Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Positively Apathetic

The other day, the incomparable Keely-Rain posted these tweets, which showed up in my Twitter feed as I was scrolling along killing some time at work while waiting for a meeting to start.  What followed was a severely truncated Twitter discussion on the subject, choked off by our 140 character limit.  This is a subject that has hit home for me a few times, primarily because there have been people in my life who seem to think that if you're just positive about enough things, the world will get better.  I find this way of thinking to be detrimental, in the long run.  

This idea, popularized by books like The Secret and media moguls like Oprah, postulates that if you just think positively about the things that you want in life, the universe will give those things to you.  It's really a consumerist and commercialized way of thinking.  If you want a new house, think positively and the universe will find a way to give you one.  The problem with this line of thought is that, while I'm sure that thinking positively does a lot to improve your mood or keep you focused, it doesn't do a whole lot in terms of actually creating forward momentum for any individual.  In fact, the idea that you can just think positively and good things will happen is the most passive way to participate in your own life.  It's a way of feeling like you're actually doing something without actually doing anything.  For someone like myself, who is decidedly not religious, it's sort of akin to praying.  Praying is feeling like you're doing good and enacting change without actually doing anything more than talking to empty space.  I'm sure if you're faith driven, you do feel like there is a god out there listening and responding to your prayers, but for a cynic like me it's just a way of feeling like something good is being done without standing up and taking action.  

Principles taught in books like The Secret allow for the every day man to think he's going to get exactly what he feels he deserves, and moreover, it takes responsibility off of that individual to take action in their own life.  If you don't get the thing you want, it's because you weren't thinking positively enough, or the universe wasn't able to sense that you wanted it.  It wholly removes the ideas of hard work, fiscal responsibility, and education.  These ideas give people to basically be lazy while still believing that they will get what they want.  It appeals to individuals who are content to behave passively in a world that does not reward passivity.  But when you think about the vast majority of people that these ideas are heralded by, with the exception of Oprah, it's people who are always looking for the easy way out of something.  Magic weight loss plans, get rich quick schemes and the like.  Or people who don't vote because no one "represents their ideals" while at the same time those individuals make zero effort to find and promote a candidate who would represent those ideals.  This is a school of thought housed in the minds of those who believe that by simply existing in this world, they have done enough.  Now the world owes them something in return.  Their charitable contributions to the planet are small, if they exist at all, and yet they still feel somehow entitled to a world that rewards them for their inaction.  In the long run, it's a little sad.

Ideas like this are hard for someone like me, who has always been taught to stand their ground and create change if no one else will.  I can't understand these passive ideals that so many embrace.  In truth, it feels like a very American way of thought.  We've passed by the idea that we should work toward a greater good long ago.  Our capitalist mentality has the majority of the nation looking out for #1, and organizations who work to protect the average person are quickly being broken apart.  The word "union", for example, is a dirty word in most companies, and as the unions have dissolved, wages and benefits have also dwindled away.  We no longer care about each other as long as we are taken care of ourselves.  This leaves a lot of room for these self fulfilling ideals to creep into the edges of society and take root.  Think positive and you get what you want.  Don't worry about working hard for it, or being responsible so that you get it.  Just think about it.  It's as if we're all drinking the kool-aid of Harold Hill's "Think System" like a bunch of country yokels from a stage musical instead of being active, responsible members of society.  The willingness to remain passive in your own life is just a concept that I can't get behind.  What the world needs is people who stand up.  People who take action.  People who, above all, work to create the change they want to see in this world.  Positive thinking doesn't get you anywhere in that arena.  I think there's merit in thinking positively that you will succeed in your efforts, but just sitting around thinking that things will be good eventually is never going to be enough.

It's as if no one remembers reading Dr. Seuss as a child.  The Lorax probably said it best when he said "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It's not."

I think what we need is less positive thought, more caring a whole awful lot.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Adventures With An Elderly Dog: The Close

This past Wednesday we said goodbye to Simon.  While I could have posted a more recent picture of him, one that showed him as he was when we said our goodbyes, I prefer to use this one because this is how I like to remember him.  Young, energetic, and waiting for us to throw the goddamn ball.  This is the Simon we all fell in love with, and while we dearly loved him straight through to the end, I don't think anyone would argue that he was an echo of his former self.  At the end, his limbs were weak, his hearing was gone, he was thin, and he was having trouble walking around.  This Simon, captured so perfectly in the photo, is the Simon I want to remember.

Simon isn't the first pet I've lost, but he is the first one I've had to make any sort of end of life decisions about.  Growing up, my family pets were typically dumber than your average rock and had a habit of Darwin Awarding themselves out of existence far before we ever had to make a choice for them.  The exception was my parents ancient cocker spaniel, Lady, who was obscenely old and one day just disappeared.  I assume she wandered off somewhere to die on her own.  We never saw her again, at any rate.  Simon is the first one who lived to a point where we had to decide what was going to happen to him.  Two weeks ago, he ate two socks.  Things were looking pretty grim at that point.  He had stopped eating and drinking (probably because socks are a filling delicacy) and once he passed the socks, he was still uninterested in food for a few days so we thought that was going to be it.  Then he rebounded, started eating and drinking again.  Then we noticed his balance was all off, and he couldn't really stand or walk.  Then he started barking all the time, for unknown reasons.  After 4 days of barking and not walking, we had to make a choice that none of us wanted to make.

As heartbreaking as it is to lose a pet, and believe me, it's akin to losing a family member, it's even more heartbreaking to watch your loved ones lose a pet.  Through this process, I've been more resolved than Jason was.  I knew it was time, and I knew we couldn't keep taking care of him much longer if things continued to get worse.  As it was, we were already diapering him multiple times a day, carrying him up and down stairs, picking him up off the ground when he had to go outside because he couldn't stand anymore, cleaning poo on a daily basis, carrying him across the wood floor because he couldn't keep his balance on it, and a variety of other things.  All I could think was that if he fell and broke a limb, what would we do? How long were we going to be able to continue to look after him and keep him safe and comfortable?  Jason saw it differently.  Jason never gives up on anyone, which is part of what makes me love him so much.  Plus, this is HIS dog.  I wasn't going to push him to make a choice, but offered to take the lead when he felt like it was time.  I knew it was hard enough to say the words to me, let alone to veterinary clinic receptionist.  And at that point, we began the process of saying goodbye.  I held together so that Jason could fall apart if he needed to, and when we got home that afternoon, Simon had been laying in poo for what appeared to be several hours.  Jason scooped him up, took him upstairs and carefully bathed him as I scrubbed the floor.  I went upstairs to find Simon resting on our bathroom counter top, lying on towels, being carefully blow dried.  Jason just kept standing there, brushing and blow drying, and then brushing again, pampering the dog more than we would have dared as of late out of fear of hurting him.  By the time Jason was done, Simon was as clean and as well groomed as he's been in the past year, and I kept having to leave the room to stop myself from crying.  What I saw wasn't just a man giving his dog a bath, it was a good friend saying goodbye to his companion in the most gentle way possible.  By giving him as much dignity as he could before sending him away.  No regrets to be had.  Just a last memory for Simon of his best friend gently giving him a bath and showing him some affection.  Even now, as I'm remembering it, I'm fighting tears.

Jason rode in the back seat with him, Simon resting on a blanket, his head pressed against Jason's leg, looking weary and resigned.  I cried on the way there, quietly, in the driver's seat where no one had to notice, and then I pulled myself together to go in and set things up with the vet.  Once we got in the room, he just laid there.  No fight, no curiosity, no sniffing out other dogs.  He just laid there, almost as if he knew, and was ready.

