When I carefully choose what I want to pay attention to, my heart swells.
When I let the world be in charge of what I should pay attention to, my heart sinks.
I think our civilization clearly depends upon finding some middle ground. I know my own family isn’t talking as much because of the polarized political climate. We may be reaching a tipping point of sorts, at least that’s what it feels like to me. I’m hopeful that we can shift course. I believe in the goodness of our shared humanity.
We are living in unprecedented times. A time of chaotic polarity in our civic lives. The lack of middle ground is causing stress to the many systems we all operate in; family, community, government and work. My husband and I are trying to hold some middle ground and manage the stress and anxiety in our home. We’re listening to our children and trying to offer counterpoints to the dizzying array of sound bites & headlines out there fighting for our attention every minute of every day.
I don’t think I’ve hidden my politics from anyone, however, my moderation might be surprising. Labels are easier for all of us than asking questions or being curious about the WHY of someone’s beliefs. We’re ALL guilty of not asking questions and making too many assumptions about others.
We can’t really be heard if we aren’t willing to listen too.
My politics were left leaning before I left conservative Sioux Falls College (now the University of Sioux Falls) in 1988. For my family it was easier to blame my democratic husband who hailed from Massachusetts than to believe I was an outlier. My first experience out of college was to move to New Zealand and work at a non-denominational Christian Radio Station (Radio Rhema) http://www.rhema.co.nz/. My friends were from all over the world and it was fascinating. I actually met the King of Tonga. I heard stories from so many unique perspectives and experiences. This time in my life greatly shaped my personal beliefs. Travel made the world seem quite small in some ways, completely accessible and ready for exploration.
I consider myself proudly American AND a global citizen. My early travel opportunites had a big affect on my choices. It eventually led me to Burlington, Vermont, where I’ve lived since New Year’s Day 1990. Our community is rich with diversity and I feel it’s been quite an education for myself and my family.
My daughters have friends from all over the world (including Muslim kids, many who spent time in refuge camps). They’ve heard interesting stories since early elementary school from their classmates. This is simply our family’s circumstance of living in Burlington, Vermont. I acknowledge that not having contact with people of various nationalities, who dress, speak, and worship differently can make people more fearful. I do understand this from growing up in rural South Dakota AND I don’t pretend to understand what other people feel about this issue. I’m only speaking from my own experience.
When I wrote and asked about the opposite of FEAR last week there were so many thoughtful responses; acceptance, curiosity, love, hope, community and Mark P. wrote; “ACTIONABLE FAITH is the opposite of fear.” I love the idea of actionable faith and that sounds a lot like curiosity to me.
Right now in American life, it’s seems convenient to align ourselves with our political teams and operate in MOB MENTALITY. Reciting talking points from the side we’ve taken without listening isn’t real dialogue and won’t ever promote deeper understanding.
The significantly more challenging and intellectually exhausting space is to take a breath, listen to your own thought and those of others and try to find some middle ground. It’s really uncomfortable to differentiate ourselves and our views when it puts us at odds with our team or the people we care about. Uncomfortable, but really necessary.
I went to bed last night wondering what is the opposite of FEAR. Nothing came to mind immediately for me, or nothing that seemed exactly right anyway.
This is hardly an original ponderable on my part, but I wanted to research and see what resonated the most for me. You won’t believe how much comes up on a google search on this topic. Here are a few others: hope, love, bravery, courage, faith, trust, fearlessness, gallantry, unconcern, audacity, calm…and many more.
Out of all of the answers I thought and read about, I landed on CURIOSITY. When I feel most fearful, the more I know the less fearful I am. When I thought about the other possibilities, curiosity kept bubbling up again and again.
Please let me know, let’s start a dialogue.
diagnosed with ADHD inattentive presentation. I’ve suspected this for years, but at this stage in my life it was becoming unmanageable. As an artist and mother of young kids I naturally had to shift gears constantly just to keep things running in our household. There were endless ways I could stave off boredom and feed my brain’s insatiable hunger for disruption, distraction and change.
I could hide my challenges quite easily because the whole universe was operating in a constantly distracted way. The endless buzz in the world rewarded my brain with “quick fixes” and made me believe I was managing just fine.
Then four things collided at roughly the same time.
1. My children became more independent and my day to day responsibilities shifted.
2. My husband, children and friends were telling me that I was leaving out crucial information in my communication AND I was getting defensive about it.
