Welcome to the Reading Alcove ~ A Place on the Window Seat

This is the official blog of Victoria Adams, a published author.  It has been established as the contact point between the readers and the author and as a “window seat” where we can talk about the books and subjects that we find of interest.  The primary interests here are Caregiving Backstage (because I am one), Humanities for the Unbound Mind (because I love all related subjects), and Natural Science from the Observation Deck (because I am an amateur Natural Scientist whose heroes spend a lot of time thinking). It is the type of place where you can imagine grabbing a cup of tea, a comfy thing to sit or sprawl on and a warm place in the sun (or a quiet place to listen to the rain).  It is a place where we will explore the world of the word together.

Courtesy WANA Commons, Rebecca Burray

Courtesy WANA Commons, Rebecca Burray

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Define the problem, find the solution.

A couple of years ago I was the director of a housing agency serving a Native American nation. It was a learning experience I shall always cherish. During my stay I often found that we were so busy putting out fires that we often had no time to find the ignition point. So, I created a mantra to give us a different focus, and a hope of solving things – define the problem, find the solution.

From Facebook post by REALfarmacy.com

This meme snagged from Facebook is an excellent example of what can happen when we focus on the immediate problem and lose sight of the contributing factors. Just now my beloved country is in turmoil. I understand that there are many nations facing the same type of issues. Growing trends toward violence, misogyny, homophobia, racism, intolerance of all shapes and sizes against anything or anyone that is not “us.” But I am here to tell you that whatever our leaders do, or whatever their motivations may be, they are only the symptoms, not the disease. Many of them live in a different universe, perceiving the world around them as a tool to achieve their goals, not as people to lead, support, protect and defend. They are a substantial number of us writ large. After all, by desire or by apathy, we put them there. But they are not the problem. They are the distraction.

I will grant you that we have some very serious problems in the governing chambers of our world. We have leaders that utterly refuse to accept the evidence in front of them that something not very good is happening to our global climate. That we are very nearly, if not past, the point of doing something effective in the short term to maintain a climate that will support us in any way recognizable. We have those who acknowledge wrong doing but somehow believe that it’s okay because, after all, it protects my team, gets what I want (but may not need), gives me a sense of getting back at the world for untold and unknown sins. How’s that working out?

There are so many other issues that are bubbling and boiling and agitated by people who have no understanding of the situation, the causes, or the results. We are like married folk, screaming at the top of our lungs because someone didn’t do the laundry right when the real issue is that there isn’t enough money to fill the tank and get to work. We have optical illusion of the mind and it is time, very much past time, that we stop and find a way to see the picture differently. To define the problem.

I know there are people that are going to respond that they, surely they, have their head on straight and understand the dire situation we are in. That’s nice. Really it is. I would ask you, how well are you doing at conveying those convictions to others? Do you and your hoped-for convert communicate, or do you talk past each other? Facts are not always useful in a conversation requiring reason. Yes, that is what I meant. Sometimes facts must be wrapped up in something more powerful. Sometimes the facts need to be converted into a language the other person understands. While you are showing how smart you are, they are hearing that you don’t understand their life, their needs, their fears. Sometimes direct communication doesn’t go anywhere. Sometimes you need to look somewhere other than the door in front of you.

As I approach the publication of my project on Job, I hope to convey something of the message I believe that book holds in smaller bits, and in ways that are pertinent to today’s issues. That was, after all, the point of writing the thing. I believe that the Book of Job is a call to learn. To seek out the creation in order to understand the Creator, if only a bit better. So, lets walk together and consider…and maybe learn something along the way that will help us out of this spiraling path to mutual destruction.

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Coddiwomple – the choice to move toward the unknown.

So, here we are on the first day of the year 2020. An arbitrary point in time defined in a thousand ways since recorded history began and measured with a metric we know to be flexible. Yet, we are drawn to a place we can say, “going forward I shall.” Last year about this time I published a blog about ditching the concept of New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I took my inspiration from Melinda Gates and chose a word to carry me through the coming months. That word was Season. It served me well.

