My Blog Motto

"Good judgement comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgement"

~Rita Mae Brown

Monday, December 12, 2016

My Inner Child is a Total Dork Part 1

This  post was inspired by a photo of me, age 2, standing in front of our apartment on Amy avenue in Whiting Ind. The snowsuit is large and puffy, the waistline was as high as my great Bompa's right up under the non boob. It was new that year. By next year my wrists would be red and exposed and I'd have to wear my Dad's socks to fill the gap between boot and snow pant. An entirely different and colder, but no less awkward, presentation.

Note Bompa's waistline. 

Zoom ahead 55 years. There is snow on the ground. The dogs really need to go out. If they don't they will essentially say "fuck it" and pee on the floor. If this happens a Geo political situation that dwarfs anything the Russians have will escalate in the house hold. A skirt is quicker to throw on over pajamas than jeans, so I've gone with the flowsy elastic waisted thing I've had since before by kids were born. Elastic was never destined to live this long. Never Mind! I rip the hair tie (and a chunk of my scalp) from my head and fashion a "bikini knot", yeah let's go with that. No time for real boots so I shove my feet into the fugs, or fake uggs. These too have seen better days. The sole is unevenly worn at the insole, they make my feet look sad. Frowny feet.
The dogs are circling, in opposite directions. I am bound by their leashes, bound like a frowzy toppling maypole. I unwind the dogs and as I stand up the glasses that have been perched on my head fall backward and onto the floor. The bigger dog immediately steps on them, and when I tell her  to stop she does (good girl) but then grinds the lenses a little into the floor as she shifts nervously waiting for instructions. Or trying not to pee. The glasses don't matter now, nothing matters now but avoiding world house war three. As we scuffle down the dark back stairs my skirt begins to slip ever so slowly and my untied hair is covering my eyes. I am more animal than human now......but we open the door and there is it, snow. Shining and glittering in the universal language of magic. I probably have the same goofy smile on my face as I did 55 years ago

© 2010-2016 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Fallen Angels and Reluctant Saints

When you work with youth you get a lot of very nice compliments. People say things like :oh the work you do is so important" and "I bet those kids really appreciate you" and even, god forbid, "You are a saint"
It's important to note that these well meaning kind gestures almost always come from people who do NOT work with youth. If they did there would be a few things they would understand. Like the fact that sometimes when discussing a case with a co-worker, you might refer to a teenager as a "complete dick" or some other colorful descriptive term. Like the fact that on many occasions you find yourself nearly dissociated in the midst of chaos and arguing questioning all of your life choices up to this point and considering that throwing your keys on the desk and walking out the door might be your best chance at salvaging what is left of your life. That you look at your paycheck in comparison to your student loan debt and realize that you will never be able to pay even the interest. That you will probably never own a new car or a house (unless you are lucky enough to be partnered with someone who has made more lucrative career choices)
A very good friend and co-worker of mine once responded to the old "you're such a good person" platitude with the best response I've ever heard. He said, "no I'm NOT a very good person, that's why I do this work" I understood his meaning behind that. It was not intended as a sort of self flagellation an atonement for mistakes made earlier in life, but rather an affirmation that it takes one to know one. In order to be fully present and empathetic with troubled youth, having a history of one's own troubled youth goes a long way. It goes a long way in having the strength and resilience to let the insults roll off your back, because you have probably hurled similar insults at adults in your day. You understand that the testing they put you through is merely their way of finding out if you will care for them unconditionally or if you will turn your back on them and abandon them as so many have done before you. You know that they crave the same things you craved yet resisted when you were a troubled youth. There is the promise of some redemption, some healing of your own wounded child if only you can give them the kind of guidance you were denied. But don't expect accolades from the ones you nurture, they are more often than not likely to reject your acceptance, because it goes against everything they have experienced so far. No we don't do this for accolades and appreciation. In fact many of us don't even really understand why we do it, we just do because it's something we feel driven to do. A calling perhaps, a compulsion, maybe if you've been lucky, a tribute to someone who helped you out along the way.
So, please, when I tell you  what I do for a living don't tell me what a wonderful person I am. Don't attempt to canonize me. Just say thanks. The appreciation for a job well done goes a long way in any field.
And it wouldn't hurt my feelings if you ever have the chance to lobby or appeal for better pay for youth workers. We make on average 10 to 20 grand less per year than teachers. And we don't have a union (in fact the National organization that represents social workers seems to recoil from the idea of unionization...we're supposed to be in this for the love of the work, not much more. And while we do love the work, (who would go back to the place that just yesterday triggered a massive existential crisis if they didn't? ) we work very hard and for not much more than fulfillment of that nagging compulsion to be where we are. We are not saints, we are simply following out destiny.