It was quick, and oddly clinical.  I kept waiting for someone in the office to be empathetic, but it was all....procedural.  Efficient, clean.  A small amount of sympathy at the end from the vet tech, but on the whole it was just sterile.  We all cried on the way home, and the house felt more empty when we came back to it.  Oddly still.  More quiet.  It's still sad, and probably will be for a while.  But I like to think he's happier.  I like to think it's beautiful over there.  I don't know where there is, but I believe it exists, and I hope it's beautiful.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Season of Giving

The other day I was thinking about my favorite holiday memories, and while there were the usual things like going to my Aunt Pat's house every year for our family Christmas gathering, or getting to open just one present on Christmas Eve, or making the trek out into the snow to cut down our tree every year, I realized that there's another piece of my holiday memories that I remember pretty vividly.  Growing up, my dad was the president of his union at the paper mill he worked in.  Say what you will about unions, but their members usually have their hearts in the right places. When I was very small, the union would adopt families every Christmas and all of the members would band together to buy gifts for those families who had fallen on hard times so that they could still have a Christmas.  I don't remember a lot of the details of it, but I remember that every year my dad took me along when we delivered presents to these families.  I have very clear memories of going to visit an elderly woman who needed a blind person's cane (the kind with the red tip, my dad explained to me, so people knew she was blind), and I remember her smile as my dad explained what he was giving to her, and how many times she thanked us for being so kind.  I remember a woman who kept trying to hide that she was starting to cry as gifts got unloaded from the car and piled onto her doorstep.  I remember being four or five years old and going into my dad's factory after hours, through a different door than the one we used if we went to visit dad at work, which seemed like such a big deal.  We left fruit baskets on the desks of each of the secretaries the night before Christmas Eve so that when they came in on Christmas Eve, they would have gifts waiting for them.  I remember being so excited that we were leaving them a surprise, and imaging how happy they would be with their surprise in the morning.  It never clicked in my tiny kid mind that the union did this every year, and the secretaries probably expected to come in and find those on their desks.  All I knew is that I was playing Santa for these people, and it was awesome.

Sometimes my parents would take me shopping with them when they bought their contributions to the adopted families.  I remember them explaining to me that we had to find something that other families would like, and we have to think about what would make them happiest and what they would need.  Sometimes I was allowed to contribute an opinion on what we should buy.  I would stand the bar at the bottom of the cart, clinging to the end of the cart basket as they wheeled through the store, wondering what these people were going to think when someone came over and did something nice, just because they wanted to do something nice.  There was no other reason.  Just to be nice.

As the years passed, the union shrunk, wages didn't go up as cost of living did, and the years of charitable giving disappeared.  I'm not even sure any of my siblings were ever old enough to tag along on the deliveries before they ended all together.  But I remember it.  I remember looking forward to it every year.  I remember feeling happy about making other people happy, and although I didn't pay too much attention when it all ended, looking back I'm a bit sad that it did.

It's had me thinking lately about what sort of example I want to be to the young people in my life.  To my niece, my nephews, even Jasmine and Tori, who are pushing their way into adulthood but still young enough to be influenced by the examples around them.  On the whole, I can't remember more than a handful of gifts I received when I was little.  I remember ones that were especially prized, or that turned into favorite toys, and I'm more than grateful that I received them, but I'm not sure I remember any quite so vividly as I remember that woman smiling as we handed her a cane so she could get around more easily.  We didn't give her just a cane, we gave her some independence, and that is priceless.  We didn't just hand a bunch of wrapped packages to that mother who tried to hide her tears.  We handed her a reason to smile when life might not give her too many of those.  That is the example I want to set for the young people I know.  That giving of yourself, your time, reaching out to touch the life of someone else, that is what is important in this world.  It's through giving that we learn to receive with grace.  And it makes you appreciate what you have so much more.

Next year I think I want to gather some friends and adopt a family together.  I might not have the means to purchase gifts for an entire family myself, but I think that if I gathered a lot of friends and family together, we could change someone's life a little bit, if even just for one day.  It takes a village, after all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No, Thank YOU

Recently I've come to an understanding that the thank you note, once an expression of gratitude for kindness that has been received, has sort of become a source of canned responses.  Thank you notes are now the yearbook signatures of the adult world.  They're trite, and often impersonal.  Like yearbook signatures, they mention vague things that happened and contain only the requisite number of words to be deemed acceptable, and then they end in that generic, non committal fashion with something like "Hope to see you soon" or "Stay in touch".  I imagine that in the days of hand written letters, the thank you note held more weight, but now it's just an obligation someone has to get through in order to look as if they have done all of the necessary steps.  This is particularly true in thank you notes that are received after a gift has been given.  If someone is diligent, the note includes reference to the specific gift you gave to them.  If they are not, you get a nondescript "Thanks so much for the gift", which makes you sort of want to mention to them later how you like the gift you gave them to watch the scramble where they try to remember which thing came from you.  Or, even better, mention a totally ridiculous gift and imply that you gave it to them and watch the web spin about how much they really love it, this fictitious item you have bestowed upon them.

Basically, all I'm saying is that thank you notes are usually crap.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Adventures with an Elderly Dog: Part 3

This is Simon, in a photo that was taken on his "Sweet 16".  That's right, he's 16 years old, which is a medical fucking marvel for the canine species.  Simon has been in my life for the past 15 years, in some capacity, and in Jason's since the day they adopted him when he was around a year old.  He hasn't always lived with us, but since we moved into our house 4 years ago, we've been in charge of his care and keeping.  That hasn't always been easy.  Heck, it wasn't easy when he was a younger dog.  He had a habit of taking off any time he got outside without a leash or a fence to restrain him.  He would just go wander the neighborhood, and if you tried to catch him he thought you were playing an awesome game and would stay just enough out of your reach to prevent you from getting a hold of him, but close enough to give you hope.  And if you stopped chasing, he'd run back toward you like "Oh, come on, we're not done yet".  If you went back home and waited about twenty minutes or so, he'd come back and wait on the porch, suddenly bored with his exploration.  When it came to taking him for a walk, he would get so excited he'd pull the leash and knock you straight over.  If you were strong enough to restrain him, he walked practically on his hind legs only, upright like a person, in his attempt to pull away and take off for an unrestrained run.  Baths were a wrestling match, which he nearly always won.  The Fourth of July was a nightmare, because he would bark at every bang and pop that went off in the neighborhood, attempting to jump out the window to kill the bad noises.  Jumping out the window wasn't unheard of either.  Jason lived in a split level house, and the downstairs bedroom was partially below ground.  Simon liked to hop from the desk chair to the desk, then straight out the window at ground level when he didn't feel like making the trek upstairs to go outside.

All in all, he's been a great dog.  He loved to play fetch in his younger days.  He also used to find his own wrapped Christmas gifts under the tree and unwrap them, but only when given permission to do so, and he never touched any other gift under the tree but his own.  He learned to open the treat bucket and help himself when the occasion suited him.  He never had any accidents in the house prior to becoming a decrepit old man, and he loves the humans in his life.  Particularly Jason.

Now he's old.  Not like, a little old, but fucking old.  His hearing went a few years ago, and from there things have been a bit down hill.  He started losing bladder control, necessitating the use of doggie diapers.  He began to poop in the house, mostly because he couldn't get up to let us know he needed outside.  And sometimes it was in his sleep so....I'm not even sure he knew it was going on.  We invested in a personal rug shampooer specifically to handle Simon messes.  He's been battling arthritis since before we bought the house, and it seems to be getting worse as time goes.  Some days his back legs don't seem to want to work at all.  He's pretty smelly most of the time, partially due to the diapers, but partially due to the fact that baths are pretty traumatic for him these days.  He can't stand in the tub, and he cries the whole time we have him in there as if he doesn't realize why we're putting him through this kind of torture.  And then there are the times when he just barks.  Like a metronome.  For no reason.  Just sitting, and barking.  It's maddening.  All in all, taking care of him has become more and more challenging with each passing week, but then there are days when he's able to wander up to one of us for affection, or the nights when Jason scratches his ears before bed and he looks like nothing in this world will ever make him happier than having Jason pet him, and I think "Yeah.  Ok.  I'm in for as long as you are, pal".

The reason I'm bringing this up is because today I was scrolling Twitter and saw this:
I thought to myself "Yes, that's sort of what it's about, isn't it?".  Simon, for the majority of his life, has given us everything he had.  He's loved us fiercely.  He's been excited to see us come home.  He's been there for a hug when we're upset, or for some entertainment when we're in need of a laugh.  He's protected us, and in our absence he has guarded our home.  He has been around for the major life changes.  Getting married.  Buying a house.  And now, he's a very old man.  He's not going to be around forever.  His frame gets thinner with each passing day, and his legs get stiffer.  He hears nothing.  He barks like crazy and it makes us insane.  But in 16 years, what has he ever asked of us?  He's wanted food, and affection.  That's it.  He's given so much more to us than we have had to give to him, and maybe he was just paying it forward.  Maybe now it's our turn to give back.  Maybe love is about taking a dog for a walk in a wheelchair because his legs don't work anymore, simply because that is what love is.  It's enduring, and unconditional, and if it were us in that position, Simon would give us everything he could.

