A Radical Mother Breaks the Silence on Financial Violence, Trauma and Being a Rugged Individual

Financially induced trauma has consumed my life. It’s taken me a long time to recognize it, even though I have not been alone in this experience. Since the 2008 economic collapse financially induced trauma has fueled untold personal violence against good people who have lost jobs, investments, security, retirement, homes and lives.

As an artist, a mother, and a grandmother, living both a more risky (and therefore outside of the box life) it is easy for me to point the finger at myself or heartily accept the blame if someone else points it at me. After all, the dominant rhetoric says we are responsible for everything that befalls us. And I’ve heard it all my life: What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you get a real job? Why don’t you put your kids in school? What makes you think you have the right to try and live on a single income? You never had a real job in your life, why should I hire you now? Why didn’t you save for a rainy day? Why do you cut things so close to the edge?

Unlike many of the people who followed all the rules and lost everything anyway, I’ve broken most rules and somehow that means I shouldn’t have the right to complain because it’s my “own damned fault”. Yet because I have lived on the outskirts of a monetized system as a stay-at-home mom, I can be either the perfect scapegoat or the canary that has figured how to fly out of the coal mine. It’s all embedded in what I told my kids as they were growing up:

Be kind and ask for help if you need it.

Being young children, I told it to them as one sentence because the two concepts were inseparable. Kindness has far reaching possibilities— being kind to yourself might mean eating good food, but if you need to create a scaffolding of chairs to reach the cabinet that contains the peanut butter— you better ask for help. If the kids and I could follow these rules, then we were well on our way to holding untold freedom within safe perimeters.

When it comes to the concept of personal responsibility and social connections we all buy into the idea that it is taboo to talk about finances; that is, unless we are bragging about how much we made. Especially in America where young lovers are actually checking the credit scores of their dates, we are expected to keep the trauma of our a financial burdens hidden away, something more dirty than perhaps being raped, because somewhere deep down, it had to have been our own fault. Financial flaws, economic insolvency, and economic illiteracy are paramount immoral sins. They are catchall phrases reserved for deviants because to speak the word forgiveness, or jubilee, or to ask for help is unheard of.

I watched a you tube the other day with a talking head saying one shouldn’t forgive student loan debts because “they knew what they were getting into when they took out those loans.” Really? If a man falls out of a boat and is drowning we shouldn’t throw a life preserver because he knew that water could be dangerous? If an elderly woman who doesn’t walk well asks for help to reach a door, should we tell her she should have known better that she would be old one day? Does it matter if she had a retirement account that just up and disappeared so she can’t afford that wheel chair? Who here has never made a mistake? And who here has NOT been hurt by the economic crash?

Regardless of anything I may have been able to have done differently to create a larger safety net, there is no denying that I would NOT be in this position if it weren’t for forces outside of my control, (and yes we did save for a rainy day and it’s the degraded value of those investments that have kept us afloat this long— that, and a lot of help from my family.)

When Ron lost his job I was filled with fear, anger, and feelings of betrayal. It came unexpectedly. As a rugged individualist, I scrambled for any crack I could find: from taking out-of-state jobs, to getting yet another degree because the financial aid might help pay for the mortgage on the farm, or at least hold us over until something better came along. It never occurred to me that I was traumatized, and like any other kind of trauma, it would’ve helped to talk to a kind listener. It would have helped if that listener didn’t give me a laundry list of things I might have done to avoid the trauma.

Now as I stand here, the kindest thing I can do is to end the silence of financial trauma and to recognize that it is best to ask for help, because I am NOT super woman, and the scaffolding of insane complexity to save my farm will not hold another chair. So, if you can help, please do. But even if you can’t, please share my story, because it might help someone else break the silence of financial trauma. I am not a fool. I know there are others who are hurting more than I am, but I hope my confession of dealing with a mortgage default will get others talking. By sharing this story, I hope you might open a floodgate of countless confessions, one that will bring loving and kind dialogue between family members about their financial dealings, because in spite of what the dominate narrative says, it is not their moral problem.

It is not a sin to need help; nor is it to ask for it. If that were the case, no one would ever be born. Human beings need one another more than any other species. It’s the part of Darwin’s theory that gets little spotlight. The only negative morality belongs with the ones that call Wall Street their financial home, the ones who think they are fittest to survive, and all others be damned. In a family we help one another. We take turns in a partnership for the good of us all, and if one of us falls, we lend a hand.

Wake up, dear friends, we’ve all just had the financial shock of our lives, and we need to stop pointing fingers at ourselves. We’ve all been shocked and traumatized— and if you are looking at the ones who are scrambling to make ends meet as the bad guys, you are looking in the wrong place.

