Post script. I am twenty-five a little longer than usual. The same will happen when I am twenty nine. The sun’s setting on my current age and it feels as though it went so fast. They say time only speeds up as you age…
Yesterday I was going to write a response to a really thoughtful post that Matt Kinsi wrote. I read it in the morning as I got ready for work, nodding as my eyes scanned each successive line. My mind was occupied with it for much of the rest of the day. There were a lot of things that resonated with me, and he asked many of the same questions that bother me. I was delighted to take part in the conversation. I still will. But not then, and not quite now.
So I left work with the intention to get writing once I ran an errand. I needed to take a bike part back, and it had to be done then. I went directly to the place I purchased it so I could get it done, and settle in to write worry-free. I chatted with the friendly gal at the register as I signed the return slip. In the middle of the conversation the lights flashed on and off. The customer behind me, who to this point was loudly discussing the particulars of cable combination locks with a friend, suddenly stopped. “Is the power going to go out?” she asked us.
Wide eyed, the cashier replied, “I don’t know.” She laughed, “I mean, if it does, I get to go home early.” We laughed a bit and I wished her well as I turned to go. Home. To write. It had been raining, like the serious, heavy rain that we do not get too often in Seattle. It was still misting when I left Velo, and so I decided not to cut through Cal Anderson Park on my way home. Instead I crossed East Pine at Broadway. I waited for the red hand to disappear and the white man to show up, both of whom were present and accounted for. The traffic signals were operational. Life as usual; I thought nothing of it.
Until I headed into my section of Capitol Hill, that is.
It was quiet. There was something missing, but I was not quite certain what. Things were weird. A neon sign was not operational in a nearby used book store. There was a firetruck outside of an apartment building. People seemed off a bit. There was the lack of sound. You could hear cars and people’s voices, but it still seemed quiet. I walked into my apartment building, and the emergency hall and stairway lights were on. I did not even need to walk into my apartment to know the electricity was out.
My apartment was silent, except for the meows and purrs of my cats at the door. They knew something was up. Their approach had more urgency than normal. There was no hum of the refrigerator, something I generally tune out but now noted its absence. No noise from the other apartments. The lack of sounds seemed loud.
Well, so much for replying to Matt’s post. I wrote a letter as part of vegan letter writing project I am participating in, and walked to the post office to drop it off. The walk continued as I scope out the outage, reporting my findings to twitter. Will and I texted each other about potential dinner plans. A friend of mine texted me updates about when the power would be back on. A man sat outside an apartment building with a djembe, shouting to a woman in a nearby building about the outage.
I was back in my apartment when Will got home, and we continued to chat about potential dinner ideas. We have an electric stove, an electric microwave, and not enough propane or stupidity to try to use our camping grill on our balcony. Will didn’t like my idea of brownies for dinner. The estimated time of restoration was 10PM, so we were using the daylight to find our candles and flashlights, thinking about places to walk to for dinner purposes. And then we heard a beep. Yes, a beep, the sort of one that your microwave sings when the power comes back on.
“Ohhhh.” Will sighed in light-hearted dismay. I laughed, because I felt the same way. I was disappointed that we had electricity again! I did not realize it initially, but I had felt free from technology, free from the routine of life, and exempt from much obligation. I cannot reply to emails if I do not have the internet. I do not feel as though I must stay up to work if it’s dark out and we do not have light. At that point, the apartment was still well lit courtesy of the Pacific Northwest’s long summer days and our very large windows. Our well-being was not threatened by this event. We were fine. It was just different.
The power outage had felt like a gift. This present came in the form of a few moments’ vacation from banality. It struck at something so fundamental to all parts of our lives that we had to stop and rest. We just had to be. Electricity is ubiquitous, and I certainly do not think to disconnect myself from it, nor do I usually feel like it is a tether to all the things that can make life feel chaotic or empty. At least not until we lost power.
We ultimately made dinner on our electric stove and then ate by candlelight, watching the daylight dim. The best of both worlds. Thank you power outage for giving me something new to consider.
I have found myself in a zeitgeist, Seattle-specific experience. I wake up to a well-lit morning, which is the summer gift of the Northern latitudes. My husband gets hugged, my hair gets washed, breakfast is eaten and I am out the door. I walk, sometimes hopping the bus in the ride-free zone, to listen to a fellow play sad songs from the 1970s on his guitar in Westlake Station. Other days I walk the entire way, down the hill, one foot after the other, never ceasing to be amazed at the steep grades or the elevation differences. I live towards the top of Capitol Hill, and my job is not too far from Occidental Square, in downtown. No matter what my route, I weave around other people rushing to their buses and jobs, or homeless people sitting on the sidewalk or hawking a newspaper, shouting, “real CHANGE! help the homeLESS!” Pioneer Square has just as many older homeless men among the older trees lining the street in the morning. I pretend to ignore them, but I see them. Just like everyone else. It is kind of a terrible thing. There is a lot of homeless or transient people in Seattle, and on occasion some of the younger ones hassle me because (I think at least) I am all of 5’1.5 and too light to give blood to the Red Cross. In other words, an easy target if you are sick of feeling small and rejected. I never used to be nervous or afraid, but now I am wary of the people I see on the streets. I live in a larger city now, and use aloofness as a defense against solicitations. Just like everyone else, everyday, on the way to work.
