Cultivating Intelligent Disobedience

“Loyal dogs, unfailing tool
They do what they have been trained to
With the eidolons, the minds are full
The evil ghosts of old
The evil ghosts of old
Insanity turns back at last
As soon as their food is done
And dog will raven dog
The claws crush bones, the claws crush bones
Claws crush bones, claws crush bones
Claws crush bones, claws crush bones
The one who disobeys
He learns a cruel lesson of bones and stones
Your dissidence objected
And it’s a basic skill to earn.” –Jinjer, Sit Stay Roll Over

I was trained like a dog to be perfectly obedient. My parents had rules for every type of behavior. We had to practice sitting still and being quiet before church, someone with a spoon hovering and watching for signs of boredom or kicking toddler legs, quick to train with a swat. When our parents were talking to other adults, we were to place a hand on their shoulder and wait, even if it took several minutes, until we were acknowledged. At the call of “Jeub kids!” or “Little Jeubers!” we would line up by birth order. Once in ordered attention, we were ready to go through the first rule. Mom cupped a hand around her right ear, and said, “What does this mean?”

We were to sing out, “Listen the first time!”

I don’t remember any of the rules after that one. I would watch the procession from the ceiling, something I wouldn’t learn to recognize as dissociation for years to come. Often, when mom was training us, one child would be spanked in front of the rest of us for not obeying quickly enough. Even more frequent was mom’s habit of lining us up to medicate us with endless homeopathic remedies. Refrigerated coconut oil – a tablespoon, chewed up raw. 32,000 International Units of Vitamin A per day. A dropper of bitter oregano oil under the tongue. A spoonful of colloidal silver. Even if it was a fight to swallow, disobedience was the key crime against the family unit. I hardened my stomach to fight any reaction, and to this day have a mild aversion to the taste of coconut. I’m still investigating the long-term health effects of the anti-vaxx alternative medical treatment I received, but what evidence I have indicates that confusion and control was a goal for my mother as she chose these treatments.

Being trained in this way, regardless of what I may never fully know about my mother’s medical endeavors, has had lasting effects on my mind.

Because I was expected to suppress emotion and idealize my family, with my parents as the eidolons, I survived in a sort of shell. What happened to me was not happening to ME, but to SHE who was going through whatever this life threw at HER every day. My survival instinct made me dissociate, while my parents’ agenda gaslit me into minimizing traumatic events. Those two put together means a lot of confusing memories, and putting together a puzzle of the past.

All of that to say, I have a lot of problems with authority.

My parents were my only authorities. They were my teachers, my pastors and biblical scholars, my boss and manager, my owners in many ways for many years. Because they brought such a warped view of childrearing into parenting, and they had the power to keep my world small, I didn’t question what I thought was true. That is, I stopped questioning after it became necessary to survive in the dream house.

But there are some dogs who are taught better than I was about how to question an authority.

One of the most important books I’ve ever read is Intelligent Disobedience by Ira Chaleff. In it, the author describes how guide dogs are taught to notice what their masters may not be able to see. That is, after all, the purpose of a seeing-eye dog. If a person with blindness cannot see an oncoming danger, the dog has to know how to recognize a threat and disobey.

If the dog can see an oncoming electric car, but their owner can’t hear it, the dog will be given two conflicting signals: to obey the order to cross the street, or to fight back, saving the life of their human. Chaleff goes into depth on how the training for these dogs take place, and he notes that negative reinforcement is never used. A dog that is punished, even verbally, for making the most logical decision in a situation, may have their ability to serve compromised.

With analysis including an exhaustive chapter on the Milgram experiments, the book addresses situational ethics and power structures with insightful perspectives. For me, reading it gave me a better relationship with the age-old question of free will. I’d been a free will defendant as a Christian, but post Christianity, when I read the work of Sam Harris on the subject, I was still not convinced that the dichotomy is fair. Jumping from one extreme to the next is an old habit of mine, likely learned. The extremes were always cooperation OR competition, free will OR total predestination, choice OR life. It had never occurred to me that sometimes the authority figure is in the wrong, and sometimes they are in the right. Or perhaps “right” and “wrong” are subjective, too.

Today, I still respond to my training. I still struggle to eat enough, my mouth fighting the flavors, the toxic doses. I still wander off in my head, so my friends can hardly get my attention without calling my name loudly. I still have that Kimmy Schmidt I-was-raised-in-a-cult persona, and I hate being defined by my past, when the only thing I knew about myself for a long time was what I was told about myself.

So of course I rebelled in the smallest of ways, jittering from shock as each day passed. Forgetting what I’d been told to do, leaving things out of place, sneaking off to read, avoiding housework and office work, procrastinating on important projects, and all the while being legitimately frustrated with myself for not having a better memory. The spots missing were just my own dissociation, jumping away from the chaos, the screaming children, the sounds of the Disney movies I’d memorized, my only education most days.

