100,000. On a Good Day

2015-06-26 19.10.29
I had not planned on writing this. I was supposed to update about a mural project I assisted on in Hutchinson. But I just came home from (foolishly) trying to get to the library, in the heart of tiny Downtown Lawrence. What should take five minutes, took twenty. And I get that it’s small potatoes compared with other cities, with other “sprawling metropolises” (metropoli?), but sprawling metropolis is not Lawrence. God forbid the people that actually live here have to go to the community pool or library on a hot, Summer Sunday. And then it struck me, in that moment, I could, for one brief instant, see the OTHER SIDE behind this whole East 9th Street corridor. If I, someone who is adamantly against this expansion, could be so annoyed and frustrated and wish EVERYTHING didn’t have to be run through a five block stretch (or a fifteen block radius at best), then everyone else could too. So maybe this, this too-big-for-your-britches Free State Festival and this bike race and everything else that has been shoved under the LAC umbrella, is all just part of the plan. Maybe if they frustrate and annoy the parents, the West Siders, the middle-agers, the low-middle incomers, who have no solid feeling one way or the other, so much that we just say YES, YES.  OK. Anywhere but just here. Run it through another area and relieve some of the pressure. Fine.

Except it’s not fine. Lawrence is a town of 100,000 people, on a good day.  And gone are the days of Summer reversion when the students leave town.  So I pull out the New Orleans card again, I pull out the Kansas City card with it. These are bigger places, with longer histories of events and more room to do it. Someone, is thinking, wishing, hoping beyond their means. I know who it is, and maybe you do too. I also know who’s set to make money off these dreams, and I hope you do too.  And I hope you’re thinking about it.

On the way back from my eventually successful trip to pick up a book, I had flashbacks of Mardi Gras. How we would mock people who got trapped behind a parade, or didn’t avoid Uptown or St. Charles on certain days/times (ha! they’ll learn). And sure, people have to live there too. It’s a common issue for any city hosting a big event. But, Mardi Gras isn’t being forced upon them, not really (the Super Bowl, is another story). It’s part of a long history and they’ve got crowd control and parading down to a science. And, in New Orleans, as small as it actually is, you can escape it, if you wanted to.  There are options.

But perhaps the more appropriate card to pull out of the deck, is Austin. Because Someone wants this to be SXSW, or rather, NXNE. Except Austin is a town of 900,000+ people which leads me to believe someone is jumping the gun just a little bit, or padding their resume for the next gig. How confident are we that these place-makers, these noble “arts” saviors, are here to stay? Today, the topic of new residents vs. old guard came up in conversation. It’s something, since leaving New Orleans, I’ve thought about in passing, but hadn’t seen much evidence of, the notion of native vs. non-native outside that setting. Diaphanous and loaded meanings aside for now, the Outsider Mentality comes up a lot in New Orleans. I get it, to a point. It’s protection and fear of exploitation after a history of just that. In the case of New Orleans, we’re talking hundreds of years, but Lawrence, KS, is a different animal. Or is it? There is a culture and a history to be protected here as well, even if you’re not a part of it, or aren’t really aware of it, it’s there, and there will be lines drawn in the sand as this continues. I, personally, have not been called into question, not to my face. Yes, I am a renter, so I’m sure my opinion carries little weight, and I’m also a “native” Kansan, so maybe a little more is added on. But I’m not FROM Lawrence. At what point does that become an issue. In my view, for this place, all opinions matter, but that comes with the caveat that one must consider the dog in the race, and the ticket-holder’s willingness to listen to dissent, to give it more than lip service in retort, to understand that socio-economic status and “how you got here, how long will you stay”, the friends you keep, all factor into this, for everyone, not just Someone.

