Friday, July 13, 2012

LIFE: THE LONG ROUTE HAS MORE SCENERY

For me, life started out like a stage in a play. The stage was set before I was born, since my parents and family were there before I arrived in the scene. I had no choice in that. Setting my own scene (i.e. living my own life) became important, and as I grew older I realized that although I couldn’t change the stage, I could write my own script, and act it out. My story/play is long because it involves multiple moves to different states, and multiple schools, marriages, roles, and three children. There was a lot of drama and little funding.

Scenes required stagehands (helpers) and co-creators, who worked with me so that life (the stage) disappeared as the vivid scenery upon it transformed not just me, but also the audience (public, friends, co-workers, etc.). Experience and learning has taught me that the real scenery of my own life has been visualized and actualized by taking the long route--doing things the hard way, making the wrong choices, going with the flow, and planning for better things in between. Ultimately all of these “mistakes” have helped me understand myself better, in order to help others.

The long route home has been interesting. Even “home” has a certain ethnocentric connotation to it that invokes feelings, sounds, smells, tastes, and images we’ve all come to expect in western society and the nuclear family… a husband and wife, children, a house, a good job. Home, to me, is where laughter ideally overrides the tears, where pleasant odors from the kitchen emanate throughout the house-–not just at special occasions, but every day. Home is where babies/children giggle when you tickle their toes. It’s where the house you buy or build is something to be proud of, and where retirement comes in a way where you can relax, or even tour the world. The world is my home.

CHILDHOOD

I was born in Mississippi, but when I was 1 year old my dad, who was a minister, and my mom and brothers moved to a little town called Las Cruces, New Mexico. My first memories were there, but we soon traveled around the country in an old car, pulling a small travel trailer, so that my dad could preach at churches around the country for 9 months straight. By age four we settled south of Las Cruces, in El Paso, Texas. All of my elementary school years were there, including the memory of when my friend Tammy and I skipped school; so we got in trouble the next day, causing her to punch me in the stomach for telling!

Just before I turned 11 we moved to Crystal River, Florida where the high-humidity winters were bitterly cold (especially if it froze, which was rare), and where swimming in the clear rivers and springs was the most important goal of the summer! After being abducted and raped at age 13 I didn’t like going outside much, although one of my best friends made me conquer that fear. The rapist was out of prison in 4 years, and I was extremely eager and happy to move back to El Paso about 1 month prior to his release!

MARRIAGES

By this time I had a new husband and a new baby boy. That marriage didn’t last long, though.

I later remarried in Las Vegas on our way to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we bought two acres, had two children, built a passive solar straw bale house that I designed, and where I realized that marriage was something much harder than I ever dreamt. Being made to feel like you aren’t worthy, and like you aren’t even the right gender, either, was too overwhelming (later I would get over this limited type of thinking). Texas lured me back home, especially since my parents and brothers still lived there.

I later married a geologist and I worked on issues in colonias (rural unincorporated communities that lack infrastructure) on the US-Mexico border. I was very happy in this marriage, but after two years a tragedy struck and ripped our family apart, taking us all down another three years later, and ended up in our divorce another three years after that, after me living alone for that last duration of time.

Even though I have had several husbands, and not all of my memories-–and ethnocentric views-–of what a “home” and “marriage” should be, actually came to be, I still have to say that it’s all about home.

HOME, SCHOOLING, & CAREER

Home, for me, is wherever I sleep. If I go camping and am out on a hike, I say, “I’m tired now; let’s go home,” [to the tent]. I also enjoy my independence, and a real home (i.e. a house) is what offers me that independence. It is independence from city-life, where the monopoly of the utility companies pervade peoples’ lives, and where light and sound pollution carry over into your house and ears, respectively. I always wanted to have a house, and to design it myself, and build it, and to do the same for others. That is not where I started my career or schooling, however.

Looking back, when my eldest son was a baby (in El Paso) I realized that the girls I saw laughing while walking across the street from their high school, in front of my car, had NO IDEA what it was like to be a 17-year-old mom, with a job, a car, insurance, bills, a husband, very little savings, no health insurance, no credit, and no idea what the future held in way of security. I was trying hard to deal with the many roles I had to play in my script of life, even though I was proud to be a mom, and felt that those happy-go-lucky teenagers were missing out on a lot. I realized, though, that they were working on having something I lacked-–a high school diploma.

It was then that I got my GED, and enrolled in community college. I had no idea what I wanted to be, or do, so I went through several majors during school, but due to my volunteering with the El Paso Solar Energy Association (EPSEA), I figured drafting and residential design was probably as close as I could get to something that interested me. I wanted to design and build passive solar homes. I wanted to learn about sustainability and living independently. I never did finish that associates degree in drafting, however. Role conflict was something that I was experiencing heavily during that time, and I just didn’t have time for everything I needed to do. I found myself in the middle of that divorce, and left the first house-–albeit a trailer-–I had ever bought.