Does that mean I don't have days when I think "I wish I had the courage to put you down", or that I don't want to look at him and pull an Austin Powers "WHY WON'T YOU DIE?!" when he's barked all day, pooped on the carpet a few times, and leaked out of his diaper?  No.  Not at all.  I have those days, more frequently than I'd like to admit, but then I watch the doggie smile appear as Jason scratches his ears and I think it again.  "Yeah.  Ok.  I'm in for as long as you are, pal".

Others might not understand it.  I've heard more than a my share of criticisms about how we need to just kill him.  One person outright said they dream of kicking him down the stairs when they're at home alone with him.  People who don't have to take care of him bitch about how we should just get rid of him.  These are people who don't see.  They don't know.  They haven't been there the whole time.  They never saw how much love he gave back when he could.  We owe him.  We pay it back.  Even on the days when we wish we didn't have to.  That's what love is.  It endures.  It is unconditional.

Yeah.  Ok.  I'm in for as long as you are, pal.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Women

My great uncle died last night, which isn't really what I want to talk about, but it sparked this whole stream of thoughts for me.  I wasn't terribly close to my uncle, not to say that I didn't like him or anything, just that I never saw much of him so it wasn't like there was a ton to build a relationship off of.  He was always kind and friendly, I liked him as an individual.  The thing is, when I heard he died I started thinking about his wife.  I see her more often.  She's always at bridal showers, weddings, baby showers.  When I think about it, a lot of my extended family life has been about gathering women together, and never seeing a lot of the men.  We join together to celebrate marriages and births, and eventually to help each other when death visits.

I've got a lot of strong women in my family.  My maternal grandmother took care of my grandfather when he had cancer, and when he died, leaving her with two teenagers to care for, she took care of them.  She worked multiple jobs sometimes, and she spent a lot of her life taking care of other people.  She never remarried.  One of my great aunts married my great uncle, who stayed on after his parents died to run the family farm.  She was a farmer's wife in the days when there were no factory farms.  It was all you, and maybe a few tractors, and a lot of hard work.  My paternal grandmother raised just about everyone.  She had five children, and when they had children she half raised those as well.  She was tough as nails, she went through breast cancer and a mastectomy before I was even born, but she never talked about it.

When I think back on it, when things have gotten tough in life, it's always been the women who were there to lend a hand.  When my maternal grandmother passed away, my dad's sisters showed up and took over.  They didn't have to, they weren't related to her, but they were there, in the kitchen helping feed everyone, making sure no one had to worry about who was going to buy paper plates, or if we had enough cups.  They came in, and they managed things where the rest of us could not.  Any time someone has needed a place to stay, the women of my family find a way to provide it.  Even now, when I'm short on volunteers for football games on Saturdays, I put out a notice to our theater kids who should be the ones to step up and help, and it's my aunt who answered, offering her time and support if we should need it.

It makes me wonder why we, as a gender, don't get as much credit as we should.  We have babies, we raise future generations, we reach out in support of those who need it, even if they don't know they need it yet.  We as a gender are strong, most of the time putting up with far more than our share of crap from the universe, and yet we don't get seen as strong.  We are seen as weak and in need of protection, or somehow less worthy than our male counterparts.  That's not who we are.  We are so much more than the sum of our parts, and sometimes I wonder what it will take for the world to see and respect that.  I wonder if people even notice.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oh, So There's the Line

Sometimes I think about people in that general sense of "people are weird" or whatever.  Everyone is different, we all have our quirks and our triggers for things that push us over the line from "Sure, I can deal with that" to "Nope, I'm done now".  I sort of started reflecting a bit on some of my own pet peeves, and on where my lines and boundaries fall and I realized that someone can easily shut down any hope of making progress with me with two simple words.  Turns out hearing "I'm busy" pushes me straight over that line of giving a shit about anything you have to say after that.  I think not only because it's an excuse for why you didn't do something, but beyond that it's a crap excuse.  It pushes the responsibility off of the person and places it firmly on the things that have left them so "busy".

In reality, everyone is busy.  Everyone has things that demand their time and everyone has an order of priorities.  If my life is exploding and I have a million presentations at work, plus a show that I'm working on, those things take priority in my life for a while and maybe replying to an e-mail from a friend, or calling my sister, or organizing a game night just don't make it to the list during the week.  But, I have to recognize that although I have stuff going on, that doesn't make replying to that e-mail, or giving my sister that phone call less important even if I can't get to it immediately.  Moreover, it doesn't mean that what I'm dealing with is more important than my sister needing to hear from me, or my friend really needing some advice in that e-mail.  My time is no more valuable than anyone else's, and I think that's something a lot of people don't recognize when they throw out comments like "I'm busy".  If you took the time out of your day to send me an e-mail, then you gave up your valuable time to connect with me and tossing out a comment like "Oh, I've been busy" then supposes that my time is more valuable than yours.  That I am somehow so important and my attentions are needed so much more elsewhere that I do not owe you the courtesy of giving you my time as you have given yours to me.  It's kind of bullshit.  It places the "busy" person into a place of self importance.  They are so important and what they are doing in their "busy" life is so much more important than everyone and everything else, that one simple word can erase any responsibility they had to those around them.  Now I have to forgive you for neglecting something you should have been doing because well....you're busy.  Obviously.  How selfish of me to want to be fit into that busy schedule.

This isn't to say that I'm not guilty of pushing things off when they're not top of the priority list.  I do it all the time.  The difference is that as soon as I have the opportunity to address the things that I have been putting off until a more convenient moment, I actually DO THAT.  I don't know if everyone does.  I think that a lot of people sit around and say they're busy and accept that it's enough.  I try to never say I'm busy when I talk to people.  If I've neglected getting back to someone, I try to say things like "I know I took forever to get back to this, I apologize.  I got caught up in show stuff, but now that I can take a minute to breathe, I wanted to check in", or "Hey, I know it's been a few days.  Haven't forgotten about calling you, I just haven't had a quiet moment to hop on the phone.  I will call you tomorrow".  I take responsibility for the negligence, and even if I offer up a reason for the gap in response time, I always put the responsibility on my own shoulders.  In the end, I'm the one who said that other people weren't top priority in this situation, so I am the one who has to own up to the failure of addressing things in a timely manner.  It's on me, and I make sure people know that.  And then, in future, I try to do better.  I try to change the pattern and not let people who are important to me fall by the wayside in the wake of other responsibilities.

The word "busy" gives people permission to take others for granted.  It gives them permission to not speak to friends for months at a time, or to not connect with family, or to neglect anyone they feel isn't a top priority.  Everyone will have to understand because, well.....busy.  Busy busy busy.  People begin to believe they're so utterly important in their own life that they can't see beyond that to what other, equally busy people, might need.  Or, what those people might be doing.  Maybe you're so wrapped up in your own self importance that you miss out on some really great things.  You might have a friend who learned piano and is participating in their first concert but you didn't know about it because you didn't answer their call because...busy.  Or you might know someone who is really interested in starting a book club and they want your insights and your participation but you couldn't participate because....busy.  And most of the time, we're not legitimately busy.  We find things to be "busy" with to feel important in our own small world.  If any one of us needed to find the time to do something that was outside of themselves, something that benefited someone else or something that embraced a friendship, they probably could.  Yes, schedules are hectic, and life is messy.  Sometimes you're not going to be able to meet someone for coffee on a whim, sometimes those things have to be scheduled, but I'd imagine that if prompted, everyone could find time to schedule them at some point.