And because this is a small town (own it, Lawrence), there is a good-to-definite chance you are being talked about, could be labeled, could be, yes, blacklisted. At that point, livelihoods become threatened, people stop speaking up. Some people don’t have to worry about this, and that is the difference. Some people don’t have to worry that stating how they feel could affect their job search, or their current job, or future endeavors. Some people. What would it be like if we could have a real, honest, open conversation, a dialogue in a neutral space where we could all speak out about these changes without fear of repercussion? Is it even possible? Can the small potatoes and big tubers get together and hash(brown) it out? Or would we leave there, scared for our future, or adding names to that dark list?

I don’t know. I just know this is something we should all be talking and thinking about, not just East Siders, not just artists and homeowners, not just new residents and old guard. Consider those who stand to gain, those who stand to lose, the timing, the long-term sustainability, the current sustainability.  Consider the process.  Consider your neighbors, your friends, your kids, your grandkids.  Consider quality, quantity.  Organic growth vs. big development.  Consider the angles.

With that, below is the letter I sent at the last minute before the work plan acceptance meeting. It was written in haste, so isn’t perfect. It was also written using that sweet, free internet at our wonderful library, right in the heart of our crucial Downtown.

I realize this is coming in at the last hour, and may not even be read, but I cannot attend tonight’s meeting to make my voice heard.

I am a former Lawrence resident who, until last November, has been living in New Orleans, LA for the past 6 and a half years. I relocated back to Lawrence, to be closer to family (who are all in Topeka). And I chose Lawrence, as I always do, because it is a more open-minded and progressive city, one with a decent understanding of the importance of art, music, and culture.

Maybe that’s why I am so dismayed to see the fabric of Lawrence neighborhoods so quickly ripped and up for sale. I live in East Lawrence, XXXXXXXXXXX to be exact, and already see the changes. I am a struggling artist and chose East Lawrence not just for an affordable place to live, but for the people that live there. Coming from New Orleans, I feel I see a future that maybe not many others have seen, a city that prides itself on culture, music, and art, where schemes cached as “economic development” have discolored and gentrified entire sections of once vibrant communities. It is heartbreaking to see it beginning on a smaller scale here. You cannot refurbish and plop down a handful of trendy warehouses and call it a “district”. You cannot run land grabs through thriving communities and call it improvements (for their own good, right?). From what I can see, it didn’t need to be improved. No one is denying that basic infrastructure and street repair is needed, but attaching basic needs and services to forced cultural “improvements” (and grant money) is like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Lawrence is not yet big enough to sustain this path. The endless festivals, the tourist economy, works for New Orleans because they’ve been doing it for decades. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but it generally works there because it fits. But shoving pre-approved (NON-LOCAL) art (and soon, entertainment) right through the heart of a community just smacks of a development scheme and poor planning. True art and culture havens are born organically, not forced upon the people with a fistful of dollars and bad design. Too often, these plans are only abandoned in a few years because they cannot be sustained and the flock has moved on.

I urge you, slow it down, or shut it down. Be open, transparent, and let’s work together on a plan that works for EVERYONE, not just a few.
Thank you.

2015-06-26 17.03.14

Hwy 24

hwy24 poem collage

© Jill Ensley

Like the first robins of Spring,
Summer signified in the first yellow and white carnival tents,
Collecting and dispersing Chinese gunpowder and smoke, or
Fried fare and pantomimed nostalgia.
To celebrate our clutched victory, our headlong rush,
Down our own dark path

Rickety, transient Ferris wheels in rear-view mirrors,
Framed by pastel twilight, sherbert sunset.
In periphery, a cell phone pulses a rhythmic silent blue, indicating
Alerts and updates, thoughts and validations,
Answered in the fields of fireflies surround.

Endless coal trains, headed South, to the Gulf, off-loaded.
Past sleeping towns, on the outskirts.
Tracks and black dust weaving,
Subtly settling through the North, West, East.
Our penchant for blowing ourselves up.
A bloom of chemistry, of rain, of campfire.

It’s been a week.

