Category Archives: Personal history

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.

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I’ve been depressed for a while now. It didn’t seem like depression because it was a process, an extenuation and worsening of the negative side of normal. I would have caught it sooner, I think, if it hadn’t been for my inner Pollyanna and her relentless cheerleading. She works hard to keep me going, but part of her snappy patter is refusing to believe things are That Bad. Well, sometimes they are, and finding the upside of a crummy situation results in continuing the crummy situation rather than saying WHOA, this is fucked up, time to start changing things. It dovetails nicely with the Puritan farmer mentality I grew up with – but unfortunately, both of those are geared to help you ENDURE hard times rather than solve the problem. In short, it helps you put up with shit rather than fix it.

My attempts to get back on track have all failed. This is probably due to not addressing the cause of the problem. Pressuring myself to do better is just adding pressure if there is zero motivation for change. Add shame to the mix. Sometimes I would have a balanced moment and acknowledge that I wasn’t trying to change right now but that I recognized the need to take better care of myself. But most of the time, all I could do was chide myself and hate myself and concoct schemes to jump start my motivation. Unfortunately, false starts and dead ends and restarts get me down – way down. Failure might light a fire under some fannies, but not mine. It drains me of motivation and makes me hate myself more when I try and fail and try again and fail again, despite the well-known quote from Samuel Beckett, as seen in a thousand earnest tattoos.

Over the holidays it got worse – more food, more drink, more escapism. I got fatter, and that made me sad, even though I had applied myself so diligently to those activities that make me fat. After the new year, the depression didn’t get worse, but things happened that made me turn to my recently cultivated Bad Habits™ to cope. Alan Rickman died, David Bowie died. My favorite patient, the person I’ve worked with longest, died, as did another patient a few days later. These things did not help. One of my aunts is still dying, and that’s sad enough without factoring in the effects on her brother and childhood best friend, who happens to be my father. The three-year mark passed since my husband had a job. My own work stress accrued. A new boss started at my work, and the change stressed me. She seems very nice, but there are perhaps a dozen reasons why I can’t stand her. The capper: because I have Teacher’s Pet Syndrome, I need to please her and I can’t seem to, ever (only another Teacher’s Pet will understand how vexing this is.) And then there is the SCA. Stopped playing before Thanksgiving, so no breaks, no socializing, no dressing up, no letting off steam. It’s for the best, given the local crowd, but like work, it’s one more coping tool that’s not working for me, while food and beer and Netflix are.

And then there was the PMS. And the perimenopause. And the hideous problems that come from stuffing myself like a Strasbourg goose: constipation, skin breakouts, lower libido, snoring loud enough to wake the neighbors, hormone changes, headaches, poor sleep, and other effects from clogging my system with excess matter. I have been eating so much that it has overwhelmed my magical machine for processing and filtering and fueling and eliminating. Poor old wagon, overloaded, and trying so hard to keep me going.

My house is dirty. This says more than anything else. And I’m hairy: hairy pits, hairy legs, unpolished toes and fingernails. These are all signs, for those who know me. And Honey knows me better than anyone, but he accepts me wholly and without judgment. If I want hairy legs, he supports me in that. The problem is that I don’t – but I have zero motivation to shave. All I can do is lie here, hating myself, and occasionally wondering what that rustling-leaves sensation is between my calves when I walk. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I realized it was the fluffy leggings I grew myself. I have known gorgeous brunette girls with dark, straight body hair that looks sleek and strong and which lies flat against the legs. Mine is sparse and nearly invisible and sticks straight out every which way. My legs look downy, like a baby bald eagle’s. Now I can laugh, but there was great disappointment in myself when I realized that this was yet another one of the ten thousand things I was neglecting, wrecking, or half-assing.

Sunday was my iron wedding anniversary with my darling man, and this summer will mark 15 years together. All in all, this is delightful, although my pleasure was dampened severely by my feeling more and more certain that I am a worthless sack of shit as a human being. On Sunday I called home to talk to Mom — it had been longer than usual, maybe a lot longer — and after chatting a bit, I asked if she was feeling well because she sounded kind of croaky. Mom said that was a little bit of news: she was done fasting.

DONE FASTING!

Ten years ago January, my grandmother died, after a long and painful deterioration. Her birthday is coming up in a few days, and I always try to be extra supportive of Mom from Jan to March. When Grandma was dying, I had no idea what was happening. Long distance bills were still a thing and I was earning too little to call. And Mom was too busy to talk. She was working with Grandma’s husband in shifts to perform personal care during her final weeks. Round the clock feeding and cleaning and soothing and medicating, and the emotional attrition wore them both down, and out. They would have qualified for respite care if they had put her in a home, but they sacrificed their time and health and well-being to help Grandma die at home. This is everything to me, since I remember my Great-Grandma begging to die at home and her children not allowing it. I like to think they were hoping for a miracle, but she knew, and I am still horrified to think of her dying in a sterile ward instead of in the home she and her brothers built by hand just after World War I.