So basically what I'm saying is that I don't buy that you're busy.  You're probably not more busy than me, or anyone else on the planet, and if you are, that still doesn't mean you have zero time to devote to people you care about, if you actually care about them.  The next time you mess up and you leave something lingering out there too long, or you choose not to take a call from a friend, don't tell them you've been busy.  Tell them the truth, own your negligence, and then do better.  You'd probably find you have a lot fewer people in your life who feel like you don't give a shit.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Slippery Slope of Soap

Sometimes I think if people could spend a day inside my head, they would probably go nuts.  It's noisy in there.  I think about a LOT of things, and sometimes it makes me crazy when people assume that I do or say things without thinking first.  Sure, sometimes that's the case, but most of the time it's the exact opposite.  My brain is going about a million miles a second trying to over think every little detail of most things.  It might be why decision making for large topics sort of paralyzes me.  I have to think of all the scenarios, all of the potential issues and outcomes.  I think everything to death, and then after I do something I think it over again to decide whether what I did was the right thing or just the decision I made because I was tired of thinking about it.  This makes my brain a very annoying place to be.

For example, let's take a look at something like dish soap.  I had to buy dish soap yesterday for the kitchen and while standing in the aisle staring staring at the wall of dish soap options, this is basically the stream of consciousness my brain spat out:

I hate when there are too many options.  Dawn is on sale but do I want Dawn or do I want Palmolive?  I like the caps on Dawn soap better than the one on Palmolive but is that enough to make a decision on which is better?  I don't like the scent of the Palmolive soap I have right now, but do I really care too much about soap scent?  It doesn't seem like it should matter.  Speaking of scent, there are about a million scents that you can get.  Does scent matter that much to people?  That one is lavender, I can't use lavender.  Check that off the list.  Should I consider using one of those foam dish soaps?  No, that seems like it wouldn't work well.  Maybe I should start buying eco-friendly dish soap.  But how well does that clean?  Is it ok to not clean as well if it saves the environment?  Probably not, I need clean dishes.  It's mad expensive for a regular size bottle.  I wonder why.  I know it's organic, but still.  And what if I buy it and it doesn't clean well and then I have to waste it?  Is that actually all that eco-friendly in the long run?  Dawn is on sale.  But does Dawn work the best?  They also have this Platinum series of Dawn.  Does it really clean better or is it just a fancier scent in a smaller bottle with a bigger price?  Palmolive has a lotion laced dish soap.  My hands dry out when I do dishes.  Should I look into lotion based?  But what if that doesn't clean as well?  I really only care about how well it cleans.  Both brands have an orange scent.  I'm not sure if I like orange scent either.  Ajax is there on the bottom 10 for $10.  But is that really cheaper?  If you have to use more at a time, then it's not cheaper really, since you just go through it faster.  I wish someone would look into this so I don't have to wonder these questions.  I wonder if Consumers Reports does reporting on Dish Soap.  I should look that up.  You get more from just the plain formulas of soap, without the frills.  Scents are apparently free, which is fine.  Which one has the highest amount of soap for the lowest price?  I should divide it out to make sure I'm getting the most bang for my buck.  And do I want rain mist scent?

And then, after about 10 minutes of staring at the wall of soap, I walked out of the building with this:
One bottle of plain, original scent Dawn soap, which I probably could have just pulled from the shelf about 3 seconds after walking into the aisle, except that I had to deliberate over it for 10 minutes to make a decision to go safe and just buy a bottle of plain regular soap.

And that's what pretty much every minute inside my head looks like.

Friday, October 11, 2013

But, Everyone is Doing It!

So I'm at this point in my life where everyone around me has, or is in the process of having children, and I'm over here dragging my feet, having miniature panic attacks whenever I envision myself being responsible for:

1. Growing a fucking human and
2.  Being responsible for not TOTALLY FUCKING UP THAT HUMAN.

It's not that I dislike kids, or that I don't want kids.  I actually do want kids.  It's just that whole growing them from a tiny bundle of cells to a giant watermelon sized alien that will be squeezed through a hole the size of a lemon that squicks me out a bit.  And by a little, I mean COMPLETELY FUCKING TERRIFIES ME.  How's that for honesty?  But I also feel like it's not just the growing an alien being thing, because as traumatic as that might be, it's one of those things that has to come to an end.  It can't go on for a lifetime, it runs its course and it's done.  Plus, drugs.  Glorious pharmaceutical fog provided to you by the angels at Pfizer.  That's an option.  No, the scariest thing that I struggle with is the fact that I'm supposed to take a lump baby and turn it into a respectable human being who is a productive member of society, doesn't end up in prison, and also doesn't grow up to completely hate me.  How does no one else freak out about this?  I mean, it's not a "I don't know what I'm doing, tee hee, parenting is so confusing" fear.  I get the basics.  I get the general idea.  But it's the part about not making my children loathe me that I'm totally baffled about.  If we're doing a quick barometer check of the world at large here, people who know me and end up hating me > people who know me and don't end up hating me.  It's like a HUGE difference on the spectrum.  I ruin like every relationship I ever have.  Eventually, everyone hates me.  So now I'm supposed to go and shoot out a kid that, while very small, will be all unconditional love and stuff, but once grown will probably be like "Nope, everyone's right, you're a bitch.  Hate you".  Yeah, that's not terrifying or anything.

Beyond that, there's this huge worry that I'm totally going to lose my sense of self.  I won't be an individual anymore, I'll just be lumped into being "so-and-so's mom".  No more identity outside of being someone's mom.  It's not that it's necessarily bad to be someone's mom, but right now people know my actual name, and I am not reduced to a role that I fulfill.  I have an identity and I don't want to just be a role.  Plus, the idea of becoming one of those parents who has nothing to talk about outside of their preshus wittle spawn isn't all that appealing either.  And then I have to sit here and think "Am I the only one thinking things like this?".  Everyone around me seems to be so confident, so into the whole process.  So not afraid of shooting an alien out of their girl bits.  Then there's me over here, choking back the panic and wondering why everyone else is so excited.  The whole thing is terrifying.  You could SERIOUSLY fuck a kid up.  I mean, I know my last blog was all about how not making Mindy's Halloween costumes for her won't turn her into a stripper, but sometimes I have to wonder if being me and then being a parent on top of it would turn her into a stripper.  Like I said, I ruin everything.  So does that mean I won't ever have kids?  Probably not, though I do have to find a way to cope with the utter terror that courses through my body at the idea of embracing the "miracle of childbirth", and all of the unpleasantness that lead up to it like oh...I don't know, riding the vomit train for like 4 months.  I made it through my teen years without any bulimia, I don't really jump at the idea of having it forced upon me.  It just seems like the whole "miracle" of it all is so much scarier for me than it is for everyone else.  I'm a pragmatist.  I don't romanticize things.  I'm not going to be like "I puked non-stop for 4 months, but it's all for a good cause so I don't mind" like some people.  Fuck that.  I'm going to mind.  Like, probably a lot.  Anyone who "doesn't mind" puking all the time is way more full of crap than they're willing to admit.  It's annoying.  It disrupts your life.  You have to figure out how to manage your normal, every day life, while also fitting in a few vomit breaks throughout the day.  Not really my personal dream.

So I guess I'm mostly left wondering if I'm the only one who thinks about things like this, or if other people do and they just won't talk about it.  Like, we're all supposed to be baby making machines, right?  So talking about how maybe the idea of ruining the life of a tiny human being who might have otherwise turned out normal is pretty much the scariest thing ever, and then coupling that with the HORRORS of what I've read happen when you actually shoot a baby out of your vagina, maybe that isn't acceptable?  Maybe we're all supposed to have this instinct that turns off the voice in your head that says "You could really fuck this up", and I just don't have it.  I dunno.  Sometimes I just don't feel like I was made like normal women.  No one else ever seems to think the things I do, or have the same reservations about things as I do.  And maybe that's a part of it as well.  Maybe if I'm not a normal woman, then I'm not cut out for all of this.  Sure, at the end, the payoff is pretty nice and you do get a tiny little spawn of your combined DNA to show for your efforts but, does it come at a price of losing who you are?  Does the whole overwhelming love thing make that loss not matter?  No one ever talks about it, so I don't know.  And dear god, if I turned into one of those mothers constantly fawning over her PRESHUS PERFECT ANGEL who can't see anything else, I'd want someone to kill me.  I'd probably want to kill me.

