The Great White North

The Great White North

 

One of the wonderful things about starting my own business has been the freedom to “go home again.” To move back to the small town in South Alabama that I grew up in and be close to my family and the beaches, the food, and the cultural events like Mardi Gras that dominated my childhood.

There have been other things that have been less than wonderful. Living in Alabama means living in a state with a government that I profoundly disagree with. My colleagues at Bose used to joke that my Mason Dixon line was at the neck. My heart was in Dixie but my head was firmly in the Northeast. They were right about that.
This election has been especially challenging for me as it no longer seems to make sense to compromise and live modestly in exchange for the freedom to live close to family, if it means living surrounded by people who are so determined to undermine what I feel America means.

It’s been relatively easy in my freelance roles to stay connected to the latest developments in technology. From IoT in Manufacturing, Retail, Transportation, and Building to advances in Big Data analytics and the way that Software Defined Infrastructure is shrinking provisioning time. How I write means that I absorb and deeply understand entire industries or fields of study before I condense it down to an email and landing page. I make complicated information simple, bite sized and then generate a strong call to action. That’s the job. But in order to do that, I really need to understand what I’m talking about, who I’m talking to, and what would be compelling or interesting to them.

I also sometimes pick up transcription work. Because that work is random, I might be transcribing meeting notes of a Fortune 500 business, or an interview with a leader of an organization. Some of these meetings are in the public sector, some in the private.

But I often miss places I have been. I especially miss the fall, the snow, the mountains. I miss New Hampshire. I miss a million things about living in or near a Blue state. Every day that Trump remains president reminds me more and more of how surrounded I am by people who are fundamentally foreign to me if they can support who is in the White House and what he is saying and doing. I miss the peace I knew there. I miss the people. I miss the intellectualism. I even miss the shopping!

I loved having the option of going to a huge cathedral or a small Episcopal church, all within driving distance. I loved being able to drive to the top of Mt. Washington if I got too hot on a summer’s day and instantly be in 50 degree weather.

I am torn between maintaining my own company and staying near family, and just finding a place up North and starting over. There are a bazillion jobs in NH and MA if the writing isn’t enough work to keep me busy. When I’m not busy here I deliver medication to old folks homes, volunteer and do research. But that’s just because there aren’t any jobs in my field in the area. Up there it’s another story.

It’s something to think about.

In lighter news, today I am trying to decide between seeing Dunkirk and Atomic Blonde at the theater. Leaning towards Dunkirk as reviews gush at the visuals. As I am back in a writing for pleasure mood, I will try and post a review.

 

 

Don’t hurt my kid because she isn’t like you

Don’t hurt my kid because she isn’t like you

I am a Christian… an Episcopalian in point of fact, which is one of the more progressive versions of Christianity in the United States. I was born in Mobile, Alabama but have lived in another country and multiple states because of first my mother’s jobs and then my own. I’ve lived in Venezuela, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and come back to the greater Mobile area to reside on the Eastern Shore in Alabama. My daughter was born when I was 20 in Orlando, Florida and she was raised in several of the states above. She probably officially considers her hometown a toss up between Orlando and Mobile because all of her mom’s family is in Mobile and all of her Dad’s is in Orlando. Well, all of her Dad’s that live in the United States. Her father is actually originally from Morocco. I met him when I worked at Disney World… Epcot Center to be precise, at the Moroccan pavilion. This was long before the notion of the Middle East as a terrorist threat became ingrained in the American psyche… in fact everyone really just thought “Aladdin”  and “Casablanca” when they thought of places like Morocco. Very exotic and romantic. As an 18 year old I was quite swept away.

As my daughter grew up as a typical American kid, she tried on many religions… as I thought it best to let her explore her beliefs. Her father being Muslim and me being Episcopal… I didn’t want to force her to choose one or the other. She actually was baptized at about 9 years old because she decided that she wanted to be Episcopal. But as she got older she grew dissatisfied and explored other options. She was Hindu for a month or so and eventually she went to visit her father for the summer and started to learn more about Islam. She felt a strong connection to it and began to study it and want to practice it. Over the next several years she continued to grow and deepen in her faith and commitment until she was a full member of that religion. It was hard to accept, 9/11 had happened by then and I felt terror at the idea of what she potentially faced from my fellow Americans. It would be so much easier if she just didn’t let anyone know… but of course I supported her decisions despite my fears. There may have been some counseling involved.

