Heartlessness and Hate, Part 2

In Christian homeschool speech and debate, we were told that we were learning logic and critical thinking. What we learned was a kind of feigned intellectualism, one that behaves under the pretense that the most reasonable reaction to anything is no reaction at all. Almost without fail, the winning competitors were charismatic and attractive, smooth and composed. We were masters of taking literally that it’s possible to kill with kindness, and our interactions were icy, yet diplomatic. We were generally expected to make friends with our rivals, so we relied on a competitive environment to form friendships with other kids who were being raised in the same isolated conservative world.

For many of us, debate tournaments were the highlights of our lives. At the time, I thought it was the best it could get. I looked forward to being able to see the other competitors. I realize now that this is because it was my only social life. Well, there were other things, but that was usually VBS, AWANA, or another Christian-led event. In our other activities, I was usually the oldest one there and was expected to help with younger kids. That was true of Christian homeschool PE, music lessons, co-op, gymnastics, AWANA, and the horse vaulting day camp we did in the summer. In debate, I had friends who were closer to my age. We could discuss our interests through our speeches, as long as they were political and Christian enough. Tournaments meant a taste of freedom. Home life was something we didn’t talk to each other about – that was disrespectful to our parents. But it was a relief from being home with our families all the time.

Speech and debate were two distinct categories, which is why I refer to them separately. All involved performance, but with speech, the competition was based on rankings from multiple judges, rather than a win or loss between debaters. In this way, we were able to discuss even more controversially taboo subjects without the problem that debate presented: forcing the other team to take a position that fell outside the bounds of conservative views. For instance, I could not argue that abortion is evil in a debate round, but I saw dozens of speeches in the category of “persuasive” on exactly why and how abortion is evil. It makes me laugh now to realize the irony that we had a speech category called “persuasive,” but there was no direct conflict with an opponent in that event.

What did I learn from debate? I learned the art of bullshitting. I learned how to feign confidence about positions I personally knew the evidence was weak for. I learned how to pretend my points were stronger than they were. I learned how to find quotations both for and against a case from a single article which, when read as a whole, had observed multiple angles of a situation or topic. I learned how to make my words sound as convincing as possible, to win the favor of a judge or sometimes multiple judges.

It was all about the act, the performance of it all, the presentation. During our debate club meetings, we’d get stern lectures about how “the judges are always watching.” This meant we had to be on our best behavior. At all times we were expected to dress up like politicians. Many teenagers were shamed for changing into more comfortable clothing if they didn’t “break,” or advance beyond preliminary rounds. My parents never forced me to wear dresses, but I certainly wasn’t allowed to change out of my “tournament attire” until the tournament was officially over.

“Ballot parties” were basically a way for us to torture fast food workers. After the tournament, we were each given an orange envelope filled with our ballots. Every judge had filled out ballots with our speaker point scores, wins and losses in debate, and handwritten comments and critiques all over them. Even though the tournament was over, we were expected to study each judge’s notes late into the night. By then it was usually past 9 or 10 p.m., when most restaurants were closed, so we usually settled on McDonald’s. Dad liked to say that we were “helping with business” so they wouldn’t mind about being swarmed just before closing. As a small business owner, he didn’t really understand how big corporations didn’t pay their workers any better based on the number of customers there were to serve.

Describing ballot parties is a shameful thing. We’d show up, over a hundred teenagers and their parents, dressed mostly in fancy suits, and line up at the counter, totally overwhelming and taking over the McDonald’s. The workers’ eyes would get huge as we poured in, and inevitably someone would try to call in another employee to manage all the orders. We often ordered something small and gathered around every table and booth available, unpacking our ballots like they were Christmas presents. This was how we’d know which preliminary debate rounds we’d won and lost, a detail that wasn’t revealed during the tournament itself. Sometimes we read judges’ comments aloud to each other, in a serious or mocking tone, depending on the contents.

The obsession with being “above feelings” and to embrace facts, evidence, and logic is a patriarchal, white supremacist idea. It is part of toxic masculinity itself, because it says that any reaction to violence is not valid. “Appeal to emotion” is designated as a logical fallacy. If you get upset, you’re appealing to emotion. If you talk about how people are hurt, you’re appealing to emotion. The whole activity was designed to make us talk about complex political issues without being properly informed about them.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that everyone deserves safety, shelter, nutrition, and healthcare. Humanity’s resources should be available to all who have need, regardless of their ability to convert their time into adequate profit to stay alive. This is clear to me now, but ten years ago, I was closed off to the realities of imperialism and racism, homelessness and hunger and poverty, and capitalism-based food and healthcare access. Simultaneously, I believed that I was engaging in reasoned thinking, logic, persuasion, and informed discussion of politics and philosophy.

Christian homeschool speech and debate is nothing more than bullshitting your way through being detached to human rights. Everything I learned from spending my time between the ages of 12 and 18 debating and performing speeches is something I’ve had to since question and unlearn. Many of my peers in the competitions will insist that we learned how to question through this activity, but I disagree. Those of us who did think critically were eventually ostracized for following logical conclusions. I had to recognize the basic fact that human rights are not up for debate. I don’t owe you a debate if you think otherwise.