I'd also really hate to have people think that if I did make the choice to have kids, it'd be due to the whole "everyone else is doing it right now" thing and not a decision I've agonized over for like....8 years now?  No one else shooting out some babies has led me to these internal conflicts.  If anything, it's just brought the conflicts into sharper focus for me, since everyone else seems so....not panicked.  If I have a kid in the next year, it's not because my cousins are doing it, or any friends are doing it.  It's because, hopefully, I'll have wrestled these demons into a quiet place.  Or I'll do what I usually do and just bite the bullet, suck up all of the fear and say "Do what you gotta do, and shut up about it".  That's how I handle most large problems.  But the idea of being seen as a "bandwagon" joiner kind of pisses me off.

Maybe the problem is that I can't control all aspects of the situation, and that's probably what scares me the most.

Is that normal?

I have no idea.  Probably not.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

I'm Lookin' At You, Pinterest

Ok, can we just stop for a second and ponder why everything has to be a fucking THING now?  People can't just do things.  Everything has to be a giant fucking special occasion where everyone is a special and unique snowflake, and I blame Pinterest.  And yes, before you ask, I totally have a Pinterest account.  I got it when they first started out, primarily out of curiosity.  It seemed interesting enough, kind of like a Tumblr for crafters, foodies and home improvement fanatics.  I can get behind that.  I used boards to organize recipes and also to gather inspiration photos for theater productions.  But now it seems like Pinterest is like a giant pool of shit to make you feel like you have to make everything a THING.

I notice this the most with baby related things.  People can't just say that they're pregnant.  They have to announce it in some sort of cutesy way, sometimes with the assistance of a professional photographer.  You can't just say "It's a boy" anymore, you have to do a cutesy fucking photo shoot, or bake stupid color-cream filled cupcakes so that people have to bite into them to find out your kid's gender.  Then there's the maternity photo shoot, where you have to have a million pictures done with you looking all knocked up and fabulous.  All in the name of making it a THING.  Simplicity has taken a back seat to making people feel like a unique and special snowflake who needs a shit ton of attention and has to come up with cutesy ways to get it.

It doesn't just stop with maternity and baby related stuff though.  No.  Since the target demographic is primarily women, let's post a ton of shit that will forever make other women feel like they're just not doing enough.  Ever.  I should take that back.  The target demographic isn't just women.  It's mommies.  And we all know how I feel about mommies.  But basically it's like a giant pool of shit that will inevitably make every mother feel like she's not being super mom if she doesn't do a bunch of meaningless bullshit.  Timmy's life might be less happy if I don't learn how to perfectly pack his lunches into Bento boxes with adorable cutout shapes in the sandwiches and a perfectly balanced meal every single day.  If I don't carefully hand construct every one of her Halloween costumes, Mindy will grow up to resent me forever and will become a stripper.  If the nursery I design isn't completely perfect, my kid will be suicidal before they're 5.  If I don't carefully preserve every crusty umbilical cord fragment, footprint, first curl, or lost tooth, I am a failure as a mother.  If I don't hand make every bit of baby food or decide to use formula instead of breast feeding, I might as well just birth the kid and send it to prison.  I think my personal favorite was when I saw someone post a tutorial on how to cover fabric burp cloths with other fabric so they would be "prettier".  You honestly want women to spend hours sewing and covering something that is, essentially, a vehicle for vomit?

And then this bleeds over into Facebook.  Every day I'm inundated with a ton of "shares" from random Facebook sites that have large graphic art like this:
Like.......really?  Why the fuck do women feel the need to post this?  Don't all moms love their kids?  It's kind of the whole point of being a mom.  Sure, I understand that some moms are shitty and don't actually care about their kids, but I'm willing to go on a limb and say they're in the minority.  So why are we as a gender feeling compelled to post things like this so that we can reaffirm that we DO love our kids, as if anyone was questioning it?

Let's stack on top of that all of the fitness tutorials that are on Pinterest, and all of the many many techniques for getting thinner, getting flatter abs, getting a tighter butt, and then the bullshit self image bashing "inspirational" posters like this one:
What the actual fuck, people?  Let's just sit around and remind ourselves that as a gender we will never be good enough.  We will never be doing enough.  Not as parents.  Not as individuals.  Women, you just suck.  That's what I'm seeing.  And unless you do all of the right things, you will NEVER be the unique and special snowflake that need to be.  You will never be as pretty or as smart or as good as all of those other mystery women on the internet who are doing all of these things SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU ARE DOING THEM.  Oh wonder women, teach us your secrets.  Our perfection is out there, just out of reach, and if only we could do just one more thing like our fucking pins tell us to, we could achieve it.

Or maybe we're not all unique and special snowflakes.  We're also not all pretty, or skinny, or perfect.  Some of us work two jobs and then come home and look after our kids.  Some of us don't have kids, but work our asses off in our careers and then donate our free time to charitable programs.  Some of us don't have the perfect body.  Some of us fucking LIKE CAKE.  Not everything has to be a fucking THING.  Sometimes, being you is actually just enough.  

And to my mom friends out there.  Do you have a kid?  Did you grow that little alien for 9 goddamn months?  Did you have it forcibly ripped from your body either through your girl bits our out the top of your sliced open abdomen?  Did your kid get fed, loved, cared for today?  Did you keep it alive?  You are fucking super mom.  

Fuck Pinterest.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Thoughts on Things

So, Syria has been in the news a lot for the past week, and while I'm not going to pretend I'm Jason and I'm overwhelmingly well versed in world politics, I have been thinking a lot about it.  That picture over there to the left?  That's Syria, taken recently and published in the Washington Post.  Seeing this made me think about how I recently watched the movie Elysium, and I was really uncomfortable when watching the conditions people were living in on Earth in the movie while the fortunate got to live on an immaculate space station.  I sat there wondering how anyone could live in the conditions shown in the movie, and I found that for that and a few other reasons, I just wanted the whole film to end.  On an intellectual level, I know people around this world already live in those conditions, and when I look at this photo of Syria, I'm brought right back to that film moment where I thought "People shouldn't let these things happen".  The sad fact is, however, that we do let these things happen.

I've been told pretty recently that I'm the sort of person who has a passion for things that most people can't understand.  I don't feel things in small, compartmentalized ways.  I can't do that.  I don't compartmentalize. I am more like this:
So when I see things like what's going on in Syria, I start to wonder why we have so much news coverage and no one is DOING anything.  In some ways, I feel like countries like the US, Canada, and most European countries are those people living on Elysium compared to what Syrians experience.  And we're all here, sitting around, drinking our lattes and bitching about how it costs so much to have your teeth professionally whitened, and these poor people are getting bombed with chemical weapons that are killing their children and we're all "Oh hey, no big deal.  They don't have oil".  And we sit around shouting that anyone would even propose the idea of a ground invasion there, or going to war with them for MURDERING INNOCENT PEOPLE WITH CHEMICAL WEAPONS.  Remember when we were all "Oh hey, we're not going to do this WWII thing because yeah....you handle that one Europe.  That Hitler guy, he's a real firecracker!" and then sat around shocked and appalled when we found out what happened to millions of Jews while we sat around doing nothing?  I'm not saying history repeats itself or anything, I'm just saying that maybe we've seen things like this before.  And don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating for war, but I am advocating for life.  I'm advocating for some of these people to be spared the hell they've experienced at the hands of their own people, and if some other people have to get their hands dirty to help accomplish that, then maybe that's what we should be doing.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and all that other Star Trek stuff.

I think what struck me the other day while listening to the NBC Nightly News interview a six or seven year old boy in Syria about what happened, and how his father had to stay behind to fight with the rebels, and how he doesn't know if he'll see his father again, is how we as a society can be surprised when little boys like this grow up to be angry teenage boys with large guns and a very deep rooted hatred of others who would allow these monstrosities to happen.  We are so keen to fight these wars on terrorists, but we do nothing to fight the conditions that breed those terrorists.  I can't help but feel like if we have the ability to achieve some sort of stable environment in some of these countries with troops, and we began building more schools instead of dropping more bombs, we'd be giving these suffering children the ability to do more than be angry teenagers with guns.  We'd be giving them the keys to a different future, or at least the opportunity of hope that there could be one.  Today's kids are tomorrow's leaders, and if we keep dropping these bombs, or allowing others to drop them, we breed leaders who know no better than to drop bombs.  There's got to be a way out of the cycle, and I don't know what it is, but I wish we could all start to see that terror starts in the young, when they feel terrified and begin to turn that into anger and fight back.  