Today, while walking through Red Square on my way home, I saw a sign.
It tempted me. These signs get my attention, tug at my heart and water the fields of guilt. Each and every time. It was the sort of sign whose implicit persuasive power I am particularly susceptible to, something that speaks to that part of me that says, “If an opportunity to do good presents itself, you should go for it”. It speaks to the potential within me to do some serious good, if only I’d share that potential. And by potential, I mean blood.
It was for Puget Sound Blood Center’s blood donation drive in Kane Hall. With only half an hour left! Quick decision time.
I decided to walk on. Back in Syracuse, my mother is suddenly very happy, though she’s not sure why.
I’ve given blood over a dozen times from age 17-23. (I’m not 23 anymore). The count would be higher, but a couple times I was deferred for being anemic. They say that 1 pint can save up to 3 lives. It’s kind of cool to think the younger version of myself may have helped someone live. But a lot of blood goes to waste, expiring before it is needed. So who knows.
I do not remember the exact thoughts going through the head of the 17 year old version of me. I remember finding out I was eligible, and thinking that for that reason I should. I must have had some naive faith it wouldn’t hurt me, or maybe it was part of my super-Catholic phase, thinking that if Jesus gave his whole body, a pint of blood wouldn’t be so bad. I remember thinking that I should do it because I was healthy, while I was healthy. That I wouldn’t be healthy forever. I am pretty sure some of the guys did it to show-off how manly they were. Some likely did it because they were good people. Or both. I suppose they need not be mutually exclusive.
I remember reading something like 96% of the eligible US population does not give blood. Well, that’s a shame. I did not want to be part of that.
So periodically, I would give blood. Multiple times a year. It was this cycle. I would do it, kind of hate it in the process, have a really great conversation with an elderly woman (I am so grateful for the wisdom given to me by older women over the years), feel a bit off later but not too bad, forget about it, see a sign, rinse and repeat.
My mother hated this. She has no problems with my do-good tendencies, but she, like virtually all parents, have strong opinions about where my body parts should be. In my body, that is. She did not feed me kiwi peanut butter wheat sandwiches so I could grow up and give all my blood away! Especially after one incident in high school which left extensive and rather frightening bruising all over my arm, she expressed her dismay. Mom’s these days. Loving their kids. <3
Then I did this two month long study which required regular blood draws. It was for women’s health, and paid my broke undergraduate self well. But that’s was when needles started to hurt. Those were tiny needles, and the Red Cross needles are like straws.
I gave blood less often, as the amnesia for the anxiety of having the needle in my arm started to wane.
The last time I gave blood was at the University at Buffalo, about a year ago. I was feeling depressed after class, as Will’s much-loved (and much missed!) grandmother passed away, sort of suddenly. She had required several pints of blood because of the circumstances, and I was feeling guilty that the last time I’d given was nearly a year before. So sure, why not.
I remember being nervous about the strange room (Student Union like 230 Cinderblock No-Person’s-Land), I remember the needle hurt, I remember that the draw went quickly (always did) and eating several packs of fig newtons. Or tea cookies. I’m pretty sure I forgot to check if they were vegan. Had a really nice chat with a retired woman who was delighted to find out I am married. But I poorly remember the rest of the details. I remember getting really dizzy, at first, and laying across a few chairs in my office and staring at the ceiling. I remember Maggie (who shared an office with me) being concerned (she’s good like that). I remember her going to a class I was not taking and scrounging the seventy-five cents I had in my desk to see if I could get some candy to spike my blood sugar. I think I ran into an acquaintance and I know I yelled at the girl he was talking to, who insisted in a condescending way that if I had just eaten some cookies, I wouldn’t be in that predicament. I really wanted to punch her, which 1) does not jive with my pacifist philosophy and 2) did not jive with my dizzy, drained of blood and strength physical self and 3) did not jive with my desire to be effective as she was much, much bigger than me. At least taller. I should have been intimidated, in any case.
That experience, in all its absurdity, suggested to me that perhaps my body is not what it was when I was 19. Perhaps I am not as strong as I used to be, or at least need my blood more.
So I saw that sign, today, and walked away. I am barely eligible anyway, as my Seattle lifestyle has been thinning out my figure. My blood will be staying with me for the time being, should I have anything to say about it.
Giving blood is a good thing to do. But I realized, it is a sort of spiritual quick-fix for me, a reassurance that I am a good person because I was doing good things. Never mind that they hurt. I still need to do good things, but I also need to do wise things. Sometimes the good may be beyond me. Sometimes what I perceive as “good” is not so great for other things. I should not ignore my experience, and I need to recognize that I have limits and needs.
When I was more naive, I used to see the world more black and white and not realize I was doing that. There was doing good, and if it was good, well, it was good. I often failed to consider the negative externalities (it might make me sick, it might make me nasty to my husband, it might come with risks of making me ill). Giving blood is an innocuous one in the scheme of the world, but it was one of many experiences quietly telling me to scrutinize my activities, be more careful. It might be a good thing to do, but not now, and I am not fit. That person might need help, but you’re not the person to help them. You have to take care of, value, and protect yourself to be effective.
Silly me, taking awhile to learn this.