Mom, in the process of caring for Grandma, neglected herself; and having no time to prepare her own food, relied on nutritional supplements for all those skipped meals. Then Grandma died. Mom still couldn’t eat more than supplements, couldn’t sleep more than an hour at a time. Mom had to put Grandma’s house in order, make all the funeral arrangements, deal with the insurance and banking and paperwork and wills and deeds and titles and taxes. Weeks passed and still no solid food. I came for the funeral and stayed a month – but I had to retreat to my aunt’s house for part of the visit. I don’t know if it was dust or stress or pet dander or constantly being choked up, but I literally could not breathe. I had never had an asthma attack or shortness of breath and it was terrifying.

Mom took this personally and wanted to fight about it all the time. She accused me of everything from giving place to demons to hating her so much that I couldn’t stand to be around her. Every word hurt like hell, but I was too busy gasping for breath to fight or defend. In retrospect I feel it might have been Mom blaming herself for Grandma dying, Mom taking her grieving anger out on me, but I know my gasping scared her and my moving out wounded her and made her feel abandoned all over again. By the time I returned to my own home in February, Mom still hadn’t resumed eating food — she would drink coffee but nothing else hot. No solid food. No broth or real food liquefied, either. The Lord told her not to; the Lord told her to fast. The Lord told her to rely on nothing other than the little jars of nutritional supplements she had been living on since Christmas.

At one point, some months later, my sister called me outside of Mom’s hearing, to talk about the fights they had about it. There were even larger fights in following years. My sister and I spoke with a different aunt about an intervention, even calling the county to do a wellness check. It never came to pass. Eventually we just accepted it.

Last week Mom asked the Lord what to do about this cold that’s been plaguing her, and asked a peer to pray for her. Her throat was so bad that she couldn’t swallow her nutritional supplements and she was getting weaker. The peer told Mom out of the blue that God told her that Mom’s fast would be done when she could no longer drink “those things”, but she didn’t know what that meant. Mom did. She started with a little chicken soup and the next day she had a poached egg on toast. She said it was the most delicious thing she’d ever eaten.

Just writing this makes me weepy, and I was choked up on the phone. This didn’t last long, of course, because our joyful chatter turned into a bigger argument than we’ve had in months (catharsis?) and a period of banal conversation to normalize things afterward. I was still upset and stayed upset for many hours, taking refuge as I usually do, in eating too much, drinking too much, and planting ass firmly in cushion. I figured I felt terrible because of the argument, and the physical symptoms of my PMS. It didn’t occur to me to consider that I might be getting sick, too. But I was freezing and aching and my throat was sore, and my weeping was also mucky eyes. Not exactly typical for Hormone Hell Week.

Woke up at three a.m. drenched in sweat, but weirdly euphoric. I took a shower and tried to rally for work, but still felt another wave of miseries coming on and breaking over me. Between the continued symptoms (especially the fever) and the VERY short night, I felt justified in calling in. But despite the physical horridness, I still felt peaceful, even cheerful; as if a burden had been lifted. I felt free to make good choices because I actually wanted the better choice and wanted the better outcome for myself, rather than knowing the right answer and not wanting it but choosing right out of guilt or shame or “should”.

I felt like I wanted to take care of myself again, not because I had to (and *need* to — I have neglected myself for ages, really given up) but because I felt, deep in my bones, that I was worth caring for and doing maintenance on and even nurturing. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way. And I didn’t feel hungry! Didn’t feel the desperate urge to go fill myself with food. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that way, either. For ages now, I’ve been an insatiable glutton, all binge and no purge. And it’s not that I don’t have a larder full of tasty treats. It’s just that I didn’t feel that anxious and urgent need to eat myself tranquil.

Other strange feelings: I wanted to take out my earrings. Three steel hoops in each ear, and I’ve not taken them out since having them pierced four years ago, almost to the day. I didn’t, but I keep feeling the urge. I would do it right now, but I don’t have a place to put them to keep them separate, keep them safe. (If I didn’t organize them properly, I’d never be able to put them back in due to screw direction and so forth. But once I find the wee bags, out they go.) One thing I did really want to do was cut my hair. So I took off over 12 inches of it. I weighed myself and have hit a record high that I recognize as needing to be addressed sometime, like remembering to take an old suit to the cleaners. I feel light as a feather.