I believe I found that when I wanted things to move faster, I remembered to slow down. As hard as it was there were times when frustration would set in, then the peace of timing would settle in. I sincerely believe that attitude of waiting “to the fullness of time” is what supported me to the moment I received an offer to publish my work. The timing was exquisite. That sense of waiting-with-hurried-anticipation has prepared me for the work required to execute a substantial change coming in my day job.

I think I also worked harder to be the seasoning, the influence that took away a bitter sting, or made the ordinary more interesting. Although not always successful, I worked at remembering the things I learned while working on the reservation about waiting until others were finished before I hopped in. Still working on that. I get very passionate about things at times.

With all the lessons I learned, and hope to continue learning, this year needs a different focus. Life is not all about waiting, about being the seasoned influence. At some point we need to find the way to move forward, even if we are uncertain of where the journey will take us. For this year I have chosen a wonderful old English slang word: coddiwomple. It is defined as travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. What a wonderful word; a call into the unknown with confident strides and willing wonder.

Shi Shi Beach – 2019 Personal Collection

I see this word as a natural match to the process of becoming seasoned. A way to take the lessons learned from all the bits and pieces of what it means to flavor, to wait, to grow mature, to feel the perfect moment—and move forward.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that our goals, our hopes, our dreams, are shapes of the things we wish to accomplish. Sometimes how we get there may surprise us. Sometimes the best laid plans are changed, for better or worse, and we plot a new course. I firmly believe that if we invest ourselves in one and only one outcome, we destroy our ability to deal with life’s unexpected events. If we become seasoned as the old pine with no flexibility left in its limbs winter storms can have a devastating effect while the sapling survives.

I like this concept of moving forward with confidence in a direction that could change, to a destination that might not exist. We cannot be open to opportunities if we are not attentive, flexible, ready to see something that can be rewarding if we take a slightly different path. In some cases, we may need to change everything about the journey, with purpose.

There’s a song that always touches me when I think about life’s choices. It’s about keeping your mind open, keeping your spirit free, taking chances, and in the end—choosing to dance. May 2020 bring you blessings with the challenges and a sense of purpose. Hold tight to your most treasured thoughts and hopes and venture with purpose into the unknown. Last but not least, I Hope you Dance.

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In the season of gratitude, is “thank you” enough?

This is the season for gratitude. From Veteran’s Day through the many faith-based celebrations clustered around the turning of the year, it is a time when we at least try to look beyond the glitter and find a reason to be grateful, a reason to have hope. In that spirit, now and through the year, we find ourselves wanting to thank those we feel helped to make this life possible. I often hear a brief conversation, a sentence or two at an event, that acknowledges the service of a veteran. Each time such brief moments make my heart hurt. I’m sorry, but “thank you” is not enough.

Photo by Mike Hashisaki, Plains, MT

My teen years were spent in the Vietnam era. I lived in a city that was surrounded by military bases and the cost of that commitment contributed much to how I perceive the world. There are those that will tell you it is mere urban legend that if our troops wore their uniforms when returning from active duty, they risked ridicule and abuse. No, no legend. I was there. Whatever my thoughts were on why we were there and how the “military action” was executed, I wept when I saw those who had suffered so much, who came home broken in ways not always obvious, abused in their own country. This is the root of my issue with “thank you for your service.” Even for today’s vets, it is not enough.

I like to find ways to actively pursue solutions, ways to help. I am a fixer, but I also like to be effective. Growing up with veterans, I learned a great deal of what went on in their heads, and I wanted to help. That sometimes requires finding out from the source of your compassion just what it is that is needed. Sometimes we get it right.

Veterans in this country face horrific statistics. According to the NIH in a report published on the Department of Veteran Affairs website, 1.7 million veterans received treatment in a VA mental health specialty program in fiscal 2018. Programs included treatment for PTSS, substance use disorders, behavioral problems and a host of other issues. This number includes only those that accessed VA resources.

The 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report published by the Department of Veteran Affairs notes that 6,000 vets commit suicide each year. This crosses gender and age boundaries. That is an average of 16 men and women each and every day.

