Any memories from more than a couple decades ago would naturally seem like another world from now — even if our collective reality hadn’t gone and turned itself upside down, and even if I could more often remember what I did the day before yesterday. Most details tend to get pretty fuzzy after a while, but there are always those pivotal moments that stand out, for good or bad. Like the time a simple request from a friend altered the trajectory of my course in life — well, my career path, anyway, that is — for a while, at least.
This was shortly after my first attempt at figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up had fallen apart... turns out I have the heart — but not the stomach — for the social services profession much of my family is renowned for. There’s a more involved story there, and I’m sure someday I’ll tell it, but I’ll save that lengthy sidetrack for another time. It was the mid-90s, I had just given up my job at the County Department of Community Corrections in Juvenile Probation — and was trying to decide what to do with myself next — when the head maintenance engineer at a class A luxury high rise facility in downtown Minneapolis asked me for a favor, because he knew I was “good with computer stuff.”
Giving off the impression within your social circle of being one who is “good with computers” comes with so many strings attached... though I’m fortunate now to be able to pass that buck on whenever it comes to me these days — ever since I married the IT guy — but back then, whether the trouble someone within my sphere of influence was struggling with involved a software program, a cell phone application, or a hardware malfunction, I was often the first call for help made. This can be a frustrating position when your specialized area of expertise has a limited pinpoint focus not super relevant to most end user issues — I got very good at making referrals to more appropriate tech support resources. In this case, though, I was surprised and pleased to find, my friend was indeed seeking assistance in an area I could actually lend a hand with.
Being the left leaning, folk loving, gen X beatnik I was, I naturally wanted to help people wherever I could — and I was still stinging a bit from the tough realization that just because you have a desire to be a conduit of positive change, doesn’t mean every avenue of evolution is right for you — so the timing was serendipitous, too. The mechanic didn’t need to rebuild a PC or develop a new interface, though... all he wanted was only a simple database — one he could actually make sense of and use himself — and as a data analyst, that was a problem I was only too happy to help him find a solution for.
The process of creating the tool requested was educational and enlightening. As the scope creep of configuration complexities piled up, narrowing in not just the structure, but the way it was formed, the prime directive behind each of them was always the same — you can’t do that, it has to be this way, etc. — because of Fair Housing. It had been long enough by then since I’d take any civics tests, I had to be given a refresher — and was glad to get it from someone working in the trenches of the practical effects brought about by this insightful civil rights related act passed in 1968.
I have to admit, a part of me drooled a little. I often have plenty to say about the many ways the US has fallen on its face — referencing the last four decades in general, and the last four years in particular — but there was a time when we knew better how to get things right. Because of this law, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development guarantees to every person living in the states, one cannot be denied housing on the basis of any protected classes — which over time have been expanded to include: race, color, national heritage, religion, creed, gender, sexual identity, marital status, familial status, dependence on public assistance, or physical ability.* (*some of these are specific to established governance at the state level)
As a safe place to lay one’s head is one of the pinnacle foundation pillars of the hierarchy pyramid — and because I like to spend my days doing something that matters — the industry seemed a good match for my personal and professional interests. I couldn’t think of anything more essential than the assurance of providing anyone with the most fundamental basic need to offer me peace of mind about my contribution to society on a daily basis. So, after I got my friend up on his feet and running with a handy recording catalog, I began to look into jobs within the property management field.
I started out as the Director of Leasing at a class A property before I remembered I hate sales — but everyone has to pay their dues in the beginning, so I picked up what I could, and was eager to move on. From there I transitioned to the role of Office Manager, for 300+ market rate units in a middle class suburb northwest of the Twin Cities, which was more suited to my background. The job came with a one bedroom plus den corner apartment right across from the management building, where I had a first floor corner office with windows.
My first superior at that location was a compassionate, middle-aged woman — a 20-year veteran of the real estate trade — who took a kind of maternal approach with me, because I reminded her of her own daughter, around the same age with a similar sounding name and a comparable outlook on life. She started out as a teacher, a boss, and a mentor, but over time, she also became a friend. She was liberal, like me, but years in the business had worn her idealism weary, and my optimistic enthusiasm was a breath of fresh air, nostalgically bringing back her own starting out years, all fresh faced with starry eyes and the hopes of making a difference — she said I made her recall wistfully a time when she believed in possibilities, and it’s important to always remember where you’ve come from.