The reason why Honey and I chose 3/20 as our wedding date was because it’s Nowruz, Persian New Year, as well as the first day of spring. Fresh start. I will celebrate any new year designated on the calendar and deeply feel that every day is a new opportunity to change. But this morning I didn’t wake up thinking I needed to change. I woke up feeling that I already had.

I am just doing what I feel supports the change. I don’t want that feeling to go away.

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.)

AFFRONT: the gripe so large it deserved its own post.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  if I ever got knuckle tattoos, which is less likely than winning the lottery I don’t play, they would read C-A-P-S   L-O-C-K.

My winner of all things irksome right now:  POMPOUS INDIGNATION AND HORRIFIED MORAL AFFRONT.

This one is special to me because three of my exes specialized in it.  But overexposure to it permanently altered my immune system and lowered my tolerance for it.  In the ex-husband, it manifested as I AM SHOCKED AND APPALLED THAT YOU WOULD EVEN THINK SUCH A THING.  Picture him drawing himself up to his full 74 inches in height, eyes widening, chin receding into his neck as he recoiled in horror, no different from a proper matron in a Victorian drawing room.  In the long-term boyfriend it took the tone of YOU HAVE ASSAULTED MY UPRIGHT MORALS AND OFFENDED ME DEEPLY, MADAME!  This ass was a 66 inch tall pile of jutting jaw and flared nostrils, ready to challenge someone to a duel on the spot.  In the deeply manipulative sometime girlfriend it was closer to WELL!  I NEVER!, and while she always tuned it to the audience, the root was deeply self-entitled narcissism of the DAR / Scarlett O’Hara variety.

Folks who display this attitude are prone to calling out others but rarely check their own bullshit.

There’s another kind I know too well but would never date:  the inane ingenue.  With them I try to be compassionate, because the sincere ones have a rigid standard for their own behavior and either grew up without compassion or never learned that human frailty is not the end of the world.  But it’s hard, since after a lengthy high-toned rant about the moral failures of others, the sincere ones tend to boo-hoo about how everyone is so cruel and hypocritical.  No, honey, you have that exactly backward:  you are expecting generosity from people who have received only judgment from you.  You’ll be fine once you learn to cut yourself some slack and extend the same courtesy to others.  But the one who dishes out harshness and expects worshipful respect if not candy coated adoration (HOW DID WE NOT SEE THAT YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG? PLEASE FORGIVE US FOR NOT RECOGNIZING YOUR MORAL SUPERIORITY EARLIER!  PROMISE YOU’LL BE MY MORAL GUIDE FOREVER) is the sort of ass who gets abandoned by even close friends until the next step in growing up occurs.

Of course, not everyone is earnest and naive.  For most I think it’s just an idealized self-image, an exalted and tender amour propre.  I would say my ex-husband’s case was most self-damaging.  Even though he was the nicest guy of the three, his view of the world was skewed by his protective cloud of huffing and puffing, maladaptive defenses against his shame at failure.  Don’t torture yourself, amigo — just try harder.  You’ll need to protect yourself less when you are confident that you have done everything you could do, and have not conned yourself into thinking it was your best work when you simply quit after getting tired, chickening out, or losing your nerve.  You never got support and encouragement growing up and your batteries get drained fast.  Sometimes the critics are right, and listening to them can help you — especially if the topic is too painful for you to consider.   Wherever you are, I hope you are being honest with yourself and doing better in life.

The long-term boyfriend was very different.  He had two layers:  the first was conscious cover for his chronic cheating (“your suspicion hurts me and implies that YOU are the one who is cheating since you are trying to deflect the focus from yourself; I will now proceed to make this all about you.”)  The second layer was his core self, which had lofty, deeply felt values at odds with his own actions, but a perception of himself based on the values rather than the deeds.  Being publicly called on those actions was deeply upsetting to his core self, and he avoided that pain by blaming his girlfriends or distracting himself with a new side piece — anything to feel good about himself.  He was completely toxic to females as a young man but he got his act together through work with a professional friend.  I’m glad for him and relieved for women at large and generally hopeful for us all.  If he can improve himself, miracles are possible.  Good on ‘im.

As for the sometime girlfriend, who knows?  Any display of emotion on her part might have been to manipulate others or as normal-person camouflage (see The Mask of Sanity by Cleckley) or something else, but it was always purposeful.  Her affront was sometimes the only thing about her that seemed honest, but again — who knows?  You can’t trust a liar.  She was mercurial and calculating and damaging to anyone close to her — but she was also always witty, funny, passionate, and game for the ballroom or the pool room.  I miss her company and our extemporaneous sister act.  But she is (by self admission) the person least likely to change herself or accept the criticism of others.  In her terms, “who listens to the lowing of cattle?”

