Outside the Boundaries — October 14, 2015

Outside the Boundaries

I had this philosophy professor who used to quote William James.  He said that there are two kinds of people in the world.  There are those who live in one story houses, and those who live in two story houses.  The people with only one story, they live in their house, on their one floor, and they are happy.  Life flows for them.  But the people who live in the two story houses, they also live in one story.  They live on the first floor and go about their lives, just as the people in the one story houses do, but they live with angst.  Mostly they do all the same conventional things the one story people do, but they always suspect that maybe there is a second story.

I combed William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience, and I never came across that quote, so I actually attribute it to my philosophy professor.  That quote has stuck with me because, all along, I’ve had some angst.  And when I heard that from him, that was the first time that I knew that I wasn’t alone.  He used to say that, you can’t change it.  You either live in a one story house, or a two story house, and that’s that!  But he also said that the people who live in two story houses are in good company as Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, and Plato’s Socrates lived in two story houses.  Those who live in two story houses search for some depth and meaning in their lives.

When I was planning to move into the van, i had hoped that somehow I would find meaning.  At the very least, I was ridding myself of trappings that people in our society value, so I could stop thinking that those things would bring meaning to my life.  I don’t know that I have necessarily found meaning living in a van, but what it has done, is freed up my mind.

I used to suffer from depression.  I would drive in commute traffic to work each day, and drive in very slow, stop and go, commute traffic back home every day, only to go to sleep and do it all again the next day.  And I used to fret over managing my money so I could pay the rent and the power.  Living in the van has lifted that depression.  It’s been two and a half months now, and I’m not saying that the depression won’t return, but I am leaning toward thinking it was situational and not chemical.  Commuting only to sleep and make decisions about what bills to pay was not how I wanted to live my life.

But I think it’s more than that.  When I was in graduate school I had a professor who believed that we have templates that are set by our upbringing, and our culture and social conventions, and that template determines how we view the world.  That template can’t be changed, but it can be expanded.  Expanding the template requires us to step outside of it.  What living in the van has done was allow me to step outside that template and to force a paradigm shift that has changed the values and meaning in my life.

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Two Towels Please — October 5, 2015

Two Towels Please

Each morning on the days that I work, I go to the campus gym and shower.  It opens at 6:00 AM, and I start work at 7:00 AM.  The campus gym provides towels, and then launders those towels each day.  The routine is that I go into the women’s locker room, get undressed, grab two towels that are right next to the shower area, and shower.  When I’m done, I put the towels in the used towel bin.

Today, I went to the gym, but when I got undressed, and got to the shower area, there were no towels.  I had to put my dress back on and go out to the front desk and get towels.  Irritating!  But not as irritating as getting to the front desk (where there was a bin full of clean towels) grabbing a towel, and being told by the 18 year-old student attendant, “Ma’am, I am supposed to hand out the towels!” And she handed me the towel I had just picked up.  I, in my half-dressed state, said, “can I have two towels please?”  And she handed me a second towel, which I took and proceeded to go through my morning routine.

I always feel a little self-conscious going to the gym because, I get there as soon as it opens, and I shower immediately.  Sometimes the janitors have just finished cleaning the shower area, and I’m in there.  I don’t work out first, which most people do.  So now, I have to bring attention to that by asking for my towels in advance.

I am no stranger to this gym.  I have been a member for some time, and have worked out for stretches of time, but now that I start work at 7:00, I really don’t have time to work out, shower, and get to my job on time.  So working out in advance isn’t a solution.  But why do I need a solution at all?  Why can’t I just go in and ask for my two towels at 6:00 AM and  go about my day?  I pay for my membership there (staff have to pay for access, and I do!  I pay $35 per month, plus $20 for my full size locker).  It’s really none of their business how I use the gym as long as I’m not doing anything against the rules.

What it really comes down to, is that somewhere in my mind, I am afraid that the attendant will know that I am houseless.  Knowing that I am houseless means that she will think I am “less than” in the social hierarchy.  Now that’s not the biggest problem.  The real issue is that, I wouldn’t think that unless somewhere in my head, I think that about myself because I am houseless. On a rational level, I know this is ridiculous.  But somewhere, ingrained in my psyche through years of cultural training, I think this!  Being products of our culture, we all think this.

It’s important to counter these thoughts and any actions that affirm these thoughts as soon as they come up because, in the end, we are creating our own worth in the society, by how we treat ourselves, and think about ourselves, and how we allow others to treat us.  This manifests itself in not looking others in the eye, or not holding eye contact, glancing down or glancing away.  Watch the body language!  Just changing the body language can change the thought process.

During my shower, I ran through several scenarios about what I would say if anyone ever asks me why I just come in and shower, or if they ever try to say that the shower is only for those who actually use the gym.  In addition, I started thinking about ways I would not have to encounter the attendant, and bypass asking for the towels.  I could bring my own towels, and wash them every week.

But I don’t need excuses!  Once again, I pay for my access to that gym!  No one is going to tell me I have to workout first!  She may wonder about why I come in and shower first thing, but it’s not her business, and she probably wonders far less than I think she does.  It’s not my job to behave in a way that makes her think differently about me.

Plus, there are many reasons a person might come into a gym and shower immediately OTHER than being houseless.  In fact, I used to do this for periods of time when I had an apartment.  Once, I was recovering from an injury and couldn’t work out, but wanted to keep up the routine.  Once, I was ending a relationship, and wanted to spend as little time in my apartment with my boyfriend as possible, so I’d get up immediately and go to the gym and shower.  Sometimes I would just shower because I had no motivation to work out, but I didn’t want to lose the routine.  Some people workout, running or other exercise, outside of the gym before the gym opens.

No, I can’t control what she thinks about my reasons, and no one is going to change the policy and force me to workout first.  It’s actually pretty narcissistic of me to think that could happen.  I will go to the gym four mornings a week, stand tall, and look the young attendant directly in the eye and say, “Two towels please!”