Sunday, September 30, 2018

Wednesday Martin advises women to take off their wedding rings...

About nine years ago, I read a book written by Wednesday Martin.  It was called Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do.  Although I wasn't really feeling like much of a stepmom back in 2009, I was still close enough to the stepmother/second wife community to be interested in Martin's book.  For the record, I remember thinking Stepmonster was an excellent read.  I also reviewed it on Epinions, but unfortunately, I can no longer access my review.

I decided I liked Wednesday Martin, so I started following her on Facebook.  She has since written other books, but I haven't read any of them.  I also kind of quit paying attention to her Facebook page.  Or... maybe Facebook just filters out her feed.  Anyway, I had pretty much forgotten about Wednesday Martin until last night, when her latest blog post for Psychology Today showed up on my Facebook feed.  Her post is entitled "Women of America, Take Off Your Wedding Rings".  Basically, Martin opines that wedding rings are a symbol of ownership and that women should stop wearing them.  She then goes on to list all of the ways women are subjugated by men, especially when they get married.

Although I don't find Martin's comments offensive, I was interested in seeing what other people had to say.  I checked out the comments on her Facebook page.  Just before I went to sleep last night, she only had three-- two of which were very negative.  One was a hostile kiss off of the page and the other was a longer discussion as to why removing the ring goes too far.  The author of the comment also states that she feels no need to punish all men for the actions of some.  I have now seen the six comments posted on the article itself and they're pretty much telling Wednesday Martin that she's full of shit.  As of this morning, Martin has 27 comments on Facebook.  Some are in support of her idea, while others think it's a half baked plan.

Personally, I agree with those who think the notion of taking off my wedding ring as a show of female solidarity and "not being owned" by my husband is kind of silly.  For one thing, I really like my ring.  Bill did a great job picking it out.  It's a half carat diamond, marquis cut, set in platinum.  It looks beautiful on my hand and really suits me.  When I don't wear my ring, there's a deep indentation because I've had it on my finger for almost sixteen years now.  

For another thing, I really don't mind thinking of myself as "Bill's", although I certainly don't think of him as "owning" me.  It's more like we've joined forces and become our own tribe.  We have a great partnership and complement each other beautifully.  I'm not going to piss on my husband because we have some creeps in the government.  It would hurt his feelings if I stopped wearing my wedding ring simply based on Martin's suggestions that the patriarchy is wrong.  

Maybe it's not a very feminist notion, but I really enjoy being Bill's wife.  I was delighted to take his name, too.  I don't see giving up my maiden name, which originally belonged to my father, as an oppressive thing.  I like having the same name my husband has, especially since I really love and respect him.  He treats me much better than my father ever did, and I never felt the need to choose a name of my own.  Why wouldn't I want to share my husband's name?  If he wasn't in my life, I'd miss him terribly for so many reasons.  And I don't see him as being the same type of man as some of the ones who have recently been in the news for their misogynistic ways.

However, I can see where Martin's idea comes from.  I can even see why some women would be all for removing their rings, taking their own names, or doing anything else they can think of to reject the patriarchy.  I didn't used to think of myself as particularly feminist, but the latest headlines, along with the orange schmuck in the White House, have made me start to believe that it's high time women starting kicking some ass.  Here's an interesting clip from the discussion on Wednesday Martin's Facebook page.  None of the comments pictured below were contributed by Martin herself.  These are three women expressing their own opinions about Martin's ring removing idea.

At this point, this was the most interesting thread among the comments.  Most people are saying Martin is off the mark and her idea is "stupid".

I do understand where the feminist commenter in the Facebook thread is getting her views.  It's true that women are often marginalized in many ways.  But I think that kind of goes both ways.  There are times when women have an advantage over men.  For instance, when a couple splits up, women are more often than not considered to be the more capable parent.  That certainly wasn't true in Bill's case, as we are finding out now that one of his daughters is grown and able to speak freely.  

My husband's ex wife had no problems allowing her then 18 year old daughter to go to BYU with not so much as sheets for her dorm room bed.  By contrast, last night, Bill asked me what I thought of him starting a trust fund for his grandson, who is about to turn one.  When I told him I was fine with the idea (in fact, he reminded me that it had actually been my idea to start the fund), he got teary and said he would have liked to have started one for our non-existent child.  It's actually pretty weird to think of Bill having a grandson, since it's been so long since he's seen his daughters.  Still, it's very obvious to me that he was the better parent to his girls... for as long as he was allowed to be. 

I'm kind of for real equality.  I'd like to see people viewing each other as humans before they see them as male, female, or any particular race.  I doubt it will ever happen in my lifetime, although I do think we are making some progress.  Maybe right now is my generation's version of the 1960s.  More people, especially women, are becoming activists and pitching ideas that might seem extreme.

Anyway, I won't be taking off my wedding rings, but I also won't be condemning anyone who thinks Martin's idea is a good one.  I am a little old fashioned about some things...  I like being Mrs. Crossen, for instance, rather than Ms. Crossen.  I like wearing my wedding ring.  I don't like being a housewife that much, but I know Bill doesn't keep me around for that reason, anyway.  I'm not here to be his maid, mommy, or fuck buddy.  We are partners and we both offer the love and respect that comes from a true partnership.  And I don't mind showing the world that partnership by wearing a ring that matches my husband's ring.  In my opinion, removing it for female solidarity reasons is silly.  But I understand that some people see things differently.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sober as a judge?

Some people are probably tired of reading about the Honorable Brett Kavanaugh and his very public showdown with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.  I can admit to being a bit fatigued with the subject myself.  Still, I feel the need to write about this today.  I keep seeing posts by conservative friends who think the allegations against Kavanaugh's sex life and drinking habits are irrelevant.  One thought that keeps coming to mind is the old phrase, "Sober as a judge."

When I think of judges, I think of people who are cool, detached, impartial, and sober.  When I watch Kavanaugh in the video below, I don't see someone who is fair, balanced, and calm, the way I would expect any judge to be, let alone one who might be a Supreme Court Justice.

He just doesn't seem that judicial to me.

On Thursday of this week, Kavanaugh angrily addressed Democrats and the media, accusing them of trying to derail his appointment to the Supreme Court and ruining his "good name".  I can't imagine that Kavanaugh would allow anyone appearing before him in court to behave the way he did during his hearing.  And yet, despite ranting about Democrats and choking up during his comments, Kavanaugh wants Americans to believe that he's capable of being fair and impartial, two major requirements for being a judge.

I think about all the people I've observed over the summer... middle aged white women who have been filmed behaving badly in public.  At least a few of those women were later fired from their jobs for what they were doing off the clock.  They were unlucky enough to be caught in the act by someone filming them and putting them on Facebook, where they went viral.  I'm sure Judge Kavanaugh knew very well he'd be scrutinized before this process began, or at least I'd hope he would.  It seems to me Kavanaugh and his handlers should have known he'd be in the hot seat.  Why is he so outraged that some people are trying to thwart his appointment to the Supreme Court?

In a time when people can get fired simply for "going viral", I don't understand where Kavanaugh's sense of entitlement comes from... unless it simply comes from being a well off white man who has powerful political connections.  He should have expected to have the skeletons in his closet revealed.  Most anyone who works for the United States government and has a security clearance has to give up some privacy.

Just yesterday, my husband Bill had an interview to update his security clearance.  During the interview, he was asked several questions about his reputation.  The interviewer wanted to know if there was anyone out there who might have information that would bring his character into question.  She was looking for ways that Bill might be blackmailed by an enemy of the country.  Fortunately, Bill is one of those guys who has very few enemies.  I don't think Kavanaugh can say the same.  At this point, three women have come out against him, putting their own reputations on the line.  Dr. Blasey Ford has already had to move twice because people keep issuing death threats to her and her family.  I don't think she went public with her allegations for shits and giggles.

I get that Judge Kavanaugh was a young man when he allegedly engaged in his drunken sexual exploits.  But again, this isn't an average run of the mill job he's going for.  He should be way above reproach.  Every day, there is more about him brought to light, calling his character into question.  Remember, this man is going for the highest echelon in our judicial system.  If he were going for any other job, he'd be easily passed over in favor of someone else without all of the baggage he has.

At the very least, Kavanaugh should be thoroughly investigated before he gets his new job.  I also think it's time lawmakers demanded more of each other, for the good of the country.  If Kavanaugh did sexually assault three women and does have a drinking problem, he should not be confirmed.  Not now; not ever.  There must be someone else in our country who has similar qualifications and doesn't have all of this baggage attached.  A Supreme Court nominee really should be "sober as a judge".

I do think Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed; however, there will be a reckoning.  I am just one person, but the other day, I submitted my absentee ballot in advance of November's election.  For the first time ever, I did not vote for a single Republican.  When Republicans were the only candidates to vote for, I abstained.  I feel pretty sure that there are more people like me who are fed up with the bullshit.  I'm sick and tired of seeing sex offenders rising to power, and I know I'm not the only one.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

50% of 0 is 0...