At any rate, I hope that little boy from the news broadcast finds another way and another future for himself, if he is allowed to have one while we all stand by and watch his homeland get blown to bits.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Supposed To

I don't write here often.  I look at people who have blogs who diligently keep up with posts and find something to write about, even if it's mundane, but for some reason I can't find it in me to sit down, even on a semi-weekly basis, and write something in this space.  Sometimes I wonder why that is, why I can't come up with even a few sentences to post that say "Hey, this is me".  The more I think about it, the more I remember that I used to write.  Constantly.  I had notebooks filled with stories, or poems, or ideas for things when I was in middle and high school.  I had this weird creative button that just could not be turned off.  I would sit at home tapping away at my computer every night, even after hours of theater rehearsal and homework, because there would be something in my head that just had to get out.  There was a voice that just had to be heard, thoughts and emotions that just had to be expressed, even if it was in fiction.  I had to get it out and let it live somewhere else.

And then at some point, that voice disappeared.  It went silent, and I don't hear it anymore.  Moreover, I don't hear my own voice anymore.  Not really.  Somewhere on the path to adulthood, that creative spirit, that need to JUST BE got lost.  Maybe it was crushed under the weight of responsibilities, or maybe I became cynical and decided no one listened or cared so there was no point in carrying on with something that didn't mean anything.  It didn't pay my bills, or do my homework, or get me to and from my job, or push me toward any of the goals I was supposed to have as an upstanding and productive member of society.  That little light in me just....blew out.  And I think maybe more than the creativity went with it.  More and more, I find I second guess myself on what I'm supposed to do in any given situation.  I am not supposed to get angry about some things, and I am not supposed to talk to people a certain way.  I am not supposed to talk to people about my life.  And, inevitably, whenever I do something that feels right, it is always wrong.  Never what I was supposed to do.  So at some point I stopped doing any of it.  Sometimes I find I wait for someone else to give my opinion to me, because it's probably the one I'm supposed to have.  I don't make decisions because I don't know if it's the one I'm supposed to make.  I find when I actually do express a true thought or opinion to anyone, inevitably it leads to disagreement and I end up feeling like I'm wrong and I should have just listened to what I was supposed to do.  I share myself, and people almost always leave.  So I don't do that.  I actually started slowly deleting that "self" piece, and soaking up the supposed to from everyone else.  And when I stray from the supposed to, I hear things like "We will NEVER be on the same page about anything" and I stat thinking that there is something wrong with me, that I can't come up with the supposed to on my own.  In so many ways, it would be easier.  It would be easier and nicer to just have those closest to me tell me what to think and feel, so I could never be wrong.  It hurts to be wrong.  It hurts to know that the way you handle something is all wrong, or how you talk to someone is all wrong, or how you think is all wrong.  It would be so much easier if I could just know what I'm supposed to be doing.

The truth is, I feel like a lot of different people have this vision of my particular supposed to, which I'm sort of afraid is nothing like me, and I have so little self left that I'm afraid to give it up.  I'm often told I'm impossible to please, which I guess I'm not supposed to be.  From my perspective, I have high standards.  I admit that.  I expect a lot, but I also give a  lot and hold myself to the same standards as everyone else.  If that makes me somehow impossible to please, all I hear is that I'm supposed to lower the standards so everyone else can do less.  I don't want to do that, but it's what I'm supposed to do to keep people happy.  It's one of the few pieces of myself that I have left, and I feel like I'm supposed to give it up.  Maybe I am.

But I have a hard time writing here because I don't know what I'm supposed to write.  What do people actually want to hear from me?  What the hell do I have to say that is worth reading?  What voice is there in me that anyone gives a damn about?  What am I supposed to do here?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Milestones in May

The month of May seems to always be busy.  In addition to nature pulling out all of the stops to send everything into bloom, and send us out to mow our yard potentially more than once a week, May is full of holidays and events.  On top of Mother's day, we have my mother's birthday (often falling on the same day as Mother's Day), my birthday, and our anniversary all within a week or so of each other.  This year Jason and celebrated 8 years of marriage.  I'm not sure it really feels like a big celebration after 8 years.  Mostly it just feels like a day where we are still married, but we manage to escape the house and go out to dinner alone.  We're not big on extravagant celebrations.  I think both of us try to appreciate the every day stuff, so the huge celebrations don't tend to be a necessity.  Sometimes it's nice to just have some time alone.  As strange as it seems, we don't get a lot of that.  Even if we're alone in a room, we're almost never alone in the house, so being able to get out and spend time together is nice.  Sometimes little things mean a lot.

In reality, Jason and I will have been together for 15 years this November, and what I've discovered in that time is that things will almost always change.  Jobs, priorities, housing situations, family, friends, ideals, pretty much everything.  Chances are you will go through periods where you make each other crazy, you will go through periods where you question whether you're drifting apart, you will go through periods where you think life cannot possibly get any more challenging, and periods where you think that every choice or move you are making is wrong.  Then there will be periods where you feel like everything is going so well that you can't possibly get any better.  The thing is, even in those dark periods, which may have nothing to do with your relationship at all, if you can find yourself still wanting to go home to your spouse at the end of the day and tell them everything, you're succeeding.  I find that even after 15 years, and even after an awful fight the night before, all I want in the morning is to wake up next to Jason and start again.  Even if the day brings more arguments because I'm a cranky bitch and he's about as stubborn as they come, he's still the person I'd want to be arguing with.  Even the struggle, as annoying as it is, is worth having if you want to move forward.  All I know is that at the end of every day, the thing I want most is to talk to Jason.  I want to go to bed next to him, and I want to talk about the day.  I want him to talk to me.  In the end, that's probably all that matters.  I just hope that as the years go, we can hold onto that, even if everything else around us changes.  I hope that some day, when he's totally gray, and I'm beginning to shrink and look more like a man than he does, we are happily walking around, hand in hand like those old people up there in the photo.  I hope that in another 15 years, all we want at the end of the day is to come home to each other.  That's all that will matter.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sometimes I Hate Doctors

We like to talk a lot about healthcare and healthcare reform in this country, but this week I've realized that maybe we need a medical system overhaul while we're at it.  I went to my doctor to talk about how I've been getting headaches pretty consistently for the past year.  Most of the time it's a tension headache, which doesn't really worry me.  I know it's directly related to the fact that I carry all of my stress and tension in my shoulders and neck.  I can almost directly trace the headache from the back of my head, down my neck and into my shoulders.  It sucks, but it's not anything that has me horribly concerned.  It's the other headaches I get that have me a bit worried.  They're not regular run of the mill headaches.  They're headaches that localize themselves in one spot at the back of my head.  It's always the same spot, and the pain is always intense.  There's pressure, my left eye starts getting funny and seeing spots, I feel nauseated from the vision problems and the pain, and they don't go away for 3 or 4 days.  Nothing helps.  Advil doesn't help, sleep doesn't help.  Nothing improves the situation.  It goes away gradually after a few days, but still, really annoying.  It worries me mostly because it's always localized in one spot, and also because if I were to bump my head in that particular spot it hurts more than if I were to bump my head in any other area.  Even when I don't have a headache.  That's reason for concern, right?

