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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Four state park passport stamps down!

I love the Maine state park system. And I really love living in a state with so much natural beauty. I know it’s difficult to have a tourism-based economy. We do have lobster and potatoes, of course, but those are seasonal, too. But people here are survivors. To look at the positive side of a tourist-based economy, one only has to look at the number, not to mention the variety, of gorgeous state parks.

Everyone gets all hot and bothered about our Acadia National Park, and sure, sure, it’s beautiful. We try to take a family vacation somewhere near it every year. I love it. But in some ways, Acadia’s reputation simply eclipses many of the Maine state parks, making it so that some people will just never know the true extent of our beautiful state parks.

I’m okay with that. Because, see, when I go to a state park in the summer, it’s almost like an escape from the people from away. Don’t misunderstand me - I do appreciate the tourists. But while I may appreciate them, it’s nothing compared to how I feel about people who live here and especially people who are from here. Those are my people - yes, even that guy with bumper stickers that I disagree with. He’d pull over to help me if I was stuck in the snow, and I’d do the same for him.

It’s like I tell people, when they learn I’m from Houston and remark on my lack of an accent: I was supposed to be born in Maine...but nobody remembered to tell my parents that!

So, taking advantage of our annual vehicle pass, for the first time this year both of my kids are old enough to be interested and engaged by the Maine state park “passport” program. We are determined to go to every single one eventually. Did you know that you get a magnet after you’ve gotten stamps from eight parks? Add eight more and you also get the next prize, a patch. Eight more gets you a water bottle. For whatever reason, thanks the prize that got both of my kids’ ears all perked up.

If you get stamps from all 48 state parks, your next annual state park pass is free!

I would love to see Belfast do something similar, perhaps with pages for stamps for every city park and also local businesses. And I’d love for that to extend to the north, south, east, and west sides of the city - a stamp at the city’s boat launch onto Goose River, a stamp at the Rail Trail, a stamp at Darby’s...the possibilities are endless. I’d definitely participate!

And participate we have, at the state level.

We’ve got four stamps so far, the furthest away being Peaks-Kenny, outside of Dover-Foxcroft. One side effect: both kids informed me that next time we go to that one, they want to stay the night. Well, we’re tent camping at the Lake St. George state park this weekend - so, next year, camping at more parks will be a goal.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Let the rebuilding begin

When we began looking for a house to buy in Belfast, we were very careful to look for something we could afford. One that I fell in love with, in Stockton Springs, was huge and old and beautiful, but while we could afford the mortgage, the heating bill would have bankrupted us - which is why it was on the market. My husband and I learned a lot about affordable housing in the area, and we decided to buy a little house in Belfast’s East Side (capitalization for cultural identity emphasis!). The East Side is strange by other states’ suburban standards; there are mobile homes falling apart with trash all over the yard right next to well-kept trailer parks and at least one huge farmhouse with a turret overlooking the river. There are also quite a few houses like ours - World War II era track housing, built for functionality rather than aesthetics.

Moving in here was disorienting and chaotic, because we had a month-old infant and were completely sleep deprived. I readily admit that I purposefully did not look inside of the cabinets as I shoved my kitchen stuff haphazardly into them. I was too tired to think about fixing anything. Then I had another baby, eventually a new job, and then another new job...

And now I am finally ready to look inside the damned cabinets.

They’re gross. But sometimes in this world, we all have to pull our heads out of our asses and take some responsibility for the gross truth in order to start the journey toward making it better. And we can’t do it without help! So in our family, I’ve managed to take all of the cabinet doors off their hinges, remove their respective hardware, and transport them into our garage. After consultation with our expert friends at our local Aubuchon, James and I donned gloves and opened the garage to begin stripping the paint.

Man, this stuff is caustic. One drop on my skin and it's a chemical burn. I made James take a break during the chemical pouring after that; once it gets to a certain point of solid absorption, it’s safer for him to help me putty knife all the crappy stuff off.

During this process, we’ve seen all of the half-ass patching and repairs previous homeowners have done to this. No one has ever gotten down to the naked bottom layer in order to fix it correctly and make it actually nice, because it required too much work and time investment.

I have energy, though, and so does my best helper, James. And we have a vested interest in making things good around here, not just making them LOOK good.