The problems begin when you despise the cattle for being what they are, but expect their adoration anyway.  It wouldn’t hurt to see yourself as others see you, *especially* even when the image is unflattering.  It’s the only way you find out that your dress is tucked into the back of your pantyhose.  If you don’t accept criticism from your friends, your adversaries are the only ones you can trust.

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.

SOCIAL WORK AGAIN

For the first time ever, I had a bad dream about my adored husband dying.  Normally I would never mention such a thing, being just superstitious enough to want those words kept out of the universe’s ears, so let me move on by saying that the point of this sad dream was that social work saved my life.  It gave me a support system, it gave me clients who needed me to show up for work, it gave me positive feedback and visible successes as a trail of breadcrumbs back to life – even though it was a life without my heart or self.  I never stopped being sad in this dream; never had a life of my own again.  All I did was throw myself into my work so I wouldn’t have to go home to the Honey-less house.

Thing next:  though I grew up in a home that emphasized self-sufficiency, my single working mother tried to hone discernment in her boy-crazy daughter (me) by teaching me to judge men, in part, by how they treat subordinates, behave toward the weak, and care for dependents.  On a date, how does he treat the server?  Does he big-dog other men, especially men of short stature or men perceived as socially less-than?  Is he dismissive of women who aren’t beautiful or young?  Does he mimic or mock people with disabilities or impairments?  Does he describe himself as a cat-hater, or hater of anything?  Basically, if this man esteems himself for being higher on the pyramid than other people, he is just a bully looking for an excuse.  Chances are good he doesn’t kowtow to those higher up the pyramid than he is, but he expects it from those lower.  Sign of a hypocrite and a scoundrel.

From a social work perspective, why can’t we judge a society the same way?  This does not clash with my bootstrappy childhood because even though we never depended on other people to help us up, we were deeply committed to helping out people who needed it, be they strangers or neighbors.  You work hard and plan well for yourself, but we all know that Mother Nature can wipe you out in a single day, a single moment, and you could be the one in need.  Users and abusers go to the end of the line or out the door – their kids don’t, mind you – but if you don’t give help, you don’t get help.  Again, why not judge society this way?   How do we treat our widows and orphans, our physically and mentally frail, our marginalized populations?  How do we treat the animals in zoos and factory farms?  How do we treat the children in our schools and streets?  How do we treat the populations we control, such as the jailed, the institutionalized, and the military?

Consider the high number of people with moderate mental illness who end up in jail because they can’t afford the treatment or meds that keep them functional, and end up shoplifting or squatting in order to obtain food and shelter and clothing – basic survival needs.  Life on the streets is not safe or healthy.  Neither is life in jails and prisons.  But incarceration offers food, clothing, shelter, medical treatment, and a life out of the elements.  It’s cheaper to provide services outside of prison, and it’s fundamentally wrong to imprison people for crimes committed only for the purpose of survival, but that is not how we run things.

I love the United States and I am proud to be an American.  Individualist culture is my preference.  But individualism is defined by the divisions between people rather than ties that bind them, and it is a mistake as a society to let individuals fall into the cracks.  I have too much pride to enjoy living in a country where fat rich people can be chauffeured past starving homeless children.  This indecency is un-American to me.  We should care for our own.  If people are looked down on for living in slum tenements, but the people who collect their rent are not looked down upon as well, something is radically wrong.

As with individuals, society must be judged by how it treats its weakest members and those in its control.

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.

 

On Motherhood, Spanking, and Texas

As has been repeatedly pointed out to me by acquaintances, friends, and strangers who are mothers, I am not a mother, so my parenting opinions are meaningless, utterly without value, and should be kept to myself.

To an extent, I agree.  I have seen new mothers (first-timers and those with other little ones to manage) at wits’ end, exhausted, filthy, running under the gun, living in houses that look like battlefield routs.  I have seen entrenched mothers who are so worn down (and have so little assistance) that they feed their kids whatever crap the fussy darlings will actually eat, let the television babysit, and close the house like a fortress in order to get a few hours sleep before some horrible accident with the gas range kills them all.  Never have I judged.  Less-than-ideal parenting is not the same as unsafe parenting, and you do what you gotta do, Honey.  I’m not saying a word, unless it’s an offer to help, a pat on the back, or a sincere round of cheerleading to keep you swinging.

But the ruling that my opinions are always wrong and don’t count does rub, sometimes.  I’ve never been a mommy, but I was a child for quite a while…until shortly after my first sibling was born.  Seven happy years of being an only child, followed by two years of being Mommy’s Little Helper, then another six years or so of being Mommy Pro Tem during hours that our single working mother was off site.  Let’s put it this way:  when I was 9, I was taking care of my 2 year old sister.  When I was 16, I was taking care of my 9 year old sister.  During summers visiting my father (whom I love, but who never paid a dime in child support), I took care of my even younger sister and brother.  (This is the first chapter in the ongoing saga titled, “Why I Am Childless:  A Draft In 438 Parts.”)

