Jury duty

juror summonsI was called for jury duty last week.

In order to save money on parking, and because riding my bike downtown scares me, and because public transit is so … public, I decided to walk. This meant that in order to get to the courthouse by 7:45am, I had to leave by 7:00am, which in OCD language meant out the door by 6:54am, which meant setting my alarm for 5:23am. (Someday I will show you the algorithm.)

Factor in that I was worried I would oversleep my alarm, which meant I didn’t let myself go all the way to sleep the night before, and basically spent most of the night considering the phrase “jury of their peers,” and got very hung up on the word “peer.” I was also extremely anxious (the “you know, if I were to get hit by a car, I won’t have to do this” kind of anxious) about being stuck in a room full of strangers and their contaminants for eight hours, the prospect of small talk (after spending so much time alone I sometimes worry about my ability to modulate my own voice), answering questions about myself (what if I AM a felon, and somehow did not know it?), and an overarching philosophical angst about what would happen if I made a mistake that ruined someone else’s life.

Awesome.

What I am getting at is that I was not exactly in the best mood when I left that morning.

no tresspassingWalking the 2.6 miles (yes, I google mapped it) from my house to downtown meant that I would be passing several homeless camps. I am not sure if “homeless camp” is a respectful term, and if I am using the wrong language, I apologize. We have a homeless crisis here in Portland, a “progressive” city where affordable housing is nearly non-existent (people are being displaced with virtually no options, and one of my 3:00am (the time of day when no problem is solvable) worries is that I may succumb imminently, as my own rent has increased 46% in the span of two years – a topic for another day); we don’t have enough resources for people with mental illness (I have plenty to say about that, too); Portland seems to be too busy telling the world how wonderful it is to notice the enormous cracks people are falling through; et-fucking-cetera.

(Joke break: “My what a delightful handbasket, Portland. Did you make it yourself? Also, can you tell me where we are headed?” -Ed.)

I have been admonished in the past that I should not call someone “homeless,” but “houseless” (to use people first language, wouldn’t that be “person experiencing houselessness” then?), and that I should refer to a person living on the street as someone “living outside.” While I appreciate the sentiment, I am not sure I support the terminology, and I also know that I, someone who has a home/is housed (knock on wood), am not the one who should be deciding on the labels. I am eager to learn, I just don’t always know who to listen to.

Whatever the vernacular, as I approached a particularly elaborate “camp” that took up an entire streetcorner (a tent, multiple tarps, bicycle parts, a small Weber grill, an Igloo cooler – I don’t recall all of the items, but I do remember that there were a lot of them, also no comment on brand recognition…), a man emerged and started rummaging and gesturing and talking loudly. He seemed agitated. It struck me that we were both starting our mornings with resistance, only he was being much more vocal about it.

When I realized he was talking to me, at first I was frightened (reasonably so? I am not sure, as I am not always a good judge of that, in either direction) of this disheveled, wild-haired man and his gesticulations. I was very aware that I was invading his turf, ironically (or not), on my way to perform my mandated civic duty. I also knew that I was allegedly the person of “privilege” in the scenario, which adds a top-down element to compassion (the one who disperses it, the one it is bestowed upon) that I do not like.

To note, having compassion for someone and being in ardent opposition of the social structures that arguably put them in a perilous situation do not guarantee they are not going to hurt you, or ask you for money, or call you a bitch if you don’t give it to them.

I often wonder what I would be if I wasn’t afraid.

(Joke break: It was so much easier to be a liberal when I lived in Lake Oswego.)

I take responsibility that the fears I directed at him were my own defensiveness and biased projections, based on my own complicated, internalized perceptions and responses to potentially “dangerous” situations. (A long way of saying I have PTSD that spills into just about everything, for sure, and also a long way of saying I am a woman and he was a man and this is the world we are living in.)