-J. Ensley

A Long-Winded Exercise in Honesty and Exposure

Let’s just get it out there. It’s probably no secret I struggle with depression. Many people do and it’s not something to you, usually, easily see. Just add that to my list of “invisible illnesses”, because it’s that list that generally causes a bout of crushing sadness. That, the hormones from the birth control I have to take for endometriosis, and the fact that I often don’t get proper nutrition, my blood sugar is unstable, and vitamins and minerals are outta whack. Oh, and that whole eating thing.

I try not to talk about it here, have talked about it on Facebook, but why? Why haven’t I opened up about how fucking awful it is sometimes. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t entertain thoughts of a quick exit. You see, I have idiopathic gastroparesis. It is generally associated with diabetes (caused by damage to the vagus nerve), but I am not diabetic. Frankly, I chalk it up to starving myself in high school, sadly, to please some asshole I was dating. I then gained quite a bit of weight when I moved to California. All the wear and tear on that nerve might have done it. I’ve been told it’s possible, but who knows. I don’t really care anymore how it happened. All I know is, symptoms started at least as far back as 2006. I was in college and at the time, it was just extreme bloating and discomfort, always at night. It, along with my “introverted artistic sensibilities”, made me a little anti-social. It wasn’t until 2010, when I finally had an adult job and health insurance, that I was diagnosed (gastric emptying study). In the interim, I thought I was allergic to something. I would try cutting out wheat, dairy, but never thinking that healthy things like raw foods and nuts were actually making it worse. By then, it had become painful and I began throwing up. I dropped quite a bit of weight, but actually felt better. I feel a lot better, physically, when I don’t eat, but a) I love food and b) it’s kind of essential (food and mood, baby. food and mood).  (I was also on a clinical trial drug that helped immensely.   It stopped working in early 2014.)Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 9.13.24 PM

I post this picture with Facebook comments not to make ANYONE feel bad, but just to give some sort of perspective.  Sure, I look “good” and healthy even.  And I was feeling alright, because I wasn’t eating.  It’s taken me awhile to come to terms with it, since I gained some wonderful body image issues in my teen years, but my frame tends to rest well at about 130-135lbs.  For the record, I’m 5’3″.  Maybe that’s chunky to some, and to you I say, check your fucking head.  Maybe that’s too skinny for some, and I say….well, I guess, check with a doctor?  Because it’s not.  The point is, you never. fucking. know.  You never know what is going on with someone.  And while there was a part of me that relished in being skinnier and being complemented.  There is/was another part of me that wished I could come by it another way.

I bring this up now because it’s happening again, slower this time.  It’s not as noticeable, which, oddly enough, makes it worse.  I have a new job, a fairly physical, 40 hour a week job, with new co-workers that I have to slowly and carefully educate, always minding how I’m coming off so I seem “believable”.  I worry every time I eat anything at work that they won’t believe me.  I don’t even like to eat in front of anyone anymore, lest it misinform.  Just know that if you see me eating, I’ve made the gamble to deal with the aftermath.  The pain usually takes anywhere from an hour to three to set in, so you probably won’t even see it (unless it’s a bad flare (yes, it comes in flares) and it happens in minutes, that’s when I get skinny).  Everything is timed.  Everything is a judgement call.    But let me tell you this.  There is not a day that goes by where I don’t feel like crap.  If it’s not the nausea, it’s the pain.  If it’s not the hunger, it’s the pregnancy belly bloating.  If it’s not the blood sugar it’s the lack of _____ vitamin.  I work in food service, so luckily I have not thrown up at work.  Because I hate throwing up and will do everything I can to avoid it.  I also have to wear pants and pants hurt.  It’s why I built up a collection of dresses and skirts in my “business casual” former lives.  But now these fucking pants.  Yeah, I know there are a lot of people that don’t like wearing pants, but by the end of the night, it feels like that waistband is a rubber band full of tacks.  It’s why I have so many clothes.  I have to.  Because they have to range from a size 4 to 10.  It’s these little fucking things that you don’t think about until you have to deal with it.  But these little things, they add up.  Things like trying to avoid things that make you throw up, things like plain water, “too much” food, and crying.  Hooray!