So when I voice my dismay at seeing a clean, well-rested, cheerful mommy at the park divvying her own Mountain Dew into her baby’s bottle, I get in trouble for voicing my opinion — and it irks me.  This seems like a no-brainer, rather than something that an elite squad of mommy-scientists needs to adjudicate.  (Try to keep in mind, my dears, that your principle qualification for motherhood was a healthy ovum and a hospitable uterus.  No education was required, no training received, no tests passed.)  I don’t walk up to strange mommies to share my opinions, nor do I engage in the passive-aggressive pantomime of glaring and snorting and sniffing and clucking and making angry faces.  It was inculcated in me from my earliest years that you can think poorly of someone’s actions and yet not judge her (or him) — if you were in his or her shoes, you might have done the same, or done worse.  People need encouragement to do better.  Snarking never helps.

[This lesson was straight from after school specials PSAs during Saturday morning cartoons.  My family did voice this, to a certain extent, but there were some very harshly judgmental old ladies in my kidhood.  And there was absolutely no encouragement.  You were either pulling your weight, or you were dragging others down.  The former was expected of you as the bare minimum; the latter was unacceptable if not treasonous.]

But whether or not the mommies like it, I have opinions.  While I welcome disagreement (we don’t learn much from those who only agree with us), anyone who thinks I’m not allowed to voice my opinion because I have never been delivered of a child is free to lodge a protest somewhere else.  I am officially invoking the Gitcher Own Damned Blog rule.

* * * * * Now that I’ve disclaimered and backstoried, it’s time to talk about spanking. * * * * *

First:  lately there has been a FB meme circulating among my friends of the crotchety right-wing Archie Bunker persuasion, which proclaims, “I was spanked, and it never hurt me a bit.  It taught me to keep my pants pulled up, to respect parental authority, and inculcated a sense of fear and shame — without which I would have led a life of crime and dissolution — and which made me the paragon of virtue you see bitching before you today.  Spanking was good for me, it’s good for all children, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a whining Communist pansy.”

—  Settle down, Beavis! This is a reaction to the current news items asking if spanking can ever be healthy, if it’s child abuse, if it causes psychological problems in the child, etc.; where are the boundaries?  The kindest thing I can say about the Archie Bunkers on my f-list is that, like me, they were spanked as kids, probably not to excess, and that they, like me, turned out okay.

But it doesn’t allow that others’ mileage may vary.  Unfortunately, most people tend to skew their recollection to their preferred version of reality, whether it’s nostalgia or utopia.  Most people aren’t especially honest with themselves, either.  If what they are exposed to challenges their biases, you can keep your facts, and they will cherish those illusions.  They may not believe it, but there are kids who will not benefit from spanking.

[Okay, more anectodes:  I was a praise-craving teacher’s pet type, eager to please, and the one spanking I got from my dad as a toddler was all noise, very little pain, and more bruised ego than anything else.  That much I remember.  Later my mother filled in the blanks:  it just about did my old dad in to do it; he was upset and shaky after the few seconds it took.  Later, when I went through an incredibly sarcastic, sharp-tongued phase, my mother threatened to spank me a few times (“Do I need to get the wooden spoon?”) but it was a vanity check.  I’m not a baby to be spanked!  Okay, then act like a grown up!  — Ah, poop.  Okay. ‘Nuff said.

[My sister was a hellion, very much like Mom was, and was spanked frequently.  This mostly ended when Sister was being a real shrieking pill, and would not back down.  Mom told me to Fetch The Wooden Spoon!  I knew Sis would take the spanking with a smirk and a so-what and a mocking (but quite true) “You would never hurt me!”  So instead of bringing back the wooden spoon, I brought back the wickedest looking thing in the drawer:  a large, flat semicircle of metal with a sharp lip and holes punched in it, and a long handle.  It was some sort of grease strainer, and we never used it.  When Mom and Sis saw it, they were startled out of their fight, and we all cracked up.  Obviously we were all done with spanking.]

So I thought spanking was fine.  But clearly it was not the same sort of spanking one of the boys in my class routinely got from his drunk father, whose wife (my friend’s mom) had run off years ago.  This kid used to come in battered to hell, as well as dirty and uncared for and hungry.  We all pretended not to notice his misfortune.  Teachers were not mandatory reporters in those days, either.  Being male themselves, and brought up in similar molds, they treated his acting-out as challenges to their authority.  Our sixth-grade teacher, a large and mostly sweet guy, hauled the kid into the hallway once after protracted belligerence.  We could hear him slapping the piss out of the kid.  Five minutes later, it was business as usual. My friend was bloodied but unbowed.  My teacher was relieved of his emotional buildup.  My social studies homework was still boring, and Bolivia was still a primary exporter of antimony, zinc, and tin.