A few days ago, I read about teacher Diane Tirado, who until September 14th of this year, was employed as a teacher at West Gate K-8 school in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Mrs. Tirado, a seventeen year veteran of the classroom who taught eighth grade history, assigned an explorer notebook project to her students.

Initial reports claim that several students never turned in their work, so Mrs. Tirado assigned the students zeroes for their projects.  Somehow, Mrs. Tirado was unaware that in her school, the lowest grade possible is a fifty percent.  Because Mrs. Tirado refused to give the nonperforming students fifties on their work, she was terminated from her job.  Or, at least that was what was implied in the news stories I've read.  She left a note on the whiteboard for her students:

Since this story went live, a spokesperson at the school system where Mrs. Tirado worked has released a statement.  It reads:

So there's more to the story...

According to the spokesperson, there is also no such policy requiring teachers to award at least a fifty for all work, whether or not it's turned in.  The representative from the school says that Mrs. Tirado had been defiant regarding school policies, which includes a federal mandate to incorporate students' Individual Education Plan accommodations.  According to Tirado's former employers, she was not fired due to grading issues.

Having read more about this story, I'm finding it difficult to determine where the truth lies.  It's entirely possible that Mrs. Tirado's version is not the whole truth.  At the same time, it does shed light on a problem that has become more prevalent since I was in school.  I have many friends who are teachers and they often report on how difficult teaching has become.  Teachers work very hard for low pay and little respect.  That's headline news, lately, so it makes sense that Mrs. Tirado's story would go viral, especially if there's any truth to her report.

I can't imagine why Mrs. Tirado would write the note on the whiteboard if there was no truth to the reason she states she was fired.  It doesn't make sense.  Would she really make something like that up?  I would hope the school system would document the reasons why and there would be information in Mrs. Tirado's personnel file.  

On the other hand, it's also possible that parents had been complaining about Mrs. Tirado.  My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, especially since parents are commenting on the news stories indicating that some school systems do indeed have such policies of awarding at least 50 percent, due to "issues" the student might be having at home.  Of course, a 50 is still a failing grade, so when it comes down to it, the end result is kind of the same... except it's a lot easier to pull up a 50 than a 0.

I taught children in Armenia for two years.  There, they had a different system-- I believe it has since been revamped, so I can't comment on how it is now.  For instance, I understand that since I left Armenia, schools started offering instruction beyond what was then called tenth form.  I hear now they go to twelfth grade-- and it's called "grade" now instead of "form".    

When I was teaching in Armenia, children were assigned numbers instead of letters.  A five was equivalent to an A.  A four was a B, and so forth.  I was never actually tasked with assigning grades to my students, although some of my colleagues in more rural areas were.  I heard many stories of teachers being told that they weren't allowed to give any students a failing grade.  I also remember that cheating, at least in those days, was perfectly acceptable.  I actually witnessed it more than once.

In the 90s, Armenia was claiming a near perfect literacy rate among its citizens.  However, as a teacher, I saw several youngsters who didn't do passing work.  While I know no one wants to fail, failure is a part of life and it does a disservice to pass students who can't perform.  When they get out of school, they will be expected to be able to function.  A failure isn't a personal thing.  It's a red flag that shows deficiencies that need to be corrected.  If a child fails a test, it may mean that he or she simply didn't study.  Or it may mean that the student doesn't understand the material and needs more instruction.

I don't know about you, but I would not want to employ someone who cheated their way through school.  I used to know a man whose wife was in nursing school.  He actually admitted to me that he was helping her write her papers.  She is not a native English speaker, so writing in English is difficult for her.  Being a "loving" husband, he helped her...  But what happens when she's working and messes up something because she lacks English comprehension?  If you're a nurse, you're dealing with people's lives.  

Despite the long years I spent in school, I have failed assignments and tests many times.  I was definitely not a star student.  I never failed a course, but I brought home my share of Ds.  I can only remember one time that I ever got a 0.  It was during my senior year of high school and I was tasked with helping my sister move out of her apartment.  The truck I was driving blew a head gasket, and I was stranded in a city far from home.  I had to miss a day of school and, on that day, we were doing an exercise in my speech class.  Since my absence was caused by car trouble and my mom refused to lie about it, I got a zero on that assignment.  Fortunately, I got As on all of the other work I did.  I think my grade for that marking period was a B, but I got an A for the year's work.

I understand that a lot of young people are dealing with problems at home and that can affect the quality of their school work.  Unfortunately, there must come a time when young people learn that the rest of the world is not going to care about their homelives.  They won't get a pass from most people for not performing.  If they don't learn this lesson in school, it will come as a tremendously terrible shock when they are adults.  Moreover, that's the kind of shock that has ripple effects toward other people... including children.

Anyway, while I understand how important grades are and how a low grade can be difficult to reverse, I also think grades are an essential tool to evaluate how someone is doing in class.  A zero is certainly difficult to pull up, but not turning in an assignment is a serious flaw in student performance.  Fifty percent of zero is zero.  I may suck at math, but I do know this is a truth.  I learned that in school.  So if a student doesn't do the work, it can't be evaluated.  He or she deserves a zero and should get it.

As for the rest of the reason why Mrs. Tirado was fired, there may be some merit to the claims made by the school system.  Time will tell.  


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

"America's Dad" is off to the big house...

I'm not shocked that Bill Cosby was sentenced to prison yesterday for preying on countless women over his very long career.  I had a feeling his sentence would be one that required him to give up his freedom.  Since he's 81 years old, I don't know how long he'll actually stay in prison.  He may die there.  I wouldn't be surprised if he did meet his end in a prison cell.

I can't say I feel overjoyed that Cosby is going to prison.  I do think he deserves to go, but it still makes me sad that this man who brought so much joy to people, especially when he was in his prime, is falling from grace so spectacularly.  I feel somewhat sad for his beloved wife Camille, who has always been his champion, even though he's been victimizing women for so long.  She probably turned a blind eye to it.  I don't know if she could have done much more than divorce Cosby.  Maybe that would have been the right thing to do.  I guess it's just sad to me that she's going to lose her husband, not to death, but to prison.  If I were in her shoes, I'd feel sad.  But then, who knows what kind of relationship they have behind closed doors.  For all I know, she's secretly happy he's going.

Maybe this is the real crux of the issue of why Cosby's sentencing saddens me so much.  I see this man who had everyone believing that he was "America's Dad".  He talked about his wife and children and modeled an extraordinary sitcom around his family.  All the while, there was this dark side no one but his victims ever saw.  In the 80s, Cosby was everywhere-- in movies, on TV, on commercials, in magazines... One could not escape his face or his voice, which will forever be etched on my brain.  When he was offscreen, he was hurting women.

Having said that, I can also say that some good things will come out of this.  Many Americans, particularly women, are sick to death of seeing sexual predators come into power.  For so long, women have been forced to tolerate sexual harassment.  Too many women have seen their harassers go on to positions of power and prestige while they are left with shattering memories of abuse.  I'm glad to see victims standing strong and doing something about it.

I will admit, when the whole #MeToo thing started, I wasn't a big fan.  It's not that I didn't agree with the premise behind it.  It was more that I don't like cutesy hashtag slogans and fads based on politics.  I'm still not a fan of cutesy hashtag slogans.  However, it's a good thing when people refuse to be victimized.  It's a good thing when people like Larry Nassar are held accountable for hurting hundreds of women and sent to prison.  It's a good thing when Supreme Court nominees like Brett Kavanaugh are thoroughly scrutinized before they are allowed to take such a powerful position in the government.  I wish we had done the same thing before Trump was allowed to become president.  And yes, as sobering as it is to see America's Dad go to prison, I think it's ultimately a good thing that Cosby will have to answer for his crimes in a very unpleasant and uncomfortable environment.  I think if his accusers had waited much longer, he would have cheated out of their day in court them via death.

My husband, Bill, and I were talking about this situation this morning.  It's no secret that because of what he went through with his ex wife, I have empathy for men that I might not otherwise have.  My husband was accused of being an abuser by the woman who abused him.  She managed to get some people to believe her claims that he was a monster.  Fortunately, she's the type of person who becomes less believable once you get to know her and she is the only one who would ever accuse Bill of being abusive.  Furthermore, there is physical evidence that she abused him.

Maybe my life with Bill has made me even more empathetic to victims of abuse.  It's certainly made me aware that it's not just women who are harmed by predators.  It grieves me to know that men don't get the same care or attention when they are victimized.  I also know that statistically, they are much less likely to be victimized than women are, although it's hard to know how realistic those statistics are, since men who are abused are even less likely to report it than women are.

Anyway, I think it's time Cosby did some time, especially given all of the shaming speeches he's given over the years to his own people, lecturing them on how they should behave.  It's time he was given a lesson in humility.  He'll probably go to a relatively comfortable prison.  I highly doubt he will be put in general population.  It will still be a nightmare for him... but I think he deserves it.  It still makes me sad to see it.  I would have liked to have seen him live up to the legend he created.

