Category Archives: The General Condition

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.

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Check Yourself

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

More Bitching About Things That Don’t Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tagged

More shock: a teenager has snapped again.

Guys, I can’t even.  I *can’t*.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript to a Prelude

Okay, more of the irksome.  Sometimes venting your spleen generates more spleen, but better out than in.

NAIL POLISH.  All my best colors are horrible as polish, varying in opacity and drying unsmoothly.  All the clear coat in the world can’t help.  And when I do manage a perfect laydown, the chipping begins.  But the colors that looked rich in the store and happen to turn weird on my hands (or make my hands look green, liverish, corpsey, or the color of a defective medical appliance) flow on cleanly, set perfectly, and last forever.  Hateful.

HUFFINGTON POST.  They changed their comments policy and people can’t use anonymous handles anymore.  They say I can be grandfathered in, having commented to solid acclaim and no complaints for many years, but they still require me (like everyone) to log in with Facebook to make comments.  I know this is something most people do without qualm or reservation, but it irks the bejaysus outta me and I balk no matter who asks it.

SLATE.  They also changed their commenting format, twice now, to make it “prettier” or some such — but it’s harder to skim comments, impossible to track one’s own comments (and any replies) and more difficult to read at a glance when everything is broken up.  Look, folks — I’m a longtime reader of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker.  I love VF, but it is awful for a variety of reasons, and one of them is opening all their stories at the front of the mag and continuing them at the end.  That “please turn to page 183” business is lame and you know it.  The New Yorker is great for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that they don’t do that.  Fiction, essays, whatever — it all stays together in one continuous, contiguous mass.  Easier to read, easier to tear out and file or mail or pass along.  Slate could take a lesson.

JOURNALISM (OR “JOURNALISM”):  look, I don’t expect news-for-profit to be without a slant.  But the open bias, the publishing of PR flack from politicians and corporations — it’s not journalism.  Passing press releases as news is a lie.  It’s nothing new, but it’s worse than ever.  Where does one go for current events that are meaningfully explained and thoughtfully contextualized?

E-BOOKS & DIGITAL MUSIC.  They are saving the environment, allowing life in smaller homes, and protecting collections from mechanical damage.  Entire libraries can be made available to schools in poverty and shipped to third world countries for the cost of a button; for this I love them.  So convenient it hurts.  But one of the ways I get to know people is by seeing what they read on the bus and checking out their bookshelves and music collections at home.  The way I have been historically most likely to receive musical cross pollination is by borrowing a friend’s music and then trampling the world to get to my local independent music store (or borrowing a book and trampling the world to buy a copy from my local independent book store).  Everything is Amazon, everything is iTunes, and everyone’s collections are none of my business.  Sad for me.

SOCIAL MEDIA.  Not for me, mind you; for me, it’s a lifesaver.  I’m in the prime of life and I’ve lived in various states and my family is scattered.  Social media allows connection with friends dear enough to miss but not dear enough to call or write.  Other folks complain about oversharing the trivial, but not me — I love it.  It makes me feel in touch with my far-flung crew.  Dinner pics from I Love Sushi in San Jose, Juan’s in Phoenix, The Owl in ABQ, Aunt Martha’s in Springfield, and the Vista Linda in Somers, Montana — it’s as if we’re having dinner together.  But the friendship came first.  For young people, social media is a place to make connections much more than to nurture them.  It’s a place to expose yourself (sometimes literally) — to be brave, hopefully to be known.  But the high connectivity can mean low intimacy, and loneliness or lack of community.  Not to mention poor socialization.  I know it’s easy to worry about kids and they usually do just fine, but still.

Pinterest: a love-hate relationship

Pinterest has lots of useful reference tools, instruments, infographics, etc., for a budding social worker.  Yay.

Pinterest has the best of past and current humor, which provides instant, round-the-clock, therapeutic yuks to stressed-out grad students.  Yay.

Pinterest has obscure, international, rare and hard to find images (yay) but I worry about infringement of rights and uncredited images (boo, uh-oh, eep).  It’s still wonderful (and more fruitful than Google Image Search) to find images of my hometown and ancestral villages at different points in history (and other rich stuff like that).

Pinterest has good-hearted folks with poorly documented assertions.  Sigh.