Should you only read one book before the end of the year, please read this one. This concept is what tamed my anarchist heart. The author writes about how to question bosses in ways that don’t make them feel undermined, how to technically follow orders while siding with justice, and how to disagree with an authority figure that has made a life-threatening oversight. I am finally learning to let go of what I thought was my own responsibility, because I know I can control so little – and paying attention to the details of what I can control is very helpful.

Cultivating intelligent disobedience means a lot of hard work and recovery from the trauma. I may not be able to end poverty and curable illnesses the world over. But I can stand up for myself. Even if it’s hard, and I’m fighting tears and trying to suppress the bitterness that rolls beneath the surface, I can stand up for myself.

Living with Injustice

It is not possible to discuss real solutions without talking about some difficult, painful things. Those things include genocide, slavery, oppression, exploitation, and labor camps.

I was taught that America had done none of these things. Even slavery was not really something America did, it was the Confederacy, and the north won, so we were completely free of guilt for slavery. Indigenous peoples were both savage and uncivilized, eating the hearts of missionaries, and sometimes providing food and information to the Pilgrims, who’d been sent to this land by providence.

I learned about the Trail of Tears on a TV show. I learned about Wounded Knee as an adult. When I began asking my parents questions about the conflicting histories I’d been presented with, I was given racist-colonial answers: there weren’t very many of them, they didn’t know how to take care of the land (read: for profit), and they went willingly to make room for the nice white people.

As I study the history that flies in the face of what I was taught, I realize that a lifetime is terribly short, and whole generations, multiple generations, can have their lives ripped out from under them.

When I picked up Sue Monk Kidd’s book The Invention of Wings from my host’s bookshelf, it was a salve for the throbbing, wounded sense of justice that rages in my core. The story follows two women – a girl from a wealthy slave-owning plantation, and the slave her parents try to give her. I didn’t realize until after I read it that it was based in reality. The main character is Sarah Grimke, a woman whose writings were so influential prior to the Civil War that suffragettes would later build their campaigns on her words.

It seemed unrealistic at first. Sarah was one of fourteen children, and she observed the injustice of slavery.

That’s not how it happens, I thought, assuming the book was pure fiction. I’ve been gaslit. Your normal is your normal. Slaveholding children didn’t question slavery. But here she was, a girl who hated her family’s position and willingness to exploit people for their labor. Someone who saw through the cracks, like I did. Someone who heard the screams as slaves were flogged for petty disobedience, who sank into melancholy (what they called depression at the time) over her own inability to make a difference.

Change doesn’t happen instantly. Billions of people are involved. Power structures are enforced with violence. To this day, the descendants of slaves are dealing with the poverty of exploitation, while the descendants of slaveowners still hold the wealth that was “created” with slave labor. To this day, indigenous peoples around the United States have limited access to resources, and have many health risks and a low life expectancy because we still have the land we stole, and we still send them cheap foods that fail to provide a healthy diet.

But reading Kidd’s retelling helped me. It gave me a chance to breathe, to rest. I do not have to solve the world’s problems in a day. I cannot singlehandedly fix the economy and the close the wealth gap. I am not going to convince the most powerful powers of the tyranny they represent. Knowing that something as awful as being exploited, knowing your own life is not your own, may not end tomorrow, reigns in my expectations.

When I started writing about economic disparity, I was in a rush. I spent fourteen hours on it the first day, and my partner had to gently pull me away from the computer. This is so important! I insisted. People are suffering today, now, here! How can I say it loudly enough to be heard against the grinding gears of the machine?

Now I’m studying, listening, and gathering my information carefully. There is no point in rushing, when the fact is that years and decades pass before change takes place. There is no point in depriving myself of sleep, entertaining my anxiety and linking it to my work, or sabotaging other projects for the sake of what I’m passionate about. The reason is simply this isn’t my fault, and I can’t fix everything.

Simple perhaps, but I fight it every day. I want to fix everything. I want to be the instigator of change. I want to be the person who stands up in the middle of things and says, “Hey! Stop hurting someone else to line your own pockets!” But every day, more killer cops are given slaps on the wrists for killing innocent people of color. And every day, my life is as ultimately disconnected from my immediate community, just like everyone else’s. We live next to each other, but do not speak to each other. That is how our society is now. The taboo of money keeps us silent to address the needs of our own communities.

The series isn’t over. There is still much to discuss. But as we pursue solutions, we need to realize a. this isn’t our fault and we can’t fix everything, and b. some solutions are better than others, and c. those solutions may be counterintuitive or counterculture or counter to our education and expectations.

Just because people have lived with slavery doesn’t mean slavery was okay. Just because people survived concentration camps and war and rape and all of the other atrocities mankind does to each other, doesn’t mean those atrocities should not come to an end, thanks to people realizing the flaws in their own ways.