Heartlessness and Hate, Part 1

Many people have asked me about speech and debate and whether it helped me with my communication and critical thinking skills. Now that a decade has passed, I can say with certainty that it did not. Years of frustration with speech and debate eventually led to some relative competitive success, but I had to sacrifice all other education for it in the end. I had no time left for trying to drag myself through basic pre-algebra. I took a “super senior” year, meaning that while most of my friends graduated high school at age 18, I kept competing until I was almost 19. Altogether, I would spend seven years competing in Christian homeschool speech and debate, from 2004 to 2011.

I’ve talked before about some of the indoctrination, like in my posts “My Patriotic Education” and “I’m not saying religion sucks, but it hurt me, okay”. I haven’t, however, previously unpacked this massive suitcase called debate and speech competition. For those who knew who I was before my blog was really known, you know that this is deeply intertwined with…well, every aspect of the identity that was projected onto me. For those of you who’ve been following me since my major pieces in 2014 and 2019, this may be difficult to explain to you.

My limited study time was almost entirely dedicated to preparing for speech and debate. When it came to general subjects like math and science, geography and history, I was taught practically nothing. I had an elementary understanding of these, and by the time I was a teenager, I was expected to spend “school time” teaching or reading aloud to my younger siblings. This was frustrating for all parties involved, and I regret being short-tempered.

The two leagues I competed in were called NCFCA and Stoa. The intention is to prepare children for public speaking and defending their positions with logic and evidence. The problem is that the parameters of the competition were limited to the confines of conservative Christianity. We could not discuss any matters of real controversy.

I knew a lot of other homeschooled kids from speech and debate, and some of them were getting thorough educations. For every 20 or so students that I interacted with, I’d say one of them was really hitting the books because of rigorous parents. This does not mean that they were having a superior experience of home life whatsoever – sometimes the more intelligent parents were more cruel. I’m not making a statistical claim without data, this is just my estimate based on interacting with hundreds of other competitors.

A Christian homeschool debate competition has a distinct atmosphere. It’s full of teenagers who are dressed in professional attire, in many cases deprived of socialization with children in other families except for these events. The competitive age range was 12 to 18, and we were not separated into smaller age brackets. I never learned how to count by grades because I didn’t take placement tests, or any tests at all. I didn’t have to, because my parents exploited a legal loophole that said they technically didn’t have to report any progress on the education they were providing to my siblings and me. As a result, I never knew whether I was doing well or not. I didn’t get grades or feedback very often, except for the results of the competitions.

Tournaments often lasted three or four days. The advantage of being homeschooled is we had the time to block out this much time in a week once a month or so. We weren’t missing school for it. It was considered an educational activity. The schedule was tightly packed and demanding: In a day I would have three or four debate rounds in addition to two or three speech rounds, each of which lasted between 90 minutes and two hours. We debated each other in organized formats with timed speeches and cross-examinations, finishing with final rebuttals.

One of the apparent advantages of debate was that we “learned to argue both sides” of an issue. This claim was technically true because every round had an affirmative and negative team. The administrators worked it out so everyone debated both sides the same number of times. The topic of debate was called a resolution. If we were assigned the affirmative side, we were supposed to defend the resolution, detailing how we planned to do so, and how the harms we presented would be solved by our proposed plan, and what advantages might be produced. If we were assigned the negative side, we were tasked with proving why the affirmative’s plan for change had flaws or would lead to disadvantages.

The topics we debated are notable because they were always carefully chosen from among subjects we conservative Christians could all agree on. The idea was that we shouldn’t force our opponents to take a stance that wasn’t morally defensible. For example, because we all agreed that abortion is evil, making the argument “abortion is evil” would be an inappropriate, underhanded move competitively. The opposing team couldn’t disagree and still hope to win the favor of the judge, who was almost always another conservative Christian homeschool parent, whose children were rival competitors. We did our best to recruit “community judges” to come and watch our tournaments, but it was difficult to convince people to volunteer. As a result, we were stuck in the frustrating position of crafting speeches and debate points catered to the biases of a specific group of people.

My first year, we debated US dependence on foreign oil. While we regularly made arguments about how it would be bad to rely on Saudi Arabian oil, it was frowned upon to run any environmental advantages. So for instance, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a very difficult case to beat because no judge would vote for a team arguing for the livelihood of the wildlife. My second year, we debated medical malpractice law. Instead of learning about how broken the American healthcare system is and discussing ways to fix it, our cases promoted plans like forcing traumatized patients into mandatory mediation with their negligent providers. This provided economic advantages for the legal system. My third year, we debated illegal immigration. Rather than learning about the human rights abuses under US immigration policy, we had cases promoting ways to crack down on employment verification. The year we debated about Russia, I learned practically nothing about the complexity of the large country.

Overall, we learned to discuss political and philosophical topics in a heartless way. We debated issues without considering the real-world implications of the policies we were promoting. The tone of each debate round was one of detached discussion supporting conservative ideology. There was little consideration for human rights and injustice. In this way, the activity served as another form of indoctrination for conservative Christian homeschooling parents. This was subverted with co-opting free-thinking terminology like “arguing both sides,” “critical thinking skills,” and “learning how to think, not what to think.” However, it was merely a way to keep us from considering things that were too controversial, while thinking we were addressing the crux of these topics. I want to warn people of the danger in this activity because it desensitizes young people. We learned how to talk callously about human beings and their struggles, as matters of debate, not care. This is my first of two blog posts on the subject. In my second post about this, I’ll talk more about the culture of debate and its approach to emotional appeals.