Count me among those who are tired of seeing sexually abusive creeps rise to the top.  We, as a society, need to do better.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

That touch of pink...

Today's post is a work of fiction.  It's inspired by certain real life events from about 12 years ago when I belonged to a certain Web site for second wives and stepmothers.  The Pepto Palace was a nickname some of us used for that site after we were unceremoniously booted from it.  Yesterday, I decided to see if the site was still running.  It is, but it looks like there aren't as many "princesses" posting there as there used to be.  The site owners were notoriously draconian about enforcing their rules, although some people seemed to get more of a pass than others did.  

It was mostly a free site with optional add ons.  I suspect the people who paid were given more leeway than the ones who were avatarless (it cost money to use an avatar).  Extra consideration went to those who paid the site owners to make an avatar for them.  By contrast, there was another site for stepmoms and second wives that one had to pay to join.  I seem to remember some of the people on the spin off site had also been members of the first site.

Anyway... this story is entirely metaphorical-- the apartment building is meant to be a metaphor for the Web site, which was done entirely in pink, hence the nickname we gave it.  I don't expect anyone to understand this story, although I hope a few people might find it entertaining.

The big day had arrived.  It was time to move on to the next place.  Princess Mary stood in her pink room with her bags packed and ready to go.  She had carefully brushed her red hair and tied it in a bun so that stray hairs wouldn't fall on the bright pink carpet she had worked so hard to clean.  Her face was scrubbed clean and her clothes were brand new and immaculate.  She had selected blue jeans and a blue sweater, a nod to her escape from the Pepto Palace, the dysfunctional apartment building where she had been living for two years.

Mary checked her watch and tapped her foot.  She knew that Gina, the landlady, would be arriving soon to make sure everything was in order.  Gina was very eccentric.  Small and blonde, with big blue eyes, Gina looked like a kindergarten teacher, although she'd once told Mary that she was pretty wild in her younger days.  She'd even tongue kissed Gene Simmons when she was a heavy metal loving teenager.  At about forty years old, she still looked youthful and fresh.  Mary decided that the pink wardrobe she constantly wore probably added to that youthful effect on her appearance.

These days, Gina was not so wild.  She was anxious, particular, and odd.  Gina loved the color pink, but she was also an eccentric neat freak who insisted that her residents be as sanitary as she was.  Every apartment was inspected regularly for defects.  When Gina inspected, tenants knew that their rooms had to be spotless.  In exchange for being spotless, Gina charged a low rent and referred to all of her residents as "princesses".  Residents who were on her good side would be invited to her apartment for girly drinks, strawberry pie, and lots of gossip.  Mary knew that the women who attended Gina's parties enjoyed a lot of fun and games, as well as preferable treatment when it came to their conduct in the apartment house.  They'd all sit around and talk about their lives and the lives of everyone else who lived in the Pepto Palace.

Those who were on Gina's bad side would mostly be ignored, although there was always the threat that she'd show up unexpectedly, wielding a wire hanger and a bad attitude while wearing a thick layer of pink face cream.  It had happened to more than a couple of the girls in the building.

Gina had painted her whole building different shades of pink.  The outside was a very pale color, mainly because a brighter shade of pink would have upset the local homeowner's association.  Gina didn't like upsetting people in authority, but pink was her color and she had decided her building had to be pink.  So she painted the outside of the building with a shade of pink that was basically white with only a few drops of red in it.  It was such a pale shade that from a distance, it almost looked white.  But if you spent a minute looking carefully, you could see that subtle hint of pink.  Mary always thought it was a sign of Gina's deeper rebellious tendencies.

The inside of the building had pink walls, pink carpets, and pink furniture.  Even the lightbulbs were pink, giving the whole place an eerie glow of Pepto Bismol.  The flowers in Gina's garden were all carefully tended; but they were also all pink.  She encouraged her residents to wear pink and eat pink.  She even gave one tenant a discount when she tinted her hair a lovely shade of fuchsia.

As Mary waited for Gina to arrive, she thought about the day she'd signed the lease to move into the Pepto Palace.  That day had not made her nervous.  In fact, she was very excited to have found such a sweet spot for so little money.  At first, the Pepto Palace seemed to be a really hip, funky place to lay her hat.  And she couldn't believe the cheap rent she was paying.  Gina only asked $100 a month for a room in her pink palace.  She'd have use of all the common areas, too.  In such an expensive area, it seemed like she was getting a great deal.  Mary had visions of saving extra money so that one day, she could buy a home of her own.  She even liked Gina's eccentric style, even if it was strange to see that everything in the building was in a shade of pink.

When Gina had asked to see Mary's official birth certificate and a few other personal documents, she figured it was because she was concerned about safety.  Gina had explained that she'd had problems with disgruntled former residents causing her trouble.  As the building was rented only to women, she also worried about her residents' safety.  So Mary gladly handed over the requested documentation, even though she'd thought it a bit weird.  Gina smiled, photocopied everything, and returned the documents to Mary.  Then, Gina said in an offhand tone of voice, "How about friending me on Facebook?  I really like to be social with my residents."

Although Mary thought the friend request was odd, she decided it would be okay.  Gina seemed so nice and safety focused, and Mary wanted to make a good impression.  She immediately accepted when Gina sent her a request.  Gina then handed Mary a list of rules.  At the top of the list, it read "Terms of Service".  There were about twenty rules listed and Gina warned that she enforced them rigidly, although some of her tenants got more wiggle room than others.  Gina also mentioned hiring her top resident, Kimba, as a housekeeper-- to help Mary keep her room cleaned to standards.  But Mary didn't have enough money to pay Kimba for her work. 

It never occurred to Mary that one day, she'd wonder about what Gina did with all of that personal information she collected on her residents.  In fact, she even stopped thinking about the birth certificate when Gina started fingerprinting her.  Much to Mary's shock, Gina had the latest police issue fingerprinting equipment-- a gift from a boyfriend who had been a cop and worried about Gina's safety.

Submitting to fingerprinting to move into the Pepto Palace seemed a bit strange, but for the low price of the room, Mary was willing overlook it.  She even laughed as Gina expertly collected her fingerprints, as if she'd been a police officer herself at one point.  Maybe this was an extreme attempt at maintaining security, but Mary was a big fan of being safe.  It the prints meant that she'd be safer, she was all for it.

Finally, Gina did a credit check.  When she found that Mary's credit was spotless, she approved her to move into the room.  Mary really felt as if she'd found a safe place.  She looked forward to a good stay.

A few weeks after Mary had moved into her room, she started feeling uncomfortable in the Pepto Palace.  For one thing, Gina had an odd obsession with the color of Mary's bedspread.  Mary had put a pretty dark purple paisley spread on her twin sized bed.  She'd neatly made the bed and it looked reasonably good, even though the walls in Mary's room were bright pink.  But on the first day of inspection, when Gina walked into Mary's room, smiling and offering her hand to shake, her eyes immediately landed on the bedspread.  Mary could see a look of distinct discomfort on the small woman's face.

"Is something wrong, Gina?" Mary asked.

"No..." Gina said, smiling weakly as she smoothed her perfectly pressed pale pink jumper.  "Your room looks... good.  I love the pink sheets on the bed."

"Thank you.  I got them on sale at Target." Mary smiled, sighing with relief.

"Well... they look nice." Gina said, fixing her eyes on the purple bedspread.

Mary could see a look of disdain on Gina's face, but she said nothing to her newest tenant.  Instead, she smiled bravely, turned on her heel, and walked out of Mary's bedroom.  Mary watched Gina knock on the next tenant's door and sighed with relief.  "One month down..." she breathed to herself.  Then she logged onto her computer and started thinking about how much higher her bank balance was since she'd found these new accommodations.

A few more weeks passed.  Gina inspected Mary's room again.  This time, Gina seemed slightly less friendly, although she did present Mary with a bottle of rose wine.  "It's going to be a hot day." Gina said.  "I thought you might enjoy this blush wine I picked up in town.  I've already chilled it for you."

"Oh, thank you!" Mary said with a broad grin.  "I do love my wine!"

Gina cast a furtive look at Mary's nightstand, which had a glass of merlot sitting on it.  She frowned and said, "I do hope you'll be careful with that red wine.  I'd hate to see it spilled on my pink carpet."

"Don't worry.  I intend to drink every drop." Mary laughed.

Gina nodded hesitantly and left.  Mary went back to her lovely red wine and let it wash over her, bathing her in warmth.  The weather had been rather schizophrenic lately.  At that moment, it was a bit chilly outside.  She sat down on top of her purple paisley bedspread and sipped, enjoying the serene calm that washed over her.  Before she knew it, she'd fallen fast asleep.  Sure enough, the glass of wine fell from her hand and spilled on the pink carpet.

A couple of hours later, Mary woke up and noticed the red stain on Gina's carpet.  "Oh shit..." she muttered as she blotted at the red liquid.  "Gina's not going to like this."  She was still trying to clean the stain when there was a knock at the door.