But it does mean that if you want to help, you’ll have to take care of yourself. And sabotaging yourself over a world of sabotage merely helps the system.

I know everything isn’t going to be Utopia overnight, and it may never be. But in the past five years, my views on what an inclusive society might look like have changed drastically. So if all I can do is put a few words together that help push collective consciousness toward a just world where suffering is decreased instead of created, that’d be cool.

Surrendering to Science

My faith in God was not lost in a day.

It took many years of questioning, and it all started with competitive Apologetics speaking when I was a teenager. Later my journey included many friends made and lost who helped me learn about science, or who gave me the same redundant reasons to remain a Christian that I was quietly debunking. It lasted as I lost friends over being a Christian ally to gay, lesbian, and bi people (I knew about the other letters but hadn’t Bibled my way through them). Even through the loss of my family and most of my community, I clung to Jesus. I trusted that he would be faithful if I proved myself worthy of him by loving him more than even my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and friends.

I need to give my friends space to get away, too. They have much to lose.

Many people cannot even fathom a world where God does not exist, because in that world, they are alone to navigate this muck of human life. No purpose, no heaven or hell, no divine justice or intervention, no hope after death – these are extremely heavy ideas, quite too much for the average cishet white Christian to stop and re-examine. Why should they? It would only mean risking your cut of the family wealth.

And that’s why I am urging my Christian friends to, for the sake of your love for God, think about what Christianity does for you. Not the answers to prayer, not “where you’re at in your walk” or if you’re “going through a dry spell.”

And beyond them, I ask the non-Christians, the white people with wealth to spare for trinkets that exploit, to consider: do you believe in Karma because it is convenient? How convenient is your world, and how much confirmation bias is reaffirmed with privilege? I have realized that I was not lucky, I was white. And I would rather endure oppression than benefit from it.

You, white America, religious and non-religious, you have made the choice to turn a blind eye to how your money got in your pocket, brushing it away with endless justifications that make you sound like the victims. We have got to stop buying our own bullshit that we earned this empire, our inheritance, the jobs we’ve had and the stuff we’ve owned. We didn’t earn it. We stole it. It must be returned, and soon.

And beyond them, I ask the people of color who are still committed to the Christian faith, what on earth has Christianity ever done for you? Why are you still worshiping and praying to the god of your oppressors?

Yet I know that in a world run by my ancestors and cousins and parents and siblings, who speak of colorblindness while ignoring mass injustice and exploitation, you have much to lose, too. If mass deconversion happened across the country in minority groups, how much easier it would be to continue dehumanizing you.

I write this with such urgency because, well, the end of the world is coming. And it’s not your dad’s apocalypse.

Jesus isn’t coming back. The Mayan calendar isn’t finally coming to a close. Whatever your idea of the “end times” are, they’re as mythical as any other myth. Yet our need is still urgent.

Humans – we are going to destroy ourselves. In twelve years, we’ll reach the point of no return. The planet as a habitat for our species will be done for, far sooner than our planet’s orbit will lose its life-supporting position in relation to our sun. This is not a hoax, it is not a prophecy from a subjective source, it is really happening, and we’re too gridlocked to stop it collectively. To argue with this fact is like trying to have an argument with an inanimate object, such as a thermometer.

In the end, I surrendered to science because I could no longer argue with it. I was defeated – nay, enamored – by its logic, the thoroughness of the laws we’ve observed. We don’t know everything, but the beauty of science is we may someday know, and if we know more later than we knew now, we will adjust our understanding according to what we know later on.

With religion, uncertainty is painted in quite a different light. It is something to fear, something to resist and avoid, or, if you manage past those, it is something to trust. Odd as that sounds, there’s a whole school of theology that demands the trust of uncertainty – simply put, it sounds like many trite phrases including “let go and let God” and “he helps me when my faith is weak” and “If I don’t understand it, God does.”

Angry atheists accuse angry Christians of the same hypocrisy, and vice versa:

“How do you know the cell formed on its own?” The Christian asks.

“I don’t know,” says the atheist, “But science is getting closer every day to finding out.”

“Ha! You are no better than me!” says the Christian, “I don’t know, but God does, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

The religious person, or ironically non-religious person who benefits from the system, looks backward for answers. Science looks forward. And those who are looking forward, trying to learn everything they can about the universe, see a pretty fucking bleak future ahead. Because the fact is, it doesn’t matter how we got here. We’re going to poof into nothingness in the blink of an eye compared to the universe. It doesn’t matter if God put us here or not. We are on a planet with an ecosystem, and acting like business as usual won’t come to a grinding halt soon – with our own blood, the carnage – is not only laughably ridiculous, it’s cruel.