The first piece of land (including the mobile home) that I ever owned was out in the desert east of El Paso, but it wasn’t until I lived in Nebraska with my next husband that I learned what true homesteading was about. We raised small livestock and other animals for food, and had an organic garden. I learned to can food and smoke homemade sausages, home school my kids, deal with a backed-up septic tank (homemade, by the previous owner) that we discovered was polluting our shallow water well, and we built our first passive solar straw bale house.

We were very poor, and times were hard, and I was then co-dependent upon a man who did not really love me. I had many jobs with a temporary service, but I knew I eventually wanted to be self-employed. I became a stay-at-home mom (and wanted to be there for my kids, like my mom was for me) for several years. The tug-of-war I felt between needing more income, and raising my babies was hard. I finally worked from home for some MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) “pyramid” companies, but they never seemed to work out.

Sometimes you have to just get completely out of a “scene” in order for the scenery to change. I moved back to El Paso, began working on contract (i.e., self-employed) for EPSEA, and eventually got a divorce, again.

One of my greatest achievements so far was to follow the inspiration of my last husband to give me the courage to go back to school. I finished my AA degree in 2005, and not only took geology courses (which really opened up my view of the planet), but also anthropology and sociology courses (which opened up my view of the world, and my/our place in it). It was then that I knew I wanted to be an anthropologist.

Paleoanthropology was my first interest, but the jobs were scarce; archaeology was my second choice, but I missed out on the field course I needed since it was given only once ever 3-4 years. Cultural anthropology and a minor in sociology opened my eyes and expanded my mind, and it matched perfectly well with the desire to help people, hear their stories, do research and document social aspects of peoples’ lives, write reports, and apply my knowledge to the real world.

I earned my Certificate in Applied Anthropology, and then transferred to Ashford University so I could obtain my degree in Social Science (with a concentration in Anthropology). Social justice, and research and writing, were my main interests, as well as other projects I keep working on (and old ones that continue to pop up into my life again and again, such as solar energy and home topics).

COMMUNITY

I feel that I can contribute to my community best if I’m a part of it, and don’t just live my private life out in the middle of nowhere, but engage actively in public life, surrounding myself with positive people. In the script of life it is akin to getting off one’s stage and engaging with the audience directly.

One of my goals was to help people in poorer areas (colonias in particular) to get their electricity back on due to laws that refused them access-–even if they’d had service for years. These laws were meant to go after corrupt developers, but had the unintended consequence of harming the very people it was intended to protect-–the colonia dwellers themselves. This was in Texas, and I quickly found out that the political power was too much for just me, alone, to fight. It would have taken working with the community at a deeper level, and years of dedication, to change it, which I did not have the energy for at the time, due to too many family losses during that time period.

Another goal was to deal with public policy, and begin a “Green Colonias Initiative” through my church (I just was voted as the Chair for the Social Justice Committee in Aug. 2008). Educating people on their rights, and providing avenues for discovery and growth, especially in ways of helping families in their home situation (“greening” up the colonias with eco-housing and energy efficient additions, and providing clean water and sewage for those who lack it) is a real void that needs to be filled. Sadly, the state of Texas is not doing such a great job for its citizens on the border, and although a worthy cause, again I did not have it in me to head this.

It’s taken me a long time to reach this point in my life, and I’ve had to endure a lot of hardships to come to fully understand (via experience) the plight of those who are poverty-stricken, and to know what it means to be a victim and powerless, how to find strength in numbers, and to recognize discrimination (and groupthink) against those who are considered “different” or as “outsiders,” or simply fall into the "normal" range (of sorts) and yet still be completely misunderstood.

At this point it really doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. I have always tended to cut my own way through the forest, and to make trails, name places, and map them to show others how to get there. Sometimes the scenery is literal, sometimes cultural, many times both. This is the planning and doing, plus the teaching and writing part of my reality.

Today I look forward to focusing on my relationships and nurturing those, my home and building a new one (mortgage free, and sustainable eco-green, for myself and others, and focusing on my future so I will not be found wanting again, financially. These things are coming together through my involvement in upcoming plans to help design and construct an eco-village in Washington state. And so the journey begins again... yet it also ties back together the many pieces from my past that help make me, "me."

All in all, though, helping others makes me realize that it’s a way to help myself-–to write my own life script-–and the beauty of diversity and peoples and circumstances is truly what makes up the many colors in the scenery of life. I finally feel like I am coming home.

I’m glad I took the long route home because the view is far clearer and magnificent!

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