Standing Time

How long can you stand up? For most able-bodied people, the question usually comes up when evaluating work. People who can work on their feet are expected to stand for hours at a time. People who work sitting down may have the capacity to also go to the gym regularly.

For me, it’s less than an hour to a few hours, depending on the day. I can walk to run an errand or two and take the bus there and back, but I’ll be exhausted and in pain for the rest of the day if I push myself beyond that. For instance, I shouldn’t run an errand and try to do dishes on the same day. That’s too much most of the time. I can take a shower without worrying about feeling like I’m going to collapse, but I have to make sure I don’t overdo it.   

For my partner and roommate, it’s mere seconds. They cannot use the microwave for themselves, and must rely on me and frozen convenience around the clock when I am out of energy to cook. Showers are practically impossible.

Thankfully, we now have groceries delivered so I don’t have to destroy my body trying to go out and shop myself. A kind patron sent us the funds to cover a Walmart+ account, so delivery with EBT is free now.

Here’s the situation with disability benefits: my roommate receives benefits. My partner has been trying to apply for years, and officially hasn’t been able to work since July of 2019, but that was not long before the pandemic started, which put disabled people even further back among priorities.

As for me, I make too much money through Patreon and direct gifts for disability benefits to apply to me. I also have to get help with taxes in six months and I’ll likely lose my EBT benefits soon. This is a good thing! It means I have a reliable income and I appreciate every dollar that almost 100 people pool together to help cover my bills every month. It’s not covering everything yet, but it’s a good deal more than I could count on in the past. So I can apply for benefits, but even if I fight through the entire process, they still see me as working, even though I’m not pulling nearly the workload I once could.

I would much rather have an income through my writing than get benefits, because I’d make even less. The question is, am I working or aren’t I? It’s not that simple. I can’t do the kind of work that would mean I get paid by the hour using my body to do manual labor. I am running a blog and writing a book, and I’m getting paid to do that, which is work, but that doesn’t mean I could just go get a job if I needed to. I can’t stand for eight hours and work anymore. This means I am limited to using what I have to get by, and for me, I am lucky enough to have writing. I am therefore extremely grateful for all the kind people supporting me.

The reason I haven’t posted in over two weeks is because I’m seeing a psychiatrist (at last! This is great news!) and the first med we tried has not worked well, and it has made it nearly impossible to focus or do much of anything but sleep. I have been trying to write as often as I can, and I’m working on two different subjects, homeschooling and being a disabled caregiver.

My birthday is on Saturday. I’m planning on writing a post then about turning 29. Thank you all for everything you’ve done to support my recovery.

The thing about disability is that people always ask questions, but they don’t want to hear the simple answer that nobody cares about disabled people. It’s assumed that somebody is taking care of us. People don’t realize that we have to buy our own access, like wheelchairs and hearing aids, which can cost thousands of dollars. My disability is one that makes activities not impossible at this point in my life, but they come at a cost. I have to really think about how I’m going to spend my energy, because it is limited, and I will be exhausted and sore if I push myself too hard.

I remember what it was like to be able to go to the gym three times a week and work at a desk job and attend school. That’s how I lived ten years ago, and I was doing far too much then. I was not succeeding at any of the things I was trying to do. My present life is less stressful, but my capacity to do what is necessary is limited.

How long can you stand up? How long will you be able to stand up for as long as you can now? Do you rely on your body’s capacity to stand and move, carry and lift, bend over, and twist? For some of us, these are not things we can do.

Our entire lives are impacted, and that often means we lose the ability to provide for ourselves months or years before we are recognized as “disabled enough” to qualify in the eyes of the United States government for help. If help is acquired before you die on the waiting list, it is minimal.

Gratitude and Rage

My emotions fluctuate between gratitude and rage. I’m grateful to have a home at last. I’m angry that I had to fight so hard for it, and that so many people I know aren’t so lucky. I am so thankful to the people who continuously show support with gifts, because it’s what helps me get by. I am simultaneously frustrated that this kind of dependence must exist, since I can’t hold a normal job anymore and must broadcast each expense.

I don’t have the resources to help the people I care for in significant ways. I can only listen with empathy as I watch people fall through the cracks. So many people trapped because their abusers have resources they don’t. So many people fighting just to stay housed. I know a lot of people who can’t work anymore, and those who still can are on their way to being unable to work. When you aren’t making enough money to meet your basic needs, exploitative work is an exhausting insult. When you can’t work anymore, you have to hope someone takes a liking to the tragic allure of your story, or…fall through the cracks.

Falling through the cracks looks like a thousand ways to die of neglect and indifference. This is a problem the United States uniquely refuses to solve. I find myself researching grim data: inequality in the US is getting so bad, life expectancy was already declining steadily before the pandemic, and in 2020 it dropped even more significantly. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are dying while waiting for a disability hearing. Millions are at risk of eviction if the moratorium is not extended beyond March 31st. In July 2019, Fair.org published a piece entitled, “Media Just Can’t Stop Presenting Horrifying Stories as ‘Uplifting’ Perseverance Porn”. Countless stories of people unable to afford basic needs and healthcare are praised for coming up with clever ways to meet their needs. The thing is, for everyone who has an inspiring story of successfully raising enough funds, there are hundreds of others who don’t. These are people dying because they can’t afford life-saving medication, mobility aids, and care.

Is it any wonder that I am hard pressed to feel lucky, grateful, and content with my position? It shouldn’t have to be this way. I am one small person – I cannot singlehandedly bring down an entire system. I can advocate for radical changes, though, because I think small compromises are not enough.