Being connected to people in the place they feel the most relaxed — which is how most people are in the comfort and safety of their own homes — can be a double edged sword. In each castle where everyone is their own sole monarch, people tend to react to every situation they way they naturally are — fundamentally at their core — once all masks and airs and facades are cast off like outerwear as people cross the thresholds of their own front doors. For this reason, you get the best and the worst of everyone you encounter, which also helps to explain how the nature of the industry itself can be a challenge to anyone hoping to maintain a liberal outlook while working in it.
But, to her credit, she had never backed off from her best intentions, despite having to occasionally reroute the means of getting there, which is pretty impressive, considering the disillusioning kinds of nightmares one comes across in that environment: abuse of services, misuse of funds, victim mentality and entitlement — at nowhere near the level conservatives would have you believe, of course, but it happens — not to mention some pretty bizarre, repulsive, and disturbing ways people can be capable of finding to violate a lease. Even when no one is toeing the line along the edge of a morality abyss, though, the routine issues faced everyday can still be hard on one’s spirit. Yes, there were certainly plenty of gratifying moments, but there’s nothing rewarding about having to put people out of their homes — whether for non-payment or other breach of contract — and yet, that wasn’t even the worst of it.
She told a story of one time, years earlier — in a different position at the beginning of her career — while doing a vacant unit inspection, knocking on a nearby resident’s door to ask about the pile of personal belongings he’d thrown into the hall, only to have him respond in a flustered huff, he shouldn’t be expected to tolerate that sort of revolting depravity in his home. When she didn’t understand, he explained — shocked she couldn’t see for herself the transgression of virtue taking place before her eyes — thepillows were mating. She requested he either please take them back inside, or offered to remove them for him, then thought nothing more of it, other than to be mildly amused at the situation and to wonder what sort of drugs he was on — until the next day, when she had to hire a hazmat team to address the aftermath of his next actions, which had been to repaint his apartment with his brains — apparently, he’d actually been off his anti-psych meds.
She has sorrowfully wondered ever since whether she could have saved him by making a simple call to a social services agency. She shared this with me as a warning, when I let her know — also mildly amused — about a report from one of my courtesy patrol officers, who’d indicated a resident complained about her flowers being too loud, explaining they were mocking her, asking whether they couldn’t be ticketed for noise infractions to make them stop. I learned then never to take lucidity for granted, nor to make light of others whose behavior might seem a bit off, as they may be struggling with mental health concerns, and to recognize the communal responsibility of taking immediate action to be of assistance whenever possible, because it very well could just save a life — though I wouldn’t expect anyone to thank you for it.
So many of her teachings I took away from that experience have had far-reaching impacts, relevant in many cases universally to a great deal of life outside the realm of property management. I could have happily sat at her feet and been tutored in work and in living for many years to come, always finding something new to take away from each message she passed along, always finding ways to apply the learning on a greater scale. But, alas, as such things often go, that scenario was not meant to be.
Midway through my third year there, my boss was relocated to the sister property of the one I worked at — for which she’d also been responsible — and was at the same time demoted to managing only that property, rather than both. She’d been planning for some time on taking a more active role onsite at the larger location — because it had been steadily becoming a hotspot of issues — and had been grooming me to take over the everyday operations of the location where we were both officed (which I was already effectively doing by then, just without the title). Instead, though, her role as onsite Property Manager was taken over by a smarmy, middle-aged, two-faced man — with half her refinement and none of her experience — who was good at people-pleasing and playing politics, but who knew nothing about the business.
He took me aside and asked me to show him the ropes, so I walked him through the operational documentation referred to as our “Bible” — as such things often are — which my former boss had given me free reign to rewrite, the more she came to entrust me with greater responsibility, and which I’d been steadily updating enough to say, “I wrote the book” on property operations for that site. He used that book, along with the knowledge I offered, as the resources to take a crash course in how to do his job, as instructed by yours truly. He told me he’d come bearing gifts from corporate — in the form of a hefty budget increase — for renovating and revamping our property and our way of doing business... and said because he’d heard great things about me from the “higher ups,” he wanted me to spearhead the project, dangling the carrot of potential for a promotion down the road as incentive.
I should have been suspicious right away. Since in three years I’d never been to HQ for anything more than a holiday party, I knew if anyone from the corporate office even knew my name at all, it was only because of the rave reviews offered up by my former boss, who’d just been demoted and removed from our office. But, I was young and naïve, full of hope and ambition, so I saw what I wanted to see, and not what I didn’t want to.