It’s how I feel about Belfast, too. It’s beautiful here, with so much potential for wonderful growth. My East Side is a significant part of this town, and we, too, have much to contribute to the unity and development of this town and it’s further beautification.

I’m invested. I have energy. Here we go!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

My first city committee...and the real reason why I quit

When I first started considering running for some sort of office, I started this blog and I also filled out an application to be considered for one of the city’s committees - specifically, since I’m committed to finding a safe solution to the number of at-risk pedestrians on my road, I chose the Pedestrian, Hiking, and Biking Committee. I went before City Council to explain why I wanted to be on it and was accepted. 

And I was really excited about it, too. At my first meeting, I was so happy to discover that my established, senior committee members were kind, welcoming, wonderful people. The meetings weren’t at the most convenient time for me, but I was always happy when I attended. The committee was very supportive of my pet priority, which would be some sort of pedestrian solution on Swan Lake Avenue in Belfast. However, I began to feel like I couldn’t make much of an impact, despite the moral support of the committee members. City Council, it seemed, had been happy to spend $10K to have a traffic analysis done of my road...but  were also happy with no solution being forthcoming. And my committee didn’t really have any power to push for a solution. So while I truly admired their commitment to making Belfast more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, I quickly realized they didn’t have the ability - despite the desire - to push for extending that friendliness to Ward 5. Swan Lake Avenue’s pedestrian problems were simply too big.

I also began to understand that if I wanted concrete solutions, I needed a backend understanding of the bigger picture of everything from the city’s budget to what needs might be neglected in any of the five wards. I needed to understand what other challenges the city was facing in order to be able to more effectively lobby for the east side.

To do that, I really needed to collect my thoughts and mental resources and prepare to run for City Council. And between that realization and the feeling that I was spending two hours once a month feeling politely useless, I just...let it go. Onward with my quest toward usefulness! 

When did it become unacceptable to be unsure?

We use words to describe well-regarded political figures that simply baffle me. We use words like “grounded,” “consistent,” and “trustworthy,” all in the same description, all with the implication that we really value our political representatives’ abilities to know everything without having even been exposed to a fraction of the information needed to have an informed opinion. We applaud politicians who “stick with their principles,” and “know what they stand for.”

This is stupid. It’s incredibly limiting, and it’s also probably the biggest chunk of what’s wrong in the political sphere. We apparently are more comforted by a politician who claims to know everything than we are by one who might be tempted to say, “I need to learn more about that.” I have sympathy for the most recent Libertarian presidential candidate because he got raked over the coals for admitting he lacked knowledge on something. Is there an SAT of current events that every candidate for office has to memorize? If so, that’s flawed - rote memorization doesn’t teach one how to think and ask questions. No wonder we have so many rank-and-file party-dominated politicians. They have no idea how to possibly come to an individual conclusion outside the hive mind. They’d pass that history quiz with the names and dates of events, but they’d fail the research papers - where the real learning happens.

I want politicians who have lots of questions rather than all of the answers. I want someone who will take the time to analyze potential solutions for the needs of the constituents. Confidence and narcissism create great theater, along with a great deal of chaos and a long list of poor decisions. Answering a constituent’s questions or even accusations with a defensive, two-dimensional answer accomplishes nothing. Even if a mind is already made up, it should be able to change if new information is presented.

But no, our society supports the predictable ones, the people with the black-and-white answers who seek only information that confirms their already established biases. We can’t have someone changing their mind - if they do, they’ve obviously been bought and paid for by a corporation, lobbyist, or other wealthy entity.

We will ourselves to remain blind to the fact that their ideals and decisions have been bought and paid for since the very beginning.

I don’t give a damn which political sign you stick in your yard or which box you checked on the voter registration card - whatever category you’ve allowed yourself to be sorted into, don’t let it confine you. Take those blinders off. Recognize the value in not knowing everything, and search for candidates who possess a determination to learn as much as they can about their constituents’ issues, needs, and priorities, and who is committed to a search for solutions rather than for a way to prove their first solution is the best one.