The stimulus package took too long and is not enough to ensure recovery. There’s nothing to recover because we were on a deadly trajectory before the pandemic even started. People were already falling through the cracks. The process has just been expedited.

The Barriers to Stable Housing

I want to preface this post by saying thank you. You are giving us a chance at a place to live, and you all have been giving as much as you possibly can to help. That is tremendous. 29 people have contributed $3,720 to our moving fundraiser. That’s on average over $100 per person. Many of you have even waited for your next paychecks to donate a second or even third time – this hasn’t gone unnoticed. I am incredibly grateful to all of you for thinking of us in your budgets, giving as much as you can spare, even if it’s $1 or $5 a month on Patreon. It has meant survival in a broken system.

I wrote this post several hours ago in a moment of heightened frustration, anger, resentment, fear, and grief. There seems to be an inner world and outer world for me. The one that cares and the one that doesn’t. You have surrounded me as a community of support, while the rest of the world treats me with anonymity.

I still need to reach beyond the barriers I’m about to present in this post, because although I now have the funds to get past the hurdle of the immediate moving expenses – a truck, the application, rent, fees, and a deposit – I am now being told that I still don’t have sufficient income. It’s not enough that I’m making enough to cover rent with a roommate. We must make 3 or 4 times that much in a month. We are short. Like, $2,100 a month short. I need to do at least one of three things, and fast: (1) get a huge influx of Patreon pledges, (2) get a job working from home that allows me to balance caring for my partner, or (3) have someone with a bigger income co-sign our lease. But even if someone were to co-sign, they would have to make 5 times the rent after paying debts or mortgages, and they would be taking on the full brunt of landlord’s wrath if anything falls through. It’s a huge risk to ask someone to take. And it should never have to happen.

Our politicians thought we would go out and buy new cars with our pittance of $1,200, and I’m so poor it wouldn’t have been enough to help me acquire shelter. They are out of touch with reality. My reality is this: I’ve been on the phone for a month trying to find a simple apartment, and I’ve contacted every resource I can find for people who are on the edge of needing a place to live.

So, that said, I don’t know how to begin this except with saying my friends and I are mostly on the edge of homelessness.

Many would have you believe that we deserve this. We haven’t made something of ourselves. We haven’t worked the system in our favor. We haven’t manifested wealth into our lives by adhering to the appropriate beliefs and perspectives. There are so many things they believe we haven’t tried. Surely poverty is deserved.

Many people refuse to recognize that the world is divided between the exploited masses and the privileged few. No amount of factual evidence at the sheer extremity of the numbers will convince them. The reality is too brutal to face, I think. Thousands of people are dying of exposure in a violent form of slow, devastating, mentally crushing indifference we callously label “homelessness.”

I have lived in a car before. That is not an option this time. I don’t have a driver’s license anymore, it wasn’t worth the extra cost to keep it upgraded since I haven’t had the spare funds to acquire a vehicle in years. Even then, the car I lived in with my partner was falling apart and had to be carefully nursed on certain hills between the Target and QFC we each worked at. My partner couldn’t live in a car at all now. It’s not possible. Homelessness would kill him.

My partner is practically bedridden and requires attention and care – he can get to and from the bathroom, but not down the stairs in the middle of our shared apartment, so he can’t acquire food for himself. He can sit up for short periods of time if he’s careful not to overexert himself. If we could get just a tiny space, he still wouldn’t be able to stand long enough to prepare whole meals, but could at least get to and from the kitchen.

Not only does manual labor exacerbate my chronic nerve pain exponentially, but the only jobs I’ve been able to find in recent years have been in retail, and front-line work in a pandemic would put my partner at risk. I’ve been in search of remote work I can do from home, but so is everyone right now, and scams abound. The most consistent form of income I have is from my own writing, through Patreon.

We don’t expect to be able to have a space of our own, we’ve found a roommate who also lives how we need to – staying home and safe in the pandemic, and in need of an accessible place to live. They are disabled and receive benefits, as much as the government has determined they need to survive, which keeps them far below the poverty line. My partner doesn’t receive benefits yet, because he still doesn’t have an official diagnosis, though we’ve been seeking one for years.

Though it’s not a large income, I figured we would have a chance to get something small and cheap. Just a 2-bedroom apartment, so my partner and I can have privacy and so can our roommate. We’ve been raising the money we need to cover the hurdle of move-in costs.

In September, we decided to give ourselves another month, which required paying another round of rent and utilities here. All throughout October, I’ve been searching with dedication for the right place for us. Now it’s the end of the month, and I haven’t found anything that is inexpensive enough for our budget. I was also not expecting the income restrictions to have changed since last time I was in the market for an apartment – landlords now want tenants to make 3 or 4 times rent. Some companies work with co-signers, but for someone to qualify, they would have to make 5 times rent. I haven’t yet found anyone who would be able and willing to co-sign for us.

All of this is over having a place to live. Shelter. A basic human need.

Surely there are resources for disabled people, though, right? If you are literally incapable of making “enough” money, what happens to you?

I spent the past month on the phone trying to answer that question. The county housing authority waitlists are all closed. I’ve called every number I can find, and I have a new list to go through today. Nobody has resources and I’ve been told that our income is simply too low to get anything at all. Not because we can’t make rent, but because we need to make more than that.

In what the capitalists would call a society, hundreds of thousands of people face homelessness when they most need support, shelter, and care: when it becomes impossible to work anymore.