It’s cruel because we were warned. By the people whose blood stain every inch of this nightmarish grid we’ve constructed. The indigenous peoples we’ve largely murdered in genocide are to this day unable to meaningfully change the way humans live. That is what oppression and exploitation means.

I cannot be silent any longer about how crucial it is that people leave religion behind, and soon. We have so much more to lose than the small worlds we were raised in.

I’m going to close with this quote, instead of opening with the song lyrics. The song is called “Arguing with Thermometers,” and there’s a little screaming, but most people find Enter Shikari’s sound accessible, despite its metal flavor. You can listen to the song here.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’re all addicted the the most abusive, destructive drug of all time, and I ain’t talking about class A’s – that business is miniscule when compared – and just like any addict desperate to get his next fix, we resort to petty crimes to secure our next hit…So let me get this straight; as we witness the ice-caps melt, instead of being inspired into changing our ways, we’re going to invest into military hardware to fight for the remaining oil that’s left beneath the ice? But what happens when it’s all gone? You haven’t thought this through, have you, boys?”

I really wish I had something more to conclude with than an angry song. Sign a petition, donate, do something that helps – I wish it was that easy. But the more I research solutions, the less likely it seems that we’ll solve humanity’s flaws (another post for another time – why is humanity wicked?), and all we can do is scream about it until we are no more.

That said, I am still far less depressed, far more engaged and enthused, and am becoming a better writer as a non-Christian than I was as a Christian. A lot of people liked me better when I was a Christian. But I was behaving how I thought I had to. Now my only chains are those of the system I’m trapped in.

This conversation is about our dependence on fossil fuels as much as it is about how we grieve our loved ones who have passed. It has a lot to do with my justice and advocacy series about wealth disparity. I don’t have all the answers, of course.

But I am burdened, and so I write.

Swivel

I want to unite once again with poetry

But I no longer cope

Concocting false hope

Projecting upon a limitless background

The audacious human tendency

To call his own perception, true reality

When we exist as a near-infinite improbability

 

I knew this, at once, when I was born.

I knew I had been here before

I was old, bent and worn,

Then I was new and young again

I knew this life would not be easy

But between two parents, I was made to swivel

 

For days, the word has echoed in my head

Swivel to the right,

Hip out, carry the toddler

Even if you’re too small to have hips

Swivel to the left,

Balance a laundry basket

No kissing boys was allowed,

But hungry babies could suck your lips

 

The swivel point wakes me up in the morning

Stretch

Swivel

Right arm up

Crack in the elbow

Right hand on head

Crack in the neck

 

The muscles lock around my lower back

Now an adult

Aged too quickly

Everyone else at my specialist’s office

Is three times my age

 

They look at me, “young girl, are you lost?

What has life done to you

That you wake each morning

Wincing like an old woman

Weeping like a widow

Whose children were torn from her arms?”

 

I say, please believe me when I say

I can’t work anymore, I’ve tried

I will die if I go back to trying to stand and work

I’ve paid my dues –

Twenty years of unpaid labor

That robbed me of education

Opportunity

Privilege

 

And now I wonder that I took those things for granted

Blind to my own family’s wealth

But they said we were poor

That

 

Swivel, move those hips,

They should be ready for childbearing

But hide them, sweetie,

Imagine if a pervert looked at you in that

Let me look at you with the eyes of ownership

Your features must be plain

And your education stunted

Now go catch a man

With only the knowledge

Of how to manage in a house of too many children

 

Now go change your clothes

Your existence deserves humiliation

You are evil without God

And God looks like me

 

So I swiveled. Counter to counter,

Chopping and boiling and mixing

Plant my feet and swivel around

Well, now there’s a protrusion in my back

And they don’t seem to care

That if all you’ve got to sleep on is a bare floor

It’s only worsening the damage

 

Bring a basket to the laundry room

I unload the dryer

Swiveling on the axis in my young lower back

And I lift wet laundry from the washer to the dryer

Again, again, again,

Swivel, swivel, swivel

All day

Eight loads a day

 

Swivel from wash to rinse

(why is she so tired? She must be sick)

Swivel to hold a baby

(where is the baby?)

Swivel the faucet

(shh-ssh-shh)

Fill the sink

(be careful not to throw)

Bathe the baby

(out with the bathwater)

Diaper and dress and lay down

(we aren’t animals)

Down for a nap

(hush, baby, mommy says the medicine is safe)

Then back to dishes

(desirable women have calloused hands)

 

Hot water

Cold water

Wake up

Be perfect

Have no complaints

Even in your mind

 

Swivel on the axis

Of your tiny little body

Spin around until you faint

Swing from one extreme to the next

Guessing desperately

For what will please God

How to feel like

They meant it

When they said

They loved you

What Happened

Content warnings: gaslighting, child abuse, mental illness, suicide, eating disorders, poverty

Now is as good a time as any to explain why exactly my blog was so choppy over the past four years.