(I don’t want to go on Snopes patrol, but when folks with good intentions and sympathetic politics spout BS, it must be corrected or it makes the team look stupid.  But it’s easy to let go, since most of the problematic stuff is just trying to be heartwarming.  A named bullfighter “overcome with emotion who can no longer torment animals” is actually a completely different bullfighter who is engaging in a standard gesture of defiance and contempt for the bull, etc.)

Pinterest has evil-hearted folks with poorly documented assertions.  Bloody!  I don’t even know how they turn up in my feminist, left-wing feed, but the racist, sexist, religionist, every-other-awful-thing-ist junk abounds.  Strangely, those pages always seem to include lots of really misinformed health information (Cancer Cells Can’t Survive Without Sugar!) that are eerily reminiscent of the Weekly World News.  Sometimes these nutballs pick fights on my posts and it is both interesting and horrible to have political arguments with strangers.  Go get your own page!  Shoo!

But the thing Pinterest whips out that baffles me most is the strange bedfellows.  I posted a ludicrous snake-oil tract from the early 20th c. about Atomic Energy And Fasting (God’s Power for YOU!) strictly for its camp value.  I thought it was a scream.  Every single person who has repinned it put it on a sincere, very earnest board about the power of Christian fasting in intercessory prayer.  (Okaaaay…but…oh, well, never mind.)

The right wing nutjobs (the kind who blame Obama if it rains) are also often anti-cancer nutjobs (honey cures it, but sugar deprivation also cures it, whatever) who post at length about the evils of Monsanto.

The anti-gay folks who sneer at liberals for boycotting Chik-Fil-A but not OPEC (who operates under anti-gay Sharia law) also, themselves, hate Sharia law, hate OPEC, and drive cars just as much as liberals.  (Do not try to mention that driving is a work/life necessity and fast food is not.  Do not try to explain that while OPEC is the main source of petroleum for the US, domestic and Canadian fuel still make up a great deal of what we use.  Do not engage them at all.  It’s futile.)

But for all its freaks and fallacies and Photoshop, I love Pinterest.  It’s a treasure chest where people put things they find beautiful and meaningful and funny.  And when I find some stranger whose boards are a lot like my own, I feel connected and thrilled.  When someone on the bus is reading a book I love, I wonder if she’s being entertained or bored or offended or baffled.  On Pinterest, I know for sure, because she has pinned it to a board called “Fictional Worlds / True Love” and it’s right between Narnia and Earthsea.  The books on that board I haven’t read yet suddenly shoot to the top of my library list.  And there are other boards, for movies, TV, clothes, style, pets, humor, work, food, crafts, life hacks, travel, personal history, world history, pin up gals, art, war, animals, science, politics, tradeskills, and all the pursuits of humanity.

And if anyone sneers that I should get out more, it’s true.  But until I can travel to a 12th century battleground, 1970s Vegas, the British Museum, or that geothermal park in Iceland, I still want to look at pictures and get to know strangers who got to go themselves — or want to, just like me, and like me, and like me.

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.

 

The Chambered Nautilus and Rush Limbaugh

I’ve had a hard time coming out of my shell lately.  Like some of my friends (three that are known to me, but there could be more who cope the same way I do, by self-quarantine), I have been Having Emotions lately.  Hormones?  It’s possible.  At least two of us are in menstrual lockstep.  Sunspots / storms / wrath of Helios?  Who knows.  It might just be Churchill’s black dog.  But poor sleep, bad dreams, nameless dread, and hot-and-cold-running tears are tiresome.  Instead of getting up with Honey to pack his lunch and make him a protein shake and see him to the door (as one does when one is unemployed), I slept.  And he let me.  Dear man.

Which brings me to El Rushbo.

No need to harp on his latest misbehavior, which is egregious; or the damned poor reasoning behind being both anti-contraception AND anti-choice; or the many other differences in our opinions, which are well known to all my friends, family, and passersby within range of my cracked contralto.

What is filtering down to me right now is that Rush and his ilk are widening the rift between men and women.  Whether or not you agree with his politics, Rush is deliberately leading his male viewers to a place in which women are evil.   He may well be leading his female listeners to that same vantage point, even if they only cheer as the men fling shit on the all the women who don’t agree; but in his world, there are sides to take, and they are taking the side of men.

