Category Archives: Grousing

Panhandling: What Exactly is the Problem?

I have lived in very high panhandling zones, but I admit to not understanding the beef with it. If there are crimes of subsistence (squatting, stealing food) the problem is hunger and lack of shelter — and those are not problems I face, but problems the homeless face.  If the panhandlers harass, then the problem is harassment; if the panhandlers are assaultive, the problem is assault – and so on.  Assault and harassment (etc.) are the problems I experience personally, and I can usually avoid them or remedy them easily.   I am not sure how panhandling itself is a problem.  So far as I can tell, no one forces passersby to donate, but if they did, see “harassment”.

So are we talking about a problem I have?  Or am I trying to solve the problems faced by the homeless?   If the problem I have is homelessness generally, or drug abuse generally, then I can act on the system in ways I think will resolve those issues.  Homelessness and drug abuse in specific individuals, and particular classes of people, are problems individual persons within those groups face.

I feel a personal conviction to help people deal with their problems, if they want to accept my help and want to change their lives.  But if I have a problem with the way individual homeless people are managing their homelessness, or the way addicted people are handling their substance use, that is bullshit.

Me, in my comfy apartment, indulging in my own vices of choice, backseat driving a person who knows far better than I do what the consequences of those choices will be.  I imagine it might make a homeless person feel the way I do when my mother chides me for blowing as much money as I do on high-speed internet when my taxes have provided me with a public library card at no charge.  My mother believes that you don’t need web access, for example, to get a job that pays a living wage — that you can accomplish this by walking in off the street, using a pencil to complete a paper job application, and impressing the business owner with your earnest assertion that “any job I don’t know how to do, I can learn.”  The last time this got her a job was 1982, and she worked there until her rotator cuffs gave out and they fired her, almost three decades later.

I adore Maman, but she does not understand my lived experience.  She does not trust me to know what the fuck I am talking about when I try to explain.  She does not accept that I know my needs and resources better than she does.  But most importantly, she does not know that it is technically none of her goddamned business, and that she has no right to judge me.  She can indulge in freestyle social criticism all she wants, but she has no right to demand an explanation from me.  It is operating on incomplete data to make assumptions about my choices and then judge me based on those assumptions. (It’s also rude as hell, but that is a matter of manners, not morals.)

Analogy always fails in the end, but to take this a step further:  what if I ask her for money?  Must I spend it according to her terms?  The answer is that it depends on the agreement.  She might be more likely to lend me money if I justify need and swear that I have no other money to use to that end.  But say she were to give me money — out of the kindness of her heart, because it is my birthday, or whatever.  Do I have to spend it the way she wants me to?  Can I buy gin with it, even if my mother deplores alcohol?  Can I use it to pay for an abortion, even if my mother believes it is murder?  Is it my money, after she gives it to me, or is it still hers?

Again let me point out that she was not compelled in any way to throw me cash. Do I get to use it as I please, or not?

You can care about a person and still have unreasonable expectations and poor personal boundaries, of course, but let’s be honest: most of us in these United States were raised with the Puritan heritage of societal judgment of others rather than a sense of respect for others.  Respecting others does not mean assuming they have the ability and the inclination to make perfect choices or even “good enough” choices; it only means that you don’t get to judge or decide for others, just as they don’t get to judge or decide for you.  I’ve been asked, “How would you feel if you gave a buck to a guy who used it to buy drugs and died of an overdose?  Or would you just wash your hands of him and say it’s not your responsibility, that you’re not your brother’s keeper?”

First, I assure you that I feel sad.  People die of society’s choices and treatment all the time, and their own personal choices and behavior.  I’m sad for middle class functional alcoholics who did their best to keep up with the Joneses as they were taught.  I’m sad for rich old reptiles forever chasing money, because they loved their Daddies and their Daddies loved the dollar.   I’m sad for desperate Mormon housewives whose lips would never touch liquor but who have huge benzo addictions to match their ulcers.  I’m sad for everyone who hurts.  Am I their keeper, too?  I feel sad that people die of neglect, of diseases caused and worsened by drugs of abuse, and by exposure to the elements.  Depriving them of charity is not preventing their death by overdose, any more than my not buying them a cheeseburger is preventing their death by arteriosclerosis.

Don’t think I’m blind to the fallout in society.  But if a person gets all het up by homeless people scrounging for change and charity, making the streets dirty, and daring to expose us Good Folk to their addiction…but doesn’t get the same “we must make good choices for them since they cannot be trusted to make the choices we want them to make on their own” feelings about other groups harming society and the world at large (middle class consumption filling landfills, carnivores and coal and consumerism destroying the environment, the One Percenters living off slavery, the government bleeding dry the populace to accrue wealth and power to those who already have an excess – on and on)… then there is a disproportionate attention and blame given to a vulnerable population who is arguably the least able and/or resourced to change things — including themselves.

If far more harm is done by people who have the bottom layers of Maslow’s pyramid squared away, why is so much ire disproportionately directed away from the wealthy, the secure, the educated, the people with enough power and influence to do real harm?  You can despise all those groups, but who is most likely to suffer?  The homeless.  If you need to change something, change the system.  If you don’t feel the urge to give, don’t.  It’s that easy.  But if you are going to judge someone’s personal choices (or unpleasant necessities), maybe start with people who harm others, people acting from greed rather than need, people who are in a position to fight back.

Because homeless people get addicted for the same reasons other people do:  looking for escape from fear and burdens; looking to self-medicate pain; looking to relieve stress; looking to self-medicate mental illness (diagnosed or undiagnosed); looking to feel good for one goddamn hour for a change.  So let’s not judge them for having the same problems we do (to a much greater degree) or for handling it in much the same way.  That includes panhandling – and if you think people with resources don’t panhandle, allow me to introduce you to GoFundMe and Indiegogo and other crowdsourcing applications.

From people who are irritated by panhandlers, what I hear is that they are disturbed by the subsection of panhandlers who (a) seem to have other alternatives and/or (b) make any degree of money at it.  It offends their sense of rightness.

I am open to hearing more about the problems people have with panhandling.  It’s just been my experience that the root arguments, once the superficial BS has been lovingly peeled away, amount to, “It’s not fair that I have to work when all they have to do is beg.  I have to work, so they should have to work.”  For it was written, by Coolio and by a disputed author in the second epistle to the Thessalonians:  “(T)his we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”  It’s one of the classic Christian arguments against welfare of any kind, since pauperism and penury were considered to be immoral states and poor people were not in a state of grace.  When social workers fought to decriminalize destitution, many Christians disagreed.  But if trying to subsist as a homeless person is made illegal again, how are they to live?

Losing your home (if you ever had one) does not give you a heart of gold, a farmer’s work ethic, and Lifetime Network backstory of being a plucky saint who had a run of bad luck.

The individuals that I have met who were physically able but who declined opportunities for work included those who were confident in their panhandling skills but terrified of meeting “normal” demands to perform.  After having to live like an animal (and being treated like a stray dog by society,) not everyone has the confidence and dignity to step outside the place they feel a degree of confidence or mastery.  Somehow we accept that truth if the story is an ugly duckling who learns she is foreign royalty — however will I learn the ways of my betters? — but we reject it when a person who has no place to shower and no appropriate clothing and no goddamned toothbrush is scared (or angered) by the prospect of trying to fit in with people who sneered at her on the street the day before.  The tasks of passing for normal once you have endured more than a couple of weeks of having to shit and sleep in full sight of strangers can be daunting.  Some people would rather stick with what they know instead of further damaging their shredded self-esteem.  Some folks still have a defiant bravado, still have a lot of “fuck you” left in them — a lot don’t.

The experience of homelessness is one of invisibility and humiliation and danger, and the longer the trauma goes on, the harder it is to leave the war zone.  Most of the homeless people I’ve known have been assaulted on multiple occasions, had to steal or prostitute themselves for money, have suffered horrible intestinal and UT infections due to eating spoiled food and having no reliable hygiene, and had permanent losses in health or cognitive ability due to malnutrition, dehydration, and lack of treatment for other conditions including hypertension and thyroid imbalance.  Even those with no history of mental illness suffer depression, acute stress disorder, and PTSD secondary to living on the street.  Not to mention esteem and identity issues secondary to having been ridiculed and scorned and beaten and ignored.  This taught them how to regard themselves.  I can’t blame them for not feeling able, and I can’t blame them for occasionally saying “fuck you” — if you’ve learned to fight the hand that beats you, you’ll occasionally bite the hand that is trying to feed you.

(And some folks never entered the workforce.  If you have problems with attention and are not bright enough to compensate, you won’t be able to hold down the sort of boring and repetitive job that would get you into the workforce.  If you have a sensory disorder and are not bright enough to compensate, you will not be able to tolerate the low-level noisy / hot / smelly / nasty-textured demands of low-level jobs that would provide security.  If you are a kid who is kicked out as a minor for being gay / pregnant / whatever, chances are good you will develop a history of drug use and/or misdemeanor arrests before you are even legally old enough to work — so good luck getting into Harvard, or whatever else it takes to get a job these days.)

But back to our feelings about the role of substance use and addiction in homelessness.  Some folks have substance use habits that make them homeless; others pick it up after life changes that couldn’t be handled. But we’re not talking about how the homeless feel about drugs, or whether they are entitled to experience the same stages of change with regard to addiction and recovery that people with homes and jobs are entitled to.  I’m talking about people having opinions about drug use in other people — specifically, homeless people.

I wish I could create a flow chart to help people parse out how they actually feel about substance abuse and people with addictions, since again, the feelings that come out are usually strong, but you have to wade through All The Disclaimers; the layers of How I Think I Should Feel; and the list of Societally Approved Acknowledgements Because Everyone Has Problems I’m Sure.

Whatever.  Once you get past the lawyer’s page, some of the assertively expressed opinions I’ve heard again and again include:

“Sure, I drink like a fish – but I work for my money and buy my own booze, so I don’t have a problem.”  (Functional addiction is okay, but if I became homeless, I’d magically become a teetotaler.)

“Sure, I use prescription medication to cope – probably a little too much – but I have a really hard job and all these personal issues.  My meds keep me going.  But I take only prescribed medication under a doctor’s supervision – I don’t do street drugs.”  (Because you have worries, but homeless people have no worries.  They also don’t have full access to insurance, to authorized and empathetic prescribers, and to quality mental health care.  All homeless people are, one incorrectly assumes, eligible for Medicaid, and therefore are in possession of a sufficient degree of security and subsistence to be able to engage in insight-oriented treatment, which cannot occur in a traumatizing environment, and which is typically required to get Mommy’s Little Helper – or get into rehab.)

“I don’t blame the homeless for being homeless – but I’m not going to support drug addiction.”  (Sure, fine.  No one is saying you have to give. Just keep walking.  Or if you feel comfortable acknowledging a human being who has addressed you in a non-threatening way, do so.)

“I offered to buy a bum a sandwich and he told me to fuck off.  They don’t want food, just drugs.”  (Don’t pretend that homeless addicts have never bought a sandwich or a cup of coffee with panhandled cash.  But he didn’t ask you for food, he asked you for money.  If you don’t want to give money, fine.  If you really want to feed the homeless, walk up and offer homeless people food or restaurant vouchers.  But if your attempt at charity is conditional, and clearly denies agency to the recipient, particularly in a sneering way – “I would give you money but I don’t believe you can be trusted to spend it properly – i.e., in a way I personally approve” – then you are a patronizing asshole, and patronizing assholes don’t get told to Fuck Off nearly so often as would do them good.  Take that candid feedback to heart.)

But the most honest of the statements I hear regularly:

“They’re icky.”

“ They smell horrible.”

“I said no to one and he got mad at me – what the fuck!”

“ They just make me really uncomfortable.”

“I sat next to one on the bus and he had clearly shit himself some time ago – he had that cooked-in dirt all over him — I had to get up and move.”

“That dude was tweaking so hard he had pigeon feathers stuffed in his ears and was talking to people who weren’t there,” (insert other positive or negative symptoms of schizophrenia, et cetera.)

To compare, the most recent chronically homeless client I’ve worked with presented as exactly fitting the profiles mentioned above.  A lot of staff hated this person because this person was prone to impulsive aggression, wanted LOTS of drugs RIGHT NOW, had to be coaxed to eat or wash or change clothes, and stood too close when speaking.  Just another tweaker.  Don’t bother setting up services; you know that person will just walk out and go looking for drugs again.

Knowing the person’s story since birth, from records prior to the initial homelessness and drug abuse, gave me more empathy.  Given the person’s drug-induced cognitive impairment, I might know more about TP’s history than TP remembers at this point. TP had come from an ostensibly good home, but one filled with physical and emotional abuse behind closed doors.  TP had been raised in a religion that believes there is no such thing as mental illness and that TP only needed prayer to get better.  TP got married and had a child — but spouse took child and fled when TPs symptoms got high.  TP was left penniless, homeless, depressed and brokenhearted, not trusting psychiatry, impaired by mental illness, and learning to rely on street drugs — but still young and healthy.  After being assaulted in a homeless shelter, TP could not abide sleeping in a room full of other people — it couldn’t be safe.  This led to isolation on the streets, stealing food, prostitution, jail time, and health problems including STDs galore, Hep C, renal failure from dehydration, and permanent cognitive impairment from being beaten and from living on booze and pills.  TP’s life was a direct line from a childhood trauma to the street.  But I’d give TP a buck any day.  It might go to a sandwich, or it might go for a hit.  Either way, it might keep TP from having to steal, or blowing a john.  Or getting sneered at by someone who has all the things TP lost.

So.  As much as circumstances are against some people at birth, and even those born to much may lose it and fall, there is no child on the playground who dreams of being a homeless addict.  There is no young adult who has a broad variety of options and selects homelessness and addiction as the preferred future life to build.  There is no mature adult possessed of judicial capacity and under no duress who calmly and thoughtfully declines a life of health and safety in favor of danger, discomfort, and misery.

You may not have compassion for people who are homeless and addicted.  You might feel certain that if you had a change in circumstances (due to external situations beyond your control, of course, and not any poor choices of your own) that you would perform better.  You might well be correct.  But not everyone has your confidence, your training, your health, your mental acuity, and your long history of having done well enough to feel confident you can attain that state once more.  Don’t look at all your assets and say, “If I can do it, anyone can!” – you  might be blind to how much you have going for you.  And you sure as hell have no clue what That Person was up against.

The Christians are Wearing Me Out

Sorry, Coach.  I have tried and tried to come to common ground with my former flock, and time and time again, they have made me regret it.  They get to say whatever they feel:  that God either acts or permits action; that God is Great and is In Charge; that anything not done by God is allowed by God.

They are literally on the topic of personal crime — violence against vulnerable others — and talking about how God allows it.  For Reasons.

And *I* am the bad guy for simply saying that anyone who could stop violence against the vulnerable, and does not stop it, is terrible, horrible, no-good, and definitely not worth worship.  For some reason God gets worshiped despite behavior you would not accept from an antisocial thug.

Many people I love are believers.  I used to be one myself.  When I did believe in God, it cut me *to the bone* to know that my God — the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent — saw what was happening to my early-grade-school-self and did nothing.  I broke up with God over that.  But I am unable and unwilling to break up with my family…despite the fact that they know all this and worship Him anyway.  It’s as if His need to be worshiped is more important than a child’s pain.  In their understanding of the universe, He watched what was happening to me and did nothing.  I do not give two shits what His ineffable rationale might have been; it could not possibly be good enough.

And if it sounds selfish for me to say that:  think, thou, on a neighbor kid…a grandma…your dad, your mom, your favorite person in the world…watching a child get assaulted…and staying glued to the peephole without intervening, without calling for help, without lifting a finger.  Would it not change your view of that person?  If so, why does it not change your view of your God?

And if it does not change your view of that person, why do you think that person’s inaction was okay?  Serious answers only, people.  Trusting that someone had a good enough reason, if you’re an adult, means you have an idea of what that reason might look like.  And if you are going to try to explain how an omnipotent being had to allow a child to get hurt for some reason, you don’t understand what “omnipotent” means.

Life taught me that people get to mistreat me with impunity, so I don’t ask that you explain why bad things happened to me.  Just explain why it happened to the other kids.  Why they deserved it.  Or why you worship someone who believes in harming kids who *don’t* deserve it.

Check Yourself

Facebook has been too appalling lately.  I miss the sense of experience shared with distant friends, and I miss the news feeds and humor — but the humans are getting me down.  A guy who is friends with most of my friends came out as having unmanageable depression and asked for recommendations for therapists in his area.  Most of the reply posts are his actual friends giving him shit for being a crybaby wuss, for being self-indulgent, for whining.  I only saw his post because one of my actual friends made a snide post about depression being a fashionable bandwagon he’s missing out on.

 

Is it wrong for a mental health professional to beat the crap out of someone?  Answer: yes, because the friend in question has recognized his own severe depression and has chosen to eschew treatment on the grounds that “I’ve got a perfect wife, a big house, and a job that compensates me handsomely.  I have no grounds to bitch.”  My friend worships strength and has bought into all its fallacies.  In the past year, he moved away from all his friends, to a town he hates, and has chosen to stay with his infertile wife instead of moving toward a nameless other who could make his dream of having bio-kids come true.   He’s an asshole of the first water and my heart breaks for him.  He has a sharp intellect but only slightly more self-awareness than a collie pup.

 

The Book of Faces is also delivering horrible statements from women I love.  White girls spewing out stuff they don’t realize is racist AF.  Bernie fans coughing up a whole bunch of misogyny on Hillary (along with the offensive BS about voting for her simply because she has a vagina.)  Gay friends making outright yucky comments about trans folk. On and on it goes, and where it stops, I’ll never know, because I’m on a intermittent Facebook fast.  When I get tagged I do glance at it briefly, and then I have to leave before I choke on my own vomit.

 

Part of this is the idiotic pseudo-therapeutic “Purple Clover”-type posts.  These are mostly motivational blurbs designed to keep us (especially women) kicking ass and loving life and not letting the bad stuff get us down.  A lot of them are fun and nicely cheesy, along the lines of “Don’t Sweat The Petty Stuff, Just Pet The Sweaty Stuff.”  Fine and dandy.  But there is a regular thread of nastiness, whose effects can be seen in the waxy buildup of thumb-sucking in the comments.

 

“Share This If You No Longer Tolerate Bullshit” is a relevant example, since the commenters mostly sound like high-maintenance bitches who have zero tolerance for the foibles of others, but expect others to cater to their BS.  You don’t get to have zero bullshit tolerance and then post, “If They Can’t Handle You At Your Britney They Don’t Deserve Your Beyonce.”  If you can get past the hypocrisy, then wade through the entitlement, there is the booby prize of negatively comparing Britney to Beyonce — and likening yourself to either — especially after the posts about “Don’t Compare Me To Others — There Is Only One ‘Me’ And I’m Perfect At It.” Ugly comparisons are common:  “In A World Of Kardiashians, Be An Audrey.”  Oh, fuck you.  The list of why that’s inappropriate is too long to unpack.  And do you really think Audrey Hepburn would be pleased to have her likeness used to sneer at people who might be tacky, but who are essentially harmless?

 

(Side note:  please stop using “classy” unironically.  If you mean gracious, gallant, generous, genuine, or good, say so.  If you mean tasteful, discreet, responsible, refined, or luxurious, say so. “Classy” is a term used to describe “broads” from Jersey to Vegas who “dress real nice and don’t act too slutty.”   It’s a term owned by the Real Housewives of Wherethefuckever and people who don’t understand why the rest of us howl at Ron Burgundy.)

 

Also irksome are all the people, the throngs of deeply butt-hurt people, on FB or Pinterest or even Etsy, who go into great detail describing the behavior of their exes, behavior well within the normal limits for your garden variety asshole, and then building up this mountain of (what they believe is) evidence for that ex having a clinical disorder:  he’s an abusive narcissist.  He’s a sociopath.  He’s a psychopath. On and on.  I’m not saying it’s likely or unlikely, possible or impossible.  I’m saying that untrained non-clinicians (problem one) trying to diagnose (problem two) people with whom they have a personal relationship (problem three) for the purposes of justifying their perception of self as “Horribly Victimized” rather than self as “Having Been Rudely Treated By Someone Who Seemed Cool” (problem four) or even asking themselves why they have such horrible taste in partners (problems five through eighty-seven) is itself an indication that the Horrible Victim has a problem unrelated to the ex.

 

Stitch it on a sampler:  CHECK YOURSELF.  That doesn’t mean “feast on self-doubt”, “second guess all your choices”, or “indulge in midnight reviews of mistakes and wonder if you’ll ever get your shit together.”  It means TEST YOUR LOGIC, against reality and perception.  It means IDENTIFY YOUR MOTIVATION, with honesty — and even if you can’t overcome your fears and self-rationalizations and defense mechanisms, you can learn to spot them and figure out why you need them — without despising yourself for that need.  It certainly means TEST YOUR VALUES, and if you don’t really know what your values are, you need to work on that before you make any judgments whatsoever.

 

 

 

 

A Bad Day

Tuesday was the anniversary of Grandma dying.  It was a hard day for me, but it’s the worst day of the year for Mom.  I called home with the determination to be calm, soothing, cheerful, and untouched by her dangerous tendency to pick fights when she is feeling vulnerable.
Sure enough, Sister was there, and doubtless she had put in hard time supporting Mom all day to that point, and it’s a very hard day for her, too.  But in the cause of “let’s support Mom by egging on her worst tendencies”, Sister told a story (this is all on speakerphone, which I hate) about a gay cowboy who was a judge on America’s Next Top Model who was from home.  She and Grandma used to “see that little fruit selling his shirts”, etc.
At this point, Mom laughs at the language and they both pause, waiting for me to jump in with what I’m thinking, which is JESUS FUCK, you people, I love you and you know I’m not just PC, I’m bisexual, and it really hurts my feelings when you pull shit like that. I know you’re quoting Grandma, but there’s a reason you’re telling this particular story, at this particular time.
But I know that if I say anything, it will incite them to Drama — a chance to be horrified that I would be so ridiculously hypersensitive, deeply offended that I would accuse them of bigotry, and artificially enraged that I would take Grandma’s name in vain over taking exception at her favorite slur for gay men.  “Grandma loved gay men!  You know that!”
The real purpose is to provoke a catharsis, to put the burden on me to provide them the opportunity to vent their feelings, which we desperately need and which we are culturally prohibited from expressing assertively.  No feels, please; we’re Norwegian farmers.
And finally, it would give them a path to follow for future carefully engineered interactions:  them bringing up or referring to homosexuality using ponderously artificial non-offensive language to cater to my perceived hypersensitivity, with or without complaint (“I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly”, “– or whatever those people are insisting we call them these days”, “But I’m sure you’ll inform me immediately if I’m not doing exactly what those people would prefer”, etc., etc.)  I always ignore this and move on, and then they bitch about it together behind my back.
This process provides an opportunity for them to bond by excluding someone else, and this time around, the outsider happens to be me.  I’ve been included in this process many times over the years, on both ends, and as an observer.  It’s common in our passive-aggressive, non-assertive, “Minnesota Nice” community.  I know it well.  It’s one of the reasons I moved away.
I live far enough away and see them so infrequently that I’m now a safe target rather than a safe confidant.  I wasn’t a target for a long time, because they knew it would just keep me away longer, and because I would, without fanfare, take a vacation from our communication until I could do so with a clear mind and a whole heart.  I am a sufficiently terrible correspondent under normal circumstances that this is not necessarily taken as the cold shoulder.  I go without writing people I would love to be in touch with as well as the ones I kind of can’t stand, so there is no way to be sure.
Then Mom goes into a story about Jim Nabors being treated for liver cancer at the hospital where she used to work, at the beginning of the AIDS awareness period, and sowing all these shitty comments about how “THEY” kept thinking it was “prejudicial” for us to use masks to clean their meal trays,  “prejudicial” to make them use disposable silverware, “prejudicial” not to go in their rooms without face shields and gowns.  “I mean, how in the world could anyone think it would be prejudicial not to want to catch AIDS?”
And since it is what it is, I flatly said, “Because that’s not how you catch AIDS.  HIV can’t be transmitted that way.”  We both had to repeat the interaction twice, verbatim.  Mom couldn’t find a way to pick a fight and eventually headed back to her point, gamely but lamely tying it to the “brush with celebrities” topic that got them talking about gays in bigoted ways, and I got back on track with my mission:  giving Mom supportive attention on her hardest day of the year.
I said I missed home, and snow, and everyone — all true — and that I wished I could bring Honey home on the train — he’s never been on a train — and see the beautiful countryside.  Mom jumped on this, hard, and with great feeling.  She said that would be wonderful and she’d pay and oh please oh please and I said I would try to get time off and we’ll see.  This went on for some time.  I didn’t give her a fight, and I’m glad, but I feel terrible for making her miss me, and especially terrible for throwing a possible visit out there when I felt so hurt by her and Sister’s ugly words.  I wasn’t trying to turn the tables.
And all day I felt sick with grief because any time I spend there will be too long, and not enough.  My guts are churning to think about going there, and churning about the heartbreak of leaving.
I hate posting fresh blood.  But oh my aching spleen, oh my bile-flooded heart.
I’m going to go overeat, perchance to sleep, and pray that Friday follows Thursday.

Spleenvent

One of my favorite patients died recently and I’m feeling raw. Lots of things are getting under my skin lately and I would rather vent them here than put a lot of hot sauce on my conversations with people I love. I’m sure I irritate the bejaysus out of them too, and I’m grateful that they don’t try to shame, shun, or change me – so by venting here, I’m returning the favor. Besides, this is a well-traveled road that I just need to revisit. Once I’ve stomped up and down a few times, and visited my Shrieking Tree, I will return, refreshed, to society.

Begone from me ye demons:

COWORKER:

The new cube-neighbor at work who keeps getting enraged by any critical comment I make about our government-agency employer. When I say something like, “It bothers me that I’ve been here nearly two years and I still don’t know who our safety officer is and haven’t had a fire drill,” she gets the bit in her teeth and is furious when she can’t change my mind. Badgering me with irrelevancies such as how they did it in her previous cube farm does not even address my problem, much less refute my complaint that training here is terrible. Even if she had the right answer, hearing it from a peer, at this late date, does not change my contempt for the lack of safety and orientation given new employees. Then my lack of change based on her input infuriates her. I don’t get fuffed but I don’t give in, and she digs herself a fit and falls into it. This has happened about once per week since she moved in and it’s exhausting.

WALLOWING:

Speaking of narcissistic rage, I’m FED fucking UP with people who wallow in ersatz righteous anger. They post things that are disgusting in order to feed their judgmental righteousness – and I am not talking about real-world news that should properly generate action or motivation to change. I am talking about made-up anecdotes about ancient disabled veterans being denied restaurant discounts by snotty managers who Never Even Served Their Country, LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU AGREE!!!! Or cute little kids who say the perfect thing to turn the tables on the evil librul teacher trying to force the THEORY of evolution on her innocent classmates. Or, god help me, the social justice warriors, who not only disgust the people they are trying to “protect”, but who give the right wing nutjobs an excuse to hate civil progress even more. At least the Left tries to rein in their idiots. The Right just keeps making their extremist idiots leaders.

SPEAKING LIKE A CHILD:

Also hateful: being told by a manager at work that my direct use of language is intimidating. I can’t be sorry for something I worked hard to achieve. Growing up with the passive-aggressive, self-effacing “Minnesota Nice” was crippling. I am diplomatic in my speech, and the content is not the problem – I asked for clarification on this. But because I no longer couch all my statements in passive corkscrew ways, because I don’t upholster my ideas in fluff such as, “well, I don’t know, I mean, maybe, but then again, and I could be wrong – well, I probably AM wrong, just tell me what you think – it seems that we might do a leeetle bit better by trying an ever-so-slightly different approach….” Apparently it’s not cool to say, “Hey, what do you guys think about X? Here’s why I think it might work.” Would she voice this complaint to a male worker? I just can’t picture it.

It also seems incredibly disrespectful of the audience.  It assumes that the person being communicated with has a childish ego, one so frail that any difference of opinion is painful, offensive, and a personal attack.  Unless any difference is couched as lovingly as a kiss, it’s intolerable.  Courtesy and tact are critical, but driving ten miles out of town so you can surprise someone by coming at things from a different direction assumes the  person is Joffrey Fucking Baratheon or that spoiled-witless prince from the Aerie.

AGAIN WITH THE SELFIES:

Another thing that’s getting under my skin: relentless self-promotion. I have no problem with giving oneself a pat on the back in public. Share those victories! I am not talking about celebration of things done. Run three miles?  Way to go!  Make some cookies? Go You! Lose a few pounds, get a raise, sell a painting?  Tell the world and let’s all cheer, hooray!  I love the folks who share, even trivial stuff, because it lets me feel in touch with their world — the highs, the lows, the creamy middles, the sacred and the mundane.

What irritates me is the endless – constant – chronic bragging from those who are a 24-hour channel called How Awesome I Am.  NB: these are not the folks who frequently post Hey I Did The Thing, which is looking for motivation and support and self-accountability.  It is not the same as the people who continually post and repost My Boobs, My Ass, My Nails, My Immaculate Coif, My Flawless Toilette.  As I have mentioned, I have some lovable friends that post so many selfies, especially of their derrieres, that I imagine the same results if you gave a camera to a baboon at the zoo. Hey! My Butt! Check It Out! My Butt! SOME BUTT, HUH! BUTT!BUTT!BUTT! Jesus, people. What would Freud say?  Also, I’ve seen your cooch more than your gynecologist, and we’re not even dating.  It’s not so interesting, perhaps, as you think.

MORE SHITTY COWORKERS:

The work performance of others is not my business or my problem.  I know this.  But when I see people come in an hour late, take a two hour lunch, fuck around on their devices and surf the web and do laps of the cubicles to schmooze and have loud, long, non-work phone calls…and leave early…after slapping out some work that is incomplete, incorrect, and filled with typos…it makes me homicidal. I just despise them, is all.  This shit would never fly in a non-public-sector job without major family connections to the owner, and then, hey, it’s their money!  Working for the government, however, means it’s MY money.  As a coworker I try to mind my own business, but as a taxpayer, I want to fire some of these lazy-assed bitches.

SINCE I’M RANTING:  LIKE, SHARE, REPOST!

Self-serving crap. Whether it’s religionists posting smugly about that terrible person who prayed for the tornado to move down the road (demanding God kill her neighbors instead, I guess) or the anti-theists posting rabidly about the Gospel of Barnabas PROVING that Christ was never crucified (using one piece of fanfic to disprove another, I guess), it’s all terrible. The sole purpose is to make an insecure person feel a little safer. For that reason, I suppose, I shouldn’t worry about it, but the things that we used to read about in the paper at lunch, tell our friends over drinks, and forget about the next day, now go on record and get passed to morons worldwide via the Web. Put something in writing (ahem) and it becomes a historical document.

LAST FOR NOW:  AWKWARD SOCIAL SITUATIONS

We have friends that we adore. We planned to stay with them next weekend. They just let us know they will be hosting a completely foul human at the same time. That person is much admired, has substantial social rank, and is much loved by many. That person, when we met, spoke at length in a way that denigrated the poor. Another person and I both mentioned that we grew up poor, and tried to temper the conversation in a different direction, but no dice; this person instead went on at length, adding bonus slurs to the exposition about Untermenschen.  I could not share my weekend with this person and backed out of the plans.  I suspect that my vague excuses will make me look like a churl, but I didn’t want to say, “You know the story.  Have a blast.  But I’m not going to break bread with someone who has referred to me as ‘trailer trash’.”

(For the record, anyone who thinks there is no difference between hard working, bill-paying farmers and shiftless, improvident sister-fornicators living in filth…simply because they both live in trailer homes and lack educational attainment…can’t see past her own resume.  Replace the praying farmers in Millet’s L’Angelus with screamers from Jerry Springer and you’ll get the picture.  That said, the chain-smoking wig-rippers are as human, and should be accorded the same respect as anyone else — but for all we’re equal, we’re not the same.  The respect I require for myself I would expect for all.)

(Next time:  On How To Cultivate Empathy For Privileged Idiots, And Why To Try.)

More Bitching About Things That Don’t Matter

They really don’t matter.  But bitch-bitch-bitching provides a minor release of tension brought on by bigger things which are likewise unchangeable, but are unable to be relieved.  I nitpick the small things to survive the real problems.  Anyone who wants to bitch about my bitching is free to take to her own blog and paint the town red.

SLEEPING:  Jesus, Honey, the sheets!  No wonder I sleep like an innocent rock and you fidget like a whore in church.  When you are composing yourself for slumber, make sure the sheets / blankets / whatever is on top of you is evenly distributed over your surface mass.  If this sounds like ridiculous focus on trivialities, keep in mind the alternative:  when you have a huge pile of laundry on top of you, it creates excess warmth in some areas, light coverage in others, and breezy gaps where your body least expects them.  Even the differences in weight confuse your senses and put them on the alert.  This is the same principle applied to sauteeing vegetables:  regular knife cuts allow uniform distribution of heat and even cooking.  It’s the same damned thing.

COMPASSION:  I’m a social worker.  I do not want to hear from shitty social workers who say things such as, “Oh, I know what they want to hear on the test, and it’s bullshit!  You just have to tell them what they want to hear and do your own thing anyway.  That twelve year old girl who is sleeping with that 25 year old guy down the block?  You don’t need to earn her trust.  You just need to tell that little slut to go do her homework.”  I am ashamed of people who think this ass-hattery is professionally appropriate “tough love”.  Some ways teenish girls act out when it comes to control issues:  shoplifting; starving themselves; sex.  Yeah, I’m sure she’s not getting enough judgment at home.

JUDGMENT:  my boundaries are weird because my SW values are real and my personal history is real, too.  I am stridently anti-IPV/DV, but I saw my grandmother goad my (drunk) grandfather mercilessly on enough occasions to make me wonder if she wasn’t doing it to feel even more self-righteous when, after an hour of being screamed at and put down, he hit her.  He was in the wrong all the way, no question — but she was not stupid and her actions seemed deliberate.  Even though she was the wage earner, she felt powerless because her father, whom she adored, died when she was a young teenager.  She never believed a man would stay.  Are we all trapped, or what?

TRAPPED:  getting over the death of the old friend’s husband has been wracking me.  A part of me is laying low and thinking Hey, at least this is some sort of stress inoculation for when some other friend’s spouse dies…but that’s no good either.  For now, it’s just the DEATH reaction — eat too much, drink too much, sleep too little, worry about the unlikely disaster with fresh energy due to the highly unlikely having happened to him.  To Them.  So better to race to the grave, which I dug with my teeth, because that is a certain outcome.  And death is the one thing we all have in common; the one thing that awaits the healthy and unhealthy, the rich and the poor, the stupid and smart, the prudent and foolish.  Living healthy might buy me some time, but it doesn’t get me off the hook.

ON THE HOOK WITH MORE JUDGY JUDGY:  I would never say this to my friends, for the main reason that anyone’s opinion other than your own doesn’t matter two hoots in a thunderstorm.  But I still feel lip-curling disdain and sickness at the tum when I see certain things, and I get to condemn them here (or generally holler WhatTheFuck?! to the high heavens) because It’s My Goddamn Blog After All.  That caveat in mind:  a friend…not a real friend, but a Lovely Associate In A Different Town, one I could feel really close to given opportunity but am staunchly in favor of as a human, has done one of the things that makes me gnash my teeth. After her joyous union to the person of her dreams, her partner, her soulmate:  she changed her name to hyphenate hers to theirs…and he didn’t change his name at all.

I get ladies who take their husbands’ names, absolutely, but hyphenation puts me on alert to see if both spouses made the change.  When the answer is no, I get really bitch-snarly.  There are a lot of reasons to cater to tradition and take your husband’s name:  sentimentality, superstition, enjoyment of tradition itself, convenience in dealing with insurance, schools, property ownership, hospital care, banks, and inheritance.  There are very strong reasons to keep your birth name, your so-called maiden name:  a woman is not a man’s property, and her birth name should not be erased.  The marriage of two individuals shouldn’t require each to change…

…or it should require both to change.  And therein lies the itch.  The reasons to hyphenate a birth name with a partner’s name are very good.  It shows partnership, equality, commitment of both parties.  And when a woman hyphenates and her husband does not, I get the strong message that she wants an equal partner…and he is not as committed.  Or perhaps he is a weak suck who thinks “men don’t change their names when they get married!” or even the classic pathological Butthurt that she didn’t take his name (as a Real Wife™ would do). To give the anonymous guy credit:  for all I know, he argued that she should not change her name at all, but she insisted. I am not holding the husband accountable for the wife’s decision.  I’m just saying that it sucks, that’s all.  “I’m joining with you!  I’m taking your name even if I’m keeping my own, too!  And you’re…letting me do it!  Without making any changes of your own!  This will be a 100% equal partnership, I’m SURE of it!”  Sigh.  Cool, old chum; do your thing.  I will try to keep my blush, my cringe, and my snarl to myself.

LAST: vaguebooking.  ENOUGH of that shit.  We all think non sequiturs all day long.  If you feel the need to publish those random phrases, those symbols without referents, you are either pathologically needy or secretly invested in punishing those friends not catering to your passive-aggressive demands for attention.  The most generous response to vaguebooking is to ignore it and move on; any related response is begging for more information, and that is codependency of the purest ray serene.  The least generous but still non-negative response is to reply with another non sequitur, just as mysterious — after all, it matches the post — but it can be taken as a hostile act by the person who thought a post saying “THANKS A LOT UNIVERSE I REALLY NEEDED THAT RIGHT NOW” would be appropriate to share with friends rather than keep private.

And I do understand that some people are helped by vaguebooking, by throwing things out to the ether in a way visible to all but pointed at none.  I get it; I do.  But this is where I share my irks, and it irks me.  As we say at social work happy hour:

“I am a therapist.  I am not YOUR therapist.”

(We’re usually saying it to each other.)

Tagged

Pinterest Commenters: Yeesh

The most repinned post on any of my Pinterest boards is an infographic on the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It’s also the one with the most comment-conversations by far.  Normally I don’t engage in comment battles — if I have something I absolutely must contribute, I usually shut off notifications of further comments — but when it’s my post (my board, my thought, my backyard) I will keep ploughing ahead.  I also reserve the right to have the last word, under the Get Your Own Damned Blog ruling of 2002 (cf. Twisty Faster).

A summary of interactions:

1.  “Other people have the right not to want gay marriage”:  yes, and they are free to express that opinion.  My adding that it should include the explicit right never to marry seemed to heal the breach.  Verdict:  fist bumps.

2.  Random frothing from a lady who conflated the declaration with “not working for what you get” and determining that it’s “BS” because the US Constitution only guarantees the PURSUIT of happiness, not free abortions, and PS you probly are for gun control: explaining the difference between the US and the UN, that the US Constitution doesn’t apply worldwide, that I am pro-gun, and that thinking a blob of cells should have more rights than the woman pumping them full of blood, etc., etc.  (When their rebuttals are limited to 500 characters, anti-choice folks don’t get to indulge their rant-over-facts technique to end conversations and pretend they won the argument.)  Verdict: random frother tires of presenting balloons for my pin; bails.

3.  Anti-PC snark stating that if you can’t be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., then there is no freedom of speech:  sorry, wrong number, since you have the freedom to be as bigoted as you want, but free speech doesn’t imply freedom from repercussion.  Everyone is free to have an opinion; whining because your opinion is disgusting doesn’t take away your right to speak it.  Verdict:  sincere offer to explain why it is logical to be intolerant of intolerance and still be tolerant was met with silence.  (I hope she works out the math and comes back; I was looking forward to that.)

4.  Crypto-pseudo-Libertarian coyly asserting that it can’t be a “right” if it places a burden upon others: delicious fun spanking the monkey ass of someone who cherishes license more than liberty and thinks public health is an unnecessary luxury that poor folks don’t deserve.  No inherent rights?  I agree!  It’s shorthand for the idea that no one person or group inherently deserves less respect or fair treatment than any other individual or group.  No burden upon others?  Easy!  The word “burden” can mean any responsibility, no matter how slight, as well as mean a problematic responsibility that exhausts resources.  A main purpose of society is to do useful things the individual can’t; putting a slight burden on everyone for a significantly useful common purpose (roads, schools, and — whisper it — public health) is not the oppressive type of burden but an obligation that does good for all and harm to none — like a “Good Sam” road rule.  Verdict:   NOT TODAY, SATAN!

5.  Fastidiously polite Saudi man thinks that democracy isn’t All That, that Westerners have a distorted notion of royalty, that a king who owns a country should not have to bend to the will of the people any more than a shop owner should consult the factory schlubs on how to run his business; and that people who have different ways should just be left alone because “they are happy the way they are”.  Agreed that democracy has major problems and that the US has “No More Kings” printed on its DNA from its history with England (and secretly longs to indulge its shameful urge to adore royalty in filial piety).  That said, a nation is its people, unownable, and it is shameful and unjust to govern without consent of the governed.  PS:  “leave them alone, they are happy the way they are” has been used to justify non-interference with all manner of abuse, from domestic violence (“she’d leave if she didn’t like it; it’s not our business to interfere”) to slavery (“look at how happy they were back then, with all their meals and things provided”), so use that idea with care here in the West.  Verdict:  royal subject still thinks kings are awesome if they treat their people well yet does not mind that kings are not obliged to be awesome.

What next, seriously?  I did not expect one do-gooder infographic to inspire so much resistance.  How many Americans think individual freedoms are actually a horrible idea and highly suspect?  I get the Saudi guy, who is a paragon of intersectional privilege, but garden variety poor Americans?  To paraphrase Professor Kirke, what ARE they teaching in schools these days?

Also for the record (Facebook Edition)

I am damned tired of:

Vaguebooking.  Do you want attention or don’t you?  Do you have something to say or not?  This coy bullshit is not clickbait, it’s hate-bait.

Anti-posters.  Pissing all over stuff other people enjoy and hold dear, when that stuff does no direct harm or is not in your personal path, is the mark of a low person.  Feel free to voice your negative-as-hell opinions of Valentine’s Day, religious faith, people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”, or what have you, but maybe save it until people are not in the thick of their happy moment.  It is your right to be churlish, but it shouldn’t be a goal.

Competitive righteousness.  How dare people get upset about stray pets / ebola / whatever when VETERANS (children / stray pets / whatever) are DYING EVERY DAY?  — Look, folks, it’s not a race.  All those things are bad.  People do as much as they can, when they can, for whatever touches their hearts.  It is not unjust or immoral for people not to sit down and rank all the misery in the sick, sad world so they can save it.  You do your part.  Fire up folks for your cause all day.  But don’t piss on people for not having a fit about exactly what you want and when you want it.  Jesus.

Relentless self promotion.  Yeah, it’s still driving me nuts.  Friends with charities and Kickstarters and GoFundMes and all that, sure, fine; I can do it or not.  But boy howdy am I tired of seeing certain folks’ non-stop – – – non – fucking – stop – – – stream of Check Out My Awesome Self.  Looking at your own ass in the mirror all day long and posting about it is what a baboon would do if you gave her a smartphone.  That is a lovely hiney, for sure, but I already got the first hundred memos and more are not needed.  I don’t mind blocking you but I feel guilty ignoring what is so clearly a cry for help.

Relentless bitching.  Again, really non-stop.  And it’s so often bitching about other people.  This is particularly poignant for the folks who spend all day on FB snarling and hissing and then add regular entries about how they can’t find love.  So often the answer is right there in front of you.  Maybe if you weren’t busy staring at your own tush you could see it.

 

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Since noon Friday, thanks to my plague-bearing peers who “can’t miss any more work”, I have had a nasty-mean cold rolling over me.  My throat/neck hasn’t hurt this much since I had mumps at age 29, and no drugs have been able to tame the sweats, chills, head pain, body aches, sinus flares, and swelling in my glands and canals.  Normally I go years without catching the crud in a major way, but I am at a new job with a large population of transient patients and norovirus and megalo-tons of stress and coworkers with little ones and things.  The extremely high stress is just a carnival barker handing out free tickets for disease to invade my bod with impunity but it makes a big difference, I think.

When I moved into this new apartment a few months ago, I decided that no pantry = no excess food.  This plan fails when illness joins the party.  Takeout and delivery has been an ungodly expense offering no nutritional support to fight the sickness and enough sodium to wreak havoc on my systolic.  This no-backup food plan will change as soon as I can crawl out from under this blanket and death march my way to the store.  Saltines, canned soup, frozen vegetables, a backup shaker of Vitamin C…heaven is  where you find it.  Oh, and OTC cold meds that aren’t from the Crimean War.  Those would be lovely too.

And tomorrow I have to go to work.  Jesus god no.  But missing work on a Monday is a major red flag here, and I’m still in my probationary period, and I am hating life.  (Self-care: we are required to preach it but we are constrained not to practice it.)  Weird life preserver:  working for the gubmint means I get Tuesday off to recover.  Hooray?  The balance is that, as a gubmint employee, I will also have to haul my ashes to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  ARE YOU SHITTING ME, GUBMINT?

Break it down:

1.  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, in terms of personal preference, but it’s also always been my #1 work holiday since it creates a natural four-day weekend.  Historically, this has made up for being denied days off around so-called “family” holidays because I’m usually one of the only people without children or grandchildren.  Fine, okay — but don’t deny me my goddamn Thanksgiving!

2.  Black Friday?  NO WAY.  I do not don a cute matching mitten-and-hat set to hit the malls and enjoy the crush of humanity taking advantage of retail specials.  Those people (my close family and friends among them) are nuts.  Rage-inducing noise levels, gropers, long lines at Starbucks, rude bitches throwing elbows in the sweater department, young parents using strollers as war chariots?  This is hell on earth.  I like to stay home, nosh on leftovers, sip coffee, and rinse work agita out of my system by reading and napping and pretending the office will be closed for a month.  That snowed-in, bacon-for-breakfast feeling.  But this year I’ll be dodging crazed drivers on their way to Early Bird Sales and hating a day at the office sandwiched between days off.  I know that hospitals and hotels never close, but I bet the patients are tired of me, too.  We could all use a break from each other.

3.  But I’m so very tired generally.  NaNoWriMo has fizzled (got off to a marvelous start, but was derailed by two days crying after discharging a very old person who was heartbroken to be kicked out of The Only Home, bargaining like an eight-year old whose parents are getting a divorce).  I need to clean.  Honey does a lot but if there is something only I care about, then only I can be expected to do it.  Most disappointingly, my diet has fizzled (stress at work: check, low-carb food delivery: no check), and I know the only cure is to get back on the horse.  But the horse is, like, 19 hands high and my short little legs match my T-Rex arms and can’t I just cut myself some slack for once?  I don’t want to *be* slack, I just want not to hate myself for failure.  I know the difference between guilt and shame, and this is hundred-proof shame, straight no chaser.

4.  The diet also fizzled because my morale took a gut punch.  Mom sent me some very cute, very expensive outfits that are waaay too small for me.  The conversation we had about it was really painful.  She was pissed that I was fat, she was pissed that I wasn’t thrilled to get a bunch of clothes I couldn’t wear, she was pissed that I had nowhere to wear them (I wear jeans and tennies in the workplace that involves bodily fluids and physical aggression; I wear shorts and Keds in real life.  I no longer have a life suited to good woolens and delicate blouses and ballet flats); she was pissed that I wasn’t butt-kissingly grateful that she spent a ton of money on clothes that don’t fit my bod or my life even though (a) she knew better and (b) I have been begging her SINCE JUNIOR HIGH not to buy clothes for me. Unlike her, I am a hard size to fit, and I *hate* exchanging clothes; this is a conversation we have had for more than three decades.  She was pissed, full stop, and wanted to fight.  I denied her that pleasure as well.  But I did not relent and change heart and tell her what she wanted to hear.

Which may have been what prompted her to take it to the next level.  She started telling me about how I desperately need a style change and a haircut and so on.  She said that she talked about it with my sister quite a bit.  One recent conversation was about what hair style would suit me, really be good for me.  The answer they came up with? The local weather girl.

I thought this might be interesting, but then I looked her up.  And was floored.  Is this a joke?  She wears one of those bland, lifeless, Sunday-school-teacher style-free cuts that harried young moms get when they give up on looking good.  Lank, limp, lame — it’s an insult to say that ANYONE should wear her hair that way.  It’s like suggesting a brown paper bag over your head as step toward much-needed beautification.  But honestly, step back for a minute.  Sitting around and dissecting the style of someone who is not in the room and then advising her on it?  That is some grade-A Mean Girls shit right there.

Besides, I don’t have money to spend on self-0rnamentation, period.  Even when I was earning a lot more money, I wasn’t spending it on that stuff.  It seemed like a huge waste to blow a couple hundred bucks a month on cosmetic resurfacing when it could go to things like books or gin or rent or retirement.  I used to, but that was a looong time ago, when I still had a quality stylist who would cut, color, and perm my hair for the cost of materials and I used to go dancing every weekend and needed something to wear. My sister has fake hair, teeth, nails, and boobs, and comes home from her long and challenging job to run on the treadmill so she can look good in tight clothes.  I am cool with her doing that and loudly proclaim that she needs no one’s validation to make those choices.  But that’s not the life for me.  It was when I was young, and still craving male approval, still hustling for female envy, still desperate for influence over the men who had so much power over me, and was still cultivating an eating disorder so that I could have control over at least one goddamned part of my life.

It’s true:  I miss looking good in cute clothes.  I miss getting approval for my looks.  And it’s true that I get snarly about being overlooked and put down for my current weight and appearance.  But is catering to shallow people really the answer to my self-esteem issues?  Uhhh, no, not really.  No one’s gaze (‘cept maybe my honey’s) should matter to me, I think, and it really hasn’t for a long time.  But was I ever gutted to hear about my mom and my sis trying to salvage That Ugly Trainwreck, me.

 

More shock: a teenager has snapped again.

Guys, I can’t even.  I *can’t*.

When I was a teenager, there was, for want of a better word, an epidemic of suicides at my high school.  Oh, the shock!  Those poor young people, their whole lives ahead of them!  On and on, the weeping and wailing…with the dark pioneer countryfolk suspicion all around that anyone who can’t handle the cocoon of high school would never have lasted in The Real World where Life is Real Hard.

(The rural identity where I am from, at the place where the northern plains meet the northern Rockies, can be simplified to “the cowards never started and the weak died along the way”.  A lot of adults felt sadness but no pity for kids that weak, because they remember that, at the same age, they were about to be shipped off to Vietnam or Korea or France or Belgium — folks where I’m from live a long piece — or that they were about to spend long war years scratching it alone with little ones.  What in hell makes people give up before the real battle begins?)

Well, I was in high school, and I knew.  I could have told them, but they didn’t ask. And it was before the internet, so my voice went as far as my journal and my loved ones.  Lest ye forget:

Small children have to face small challenges successfully or they will not be prepared for the larger challenges they will face as larger children.  Mastery of those small things will give them confidence to tackle bigger things.  If they are not afforded small challenges, their stunted problem solving abilities will sabotage their ability to care for themselves as adults.

If they do not learn to tolerate distress when they are little, they will not be able to tolerate distress when they are big.  And they will have more powerful expressions of that intolerable distress.

When I was a kid, I learned how to build a fire, manage a fire, extinguish a fire, and what to do if the fire went out of control.  My next sibling was taught that matches are dangerous and never to touch them.  Who is safer?  Who is more confident?  Who is better protected from this hazard and better prepared to face it?  The kid who has been guided, taught, supervised, and exposed to consequences.

Well, guess what?  Social situations are no different.  Anyone who thinks kids don’t need manners doesn’t understand that, among other things, good manners give a kid tools to maintain poise and self-mastery when in uncertain social waters.  Train your kids, test your kids, support your kids. Don’t shield them from awkward or challenging situations, or from difference in peers, or from threats.  Better a kid should face those challenges under a loving wing as a little one than after age 12 or so, when peers have more weight than parents.

I am sad for those quiet kids who grew up in the deep country who couldn’t handle switching from a school of ten kids in eight grades to a three-year county high school with 1500 kids.  I am sad for the Queen Bees of the country schools who turned into little fish in a large pond.  I am sad for kids like me, who turned to voracious overachievers in the struggle to stay afloat, tying our personal value to grades.  Because we were the kids who punished ourselves by not eating for three days when there was an A- paper instead of an A; we were the kids who begged for plastic surgery at age 14; we were the kids who kept the car running in the garage when the folks were at the Elks for the evening and never woke up the next day.  We matter just as much as the kid who took a gun to school.  But if that kid had stayed home and simply taken himself out, the act would have been too common to care.