I’m running for Belfast City Council. I don’t know everything. Hell, I even struggle with what party defines me - because the truth is, none of them do. At the moment my political affiliation on my voting card reads “undefined/undeclared” because I originally chose a political faction thinking I could make a difference by participating in primaries. I know now that my vote didn’t count when I did participate, so any impact I decide I’m going to make in the future is not going to happen via that route. So - I got more information, gained some experience, and changed my mind. See how that works?

I do know some bits of knowledge that will not change. I know that I care about individuals. I care about my community. I care about finding solutions that work best to fulfill individual and community needs. I live on Belfast’s “East Side,” and I’m tired of there being a “side” at all. We’re all Belfast. And we all deserve community representatives who want to learn.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Insomnia Strikes, the PurplePottamus Bites

Geez. I am finally starting to get my weight and my health in order - slowly but surely - yet here I am, unable to sleep again. Probably because I turned on the news. It's killing me - though not so softly. Damn you, Fugees, and damn you, forgotten song, for this melodic broken promise.

While I was in New Orleans, at the Unitarian Universalist Association's General Assembly, I learned about something I hadn't given much thought to previously: the use of military drones in warfare. Allow me to preface this with my staunch support of those who serve in the U.S. military; both of my parents are veterans, one a Vietnam-era combat veteran. But in allegiance with them and with others who serve in the military, it is not those in service of whom I am both skeptical and critical - it is those who control the top level joysticks. That is, the politicians who have never served yet feel qualified to decide how and when we use military force. They send kids to die routinely - not their kids of course, but plenty of other minions' kiddos. Mine. Yours. Every kid that we take to a Fourth of July parade to glorify participation in war. All at the top, in absolutely no danger themselves.

As I sit, bleary-eyed, poring through the latest news, I am horrified by who's holding the biggest joystick, with the smallest hands, greatest insecurity, and assuredly the tiniest metaphorical balls.

But I digress: back to drones we go.

See, I learned how rather than saving American lives (or anyone else's, for that matter), the drones themselves are perpetuating an eternal war. I learned that it is impossible for the person controlling the drone to tell whether or not civilians are the targets - they are relying on some pretty subjective guesswork. Civilians die. Americans look bad. Americans, in fact, look more and more...evil. So ISIS gets bigger, gathers more followers, and...more Americans die, and the terrorism factory gets stronger.

Ask yourself: why are they doing this? Why do we continue done warfare, killing civilians, ensuring that the violence will go on longer? Are politicans just naturally bloodthirsty? Maybe that's a stupid question - at least some of the sociopaths are.

But more than anything else, it's because war is a team sport. When we're at war, regardless of all that's divisive and flawed about this country, we all are in it together. And the polticians can easily manipulate the media to ensure that we prioritize what is truly a useless and cruel endeavor, in the process sending things like universal healthcare and universal higher education to the back burner.

Our drone warfare is not a war fought in the name of saving or defending the innocent. It is not even a war to declare Christianity and capitalism the greatest global faith systems.

It's a war against progress.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Walk the Walk

At the suggestion of the city manager, following my plea for a sidewalk on Swan Lake Avenue, I walked all over Swan Lake Avenue, from my house to Rt. 1, knocking on doors and gathering signatures for a letter requesting that Belfast City Council find a safe walking solution for our road.

In the process, I got a sunburn, got offered more beers than I can count, and learned a thing or two about the priorities and feelings of the people on Swan Lake Avenue.

First, everyone is skeptical of some strange person knocking on the door. I even went to the side doors - no one on this road uses their front door because of the traffic, so when that door gets knocked on you know it's the Jehovah's Witnesses - but people were still initially skeptical. However, as soon as they figured out what I was there for, people wanted to talk to me. They wanted to tell me about their experiences living on their road. I was met with overwhelming support.

The first and only rejections came from a couple of young gentleman in front of a trailer with a confederate flag on it. Yes, I left the "c" in confederate lowercase on purpose. It's a losing team, it's a pro-slavery team, it's a white supremacy team, and it doesn't deserve capitalization. But I digress. Those two gentlemen gave me a lecture about some executive order they were certain that President George H.W. Bush made which evidently gave "foreign entities" "complete control" over every single road in this country. That was interesting, to say the least, but we left on good terms; they even waved and smiled at me as I made my way back.