While you are saying “thank you” to the spiffy looking fellow in a uniform at the local restaurant, are you thinking of the scruffy fellow on the sidewalk that hasn’t had a bath in who knows when? According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9% of the homeless population in this country is made up of vets. Some 37,878 broken spirits; men and women who just don’t see a way to cope in society. Some, of course, choose to separate themselves from a society and a culture that cannot comprehend the places they’ve been and the things they have seen.

Doing what I do, even after years of accumulated stories and nights sitting up with friends dealing with things that would not leave their heads, I still felt it necessary to do the research. I asked a friend of mine if I could visit one evening and grill her husband on what he saw as the greatest need for vets today. His answer might surprise you; education and job placement support.

The GI Bill, established to provide help for education in trades or professions is an elusive benefit that changes with when you served, how long, and where. Vietnam was a battle ground between the president and congress and the legal status of Vets in the conflict was ambiguous at best. This impacted many of the benefits which may have been available to men and women who served in that theater.

The other issue he noted was job placement assistance. He felt that the least the military branches could do was to help veterans transition into civilian life. Knowing how to blow things up is not always a useful civilian skill. Leadership skills, logistics, technology, mechanics, construction, and a myriad of other skills most certainly are. During my interview he expressed his frustration when he returned home after his first term of service. He thought he was only suited for jobs in the security sector. Never really finding the right fit, he finally elected to re-enlist in a different branch. His second time home he was lucky. His mother-in-law pointed out that all of his time as a leader in the military had trained him as a manager. He applied to a position and found a new career. Even if a veteran had a solid career before serving, that job may no longer be a fit.

I don’t think it is important to find the perfect job. However, it is important to find a place that reconnects a person to society and gives them some sense of being of use, some sense of belonging. Part of transitioning to civilian life is adjusting to a less intense more loosely associated culture than the intense life or death relationships of foreign service. Success occurs in degrees; failure can be deadly.

Above all, we spend millions training our military personnel to do damage to others. That is what war is. Although we deploy to a few “nation building” exercises, such deployment often occurs in hostile environments. Even when stationed with allies, our military people are usually not culturally assimilated by the host nation. Military service is an intense training course on how NOT to deal with the society in which you find yourself. Then you come home, and there is no one there that can begin to understand that separation from the wider world while becoming ever more dependent on highly disciplined, insular core group.

Where does one go to help with such things? Not everyone has time (but some do), not everyone has money to donate (but some do). Sometimes it is a matter of letting someone know that there is a resource out there, they just need to reach out. Such as we have, we give – that’s why “thank you” is never quite enough.

With a little research, I found several organizations that specialize in job assessment and placement. Remember, the local VFW and American Legion posts are always willing to help sort things out. Both the VFW and American Legion often have counselors and staff to help a vet find the help needed. Local posts can be found on the websites (https://www.vfw.org/ and https://www.legion.org/).

Also, check out these links for information on how to get careers shifted back to a civilian focus.

http://www.veterans2work.org/veterans.html
https://www.militaryonesource.mil/military-life-cycle/separation-transition/employment-education/programs-that-hire-veterans
https://www.dav.org/veterans/employment-resources/

There are other ways to be proactive. There are many organizations that do amazing things such as providing companion dogs, offering financial assistance and counseling, and providing mental health services. There is also support such as Music Corp, Wounded Warrior Project, and Honor Flight. Final Salute is an organization that focuses on homeless women vets and their children. This season make it a point to find a better thank you.

https://www.finalsaluteinc.org/Home.html
https://www.honorflight.org/
https://www.operationhomefront.org/
https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/
https://www.co.thurston.wa.us/distcrt/services/mental-health-and-veterans-court/
http://nchv.org/index.php/getinvolved/getinvolved/how_you_can_help/
https://www.vetdogs.org/Default.aspx
https://veteransfamiliesunited.org/financial-assistance/
https://warriors1st.org/
http://www.musicorps.net/Home.html
https://www.workingdogsforvets.org/
https://tcvs.us/

 

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…to the least of these

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

This morning I posted a link to a blog I follow and mentioned that I believed being a decent human being was our number one goal. Oh, I also mentioned something that validated other beliefs and faiths. That earned a punch back. I was breaking the first commandment and following Jesus should be my number one goal. I responded that, in my opinion, doing what Jesus said to do was an act of following him. I also referenced Matthew 25:31-46. Then I thought for a bit and decided cherry picking may not be the best approach and I should widen my response. You know me, FB posts often grow into blog posts so here we go.