I don’t trust people like I used to. I don’t believe the world is full of sunshine and roses, like my parents do. How wonderful it is to blissfully believe that God controls everything, and your personal fortune is something you deserve to have. I was shook by learning to find my footing in a universe without God, a world without family, a community without friends, and a fall from grace without allies.

But I had a mishmash of homes and people who welcomed me. There was the family who drove up with their old minivan in 2013, the day my sister and I were kicked out, and let us have their spare bedroom because most of their children were grown. They charged very little for rent, and what they saw as Christian charity was expected to be received with Christian-approved behavior, but the kindness was much appreciated as an alternative to, well, my other options. It was a short walk to my work as a web content writer. We shared a broken-down 7-passenger van that had been given to us, useless and on our parents’ insurance, because our savings had been gutted and we both had jobs, and I was in school.

My depression was awful in early 2014, and my concerned friends tried to get me drunk and drag me to events, or to sit in their classes. Even though I was a dropout and couldn’t afford to study what I loved, nor would I get to do what I love. I started seeing a “shrink,” a new word that Josh and Ducky of all people taught me at the age of 22.

My parents always saw me as “troubled” and “different,” but preferred essential oils and homeopathic remedies with bizarre diets that stunted my siblings’ and my growth, and never trusted “psychology” as the outside secular world would define or understand it. The psychiatric industry was all drug-seeking and welfare queens to my family, and I had shared that belief with them for many years: who needs to talk about self-esteem when you matter to Jesus?

Nevertheless they believed that counseling might help, and let me borrow their car to go to my sessions, but it did just the opposite in their eyes. My counselor, an old man who was amazed with my knowledge of philosophy, theology, and the inner self, got me from square 1 – I want to suffer and die so nobody else has to, and I want to hurt myself every day, to…other options besides just another square. He helped elicit some of the first tears I’d shed in years, and professionally held back from saying how he really felt about my family, and it didn’t give me complete answers, but I was learning to feel. And learning to feel, and beginning to express doubts that maybe my family wasn’t perfect, opened up more doors to the reality beyond the one they’d constructed.

All through the summer of 2014, I fought for my siblings. I’d work a shift, then visit my parents, trying to visit with all the kids because I could sense that the doors would be closed any day, but not wanting to let them get lost in a crowd. I took the twins and Priscilla out for milkshakes and fries at the local 50’s diner, and promised Josiah – my baby, who’d cried for me in the night, who was the most soothed by my favorite album of nursery songs, and always lit up when I let him talk with energetic fascination about Legos – that I would take him out, just him, someday soon.

I would not be allowed to keep that promise.

My last attempt to give individual, undivided attention to my kids was while I was out with the 4-year-old, buying him a McDonald’s happy meal and letting him play, by himself, for the first time in his life. We’d been gone an hour before my parents noticed (over the years it’s happened now and then that a neighbor brings a child home). My dad angrily texted and called, telling me to come home immediately, and that I was never to be around my siblings without being supervised by one of my parents. On those terms, I couldn’t develop a deep relationship with any of my siblings – not one that my parents would approve of, anyway.

By the fall, I’d been given an ultimatum: if I wanted to see my siblings again, I would have to seek reconciliation on my parents’ terms: with a Christian pastor, who wanted to talk to them first before inviting my sister and me into the room, and who wanted a letter from me detailing our “grievances” before even meeting us.

I requested a mediator who was not so biased in their favor. They refused. With nothing left to lose and my head spinning with rage and grief, I wrote long posts about my parents’ abuse and how it was possible to be so blind to it for so long. After my parents said I couldn’t see my siblings anymore, I publicly called them out for lying to the world about who they really are, and declared that I wouldn’t let them get away with it.

I’d also realized that I was an empath, and that I was bisexual and polyamorous. I’ve always been one to jump off the deep end, and my first experience was a drunken threesome shortly after deciding that virginity was a just another myth I’d believed all my life anyway. My worth was never in whether I’d abstained from a natural human experience like sexual pleasure, I finally knew. But as many concerned friends expressed to me, perhaps I was jumping from one extreme to the next, and my boyfriend and girlfriend broke up with me two weeks later. I then turned to a couple of friends who I didn’t have feelings for, and we became friends with benefits, but within months I’d lost both of them as friends as well – plus a whole legion of bridges that someone decide to set aflame with the embers of hers.

To this day, my dad blogs and pretends as if I do not exist, continuing to claim that I am nothing more than a misled prodigal child, a freeloading bleeding-heart liberal who doesn’t love Jesus and wants to blame hardworking taxpayers for my well-deserved and prayed-for misfortune, who’s addicted to hard drugs and is constantly getting into her head that it’s appropriate to blast her parents’ reputation online, when all they ever did was protect their good Christian family from my Satanic and negative influence.