Does anyone think what that teacher did counts as spanking?  Texas, maybe.  We’ll get back to Texas.

Second:  a (former) local politician here in California was recorded by a neighbor who became alarmed after seeing the man abuse a child.  The man was playing ball with his stepson, and belt-whipped him when he failed to catch the ball.  The neighbor verbally intervened, was rebuffed, and called the police.  The man accused of abuse has claimed that he was not beating the child, but disciplining him; and that this was not the result of failure to catch the ball, but of the kid’s words to him.  I didn’t need to wonder what a child could say that could drive an otherwise reasonable adult to violence.  My friend in sixth grade was not the first or last kid I saw “get it” from a grown up.  But it’s not acceptable, in my opinion. And it’s certainly not “discipline.”

My guess is that the guy is calling it discipline in order to exploit the broad parental prerogative to apply physical force to a child.  My opinion?  Once a child has reached the age of reason, you must guide it by reason, in order to teach him or her to employ reason as a guide in future action.

Obviously this is my ideal, and while I hope parents are actually trying, whenever possible, to do what’s best for the child, I repeat that less-than-ideal parenting is not necessarily unsafe parenting.  Conversely, if you are not intelligent enough to train your child without violence, you shouldn’t be parenting, in my opinion.  But what’s shown on the video is a complete lack of (self-) discipline by an adult.  He’s beating the child because he’s angry and frustrated, not because it’s what he reasonably believes will be the best way to encourage good behavior.  Even if he thinks he’s punishing the child appropriately, he isn’t.  He’s just belt-whipping a little boy.

Which is the crux of the matter for me, even taking into account the less-than-ideal realities of life, and occasional moments of understandable frustration on the part of harried parents.

A noisy swat on the diaper-padded butt of a toddler is mostly an attention-getting device, used to snap the kid out of misbehavior.  Clapping hands loudly has about the same effect.  Slightly older kids, who need (real) discipline, the kind that involves training and consequences, can be punished meaningfully without violence.  Telling the kid, “If you hurt the kitten again, I’m going to hurt YOU!” is not exactly guiding the child to empathy.  (Retaliation and other forms of playground justice are lessons learned from peers, not grown ups.)

Whaling on a kid, particularly from emotion — and whaling harder if the child strikes back at you — is just brute dominance.  It teaches a kid that the person he should love, respect, and trust most in the whole world gets to hit him, and he doesn’t get to defend himself.  (When people sneer at victims of domestic violence who defend their abusers, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind.)  A sparky kid will hate you for beating her.  A sad kid will hate herself for making you want to.

Again, for basically well-behaved children, the odd spanking or smack will not be the end of the world.  If it’s part of the cultural context for their family (region, ethnicity, etc.,) it’s at least easier for the kid to understand and get over without help.  If it’s neither severe nor frequent, it’s usually not a big deal.

But what if that kid has a real problem?  What if he’s acting out from a separate issue?  No matter how annoying or inconvenient his behavior, if there is another problem there, you’re not going to beat the kid to wellness.  It won’t change what’s spurring the bad behavior.  What if he’s getting bullied at school?  What if some creepy uncle is getting handsy?  What if he did something too upsetting or shameful to admit, but can’t get over having done?  A kid who senses that he could actually use some straightening out is not a kid who needs a beating. Kids may not have jobs or mortgages, but they have all kinds of pressures and fewer tools to cope.  Are you going to help that kid find tools, or are you going to whack him until he shuts up?

Good parenting, there, Genius!  (Kids who are raised poorly might be a separate topic, since it’s the same problem I have with people who buy puppies, don’t train them, and condemn the growing dog to years of being shouted at for misbehaving — when the responsible party never made the effort to teach them acceptable behavior.)  Some of my Archie Bunkers think any parent who provides a child with clothes, food, and a roof has discharged his parenting duties sufficiently.  Any kids who are less than perfectly behaved, after basic survival needs have been met, are obviously Rotten Spoiled Brats.  (And you know how we deal with them!)

Hitting a troubled child just makes him more troubled.  The problems he has are not solved by it.  You have not beaten his problems out of him.

As the troubled child grows, with his problems unsolved, the more and harder you have to hit him to make your point.  Even if you admit that your point is the disgusting practice of physical domination to force the kid to respect your authority to strike him (Texas, I’ll be with you in a minute), you must understand that you won’t get to hit him forever.

And if you have a troubled child who is physically aggressive, the more you hit him, the more you guarantee that violence will be central to his life.  It’s all you’ve ever taught him to do.  It’s the only tool in his toolbox.  You will have to beat him to death to get him to stop.