Now every day my 5 foot 3 inch tall, 25 year old daughter who is in nursing school lives with people looking at her with fear and hostility. Even when she has her two small kids, my grandsons, in tow. Grandsons who I just taught to catch a football and yell “Roll Tide!” Grandsons aged 3 and 6 who will be American Muslim men one day. I mean my huggy little boys, who play with the dinosaur toys, and elephant toys, and a parade of stuffed animals, will be hated by people all over this country and there is nothing I can do about it. My daughter is automatically hated by people right now and there is nothing I can do. I can’t protect her. The only comfort is that she lives in a bigger city up north at least, where she can blend in. She refuses to live in Alabama where she is too afraid she’d be attacked. But that means I don’t get to see them very much.
Do you know what that is like? To be a regular American afraid my kid might be attacked, harassed, spit on or insulted at any time by other people in my country simply because of her religion? How is our country, which was founded in part to escape exactly this type of persecution, now a place where this is the norm?

When I go to church I look around and know most of the people there would not have an issue with me having a daughter who is Muslim, but then again… some might. Just today I had to issue a warning on my Facebook alerting people that hate speech about Muslims would result in unfriending and requesting that people who hate Muslims unfriend me. The attack in Paris seems to have sent some people off the deep end. In Alabama, the Governor has decided that fleeing the Daesh (also known as ISIS /ISIL who are literally NOT EVEN Islamic despite their appropriating the name… kind of like Westboro Baptist “Church” is “Christian,”) makes you a terrorist, even though you are running for your life and a refugee. Xenophobic, Islamophobic, and a persecutor of the poor…Gov. Bentley is like The Simpsons Mr. Burns incarnate. Someone told my daughter she was lucky she was in the US now. Even though she was BORN here and fricking grew up in Alabama, Florida and Massachusetts and played Pokemon and watched cartoons and ate McDonald’s like every other kid in the US.

So I pray that when people see her they actually see HER, my kid, my daughter, who dressed up as Pikachu when she was 8. Who played soccer when she was 5. Who attended St. Paul’s Episcopal School for Kindergarten. Not someone to be afraid of, not a terrorist, Just a young woman from the South trying to become a nurse and take care of her family who happens to practice a religion that her father taught her because it spoke to her heart. And if you happen to see a Muslim when you are out… just remember, she is someone’s kid like mine and be kind.

The Nature of Love

Love is a funny thing. I’m speaking of true unconditional love as described by St. Paul in 1 Corinithians 1:

The Gift of Love

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

When you love a person this way it is strikingly different from the way love is portrayed in modern American society. It means that you want them to win, even if it means you lose. It means you want their happiness, even if it costs you your own. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for those I love. I am devoted, loyal, supportive, and accepting of all of who they are, even when they make mistakes or do things that wound me out of fear or self protection. I can’t help myself. I look at them and I see them inside, vulnerable, lovable, beautiful and I only want to protect and love them. To comfort and hold them. I feel a sea of light inside of me that is so deep with my capacity for love… and granted it’s true the pain I suffer at rejections and losses is likewise enormous, but the sea is deep enough to absorb that agony as well. That ocean wells from my love and devotion to God and from his love for me. It is the core of who I am.

Sometimes when we love someone this way, the only gift we can give them is our absence. Occasionally we know why, but other times we don’t. And when you love and your only desire is to shower your love upon the people you adore, to never see them, to no longer share any part of their life is the worst pain. It is loss and grief and suffering. But it is a sacrifice I continue to make as needed… often with no understanding of why. I simply continue to hold my love for them in my heart, a flame that I will always keep burning and watch as they silently drift into my past.

Hinterhof by Ja…

Hinterhof by James Fenton

Stay near to me and I’ll stay near to you —
As near as you are dear to me will do,
Near as the rainbow to the rain,
The west wind to the windowpane,
As fire to the hearth, as dawn to dew.

Stay true to me and I’ll stay true to you —
As true as you are new to me will do,
New as the rainbow in the spray,
Utterly new in every way,
New in the way that what you say is true.

Stay near to me, stay true to me. I’ll stay
As near, as true to you as heart could pray.
Heart never hoped that one might be
Half of the things you are to me —
The dawn, the fire, the rainbow and the day

“Hinterhof” by James Fenton, from Yellow Tulips: Poems 1986-2011. © Faber & Faber, 2011.

Be an Angel

When I first decided to adopt a soldier I had no idea how to go about it, so of course I did what I always do…research!

Now that I have a lot of experience I thought that it would be helpful to create a Guide to Supporting a Troop.