I had four different people sign who gave me long lectures on how what I was doing was so wonderful but useless, and how they were signing because they liked me but that they wanted me to "be prepared" for the city to "not care" about it. This, of course, only served to steel my purple hippo resolve to get something done.

Every single person I talked to, including the two who weren't interested in signing, expressed fear about walking up and down this road, and genuine concern for the kids who live and walk on this road. Multiple people were concerned about kids walking to the elementary school to play on the playground, and about parents with children having to walk up the road to get to the closest store.

Many people brought up the guy who drives his crotch-rocket that has a high-pitched whine of an engine up and down this road at all hours at speeds far exceeding our speed limit; general consensus is most of us would like to ram him with a car or maybe a bulldozer. Not very diplomatic, of course, and certainly not a solution to suggest to Belfast City Council.

Most importantly, I learned there are many different ideas for solutions. The problem is agreed upon: walking on this road is dangerous, and it is necessary for some residents, including children, to walk on it. While I had initially conceived of a sidewalk as a solution, it's just one solution. I had individuals with an eye for vengeance suggest that instead of sidewalks we install speed bumps every 100 feet or so and hope that drivers pop a few tires to get the message. One person suggested that we place cement blocks inside the shoulder all the way down. Multiple people wanted a bike lane, a sidewalk, flashing lights, and a speed limit decrease, all together.

I have to say, that speed bump idea is appealing. Especially for the crotch rocket driver...

One member of Belfast City Council made a comment to me recently that really resonated - "Think globally, act locally." I know that's a catchphrase of sorts, but I hadn't really given it much thought until I went on my sidewalk crusade. "Swan Lake Needs a Sidewalk," the header of my letter ran. But in fact, Swan Lake Avenue needs a solution, and it is filled with local residents who have ideas. Let's hope that Belfast City Council takes a few of these ideas and runs with them. Can we at least borrow a bulldozer?

Acting Locally: A Learning Process

As I've grumped my way to being politically awake over the past year, I've been working to figure out where I can fit in to effect positive change. I coordinated local involvement in the Women's March, have hosted multiple postcard writing parties, and attended other people's similar resistance efforts. I'm good at contributing to any effort with the goal of being obnoxious.

I realized early on as part of this crusade that I've paid little to no attention to the government that affects my life the most, local government. I've paid some attention to state government - those people have gotten obnoxious postcards, faxes, and phone calls from me, alongside the national jokers, but I am embarrassed to admit that I knew almost nothing about either the local school board or the Belfast city government.

My first step toward learning more about what these entities do was attending an RSU 71 board meeting last fall. They discussed quite a bit, including how to use the district's money - there was extensive talk about whether to shut down the smaller elementary schools and consolidate them into a large one, or invest in renovations. Even more extensive, though, was a discussion about dress code, and I found it absolutely infuriating, as did the teachers surrounding me in the audience.

RSU 71 has long had the policy that students can wear hats unless a teacher or administrator requests they take them off. Teachers in attendance affirmed that this policy works just fine and that students do, indeed, remove hats when requested. However, a couple of school board members very melodramatically bemoaned the downfall of proper civilization as exemplified by hats. They very desperately wanted hats to be banned outright. Significant energy was spent on this heated argument, with the emotional attachment to the meaning of a piece of clothing inexplicably strong.

Since in my job as a school social worker I routinely deal with kids who don't eat enough or are filthy because of no running water and fifteen cats in the home, hats are pretty much last on my list of "downfall of society" issues. So this group, I realized, was not for me. As part of the school board, I would simply raise my own blood pressure and piss other people off. I don't have the patience with their particular set of details and priorities to be an effective and positive influence.

That said, I'm not completely naive - I realize there is some degree of this sort of impassioned bickering about largely useless issues in any level of government. However, when I went to my first couple of City Council meetings and learned what City Council does, even though members all had to make sure they had their individual say, what they had to say was generally pertinent, useful, and did move the topics along. They debated measures that would affect local businesses, housing, and summer events. City Council, I can do, whether as an informed citizen or, perhaps, should voters someday approve, as a member.

Yes, that's right. I found something I'm interested in. I'm the purple hippo you should vote for in 2018. Purple Pottamus, City of Belfast, Ward 5. Are you with me?

Stay tuned...