"Just a minute!" Mary yelled as she looked for something to cover the stain.  Hastily, she tossed a purple towel over the stain and answered the door.  There stood Gina, dressed in a fuchsia pant suit with a smart looking pink carnation tucked into her lapel.

"Hello, Mary." Gina said warmly as Mary opened the door.  The landlady was holding a pink tote bag.

"What can I do for you, Gina?" Mary asked.

"Oh... well, I was shopping at Target and I saw this bedspread that I thought you'd just love." Gina's eyes were dancing as she held out the bag for her tenant.  "You can use this while you're living here.  I just think it would go so much better with those beautiful sheets."

Mary was taken aback as she accepted the bag and unzipped it.  There was a hot pink version of Mary's beloved dark purple paisley bedspread in the bag.  "Um..." Mary stammered.  "Thank you.  That was nice of you.  But, you know, I really like my purple bedspread.  And if I happen to spill something on my bedspread, it's mine.  I wouldn't want to mess up something of yours.  Purple hides stains better than pink does."

"Yes, of course you like your purple spread." Gina said.  "But that purple doesn't look as good as this hot pink does.  Don't you want your room to look neat and tidy?"

"I don't see why it matters.  This is a private room.  I keep my door closed and I never have visitors." Mary explained, a trace of irritation creeping into her voice.

"Well, I am a visitor, right?  And I own the building..." Gina said resolutely.  Suddenly, Gina's eyes suddenly landed on the purple towel Mary had put over the wine stain.  "What's that?" she asked.

"Oh... I guess I was a little careless after my shower." Mary said.

"I do wish you'd try to be neater, Mary.  You should show more respect for my property.  It doesn't look good when residents leave their dirty stuff lying on the floor.  Remember the terms of service." Gina scolded.

"I really am sorry, Gina.  I wasn't expecting visitors.  I'll try to do better." Mary conceded.

"Good.  I appreciate that." Gina smiled.  "Now to fold this towel properly and put it in the dirty hamper."  Mary's mouth dropped as Gina bent over and reached for the towel.

"Oh, please don't worry about that!  I'll take care of it!" Mary said, perhaps a trace too loudly.

Gina picked up the towel and immediately noticed the half cleaned red wine stain.  Her pretty face contorted into a vicious scowl.

"What is this?!" she snapped, pointing at the stain.

"Oh." Mary stammered sheepishly.  "I'm sorry, Gina.  It was an accident.  I fell asleep while holding my wine."

Suddenly, Mary saw a look of sheer hatred in Mary's eyes.  "How dare you!" Gina shrieked.  "You have no respect for my building!  You are the worst tenant I've ever had!  I have never had any problems with any of the other girls in this building!  I can't believe I rented my pristine pink room to such a filthy lowlife skank!"

Mary's mouth opened wider as the tiny lady continued with her tirade.  It was actually kind of funny, since Gina looked as sweet and innocent as a schoolmarm, yet enraged words spilled from her lips.

"I work so hard to make sure my building is safe and beautiful, and you just waltz in here and befoul it with your careless ways and mean spirited comments."  Gina seethed.  "You just don't care, do you?  Your mother obviously did a terrible job raising you!  I just can't believe this.  That's going to cost a fortune to clean up!"

"I'm so sorry, Gina.  It was an accident.  I do have insurance." Mary said, trying to contain her own rage.

"Good.  I'll take the information for a claim.  I'm sure whatever they give me won't be enough."  Gina grumbled.

"Truly, I'm very sorry." Mary reiterated as she wrote down the information for Gina.

"Well, you should be.  Unbelievable!" Gina snarled as she turned on her heel and stormed out of the room, leaving the pink bedspread.  "Next time I visit, I expect to see your bed properly made!" Gina snapped as she stalked away.

Mary then had a sense of overwhelming dread.  She could see how offended and angry Gina was.  Suddenly, the low rent hadn't seemed like such a good deal.

A year passed.  Gina got some money for the stain on the carpet, but as she had predicted, the money wasn't enough to replace it with something brand new, and the red wine stain was never completely eliminated.  Gina was still obviously angry, too.  She started watching Mary more closely, causing Mary to feel like she was living under extreme surveillance.

One day, Gina stopped Mary in the hallway and said, "You know, Mary, it might be a good idea to stay away from some of those Web sites you frequent.  You might attract the wrong kind of person into your life."

"Huh?" Mary said, flabbergasted.  "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I've seen some of the sites you visit." Gina said.  "I notice what you've been clicking on.  It just doesn't seem like that's wise.  A girl like you should be more careful about how and where she spends her time.  Why don't you see if you can get a proper job... earn some more money so you can properly recompense me for that stain on the carpet?"

"Gina, you already got money for that stain." Mary said.

"Yes, but it wasn't enough.  I still have a stained carpet, don't I?  And it's not my fault the carpet is stained.  It's your fault.  You need to reimburse me." Gina said, setting her jaw.

"I'm not going to do that." Mary said flatly.  "In fact, consider this my thirty day notice.  I'm moving out.  I'm going to buy my own home and paint it purple."

Gina's face fell with surprise.  "Well... we'll certainly miss you around here." she said.

"I'm sure you'll find someone else to take my place." Mary said with a shrug.  "It's time for me to move on."

"Well, I guess I can understand that." Gina said.  "Good luck."

Three days later, Mary tried to use her key to get into the Pepto Palace, but her key no longer fit in the lock.

"What the hell?" Mary wheezed as she began pounding on the door.

"You've been booted." Gina said from the window closest to the front door of the Palace.  "We're not safe with you in our house.  You need to move on because you can't follow the terms of service.  I have all of your things packed neatly, but you need to pay me before I release them to you."

"What?  You can't do that!" Mary bellowed.  "This is illegal!"

"Of course... " Gina said.  "Well, I'll tell you what.  Come in and properly prepare your room for inspection.  Then you can go."

"How much time will you give me?" Mary asked.

"Oh... I expect you can clean that room to standard in a couple of days." Gina said.  "But you don't deserve that much time, do you?  You were a bad tenant and bad tenants should pay for their transgressions.  Also, I'll be standing by to make sure you don't bother any of the other tenants."

"That's unacceptable." Mary said.

"I'd like to see you do something about it." Gina shrugged.  "Get to work."

Mary was put out by Gina's demands, but she rolled up her sleeves and tried to make sure the room was as clean as she could get it.  But that damned wine stain... well, that was there to stay.  There was no way to remove it.  It was like an indelible blight on Gina's previously pristine pink carpet.

As Mary stood there, on the day of her exit, she nervously bit her fingernails and paced.  Soon, she heard Gina's familiar footsteps.  But Gina wasn't alone.  She had brought Kimba, her goon in training and the woman she employed to clean rooms... and return and report.

"Hi Mary." Kimba said as her dark eyes narrowed at Mary's blue outfit.  Like most of the other residents who were Gina's good graces, she'd dressed in pink from head to toe.  Gina loved it when her residents dressed like her.  Those who wore their own style of clothes were never invited around for punch and pie.

"What's she doing here?" Mary asked.

"She's here to be a witness.  I brought her in case you decide to do something crazy." Gina said with a shrug.  She walked around the room, touching everything, inspecting everything, and finally she said, "Well... it doesn't look that bad.  Except for that stain.  That stain will always remind me of you.  What are you going to do about it?"

"You got money for that stain, Gina." Mary reiterated.

"It's not enough." Gina sniffed.

"Yes, it is." Mary insisted.  "I really don't have time for this.  I need to find another place to live."

"Fine..." Gina said with a heavy sigh.  "But I'll be keeping your deposit... and, you know what?  I'm going to keep that purple bedspread, too."

"You can't do that." Mary said.

"How do you intend to stop me?" Gina laughed.  "Do you think you can beat me up?"

With that, Mary took one more look into Gina's eyes and said, "You know what?  It just doesn't matter.  I have a life to live.  It's only money.  Keep the deposit and the bedspread.  I don't care."

"What?" Gina said.  "You can't do this.  I matter."

"No, you really don't matter." Mary affirmed.  "I'm leaving.  I hope your next tenant is exactly the person you deserve."

"Oh... thank you." Gina said, smiling broadly.  "I hope so, too."

Mary smiled enigmatically, picked up her bags, and walked out of the Pepto Palace, feeling very much like Rhett Butler in the last scene of Gone With the Wind.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Yes, it is possible to remember what happened 35 years ago...

I didn't really want to write about the subject of sexual abuse today.  I would have rather found something funny or intriguing to write about.  I miss the days when I could write things that weren't really triggering to me and other people.  But this morning, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on the subject of sexual abuse and the memory of assault.

A lot of people I know-- folks I grew up with or am related to-- seem to think that a person can easily forget trauma.  Last night, a man I first met in the third grade-- a guy whom I've always known to be good and decent-- wrote a post about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh's alleged assault of her in the early 1980s.  In those days, both Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh were teenagers.  Supposedly, alcohol was involved and although Kavanaugh did not rape Blasey Ford, she says he pinned her down, tried to rip off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth.  My old friend says that he can't believe the professor is able to remember what Kavanaugh did so long ago.  He asks his friends if they remember the people who were in their second period class during their senior year of high school.  He seems to think that if those of us in our mid 40s can't remember who was in their second period class, we shouldn't assume a person can remember being assaulted in the early 1980s. 