I figured out pretty quickly I wasn’t really in charge — which wasn’t a huge surprise, since I hadn’t been involved in any of the planning stages leading up to such drastic, sweeping changes across the board (you can be sure things would have gone differently if I had been). I wasn’t that bothered about it, as not being the one who signed on the bottom line meant I didn’t have to be held accountable for those areas where my project management recommendations were either inadvertently overlooked or purposefully ignored — like, whose idea was it to spend $6,000 on a purple leather sofa, anyway??? No, the effective impact of our respective roles would be, I would do all the work — coordinating with vendors, getting bids, setting parameters, making deals, writing contracts, purchasing materials, overseeing labor, paying for services — and he would take all the credit for the entire process of getting the job done.
Part of my expectations in this “restructuring” project included reorganizing the various responsibilities of my entire staff of 72 — from the leasing team, to caretakers, maintenance, grounds, security, and amenity programs workers, both full and part-time — in order to make the most of our “labor assets,” during which, I suggested multiple transitions to who did what, so as to operate more efficiently, and most of my recommendations were implemented immediately, not the least of which included many tasks related to my own job, which were siphoned off in pieces to other team members who’d demonstrated the skills and capacity to take on some of those roles, in smaller chunks. The assistant manager reported to the office manager (who was effectively the property manager), the office (property) manager reported to the property manager (who was effectively an asset manager), and the property (asset) manager reported to corporate, who reported to the owners — mostly, invisible, silent partners comprised of obscenely wealthy conglomerates, and other uber elite types. There were multiple levels of redundancy built into this system, and in a booming market, those can make for a comfortable safety net to manage coverage of workflow in all settings, but when times are tight, running leaner is more financially sound, and generally considered the prudent move.
At some point, after the second time my workspace was relocated — first, I was booted out of my corner office only to have my assistant move in, and set up at a miniscule kiosk in the main office just outside my door like I was some sort of secretary (because my new boss said as the main spokesperson of the property, I was the first line of defense for handling all resident issues, and he wanted me to be more “accessible” to residents as they came in), and then, I was moved into the new groundskeeper office where the pool closet used to be (it’s just until we finish the renovation, promise!) — the handwriting was on the wall, and I realized, I was organizing myself out of a job. Don’t get me wrong, I understood it was a business decision, and I even knew it was the right call — after all, I had made it myself, sort of. But, even so, it was still better to know what to expect, so as to be properly prepared.
Accordingly, I went to the new head honcho on site and asked him, directly, whether I should be looking for other work, as it didn’t seem like there would be anything left for me to do once all of this was said and done. He gave some explanation about an exciting new role that would make better use of my creative nature — great things are in the works, you’ll see! — but I think he could tell I wasn’t buying it. He took me by the elbow, looked me in the eye, spoke my name with great sincerity, as if he could hardly believe he had to say so, and swore to me these words which have forever since been permanently emblazoned in my brain, never to be forgotten — “I would sooner cut off my left foot than to get rid of my hardest working employee.”
MISFIT MANOR side note:
When I was telling my husband this story, about the time I got to this part, he began nodding, like he knew what was coming, so I asked him what that was about. He asserted, “You got damned by the ‘Official Vote of Confidence’.” Possibly making note of my inquisitive look — like a confused puppy with its head cocked to the side and one ear up — Minion went on to further explain, in sports (because every analogy with my husband involves either sports, crime fighting, or history references), every time a failing team’s GM gives a press conference, assuring the media he feels secure in the knowledge the team’s manager has been doing fine work so far, is the best man for the job, and he has every conviction the team will rally and come back around to a strong winning streak next season, that will be the last public statement you hear from the team, before the very next one, in which the owner announces the team manager has been replaced.
/end cut scene
That was Friday. On Monday, he fired me. Publicly, and with great spectacle.
And I don’t even mean not-so-quietly, letting me go with appropriate procedures, perhaps only circumstantially within the presence and / or earshot of the small handful of folks who would normally be in the office at the time anyway, but who were not appropriately asked to leave. No, he called a sudden meeting in the party room of most of my subordinates, bringing in active manual laborers, taking them away right out from under the work they’d been in the middle of doing — including the painters, who didn’t even work for the company, they were outside contractors who happened to be onsite at the time (which just further underscored how little he understood about the way things worked there). Then he proceeded, with exaggerated theatrics, to tell a tall tale — in the fashion of a prosecutor on a law story TV show who had just revealed the smoking gun to nail the final blow into the coffin of the accused — about how I was hotheaded, blatantly insubordinate, and had a list of resident complaints against me a mile long, and my continued employment with the company would be a liability to the corporation and the property owners.