I have recently completed a manuscript that studies the Book of Job. This was a years’ long project. I have been told that the book is “thoroughly researched,” that the research is “dissertation level,” and that “it is the most comprehensive treatment of the Book of Job that I have come across.” Some of the concerns expressed were whether I could connect with a general market, or if I was going to be limited to those who study these things. I hope not. You see, I still believe there are those who are not scholars of sacred texts who hear the voice of our ancestors while they try to piece together what it means to live in a world that often passes understanding, that is often beyond our reason.

My studies took me all over the world and sent me to the words of many ancient civilizations and spiritual/ethical leaders. I found a drumbeat, one that spoke deeply to who I wanted to be, and I chose to share it.

For this bit, let’s focus on the Judeo-Christian scriptures (hopefully my Jewish friends will bear with me in this usage). Scripture wars where one side says, “what about?” and the other side says, “well here’s one for you,” get us nowhere. As noted above, I responded with the parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, a favorite of mine, which talks about how we treat fellow beings as being the metric by which our soul is measured. Can I back that up with any other passage? Well, yes, several. Here are a few.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 is quoted often these days since it admonishes Israel on the doorstep of Canaan to love the resident foreigner, at least in part because once you were one.

Isaiah 10:1-4 is a declaration that those who enact unjust policies are as good as dead. That when you deprive the oppressed and steal from those who are widowed or orphaned, destruction is assured.

Matthew 5:1-12. The Sermon on the Mount would do us all good in this day and age. The common name of the Beatitudes says much about how we should view fellow beings.

Matthew 19:16-22, often interpreted as a mandate against wealth, it is really a well-defined lesson on how to apply wealth. It also has something to say about rules. The “rich man” who approached Jesus swore up and down that he was following the commandments and yet he felt something was lacking. He was told he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor.  I don’t think Jesus was trying to tell rich people to be poor, I think he was making a comparison between following all the rules and having compassion. I know a few rich folks that use great mountains of their wealth to make this world a better place. Non-believing rich people. Can a person of faith do any less?

I’ve always loved 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I’m afraid I know a lot of clanging cymbals.

There are so many more passages that address how we treat others. Scripture also addresses the treatment of animals, and the earth that provides us with sustenance. There is a sense of responsibility when you are instructed not eat meat that was killed in a manner that poisons the flesh with the adrenaline of fear. Or, to eat those creatures which are scavengers and predators. Letting the land rest every seven years helps protect the fertility of the ground, gleaning allows those who have no other resources to find food and nourishment. Beyond the wars and smitting and flooding, there is much about how to be a decent human being; even when things are not going our way.

That’s where my hero steps in. Job tests the boundaries of what it means to live a righteous life, a life according to the rules. The rules so many treasure so dearly that humanity itself is left behind. Job demands answers, and (in my opinion) he gets answers. If the chapters referred to as the science lessons are to mean anything, it is crucial to put them in context. Once you can speak from a time and a place relevant to the author’s thoughts, wide vistas open and a light shines on an ever-creating universe. A universe where not every nanosecond or picosecond is focused on our personal wellbeing. Once we learn to see the world from a perspective Terry Pratchett called the universal view, then doing what is right in the world becomes a natural goal. You follow a Creator by becoming a positive and compassionate part of that creation.

Whether you are an academic, a curious layperson, or a member of the general public that just wants to see a different point of view on why there is suffering in the world, and what you can do in the face of it, come join me in the author’s study while we explore the riddle of Job.

Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering – projected publication early 2020.

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The ghosts of memories

A brief bit of verse found while sorting through piles of papers in the garage. Written by me (Victoria) sometime in the mid to late 90s:

 

I don’t believe in fates or stars,

so how is it you found me?

You see so much of how I see,

You touch my thoughts so naturally.

You see the sparkles and the tears,

dancing deep within my eyes.