© 2010-2016 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Minor Inconvenience - reflections on 12/19/2014

It wasn't my first time in jail. After all I am a woman with a past but I wondered if the very different circumstances that landed me there would color the experience in a lighter hue. After all, my previous jail experiences were, shall we say, not unreasonable. I did break the law, I was stupid about it and I was very, very drunk. At that point in my life I was quite often very, very drunk. I can even say that for the most part I was in the wrong, I needed intervention and frankly I'm a better person for the experience. See, like many people who run afoul of the law I was lost in a mix of untreated mental health issues and coexisting alcohol and drug abuse. Unlike many people, I was fortunate enough to be offered an alternative to sentencing at a very effective and holistic treatment program for women. But that was after enough time in jail for me to learn a few things.
Probably the biggest lesson I picked up on is that my jail fears were way off base. For most people the biggest fear of jail is the other inmates. You know all the horror stories and jokes, I don't need to repeat them. In reality most people who are in County jail are not murderers and/or rapists eagerly rubbing their hands together at the prospect of "fresh meat". If anything my grand entrance to the dorm with my arm load of fresh bedding and false bravado, was pretty anti climactic. Most of the women barely looked up from their game of cards or tv show or whatever it was they were using to pass the time. When someone finally did approach me it was an older woman with a gentle and motherly nature who took me under her wing, telling me that since I'd just missed canteen day she would hook me up with coffee for the next few days. Within minutes we were in her cell sipping lukewarm instant coffee mixed with "hot" tap water, looking at photos of her grandchildren. Like any grandmother she was beaming with pride and full of stories. She was clearly an elder, both on the inside and out, and by befriending her I managed to secure a fair amount of space for the remainder of my stay. 
In the 9 weeks I spent there, I came to know all the women in my unit. I heard their stories, stories of children at home, of boyfriends who convinced them to take the rap because they had a clean record and were less likely to do hard time. I heard histories of abuse and dehumanization that often began in infancy within the family and of disenfranchisement by a system that has no compassion for women who don't fit the "norm" (whatever that is) in the community. The vast majority of my cellmates were in for victimless crimes, mostly involving drugs or alcohol, self-medication. Some were in for bad checks or other forms of "fraud" that were the only options available to provide for their children. The vast majority of these women were black, because the vast majority of people who end up in jail for crimes like that are black and usually poor. Women who were casualties of a racist and classist system that is devoid of compassion, devoid of accessible and meaningful services and resources. A system that punishes the mentally ill and re-victimizes the abused.
That experience was nearly 20 years ago and in that time I managed to get clean, return to college to earn a Master's Degree in Community Counseling and find employment in a rewarding career advocating for the kind of women I'd grown to know, and care about, on the "inside"
On December 19, 2014, I was arrested for protesting the very system I'd grown to understand was responsible for robbing these women of their freedoms, their families, their dreams. In my eyes this experience would be different. I was different, I was supporting a "noble" cause, and certainly I'd be out within an hour, no problem, piece of cake. Or so I thought. The minute I walked through that door into the justice facility all my self righteous pride and illusion melted like a January thaw. The sound of those metal doors slamming behind you, the clanging of the CO's keys, the angry voice commanding you by last name only to do as you are told brought me right back to that time two decades ago. If you haven't experienced it it's difficult to describe accurately the immediate effect of depersonalization that occurs the minute that door slams. It was as if all I'd struggled to create and nurture in my life was stripped away in an instant. 
Does this sound melodramatic of someone who ultimately only spent one night in jail on a relatively minor misdemeanor charge? Out of context I'm sure it would, and rightly so when there are so many behind bars serving decades for "crimes" that are often ultimately the result of a broken system that creates broken people. People who were never offered the opportunity for a second chance that I was given simply by being white, educated and somewhat middle class, It was in reality, much like the protest for which I was arrested, a minor inconvenience. But then again, both the protest and the arrest were symptoms of a much larger and insidious system that decides that some people are worth less than others if they are even given any thought to at all. 
I know I'm fortunate to have that advantage even if it often creates an internal discomfort, a conflict that I can only reconcile by creating minor inconveniences in the hope that they will someday bring light to the greater injustices in our society,
© 2010-2015 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Blogging Blah Blah and Being an Oddball