The room was quiet. Everyone was in shock. No one had any clue what to say.
He’d only been there a few months, and he had his own house in some other town a half hour away, but everyone else in that room had come to know me over the course of the last 2½ years — not just by watching me in action professionally, but also because of my onsite presence within the facility where we all lived, and where we were neighborly to one another even during non-working hours (except for the painters, who had also become friendly with me, as we interacted the most). Since they all knew he wasn’t talking about any variant of the person they knew me to be, they recognized his entire charade for what it was — nothing more than a dog and pony publicity stunt to assert his dominance, create division, and instill fear. I was grateful that day for the silent, stoic support of my staff and service providers.
I hadn’t been caught off guard by this turn of events, though, as I’d been expecting to be terminated due to budget cuts, although I was not expecting to be fired for cause — and certainly not so dramatically. My own former boss had been quietly dismissed just a few days earlier, just as she came back from a long overdue vacation — during which an “analytical” team from the corporate office had gone into her office with no warning, rifling through her files, and basically ransacking anything they came across according to their own agenda no one knew anything about — but the total lack of respect helped me come to understand maybe there was a good reason she’d decided she needed a break for the first time in over a decade, and she probably wasn’t even that disappointed to get the news. It seems, my impression of who the company was may have had more to do with her shouldering most of the burden of their BS baggage she’d been bearing on her own for far too long — I guess maybe she just didn’t want me to become jaded about how things really work too quickly — that would happen eventually on its own, given enough time.
I’d remained unruffled while he thundered on like a Southern Baptist minister, clearly enamored with the sound of his own booming voice. I just quietly stared at his feet the whole time. When he finally realized everyone was just blinking back at him with shaking heads and gaping jaws, and only then seemed suddenly uncomfortable with the silence, he asked me if I had any words in response.
As nothing was going to change, I didn’t see the point of arguing. I said only,
“No. I’m just surprised how well you’re standing without your left foot.”
Then I went to my closet office and began packing my things, which I was only able to do because he hadn’t even had the foresight to coordinate with HR to have my final paycheck ready, with maintenance to have my personal items put together, or with courtesy patrol to have an escort prepared to walk me from the office. Maybe he chose to keep the entire plan close to the vest until the last because moment because he didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness of “in-house” personnel being asked to go against their own, or maybe he just really didn’t have any idea how to do any of that, nor even, for that matter, any notion that he should have. I later found out, he hadn’t even had permission to fire me, not that it much mattered, by that point.
My assistant manager got up and ran out of the room, crying, and later slipped into my office to give me a hug and a kiss and bitch about how ridiculous that whole circus was, and the painters came in also to add their respective WTFs. It’s funny — no one else had ever heard of any such complaints — there were no email messages, no voicemail recordings, no notes in any resident files, and no anecdotal stories from anyone who worked there of cases where they’d been in the presence of anyone who’d come in to complain about me. Apparently, all these mysterious “resident complaints” had been delivered verbally in person, and directly to him only — despite having spent most of the last several months since he’d arrived either tooling around the property grounds in his giant Cadillac, or holed up in his office with the door closed, having given me instructions to “hold his calls.”
The first time he’d said that to me, I took a deep breath, went and made myself a cup of coffee, as well as another one for him, and brought it in to him, setting it down on his desk as a peace offering to break the ice. Then I sat down casually across from him, and suggested with a smile since he was new, we should have a quick heart to heart to clear the air. I opened with some exchanged pleasantries, and we swapped a bit of personal chit-chat, before I explained I was happy to share this moment, and to take messages for residents who wished to speak with the property manager when I wasn’t able to help them myself, but I wanted to make sure he understood I was not his secretary, and it was not my responsibility to make him unavailable to the very people whose home living experience it was his job to manage.