It's funny... because actually I can remember the people who were in my second period class during my senior year of high school.  I took speech that year, and it met during second period.  It was a small, challenging, and ultimately fun class that involved weekly speech presentations that were often entertaining, so it's easy to remember who took that course with me.  But what if he'd asked me about a different class?  Actually, after a couple of minutes of thought, I can remember those classes, too.  That's despite having an unhealthy love for beer and wine that probably should have affected my memory.  I get his point, though.  Most people can't remember those things.  But is sexual abuse the same thing as something as mundane as who was in your second period class?      

I've read so many people's claims that Professor Blasey Ford is only bringing this up now because of "partisan politics" and that no one could possibly remember events that happened so long ago.  But a memory of assault is not quite the same thing as remembering what you were wearing at the last football game you attended during high school.  

I have never been raped.  However, there have been a few instances in my past where I've been in situations that could have led to rape.  I can think of several times when I've felt like I was in real danger... a few of which involved men putting their hands on me uninvited and telling me not to scream.  I haven't forgotten those incidents.  In fact, I remember very clearly mundane things about those incidents, including what I was wearing.  They happened years ago, but I still recall them easily and recoil at the memories.

I don't think memories caused by trauma are the same as regular memories, like what you had for dinner the night before your prom.  It's easy to forget mundane stuff.  It's hard to forget sexual trauma.

Some of the comments regarding this case are sickening.  So many people-- folks I would have hoped are decent, kind, loving people-- are saying Dr. Blasey Ford must be lying.  I won't say that it's impossible that she's lying.  Sometimes people do lie about sexual assault.  However, I can understand why the professor waited so long to report what happened.  There is a lot of shame surrounding sexual assault.  It's absolutely mortifying.  It was mortifying to me and I didn't even experience the worst part of a sexual assault.  

Most of my high school years were during the 80s.  Although it doesn't seem like it was that long ago to me, the 80s were a very different time.  I remember that was when we first heard the term "date rape".  There were multiple "Afterschool Specials" about date rape and sexual assault, but it took longer for people to take it seriously.  In fact, I think in those days, a lot of people thought of date rape as a joke.

There was, and still is, a lot of shame surrounding sex crimes.  It wasn't uncommon for people to discount the stories of sexual assault and wonder if the victim had done something to "deserve" the abuse, especially if it was a "date rape".  People want to know if what really happened was consensual sex followed by regrets.  There's also a lot of worry about "ruining" a person's life over something that happened when they were very young.  I can respect the worry about ruining lives.  I'm sure mothers of sons especially worry about that.  No one wants to see a young person's life destroyed.  At the same time, the trauma that occurs during an assault never really leaves you.  In a sense, that can also ruin a person's life.

I can see why people are just now coming forward so many years after the fact, especially given the culture in the 80s and even the 90s.  The term "slut shaming" wasn't really a thing in those days.  People often blamed the woman for assault, but it was even worse for male victims, who were basically labeled weak.  Many victims would rather just try to forget about it than face that kind of scrutiny and shame.  Unfortunately, waiting so long makes it a lot harder to prove that the assault happened.

I think if I were in Christine Blasey Ford's shoes, I would want to tell people about what happened, not because I want to ruin Kavanaugh's life, but because his appointment to the Supreme Court will affect countless women.  He will have the ability to affect laws that govern a woman's autonomy of her own body.  Certainly, if there is any chance he sexually assaulted someone, that information should be investigated, even if it happened many years ago.  The people of the United States deserve to have Supreme Court justices who aren't above the law or basic decency.  I don't think it's a bad thing for any potential justice to be thoroughly investigated, especially if he's been chosen by President Pussy Grabber.  

Yes... it is very possible to have indelible memories from decades ago.  Unfortunately, the memories of sexual trauma can be impossible to erase.  I'm sure a lot of victims would prefer to forget being attacked.  It would cut down on the nightmares, depression, and anxiety that follow such incidents.  Moreover, I think it's very sad that so many people want to dismiss Blasey Ford's claims, especially when they trot out that old chestnut, "Boys will be boys."  It's easy to say that when it's not you, or someone you love, being victimized.  I think we should listen to the accusations and investigate them thoroughly.  And if there is any evidence of Kavanaugh's guilt, he should not be a Supreme Court justice... even though the assault allegedly happened in the early 80s.

By the way...  shame on evangelist Franklin Graham for his reprehensible comments about this situation.  This is really a man of God?  What a scumbag.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Got big expectations? Want quality? Well, quality costs... and right here is where you start paying for sweat.

A friend shared this post from Scary Mommy yesterday.  It was originally written in March 2018, but somehow I missed the viral round.  I entertained myself by reading it as Bill and I came home from our excursion.  The Scary Mommy story was gleaned from a Reddit post that shows just how completely rude and entitled people can be sometimes, especially toward creative people.  

A guy on Instagram asked a crocheter named Krafty Katt if she takes commissions.  He wanted her to make him a queen sized blanket using expensive wool yarn and employing a complicated stitch.  She told him she'd do it for $400, with $200 paid upfront.  The guy's response was very profane and he basically told her she was ripping him off because he could go to Walmart and buy a blanket for $15. He used every trick in the book to get her to lower her price for creating something stunning by hand.  She wouldn't budge and eventually doubled her price.  I offer mad props to her for being so calm and handling that jerk the way she did.

I must admit, she was a whole lot nicer than I would have been.  I probably would have told the guy to go eat a bag of dicks the first time he started using foul language toward me.  Some people don't seem to understand that handmade goods don't just cost the price of the supplies.  They also require time and effort.  The guy's insistence that the crocheter could buy yarn on sale and basically work for free was extremely insulting, especially considering how rude he was being to her.

My mom was making this the last time I visited her.

She also made this.  I did not inherit any of my mom's talent for needle creations.  My sister got that gift.

I probably have even more insight into this phenomenon than other people do.  I grew up watching my parents making money from their creativity.  My mom ran her own knitting and needlework shop for over 25 years.  She ran her shop out of our home and taught countless people, mostly women, how to knit, needlepoint, cross stitch, and candle wick.  When I was really young, she even used to make clothes for me.  My mom has a gift for making beautiful things and she sold high quality supplies to like minded people who wanted to create beautiful things.  She probably knows all about the yarn Krafty Katt wrote of on her Reddit thread.

My dad had a complementary business doing custom picture framing and selling art by local artists.  Both of my parents made their livings laboring over beautiful things.  People would bring their creations to my mom when they needed help.  I remember her "blocking" needlepoint done by other women or finishing up projects for people.  I remember my dad and his assistant, Deborah (who took over his business), creatively framing pictures and making shadow boxes for patrons.  It all took a lot time, effort, skill, and most of all, vision.  Most people were very pleased with the end results, although some bristled at the cost.

Besides running her own knitting and needlepoint business, my mom was also a church organist for over 50 years.  People were eager to hire her to play for weddings and funerals because she is extremely talented.  I don't remember her charging a lot of money to play the organ, but I do remember that each event required her to practice.  She had to practice for each Sunday service, every wedding, and all funerals.  That took time, energy, and effort, and she was entitled to be paid for it.

I have run into this issue myself.  I am a writer and a singer.  Writing and singing are two of my innate talents, so they come fairly easily to me, but I still have to develop them.  I studied voice for several years and put in a lot of time practicing and learning how to breathe.  I paid for music and an accompanist, as well as instruction from a teacher.  Now I can sing pretty well, but that skill didn't come without cost, commitment, and a lot of effort.

It takes time and effort to make music or write a piece for someone else.  A lot of the pieces I've written for money have required extensive research, fact checking, and equipment.  Computers cost money.  Software costs money.  So do subscriptions to publications that provide the information I need to write something factual and credible.  I went to school for seven years past high school to develop the knowledge and skills to be able to write professionally.  God knows that took money!  Some people might argue that one can learn how to write well without a college degree.  I might agree with that.  However, I went to graduate school and studied specific areas that give me expertise that I wouldn't have had otherwise.  It's been awhile since my last freelance assignment, but back when I was writing for money, I was earning anywhere from $40 to $80 an hour in the Washington, D.C. area.

I even had a social work professor who told his students that we should never give away our work for free, even if we only charge a dollar.  When someone pays for something, they value it more.  Although I don't always think monetary compensation is required for one person to value another person's contribution, I do agree with the idea that nothing is really free.

A person is more likely to take another person's work seriously if payment is required.  The payment doesn't always have to be monetary.  It can also be given in the form of gratitude.  For instance, I would never expect someone to give me money for a gift I present to them.  A gift is, by definition, given without the expectation of money.  I would hope that the recipient would "pay" me by saying thank you, although that doesn't always happen, either.  Sometimes people are clods... myself included.