* * * * * Which finally brings us to my third point:  Texas. * * * * *

Let me say that the Texas spirit is dear to my heart, and I cherish the gusto with which they assail life.  The Lone Star State spawned Janis Joplin, Molly Ivins, and Walter Cronkite, rest their sweet souls, and many other folks good and great.  It is the home of my beloved Johnson Space Center.  It has a lot going for it.

It is also legally prepared, as a State and in its various businesses and organizations, for secession at any time.  It won’t rely on the rest of the Confederate states in the future, but will be an independent nation.  Anyone who says Texas is its own country is speaking a true word in jest, even if it might be more accurate to say that Texas is its own little universe.  I don’t believe they get to claim to be patriotic Americans, in their focus on these principles, but I don’t think they care a whit.

The Texas GOP platform was recently released, and it’s so openly dedicated to evil that it sounds like hyperbole.  Unbelievable.

The general rundown should be read.  Since the document links at the GOP website are broken, try this: http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/98440774?access_key=key-2aywqc38x8qt9m9pnmtl or the aptly titled http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/06/27/1101959/-Texas-GOP-Platform-to-ban-teaching-Critical-Thinking-Skills-in-schools-The-stupid-IT-BURNS ) — and since I’m linking it up, here is a concise highlight reel of Tex-insanity GOP demands:  http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/06/26/506357/the-5-craziest-policies-in-texas-republicans-2012-platform/?mobile=nc

(The part about opposing teaching critical thinking as well as higher order thinking skills really deserves its own entry.  We may scoff at their ludicrous mind control attempts, but Texas makes the textbooks for the nation.  Remember when they wanted to replace all references to slavery with the phrase “triangle trade” and remove the humans-as-commodities aspect by emphasizing the rum, bananas, and sugar leg of the trip?  When they tried to require that all textbooks list the President’s middle name, did you believe them when they said it was out of respect?  It would not have surprised me if they insisted it be misspelled in all caps, too, since that’s the way it seems to appear in their personal emails.)

There are a million gems in this document that deserve our appalled attention, but here is just one:  explicit support of expanding the current corporal punishment in schools.   There is so much to fear in the overall document — from their insistence that Christian Creationism be taught in science class, to their position that the separation of Church and State is a misinterpreted myth, to their repeal of everything from minimum wage laws to environmental protection and beyond — that this might seem the least of our worries.  But basically, they want to give teachers more authority to beat your children with impunity.

It doesn’t surprise me that the Texas GOP wants to beat their own children, or beat other people’s children, or let other people beat pretty much any children they want.  But it does disgust me.  They make a poor case for corporal punishment doing the child any good — associations of pediatricians and mental health providers have come out against it — but they aren’t interested in the child’s well being.  They emphasize the importance of their own authority being undisputed.

What they sound like are perverts who want to dominate others, including children, in a way that is not safe, sane, or consensual.

It sounds as if I’m being facetious, but I’m not.

Systematically depriving young people, especially young women, of education in science, knowledge of reproductive biology, access to birth control, the right to abort, and even the freedom of personal belief, points to a mindset that craves the enslavement of others.  There is nothing more perverse, in my opinion, and the religious aspect only adds spiritual coercion to the enforced submission.  It’s the same mentality that has FLDS elders marrying nine year old girls; it’s all there but the prairie dresses.

But demanding expanded access to spank school-aged children is the sort of thing that should have the FBI confiscating their hard drives.

Why must they turn my kitchen into a den of LIES?

What did we learn in class, children?  To read the assignment completely before beginning our work.  This applies to cooking as much as to chem class, or that obnoxious trick test in grammar school, in which the last instruction is to ignore everything but item #1 (writing your name at the top of the page.)  You will always be graded on your ability to follow instructions.  But when the instructions are bad, you are guaranteed to fail.

Cooking websites have continued the deceitful traditions of hardbound cookbooks, and straight-up LIE about times needed to cook certain things.  I have determined that any cooking time given in a recipe should be read as the Biblical term “40 days and 40 nights”:  “we honestly don’t know how long, but it’s a really, really long time, much longer than you would expect. ”

Five minutes means fifteen; fifteen minutes means forty-five; anything over thirty means “I hope you’re not expecting guests.”