Proving to the government that you are in fact disabled is a lengthy process. After years of trying, I am finally past step one: I have a diagnosis. My partner still does not. Once you’re diagnosed, you must pursue treatment for a year, and the treatment must fail to put you back in the workforce. It would seem that nobody with resources cares how you’re going to keep shelter without an income during that time, least of all people who control rent prices. We need to get my partner a new doctor because the one we have, and the one before that, and the one before that, couldn’t figure out his diagnosis. After a diagnosis, he needs to prove he’s not recovering enough to work, and then we can seek a lawyer to get him the money the government owes him.

Poverty is not a choice. Everyone is more likely to be poor than rich. This is just my own personal experience of the broken system, but I have so many friends who are trying to get into stable housing. It seems to be just beyond reach, no matter how hard we try.

Moving for the Sake of Motion

The threat of homelessness is so terrifying, it’s what capitalists think is necessary to keep the world running. They aren’t wrong about its quality as a motivator – just as nobody wants to undergo torture, nobody wants to be homeless. Rather, it is incorrect to assume that anything can be done to fight the prospect of becoming homeless in such a rigged system. The only thing standing between you and becoming homeless is an emergency or two, unless you’re in the 0.1% and depending on what an emergency is to you. For me, an emergency is running out of food stamps halfway through the month, so I need to either spend what I can’t afford to or ask for money to cover the rest. Emergencies happen more frequently when you’re poor.

Moving while poor is an ordeal. The people with the privilege (and it is nothing more than a privilege) to own resources like housing and land regard us with suspicion. We must prove that we are willing to let our livelihoods flow up while lies about recovery trickle down. Almost every penny that passes through my hands is saved for the landlord, who doesn’t have to work. Landlords literally live off of other people’s hard-earned money, and yet capitalists refuse to look at them as “leeches” who “don’t contribute to the economy.” You see, the trick is that if you have money to buy your way in, nobody cares whether you’re working or not. If you don’t have money, what are you doing with your time? Get back to work!

Disability adds another layer – if you can’t work and you don’t have money, what are you good for to this society? The answer is nothing at all. Workplace problems are exacerbated outside the workplace, which is what the rest of us are trying to communicate to the so-called struggling middle class. If you think it’s hard to focus at work, imagine trying to find a job in a pandemic, or a place to live. Or the resources to take care of a sick loved one. My only job now is writing, which I get paid for through Patreon. It’s not a normal job and it’s not a regular paycheck (though it does come consistently once a month).

I keep saying that disability advocacy is the way forward, because so many of us need to be working shorter hours to keep up with technological advancements and resource management. If I could take a job that only expected time from me when I’m available and could work around my need to rest when I’m dealing with my own pain or my need to spend time taking care of my partner, I’d take it in a moment. Many, many people are in the same position and would do the same. The numbers are impossible to gather because chronic illness and disability are so vastly underdiagnosed. But when I say that I want the resources and work reorganized, I mean that I want to contribute as much as my life allows me to. Our society as it is right now says that if you can’t dedicate your life to your job, you don’t deserve to have a life at all. Either way, life is lost for those whose labor flows up into the pockets of the rich.

I say all this because I am in the midst of searching for a place to live, and it has come to my attention that many people do not know what this is like when you’re poor in the United States. Moving may be stressful for pretty much everyone, but it’s a nightmare when you don’t have stability. Every action carries the increasing threat of winding up homeless.

It’s the 19th of October, and I still do not have an apartment to move into in 12 days. The most difficult thing is trying to prove that you’ll pay your rent. Landlords can afford to be picky, all the more so with millions of evictions and people facing homelessness in this pandemic. We are not to be trusted – where do we get our income, and, therefore, their future source of money?

Housing should be free. Nobody should be profiting off the livelihood of human beings, the very need to take shelter from the elements. I say this, and yet I cannot escape the rent machine. I have no “real” job, no credit score, nothing to secure me even a thousand square feet of space to call home.

You have to make enough money to cover rent two, three, or four times over. This is hilarity for most of us. If the landlord is not satisfied with what we make, they can reject our application, which is another lost expense. If what we make is not enough, it is possible to get someone with wealth and resources to co-sign the lease. This would require that a person with money would be willing to risk it so we can get into stable housing, which is a lot to ask.

I haven’t been putting this off or waiting until the last minute. This is just how housing is when you’re in the market for a 2-bedroom apartment at the lowest available rates. In fact, this is one of the least stressful moving experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Thank you all so much for making that possible with your generosity.

This process has been stressful, and there is still so much left that needs to happen. This is yet another experience that has radicalized me, showing me that things don’t have to be this broken. There are better ways. We will need them very soon, as more and more people face homelessness and unstable housing.

This is a mere snapshot of what the process is like for those of us who are bargaining with few funds for a place to live.  

Demanding a Future

My sense of identity is so defined by my past. I want to look to the future, but all I see there is a fight, a time of hiding the vulnerable from conflict and climate change.

In looking to the future, I know what I will be doing personally. As a species, though, we need to work together to overthrow the entire system as it stands. What needs to happen is a full reconstruction of how we as humans live. This cannot happen under white leadership. It also can’t happen under abled, cishet leadership. Everything our culture has normalized and made into the default is exactly what needs to be dethroned and replaced. Capitalism can’t be saved. All labor must be completely re-delegated and reevaluated with an emphasis on maximizing one’s personal ability and willingness to contribute, instead of on maximizing profit. Free housing and food and clean water for all.