Bill had this kilt made when we went to Scotland last year.  The kiltmaker measured him and created that kilt by hand.  It's absolutely beautiful, but it cost plenty and took about three months to create.  Ultimately, it was worth it.  I'm glad we went to the kiltmaker instead of a big company that makes kilts in bulk.

Aside from the hard costs of producing something beautiful, there's also the issue of time and labor.  No one wants to be a slave.  There has to be a pay off for being productive, and the more productive a person is, the bigger the pay off should be.  Krafty Katt is obviously very good at what she does-- good enough that the guy who proposed that she make his blanket asked if she does commissions.  But then he insulted her by accusing her of ripping him off by demanding to be paid for her work.

I would not have made a blanket for the guy on Instagram for any amount of money.  I don't think I could put my heart into creating something for such a selfish prick.  I think his best bet is to go to Walmart and buy something that was made in a sweatshop.  That's the quality of person he seems to be... and probably the quality he deserves.  

Saturday, September 22, 2018

On not being missed...

This morning, as I sit here looking out the window at cloudy skies and listen to my stomach rumbling from hunger, it occurs to me that I don't have a reason to go to America.  I don't think many people miss me.  And when we do go back, it will probably be to very little fanfare.

When you spend your life living among people in the military, you start to become very aware of the cyclical nature of assignments.  Most people spend anywhere from two to four years in each duty station before it's time to move again.  People are constantly coming and going, which makes making friends an interesting exercise.  You might hook up with a person quickly and form a friendship, only to have it severed when one friend has to move.  Sometimes you run into that person again at another assignment down the line, but a lot of times, you go your separate ways.  

Because we've been here since 2014, many of the military people we met when we first arrived have either already left or will be leaving soon.  They’ve done their two to four years and it’s time for their next adventure.  Sometimes, the assignments are even shorter than the usual three years.  For example, when we moved to Georgia in 2009, we only stayed for about seventeen months before we had to move again.  Then we were in North Carolina for  28 months... and Texas for a year.  The past four years are the longest we’ve been in one place as a married couple.

It's kind of the same for government employees abroad.  They spend three to five years in a position before they rotate back to a place in the States.  If Bill had taken that job in Italy last year, we'd probably have to go back to the U.S. by 2022.  That's only if we extended the time out to five years.  A contractor, by contrast, can stay out of the country for as long as there's work and the will to stay abroad.  I think Bill and I have kind of decided that we're fine with living abroad, even though about half of our belongings are in a storage garage in Texas.  We have nothing pulling us back to the States, other than that "stuff" sitting there, waiting for our return.

I notice a lot of people are fine with going back to the States after their tour is done here.  They have friends and family who look forward to their return and plan parties for them.  Although I do have friends and family stateside, I don't think anyone would throw a party for me if I went back home.

In fact, the last time I was in the States, I felt kind of forgotten by my family.  I walked into my grandmother's home, the same one my father grew up in, and people looked at me like I was a stranger.  I did talk to a lot of my relatives during that visit-- which occurred only a few months after we moved out of the States.  But no one really seemed to care that much that we'd flown home thousands of miles for my dad's memorial.  It kind of made up my mind for me that I don't need to make an effort to go home.  I mean, I will for my mom if she needs me, but I don't think I need to do it for anyone else unless I happen to live within driving distance.

I have a very large family and they're fun to hang out with sometimes-- as long as any discussion of politics doesn't come up.  They are mostly loving, albeit in kind of a superficial way.  Or... maybe they aren't superficial to everyone, just people who don't happen to fit into the many cliques within the family.  I have relatives in Georgia who are super close and hang out together all the time.  I have Texas family that is also really close-knit.  People get together in Virginia every Thanksgiving and it's basically jovial, warm, and loving on the outside.  But it's not like I'd expect any of those people to show up at my bedside if I was in the hospital or something, nor would I necessarily show up at their bedside in the same situation.

I won't go back to the States simply to see friends or family.  I figure if they want to see me, they can come here.  It would do a lot of them some good to leave the country.  I did spend a long time in Virginia, so I have a lot of friends and relatives there, but I somehow lost a lot of the close friendships I once had.  Actually, I don't think I ever had that many true close friendships.  The one person I considered my "best friend" turned out to be an imposter.

In a weird way, realizing that I don't *need* to go home is kind of liberating.  I don't have anyone begging me to come see them.  But then, it's also kind of sad, because I don't have anyone looking forward to my return.  There are a few people who would probably like to see me-- maybe my sisters or Bill's mom.  But no one who really, really misses me.  The only person who really ever misses me is probably Bill.  Bill and I are together most of the time, so missing him isn't an issue.

I notice a lot of people want family to come home because there are kids in the mix.  The people at home-- particularly grandparents, aunts, and uncles-- want to see the babies.  But at some point, most people grow out of being babies.  They become less special.  At some point, people stop caring about seeing pictures of the babies because they are not babies anymore.  When a person becomes an adult, they are even easier to forget.

Maybe I would feel differently if there was no such thing as the Internet.  Social media makes it easy to stay in touch with people.  I can chat with my sisters and see their pictures.  I don't have to spend a fortune on phone calls or airfare to stay in contact with my family.  However, social media isn't a substitute for physical contact.  I can't give my sisters an actual hug from Germany.  But then... I feel like I don't really want to, anyway.

I wonder what it's like to have family that misses you...  By the time I die, I may not have anyone left who cares about my funeral.  That inevitable event might even be reduced to a simple Facebook status... if Facebook is still a thing when it comes time for me to depart this life.

Friday, September 21, 2018

No, vasectomies are NOT totally reversible!

Yesterday, someone in the Duggar group posted this article, based on tweets by a Mormon mom of six who lays out why she thinks men are responsible for every "unwanted" pregnancy.  The mom, name of Gabrielle Blair, reminds everyone that women can only get pregnant for a couple of days every month, while men could theoretically get different women pregnant thousands of times per month.  Because men are so easily able to impregnate women, she believes they should be more responsible about birth control.  In fact, she thinks the onus should be on men to prevent "unwanted" pregnancies.  They should be more willing to make birth control accessible, affordable, and available to all women.  And they should also be much more willing to wear condoms.

Gabrielle Blair refers to "unwanted" pregnancies, but that's not a term I'm comfortable with.  I once used it when I was getting my MSW and was corrected by my field instructor, who told me the right term is "unintended pregnancy".  Although I do think a lot of unintended pregnancies are also unwanted, I decided that I liked the word "unintended" better.  Sometimes women find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and later decide they're glad about it.  So, in this post, I will refer to unintended pregnancies instead of "unwanted" pregnancies.

I agree with many of the concepts Blair discusses in her tweets.  Although birth control has never been an issue I've personally had a lot of concerns about, I did used to work in maternal and child health, back before I was an overeducated housewife.  I have seen the aftereffects of what happens when a woman has a child she isn't ready to nurture.  I do think we need to make birth control readily available so that there is less of a need for abortion.  I would much rather see a woman prevent an unintended pregnancy than have an abortion.

The one thing that I don't agree with, however, is the idea that vasectomies are totally reversible.  Blair tweets this concept, after just having suggested castration as a penalty for men who cause unintended pregnancies.  Of course she realizes that castration as punishment for a man who accidentally impregnates a woman would never happen.  So then she suggests required vasectomies for boys at the onset of puberty.

Um...  it's not that simple.

Before I get too cranked up with my comments about this, let me say that I know that, just like the castration law Blair suggested, forced vasectomies for pubescent boys would also never happen.  Maybe if we only had female lawmakers who were also extreme feminists with a cruelty streak, something like that could possibly be considered, but even then, I really doubt it.  The United States would have to turn into a completely matriarchal society with a hefty dose of The Handmaid's Tale thrown in for good measure.  Blair's suggestions are very sci-fi and interesting to ponder, but completely implausible and highly unlikely to happen in my lifetime.

That being established, I will agree that microsurgeries have come a long way and a lot of men are able to successfully have their vasectomies reversed even years after the vasectomy was done.  However, I can also speak from experience that not every reversal will result in a man regaining his fertility.  I know this because my husband had a vasectomy reversal that was technically successful.  He had 90 million "swimmers" after he underwent a 4 hour operation to reconnect his junk.  And yet, here we sit, still childless.

Now... it's entirely possible that the reason we didn't have children could be because of something other than Bill's vasectomy reversal not working.  For all I know, I didn't get pregnant because something is wrong with me.  However, even if that were the case, the fact remains that not every vasectomy reversal will result in pregnancy.  The Mayo Clinic reports that reversal surgery can be anywhere from 40% to 90% effective.  A lot depends on the conditions the surgeon has to work with.  The reversal surgery has the best chance of working if it's done within a few years of the vasectomy, the patient is young and healthy, the vasectomy was done with a minimum of scarring, and the surgeon has mad skills.