And then you have to move home, leaving a place you loved dearly, because you feel like your body is failing you and you don’t know what to do.  Because you’ve always been an independent person and it scares the shit out of you to have to ask for help, to think about being taken care of by people that YOU should be taking care of.  Because you can’t keep taking two buses to get to doctor appointments that lead to no answers, and only leave you more frustrated and alone.  Essentially, for the last year, I have been having what feels like neurological issues.  My cisapride (clinical trial) drug that worked well for three years stopped working and I started getting twitching, itching, burning, numbness in my extremities.  I’ve seen two neurologists and two psychiatrists, because if there’s nothing wrong with the few tests they run, they insinuate it’s all in your head.  Don’t get me wrong.  I probably should be seeing someone, but for the depression and the frustration caused by chronic illnesses and the fact that I CANNOT GET ANY FUCKING ANSWERS.  No one wants to play Dr. House and I do not have the energy to do this on my own, to fight for myself on my days off when I only have the energy to sit quietly at home and read.  It’s very hard to be your own medical advocate.  It’s draining.  Godspeed to anyone who does it, for themselves or others.

So, here we are again, trapped in a, yes, I’ll say it, shitty job.  I came home, in debt because I wasn’t working enough, scared to apply for disability because I know GP, endo, depression is not enough.  Scared to apply because I don’t want to be a drain on anyone or anything.  I took a job I was worried I couldn’t handle, physically, but figured it was only 30-35 hours a week and maybe it would be good for me to move around rather than sit at a desk.  I took a job with a company that I foolishly thought was based on community, helping people lead better lives through natural foods, being understanding.  And it is, to a point.  Most there are, but humans are humans and when you see someone not smiling all the time, there aren’t a lot of people willing to dig deeper.  But in the end, it’s a company, nearly a corporation in the layers of management.  And I just got a “talkin’ to” by said management.  Let it be known, this is the only person I have encountered that has made me feel this way.  To dismiss my explanation of battling chronic illness, to ask me what the difference is between 35 and 40 hours a week, what those five hours are really, to ask what the difference is between closing at 8pm and 9pm.  These are the marks of an uncaring person.  To tell me that I seem unhappy (when I maybe see you twice a week for a few minutes) and, essentially, I need to get happier.  These are the marks of a complete asshole.  I really don’t care who sees this.  That is a shitty thing to say to someone you don’t know, whose battles you don’t know.  To sit there, making twice what I make to do half as much labor and tell me that I need to be happier about making $9.25 an hour to kill my body and my emotional well-being, makes. you. a. shitty. person.

So, yeah, things have not been good.  I feel trapped and no good can come from this girl feeling trapped.  My hands and feet have been going numb and cold and tingly again, this time lingering for hours on end rather than 20-30 mins.  My vision is blurry, usually in the morning, sometimes all day.  I’m out of birth control and need it to keep the endo and cysts away.  Certainly not for what it was intended for, THAT’S FOR SURE.  It doesn’t matter because I don’t bleed anymore.  Last time I went for nine months, this time it’s been four so far.  The last OBGYN didn’t seem too concerned, so I just gave up on that front.  I can only fight one fucking medical battle at a time and it’s the nerve issues are front and center because I just want to know why and not have it be another damned thing.  I’ve been at this job for only 2 1/2 months now.  I get health insurance at three months and now I have to wonder if I can even make it that long.  Now I have to “prove myself” to someone I have absolutely ZERO respect for, not only because they don’t seem to know what they’re doing, but they DO seem to know what they’re doing.  What a sweet gig.  $40K a year to show up for a few hours, sometimes “work from home”, nitpick on your underlings when you’re there, and the worst part, to not give two farts for your employee’s actual well-being.  ZERO respect.  You get what you give, brother.