3. I studied positive psychology and the necessity on both a personal and societal level to quit spinning, slow down, reflect and get more focused on how I want to spend my energy and talents.
4. I turned fifty.
I know people joke about the endless diagnoses out there. I’m a little OCD or that’s my ADHD talking or I can’t get that done because of poor executive function etc. I was resistant for years because I didn’t want to be off the hook for the behaviors that were affecting my life and those around me. I did however, need some answers and solutions for help to narrow my focus and allow me to better utilize my skills in both my private and public life.
Now being able to look back at the ways ADHD manifested in my life has provided a certain amount of ease and less shame about my deficits than before. As a child I was highly adaptive, creative and curious about so many different things. However, I also was a day dreamer, a poor tester, I rarely followed directions and was often told that I wasn’t working to my potential. I was always armed with loads of ideas and didn’t follow through on them. I created a narrative around my deficits that I was less than.
I fell asleep during the science portion of my ACT test in high school. I got the minimum score required to go to private schools in South Dakota. I also dozed off during the ADHD test I recently took with a psychologist. I think my brain was bored and the competition of it all wasn’t enough motivation for me. I wasn’t getting any juice so my brain just shut it down.
I recently remembered as a high school kid reading one page of the dictionary before I went to sleep to boost my vocabulary. When I think of this now I believe I was trying to find ways to boost how my intelligence presented to others because it was less quantifiable than my siblings and my peers. The really smart kids wanted to be friends with me, but my grades were very average unless I loved the subject. Then I could focus. Thank you English and creative writing.
My husband remembered that my Dad told him when we got married that he would have to help me with certain things—paying bills, insurance and so on. My Dad knew on some level that I had some challenges with organization. I recently found insurance paperwork he had requested in the 1980s for me to sign and send back. I never did. I guess he asked me again.
I did all of the stuff I was told to do to quiet my brain and help my focus—manage stress, exercise, meditate, rest and eat well…and yet it just wasn’t quite enough. I’m taking a low dose of a psychostimulant on the days more focus is required of me. Now, with greater knowledge about my brain’s chemistry, I have renewed hope and focus about my life.
So, I’m unsure why I need to share this now on such a public forum. I guess I feel that storytelling is what we need now more than ever in this uncertain world. I believe that a willingness to be vulnerable and share our stories and fears is very important in 2017.
I don’t want to hide behind this diagnoses. I really am the only one that needs to understand my brain. However, if my story helps you share your story than this was well worth my time. We are all in this together.
The funny thing about being an artist—it just never feels like I’ve created enough. NEVER. I needed to look back for some perspective if I’m going show some compassion toward myself and be my own best friend. I went through my images month by month to remind myself that, although I can always create more—I’ve actually done a lot.
Here’s PART I: January to June 2016.
January: I painted this mural in the entryway of our home. It took me about 10 hours to paint it on New Year’s Day. It brings me joy everyday as I walk into our home. I’m eyeing other walls now and looking for some dates when no one is home for a long stretch.
February: These were a few of my favorite images from a trip to the Dominican Republic with my husband and daughters. Oh, that blue…
March: I shot this image of my husband with our cat, Karen. It is one of my favorite images I’ve ever taken. Our cozy family life wearing great socks surrounded by color. I worked a lot layering my photos with images of my hometown and two-lane South Dakota roads. I wrote about identity. I worked on my positive psychology coursework. I worked with artist, Elizabeth Bunsen ecodyeing textiles and learning about that process. I made a handbag that referenced the South Dakota two-lane image I like to work with for a group show in April at SEABA.
April: I went with Elizabeth Bunsen to assist with an ecodyeing workshop in the magical encaustic castle—an art space in Lexington, Kentucky run by artist Patricia Baldwin Seggebruch. What a remarkable group of women! We made beautiful things. We laughed. We cried. My great nephew, Liam was born in South Dakota while I was in Kentucky. My new creative friends celebrated with me. What an experience.
Here’s the link to her space to see what other workshops are available.
May: My friend, Maggie and I took four teenage girls to Quebec City to see Justin Bieber as a 16th Birthday present to my twin daughters. What a beautiful city and the false eyelashes looked amazing as they headed out to catch their Uber to the Videotron Centre.
June: I shot this image of Vergennes, Vermont that I love. My husband and I traveled to Ireland for a friend’s 50th birthday. This photograph was taken in Innishmore. I sold this painting “She Often had a Plan B” in the new shop below my studio: DEEP 6. I found a group of amazing photos at a second hand shop. I cleaned my studio.