That was his first day. It was a good conversation, and we were both lighthearted about it, as I joked with a wink that he shouldn’t expect me to fetch him coffee anymore after that, and he laughed, but from that day on, his door was never open if he was in the office, and he never told anyone where he was going when he left — unless he came to me directly, I was on my own, and I confess I didn’t mind that. In hindsight — since first among the many grievances he’d listed as my terminable offenses, he declared on his first day I’d defiantly refused to follow orders (?!) — I guess it turned out in the end he’d been the kind of man all along who was never going to accept having a woman working under him who didn’t know her place.
Moral to the story, I suppose — beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing bearing gifts. Or, more accurately, when the caring, competent, confident, capable woman you work for is replaced with a selfish, boorish, loud, arrogant, clueless man, it’s time to dust off the résumé and start networking. This would be the first of my professional bouts with sexism at work, but it would not be the last, because, wouldn’t you know it — as anyone who’s met me will likely attest — even after all this time... I still haven’t learned my place.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 29 - Topic: THE GLASS CLIFF This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on... ...and thanks for stopping by.
63 days... the vans have all gone but the streets are still here
they cry out for justice.
Though faded from sight forgotten from mind we have not fallen quiet... We see you.
Moms and Dads and Grannies and Vets in a row, in a line, in a wall of love and strength and righteous wrath we stand... of this ends here and now — of take no more — we stand of not on my watch We see you.
Their masks their shields their feet our steeds our pen their sword their images our eagle eyes... We see you.
1 if by land, 2 if by sea 3 if by unmarked van We see you.
Attacks on the people don’t keep the peace Assaulting the public won’t make it secure Crimes of war on domestic shores... WE are not the enemy. We see you.
Where are the pitchforks of rage? Where are the minute men? Where’s the armed militia — the wardens of minutiae — to rise up against the man
to protect the oppressed to defend the detained to check the overreach of despotic tyrannic control We see you.
Silence is violence ignorance complacency complacency complicit
bleach and bullets and *8_77$#!&* diamond and silk and denial demon seed and a reptile dysfunction
viral cult misinformation intentional mass misdirection commotion, confusion, conspiracy
alternative facts may be painful ...but stupid kills. We see you.
LIES!!! Lies. Lies. Lies. Lies. LIES. Lies. L I E S. WE SEE YOU!
LIFE is essential You are not expendable. You’re not a hero — a hostage... of economic impossibility broken down trade and busted up industry a fiscal instability — the inconvenience of a system that doesn’t care about you or anyone who isn’t green and dead. We see you.
Labor for sale Death for profit The biggest boom to the top since the war ...well, this one or that one or the one before. We see you.
When did truth give way to opinion? Why was science demoted to optional?? How is dying now somehow political??!
What made compassion and decency, rational thought get thrown out like stained dirty genes?
When did killing off the weak become the social norm? And who gets to decide who’s the weakest?
Who do we sacrifice next? Who should be volunteered as tribute to the esteemed elite?
Have we always been so numb? ...or just since we got so dumb? When do we mourn 1 in 20 snuffed out? When do stop destroying ourselves?
Whether we get to eat or keep a roof on our heads... a hotly contested debate — if the jobless deserve a fighting chance
Consider the loss on investment — decades of efforts negated in collectively keeping our lessers down... gotta make sure he knows his place We see you.
Crawling from out of a bottle holding your sign on the corner there but for grace... We see you.
Departed, deported, deflated, depraved We see you.
Irreparable, deplorable, discreditable, debunked We see you.
Families divided Children in custody Kids in cages Camping with great concentration... No really — they love the gardening! We see you.
Fear is our national currency Hate our national debt Our legacy to have loved and lost.
The heart of our soul is up for grabs — on the block to the highest bidder... sold for a bill of goods convincing the jingoist he’s a patriot. We see you.
How did we come to be so overrun by such impudent imprudent zealots and freaks?
What’s in it for cronies and cohorts and fans patrons and backers bootlicking the clan? We see you.
Forward progress Civil rights The Rule of Law The Constitution our duty to the natural order...
mere casualties of commerce — the cost of doing business with greased palm handshakes in back room deals
restrictions, protections to safeguard the people just get in the way of the almighty dividend We see you.
Polar bears, pandas and bees — oh my — ice caps, clean water the dying breaths of the rainforests... 1000 year storms — a smattering every season — our whole way of life...
We Stand on this Rock with our Flints at the ready to pass on a livable world to our young. We see you.
Integrity succumbed to the power of the gun — our babies sent home in body bags our grieving minds made up for us — the powers that be decreed: nothing to see here don’t get all uptight... go quietly back to your lives. We see you.
