow ended there. All because I failed to realize that caring, generous, thoughtful people might be that way because they were socialized feminine, and that although I behave in many of the same manners, the dynamic is rooted in women donating emotional labor to men, one of which I ultimately am, making an unchecked power dynamic — however egalitarian in mind and practice — anything but equal.

The Cleanup

Now that my caregivee is in a home and I only caregive part-time, what we have left is a downhill flood, wherein I have to find a way to siphon off the emotional radiation I’ve fed upon my loves.

And now, thanks to these posts about emotional labor, I at least have some idea how it got this way.

This piece had major, scissor-breaking cuts of tangential information and probably didn’t come to a very satisfying conclusion; I’m going to go ahead and post it in accordance with my tenet of Imperfectionism (that saying it at all is more urgent than saying it in the best way). There may or may not be a follow-up or extended version at a later date.

%d bloggers like this: