Category Archives: MESSY TOPIC CAVEAT

The Cousin I Knew

When I was so young that my parents were still together, but so old that we had already moved out west, I got to meet my mother’s sister’s sons for the first time.  Back east, the cousins on my dad’s side looked like me:  white blonde, with a spattering of tiny freckles.  In summer, we played outside constantly — this was the time before sunscreen, mind you — and we still looked like underdone toast.   My boy cousins there all had buzz cuts or high’n’tights thanks to the triple influence of military, poverty, and the South.

We moved to one of the big square states in the West and my folks enrolled in college.  I went to Head Start and married one of the boys in a single-ring (pop can pull-ring) ceremony behind the colored block bin.  Meanwhile, my folks split up and Mom headed even farther west to live with her mother and stepfather.  Dad caught up and they tried to make a go of it again.  Mom and Dad divorced for the final time close to when my aunt’s marriage ended.  Aunt moved two towns over from us, bringing the two boys she and her ex had adopted off different reservations.  They bracketed me in age, and they were my best and most consistent friends over years of local relocations.

They blew my mind.  Their mom was a college-educated liberal, and it was the 70s.  She let them wear their hair very long, and fought the school to keep it that way to respect their families of origin.  She let them swear, en famille, but not in front of old people or anyone upset by it.  They had a regimented daily chore list, where my single mom and I lived with Grandma, who did everything.  My aunt kept her menstrual cycle noted on the kitchen calendar so they could be aware of her PMS.  It was as unlike my home as you could get.  In childhood we had occasional visits, and I lived for them — I was in a highly rural home with no kid neighbors — but around junior high we ended up in the same school district.

The older cousin was the one I was most like, and I spent a lot of time with him.  He was bright and funny and chubby and always laughing, very outgoing, infinitely curious.  His mother took a close interest in him and helped him in every way.  She got him a job for pocket money, bought him books and study tools, got him music lessons, and made sure he learned about his Native American heritage.  He got straight As in all the hardest classes, played in jazz band competitions.  He became a diehard Christian, and this brought him even more praise and approval.

His brother, two years younger, was the exact opposite.  Slim, quiet, prone to anger (but always eager to laugh) with a short attention span and no interest in school or books or learning. He was often left out of conversations between his mother and brother, even asked to leave, because he was not able to talk about (or interested in) the subject at hand.  He fought for his mother’s regard, but he didn’t try to imitate his brother to get it. He loved sports, but not school sports; he was a pool lifeguard in summer and a ski lifeguard in winter.  He made good money once, posing for a painting, but that was the extent of his modeling career.  He was unambitious, and always hungry for attention.

I trailed my older cousin like a comet, joining his group of friends whenever I could.  They were intelligent, witty, fun, and came from good families.  Aunt even let me come to one of their sleepovers (although she required me to sleep in her bed alongside her, which was not my preference but more than fair.)  I followed them, and I had great conversations with my older cousin, but we weren’t close in an emotional sense.  We could talk about very emotional things, but we didn’t feel them together.

My time with my younger cousin was again the opposite.  He would drop by and say, “Hey, Cuz, how’s it going?” and we’d make pointless small talk.  Sometimes he would tease me for being soft (I was anorexic at the time, but had no muscle tone) and flex his muscles at me, or he would ask if any of my friends would go out with him.  Very brotherly.  I would roll my eyes and shrug it off and see ya next week.  But on a regular basis, he would show up and say, “Here, sit down, just listen to this, tell me what you think.”

I remember sitting next to him, both of us still and quiet, listening to Robert Plant singing, “Sea of Love,” just blown away.  He came over once and asked me to cut his hair, which thrilled me — he was wearing his hair short and this was a very trusting request.  I gingerly cut his hair, a few strands at a time, while we listened to Robert Palmer sing, “Lonely Tonight,” a song that still runs through my head.  He gave me his Julie Brown tape, and “Goddess in Progress” became anthematic to me.  He would show up when my boyfriends came over, trying to top dog them a little, before giving me a hug and going off to his own fun.

One time he brought me a rose.  Just a single bouquet rose, not a long-stem — a dollar a pop at my favorite florist, with a little ming fern and a stem of babies’ breath.  It was out of the blue, and I was touched.  I fully understood that it was not a big investment, and that it may have been purchased for a date who stood him up.  And he knew that it would not be a sweeping moment for me, since I had been dating a boy for months who brought me a dozen roses every weekend and the dead bouquets were strung to dry all over the house.  This only happened one time, but it was typical: he would make a gesture, and I would be receptive.  He never had a steady girlfriend, and he had been progressively more alienated from his mother.  It didn’t occur to me at the time, but I might have been the only supportive female in his life, the only girl he was close to.

When I went off to college, he started having problem with alcohol and the law.  One summer, when I was still skinny and blond and on a break from my school beau, I ran into him while out cruising on Saturday night.  I had been flirting with a hot boy who was a year behind me, still in high school and chasing me hard.  When my cousin waved and shouted from a passing care, the flirt — who was the son of a very successful local doctor; my grandmother had begged me to date him while I was in school — said, “You know that stinky Indian?”  I stared him straight in the eyes and said, “That ‘stinky Indian’ is my cousin, and I love him very much.”  My tone was icy.  The flirt tried to make up, but didn’t apologize.  I let him squirm for a while and then ditched him.  This was not the first time something like this happened, but it was probably the last.

I went back to school, and cousin’s behavior got worse.  Aunt kicked him out, and my mom let him move into her attic, even gave him the car she originally promised me.  But I came home to find his attic room empty, except for some personal items and a forgotten cassette, which I appropriated and listened to on repeat — the first album by the Violent Femmes.  I finished school, got depressed, struggled to get my life on track, and didn’t come home for years.  I heard from Mom that he went to jail, went to rehab, went into Job Corp.  Mom whispered that he was physically and sexually assaulted while in jail, and suffered permanent harm including hepatitis.

My heart broke for him.  But there was no way to be in touch.  He loved long, pointless, frequent phone conversations, and used to call out of the blue with nothing to say, just hoping for someone to distract and amuse him. I was (am) phone-phobic in the extreme, strongly preferring to write letters — definitely not his strong suit.  We had never had a pattern of rich communication anyway.  But we had that shared feeling of sadness, and struggle, and support whenever we were together.

Years later I came home for older cousin’s wedding.  I knew everything about older cousin, as Aunt’s letters always detailed his latest string of accomplishments, but they never mentioned younger cousin.  It was great to reconnect with him.  He was happy, working regularly, and had been dating a dark, slender beauty who never left his side.  She brought no chaos to his life and handled his bad behavior without drama.  I was distracted by my own crumbling marriage and feelings of failure in life, not to mention the ambivalence of visiting my hometown after years away, but I was happy for him.  Over the next twenty years, I visited very rarely, but visits always involved a family dinner that he would join.  These time-lapse snapshots showed the changes in his life:  the pretty girlfriend became a smiling but haggard wife; they became parents of a darling girl he adored; and then gave her a precious baby brother.

Our lives couldn’t have been more different.  I got a divorce, stayed away, never had kids; he worshiped his children and saw his wife as a real partner even though his nose was always open to the ladies.  Years later, I found the man of my dreams and have been happily monogamous since the day we got together.  Cousin stayed home and became a dutiful son; I remained the prodigal child and designated black sheep.  We both got fat, drank too much, and struggled to keep the family times positive and friendly rather than bitchy and judgy.  He would always leave early (with my mother and sister snorting and huffing and hissing “so he can keep boozing!”) — but he would always give me a long, tight bear hug and say, “Love you, Cuz. You should come home more.  And call me sometime, okay?”

The drinking caught up with him.  And the hep.  I imagine his life of construction work played a role, too, not only in terms of wear and tear, but medication.  Every guy I knew who worked in hard physical ways tore through the NSAIDs like candy.  And let’s not forget the stress.

After a brief period of abdominal illness, great pain, and repeated hospitalizations, he died on the last Thursday of 2016.

I didn’t go home for the funeral, which was yesterday.  I haven’t called his mother or his widow, or written, or sent a card.  Wrong of me, but I can’t bear it.  If we lived in the same town, I could be present.  I could grieve with them and they would know I wasn’t being callous or indifferent.  But I don’t have words.  The connection I had with him was not like that.  It was sitting together, feeling the music, smiling and nodding, and a bear hug at the end.  I can hold it together at work, and I can make small talk with friends, but I cry a lot, and when I least suspect it. I never could have made the trip home.  I never could have left without that hug.

We never minded the long absences.  We were tight.  Nothing ever came between us.  I just can’t think of this as permanent.  It’s just another time apart.

 

 

Quarterly Report: A Compression of Horrible Events

(Or: the Daughter, the Sister, the Aunts, and the Cousin)

Part One:  The Daughter

End of September, my honey gets a call from his hometown:  his second daughter (who stopped speaking to him years ago) is in the hospital.  She was visiting older daughter and had a scary-bad headache, which they diagnosed as a brain aneurysm (later modified to subarachnoid hemorrhage.)  They treated it with medication only (which was good) and kept her inpatient at a superior facility (which was good) but the hopes for recovery were very much not good.  She was unable to complete sentences or thoughts, had impaired motor control, etc., and then we heard nothing.  Older daughter was busy taking care of business, what with insurance and doctors and her sister’s ex in Arizona refusing to take their infant back.  Meanwhile her job, college courses, and care for the three young children she raises on her own made demands of their own.  Can we go home to help?  With what money, to do what?

Of course, her mother — her thieving, abusive, mentally ill, drug addicted, but very loving and codependent mother — was going to hop a flight and come take care of her daughter and her grandchild.  I hated to hear this, since she was the one who knowingly put this child in the hands of molesters and abusers; she was the one who kept this child out of school for years of her young life; she was the one who did meth with the child; she was the one who taught the girl how to be a criminal.  But daughter adores mother and needed her.  Naturally, my already acute frustration with a family that does not know what questions to ask doctors, and phrases things in the  most dramatic, catastrophizing, inaccurate ways (true to their Southern heritage) became staggering.  (Or maybe I’m an asshole for thinking it’s better to ask a doctor about a prognosis than it is to make wild statements about how She’s Going To Be A Vegetable Forever And Ever!)  Part of my frustration was stifled anger, of course.  I never keep things from my husband, and it took a force of will to keep my mouth shut, but his daughter’s condition is one almost always caused by trauma recent or remote — exactly the kinds of trauma she experienced in the care of Evil Mom, during their years off the grid and out of his reach.  The idea of Evil Mom showing up as nursing angel made my chest tight with rage.  But the news dried up.  We heard nothing.  Perhaps she did save the day.  Bless her if she did, right?

Then the “hearing nothing” phase turned into “mother never showed.”  Second daughter checked out AMA, went home to her local boyfriend, wrote a note, smiled and laughed, kissed him goodnight, and took all of her pills.  Back in the ER, back inpatient, heart breaking.  Idiot boyfriend didn’t catch on for a long time and then called sister instead of 911.  Second daughter, in a coma.  Good brain activity, but completely unresponsive.  Yours truly, furious that no social work / case management had occurred.  And again the news dried up.

After waiting patiently, we begged for more news.  Oh, she’s fine.  I think.  Constitution of a meat axe, that girl.  She woke up.  Evil Mom arrived, checked daughter out AMA (again), and took her back to their hometown in Arizona, meth capital of the west.  The end, no moral.

Part Two:  Intermission:  No Music, One Aunt

So this takes us to mid-late October, a brief respite before the horror show that was the US election.  It’s been covered extensively elsewhere.  I’ll spare you the sick stomach and heartache.  But November was also fraught for me and mine.  More health scares.  The loss of loved ones.  The loss of beloved pets.  Assaults at work.  The failure of a tax measure in my state that will deprive the elderly and the infirm of care and keep their basic needs unmet — not to mention making thousands of working families unemployed.  Brace yourself for homeless and unmedicated children, old people, veterans, mentally ill and developmentally disabled people.  With lots of pressure at work and the prospect of unemployment for me (and still no employment for my spouse), this started a process of negativity, fear, stress, and simply being in shock all the time — still the backdrop for my life, but a fresh hell that began here.

About this time, my mom’s cousin, a dear lady who means a lot to me, had a stroke and went into a nursing home.  She was one of those folks we grow in the northern states:  hardy, brisk, sweet, sarcastic, unemotional, hardworking, loyal, and with a robust joy and determined good nature that kept her ancestors afloat as prairie farmers.  She was a salon owner in the 80s and I owe a voting share of my first burst of confidence to her, for she lovingly cut, colored, and permed me into a state of social elevation.  She gifted me with Camaro Hair.  And now she is tearful, mute, and desperate, because incapacity is what we fear.  She won’t cooperate with PT, engage in activities, or talk to anyone but my mother.

And my mother, in the anti-therapeutic tradition of the northern US, chided her for being weak, chided her for not turning to Jesus with gratitude for her life, chided her for being afraid.  When I asked if anyone was treating her for depression, Mom got angrily defensive, and listed all the many people who showed up to tell her to “snap out of it.”  My pointing out that this is not an effective treatment for depression revealed that my mother believes therapy to be Satanic, that it makes things worse, that it is “the petting of the flesh” and not of God.  I knew she was that way about psychology and long-term, non-problem-focused therapy, but I had taken pains to explain that short-term, goal-oriented treatment is different.  I thought she got it.  Instead, I got an earful of why my new career is occult bullshit.  Not true, but it hurt to hear my mother say it to me, especially after her hearty endorsement of my career change, going back to school, and reshaping my life.

Part Three:  Aunt the Second and Sister the First

The backdrop for this battle:  my sister and mother drew a line in the sand with my local aunt.  This aunt was another saint to me from junior high through college, and the (adoptive) mother of my two cousins, boys who were like brothers to me.  The good son, whom she worships, went to West Point and Harvard, and is a published professor with a published-professor wife who started a foundation, writes books, and is a MacArthur Fellow (winner of the “genius grant”).  But Aunt’s local son worships her — even though he was always a bad boy, dropping out of school, getting arrested for DUIs, etc.  She kicked him out young and wished him luck with his alcohol abuse, but he was her shame, even though he eventually got married and got work and came running whenever she needed a job done.

This aunt has a long and mixed history with my sister.  Their relationship turned weird.  Auntie became domineering, demanding, and insulting; sister became passive, and very resentful of the domination, but did not say anything.  I am not a victim-blamer, but I also know that if you are dancing with someone who keeps stepping on your feet, and you don’t ever utter one goddamned peep, it is not appropriate to stew in silent resentment of this person who is treading on you.  If you feel too much is being asked, it is incumbent on you to say no.  If you feel overused or ill treated, it behooves you to speak up.  It is never okay to mistreat someone, but if you are going along with it, it’s not out of line to assume you just have a funky boundary dynamic that might mean you’re actually really close.

So my sister puts her foot down — but not about her own issues; instead, she insults the aunt by accusing her of worshiping her older son and “trying to force the rest of us to worship him too”.  Oh shit; shots fired.

Remember, this family is diehard backwoods Christian.  Idolatry is a horrible accusation.

Lots of drama, lots of she-said/she-said.  Aunt says, “you’re dead to me”.  Mom says, “if she’s dead, I’m dead.”  Sister huffs and puffs on her high mountain, wondering why her righteous accusation did not result in Aunt modifying her behavior and mending fences — after all, that’s what Sister herself does when Mom pulls that shit on her.  Isn’t that the way the world works?

Sister asks me to talk to Aunt about all this.  I say sure, but what do you want from it?  If you think she’s going to apologize, she’s not, and if you want to reconcile with your abuser (for things really went down that path eventually), I don’t know if that’s a great idea to me but it is up to you.  Sister beats around the bush, but intently.  “I just want her to know how much she’s hurt me, and she won’t talk to me so I can’t tell her myself.”  Okay, but what is the outcome you want?  Are you trying to punish her for hurting you?  Are you trying to demonstrate why her apology would help?  Are you hoping for reconciliation ? “I just want you to tell her.”

This aunt did not speak to me for years.  When Mom and Sister were fighting with Aunt, they used Good Cousin’s standing me up years ago as the example of Why You Shouldn’t Worship Him.  Of course Aunt came to his defense.  But she didn’t ask me for my side, and so she never knew that I didn’t give two hoots about being stood up after the first flush of anger.  Mad at the time?  Sure.  Grudgy?  Heck no.  So I was pissed that Mom and Sis used me as a tool against Aunt, and pissed at Aunt for not finding out from me how I felt.  But this whole non-issue was the excuse for their fight.

Part Four:  The Cousin

When I visited Home last spring, my local cousin pulled me into his truck and begged me to talk to his mom, my aunt, on the phone.  He dialed and held it to my ear.  She was stiff, but I wasn’t, and having some small talk warmed her up a little.  No frost in my tone.  I made some humorous self-deprecating remarks, and asked about good cousin’s family, and she was getting on a roll when she lost her nerve, had to go, bye now.  Cool.  And cousin was shaky with relief — he loves us all and hates for us to be fractured.  I said to his wife later, quietly:  if it weren’t for him, I think this family would just break apart.  She nodded vigorously and said, “Yes.  Yes.  I totally agree.”  Not happily.

Cut to December.  My local cousin was feeling crummy and went to his chiropractor  / naturopath for help.  His wife works for this dude, so they get a discount.  He did some kind of cleanse and had abdominal cramps that took him to the hospital.  They admitted him, drained more than a gallon of fluid from his abdomen, and told him to rest for a few weeks.  His construction job said they would take him back, but they needed the money — one in grammar school and one in diapers, which a part-time office worker can’t support.  But my cousin could not even drive due to confusion and pain.  Rehospitalizations occurred.

The family did not handle this well.  Cold, damp weather aggravates Mom’s rheumatoid, and she won’t take so much as an ibuprofen for it.  She becomes, for want of a better term, mean as catshit.  The pain is crazy-making and she can’t think well, but she is good at being mean and hard to avoid.  She and Aunt are back on speaking terms, but Mom keeps saying shitty, withering things — while Aunt goes into flights of fanciful hope, Mom deals with fear by being snotty and hard-hearted.  Sister goes into full judgment mode, unable to mention Cousin without referencing his addiction, and always in the most harsh and denigrating way, without an iota of compassion, and the joke is on you if you think her Christianity is tainted by any sincerity or kindness.  She is also unable to mention Aunt  without resentful, accusatory butthurt.  Any hint that a very sick person could at least be spoken of without reference to his always showing up at family gatherings with alcohol on his breath were met with the rapid and righteous chorus of “But It’s The TRUTH”, and a litany of why “I’m not going to pretend he’s not an alcoholic just to cater to your bleeding heart liberal bullshit.”

Called Aunt at first hospitalization.  I had been postponing this due to the unclear message from Sister on what she wanted from the conversation, but how often does my younger, stronger cousin go to hospital?  We talked for 45 minutes and it began in a fraught way, but Aunt can’t help but pepper her language with obscure references, and I can’t help but snort and answer back.  There was some of the sweet feeling when someone really gets your little ways and is right there with you.  And we ended by cheering each other up about Cousin, thinking about how soon he would feel better, and this might be what helps him to lasting change, and hey, why not hope?  It was a good call.

Afterward, I was busy thinking about how this could be a good groundwork for a LOT of family reconciliation — that if Aunt trusted me, I would not betray that trust, but I would try to push things back on the rails with her and Sis.  Naturally, this was more of my bleeding heart liberal bullshit.  Sister emailed the next day, cold and cryptic, asking for a good time to call.  Then there was some cold and cryptic questioning.  Apparently Aunt called Mom right away to say we had had such a great talk and “I’m glad at least ONE of your children gets my sense of humor!”  Sigh.

I said Yeah, and?  It was tactless, but that is the beginning of her acknowledging that there is a real gap between you, and there is.  It’s a start.  If you thought that she was going to call in abject humiliation to beg forgiveness, you know that’s not ever going to happen.  And if you thought that my conversation with her was going to be a call out of the blue to heap abuse on a mentally ill 75 year old woman whose younger child was just hospitalized, you know that’s not the way I would do things either.  This was just an opener.  What is the problem?

Sister’s tits were calmed a bit, but she said something that rocked me:  when Mom told her about the call from Auntie, Mom said, “She must have sold you out.”  The fact that my mother would assume that I would do that was a punch in the gut.  I have never and would never do that.  This changed the conversation. Sister didn’t back away from that (of course she didn’t; “But It’s The Truth”) but suggested I talk to Mom.  I said I would need to think about that for a while.

Because the fact is:  I never told my sister that the grandfather she adored, the man who raised her as a father, molested me when I was in grammar school and she was in the crib.  She found out later, and we have discussed it obliquely.  But we have the understanding that her experiences were different from mine, and we both had valid experiences for all they were so different.  I actually referenced this when I said I would talk to Aunt, because I know what it’s like to have no one on your side against a family member who has hurt you.  I said I would have to work up to it, and she accepted that, or at least accepted that she had to wait for me to find the right time.

Part Five:  Code, and Coda

I didn’t have the chance.  Cousin got worse and worse, in and out of the hospital, more and more fluid drained from his abdomen.  My sister did dwell on his alcoholism, but only once acknowledged that he got hepatitis when he was a teenager after being violently sexually assaulted in jail.  My cousin died in the hospital (where my grandmother, my mother, and I all worked) on the 30th of December, 2016.  He’ll get a post of his own.  But the aftermath is here and now.

His wife ploughed into action:  had him cremated, did all the death tasks, arranged for a memorial potluck at her boss’s church, officiated by her boss’s pastor, and attended by her family and the friends and coworkers of her and my cousin.  Mom is too crippled to attend — she couldn’t even see Cousin in the hospital.  Sister might not be welcome — she never got along with the wife.  I can’t go due to work and money and an ice storm.  Even his brother, the Good Cousin, already had a trip planned that he is is attending rather than changing — so even his own brother won’t be there.  And Aunt’s twin sister, like Mom, is crippled by arthritis.  She plans to send wife the money she would have used to travel.

I am just sad.  So fucking sad.  The last time we all came together was for Good Cousin’s wedding, twenty years ago, but we’re all staying home from Local Cousin’s memorial.  I admit that as much as I want cremation for myself, having no burial or interment makes the event uncentered for me; all of our people are in the same cemetery by the park where we used to swim.  I find it right and proper that his widow’s wants are everything right now, and she has arranged things to her taste.  I don’t believe she would be happy to see us, and might have a resentful thrill at our absence more than any hurt for her man.

But my poor Aunt will be alone among strangers at his funeral today.

My heart breaks for her.  But I will say it here, among silent friends:  her adoration of her older boy, with his genius, his talent, and his sweet good humor (now lost to pompous  amour-propre) excluded her younger son, with his raw physicality and disinterest in school.  He was the black sheep.  He spent years trying to gain her adoring regard for himself, and she let him do that with thanks but no love.  When his older brother, my Good Cousin, found the kin that gave him up for adoption, he changed his name to theirs and traveled to see them every year.  That’s fine.  He let Aunt come stay with his family for months every year to provide free childcare.  And she was thrilled to do it for her older son, much as her younger son would get out of bed in the middle of the night for her, and drive to her house from two towns over to do some minor errand  at her whim.

My local cousin never wanted to find the blood relatives who gave him up for adoption.  When the topic would come up, he would look at me with those black sea lion eyes and say, “This is my family, right here.”

My poor cousin.  Martyr to our family’s dysfunction. And his funeral today, the day after the anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And I endured her funeral apart from my family, babysitting Aunt, who was making crude jokes and and snide comments in my ear the whole time.  The grandmother I adored was the mother who used to beat her with a broom, and cursed her for a liar when she accused her uncle of raping her.  This same aunt took me in days after the funeral when I had an allergic reaction at Mom’s house and couldn’t breathe.  Mom paid for my urgent care visit and my inhaler, but viciously and persistently insisted that I hated her and hated home SO MUCH that it was giving me a panic attack.

Ladies and gentlemen:  my family.

(da capo)

My dream is that sometime in summertime, we can all come home to celebrate him.  The weather will warm the bones of the old ladies.  My good cousin and his wife will bring their kids to play where my cousins and I played, at the house my great-grandmother built, where my grandmother and mother and I have lived, and Mom lives still.  My aunt and sister will have had time to reconcile, if they are going to, and we can remember my cousin in his natural habitat — in the mountains, at the lake, in the grassy yard where we ran and wrestled.  His widow can come and bring his kids, but she knew a man we didn’t.  This will be for us, and the boy we knew, and the family we used to be.

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.

People who hate me will still teach me.

Teachers don’t have to like you!  I seriously thought they did.  My positive relationships with teachers were a much-needed supplement to my single-working-parent family.  And kids in class who hated school didn’t seem to learn as much as those of us who loved it.  My brain assumed the relationship was the key factor.

(Digression:  the friends from intact nuclear families who would pity me or patronize me, or admit to thanking their stars for being so lucky as to have two parents, a permanent house, no couch surfing, etc., are generally correct:  these protective factors tend to improve school performance, general health, and professional attainment.  That said, many of them experienced horrible things that were as rotten, more or less, as my childhood burdens, but without acquiring the resilience that is learned from getting the hell out of marriage.  It shouldn’t be shocking to hear that changing your situation and learning how to survive independently can be better for some kids than being locked in an inescapable situation due to parents who can’t imagine Who Gets The House and What Will Our Families Think.  Walking away from some things is a good ability to have, as is learning the confidence to leave an abusive spouse, on and on.  But there are a lot of people who believe — actually outright state — that it’s better for their children to be in a home with abuse and addiction and horrible behavior simply so they can live in a nice neighborhood and a large house.  They are not kidding.  But they are wrong.  Guess what?  You can be afraid of change, and you can be enamored of your tax advantages, and you can wonder and worry and fret about how it would go if you left.  It’s scary and it’s hard.  But children who witness abuse tolerate it and perpetrate it — it’s normal to them.  You can tell them it’s wrong, and they can tell you they’ll never allow it to be part of their lives, but you have modeled it and they will repeat it.  If you think that living in a nice house with an abusive relationship is better for your children than living in an apartment with no abuse, you need to keep working on that logic problem for at least one more minute.)

So: teachers were my friends.  No matter where we moved, teachers were impressed.  A lot of them seemed to feast on having one kid in the room who wanted to learn and was a high performer.  Pleasing them earned me praise and confidence.  My Single Working Mom (SWM) would come home from work and hang out with me, making up extra homework and cracking the textbooks from her year of college to keep challenging me and make learning fun.  For me, learning means teacher praise, fascinating subjects, Mom time, the adventure of expanding mental horizons.  Wonder and more wonder.  And supportive personal connections, that pearl of great price.

It took me a long time to realize that learning basically stops in the grown up world, and most of the things I have a chance to learn through my daily occupation are forms and formalities, policies and procedures.  It’s still learning.  But a lot of the people who are in a position to teach me are assholes.  I’ve been avoiding them, because assholes are not my favorite thing, and because I’ve always assumed that holy bond between teacher and student, guru and chela, would have to exist for the simpatico chemical reaction of teaching to occur.

Turns out not.  Paying respectful attention to assholes and asking them to share knowledge does not make them likeable and it does not make them like you.  But people who know stuff seem incapable of withholding it if approached politely.  There might be some habitual behaviors and secondary gain motives (ego boosting, etc.,) but people who have knowledge seem to want to share it if they can, and if they are asked nicely.  This might save humanity.  But only if we who want this knowledge can put up with the sometimes petty personalities of the wise.  It would be stupid not to, right?

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?

Venn Diagram: Sluts and Feminists and Feminist Sluts

Separate intro problem for contrast:  powerful women who think “feminist” is a dirty word. 

On one hand, we have the Susan Sarandon / Madonna contingent who like Wendy Wasserstein’s preference for the term “humanist” instead of “feminist”.  This term sounds more inclusive, is ungendered, and is congruent with my own feminism, which is against all oppression, not only the oppression of women.  While I respect their choice, it has the flavor of white privilege and echoes the problem of being “color blind” to race.  “I don’t see people as having color” = “I don’t have to acknowledge the problems faced by people of color”.  “Rather than fighting against women’s problems, I fight against humanity’s problems” seems to equal, “Women and girls face no special problems in this world,” — a laughable fiction.  The more empowering non-feminist feminist term might be Alice Walker’s identification as a womanist.

Weak tea, ladies.

On the other hand, we have conservatives such as Michele Bachmann and Michelle Gellar, who are happy to have privileges hard-won by self-identified feminists (college degrees, the right to vote, the right to equal opportunity employment, etc.,) but would never stand with the women who fought for their rights.  “OOH ICKY, heck no, I would never call myself a feminist!  It’s so pushy and aggressive and doesn’t acknowledge the importance of men”, usually in God’s Plan.  (These women are my sisters but lordy, they are trapped in their thinking.)  The “lite” version are people like Kelly Clarkson and Katy Perry, who don’t seem to know anything about feminism.  Believing women can be strong and still wanting to play traditional gender roles in their personal relationships have zero-nil-nit-swabo-nada-nothing to do with feminism, but someone apparently told them they couldn’t be feminists and let their dates buy them dinner.

To quote Handy from “The Tick”: READ A BOOK!

(On that mythical third hand, the gripping hand, the stunted mental tentacle, we have people such as Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative party monster who worked hard to kill the Equal Rights Amendment — how unAmerican to want civil equality! — and is kept hidden in the GOP attic because she is two things the party hates in women:  smart and ugly.  Fox Republic likes women who are pretty and stupid.  While Mrs. Schlafly is a roaring hypocrite, being an educated divorcee who has had an abortion who fights to keep other women from having the opportunities she enjoyed, she is not stupid.  Evil, yes; stupid, no.)

Look at all the people who are not feminists!

Who DOES identify as feminist?  (And perhaps should not?)

Certain dudes.  I live in the Pacific Northwest, which is home to a lot of passive aggression hiding behind non-confrontation and masquerading as good manners.  There are a lot of guys here who seem sweet and friendly and positive and supportive and nurturing, but only because they have been socialized to appear that way.  In relationships, they are sneering, demanding, angry, resentful babies when faced with the most minimal life demands, but in public, they are sleek and smooth and good little boys.  Oh, these middle class folks and their love of appearances!  Part of this is calling themselves feminists. They might be the dudes of random hygiene and baby dreds, or they might be the neckties at Tektronix who smoke dope on the weekends.  Either way, when you scratch their feminism, you get “hey, I never said we were monogamous just because we’ve lived together for six years; you’re a feminist, you shouldn’t be trying to chain me down”, and a wife who also works full time but does almost all the chores, childcare, and shopping.  Her last name is hyphenated; his is not.

Certain women.  As tepid as the Katy Perrys and Kelly Clarksons, but just this side of the divide.  “Well, sure, I’m a feminist.  I mean, I guess.  I wouldn’t NOT be a feminist.  But I do shave my legs and wear makeup and stuff.  And I’m straight (not that there is anything wrong with NOT being straight).  And my husband, he’s a feminist too, at least he calls himself one.  But, yeah, my husband always drives and stuff.  He gets carsick if he’s not the driver, which I get, because that happens to me too.”  She’s married to the guy at Tektronix.  And she feels in control of her life because she chose to knuckle under.  Real strength lies in flexibility, right?  It’s the sort of flexibility that allows her to cleave unto her husband’s interests (the beer she does not like, the sports she never played, the hobby she tries hard to share) but not mind, not really, that he has never made an effort to see what she sees in the things that thrill her.  Her early married life involves convincing herself she’s not a doormat and that her husband’s boots aren’t that muddy, anyway.  Common life paths:  being traded in for a younger model when the paterfamilias hits man-o-pause; slowly growing a spine and holding her own (so long as she doesn’t leave Nice Village, because that would mean giving up her Nice House and moving to Divorcetown); and/or eroding into a conservative out of isolation from youth and fear of change.

(Aside:  aging so often leads to an unhealthy preoccupation with self, really a tunnel vision focusing on self, that people celebrate as “finally becoming independent” and “taking control of my life” and all kinds of other self-petting BS.  A lifetime of social skills are slowly replaced by selfishness and a demanding nature and an I’m-too-old-to-give-a-shit-you-can’t-make-me attitude.  It is possible to cultivate wisdom, patience, grace, and a generous heart; I’m not saying these folks aren’t out there.  But the voice of the zeitgeist for the next generations is one of a petty egomaniac.)

Yeah, but what about the sluts?  You promised us sluts!

And sluts you shall have, my pretties.  But first, let me say that the word “slut” is used here as a social type and should not be construed as an insult.  Mentally substitute “Bad Girl” or “Libertine” or whatever, so long as there is an implication of visibility, aggressive sexuality, and extroversion in non-mainstream ways.  This is not a meaningful identifier.  As a label, it’s about as value-descriptive as a sticker that says HI MY NAME IS:_____.

Since you don’t know me, let me add that I have nothing against wild styles, wild behavior, or any degree of promiscuity.  I know you can sleep with a passel of folks and still be as sacred in your person as the Virgin Mary, still be as sweet and good-hearted as Snow White.  Nor do I have anything against women who dress and comport themselves like two-peso whores, strictly because those whores can be wonderful people too, and clothes themselves do not possess, impart, or deny morality.   You can have a dirty mind and work your body like a rubber ball and still have a solid-gold character (as explained in the Song of Saint Rizzo, the Book of Grease, Act IV).

What is in your underwear, and what you do with it, does not make you a person of moral refinement OR moral depravity.  Period. This is part of my feminism: that virginity is a social construct, that most moral codes are keys to the commodification of women and girls, that the double standard for men works against both men and women, and that men are also deeply harmed by patriarcho-religious BS.  We’re all victims here.  That said:  the problems of men and women are not equal.  Men have more physical power and more socioeconomic power.  While males are more prone to stunted emotional expression and a twisted sense of entitlement, females are more prone to being victims of violence, loss of franchise, physical disfigurement, and other, harsher penalties.

One of those penalties is for sexual freedom.  The main argument for mutilating the genitals of girls at puberty, in the many countries where it occurs, is to deprive females of sexual pleasure.  Whether that pleasure is undeserved, or makes them rival men, or whatever, the ultimate problem is that it is a threat to the social dominance of men.  It keeps women “pure” (a purity that men don’t seem to need), whether that is to make them good mothers, to atone for the sin of Eve, or to keep them submissive to the proper authority of men and worthy of wifehood.  Consider issues of clothing modesty, social judgment, the blaming of rape victims by other women, and other typical problems in Western culture.  American government traditions were begun by Puritans in the northeast, and eventually our nation’s capitol was raised in this center.  Those values were adopted wholesale and passed down through law and culture.  And they stink.

Burlesque artists, dominatrices, sex workers, strippers, “artist’s models”, and feminism.

The goods at last!  Recently an article by Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast presented Karley Sciortino as a case and asked if she was the new face of feminism.  Karley Sciortino has a blog called “Slutever”, which involves sexually provocative activities and sly commentary; she is not my concern here.  My concern is the question: is she the new face of feminism?  The answer is an easy “no”, for me.  My comment on the post:

“Being free to behave as you wish is the result of feminism, not an act in support of it, in my opinion.  There are many types of feminism.  Mine has very little in common with hers — so little that it’s impossible to compare them.  But the word still has some meaning, and calling yourself a feminist when you encourage the worst problem women face doesn’t work.  I fully support her right to express herself and present herself as she wishes.  But is it a specifically feminist act to cater to the oppressor?  Not so much, no.

“It’s true that my wave of feminists tends to see sexually aggressive / open females as heading back to the pedestal/gutter binary we fought to destroy.  Her generation is free to behave in a hypersexual way, but honestly, women have always been free to do that because men were in power, and men enjoyed it.  Men still are and men still do and still keep women in the binary cage because of it.  It’s challenging to support behavior that feeds the beast, you know?”

I have had friends in all the categories of the section header, and most of them consider themselves feminists.  Dressing provocatively, twerking and twirling, selling your services — all that and more — do not prevent you from wanting or deserving social equality.  And I fully acknowledge that no feminist has to conform to my wave of feminism, which was (sometimes stupidly) preoccupied with gaining the respect of the oppressor.  (It’s not stupid when you are convincing those in power to share it; that’s being smart for the cause.) Part of that respect involved continuing to conform to a the Modern Puritan Establishment standard, for some people; burning bras, but wearing turtlenecks, even if what we wanted was to go barechested in the summer heat, as men do.  And for others, it meant taking advantage of new-won sexual freedom by engaging in more sex than we really wanted, or with people we didn’t really like, to exert our power to do so — it’s hard to say “no” when you’ve only just won the right to say “yes” — but we had yet to learn that we had the power to say “no”, too.  It was a hard time if you were not a libertine, but a good time if you were ready to fight for your rights.

You can march to the White House in glitter paint and pasties, but if you are not marching, you are not the face of feminism.  The new generation does not have a goddamned clue what it was like to have to wear skirts to work, get sent home for not wearing a slip or pantyhose, lose custody of children for dating after a divorce, be refused the right to divorce without proof of infidelity, or have no legal recourse after blatant sexual harassment on the job, and a thousand other atrocities.  That’s part of what allows them to think feminism is a dirty word.  But while feminism has earned women the freedom to dress as they will and not bow to the desire to earn the pseudo-respect of Decent People™, it’s not a feminist act to conform to the expectations mainstream society has for Sluts while asking for nothing better.

Most of the body workers I know either live solely in society’s gutter or they maintain rigorous separation of identities so that they don’t lose their day jobs.  Living in the closet is not a feminist act.  But feminism one day might get you out of the closet.  Stripping, strutting, and selling it are fine.  But they aren’t feminist acts.  If you’d like to merge your worlds, work for social justice.  Take a stand and come out of the slut closet.  But do not assume that showing the world your cooch is a blow for justice.  It might make you feel in control of your body, and that is a wonderful thing.  But is it knocking down stereotypes, opening doors to insight, helping mainstream society learn (or demanding that they acknowledge) that women have value beyond what they keep in their panties?  No.  It is not.

 

 

Ken Ham vs. Bill Nye, Debating Young Earth Creationism versus Evolution

There is a huge mistake debating this topic:  it implies that there are two equally valid sides.  It implies that there is a debate that can elevate understanding.  We need to fight back against the Michele Bachmanns of the world, and the Texas textbook conspirators, but we must not proceed from the position that there are two sides here.  There is science, and there are fairy tales.

Let me add that I respect the right of any individual to believe as he will.  If you have a deep inner conviction that there are ghosts or gods or gnomes in the garden, I will defend your right to do so.  But you don’t get to teach it in schools or dismiss the work of scholars based on your feelings.  (NB:  vintage, poorly edited fanfic such as the Bible is not valid support for those feelings.)

The nub of the gist:  there is no point debating faith versus science because there is no overlap.  Faith is of the heart and science is of the brain.  If you fall in love with the meth addict who runs the Tilt-O-Whirl and bring him home to your folks, they will say he’s dangerous because he uses hard drugs and is just passing through town.  You will scream that they don’t know him like you know him, and that it doesn’t matter anyway because you luuuuurve him.

And you would both be right.  But either way, in six months you’re going to be living in a van and pumping gas until the baby comes, because chances are good you don’t believe in contraception or abortion, and your parents endorse those opinions but won’t keep a sinner under their roof.

Prelude to a Prelude

Grad school:  completed.  Too much to say.  Careers and current events and curiosities will have to wait for another day, and they deserve a prelude of their own.  Right now, I am suffering PMS and perimenopause, another separate topic, but one related to this post’s irks and irritations (not including insomnia and a period that is irregular for the first time in my life).  This is just an incomplete list of the raft of things acting like a cheese grater on my nerves lately, some of them due to hormone transitions and Passages and ch-ch-ch-changes, if it’s not wrong to mix Gail Sheehy with David Bowie.  In no particular order:

BUFFALO HOT WINGS.  I love them when they’re good but they almost always suck.  First, a “drummette” isn’t a wing.  Second, if the meat is even slightly undercooked, my throat swells shut.  Third, soggy skin makes me want to have a frickin’ tantrum.  Fourth, the proper garnish is celery and carrot sticks, and that does not mean rusty celery and dried out so-called “baby” carrot knobs.  Fifth, blue cheese is normal and ranch is an option, but if you include that nasty eggy mayo in either, my throat swells shut per my second point.  Sixth and last and I cannot stress this enough: it is not a Buffalo wing if it does not come in a sauce that is a vinegar-based chili mixed with butter, such as Frank’s.  If you are ordering wings with sauces such as lemon pepper, BBQ, or Greek herbs, they are not Buffalo and they are not hot.  They are just wings.

TERMINOLOGY.  Eight million discussions of ideas on FB, particularly, have deteriorated before my very eyes in the past few weeks.  Today’s topic was meritocracy.  People get going on rants easily enough, but each person goes down his or her own rabbit hole and calls everyone else wrong.  It’s maddening.  Defining meritocracy (for example) is not the same as endorsing it.  Approving the idea is not approving the poor application of the idea.   Loathing the idea is not to presume there is something better — perhaps it’s something awful with no superior alternative.  It’s really a clash of imagined scenarios (best case, worst case, most common case, etc.,) the clash of realism and idealism, the clash of the just versus the kind.  And it always boils down to “I like it” or “I don’t like it”, for personal reasons — as most things do.

MY TESTIMONY MAY BE ANECDOTAL TO YOU BUT IT’S EVIDENCE TO ME.  What are you going to believe if statistics don’t support your body of experiences?  Some numbers on a page, which may or may not be correct or complete, or your own life?  The less first-hand knowledge people have, the more they seem to rely on statistics — when it comes to making other people do what they want.

CONTROL FREAKS.  Of course I am one.  And I am exceedingly stubborn.  But there is a huge difference between controlling my own self / life / environment and trying to control anyone else’s.  My life lately has a lot of people who are Very Very Disappointed in loved ones who are doing what they want to do rather than what my friends and family would like.  Example:  my mother is relatively young, for my family, but frail.  She relies heavily on one of my sisters and my brother-in-law for chores.  In exchange, they live rent-free on her property while they save for a house.  They both have demanding jobs and Mom also cooks a lot of their meals, takes care of their dogs, and runs interference.  Sister wants to move but feels Mom can’t survive without her.  Mom hates to see the kids go, but says “do what you need to do”.  Sis feels that this is passive aggression on Mom’s part; an attempt to guilt trip her into staying.  It isn’t.  It’s Sister feeling guilty for wanting to leave Mom and resenting it.  But she, as a control freak, is incapable of owning her feelings OR her decision.  Instead of copping to it and acting accordingly, she stays — and grouses — and blames Mom for the whole mess.

(Why won’t you do what I want you to?  Why are you keeping me from doing what I want to do?  — My dear, no one is stopping you.  Wash, rinse, repeat.)

CANDY CRUSH: level 275 is both boring and hateful, but if I don’t beat it, I can’t play new fun ones.  But playing a game I hate, for a purpose, seems like work.  Ugh.

PUSH NOTIFICATIONS SHOULD BE OPTIONAL.

BIG BANG THEORY:  ever since Howard and Bernadette married, things have gone horribly downhill.  The women are shrill jerks, the men are resentful whiners, there is drama where there should be fun, and the jokes are often cruel, nasty, sexist, misogynistic, and what they are not, unfortunately, is funny.  There are no more laughs whatsoever.  It’s a cringefest.  And it breaks my heart.

OTHER BANGS THEORY:  I rocked Bettie bangs for a while during my stay in the Bay Area, and they looked great…until my stylist magically forgot how to do them and gave me Cindy Brady bangs instead.  For the past year I have rocked self-inflicted bangs, and for the past few months I’ve been growing them out.  It seemed best, to allow the new stylist more options to even out the overcorrections and the general mangling.  But hair that is long enough to hang in my eyes but not long enough to put in the knot drives me up a wall and gives me terrible headaches.  My hair-around-the-house has been a style much like Zippy the Pinhead’s.  (Hairbands don’t work thanks to my perfectly cube-shaped head.)  It’s finally getting long enough to stay in the bun, and it occurred to me that I could just end the era of bangs in my life.  Cautious thrill, hopeful imagining, but no.  To borrow Tyra’s phrase, I don’t have forehead, I have fivehead — and instead of a flawless oval mug I have the front of the giant man-sized meat cube that passes for a head.   Wearing bangs in rain county, particularly when those bangs are stick-straight, clingy as lint, and subject to unflattering cowlicks and hairlines, is smart.  But not on this face.  Alas and alackaday.

THE LIST:  too much to do.  And I should be doing it while there is time.  But right now, puttering and not worrying about things, even things I really should worry about, is what I’m doing.  R&R is sometimes necessary, but it still doesn’t get the storage unit organized.

And I can feel a rant about work, licensure, school, experience, and all that jazz coming on, so I had better stop.  (I got a single B and the rest As and still didn’t make the Dean’s List.  Yeah, it makes me pouty.)  And there is a rant about aging, health, and my reservations concerning the “being fat is being healthy” crowd.  (Look, folks:  chubby girls can be lush and glamorous and attractive.  They should love themselves as much as anyone should and like anyone should not feel bad about their fat — it’s not a moral state, for crying out loud.  But I used to be a jock and I don’t like being out of shape and if one more person tries to tell me I have simply been brainwashed by a society that wants me to hate myself so it can sell me things, I will implode.  They tell me OF COURSE it’s healthy to weigh twice what I used to!, that it is not a strain on my joints, that it is not a stress on my internal organs, that fat is not the cause of illness — on and on.  It’s all I can do not to unleash a sternly worded, peer-reviewed-journal-citation-rich reply, along with a lesson in the difference between correlation and causation with regards to the assertion that body fat is unrelated to heart disease, cardiopulmonary disorders, or the family of cancers.  That is the sort of fact-skewing self-serving apologia functional alcoholics use to rationalize their overindulgence — after all, it’s not causing me to miss work, hock my watch, miss a rent payment, or beat my kids, so It’s Just Fine.  Maybe It’s Actually Better For You Even.)

But I digress.

The Book of Faces

Since school got out, I made a brief first effort to catch up with a semester’s worth of neglect, but I’ve had to take a break.  The mountain of correspondence is large, and I am still all achy in the carpals from a hundred pages of paper-writing for finals.  So:  why am I wasting the life of my wrists to put out some jibber-jabber that won’t go toward meeting my obligations?

Facebook.

I avoided it like the plague during school as part of the great Bermuda Triangle of time-suck:  email, Twitter, FB (with the new outposts of Pinterest and Tumblr).  There was limited exposure if I clicked the wrong URL in my navbar or deliberately took a glancing break from a text that was reading like cold oatmeal, but aside from a few throw-away comments as I cruised the cocktail party, I’ve been off the stuff.

Returning was necessary.  Lingering was a mistake.

A handful of the better people — and I am not one to keep a mile-long F-list — have departed from, or significantly limited their exposure via, the book of faces.  What remains?  87% rock solid curmudgeonliness and 13% fun stuff directed at a subgroup, usually local friends, but shared with the universe.  Hey, fun party last night!  Hey, you gonna make it to practice?  Hey, does anyone know where I left my hat?

The latter posts never apply to me, since I am not within many hundreds of miles of anyone I know, but they read like poetry compared to the 87%.

A few people post only memes from Tea Party websites about how George Washington would have soundly thrashed Obama who is an Ungodly Commie.

Another few post only Marine Corps memes that offer either slavering obsequiousness or snide “You’re WELCOME” sentiments that are less oorah and more Kenny Fucking Powers.  (NB:  my family includes many servicemen, some of whom are Marines, and I have a deep affection and respect for the Corps.  But these memes are childish and narcissistic and I see a dozen a day.)

The liberal curmudgeons bring a whole lot of Debbie Downer to the party.    Example:  the Newton shootings don’t matter because Obama is killing children in the ME with drone strikes, and Obamacare doesn’t matter because other countries get to have universal healthcare, and OH!, eternal mourning that Obama won the election!  (Still with this, guys?  Would Romney have been better?  Your emotional FB postings will not cause a three-party system to spring up out of nowhere, you know.)

Then there are the conservative curmudgeons who are the exact opposite number:  the Newton shootings are a plot by Obama to revoke all private gun ownership, and we are saddled with Socialist Obamacare despite being a Capitalist country, and OH! things would have been so much better if Romney had won the election!  Sigh.  Yawn.

Minor-yet-vocal trends are usually individuals who have too much time on their hands and just spam the feed with random specific memes:  Jesus things (“Feel The Holes In His Hands and See How Much He Loves You”; abortion is evil because Jesus; when life gives you lemons, Jesus has the recipe for lemonade; etc.); emotional extortion memes (Do One Million People Have the Courage To Re-Post This to Show That They Love Jesus? -The Second Amendment?  -Our Troops? I Bet NOT!!!!); and random idiocy memes (“When I was a child, the streets were safe because our parents whipped our asses and now beating your children is frowned upon by libberrruls, so boys wear saggy trousers just like prison inmates who are ‘available.’  ‘LIKE’ if you got lots of spankings and grew up morally smug because of it!”)

Then we have the gun people vs. the anti-gun people spouting statistics at each other, fingers in ears and screaming defiance.  Yawn again.  But getting back to my main complaint, one of the other curmudgeons loudly protested this “debate” by threatening to un-friend anyone who posted gun-related comments on “her” wall from that point forward.  As you may surmise, no one was posting anything to her wall; she simply wanted people to keep the topic out of her feed.

Sorry, ma’am; that’s not how it works.  Go ahead:  block people for their opinions, or unfriend them, or hide their posts.  But no one should have to self-censor to please anyone else.  Not that I don’t self-censor all the time.  Anyone who wants to complain about my boring miscellany — odd music videos, tired old “What’s For Dinner?” meal pix, various quotes from movies and books — is free to block me; and yet I hope he or she will keep in mind that by posting the equivalent of bland small talk, I am containing my rage at the stuff I loathe.

This self-containment got away from me last night.  I snapped.  Someone re-posted an E-card meme saying, “I would like to thank those who came up with the phrase ‘Politically Correct’ for giving us a nation full of whiney-ass pansies who have no common sense nor pride!”  Since my grammar is less than perfect, I skipped the flaws of conveyance and ripped on the logic.  Guess what?  If the pale males with power hadn’t been abusive assholes, there never would have been a PC movement.  You can blame yourselves for that.

When a man my equal in age and inferior in intelligence thinks he gets to address me by my first name, or even by a dismissive diminutive, and yet expects me to address him as “Sir” or “Mister Whatever”, the PC movement starts making sense.  When people wave the flag and get all emotional about Traditional Family Values (TM), they don’t get to behave like rude, ungentlemanly scoundrels and then whine because some member of a marginalized group stood up and demanded to be treated with the same respect and civility as a member of the majority.  And when women, half the population, stand up and want to be treated like human beings, they are accused of trying to act like men, usurp the male prerogative, or get called ugly names.  All for wanting fair treatment.

And now the white males are whining about…other people whining.  I should have just said, “I dunno, Mister, that sounds pretty whiny to me,” and left it at that.  And though I ranted, it wasn’t a perfect or eloquent rant, nor did it vent my spleen.  All I can say is that I got it under control and left before I burned down the house.

I thought it would be a good idea to put FB on a back burner, but I have changed my mind.  Time to take FB off the back burner and put it in the bun warmer / crumb catching drawer under the oven, along with the strange pans that only get used a few times per year.  Whenever I feel like making aebleskiver, I’ll know it’s time to check Facebook again.

 

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Emotions: We All Have Them

To quote (or misquote) Neil Gaiman on Twitter:

Warning:  contains Me.

My first semester of grad school is wrapping up (I should be working on at least one of my last two final papers right now.)  My husband has been unemployed for five months, I have been unemployed for two years, and money is tight.  There is no medical insurance, and despair is setting in.  There are other things, lots of them, but this is enough to support my statement that I can not afford emotional excess right now.  I’m not prone to emotional excess normally, but much less so at the moment.

I have made a huge mistake, and that is trying to engage with internet-only or past-local friends on the topic of guns in the aftermath of the Lanza shootings.  These friends fall, with only a few exceptions, in two solid categories:  gun nuts and anti-gun nuts.  I am a pro-gun leftie who thinks banning all private ownership of guns is extreme, unnecessary, and probably impossible.  I also think that unrestricted, unregulated access to all forms of ordnance is extreme, unsafe, and irresponsible.

My mistake is being emotionally ragged, needing all the positive vibes I can get, and taking a chance on playing the calm, respectful devil’s advocate to both camps.

It turns out that gun nuts don’t want to be reminded that individuals don’t get to own bazookas and grenade launchers and cannons, and the Bill of Rights hasn’t withered because of it.  Banning assault rifles will not be a material abrogation of their right to bear arms.  They do not want to hear that urban environments are made volatile and dangerous by guns, and that many urban owners are scared folks with no safety training and no target practice.  They do not want to acknowledge that gun shows, private transactions, and gun theft are real problems.  They do not want to require mandatory safety training or proof of current training to purchase guns, nor do they want to put revocation of rights on the table for irresponsible gun use.  They also do not want to hear that the NRA is hurting the cause of responsible ownership by its extreme positions, or that they need to try to understand the anti-gun crowd rather than dismiss them all as ignorant reactionaries.  A lot of them are ignorant, but no one is educated by derisiveness.  Teach them.  Show them better if you can.  If you can’t, check yourself.

It also turns out that anti-gun nuts refuse to acknowledge that there is such a thing as responsible gun ownership, or circumstantially appropriate gun use for self-defense. They don’t want to hear that most gun owners have trouble-free experiences.  They don’t want to hear that there is no psych test that can screen out potentially dangerous people.  (Most so-called “crazy” people are harmless, or harm only themselves; most so-called “sane” people with no history of problems are the ones who snap under certain kinds of pressure; and anyone can game a psych eval with high face validity anyway.  It’s true.)  They don’t want to hear that all the regulations and restrictions being discussed might be great ideas (some are not), but none would have prevented what happened.  Reducing damage is possible, and it’s important that we pursue that.  (My insurance-worker past goes to the bone, and I’m all about risk management.)  But thinking, for example, that a gun safe can defeat an intelligent 20 year old with unlimited time and access to the safe is not rational.  They didn’t want to hear it.

I told them about growing up in the deep country where all of us used guns and no one got hurt, and they said that nobody hunts anymore.

I described having people try to break in, thinking deep country people who had no neighbors within earshot and no cops for many miles would not be able to stop them, and how the sound of a shotgun being shucked (and, once, a warning shot being fired) got them to move on when turning the yard lights on didn’t; they said it never happens.

I told them of my single working mom opening a gas depot on a trucking road at 3 a.m. and keeping her .22 handy until the other folks arrived; half were shocked that she didn’t either shoot herself or someone else, and the other half said she never needed it so she shouldn’t have had it.  (We keep a First Aid kit in the car, too, and we’ve never needed it, either.)

I told them about being out with a girlfriend (in the days of our young hotness) and having a group of guys making noise like they wanted to mess with us.  When they walked our way, making ugly noises, she opened the trunk of her car and displayed (not brandished) a high-powered handgun; they departed.  I was told, “You should have just driven away.  They would have just taken your gun away and used it against you — that’s how it happens.” Only if you are not willing to shoot before they get within arm’s reach, and that was not the case.  “No way were you going to shoot someone!”

Well, what about all the still-dark mornings at the bus stop?  What about all the crummy neighborhoods I’ve lived in?  What do I do if a guy, or more than one guy, wants to mess with me?  How do I outrun a van?  Sneering is all I got, and I really didn’t need it at the time.  I don’t expect my personal anecdotes to change anyone’s mind, but I thought that people would at least understand how a person they get along with otherwise might find guns useful.  Instead, I was told to ignore my personal experiences because irresponsible gun owners exist and plus, statistics.

This aspect of the hooraw is particularly hard for me, since I cleave hard Left.  Openmindedness, inclusiveness, and respect for difference is what it’s all about.  But lately, I’m getting derided and dismissed.  Contempt and sneering are  no fun.  They certainly don’t make me think, “Wow, I’m being sneered at!  They must be right and I must be wrong!”

This is like the conversations between steak lovers and morally indignant vegans.  The carnivores who chant “top of the food chain” at the top of their lungs are stupid to ignore issues of sustainability, animal welfare, or ethical slaughter.  The vegans who dismiss all consumers of animal products as murderous cannibals are stating that anyone who doesn’t already feel the way they do are cretinous savages incapable of reason and unworthy of persuasion.  There is no thought that someone else might be reasoned with, on either side.  Certainly there no attempt to get inside the other guy’s head and figure out why he feels the way he does — and certainly no acknowledgment that hey, if I had been in your shoes, I might feel the same way.  Scornful, simplistic rejections are so much easier than admitting the other guy might have a point.  Then we’ll actually have to THINK THIS THROUGH.

It’s so much easier to feel than to think.

I know this horrible shooting has everyone feeling emotional, and people need to work out their feelings.  But there is a difference between ventilating feelings (an unburdening that leads to relief and improved perspective), and narcissistic emotional indulgence (which gets you all worked up as you follow the emotional spiral toward hysteria.)  I’m seeing the latter on both sides, and it’s wearing me out.