I don’t want to take sides.  I like men.  Aside from my primarily hetero inclinations, I have often gotten along better with men than with women.  Women are wonderful, but the main brands of BS laid on them often make me uncomfortable — they are traits too familiar, too painful, to easy to reacquire after painstaking effort to subvert.  The brands of BS inculcated in growing boys are utterly different from the misery I shared with the ladies, and so are easier for me to identify, acknowledge, dismiss, soothe, get along with at need, and even help undo.  Being able to offer understanding and acceptance, despite the minefields planted in a guy’s youth, is wonderful.  Guys who can do that for women are treasures as rare as the hair of a dragon.

Men and women have wonders to offer each other.  Healing.  Support, without taint of comparison, competition, or judgment.

Straight or gay or traveller, someone who is fundamentally dissimilar to you has the welcome advantage of not having been held to the same BS standards.  Even if we know the friend understands the problem from afar, there will be no mortification by your failure to fit the shared mold that a same-sex friend might have.  This is only one example of the many great collaborations between men and women.  It doesn’t matter if they are gay or straight, and they don’t have to be lovers, or coworkers, or even close friends.

But they do have to be on the same side.  I hate to see antagonism between the sexes.  The accidental misery that occurs when a good surface match turns into a hellish couplehood is bad enough, and the compound misery of closet assholes and crypto-swine (female and male alike) are more than sufficient roadblocks to joy.  Why make things worse?  Shakespeare needed Iago as a device in a play.  Who in hell tries to be Iago in real life?

I’ve known a few firestarters, and they are despicable.  Rush is no different to me.  Men and women have a lot of obstacles in their path.  Why make things harder?   Can a man really experience a joyful union with someone he either views as evil (by virtue of her strengths!) or good, but only if she pours herself into the Stepford mold, and trims away the rest?  Can a woman love a man, any man or all men, if she can only do it from a small pigeonhole, and only if she is not herself?  They grow to fear and resent the other sex, dismissing them altogether, through their own experiences, aggravated by loudmouths who are bent on dividing the sexes.  It’s horrible.  How can that benefit women OR men?

We rely on each other to some extent.  All men are brothers, as are we your sisters.  How can we help each other be our best selves?

Here is some Oliver Wendell Holmes:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

— and back I go, to my shell.

Overcoming prejudice is easy; overcoming preference is hard.

My mental jungle gym lately has been covered in monkeys, with shrill shrieking and shit flying everywhere.  So much family drama, so much evil in the headlines, and so little joy among my friends.  I’ve been clinging to the rare bits of good news like a serf who has met a missionary promising a gold-plated afterlife.  More, please!

But the perpetual motion machine I keep under my hat has been quietly preoccupied with other matters; specifically, desires.

Big bricks in the pyramid started for me with a saying attributed to the Navajo:  “Longing chains me.”

Then I met the Buddha, who pointed out that desire and ignorance are the source of suffering.

Always, I’ve had the vicious cycle / paradox of my salt of the earth farmer-type upbringing:  (a), you can achieve anything you set your mind to; (b), always try your hardest at whatever you do; and (c), offer much, expect little, and plead for nothing. (Okay…am I supposed to want things, or not?  Goals are the same as loaves of bread, which are the same as loving attention — all things you want.  Yet wants are not the same as needs, and considered shameful.  I’ll leave deeper digging on the shrink’s couch for now.)

And then there was love.  Like champagne, I’ve never had enough.

And then came feminism.  You shouldn’t NEED love, you should incorporate it into your life in the cubbyhole to which it belongs — low on the list, somewhere between getting your black belt and winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  I am all about old-school feminism, but like all party lines, it fails.  It’s a mistake to follow the male model of sneering at romance if you are not naturally inclined to do so.

Telling yourself how you should think is easy.  Telling yourself how to feel is hard.

You can unlearn racism, and most other prejudices, by thinking logically.   Shylock’s speech from The Merchant of Venice is a good place to start, if you’re a kid who has begun to think for herself.  It may be phrased in emotional terms, but the reasoning is fair and solid. We can understand that normal acts, such as discarding oddball navy beans from the pot (because they might be wormy or moldy) can lead to biases toward attractiveness that should not be applied to human beans.  I mean “beings.”