This was me, a person who hates conflict, on guard, preparing to run if I had to. This was me, a single woman with a trauma history, out in the world, exposed, who might not have anyone notice other than my cat if I didn’t return home on time. This was me being forced to leave my apartment to perform a role that made me nervous, to be outside when my agoraphobic tendencies have been so escalated, invading someone’s claimed space because it was along my shortest route from here (a place I am not sure I can stay) to there (a place I didn’t want to go). I told myself I was not trespassing, even though it felt like it.

All of these feelings in the span of less than a block, first thing in the morning. I thought about crossing the street, but made the decision that I was going to face whatever was going to happen. I put my shoulders back, tried to look friendly, purposeful, and taller, and hoped he would not harass me.

“Good morning,” I said as I approached. I smiled what I hoped was a convincing (to him or to me) smile.

“Sorry things are such a mess,” he said, and began collecting items that were in my direct path, piling them against the wall of the building. He was apologetic. Considerate. Fretful, yes, but non-threatening. I found myself feeling embarrassed for my initial reaction to him. I said I was sorry for walking through his stuff.

He did not pause for my apology, but kept talking. “Every time I have an idea, I get started on it, and then I get another idea, and I start that one. I just can’t seem to follow through with any of them,” he told me. He looked pained, bewildered.

“I know just what you mean,” I said.

I stopped and stood there on the sidewalk, softening as I registered how earnest he was.

I listened as he described what he had in mind for the various objects he had collected, how he was going to assemble them “into one big piece of art.” I nodded as he was talking, making ambiguously supportive replies along the lines of, “Cool,” and, “Hey neat!” and, “That would be rad.” (Yes, I think I actually said “rad.”) I am sure I sounded like a complete ass. He didn’t seem to mind, and that softened me further.

As he talked, I realized that I liked this guy. I realized I was no longer afraid of him, and what a difference that made inside me as I was standing there. It occurred to me that I was not there to be attacked by him, or to rescue him, but to share a moment of connection with a fellow human being, which we were doing.

Remarkable, that shift.

I became utterly present.

Unsure of the penalty for being late to jury duty, I told him I’d better get going, and started to walk away.

He called after me, “For twenty bucks you can give me the address of someone you want to get back at, and I will set all this up in front of their house.”

I turned around and he made a sweeping motion with his arms, indicating “all this in front of that person’s house.” He was grinning.

My mind instantly went to several people who would seriously lose their shit if this dude showed up on their sidewalk. I burst out laughing.

“Oh man, that is tempting!” I called back to him.”You just made my day.” I meant it.

I laughed to myself for the whole rest of my walk, writing this story in my head so that I could share it with you.

Judgement. Peers. Revenge fantasies. I felt better.

I made it to the courthouse exactly on time.


p.s. I found an exceptionally shiny penny in the jury room as I waited in line to turn in my paperwork:jury penny


 

I’m not very good at departures or arrivals, so whichever this is, let’s get this first post over with.

cropped-dscf07731.jpg
home office – 1:12 scale furniture, actual-size ouijaed ghosts (results may vary)

(Editor’s note: I just spent an inordinate amount time trying to determine if it should be spelled “overwith,” which was my first inclination, or “over with” in the heading of this post. According to the internet, which I don’t need to remind you is quite large, my inclination was wrong, and this has my Internal Committee of Self Doubt already snickering about the untrustworthiness of my inclinations overall, which they are now pointing out is evidence this entire blog is probably a horrible idea. Bunch of dicks, The Committee. Please just ignore them when they start asking what an “ordinate” amount of time would be to spend on something like basic spelling of a common phrase, leading them to then point out that attaching qualifiers such as “ordinate” or “inordinate” to time in the first place is irrelevant and, frankly, irresponsible, much like this post so far… As I shuttle them out of my tiny office (shown here in the photo), they are calling back over their shoulders that the sentence ends with a preposition…)

This is going well, I see.

This is not why I have invited you here.