In Bill's case, it had been about eleven years since he'd gotten snipped.  At first, his surgeon told him that he might have to do a more complicated procedure, since it had been so long since his vasectomy (done in 1993).  In the end, they did a less complicated procedure.  A couple of weeks later, a different doctor-- not the one who did Bill's surgery, because that guy got deployed to Iraq-- told Bill that he needed to be careful where he pointed his "thing", since he was firing "live ammunition".  They'd found 90 million sperm in his sample.  Sadly, not a single one was able to penetrate any of my eggs, despite multiple attempts at the right time of the month.

I don't know why I never got pregnant.  We did try.  There were a few things beyond our control that got in the way of conception, not the least of which was Bill's own adventure in Iraq.  However, even if I had gotten pregnant, I still would never agree that reversals are 100% successful.  That wouldn't be true.  Although many men can regain their fertility after having a vasectomy reversal, at least for a time, the fact is, plenty of men aren't able to get it back.  Their bodies start seeing sperm as something foreign that needs to be destroyed or there's too much scar tissue.    

Aside from that, reversal surgery is very expensive, delicate and involved, and requires time off work.  In our case, Bill was able to have it done for free, courtesy of an Army urologist who needed to maintain his skills.  He also got plenty of time to recover, thanks to his understanding Army bosses at the time.  But most men won't have the opportunity Bill had to get that surgery for free.  Reversals are also a hell of a lot more involved than vasectomies are.  They take a lot longer, cost a lot more, and are riskier.  Those who do get reversal surgery, will also need to be able to take the time to recuperate.  

I totally agree with Blair's main points that birth control is important and should be easier to get.  She's right that men should be more willing to do their part to prevent unintended pregnancies.  However, I think it's wrong to promote sterilization surgery as an easy fix for anyone, especially with the irresponsible comment that vasectomies are "totally reversible".  They're not.  Vasectomies are intended to be permanent sterilization.  Any man who gets one should do it with the knowledge that it will probably permanently end his ability to father children the easy way.  If they're alright with that, fine.  But no man should ever have a vasectomy believing that someday, he can simply have it reversed and father children without medical intervention.  It doesn't always work out that way, and it's irresponsible of Blair to promote the idea that it does, even if her comments were really intended as sort of a "modest proposal".

I made a comment about how vasectomy reversals aren't always successful in the Duggar group and immediately got a ration of shit from a couple of the members who wanted to argue with me about it. One woman said that in her hospital, 95% of reversals are successful with "swimmers".  I called bullshit on that.  I don't know that woman from Adam and have no idea what her background is, but it's a well established fact that reversals don't always work, even if the surgeon is a superstar.  I would be very skeptical if any medical professional claimed that success rate because not every candidate is going to get those results, regardless of the quality of the facility and the skill of the staff performing the operation.  

Another woman commented with some tripe about how I should be more sensitive to the women who have to deal with preventing pregnancy.  I AM sensitive to the women.  I DO agree that birth control for both partners is a good thing and both people are responsible.  I don't agree that forcing boys to have vasectomies is a good idea, even if the idea is presented in jest.  I would be horrified if anyone suggested tying the tubes of pre-pubescent girls, rationalizing that they can later have the operation reversed.  I am just as horrified by the suggestion that we should be giving vasectomies to boys to prevent them from knocking up girls.  That's an extreme and unethical solution.  But what really prompted me to write this morning is the idea that a decision to be permanently sterilized is easily undone.  It's not, and reputable medical institutions confirm that it's not.

That being said... although I always wanted children, I now think it's a blessing that I don't have them.  I do sometimes wonder what a child between Bill and me would have have like, though.  Then, after I fantasize about it, I realize I wouldn't wish today's fucked up world on any child of mine.  Also... I wonder how in the world Gabrielle Blair can be a Mormon and be as much of a feminist as she is.  She's either simply a cultural Mormon or she has some serious cognitive dissonance going on.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The blog equivalent to Muzak... on seeking a return to obscurity

I woke up at about 3:30am this morning.  I was having a weird dream.  Then, I needed to answer the call of nature.  After that, my mind started racing about a variety of things.  I started thinking about all of the anonymous people who read my words.  I can never know most of the people who read my writing.  I never know how my words will be interpreted.  In my mind, I can write something that seems as clear as day to me, but might still be misunderstood.  Or someone will read something, put their own spin on it, and come up with something entirely different than what I had intended to express.

For the first few years of this blog's existence, I didn't really share it with anyone.  I just wanted to have a place where I could vent my thoughts.  I suppose I could have kept a diary for that, and for years, I did have a diary/journal that I wrote longhand.  But words are meant to be shared with other people, so I decided to start this blog.  I mostly kept it under wraps for awhile, mainly because I was well aware that people I know might read it and get upset.  Also, when I first started writing this, one of my husband's daughters was still a minor.  I wanted to keep things more private for that reason.

After a few years, I decided to branch out with a music blog, which I still occasionally update.  The music blog was mainly something I started for fun.  I used to write a lot of music reviews online, but to be honest, I don't find writing about music as inspiring as creating it is.  I'd rather sing a song or even write lyrics than review music.  Although I've been told by a lot of people that I have musical talent, it's logistically more difficult for me to share music than it is to share writing.

A few years ago, I started my travel blog.  When I started travel blogging, I lived in North Carolina and was reflecting on all of the places I'd seen in my life.  It was never my intention to be a traveler.  It's just kind of how things turned out for me.  To be honest, my original plan was just to be a regular person with a job and a family.  But then I met Bill and went in a totally different direction.  My life soon became mostly about moves to new places, hanging out with dogs, and trips to Europe and, to a lesser extent, the Caribbean.  These experiences kind of demand to be recorded, which is one reason why I blog.  But I also spend a lot of time alone, so writing a blog gives me a place to vent.  I don't have "girlfriends" to talk to, so I "talk" to myself in a blog, which others can read if they wish.

Sometimes I mourn my original life plans, since blogging brings me equal parts joy and grief.  I was blessed and cursed with a curious mind and a vivid imagination.  I love to read, and I have strong opinions.  I'm also not as circumspect as I probably should be.  Yesterday, I was reminded that all kinds of people are reading my blog, and some of them know who I am and the people involved in some of the stories I share.  Most of the time, when I write this stuff, I keep people's real names out of my posts, unless they happened to be in the news or a public figure of some sort.  Still, that doesn't stop family members, acquaintances, or long lost friends from reading about some of my more personal stories, and recognizing themselves or people they know.  Occasionally, I upset or offend people when I write about my impressions and they happen to know people involved or recognize themselves.

I especially get this phenomenon when I write about true crime.  There have been a few times when I've gotten angry comments from people involved in the cases I write about-- and most of the time, my comments only come from having read books, seen documentaries, or watched the news.  Sometimes I speculate and get things wrong and people feel the need to set me straight.  There have been a few times when people have even asked me to take another look at a case and see it from a different perspective.  I'm actually grateful when people do that.  In the long run, I learn more and evolve, even if it initially insults my pride.  Other times, I hit too close to home and people get angry.  Plenty of times, I've even gotten myself angry by writing things.

Let me just say this, to anyone who does take the time to read more than a couple of my posts.  I almost never write anything with the express intention of upsetting people.  Just like I sometimes get things wrong or misinterpret things, I think sometimes people get me wrong.  Or... maybe they don't get me wrong, but they interpret things in a way I wish they wouldn't.

All of this is just another reason why I try to be very clear when I write.  A lot of times, I'll publish something and edit it a few times after the fact.  I'll read something over and over again and determine that I wasn't as clear as I could have been.  After awhile, I have to stop, because too much editing turns into less authenticity and realism.

I can be very politically correct about things, vague about my opinions, and take great pains not to hurt other people's feelings.  A little of that is good-- since I truly don't want to be hurtful.  However, too much editing can lead to really bland, boring writing that doesn't interest anyone.  I might as well write the blog equivalent to Muzak.  People who know me, know that I hate the soullessness of Muzak with a passion.

I tell myself that I'd rather be authentic, but I still endure a special kind of torture when something goes wrong.  There is a cost to be paid for being too truthful about some things or being too free with my opinions and impressions.  For every few people who find what I write entertaining, there are a couple who find it upsetting.  I really don't take joy in upsetting people, but I also can't control how people react to the things I write.  So then, when there's an incident, I start wondering if I should retreat to a shroud of privacy and close this blog to everyone but invited readers.  Or maybe I should simply stop writing altogether.

I don't think I can stop writing.  I can always try to be kinder and less harsh when I write, but I will still have to write.  Not everyone likes what I do or likes me personally, but when it comes down to it, I'm just another person in the world, put here entirely by cosmic accident.  Some people love me.  A few people hate me.  Most people are indifferent.  I know I'm a decent person, despite my many flaws, and yet I feel shitty sometimes for not being more noble and kind.  But then... if I were more noble and kind, I wouldn't be authentic.  I'd be the human equivalent of Muzak.

Anyway... if you've managed to read this, thank you for your time.  Maybe it would be better if I didn't thank people for reading, though.  Right now, I kind of long for obscurity.  I think when we move, I'm going to seek it.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A review of Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed...