At the birthday bash in September 2014, I’m sure several people asked about my whereabouts. The truth was, I was in the hospital for a self-inflicted injury, and later had my friends keeping an eye on me. I got a new therapist, a military vet and also a no-nonsense lesbian who believed a little too much in pyramid scheme sales commissions and The Secret, but knew how to keep me from dissociating, and to guide me toward processing and managing my feelings.

My landlord, the same man who’d allowed my sister and me to live in his family’s basement for little rent, raised the rent so as “not to do me a disservice in having false expectations about the cost of living.” The low rent was my only reason to deal with that gloomy basement and the awkward conversations in a kitchen where I had to bite my tongue every time a racist remark was made by the upper-middle class couple from the dining room. I lived there quietly and wrote a book I’ll never publish, and became a minimalist to mask my depression and loss of control in my newfound place in the world. I couldn’t go back there after one terrible night when I went into a suicidal spiral, triggered and panicked, and left the house behind – it brought back that first night, when my sister and I had our foundation uprooted. A friend offered for me to take a bedroom in her house, but I loved the reclusive sense of the room under the stairs, so I took it instead of a normal four-walled white room. My recovery cat, Serafina, would knead my back gently whenever she sensed how troubled I was, and I would hang a reading lamp up in my little loft to read science fiction books that made me cry, because every sibling and family relationship in the stories felt like they were mine.

I was not able to keep Serafina when I moved to become a nanny. This has made me feel extremely guilty for many years – many people will passionately say, “If you can’t keep a pet, don’t adopt one!” But they do not know what it is to desperately need a support animal but to never know whether you’ll always have the good fortune to keep it. Service animals are awesome, but that’s another thing I’ve learned that I didn’t know four years ago: sometimes you’re just so broke you don’t get to have anything, even food and shelter. Nobody gives a shit about you once you’re an adult, but all I’d ever known how to do was write, cook, and take care of children.

I moved to Durango, where I made some new friends, but though being nonreligious and progressive, they were a bunch of (mostly) white, privileged people who still have functioning parents, and have no idea how to deal with my apostasy and anarchy, much less my poverty and passion. When the campers in my cabin asked where I lived, I would reply, “I live here right now. This is where I live. This bed is the only bed I have, here in this cabin. I don’t know where I will live after, and I lived somewhere else before.” Because I was working with privileged children – and some children from completely different worlds who’d been given scholarships to the camps – I wanted to be honest with them about adulthood. No adult had been honest with me about it when I was in their shoes.

Then I moved to Seattle, and quickly stopped having any spare money, and could afford less and less. I worked as a dishwasher and prep cook, then as a deli clerk, then as a lead hot side line cook. After breaking up with my boyfriend and girlfriend, I got a room, but soon afterward met the love of my life, and the people I lived with didn’t appreciate him being around. I couldn’t save enough to put down another deposit to get another room, so I lived in with my boyfriend in his car. We both worked while homeless – nursing that little car slowly over the back roads that connected Burien to West Seattle, switching shifts, showering at a local gym, and changing into our work uniforms in grocery store bathrooms, where we slept in the parking lots. That was a miserable month, and we were constantly exhausted, depressed as hell, anxious to the point of vomiting up our attempts to feed ourselves with food stamps but no way to heat up anything or buy hot food, wanting to go get fucked up instead of saving for a possible deposit and first month’s rent so we could sleep on a floor instead of a cramped little car – a mattress would have to come later on.

But we made a charming little home out of that hobbit-hole of a basement apartment. It was a tiny room in Burien, and the landlord and his wife came downstairs only to do laundry and collect rent. I got a better job that paid well, and because I was motivated to work hard so as to avoid being homeless again, I took a position that taxed me psychologically, emotionally, and physically. I woke up at 4:30 every day, and took a two-hour bus ride in the freezing cold, smoking cheap swisher sweet cigars, half at a time. My boss was cruel, heaping more work on me than is possible for one person to do, and when I complained to management about it, my every move was criticized and written up for, until they fired me. I hope I never have to work in a kitchen again, as it still gives me horrible flashbacks to work in the kitchen I pay rent to share.

It was then that I became very ill, and began losing weight, the stress of work draining my last bit of both energy and hope. I was still at that job in December 2016, when I wrote a Facebook post that I felt guilty to write: I was at such a low point, I couldn’t find the hope to make it another day. I said if my laptop hadn’t been stolen six months prior, at least I could write. If I could afford new glasses, perhaps I could work better, without squinting and headaches. If I could sleep on a mattress instead of a hard floor, I might have an easier time finding the motivation to get up in the morning.

Much to my surprise, three gifts were extended to me: one friend sent money for me to replace my glasses. I wasn’t squinting at the recipes in the kitchen anymore, and my managers noticed the improvement, but too much damage had been done in standing up for myself – I still lost the job, and it was a relief. Another friend bought me a laptop, and had it delivered – and several others offered to send me their old laptops. Someone else ordered a mattress for us, and my partner filmed me sinking into the mattress and bursting into tears, and sent it to her as a thank-you.