But since we’ve gone back to high school, let’s continue with Brave New World.  When we read 1984, it didn’t scare me a bit.  Hard times, but authoritarian oppression makes people want to revolt, or die trying.  Brave New World, however, projected a time of peace and prosperity, when everyone’s needs would be met and people would be too comfortable to resist.  It scared the bejaysus out of me.  It’s easy to resist oppression, but damned near impossible to resist comfort.  We’re not programmed for it.

Comfort equals survival, and so comfort is what we crave.  Safety, plenty, and a non-threatening environment do not excite the reflex to self-preservation.

Part of the reason we are attracted to beauty and luxury is not just because we are greedy pigs; it’s because they signify security, safety, protection, and unblemished health.  But if we were fully focused on survival, smallpox scars would be much admired — that person lived through the plague!  But no.  In part, we are also submarined by our love of youth.  The best babies are made by the youngest adult bodies, at the peak of health and just done growing.  I don’t blame men for their programming. I don’t know how to overcome it, myself.  I’m not even sure I should.

One of my friends has had a string of men who are best described as Boy Scouts.  Middle American types who never got into fights, never got into trouble with the law, never thought of NOT going to college.  Very importantly, they matched her own background; but they were also attractive because of their survival quotient.  Good family bonds, good community connections, wanting for nothing in terms of food or shelter — it seems reasonable to consider these men as potential mates, able to provide for their families and be protected by their own root safety net.

But guys like that scare me.  They are so untested by life that I don’t feel I can trust them.  Not that they are bad, but that they might be weak through lack of experience, and unreliable in a pinch.  It’s one reason why I’ve so often been attracted to older men, older houses, and cars that are used rather than new.  A new model might be the next Ford Exploder.  But a well-used, properly maintained vehicle has a beautiful patina that means more to me than shiny paint.  Maiden voyages, first marriages, and taking the show out of town before the Broadway premier help iron out the bugs and season the timbers.  But a man who has never been tested has never had a chance to hammer the dross out of his metal, and all his good manners and spotless record and high grade point average denote is that he’s a nice guy.  Whether or not he’s a good man, even he may not know.

But I have zero attraction to boys who haven’t been around the block, broken a few fingers and kept playing, or married a girl with gusto and had the guts to leave after giving a best effort for long enough.  When I meet people who married young and never divorced, I think of my grandparents, who didn’t believe divorce was an option, and I think of my mom’s generation, whose lifelong marriages often included periods of hiatus, from sleeping in separate rooms to temporary separation.  My own folks actually divorced and remarried, though they didn’t stay together forever.  But so many older ladies I’ve met lamented that they never divorced.  Some even divorced after their golden anniversaries.  It wasn’t time wasted; it was people changed; and I can’t view it as a tragedy.

But back to preferences.  I don’t think my friend should change, and I don’t think I should change.  We each have our buttons, our needs, and our wants.  Can you tell yourself to be attracted to someone if you’re not?  I can’t.  “Every girl is a something girl,” as my beloved Adam Ant once said, and I believe the same is true of boys.   I love being able to tune in to whatever mojo someone is broadcasting, and show my appreciation.  I also love kissing, and in my pre-monogamous days, would kiss anyone who would let me — “‘Jes to realize the effects,’ as my uncle Bill used to say about spekulatin’.”

But forming a primary bond with someone, feeling that deep devotion, loving them whether or not they love you, finding their health and happiness is crucial to your own…that can’t be cultivated, enforced, rationalized, or adopted as policy.  It’s either felt, or it isn’t.  At most, we can try to eradicate our bad habits and unhealthy tastes.  But we can’t pretend to feel an attraction we don’t.

Part II of this episode:  how this applies to food, i.e., how I can’t pretend to love wholemeal loaves that are not baked with molasses and smothered in butter; I can’t pretend that I don’t love bacon, charcuterie, and everything in the deli case; and why my practical needs for a low-calorie, low-carb diet must supercede my tastes, preferences, and joy in food.  I must force myself to reclassify food from the Love department (subject only to honest attraction, and its ability to satisfy me emotionally) to the Medicine category, which is not expected to taste good, go down easy, or exceed the recommended dosage — only to make strong bodies eight ways.

I take it back.  I’m not going to write more about that.  I’m just  going to keep reading and re-reading the last line of that paragraph until it sinks in.