Please forgive me when I’m startled,

by the places that you find,

look gently through the pages of my mind.

 

Courtesy of MysticsArtDesign – Pixabay.

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Making Salt

Another post-gone-blog. Here’s my thing. I have an issue with racism for reasons which may seem contradictory. First, I prefer to see humans in all their many colors, quirks, cultures, and variety – created as diverse as any part of creation and yet sharing some fundamental biological and neurological traits. I am also a realist and I know that, depending on where you live (to some extent) there is a varying degree of disparity in success, freedom to choose, and freedom to pursue dreams. Even if those dreams seem to be stereo-typical. I dream of the day when adjectives are not required and it is okay for a ______ to be really good at ______, or to love or wish to be _____. I sincerely believe humanity as a species is one and that we need to grow up and understand that from our most inner core. We will survive the challenges of this globe in no other way.

Here comes the second part. In order for me to be part of that change, I try to learn as much as I can about what it is like from the other side of the glass. I spent nearly nine months working for a PNW tribe. I loved the people, the land, the traditions, and the impossibly tight and complex relationships among a population that has lived in this country for thousands (not hundreds) of years. And yet, as much as I felt loved, respected, even occasionally honored in small ways, I was never really part of it. No matter how hard I tried, for many I was an outsider and would never be anything else. That leaves me asking that if two sides who are really trying to understand each other can’t, how are we going to get there?

I wrote a poem not long after Pulse. Part of that pain was that although I have experienced some occasionally life-threatening events in my life, it was still difficult to use my highly developed empathy to walk in some shoes. (Empathy, by the way, is sometimes a fine-tuned radar that sets off klaxon horns at the first sign of possible danger). I used to quip that to walk in another’s shoes for a foot or a mile, you had to first remove your own. That, apparently, is a hard thing to accomplish whichever side of the glass you occupy. I was never homeless, and although there were times when my mother and I scrounged around to find enough change for dinner, I didn’t go hungry. We went without – a lot. I lived through abuse from a number of sources. I was in my forties before I could sleep through the night. My life was openly threatened. And yet when I thought of the people dancing in celebration of freedom that night being shot down in rage – I could find no shoes to fit me well enough to walk with them.

I do not expect to walk up to a member of any race (or any minority for that matter) and say, “I feel your pain,” and expect to be received with open arms. I do wish to have conversations. Some folks say that a white person doesn’t have the right to say, “but such and such happened to me.” But I don’t see how we can communicate unless we start with the small threads of common experience. Sorry may not be nearly enough, but we have to start somewhere. My experience may not be nearly as traumatic as yours, but perhaps you can admit that I at least have a few words of the language you wish to speak. No, I’ve never been homeless or hungry; but I thoroughly understand how one bank fee, or the cost of buying something one thing at a time because you don’t have enough to do any different, can keep you in a prison of financial deprivation. This is an article I read this week about what it means to fight for financial freedom and how fragile a concept that is. Maybe reparations are not the answer in this country, I honestly don’t know. However, we do have to get real about what “fair share” means and how that should be reflected in our policies.

I remember getting wrapped up in an argument with someone of color who has a fiery, legal, mind. She was a friend on Facebook, and although I deleted my portion of the tread and stepped away, I did not block or unfriend. I retreated to a “respectful” distance because it became obvious that in my attempt to describe how I felt about something so that, perhaps, she might understand why someone else was taking a particular view, was not wanted. I felt that this was a case of, I wish to see from this perspective and none other, and she assumed that was where I was as well. So, how do we learn? How do we find common ground? If White Western Culture finally arrives at a place where the members understand the damage done during the long climb to prominence and begin to try to make amends – will that apology be accepted? What does it look like to say, “I’m sorry,” and mean it, communicate it, and receive at least an invitation to sit at the table and work things out?

I yearn to be an effective ally in so many challenges we face today. Yet, I’m not sure how to get there. I find it hard to share what I see with “white folks” because I’m not all that sure what I feel is acceptable to those under attack. Even if I get the message right, is the delivery viewed as posturing, not coming from enough depth of experience, or lacking in the right shade of conviction? Perhaps what we need is a return to Aesop’s Fables. Stories that depict common errors, goals, desires, and hurts so that, at last, we begin to share the pain in a productive way. Superheroes are not always white, nor do they always wear a uniform. Sometimes they just go to the beach and make salt.

