Monday, February 29, 2016

Clarifying Diplomacy and Falling Off the social media wagon

Last week I wrote a piece on thinking before I post on Facebook, being diplomatic both in person and on social media, and how most of the time there's no point getting into a discussion with people who hold opposite views on religion and/or politics because of cognitive dissonance.

First I want to clarify the point about not speaking up, or out about controversial topics with certain types of people and/or on social media. There are circumstances where no matter the personal sacrifice one risks in speaking up of posting online, one must. In my view, the circumstances involve speaking up include the following: abuse, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, as well as any manipulation along those lines, human rights abuses, the welfare and best interests of children, racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination. I did briefly state towards the end about exceptions, but wasn't completely clear.

Second, I have to confess that I've fallen off the social media wagon over the last week, and have both shared political posts, which I said I was not going to do anymore, and spent lots of time again on Facebook. In my defense, I was ill and in the hospital part of last week for a heart attack false alarm (thank God). 

I'm working hard at getting back to studying consistently for the Foreign Service Officer Test, and at not posting status updates on social media. I have put in a lot of work on episode 2 of the vlog, and hopefully it will be on my YouTube channel in 2 weeks.

The next blog entry will be about the film "Frank." It should be uploaded here within the next week.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"Justice, Justice, shall you pursue..."

    The title of this entry is a paraphrasing of a portion of a book of the Bible, Deuterotomy 16:20, which in "The New American Standard Version 1977" is translated from the Hebrew as, "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you," in its entirety. 

    Don't worry, I'm not going to start preaching about God or religion here. I just think it's a good jumping off point to get into another special interest of mine that's related to my passions for social justice, and compassion for all people, but also a life long challenge in my life and my profession now, and will come into play in a very public way if and when I become a Foreign Service Officer --Diplomat-- where I will have to be diplomatic, and often not reveal my personal beliefs and opinions on a situation, person, or policy. 

    I honestly wasn't going to write about my interests in other cultures, history, social studies, and politics in this series on special interests because I'm purposely moving away from publicly displaying my politics on social media, but something occurred recently which made me realize that in my current career as a therapist who goes into client's homes, I'm already a diplomat. 

    Each home I enter, each family, is its own culture, its own country, with hierarchies, unspoken rules, hidden languages, and varying agendas. I've had the good fortune to also have been assigned many clients from different nations, including Australia, Brazil, India, and Mexico. In each case, I've learned not just new household protocol, but how to take into consideration the differing cultural backgrounds of each client family and analyze what I can do to respect and honor those things without judging any differences with my own experiences growing up in the United States, punctuated by a few brief stints living overseas.

    But for me, adapting to foreign ideas from other countries and the accompanying social rules isn't really challenging, but enjoyable. Social protocol and etiquette are special interests of mine because they relate to my passion for compassion and empathy towards others. What's tough for me, is when someone tries to engage me in small talk about politics and other cultures outside of the US, who is also American, but who doesn't share in my view that people from other cultures, or socioeconomic classes are deserving of compassion. The challenge isn't in holding my tongue, and keeping my opinions to myself in situations where I know a discussion of the issues isn't going to go anywhere but into unnecessary conflict, but in tactfully steering the conversation away from the potentially contentious topic and onto a more safe subject while still giving an answer that will do that but neither seem like agreeing not disagreeing with the person, in these cases a parent, who assumes I must share the same political and cultural views they do. I can't get into an argument with them because a conflict would impede the work I am there to do, which is provide therapy and education for their child. Starting a "war" with them is a no win situation. The child, my client suffers, and me speaking out will never get them to change, to become more compassionate and understanding. Their own cognitive dissonance will set in, and my words will only be perceived as an unprovoked attack.

    I'm running out of time here at the library where I write, so I'll not go further into this topic, or my history of interest in politics and social justice over the years, starting in Jr High with an essay on Yasir Arafat. In high school I had a history of being an angry, political punk rocker. In my adult life I've been mostly very left leaning throughout my 20's and 30's while swinging increasingly towards the more center left in my 40's as I learn that pragmatism must mix with passion in order to get things done in the real world, but also that the world isn't black and white, but very complex with a whole range of shades and tints to every challenge. Somehow over 17 years of entering people's homes to work with their children, I have been preparing to become a diplomat on a large scale by learning diplomacy on a small scale. So as I transition to more public life, increasingly my own views and opinions must become more private. My trips on Facebook and other social media, even my blog entries must increasingly become like conversations with parents who hold very different views from my own. Any belief or opinion I hold that could cause conflict, or impede goals and interests for the good of everyone must be kept offline. This, I hope, is a good thing.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chameleons and Stardust: How David Bowie changed and influenced my life

   In the middle of the night, or really very early morning hours of Jan 10, 2016, I couldn't sleep, so I was studying up on life as a Foreign Service Officer. The prospect of changing careers again and reinventing myself for the I don't know number of time was probably what had me wide awake, reading when the notification came through on my phone that David Bowie, my idol since I was 9 years old had passed away from cancer at the age of 69. It felt unreal. How could it be true? I hadn't seen any reports that he'd been ill in the media. Maybe it wasn't true. But it was, it is true of course.