That’s the fantasy, anyway. My actual expectation is that we will rise up to the best of our ability and still be beaten down by the wealthy, who will let us all die at the doors of their luxury safe vaults, in the end trying to avoid exposure to a too-hot environment. Those who think they have class solidarity with the 0.01% will find themselves dead like the rest of us. The ultra-rich will live out their lives resenting us for not being around to do their cleaning and cooking anymore.

If things are basically hopeless, why not demand the radical? Why not go all the way and list the things we deserve while they are hungry for the profit of letting us die?

In this country, if you can work, your body is used for labor. If you can’t work, your body is cycled through a system that only does one thing efficiently: make money. Healthcare sends people in circles for years seeking diagnosis for disabilities while trying to remain housed. Don’t even get me started on our prison system. Or the school system.

There are still so many things I have to learn. Especially about how to organize. So I am learning. That is all I have for today.

Seeking a Home in the Midst of Collapse

Every night, I get up at least twice in the night to bring meals to my partner. He is too disabled now to get his own food from the kitchen. We have a flight of carpeted stairs separating our bedroom from the kitchen and going down them gives him chest pain and a rapid heart rate, sometimes also palpitations. He only goes down them when absolutely necessary, which is to get to his appointments with the cardiologist and primary care provider – and these can give him symptom flare-ups. He’s never been able to sleep at night, and I’ve never been able to get myself to match his sleep cycle, either. When we met, he was fully capable of cooking for himself. Then over time he needed me to take over the cooking, and leave meals for him to eat during the night while I slept. Now I have to go up and down the stairs many times a day and get up in the night to bring him what he needs.

We are lucky to have had all your support throughout the pandemic. We have been able to pay rent since I left my day job in March and switched to taking care of my partner full-time. Now I am doing my best to also write and create regularly again, but the interrupted sleep is becoming difficult to deal with.

There are many reasons we need to leave this living situation, and I’ve detailed the problems of accessibility and finances in two earlier posts. In this one, I want to explain more about what our options are, the desperation of the situation, and how it looks to be trying to raise money to move into a new apartment while your country’s so-called “society” is collapsing.

First, the situation from a wide angle: my country is collapsing, and most of us are in denial about it.

If you don’t believe me, please check out these independent articles by people who’ve lived through collapses in other countries. Umair Haque wrote a piece that’s been making rounds in my circles entitled “We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying.” Indi Samarajiva wrote another about his experience in Sri Lanka called “I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.

Of note, in the latter article, this bit got my attention:

“If you’re waiting for a moment where you’re like ‘this is it’, I’m telling you, it never comes. Nobody comes on TV and says ‘things are officially bad’. There’s no launch party for decay. It’s just a pileup of outrages and atrocities in between friendships and weddings and perhaps an unusual amount of alcohol.”

I believe that the election will only exacerbate the unrest that has been building for the past six months. I am expecting the worst – an inexplicably low voter turnout, followed by an indefinite and unresolving results determination process that makes the 2000 election look quick, followed by an economic collapse worse than the Great Depression. Other things worse than this may happen, too. I may be wrong, but I must make personal decisions based on the information I have.

To zoom back in to my personal situation, which is only one of a growing number of people who are falling through the cracks financially as our economy topples, we need to move before the election. If any change is going to be made in location, it needs to happen now. So we are looking into applying for an apartment very soon, and we will need to continue bringing in funds to put down a deposit and introductory rent, as well as cover the costs of moving itself.

Right now we’re spending about $900/month on rent, utilities, and my phone (we don’t even pay for a line of phone service for my partner too). Thanks to the generous help of my Patreon patrons, I have a steady income of $591 per month as of this writing. I’ve been using GoFundMe to make up the difference in living expenses. I can get a place where I’d be spending less on rent and utilities than I am now. Providing proof of this income will qualify me to sign a lease, and our future roommate is someone we deeply trust who can pay the other half of rent.

Being homeless again would certainly kill my partner. He is bedridden. You can’t be bedridden and have to walk everywhere, carrying whatever you have left of your possessions, yet this is what homelessness demands. He’s also sensitive to heat and cold, so exposure would make things worse, too – by all standards, he wouldn’t survive. We need a more affordable, accessible apartment to live in. We need to move in at the beginning of November. Otherwise we will be trapped indefinitely.

If you can spare any help, both Patreon and the GoFundMe are great ways to support us in getting into a new home – the former pledges monthly support, while the latter accepts one-time donations. If you can’t spare anything, please don’t feel bad about it – most of us are facing financial struggle. If you’re already pledging and donating, thank you so much for your incredible kindness. We would not be sheltered and alive without your kindness and understanding of what we are going through.

I want to help others like us, because we are not alone – and the numbers of people facing financial devastation are growing daily. I’ve been doing so where possible, like with promoting others’ fundraisers and donation requests on twitter. We are asking for mutual aid, not charity, while demanding a new system that spreads resources evenly. There is no going back to normal. This is the time to imagine a new future and fight for it.