Photo Credit to The Gandhian Way. gandhitalk.blogspot.com

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When things align…

Suffering

A reflective weekend wrapped up in the emotions of my agency’s annual fund-raising dinner and the process of formatting Job for advanced reader copies. This is all such an emotional roller coaster so I will do what I always do when I need to sort through things – share.

Let’s start with Friday night. I’ve been working for Behavioral Health Resources  for over a year now. I love the people, I love the work, and I feel I have sincerely found that spot I always wanted. Friday night was our annual dinner event. Since I work in the administrative offices, I was privy to some of the hard work that went into putting this event together. Our focus this year was our school-based programs.

We always have a silent auction. Baskets are contributed by staff, board members, sponsors, and other interested parties to put up for auction. Some truly creative ideas made their way to the table. There were so many interesting combinations that created festive themes including several which focused on our kids. We also have an auctioneer who comes with all sorts of fun ways to raise money, silly games to get folks involved, competitive games to draw out the best in us; and then there were raffles. This was all sprinkled throughout the evening that included live music, a catered dinner, and stuff about kids. Let me tell you a bit about that.

Folks at our agency put together a video to explain something of what we do. No real clients were involved, but through the narration/interview of one of our Program Managers, our guests were introduced to just how much BHR does for children in the three counties where we have offices. He told us that we were now represented in 29 schools within our service region. We are not just “on call.” We are there, addressing problems that include depression, anxiety, behavioral issues, and early diagnosis of mental disorders. Our clinicians work in high-intensity situations every day to help kids learn to cope and develop the skills to be successful, all while negotiating goals with teachers and administrators.

The video (using actors) described a case regarding a young man who was banned from school due to aggressive behavior. By working closely with him, our team was able to get him re-integrated with his classmates and to help him accomplish his school requirements. He is looking forward to college. During a talk given afterward, our Program Manager described several cases where being there mattered. One involved a young woman who had gotten out of bed that morning prepared to commit suicide. She made herself one promise. If anyone reached out to her that day, anyone that indicated they cared how she felt, she wouldn’t follow through. One of our clinicians had the privilege of being that one person. Our agency serves approximately 500 children throughout three counties. Although not always as dramatic, every single day our clinicians are working on giving the next generation tools to be mentally healthy, successful adults.

We were also entertained by the folks from Olympia Family Theater. This non-profit organization uses the tools of theater to teach, to encourage creativity, and to touch lives with joy. I can tell you they had a room full of adults roaring like lions, voting for the prettiest feather, and encouraging good choices as we watched Aesop’s Fables played out in adorable skits. It was an emotional and rewarding evening. So many people gathering together to have fun and support good things in their community. And I get to work there.

As much as we love our children, our focus is on mental health in many forms throughout our service region. We have programs that support Pregnant and Parenting Women. These programs do amazing things to help moms shake the stigma of mental health issues, break the chain of substance abuse, and learn to be good parents. We offer outpatient services and have recently opened our more intensive in-house program where mom’s come and stay – with baby – to get help to find productive solutions for their lives and the care of their children. And there is sooo, much more we do. We are involved in assertive community treatment programs, integrated programs, residential support, and community information programs designed to chip away at the stigma attached to mental health challenges. And I get to work there.

This brings me to the meme. I’ve seen the unclaimed quote before, and it is one that I have chosen as a guidepost in so many things I do. I no longer subscribe to some philosophical debate about why a God we have defined as X allows Y to occur. There are reasons for that, and I have worked through those reasons thoroughly in a manuscript soon to be on its way out into the world to see if it can find a home. Redefining Job and the Conundrum of Suffering is very much about what our responsibility is when it comes to dealing with those who face challenges of whatever nature.

I find it all a bit scary at times as the things that are so important to me find alignment between my “day job” and my love of writing. It is an amazing journey, and I hope you will join me.

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Filed under Giving Back, Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job