This kindness told me some truths I hadn’t integrated into my truth before, even though I’d read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. I realized that people are kind, the hard part is asking…and knowing that asking doesn’t mean I deserve or can expect that someone is obligated to help me. And that the people closest to me, because we’d shared trauma together, my sisters, were still locked in the mentality that wealth reflects contribution, and my poverty was my own fault.

After the job, I worked with a therapist, doctors, and a professional nutritionist to learn about how to take control of my diet again, and the nice thing about getting fired is that it means an unemployment check, and for a short time I had a bit extra to get by on. I still wasn’t ready to return to the blog in full force, as there was so much to recover from – both in childhood and adulthood – and I am still far from recovered. My weight got back up to a healthy level, and my partner and I practiced several tricks to keep life bearable. A beach opening to a bay along the Pacific was close enough for us to get a ride to from friends. Our landlords didn’t approve of smoking, so we walked a few blocks for every break, ensuring they didn’t know, and our anxiety relief was provided. I grew eighteen beautiful pea plants in jars, and the sun that peaked around the garage into our basement window helped their vines grab onto the screen and blinds with little fists.

I would end up giving those peas to my landlady, and I hope she had a good harvest of them, as she also had a green thumb. We had to move yet again, because the rent had increased, and there was no way, after my job loss, relying uncomfortably heavily on the only reliable source of income: my Patreon supporters. For his part, my partner still works whatever he can, as he was then – but his retail job was quickly proving to be too taxing for his body, which is also wracked with chronic pain and the impact of a traumatic childhood, quite different from mine.

We moved to Texas. Someone said they’d take us in and help us get on our feet, so we left everything we knew and everyone we loved for the chance to start over, save a little, and return to the place of our community. Unfortunately, El Paso Texas turned out to be as hot and miserable as the temper of the woman who I’d trusted as a friend to take us in. She attacked me for sleeping too much, for not working hard enough, for not saving enough, and above all, for making her livid. I was crushed, but had to recognize that I was not responsible for the anger my existence brought to the surface for her. Ever since, I have strongly encouraged people to only help if they are willing, able, and have the self-awareness to take on such a responsibility. An old friend in Waco is doing just that, as are some of my friends in California. Ten months of misery began: four month of passive-aggressive treatment at “home” with a couple our age who treated us as their inferiors, followed by six months living in a tiny apartment in a gridlocked, overpopulated town in the middle of nowhere, and we knew nobody.

The cabin fever was awful. The depression was awful. We’d been denied both food stamps and medical care, and my partner was tormented with horrible allergies from the dusty, polluted air. In the last months, this winter, someone sent me an email saying I could ask for help. I asked for Greyhound tickets. We took a long trip back, and the whole thing felt like one long, miserable bus trip. It was one that taught us people are kind, but some people think they are kinder than they really are.

And that brings me up to date. For what happened next, start with this story: “Working from Home” While Homeless

This isn’t a gig economy, it’s a scam economy

This is part of a series on economic injustice. Click here to read from the beginning.

Stop, wait, this ain’t right!
This is fraudulent
This is counterfeit
You’re a hoodwinker, sir! –Enter Shikari, Hoodwinker

The building is overly futuristic in its design, as if these people want us to think they are richer than they are. I’m led into a stately office for the interview, this job will be the only $40k/yr with benefits full-time job I land an interview for in my life so far and since.

I’m a bit overqualified, and have to coax the introverted startup nerds to talk to me about what they’re working on. It’s something to do with a new way to index the internet, and they have no revenue. My jaw dropped. You expect me to believe I’ll have job security, and your investors haven’t seen any revenue?

Conflicted and knowing that I needed to get away from this whole situation and any affiliation with it, I pried: who was doing the research that I would be organizing, editing, and managing?

They confessed that it was a team of 10-20 people in the Philippines. “Are they paid well?” I asked.

There was some nervous fumbling about, but they recovered quickly. “We compensate them at competitive rates.”

I took to Facebook and asked my dwindling number of Facebook friends if they’d be willing to take such a position. Many people said yes. The company ended up being uncommunicative about wanting me to join their team, but I always wondered if this was due to my skepticism about their business practices.

Another interview, this one in an equally prestigious office in a big building. The interviewer explained that we’d be meeting here every morning, then pay for our own gas to drive to a variety of stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, and get commissions for how many people we could get to sign up for a TV service. Literally convince people to buy something they don’t need, or not have enough to take care of yourself. This is the double bind of scam artists in need of recruits.