My Patriotic Education

This happened last week, but I’m still thinking about it. The trick the president is trying to pull is outdoing himself constantly so each shock makes the previous one seem mild by comparison. How can one consider that he’s trying to control how children see the world’s biggest industrial-colonial-prison system, when it was followed up a few days later with refusal to give a direct answer about whether he’ll allow a peaceful transfer of power following an election loss? With so little national faith in the electoral system, will any of us even believe the results? Trump says if he loses, his followers certainly won’t, and I think that much is true. That’s another good trick when you’re managing masses to increase power and profit: mix a good amount of truth in with the lies.

As I describe my personal experience, I realize this may not be exactly what Trump has in mind when he calls for “patriotic education.” In fact, what he has in mind may be far more regulated, which is terrifying, but possible. I think it’s important to write about this because my education was spotty at best, indoctrination at worst, and this is exactly the kind of education that makes Americans so patriotic. The elements necessary include the suppression of information and racist tokenization. They include memorization of pledges of allegiance to symbols from early childhood, before it’s possible to think critically about what is being sworn away. They write off conflicting information as fake or revisionist. From what I can gather, this problem is only exacerbated when parents are in full control of their children’s access to information, not limited by any means to the homeschool table.

Every school day morning, when my siblings and I gathered around the dining room table for homeschool, it was time to get the American flag and say our pledge of allegiance to it. We kids took turns holding it up in reverence, putting our hands over our hearts, and most of us had the pledge memorized by the age of 2 or 3. Then we’d also say the pledge of allegiance to the AWANA flag. This was to practice for our Wednesday night AWANA meetings. At each AWANA meet, too, we said the United States flag pledge before pledging our allegiance to AWANA clubs. (For those who don’t know, my parents have since stopped homeschooling or participating in AWANA, so I am commenting on my own childhood experiences, not the present.)

AWANA is all-caps because is an acronym from a Bible verse, 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” It stands for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, explicitly an organization designed to indoctrinate children early. I started at age 3, as one of the “Cubbies,” memorizing two full books of short Bible passages like “Jesus loves me.” Then between the ages of 4 and 7, I was in “Sparks,” named such because we were young children “shining” for Jesus “to light the world,” based on Jesus’ reference to calling his followers “the light of the world.”

I won’t put the US flag pledge here, but I can write the AWANA pledge from memory since it’s less well-known:

“I pledge allegiance to the AWANA flag
Which stands for AWANA clubs
Whose goal is to reach boys and girls
With the gospel of Christ
And train them to serve him.”

That was the beginning of each school day, followed by praying aloud as a group – mom and us kids. Not all of us had to pray, but at least four of us had to volunteer to take each kind of prayer my mother required. She went by ACTS – Acclimation, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The scapegoated kids were usually put on the spot to come up with something to confess in front of anyone, and we were scolded if our prayers didn’t seem genuine enough. By the time the pledges and prayers were over, we were expected to do Bible time, before listening to mom read aloud from a children’s illustrated historical fiction book while we colored pictures.

The first history book that comes to mind is Stories of the Pilgrims, written by Margaret B. Pumphrey and published by Christian Liberty Press. I remember it well, because we read it every November for as long as I can remember, leading up to Thanksgiving. What I remember about this book was that my mom had no problem reading it exactly as it was written, referring to the Indigenous people they encountered as “the Indians.” We always celebrated Thanksgiving as the history of the Pilgrims being welcomed into a new land where they would be free to worship.

We listened to Rush Limbaugh on the radio constantly, along with the cohort of similar hosts including Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck (though Beck wasn’t conservative enough sometimes). We didn’t watch Fox News, not because we didn’t believe it reported with accuracy, but because we didn’t have TV. Our main source of breaking news was Drudge Report. There was constant exposure to rhetoric about taking back the country. America was awesome, and so was our family, and thinking otherwise was cause for great conflict.

While every holiday had a Christian perspective, including adding a Last Supper Communion cup of wine – er, sprite and grape juice – to our “Passover” celebration every Thursday-before-Easter, Independence Day was as big a deal as Christmas. The 4th of the July started in the early morning, when we started decorating the bikes and wagons so we could join in the children’s parade. Then we’d all gather for the big parade, which always concluded with lots of sirens. We always tried to see fireworks in the evening, too, and in my younger days mom would make special caramel popcorn for watching them.

The only thing I learned from my parents about slavery was that Abraham Lincoln was a great man for ending it. When I was perhaps 10, I told my mom to read the American Girl books about an enslaved child. They made her cry, but she never chose to include this crucial part of history with the other kids – maybe she didn’t know how to talk about it.

Our whole lifestyle had to do with supporting war, capitalism, and white supremacy. Patriotism looks like festivity for white people in this country, which is grotesque but true. It looks like pretending whole genocides didn’t exist. It’s disgusting to me now, but that is only because I have since learned how inaccurate my education was.

I can’t get to everything. I’ve been writing this post since yesterday. I need to wrap it up. My point in offering all of the above information is that part of systemic racism is educational neglect, and giving the power to educate to uninformed people. I do not believe any child can be sufficiently educated by only two people, particularly not by two people who agree enough about the world to be married to each other. Yet millions of people go through our public education system and are still left thinking that oppression is the problem of the oppressed.

Cognitive dissonance is going to be a real problem for all of us as things get worse on our planet. Our brains have not adapted to a rapidly changing world. As reality becomes more frightening, denial is more enticing. At the same time, denial will become more difficult to achieve.

I mention denial here because it is the key ingredient in keeping our system working the way it does. Evil happens because they don’t expect us to even believe anybody could be that evil…but the evil is everywhere: health insurance companies burying people alive with bureaucracy. Empty homes owned by the wealthy, while others go homeless despite their most dedicated efforts. Vast inequality, most detrimental to those who are the most disadvantaged. Police brutality to keep it all working the way it’s supposed to.