You can do something to support a member of the armed forces no matter how much money or time you have. From sending a card, writing a letter, sending a care package, donating $1 or more, all the way up to adopting a deployed service member and committing to sending them care packages and letters every month. You can even sign up just to write letters, or get an email friend.

Let’s start with the very least you can do: donate money.

There are lots of military charities out there, but how do you know which ones are trustworthy and which ones will do what you want them to do? Well here’s where I donate money when I have it.

1. Magazines for Troops: This organization is a Mom and Pop shop run by a couple who gets magazines to deployed troops. You can submit the information of your service member and they send a big box of all kinds of magazines to them. They’ve done this for all my adopted service members and it’s been such a wonderful treat for them. There is no charge for this, but they ask for donations to help defray shipping costs because it’s $13.95 for every box they send. I try to send them money whenever I can to help contribute towards the shipping they’ve paid for my guys at the very least. A very worthy cause and you can contribute any amount.

2. Homes for Our Troops: This is a very highly rated charity who builds free specially adapted homes for disabled veterans who have just returned from combat. They also have a store whose profits go towards the charity. I bought this year’s Christmas Ornament from there, stickers for my car and try to pitch a few buck their way whenever I can.

3. The USO: The USO is known worldwide for providing comfort to deployed and traveling troops and their families. I know this firsthand as my soldiers have Skyped and chatted with me from USO’s where they’ve gotten Internet Access and a place to sleep while deployed. They also have on base centers where many of my soldiers are deployed with Facebook pages and I love being able to keep track of what’s happening locally. So I donate to them and help them when they are fundraising.

4. The SemperFi Fund: This is the highest rated Military Charity bar none according to Charity Navigator and they provide immediate financial relief in the wake of catastrophic injury.

5. The Battle Buddy Foundation: An organization that focuses on PTSD and Service Dogs for those that have it. This is a passion of mine and I particularly like the way they are using technology and their Facebook to share stories.

When I first decided to send care packages, at first I couldn’t find a way to adopt a soldier. I found other things though. I found a way to send cards to injured Marines who were recovering and just needed cheering up. So that was one of the very first things I did. It’s not hard to send a get well card.

Next I found a place where you could send a single package to Any Soldier. This was an especially great organization because it focused on Soldiers and Marines who don’t often get care packages. You go to the site, go to this page and read the rules, then go to this page and pick your contact. Every unit who has signed up has a representative who receives care packages sent to the address you pick, and then distributes what you send to the soldiers who need it most. This way you have no commitment to a specific soldier. Some of the representatives post pictures of the unit so you can see a little bit about them and get updates.

Next I found Adopt A Hero where I adopted a Marine. I inundated him with letters, cards and care packages after looking him up on Facebook. I also used something called MotoMail which you can only use to send stuff to Marines and some Navy people. It basically sends an email to a post near where your Marine is, prints it and then hand delivers it. This is useful if your Marine is far away from a main Forward Operating Base or FOB for short. The Marine I adopted through this program is in a primitive area and has only sent me one email. It can be hard to maintain your excitement when you are reaching out to someone, writing letters, sending treats and things and getting no feedback but this can actually be the norm. You may never hear back. They are in combat situations, they don’t have time to write letters to strangers. If you do this, remember you are not doing it for you, you are doing it for them.

I wanted to write more letters and I had heard about Soldier’s Angels so I went to their site. In order to get on their Letter Writing Team I read that you have to sign up and adopt at least one soldier through their program. They have a $1 a month sign up fee to qualify you and make sure you are a real person. I signed up, adopted a soldier and also got on the letter writing team. My soldier was from Mississippi which is near me so I was excited. I did a search on his name and even found a mention of him at a deployment picnic the town threw for his unit. I found his Facebook page and looked at anything I could see publicly as a way of sparking ideas on how to write my introductory letter.

What I’ve discovered is that Soldier’s Angels doesn’t explain the process of adoption to the soldiers so I usually do that myself now. The first thing a soldier will receive once he signs up are letters from the letter writing team. Eventually he will be adopted by his own personal angel but it might take a little time because there is a waiting list… as I write this 187 Heroes are awaiting adoption. When I joined it was almost 400. So, eventually they get adopted and their personal angel will contact them. I also include this information when I send a letter on my Letter Writing Team assignments now. But when I adopted my first soldier, I didn’t know this. When my current soldiers come home and I get a new one, I will be sure to explain it all to them up front.  As an angel my job is to send one package a month and a letter a week to my official adopted soldier. With my current adoptee, I send a package a month, but we talk almost every day on Facebook or Skype and I also send cards and include a letter or card in his packages. Sometimes I send him little extra stuff too if he mentions something… like his feet are really cold, then I find some extra warm socks for extreme weather because Afghanistan and Mississippi are very different.