In the general sphere of “what the hell am I doing?” I have created this blog because I have decided that, while the process of writing is an intensely personal endeavor, some of these ideas I have been incubating may be ready to leave the nest, with more ideas fledging all the time. They may plummet, or they may fly, and it is time to see what will happen. If they plummet, I will make better sentences; I love words too much to do anything other than work harder to bring out the best in them. If they fly, I will be flying, too.

Am I nervous? You bet. I am curious more than worried, though, and if I were to allow it, I might even admit that I am kind of excited. But please, for my sake, don’t make eye contact with the excitement, because it may turn into a panic attack, and then next thing you know I will go from curious to breathing into a paper bag.

As we get started, I should probably tell you some other things about me, in addition to the fact that you have determined that I am an anxious person who makes unfortunate bird analogies.  I am providing some of the basics, in part, so that next time I write you will have a bit of the backstory.  I’m looking forward to writing to you in shorthand, but first there is this longhand for me to deal with until I get the hang of things around here. I hope you will bear with me.

So here goes.

My mother had multiple personalities, and is dead.  Being raised by a multiple is something I will be incorporating into my posts, including anecdotes about some of the insiders, and thoughts about what their life and death meant, and continues to mean. They loved me, and I loved them, and I really, really miss them. That said, this blog will not be “about” them; I’m writing a separate book about my moms, or, rather, about me in relation to them, so most of the more intense stuff will go there.  And yes, that book is as hard to write as it sounds.

From a writer’s standpoint, I have been provided a wealth of experiences in terms of subject matter at my disposal, but have faced the dilemma that many of the topics I know most thoroughly are not those that people necessarily are comfortable talking about, thus, hearing about (or vice versa). “One person’s writing prompt is another person’s emotional trigger,” as it were.  It is, indeed, a balancing act.  I say that I am “trauma-informed,” and use phrases like “lived experience” when I am in “mixed company,” and throw in that I have an “actual certificate” from a university program to “prove” that I am “legit,” mainly because I am cognizant that self-identifying as “epigenetic sweepstakes winner” would flaunt my …ehem… “privilege.” Also, PTSD really brings down the mood. (Editor’s note: I am aware I have used “too many” quotation marks in this paragraph. When I talk I am making an effort to employ more finger guns, and fewer air quotes, but I have not figured out yet what the punctuation equivalent of a finger gun is. I realize both finger guns and air quotes are annoying.)

Next, I am an atheist, but a superstitious one (when I say this, it makes me worry that Christopher Hitchens is going to grab my ankles while I am sleeping). It doesn’t mean that I am right by any means, and I know this. I’m not here to convince you. (And I most certainly hope I don’t ever have to convince Hitchens. I can only imagine what an arrogant ghost he would be…)

In complete contradiction to what I just told you in that last paragraph, I also believe my mother leaves pennies for me to find. You don’t need to take my word for this, either.

I have had OCD since third grade, which likely has something to do with being superstitious.  (The “C” in OCD gets most of the attention, but the “O” is the brains of the operation, and I won’t get into now how the “D” label bothers me, and not just in this diagnosis…)  We can talk more about this later, or maybe I will just post a list of acceptable hour/minute combinations for setting one’s alarm clock, or give you a pattern to replicate repeatedly with an accompanying assignment of counting to a certain prime number until it “feels right.” Whatever that post is, it will be typed with freshly washed (and washed) hands, I assure you.

For the record, and because it is going to come up, I am mostly (usually?) gay.  Sometimes I will get a little political about this. Generally, I will just talk about it like it is normal, which it is. It took me a long time to figure out that part, and that still makes me both happy (that I figured it out) and sad (that I had to). And kind of pissed that I didn’t think I was normal all along, when it comes down to it.

Being normal has come as a bit of a surprise overall.

In short, I know some stuff, and I give a shit. I have not been able to shake my optimism despite my best efforts.  (The Committee is rolling their eyes right now and daring me to add “chagrined by positivity” to my LinkedIn profile. It’s actually kind of tempting. – Ed.)

Lastly, I have a cat. You’ve undoubtedly already assumed as much.