I don’t know what to say to help people get from a point where they embrace this country to realizing it’s an empire of exploitation. Perhaps it is impossible to cut past the extreme indoctrination. It’s not an education at all. It is the insistence that this country ignore its roots as a colonial power. It is the demand that we swear our loyalty without knowing what we’re agreeing to.

No longer do I stand to recite the pledge, nor do I sing the national anthem. It only reminds me of how I was told what to feel and think and believe. Now I am reading everything I can to inform myself about what really happened.

Unfortunately, whatever Trump is calling for has already taken place for millions of us. We were supposed to be patriots.

(Almost) Hopeless

Content Warning: This article discusses police brutality, internet censorship, and near-term human extinction.

Not sure where to begin after a day like yesterday. The onslaught of news was overwhelming. Later in the day, it became apparent to me at last that our internet is being censored. The omissions were eerie. For a little while, the only tweets coming through about the situation in Kentucky misspelled Breonna Taylor’s name – nothing with the right keywords was favored by the algorithms. Thousands of accounts had their followers and people they followed disappear. I kept seeing tweet after tweet asking, “is something wrong/off about twitter today?” Nobody asked about Facebook because “getting zucced” is a regular thing already.

It has been this way for some time. American exceptionalism is so deeply engrained in me that even though I have unlearned a lot of it, realizing that our internet is censored shocked me. Not here, I thought, before correcting myself: why not here? When has our genocidal, imperialist, racist country ever been above controlling the information its citizens have access to?

I should not be surprised, but I am. Social media has been the cold water to slowly heat to boiling with me in it. The options have simplified over time, leaving us cycling between a mere handful of sites to gain information. Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – the algorithms are designed to suppress uprisings and prevent communication between revolutionaries, spread misinformation to the gullible, and to bury relevant information.

Don’t believe me? Just try Googling the number of COVID-19 deaths. Rather than offering a direct answer, Google has built a page to subvert and confuse the facts, so at first glance you’ll only see the daily changes in a chart, based on your location. One must toggle several menus to get an accurate answer for the country and world. That’s not to mention all the so-called “reputable” sources who charge for content, excluding the poor from being more informed.

So the media reports about two officers injured last night. People have been protesting for months and I haven’t seen a single news media outlet list off the many injuries inflicted by the police. The news claims protesters are being violent. The algorithms have been sufficiently tightened to suppress information and anyone who thinks it couldn’t happen here still believes that the United States is what it claims to be on some level. But it’s not.

We are not a land of freedom, justice, equality, or human rights. We never have been. Our violence and brutality exists for profit, for the taste of immense power.

Also don’t come at me with the bullshit that people who hate this country should just leave. I’ve been TRYING to get out of this country for over five years now, not that it would necessarily help anyone. I’ve never in that time had the spare funds to get a passport, much less the resources to cover the transportation, much less even a cheap car, not to mention the host of other details required in the process of getting out. To leave, to move, to travel – all of this is a privilege afforded to few in my country. Most of us are trapped, trying to get by in a system that demands both our labor and our wages for existing (including putting this expectation on people who can’t even work), and keeps murdering minorities to maintain a reign of terror. Our continuous wars for profit extend this terror – of white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, destruction – to the world.

I think of how much work there is to be done for the cause of justice. How long must we wait, I wonder? Because as humans, we are running out of time to get our shit together.

The time between now and our extinction as a species is growing shorter with each day we continue to pollute and destroy. My research has led me to believe we have less than 100 years left. I believe this because all the models I can find for climate change reversal/slowing are based on significant reductions in pollution and destruction that we are not making whatsoever. You have to read all the way to the end to find the sections of these studies that say “and here’s what will happen if we continue on our current trajectory,” and those timelines are getting shorter with each new study. Each year the fire seasons will get worse, each year more animals and insects and other life forms with go extinct, and each year the sea levels will rise. When we say Gen Z is the last generation to live out a lifetime, that may be optimistic.

I do not have hope of reversing climate change. We are past that point. The most we can do, realistically, is minimize the inevitable suffering and halt our destruction and violence. We have the resources to feed, shelter, clothe, and otherwise care for everyone on the planet. The least we can do is make ourselves comfortable and care for each other. Our looming fate can motivate us to go out peacefully together.

I cannot say I see it happening, though. I don’t blame us, the ordinary people, for what is outside of our control. We can only protest the powerful, in whatever ways we can. The powerful are funneling the resources out of our mouths and into their pockets, and also using murder and maiming as motivation to conform.

We’re begging them not to kill innocent people in their own homes for the color of their skin.

That’s not a lot to ask for.

But our system can’t even offer a presidential candidate that doesn’t support the police state. It can’t offer impeachment of a corrupt president. It has no interest in keeping power in check, so it doesn’t. I’m realizing it never did.

I am not hopeful today. I only see the vast difference between the possible and the real, and my expectations lower with each development, especially with climate change looming.

This doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s worth it to fight for what’s right. I just think those of us who are trying to see things as clearly as possible need to realize we don’t have a lot of time left as a species, so we need to realize we’re racing against our own fate. We can’t stop our own destruction, just slow it down and demand justice for all of humanity until then. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.

If you’re struggling to hope right now, you are not alone. If you’re not, why?