When you send a package you can include all kinds of things. I like to include specific items the person likes of course. I wheedle that information out of them. There are tons of lists out there to start you out, just search “care package advice.” But mine is this… start with the basics. The first package you will probably have to send blind. So send a box of assorted candy bars, assorted snack size chips, protein bars or powder, tuna packets, gourmet beef jerky and some basic toiletries. Only send high quality toiletries. No hotel minis. Gillette Fusion Razors and shaving gel, deodorant without a strong cologne, small shower gels, chapstick, mini vaseline, new toothbrush. Things like that. Don’t send home baked stuff, don’t send too much junk food.

Since Priority Mail service supplies are the packaging of choice for families preparing care packages for service members overseas, the Postal Service created a “Mili-kit” based on the items most frequently requested by military families.
The kit contains:  Two Priority Mail APO/FPO Flat Rate Boxes. Two Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Boxes. Priority Mail tape. Priority Mail address labels. Appropriate customs forms.  To order the kit, call 800-610-8734. It will come free to your house. Once you pack it up take it to the post office. Sending the full package costs $13.95

Instructions for filling out the customs forms are attached to the form itself. You can’t send pornography, liquor or anything under pressure or flammable.

Once I was a member of Soldier’s Angels and writing letters, I also found out about their ePal program where you could have an email friend. So I signed up for that. My ePal became such a close friend. He had a baby while he was deployed around the same time my grandson was born. We had great long conversations via email and then on Facebook chat. I enjoyed hearing about his family and his future plans and brainstorming with him. I sent him books and care packages too, even though it wasn’t a requirement, but because I cared about him and wanted him to have what he needed. He sent me things too. I know that I will very likely meet both my adopted soldier and my ePal when they come home.

The Letter Writing team has also been amazing. I signed up to send out 6 letters a week and got 2 names 3 days a week. For a long time I got no replies, but eventually I got one. Then another and another. Most replied via Facebook or email and I always included instructions on how to do that. Now I have several Facebook friends who are deployed who I met through the letter writing team. 2 of them I have become special friends with. I send them treats and talk to them almost every day on Facebook and sometimes on Skype.

During the holidays I went down to 2 letters a week, you can adjust the number of letters you send according to how much time you have to give.

I think I enjoy shopping for care packages and sending them off the most, and getting to Skype my soldiers and see them enjoying the things I’ve sent makes me very happy. At Christmas I did send some homemade candy that kept very well and was a big hit. I really loved watching one of my adopted soldiers eat one.

So you can do all kinds of things to support a troop. From the smallest amount of time, to a way of life, like me. If you ever have questions or know a soldier or Marine who wants to be adopted or needs help, just email me at stjonclark@gmail.com and I’ll be happy to jump in.

I have to caveat my endorsement of Soldier’s Angels because they have terminated my membership simply because I created this page and shared my experiences in hopes of encouraging more people to join their organization and adopt. Apparently the founder mistakenly believed I was attempting to set up a competing organization and didn’t bother to read or understand the purpose of the page and simply had me terminated. Because of this kind of thing, along with their failure to communicate effectively with the soldiers enrolled, I’d say their biggest weakness is this lack of communication. I still think they are a great organization and they have access to so many deployed soldier’s and provide support for new people that they are worthwhile. I am disappointed that they have treated an advocate of their’s so poorly.

I will be exploring additional options going forward and will add to the list as I review them.

You can Like my Angel for Soldiers page on Facebook if you want to get the latest tips on supporting troops at home and abroad.

Loving Forward

It’s a new year and it’s time to catch up. I have spent the latter part of the year in a kind of grand experiment. In addition to adopting 2 soldiers and a marine and sending 6 letters a week through Soldier’s Angels, I decided to offer to listen to anyone who needed someone to talk to online. I did this in a limited and controlled fashion and also talked weekly with my rector about the experiences I was having.

I started this experiment for a number of reasons. The first was that I discovered a site where there were many lonely and desperate people who seemed to need someone who cared and who would just be there and be present for them. I am made to care and love so it was a perfect fit. It called to me so strongly.

I have also been considering whether to go into counseling in some form as a career once my books are published and this seemed like a way to see whether I would be able to deal with some of the emotional requirements of that role.