    It's taken me almost a month to be able to put my emotions into words about Mr Bowie and his passing, but more importantly his influence on not just my own art and writing, but on my very sense of self as a person, and the infinite possibilities of being and presentation that a person has within them, the idea that we aren't ever stuck in one single persona, and that we and not others are in control of our personality, our being, our attitude, and not other people. For the past 6 or more years, I had forgotten those lessons. It took his surprise death to shake this idea, this confidence in myself, and my ability to be the person I want to be is based on my own creation and not on what others believe or say about me, particularly directly to me when that very persona does.not allow them to easily control or abuse me. But it also reinforced my drive and ambition to change tracks pro-life from being a therapist and artist with a self fulfilling and supported by others that I am incapable of anything better, that I'm stuck where I am struggling for crumbs, helping others, while living in poverty myself to becoming a very different kind of public servant, a diplomat, and possibly a future politician devoted to helping others get out from under abuse and tyranny while serving my country and combating violent extremism.

    Maybe it sounds strange to some that a musician, an artist like David Bowie could not just profoundly influence somebody to become a musician who is true to themself and ever evolving, but that such an artistic and seemingly eccentric I individual could also influence a person in other areas of their life, including entering political life through foreign service. However, it shouldn't be. David Bowie was the ultimate chameleon with an infinite capacity for self reinvention that went beyond art and music, but into business, and more importantly public persona and presentation. To a girl growing up often feeling like she was born in the wrong time, in the wrong universe even, while suffering bullying and abuse, the discovery a person who could constantly evolve, and who made being an individual, being different cool, it was a revelation, and a revolution, albeit a slow one.

    I first discovered Bowie at about age 9. My parents were divorced and my mom was engaged to a man I instinctively disliked. To be blunt, he made my skin crawl from the moment I met him. We were on the verge of moving from eastern Washington state to Oakland, CA, visiting my grandmother in Spokane, WA, when a lines from a song from a couple years earlier started repeating in my head -- "Fame" was the song. My mom is a music lover so we always had music playing in the house and in the car. In fact I already had strong, eclectic musical tastes on my own, usually related to musical theatre and disco. Obviously I'd heard David Bowie's "Fame," when it had originally played on the radio, but it hadn't made an impression yet. The song became an obsession and as soon as we got back home I made it a mission to figure out who sang it and if I could get a 45 single of it.

    During this time we did move to California, and I did somehow discover via the radio that David Bowie sang the song I was stuck on. But since the song wasn't recent, I couldn't find a single on 45 of it easily. Instead I ventured into Tower Records and found a large number of albums by David Bowie. I discovered "Fame" on Bowie's Changes One album, and bought it with my allowance money. That purchase began a collection of every Bowie album I could get my hands on, and of every article music magazines, usually British until after the days of "Modern Love," and "Blue Jean" in the mid 1980's. I became a Bowie expert by age 12 which always impressed adults. I did not seem like the typical Bowie fan as a timid barely adolescent girl who was too shy to speak audibly, and who was also obsessed with Shakespeare, Dickens, King Arthur, and ballet. But that persona would change, at least outwardly within a few years.

    By the mid 80's my musical tastes had continued to evolve through my interest in Bowie. By buying albums by him full of songs I had never heard on the radio, I bran he'd out to discover Bowie collaborators like Iggy Pop. I also learned about punk and started listening to the Clash and the Sex Pistols, then the Pretenders. My exposure to Bowie led me to not judge anybody for their original appearance, such as when Boy George and The Culture Club appeared in the U.S. when New Wave hit. More importantly though, David Bowie had allowed me to change my own persona from nerdy awkward girl in oversized eye glasses to cool, sarcastic, spiky haired punk who was mysterious, mostly silent and who didn't give a fuck what people thought of her.

    Like many others, David Bowie and his ever changing personae, allowed me the power to invent myself as well. It allowed me to pursue music and acting. It allowed me to later change my mind slightly and instead become a writer and filmmaker, including working on some interesting projects, especially a documentary on Surrealism by Karl Krogstad. Then even later, Bowie's evolutions of personality and reinvention, undoubtedly gave me the courage to go to London as an au pair, and to stay in London to become a tutor/therapist to a child on the autism spectrum, a decision that shaped my life over the last 17 years and ultimately led me to a discovery of my own autism via an unofficial diagnosis of Aspergers Syndrome.

    Over the past year and a half, I've struggled through some odd health issues, some that have been with me all of my life, but peaked over the last year, partly due to my age, partly due to ongoing severe stress related to huge economic losses and struggle during the Great Recession, including income cuts from $35/hour to $9/hour. My income recovered a little to $14/hour and briefly I was doing ok financially and looking like I might recover. Then a series of health issues, my own negative beliefs about having Aspergers, plus the beliefs of others, led me to being unable to work full-time and my hours shrunk to roughly 12 hours a week. I had to apply for food stamps, Medicaid and even filed for disability. Then doctors discovered that I had gallbladder disease and I had surgery to remove my gall bladder. After nearly dying from complications related to anesthesia, I started to really re-evaluate my life. I felt better. I canceled my disability claim. I started seeing that there were two ways to see myself. One way was an incapable Annette, a loser, a failure, and who's autism was what had held her back all her life. The other Annette though is a survivor, constantly striving, and forever reinventing herself. She is a strong woman capable of anything. I don't think I could have made this leap without David Bowie. Without his influence on my life and my sense of self, of my own infinite capacity, I would never have dared to even look for new strength and a new career. I would have been trapped.

Perhaps my tribute to Mr Bowie is both too analytical, and too self focused. I'm both an intensely logical and intensely emotional person, but in crisis especially, I am rational, logical, and analytical. Perhaps this is a strength. Perhaps it isn't. But I hope, I think that David Bowie would rather his influence live on and that those of us left behind continue to remember that we are never trapped. We all can, always, be in control of who we are and of who we become and appear to be. Thank you Mr Bowie, wherever you may be.