The usual suspects:

  • Caramelizing onions:  “saute chopped onions over medium heat until soft and golden brown, about five minutes.”   The onions won’t even be completely translucent in five minutes, much less soft and golden brown.  That will take 15 or 20 minutes at least.
  • Adding raw chicken to the pan:  don’t look at the “simmer for five minutes” part; focus on the “or until cooked through” part.  If you cook that chicken for five minutes, a hologram of Gordon Ramsay will materialize and exclaim, in an angry/aggrieved tone, “Look at that!  It’s raw!  You’ll KILL someone!” 
  • The same goes for roasting chicken in a 350F oven for 30 minutes.  This might have been accurate when cavedwellers were roasting pigeon-sized proto-chickens over open flames, but a five pound bird in an electric oven has only just started to lose its varnish.  It’s still chicken sushi on the inside, and nowhere close to being browned or crackling.
  • Artichokes:  “steam for 15 minutes in acidulated water.”  Unless you are using a pressure cooker, it will still be like a rock, Mr. Spock.
  • Pot roast:  “cook uncovered for 2 – 2.5 hours in a low oven.”  This does not result in tenderness, much less browning.  The fat won’t roast, the gelatin won’t melt, and you will have a stringy grey mess of meat.  (Enjoy?)
  • Baked potatoes:  another “medium oven for one hour” lie.  While we probably shouldn’t be eating those big, beautiful Idaho bakers anyway (unless we split one Volkswagon-sized tuber between the 4-6 people all recipes seem to serve), if we throw the potatoes in the oven for the last hour while the lamb finishes, as instructed, they will only be ready to eat the next morning.  Seriously, it’s like cooking a brick until it’s fork-tender.

I could go on.  But since I’m on the subject, let me continue to speak heresy.

Roasting meat.  While it’s true that even slightly undercooked chicken makes my throat close and my eyes swell shut (as with undercooked eggs — including soft cookies, Hollandaise sauce, mousses, mayonnaise, creamy dressings, brownies, Caesar salad, and runny yolks — oh how I miss you all!), I am a fan of over-roasting most meats.  I take my steak on the rare side, so it’s not squeamishness; if anything, it’s a love of roasted fat.  The crackling, the grebenes, the parchment-like poultry skin shattering in my mouth.  The fat from beef ribs, nearly charred on the bone, or seasoned and roasted to a crisp around my prime steak.  The gods are pleased by the smell of roasting fat, and who am I to argue with the gods?

As for the cooking itself, it’s my firm belief that chickens and pot roasts should be cooked high, hot, and fast.  Low and slow cooking is great, if you want to leech all the juice from the dish, but I don’t like dry, grey meat.  I was brought up by Norwegian farmers in the northern Rockies.  They were not afraid of fat, but they raised their meat, traded with the folks up the road for variety, and hunted; cooking meat to dry greyness was a valid safety precaution.  (These days, my meat comes from the butcher, and I am more likely to get e. coli from a dirty knife chopping my salad at a diner than I am from my home-cooked rare steak.)  But I grew up eating food that was the very apotheosis of bland.  And that often meant chops and roasts that fought the knife and chewed like woolen mittens.

Get the fat to liquefy, get the gelatin to melt, get the roasty brown goodness going.  Pop that thick seven bone roast into a hot 450F oven with a good broth to cover; let it cook down, but keep adding water to keep a half inch of fluid in the bottom.   (This won’t work with a lean roast, but you shouldn’t be roasting lean meat anyway.)  To some extent, the meat will steam.  In a couple of hours, you’ll be able to cut it with a spoon, and the drippings will be suitable for Yorkshire pudding.  But it will have the rich crust sought after by steakhouses, with browned fat bits for the discerning deity.

Same thing with chicken.  Make sure the skin is dry; season it well; rub it with oil.  Fill the small roaster hip-deep with broth, and give it 400F for 90 minutes or so.  (You know the test:  wiggle the thigh.  If it’s not tight, spear the hip joint and make sure the juice runs clear.)  The best way to attack the bird is to eat the beautiful, crackly breast skin as soon as it becomes crisp (chef’s prerogative, but she may share it if she likes), and then turn the bird breast-down in the fluid.  The skin on the bird’s undercarriage gets crispy and brown, and the breast stays moist and tender.  Eat the dark meat for dinner, and let the breast sit overnight in the liquid.  The next day, the breast will be moist, tender, flavorful…really superlative.  And the gelatinous stock, scraped from the carcass, is delicious on its own, but can be scooped into a plastic bag and frozen, ready to enrich soups or vegetables on the fly, no thawing time needed.

This is contrary to conventional wisdom, folks, but keep in mind that a lot of cooking traditions started a la bonne mère, and some circumstances have changed.  Our meat is fattier now, if it’s not grass-fed, and can stand up to high heat.  Our animals drink fresh, clean water, and that is what we use to cook; we don’t need to worry about killing parasites.  We also don’t need to slow-cook stuff all day while the men plough the fields and we weed the garden.  And roasts, and birds, like us, are bigger these days.

We can talk dietetics some other time, but for now, we’re in flavor country.