If I even helped one person it would be worth whatever grief I suffered.

So, did I suffer grief? What was the result of my experiment?

Well it hasn’t concluded, because when I signed on to be present for people I signed on for good or as long as they needed me. Again, that’s just part of how I’m made. Loyal and devoted to a fault.

But I have met some people who became very dear to me because of their sorrows and their triumphs. Some just needed to talk over decisions that were weighing on them and they had no one they could seek advice from. Some sought a parental relationship, guidance, support and encouragement. Some were just lonely and wanted company. Some were in crisis and because I have been there myself I was able to reach out and take their hand. Some have become friends I know I will keep because our relationship grew from me listening, to me sharing in return. Some have already said goodbye because they no longer have need of what I offer.

I think that was the hardest thing. Letting go when they are ready to. Because of course, I get attached to each person I help. I fall in love with each person a little bit. I can’t help but see the beauty in each person when they share themselves and it is captivating. The more time I spend with them, the more I care. I don’t look for anything in return of course. But to no longer see their face or hear their voice when they are ready to move on is the hardest part. To no longer be able to check on them or worry for them when for weeks they were my concern all day, every day is painful. To no longer be allowed to care. This is where the grief comes in. I knew it would happen up front and that makes it little easier to bear. I gladly pay the price for having known each person for even a short while. They were a blessing in my life as I hope I was in theirs. But it still ouches.

You know I’ve written about loss and accepting it, how it is such a natural part of life. The thing to do is stay open, accept and love anyone you feel love for. Know that it will hurt when you lose them and spend your energy on learning how to recover from loss effectively instead of building walls to protect you from caring. Walls don’t work anyway. You end up caring and hurting no matter how hard you try to keep your distance.

So I let myself have a few days watching marathons on TV and sleeping in. I stare at their pictures and talk to them through my prayers. I think of all the things I wish I could have done with them or said to them. I carry a memento of them with me that I can touch as I go through my day. These little things help me move forward. I might not “get over” people or be able to stop loving them, but I can let them go on without me. For myself, I can keep my memory of them close and honor the feelings I have by paying them forward, always ready to love again.

The Kiss

Some of you may not know I am a fan of comics. Recently DC relaunched Justice League and I’ve been hearing things. Superman is the ultimate hero for me, I love that he’s so pure. I also like WonderWoman, I pretended to be her often. Underoos, anyone? So I was amazed and thrilled to discover that they had ditched the always needing rescue Lois Lane and had Superman and WonderWoman fall for each other! WHAT?! That is AWESOME. Here’s a the cover for the most recent issue:

Justice League 12

The Kiss Cover on Justice League 12

So I  stopped by a Comic shop while in Montgomery today and picked up the first 5 in this series, yeah #12 was completely SOLD OUT and I was a little bummed because I HAVE to get it. The owner of the shop is apparently at DragonCon in Atlanta and hopes to get a few there. The man at the shop today offered to put one aside for me if he gets any, so I will stop in on Wednesday to check when I go to tutor. Here’s today’s haul though:

Justice League

My Justice League Comics 1-5

I love Sundays. I am enjoying the church I am attending in the Montgomery area and am looking forward to my first tutoring session on Wednesday. Attendance was light today due to it being Labor Day weekend but my mother was able to join me which is always a treat. Afterwards we had brunch together and then did a little grocery shopping. There is a Fresh Market in Montgomery as well as a Publix and I like to stock up on things like fancy tea, Turkey PerkyJerky and my favorite chocolate bar. You most definitely will not find these things in Troy at the Super Wal-Mart, Piggly Wiggly or Food World.

We aren’t doing anything too special for Labor Day. I’ve been  laboring quite a lot lately so I hope to relax, see a movie, and finish setting up my new Marine/Afghanistan Care Package project. Fun stuff in other words.  I just need help getting a logo together for it and then I’ll launch the blog/Facebook page/Twitter as well as start advertising it locally on cable access and at local businesses.

In fitness news, I continue to meet my goals. I’ve added more Yoga to the mix after discovering I could do some pretty amazing poses. I’ve always been super flexible, and in Yoga this can really be used to my advantage to get into advanced positions that not only give me a great workout but feel amazing too. I can do two pull ups now which I am quite proud of. I will consider myself really impressed when I get to five.

On September 7th I am going to see Tony Bennett in concert in Biloxi which should be fantastic. My mom scored free tickets and we are staying the night. That’s a nice little vacation to look forward to.