I haven't been a very good blogger lately have I? Well, maybe I've never been a very good blogger, but I haven't been a very productive blogger. It can be fun in a way, writing down your thoughts and having the ability to share and to see what others think, that bit is fun. It seems as though within the last few years everyone has decided to be a blogger. Fair enough, everyone has an opinion, and ideas and we all like to share and communicate. Now that things like facebook and twitter have become more than just a diversion or a bit of a treat they seem to have morphed into our daily process of interacting with others. They feel like a necessity. Up in the morning, have your cup of coffee or however it is you start your day and then right to the device to check up on your facebook. Lunchtime, check your facebook. Home from work..facebook. Ooops my phone dinged, someone replied on facebook, better see what that's about. And all of a sudden the world is awash with our thoughts, ideas and opinions. It's all out there, forever. Every bad mood, every little disagreement, every lunch someone ordered at the deli, every latte at Starbucks, every cute face your dog made (guilty) you get the point, it's almost like why have a blog when our lives are moment by moment recorded, out on display, reviewed and critiqued every day?
Of course there are many brilliant minds and amazing writers who do have blogs worth reading. Why bother trying to get published in an industry that is overwhelmed and frankly probably highly controlled for content? Write a blog.
Then there are people who really, really just like to hear themselves talk, no shortage of those, and they can reach a much larger audience with a blog. Why limit your rants to friends and family who have all heard what you have to say a zillion times?
I am fascinated by how different the world is for young people who have always had the internet. And smartphones. For them instant communication with a relatively unlimited audience is just the way things are. They can't imagine having to wait to use a telephone to confess some deep dark secret or some bit of exciting news to their best friend. Or having to wait for a piece of mail to arrive in response to a letter you sent a week earlier. Or the intimacy of the sweaty piece of paper cautiously being unwrapped while hiding in the bathroom stall at school awaiting the answer to the big question 'do you like me?'
I'm only a bit nostalgic for those times. Really I thrive on the ability to be able to have instant responses. I'm thrilled by the fact that some of the people I have the most stimulating conversations with are people I would never have known before the internet, and who I may never meet in person. I care about these people and I know they care about me. I've always been a bit of an oddball and good friends are hard to come by. I think many of the people I've grown close to online are cut from the same cloth. When I was so sick and miserable on treatment for Hepatitis C I found groups and individuals who offered real support and understanding because they knew exactly what I was experiencing. It was a wider base than I could have had access to by going to the one and only support group that was offered in town and consisted of about 20 people at best. In my experience, being an oddball, in a group that size I'm lucky to find one or two who really clicks with all of the aspects of my life not just the topic of the group.
So ok, I've been an inconsistent blogger. I won't say bad, I won't say great, I just am who I am, quirky, oddball, whatever. I am a voracious communicator, although I'm not even sure 'voracious' fits in that context, but it's my blog so I'm using it that way. And isn't that the beauty of all this. We can do it our way, so long as we're not claiming to be experts or speaking on a topic that requires study and expertise. If I am an expert in anything it's doing things in my own oddball way and encouraging others to embrace their own eccentricities. So this post is dedicated to all my friends, near and far, in person and online, I am so grateful for you all and for your humor, honesty and courage to be yourselves! Thank you for being you.
Peace and Love,

© 2010-2014 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Pharmaceutical Sexy

"These are the years of your life when you know who you are...and you should live like it" This line is from an ad for Viagra or some equivalent product.
The reason middle aged and older people are comfortable with who we are and choices we make is, in my opinion, largely due to the lack of hormones that these products attempt to stimulate or simulate. It's quite simple, us older people are more wise and confident because we are not constantly obsessing about how to get laid!!!!
Granted I'm not sure how Viagra works, but it is only one of a few products and schemes designed to enable older adults to 'feel sexy', and perform sexy.. There is HRT (Hormone replacement therapy) for women which is designed to help with the symptoms of menopause and presumably is of some benefit in preventing certain types of cancer. I did not choose to try this option myself, but I don't hold it against anyone who does especially if their menopause symptoms are interfering with daily life. I have heard some women, including a celebrity or two, advocate HRT for the youthful effects. Some are cosmetic, apparently hormones can stave off some of the changes that effect the aging process, but I've also heard women gushing about their increased sex drive. I guess this comes in handy for celebrity women who seem to wear young men on their arm like fashion accessories, but most of us don't need to keep up with a 20 something libido. Speaking for myself when recalling my own libido at ago 20 something, I'm not so sure I'd want to revisit that intensity. Hey it was great at the time and I took ample advantage of the opportunities but 30 years later I am just naturally inclined to save my energies for other things.
I'm not saying that once we hit a certain age we ought to become celibate, close up shop completely, but like so many other interpersonal relationships things do change with age and experience. And to give credit where credit is due this change in my activities is not entirely the result of some inner peace and harmony or great spiritual awakening, it's pretty much quite simply a change in hormonal composition. It's a change I can live with and since I was one of those people who seemed to have an overflow of hormones in my youth, it's actually been a relief. It was hard work keeping up with all those demands my body kept insisting I fulfill.
So you all rock on with your pharmaceutical hornyness if that makes you happy, for me I'll take the peace of mind.

© 2014 Nanakoosa’s Place, authored by Jennifer Hazard