Next up, whenever I get to it—July-December.
Humans are an intricate system of bones, nerves, blood and memories. We all have a unique internal map that shaped us. Interior geography is the exploration of our inner world and the hardwired routes from our childhoods that guide our dispositions and chosen paths. Exploring our interior geography honors the wisdom we possess from our journey and provides an opportunity to discover new territories we want to explore, but haven’t quite found a path toward yet.
Hillbilly Elegy is all about J. D. Vance’s interior geography. In this brave memoir about growing up in a poor American Appalachian town, Vance shares the heartbreak of constant childhood disruption and the deep love of the people who were rooting for his success. He tries to write without judgement and this allows him some generosity (and a little distance) to try to understand the people and the landscaped that shaped him. To me this book was an invitation to look back at my childhood and take a look at my interior geography—both the chosen paths I’m proud of and the well worn paths I now need to block access to going forward.
My husband, Jeff and I listened to “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance over Christmas. The author is the reader which lends a certain intimacy to the audible version. Here are a few thoughts that surfaced for me.
1. I think a lot of us can recognize “Hillbilly” qualities in our upbringing regardless of our social class. Even though I was raised relatively affluent in a small, South Dakota farm town I can easily relate to many of the themes J. D. Vance references in this memoir. As we listened to the book, Jeff observed that it could’ve been titled: Reactive or Judgemental Household Elegy—I would guess that most of us grew up with some judgement in our homes. “Hillbilly” in the title might make you think it will be hard to relate to. It’s not. J. D.’s honesty about his childhood—poverty, abuse, clan loyalty, secrets, addiction and his family’s response to all of it are profound.
I was also struck by the way we tend to identify poverty only in financial terms. I believe a poverty of the mind can manifest in ways that deeply affect our lives too. J. D. Vance describes this as well as he does financial poverty. When social, cultural, political or religious views challenge our ability to see the bigger picture of things around us—outside influences are perceived as threatening and we’re left with even less understanding of our differences. I’m optimistic that if we focus more on our similarities we will be more unified.
Like the author, I’m trying to not be judgemental here and look through a more sociological lens. I know I’m guilty at times of not seeking more understanding of the world around me. For heaven’s sake, I’m a liberal and I live in Vermont. I get it. If you’re familiar with the Hunger Games series, I’ve been joking that Vermont is like living in District 12. I’m willing to admit that I’m living in a bubble and Hillbilly Elegy helped burst it a little bit.
By examining our childhoods, we can gain some insight and are given an opportunity for self-correction if necessary. This brings me to the second reason this book was so important to me and well-timed.
2. The shadow side of our personality traits. I’ve always been really proud of my independent spirit. It’s my nature and was well-honed during my childhood. I had a lot of freedom growing up in a small town in South Dakota and it allowed me to exist “under the radar” in a sense. My whole adult life I thought it served me quite well. However, while listening to this book, as my tears flowed, I realized that my fierce independence has not always been an asset to my parenting or my marriage. Any perceived threat (big or small) to my independence or sovereign self can set me off—my own reactivity or judgement. That’s the shadow side of my independence and it ain’t pretty. Here’s the upside; now that I’ve recognized this in myself, well shit, I can’t unsee it now.
Thank you J. D. Vance, oh and Jeff too.
This insight gives me an opportunity to take a moment and see if what’s being asked of me is truly a threat to my independent, sovereign self (probably not) and I can try to respond like a grown-up and not be reactive. I’m writing this for me, for accountability regarding something I’ve learned and cannot unlearn now. J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy gave me a little more courage to write about my life and for that I’m grateful.
FROM GOODREADS “From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.
Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.”
There is a unique beauty the prairie possesses. The starkness out here is as rugged as the frontier spirit. This is a part of the world that would prefer things stay known, steady and traditional. It never does. Shifts occur.
I’m visiting my family in South Dakota now. I can see both the independence I reveled in as a teenager AND the uncertainty about how the world is changing. Understanding this duality fosters my curiosity about things unknown. I like that. I’m grateful for both my independence and my deep roots here.
Life is a puzzle, people are puzzling and sometimes all we can do is keep looking between the cushions or under the couch for the piece we’re missing.
Let’s all keep seeking understanding and looking for the missing pieces folks. Let’s ask more questions of eachother than lecture. I do believe a little curiosity can change the world or at least your holiday table. It will be a much shorter drive home from Grandma’s if everyone felt heard and respected.
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