My introduction to scam artists was when I was my dad’s secretary as a high schooler. Someone called me trying to sell ad space, and they said it was free. I was confused and my dad wasn’t there to take the phone, so I agreed. They later sent us a bill, and I got in trouble for signing us up for something. I later tracked down and kept a file of over 15 scam sites – all of them some clever spinoff domain name of The Yellow Pages. They put your name on a list, they provide no service whatsoever, and your money disappears into the abyss.

Just a couple of months ago, I was invited to interview at a small office, conveniently a few minutes from home. I wasn’t far into the interview before I realized I wouldn’t be accepting an offer here to avoid getting myself in a lawsuit. I pried about the practices, which seemed to be that people were calling with self-described “power of attorney” and applying for sizeable loans in the names of other people. I tried to politely ask why they don’t just tell people they’re using POA instead of calling and saying they are the person in question. They explained that they needed a female so that it would be more believable to sound like a woman when using a woman’s name for female applicants. Their words, not mine. Again, it seemed that I knew too much about how POA works to receive a follow-up phone call, but who’s guessing?

“Just get a job” tells me it’s okay to have taken any one of these jobs. Tell me, what tugs at your conscience enough to walk away?

Every day, employees are serving angry customers who have more money going into their luxury car payments than the employees make per month, and the corporation is so loaded that they don’t even tell their overworked herd of desperate-to-get-food-and-shelter workers how to serve their customers. These guys are reading letters across a screen to address their thousands of new hires,[1] and we expect them to treat us fairly? Why does a modern prison orientation[2] seem so eerily similar to a job orientation?[3]

It’s everywhere. It’s how every cell phone company I know of runs their network of employees. It’s in the hospitality business as well, but they use the term “tips.” It’s why nurses in hospitals can have you sign to pay massive bills out of pocket, but they’re not making anywhere near that amount from their own paychecks.

Never mind who’s benefitting from the direct sales, the monthly payments, the cost of goods sold and services provided. The rest of us can hope for the charity of those who might have a few more dollars to spare than we do, enough to subscribe and buy our commission item, or tip us for our service.

Pyramid schemes and scams suck in friends on a regular basis. My decision to buy makeup at Dollar Tree is no better than paying twenty times as much to support my friend who sells makeup for points. They’re both scams, I just can’t afford to buy from my friend’s pyramid scheme catalogue. Dollar Tree is a Fortune 150 company[4] because they know their entire market can’t afford better. As for college, due to my isolation from the community that was supposed to educate and raise me, I can no longer apply for Pell grants. I am totally incapable of paying off my student loans, which prevent me from reapplication.

The undermined education, the high cost of living, the low quality of life, the constant threat upon survival and livelihood, makes for an entire population – 99.9% of us – with low morale. Low morale helps justify low wages and low quality of life in the minds of the workforce (and nonworking Americans who can’t work). This was eloquently, albeit painfully, explored in Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2001 bestseller Nickel and Dimed. She writes,

“If you’re made to feel unworthy enough, you may come to think that what you’re paid is what you’re actually worth…Americans of the newspaper-reading professional middle class are used to thinking of poverty as a consequence of unemployment…I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that ‘hard work’ was the secret of success: ‘Work hard and you’ll get ahead’ or ‘It’s hard work that got us where we are.’ No one ever said that you could work hard – harder than you ever thought possible – and still find yourself sinking ever deeper into poverty and debt.”

Yet I’m told there are easy fixes. I got the following comment on my most recent blog post:

Why not go back to school? You’ll qualify for Pell grants and low-income scholarships and you can move on campus? Or, you can develop an employable trade or skill. Hair stylists can make $40,000 and set their own hours and it only takes 9 months to receive a certification. Plumbers can make $80,000-90,000+ and it doesn’t take college. They learn with a paid apprenticeship. I don’t know your whole story, but you’re young and have tons of choices. Writing isn’t paying the bills so why not get to work and treat writing as a hobby until it can sustain you? There are people that have had it much tougher than you and have made something of their lives. Take responsibility for your choices.

Except I can’t. My lack of education and responsibilities in my parents’ house meant I was spread much too thin. I was working four jobs, one for my dad, one part-time that actually paid, one that I loved as an editor for the school newspaper, and one babysitting at our homeschool co-op that I couldn’t get out of no matter how much I told my mother how exhausted I was. I had no idea how to take tests and get good grades, and with no help whatsoever, I was expected to take 15 credits and work those jobs and study with half a dozen kids literally climbing all over me in my study space. My at-home duties didn’t decrease whatsoever.

My Pell grants got me through two and a half years of college. But my parents failed to file their taxes twice, and that landed me in debt I never should have been in.

Never mind my own situation, no amount of explanation is going to convince these types of people. They are simply frightened by the idea that perhaps the system is broken and getting to a stable place is harder than they think.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zJtTCpAPnQ

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoP3jEj4Crc

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oNxI__m_JM

[4] http://fortune.com/fortune500/dollar-tree/