So I go to talk to a doctor about it.  I end up seeing this guy in my medical practice that I've never seen before.  I start explaining what happens and he proceeds to NOT LISTEN TO A DAMN THING I SAID.  He kept focusing on the tension headaches at first, and I kept saying I didn't worry about those, they were just annoying.  Then as soon as I said I had a family history of migraines, he just jumped to "Oh then you're getting migraines".  No, I'm not.  I've never had problems with migraines or even gotten a migraine.  I have localized headaches that cause pressure in my skull and sensitivity in the area that the headaches appear.  That's not a migraine.  But he didn't listen.  Then he informed me that he is a "professional drug dealer" so he could put me on a variety of drugs to solve the issue, but never one talked to me about what might be causing them.  When I said I didn't want pills, I wanted to figure out why I was getting these sort of headaches all of the sudden, he got weird and asked if I had expectations that he would just send me for a CAT Scan.  I said I expected that someone more educated on the subject than I am would tell me if it was necessary to get any sort of scan.  I wanted him to tell me if I should even be worried in the first place.  I said I wanted to figure out why this started happening so suddenly, and so frequently.  He said "Well why does your mom get migraines?  We don't know.  We can't know those kinds of things".  Thanks a ton, doctor asshat.  He then offered to prescribe for me the following:
  • Anti-Depressants
  • Beta Blockers
  • Blood thinners
  • Imitrex
  • Muscle relaxers
All because I said I get headaches more often than I think I should.  I'm not sure why I needed to walk around with that list of drugs in my system for a headache problem that I only came in to ask whether I should be worried.  I have no idea why he was so quick to just pull out the prescription pad and pump me full of enough chemicals to keep Pfizer in business for years.  Beyond that, why can't we talk through finding the root cause of something like this instead of just jumping on the pharmaceutical bandwagon?  He seemed annoyed that I refused all of the medications, as if I wasn't allowing him to do his job.  I don't want to have a "quick fix".  I wanted someone to listen to what I had to say, tell me if it was worth any measure of concern, and then allow me to decide how I wanted to combat the problem.  This guy just wanted to make some pharmaceutical rep really happy.

In the end I accepted the muscle relaxers, since they were on an "as needed" schedule for medication, and I know I have muscle tension problems, but I refused everything else.  I have taken one pill so far, and have decided I don't think I want to take more since they left me feeling groggy and light headed.  I also woke up with a headache.  Funny how it wasn't solved simply by popping a pill.  Shocking.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The System Is Down

One of the things about suddenly having a teenager in our care is that we have been given new insight into her education.  One of our biggest focuses since becoming fake parents has been her academic performance and getting her accepted to college.  In general, this is easy.  She's a good student, she's responsible, and she wants to go to college as much as we want her to go to college, so it's not like we're sitting around pushing her like crazy to do the things she's supposed to do.  What isn't easy is hearing about the state of the education she's currently receiving.  After seeing some of the assignments she brings home, and hearing about what goes on in her classrooms, I'm suddenly not surprised that her school is on a list of Persistently Low Achieving schools in the state.  We have a kid who is considered high achieving.  She doesn't pad her schedule with a lot of blow off classes.  She loaded her senior year with chemistry, calculus, a fourth year of French, and what is supposed to be a "college level" English class.  She's trying to push herself in difficult subjects, but what I'm observing is that her subjects aren't difficult.  As far as I can tell, her calculus class is the only one that involves comprehensive teaching.  Her assignments are challenging, her teacher is dedicated and each lesson takes up the entire class period.  He stays after to tutor students, and has been known to show up to study sessions the students have planned together in the evenings at the library.  Beyond that, I'm not sure what the rest of the classes are teaching her.  While her chemistry class is nowhere near the challenge I got when I took chemistry in high school from a teacher who was tapped to teach nuclear chemistry for the Navy and turned it down, there at least seems to be a lesson system in place.  I do think the teacher is more focused on making sure all the kids pass her class rather than putting an actual challenge in front of them, so the assignments are soft balled, but maybe that's the environment we have created in this world where teachers may be evaluated based on the success of students.

When talking to Jasmine about her previous history classes, she has openly admitted that she doesn't really remember much of her US or World history lessons, because they were handed a bunch of work sheets and told to fill them out, turn them in, and that was pretty much it.  Busy work that required absolutely no critical thought at all.  It's possible that she's learned more history from talking to Jason about world events than she ever did in her classroom.  Same with her health and sex ed classes.  When I found out how those were taught, I was horrified.  I'm suddenly no longer shocked by the teen pregnancy rate.  Then there are her English and Literature classes.  This year she is preparing for college, and her English class is being taught in a way that makes me wonder if I should bother sending her to sixth hour or if I should just write lessons at home and teach her myself.  She said that on a day to day basis, they do worksheets, and they take quizzes that test nothing of their reading comprehension.  They are asked questions like "What color shirt was Harvey wearing in chapter 3?"  That tests nothing aside from whether they read the chapter.  Right now they are reading "All Quiet on the Western Front" and I asked if they discussed the part where the Paul goes home on leave from his time on the front, and he has a hard time re-acclimating to the world he once knew, because the war has already changed him.  Her response was "We don't talk about the book.  We just do worksheets".  WHAT IS SHE LEARNING?!  Nothing!  She's learning nothing.  This is supposed to be a college level course, but answers to quizzes are only considered "complete" if they contain 5 sentences, and the teacher counts the number of periods in each answer.  If you can give a comprehensive and well thought out answer in 3 complete sentences, you have not followed the directions and will be marked down.  Additionally, when the kids are given writing assignments, they are not given a page limit, or a word count limit, they are told that their paper must be 8 paragraphs consisting of at least 5 sentences each.  Again, periods will be counted.  So, you might be able to write a really good paper in 6 or 7 paragraphs, but you have to throw in a BS paragraph to meet the requirements.  Plus, I'm not sure what the heck they've got to write about since there is nothing discussed in class.  No themes, no comparisons made, nothing.  Just worksheet testing basic low level knowledge, and nothing else.  Why should she even go to class?  All she's being taught is to read at the surface level so she can answer stupid questions about the color of a person's shirt, not to actually understand the book, or understand the importance of the literature.  This is doing her no favors, since in college she will be expected to be able to make these connections and she's had no teaching on how to do it.  I'm appalled, just as I was appalled at how little she retained from her history classes since they were never expected to discuss any of what they learned.  There's no scaffolding, there's no building on earlier lessons.  There's just a day in, day out routine of "Did you read this?" that they follow.  It's a waste of time.  It's not an education.  There is nothing that challenges any of the students and then the teacher is blown away that they have no dedication to class, or any interest in what they're supposed to be learning.

Then she tells me that he hands out assignments with comments like "Most of you might want to consider taking credit recovery while taking this class, since you have no hope of passing", or makes allusions to how stupid all of the students are while he's giving directions.  Things like "You have to laminate your poster.  I'm sure most of you won't because you can't understand or follow directions".  What is that teaching these kids?  For kids who are already struggling, it teaches them that there's no reason for them to continue trying.  For kids who are generally good students, it leaves them bored and uninterested in class.  But to demean students openly in front of their peers as a way of shaming them into motivation, that's just unacceptable.  It's a horrible practice, and it accomplishes nothing.  It's amazing that he's been teaching for 15+ years and he's never discovered that this tactic does nothing to improve student performance.  What has me more upset is that HE HAS BEEN TEACHING FOR 15+ YEARS AND NO ONE HAS STOPPED THIS BEHAVIOR.  I understand that it's a challenging district to teach in, but for goodness sakes, someone needs to do better.  I'm just so disgusted.

Then I start thinking about whether we should tie teacher pay to student achievement, and while I am against that practice in general, I wonder if these teachers my kid is suffering under would step it up if it meant they might lose pay.  Or maybe her school is just fundamentally damaged, and they need to purge and start over.  I just find myself worrying about what college will look like for her, since high school is literally teaching her nothing.  I also wonder if the principal, superintendent and school board know this is what's going on in her classroom.  Having dealt with this particular school a lot in recent years, the frightening thing is that I'm not sure they care.  I think they protect their own at all costs, even when the teachers clearly do not deserve protection.  And where are the parents?  Why aren't they beating down the doors to the superintendent's office and demanding better for their kids?  How is this allowed to continue, year after year, without someone saying that there has to be a change?  Shouldn't the school care that their students are getting more comprehensive lessons on literature from Youtube than they are from their teachers?  I know they are, because I've heard what's happening in their classes and pointed them to full lessons on Youtube for the books they are reading, and I've had students tell me they wrote papers based on that Youtube lesson because it taught more in 5 minutes than their class did in 3 weeks.  I feel like someone at the top should care, and should be removing people who can't teach a better lesson than Youtube could.  The whole thing makes me sick.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Writing Prompts: Part 2

So the last writing prompt I did was kind of fun, and I decided that I'd work my way through the list for a little while, just picking the ones that I liked the most rather than trying to write one entry for every prompt on the list.  Not everything is going to jump out at me and spawn some sort of idea, so why beat my head against a wall to write something against a prompt that I don't find inspiring?  I guess that could be part of the challenge, but I'm just doing this to remind myself that I can write when inspired, and sometimes it's not total crap.  Plus, it's mostly for fun.  So I'm going to take the same approach each time.  Pick a prompt, write what comes to mind and then publish without re-reading or editing.  If I ever want to use it for something, I can go back and edit, but I tend to over-think when I write so it's best to just send it out there raw and untouched at first.  So there it is.