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On Love-Bonds, Money, & the Post Office

Awake at 4 a.m., listening to the night train cooing across the river and musing over how different it was to be living in the city (like I often do when I ponder my urban sabbatical) something odd surfaced. It filled me with peace. It came in a package of restoration, the kind that comes with deep reconciliation. For all of the conveniences and cultural advantages of being in a city like Portland, to be honest, I had not yet figured out what I was doing so far from my rural home. And it had everything to do with money. Ron came here for a job.

I lay in the dark dreaming in train calls imagining the interconnected railways as arteries, lifelines to the humanity of lives it touches. I pondered tomorrow’s workshop on writing love letters that Ron and I will be facilitating when it hit me; the workshop was less about how to write a love letter and more about restoring lost love. Whether it is a parent, a lover, a brother or a child, every letter that every participant ever shared with me in previous workshops, always had something to do with writing to people of lost connections. A better title might have been: Restoring and Deepening Your Love Bonds through Letter Writing.

But at 4 a.m. in the state between sleep and awakening, magical things can happen as everything gets mixed into the soup—love bonds, the nature of evil, environmental destruction, banking, money, values and the Post Office. The soup simmered throughout the rest of the night, like the old fashioned kind that pulls all of the nourishment from the marrow and becomes a rich nourishing broth.

So what surfaced was this:

Most of us (almost half the US, since the great crash of 2008) are just one small crisis away from personal economic collapse. As we live from pay check to pay check, more often than not, we are also sacrificing our loved ones, forced to choose money over our relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase that money is the root of all evil. To do without; we suffer. To pursue it relentlessly; we suffer. To fear we might lose it; we suffer. Money has been so ingrained in our thinking and our daily lives it has become second nature to speak about everything with economic measures: from bottom lines, cost analysis, even amid friendships we might say, “I owe you one”.

So what has this got to do with love and family? As a stay at home mom, I have been fortunate to live in a non-monetized bubble for most of my life. Everything I have worked for in raising my children, everything I have worked for in my marriage has little to do with the “costs” of love as long as my basic needs were met. Yes, to be sure, I’ve had to pay bills, write checks, purchase groceries, and such; but the core values in my daily tasks had less to do with money and more to do with love and nurturing.

If we are too rethink how money influences our lives as a country or even amid the world economy; we need to rethink how we respond to money. We need to bring into balance the needs of the bottom-line and the needs of our loved ones. There was a wonderful psychologist Abraham Maslow who came up with a hierarchy of needs. In many respects the big difference between the bloody French Revolution and the successful American Revolution comes down to love bonds and basic needs. The French were starving; the Americans were not. But more on that another time.

Try this exercise:

I love; therefore, WE exist.In order to reduce stress, realign your relationship with money and loved ones you will need five single dollar bills, five envelopes and the addresses of five people you care about. Think about it! How will you feel if you get an envelope with a dollar in it? How will you feel about sending it?

First, there is an important part of the exercise. Do you remember Descartes? He was the guy who said, “I think, therefore I am.” But love does not come from our heads any more than it comes from the bottom-line. It comes from our hearts. Consider this. “I love, therefore WE exist.” Without the love that begins in our hearts, there would never be a “we”. So in these times of great financial hardship, send a special monetary Valentine. Take each of those dollar bills, and write on it: I love, therefore WE exist.

And then mail it, because our pony express is hurting, too, in this era of everything counted by the bottom-line and forgetting our common cultural heritage. Buy five stamps, and bring the balance of love back into the money specter. “I love; therefore, We exist.” Pass it on. Maybe it won’t be much. Maybe it won’t restore the economy. Maybe it won’t save the Post Office. Maybe it won’t even help your loved ones stay in their homes, but that dollar will take a step toward restoring a love bond and it’s just money after all, and if money were no object, I suspect we would all find a way to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Love lies at the beginning and end of all things. For in my life, happiness has always been the result of love.

(If you are local and want to attend the Workshop this Saturday find out more here: http://classes.artistsmilepost.net/class/how-to-write-a-love-letter/) It’s going to be a benefit for http://elohigadugi.org/

I promise, we will have a freight train’s worth of exercises to restore your faith in love through letter writing. Hmm, that would have been a good title, too. Perhaps, next time. And if you would like to include me on your list of love bonds (heh-heh) send it to me at the farm: Karen Walasek, 894 Odd Fellows Hall Road, Pulaski TN 38478. Maybe it will be an omen that I’ll get there sooner rather than later, though for now it will get forwarded to me here in Portland. We’re just a block from a rose garden, so it’s not all that bad, even if I do get a little homesick from time to time.