The summer of 2018 is just about over now.  It will go down in my personal history as a summer of equal parts fun and angst.  I had a lot of fun over the summer; there's no doubt about that.  Bill and I visited some beautiful places, ate good food, and really dove into some excellent concerts.

But it was also a summer of uncertainty and anxiety.  I've watched a lot of people I've gotten to know over the past few years move on to new places.  I've worried incessantly about my dogs as I've noticed them aging (although at this point, they're evidently fine).  I've seen Bill have to find a new job and now we're going to be moving.  I've also watched in horror as several middle aged white women were publicly shamed on the Internet as people cheered.

If you've been reading this blog for any amount of time, you might know that I tend to lean fairly liberal these days.  I am not a Trump supporter.  I like social justice and often support liberal causes, particularly when it comes to social policies.  I don't like racism, ageism, or sexism.  I'm also not a fan of shaming people.

However, over the summer of 2018, there's been a trend of people capturing people, usually middle aged white women, on their cellphones "behaving badly".  They put their videos online, often with a caption along the lines of "Let's make this bitch go viral!"  Sure enough, the videos wind up on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and the person being shamed does, indeed, go viral.  They go on to suffer the wrath of thousands of people they don't know, who weren't involved in whatever incident occurred to put them in a viral situation, and who actively cheer for bad things to happen to them.

I have seen a lot of the videos that have been posted online.  I will agree that in many of the videos, the people being filmed were, for the most part, behaving in a way that seemed wrong.  However, it disturbs me that people feel so free to call for the destruction of other people's lives.  Allow me to go on record to say that I really don't like this trend of publicly shaming people and actively trying to ruin their lives.  I think it's very shortsighted and, in the long run, harms more people than it helps.

Because I was so disturbed by all of the videos trending on social media, I decided to read more about this phenomenon.  That's when I discovered Jon Ronson's book, So You've Been Publicly Shamed.  This book, published in 2015, highlights several notorious cases of people who slipped up on social media and ended up going viral.  Ronson has a tongue in cheek way of describing how in this age of instant communication, a person can wind up being immediately punished for making an ill advised quip, sharing a racist joke, or not being reverent enough at a sacred place.

Ronson points out how, thanks to the Internet, the whole world can find out about something a person did and make a judgment, without knowing the context of what happened.  These shaming episodes can have real and devastating effects, and not just for the person being shamed.  I've written a lot about this over the past few months, so I won't rehash my points too exhaustively.  Suffice to say that you might feel great about Permit Patty or BBQ Becky being humiliated online for being "racist", but there are innocent people in their lives who are negatively affected by these public shaming episodes.  Moreover, 99.9% of the people sharing and opining about these videos have absolutely no idea about the context of what they're seeing.  They don't know the people being shamed, nor do they know what will happen to them once they've gone viral.  People's lives have been ruined and even ended over these episodes.

Since this book is three years old, you won't read about the most recent victims of viral shaming.  Instead, you might be reminded of people like Justine Sacco, who was a public relations executive who made some unfortunate tweets on a trip to Africa.  Sacco, who apparently has a politically incorrect sense of humor, famously tweeted back in 2013,  "Going to Africa!  Hope I don't get AIDS.  Just kidding.  I'm white!"      

Granted, this was a tasteless, racist joke.  I'm not surprised that many people were offended by it.  However, what happened after Sacco posted this Tweet was nothing less than phenomenal.  There was an incredible backlash lobbed at Sacco, who was soon the recipient of death and rape threats.  She lost her job.  However, in Sacco's case, there were a few positives.  Some people were moved to donate money to charities and Sacco did, apparently, manage to recover from the public shaming.

In another case, Ronson writes about a couple of guys who were at an IT conference.  They were talking among themselves and a woman named Adria Richards overheard and misunderstood a comment one of them made, wrongly assuming they were making sexist jokes.  She took a picture of them, placed it online, and set the wheels in motion to ruin their careers.  The sad thing is, she hadn't even gotten the context of their private joke, which had absolutely nothing to do with sexism and everything to do with IT.

And yet, thanks to Richards' decision to "out" them for being sexist, these guys went through the viral Internet wringer.  One of them, a guy calling himself Hank, lost his job and posted about it on a Web site called  Hank was justifiably upset because he'd liked the job and had three children to support.  Adria Richards, who had taken his picture was then outed and started getting hate mail and death threats herself.  Hank condemned the death threats against Richards, yet amazingly, she still thinks he deserved to be fired for his "joke" that was part of a private conservation and that she completely misunderstood, anyway.

Ronson later spoke to Richards and she maintained that Hank was to blame for complaining about being fired, since "his actions led to his being fired."  In the aftermath, men's rights groups decided to make her go viral and she suffered backlash for trying to shame Hank for his joke.  Both Hank and Adria suffered the consequences of Internet vigilanteism.  I certainly don't condone the death threats or rape wishes directed at Richards, but I do think she could stand to learn something from this ordeal.  If she had minded her own damned business, neither she nor Hank would have ever been in this mess.

Although I had already been thinking about the horrifying ramifications of Internet shaming, Ronson does a good job of pointing out what can happen to people who wind up in an Internet shitstorm.  I would venture to guess that the vast majority never consider beyond that moment of Schadenfreude that this kind of vigilantism has real and devastating effects for others.  They simply focus on that delicious moment of riding a moral high horse and watching someone's life fall apart and never think beyond that.  That's one thing I do think Ronson's book is good for-- reminding people that a successful Internet shaming session doesn't just last for a day, nor does it have an off switch.

Ronson writes of Lindsey Stone, a charity worker who, in 2012, took an ill advised picture of herself showing disrespect at Arlington Cemetery.  The photo went viral and pretty soon, Stone was being publicly flayed.  Stone, who had been working as a caregiver to people with learning disabilities, had a running joke with a friend.  They took "joke" pictures of themselves doing things like smoking in front of "no smoking" signs.  This time, there was a picture of Stone flipping off a sign at Arlington Cemetery that requested silence.  The photo went viral and soon Stone was being called a "cunt" and a "psychopath" by perfect strangers.

Stone had previously been a happy go lucky kind of person who enjoyed going out, dancing, and doing karaoke.  But for over a year, she stayed home.  People were calling for her to be fired and, indeed, she was.  Then, after she lost her job, no one responded to her applications for a new one.  After a long time, she finally did find a new job, but lived in terror that someone at her position would find out about what she did.  She gave up on dating, worrying that a new love interest would find out that she had flipped off a sign at Arlington Cemetery.

Long after people had forgotten about that incident, Stone was still dealing with the traumatic aftereffects.  I wonder, how many people who felt Stone is a "cunt" for posting that photo even know her?  Can a person's character really be accurately summed up in a single photo or two minute video showing them "behaving badly"?  Do the people who called her names like "cunt", "bitch", and "whore" think her life should be ruined or even ended for posting that photo?  Do they really think she deserves depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder over that one moment of bad behavior that wound up online?

Stone ended up working with someone to rehabilitate her online image.  The professional, who was an expert at social media and Google searches, found ways to make Lindsey Stone appear to be a perfectly bland person.  Sadly, this was what it came down to-- she had to be rebranded from the spunky, politically incorrect, fun loving firebrand she is to someone who likes Top 40 music and cats. How sad that is.

You see, this is why I get really upset about these kinds of Internet shaming trends.  It's not just because I worry that someone is going to try it with the wrong person and wind up being shot.  It's also because sometimes people say and do things without thinking.  Everybody has a cellphone with a camera these days.  I think it's chilling that a person's life can be ruined in an instant of carelessness.  It's also chilling that sometimes people get things wrong and ruin people who truly don't deserve to be harassed.

To be honest, I would love to see the object of some of this kind of shaming turn the tables on their aggressors.  Personally, I think they should start suing, especially when the person gets it wrong.  Not long ago, I wrote about a woman whose life was upturned after she got involved in a heated thread on Facebook.  Monika Glennon had opined about a smiling teenager's photo at Auschwitz and offended someone who decided to make up a vicious lie about her and submit it to a Web site called "She's a Homewrecker".  Although the story went unnoticed for awhile, another user took it upon herself to share the story with Glennon's friends and family.  It took a lot of time and money for Glennon to clear up the lie and salvage her reputation.  She did sue the women involved and won, but Glennon will likely never see any of the settlement she was awarded because neither of the women have any money.  Glennon recently left me a very nice comment on my post.  I was glad to see she was able to recover from the public humiliation and be an example of why this kind of trend is potentially very harmful and wrong.

One criticism I have of Ronson's book is that three years post publication, it's already dated.  So many more cases are out there now that should be written about.  I also felt that Ronson treated this topic a bit more glibly that maybe he should have.  A little humor is good, but I really think people should understand that this kind of "justice" can really mess up people's lives.  In the long run, it doesn't serve society for people to lose their livelihoods over something like a viral video, tasteless Tweet, or tacky photograph.  People should have the right to be forgotten so they can recover from their mistakes and move on.  Otherwise, why would they bother living out the rest of their lives?

Anyway... I think I'd give this book four out of five stars.  Here's a link for those who want to read it themselves.