Today's prompt: The garden was overgrown now.

The garden was overgrown now, untended by anything but nature and time.  Its paver paths, once maintained in such a meticulous manner that a blade of grass would not dare grow too close to their boundaries, were now overrun by moss, grass and debris.  Looking at it struck me as a metaphor for the lives of those who once spent their time here.  When we stop showing love to the things we care about, they quickly become unkempt and show signs of neglect.  I sat on a wrought iron bench, my toes scuffing the edge of the path, clearing away a fraction of the moss to reveal smooth stone beneath.  My fingers brushed the soft petals of a wildflower that had pushed its way through the intricate curlicues of the seat as it pushed its way skyward, seeking to gain more affection from the sun than its fellow flowers.  Maybe I was the wildflower.  The strong survive when they are willing to push themselves skyward despite the iron hard obstacles.  I laughed at myself and my newfound philosophical nature.  Maybe sometimes a flower is just a fucking flower, and I'm just myself.

The last time I was in that garden, I was fourteen.  It was summer, but the curtain of oppressive heat never fell that year, and we found even midday outdoors to be perfectly enjoyable.  The entire estate was manicured perfectly, not a flower out of place, not a weed to be seen, not a blade of grass too long.  It was fragrant, with bees humming occasionally nearby as the sun filtered through the trees to dapple the lawn below.  Everything was exactly as my grandmother mandated it should be, perfection even under her sharp scrutiny.  My grandmother never could tolerate anything but perfection, as I was all too well aware.  I would not have been surprised if she lined up the bees each morning and dictated to them which flowers they should and should not visit as they set out to work that day.  She was from another time, when the perfection of a garden reflected so much more than the ability to hire a skilled gardener. She clung to her traditions and sense of normalcy with fierce determination as the world around her refused to heed her commands to remain familiar.  Each summer I spent with her was like a walk through the past, where I could easily imagine my mother's childhood.  Nothing changed, not here.  It did change, though, eventually.  When the money was gone, and the despair set in, the change became inevitable.  The staff were let go one by one, though the gardener was the last to go.  Then there was nothing.  No more parties.  No more entertainments.  No more pristine paths to wander in the afternoon hours.  All that was left was a shell of an estate, and the shells of those who had once been so happy in it.  A graveyard of dreams, that's what this garden had become.  And yet, there were still flowers who pushed forward, determined to carry on.

Ran of of steam.  That's all you get.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fun With Writing Prompts

I thought it might be fun to write something creative instead of whining on and on about my life and what a mess I am on any given day.  You know, break things up a bit.  Whining peppered with moderately bad creative writing for flavor.  So I looked up some writing prompts, because I always seem to get stuck coming up with ideas, and then I get stuck when it comes to structuring a plot.  Then I get stuck when it comes to actually writing an adequate ending.  But the point is, start somewhere, so I found some writing prompts here and decided to pick the one that jumped out at me the most when I glanced through the list.  So, here it goes:

#3.  The city burned, fire lighting up the night sky.

The city burned, fire lighting up the night sky.  The smoke choked the air as the sky turned red, reflecting the death and destruction below it.  Screams of pain, fear, and panic could scarcely be heard over the roar of the flames, and most of the time the smoke smothered the screaming before it had run its course.  That's where I found myself, staring in a daze at the chaos around me, unsure of how I got there or where I was to go next.  All I could see was flame, and soon the human noises were dissipating and being drown out by the groan of buildings struggling to hold their form against forces stronger than themselves.  I felt like one of those buildings.  I felt like I was struggling to hold myself together while the world had been wrecked and was attempting to tear me apart.  I staggered forward.  One step, I kept telling myself.  One step, start there.  Then another.  Soon my feet were listening to me and the dislodged gears of my mind were beginning to fit together again, whirring me back to life and to action.  It was an explosion, the memory moving from a fuzzy shadow to a sharp focus.  An explosion that lit the sky on fire before the city ever ignited.  Larger than a bomb, or at least I assumed it was, having never experienced a bomb before.  That's when I noticed the smell.  Mixed in with the smoke and flames, there was something acrid.  Something chemical that was burning my eyes and throat as I forced myself to continue breathing, fighting the urge to choke against the burning I felt in my lungs each time I forced in another gasp.  I kept moving, I don't know where I was going, but I had to keep moving.  I had to move away from the twisted metal, from the growing flames, and if I kept moving then maybe I could move far enough away from my fear as well.  That's when I realized that I was the only person moving.  Anyone who could run must have done it already, because all around me there was only death, and the wounded waiting to die.  I kept moving.  I don't know how long I stumbled through the streets, meeting no one, seeing not one friendly face to help me, and I began to realize that maybe there was no one left.  By dawn, I had reached a large expanse of open space that had been a park only hours before.  As the sun rose, I sat on the curb, watching ash rain down around me.  There was an eerie peace to it.  The soft, gentle fall of ash against a city that was just beginning to fall silent.  I sat there, letting the ash fall all around me, watching the sun rise slowly over the horizon.  I think a piece of me hoped that the new day would somehow erase the terrors of the night, and that everything would be over.  I never realized it was just beginning.  I was six years old.

So that's it.  That's what I came up with.   I haven't read it over, I literally just typed it and hit publish (this is an amendment from after publishing it, though I still haven't re-read it) so there are no edits, no polish.  Just my first instincts as I started writing.  I don't know if it's any good, but writing it felt good. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More Little Things?

I think that one of the things I find myself struggling with sometimes is finding the ability to stop and really appreciate the small things on a regular basis.  There will be moments when I am struck by something so simple, yet so overwhelming that I stop and say "Now this is beautiful".  Sometimes a late summer evening will be just exactly right, the right temperature, the right smell in the air, the sky just the right color and I will stop in that moment and really appreciate what I am seeing, but those moments don't happen often.  I find it difficult to stop and appreciate the small things in every day life.  Maybe it's because a lot of the time my life is going in a million directions at once, so I fail to slow down and pay attention to some of the remarkable things that are probably happening on a daily basis.  It could also be that I get so wrapped up in what has gone wrong on any given day that I forget to recognize the things that have gone right.  I just think about what I didn't accomplish, or what I didn't do as well as I would have liked.  Sometimes I can be very single minded, and very task oriented.  I always think "I can't do this until after I finish this..." and sometimes that makes me a really annoying person to be around.  It makes spontaneity a bit difficult, and if I'm interrupted in a task, or I have a timeline to follow that gets thrown off, all I can think about is what I should be doing.  That may mean that even if I'm interrupted by something fun, I can't actually let myself have fun because I keep thinking about the list I had in my head.

On one hand, this makes me super efficient in tasks.  I can scrub a bathroom top to bottom in 30 minutes, including the tub, so when we have company over it's really nice to be that efficient.  But, most of the time, it just means that I'm not paying attention to anything but my tasks.  I sometimes read blogs by people who find comfort and beauty in little mundane every day stuff.  People who actually appreciate the feel of bread dough as they knead it, or see all of the moments in a day that are filled with beauty.  They see wool socks and it's they're not just utilitarian items for keeping feet warm, they're something lovely and to be appreciated.  It's not like I'm not grateful for anything, it's just that I don't stop and see the loveliness and beauty in every day stuff.  I don't stop and smell the roses, so to speak.  Socks are socks.  They keep your feet warm.  I guess what I'm saying is that I need to figure out a way to see a sock as more than just a sock, without over romanticizing the whole thing.  I need to find more joy in the small things.