A saver of people and pets and things cast away and tossed aside I love it because it’s trash!
...but maybe the cost to foster the people has finally gotten too high
The trailer park of the planet a public beyond redemption soon to be forgotten.
What can I do? What can I say? So busy with... stuff... too much on my plate I’ve nothing to add that can make any difference. Surely my voice doesn’t matter. We see you.
There are kids to raise and bills to pay mouths to feed and hell toupee. We see you.
We’re keeping our credit in check because some part of the world still cares what color the kitchen is.
I never have enough time to myself and the walls are closing in... I’m so... tired. So very very tired.
I’m losing... my mind myself this game losing it
I can’t hold it back anymore ...can’t hold it in. I can’t keep it out. I can’t keep it up.
I can’t make this easy... or pretty ...it isn’t.
I can’t sleep at night ...can’t even think straight I can’t even...
I just... can’t.
The world is getting hotter...
the water is boiling
our salted legs
begin to twitch
THIS IS FINE.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 28 - Topic:SAWUBONA This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum,LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
I don’t suppose I’ve achieved enough success in my life yet to consider mine a rags to riches story, but I can certainly say I’ve come a long way from having been a child ward of the state. Those days were an almost forgotten other world from here, way back around that bygone era when DCFS destroyed the only family I’d ever known by then. No, wait...that’s not fair...
In reality, it wasn’t the state that ruined us...
Untreated mental health issues shattered my Mother.
Acute self-centered overindulgence wrecked my father.
Abject poverty devastated us all.
Alcoholism, unchecked rage, violence, and abuse...
...sexual deviancy, moral depravity, molestation and pedophilia...
...willful ignorance, purposeful neglect, and parental abandonment...
...these are the evils that irreparably damaged the first family that formed the foundation of my life. The state department of Health and Rehabilitative Services was just there to pick up the broken pieces. I lost everyone I loved in one dire night — stolen away to “the system.”
Through the lens of maturity, and the perspective of time, I can see now that was the best thing for all of us. But even if I could have understood so then, it wouldn’t have made it any easier to sleep alone in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers — thankfully, I can’t remember anymore how many nights I must have cried myself to sleep... these days I can only imagine. In some respects, I became who I am today in that moment “they” came to our door and took us from our home... in other ways, I never fully recovered.
Before my world came crashing down around us, I had been raised on foodstamps, picking green bits off bread, learning to digest anything a goat can eat — a typical once-a-week dinner for our whole family was to sit down to a big pot of mac ‘n’ cheese with canned peas and weenies.* Foodstamps alone were never enough, though — not so much we didn’t still have to hit up the foodbank twice a month. And feeding isn’t all there is to caring for a family... there was the bookmobile, swap meets, toy exchanges, and free clothing drives — touring bi-monthly tri-state area flea markets were a regular staple of our routine.
*(For anyone fortunate enough to not be in the know about such things, that’s boiled hot dogs sliced into smaller sections to spread further as fractions than as whole units... even in today’s economy, the total cost of that entire meal for the 5 of us would be around $2.17. It wasn’t that good, but it was edible, and it kept us from going hungry. If you’ve ever heard anyone speak of “po-folx fare,” this is what they meant.)
If I hadn’t come to know her better later on, I might have wondered whether the reason my Mother became so fanatically religious (considering she’d been brought up on the rez) was to be close enough to local church organizations to take advantage of their donations and giveaways for the poor — or perhaps in the hopes that God would award her faithfulness with a better life. I suspect, in Mother’s case, these two angles of zealotry were very likely not necessarily mutually exclusive.
My father was an over-the-road trucker. He was often out-of-town for long stretches, and when he was back, he was generally irritable, with too much time on his hands, which — if we were lucky — he spent scouring local gun shops for gear to blow his paycheck on, drawing obscene images (the man was such a brilliantly talented artist, if not for the comic book character proportions, his work could have been mistaken for photography), or obsessively crafting WWII memorabilia. While my mother at least claimed to pine over his dearth, we all got along fine without him when he wasn’t around, and learned to keep our distance from him as much as possible when he was — though that never worked out well enough for long.
Mother often toiled away, 2-3 jobs at a time, like she thought it would earn her extra jewels in her crown — including late night and swing shifts — so she wasn’t always around that much either. But it wasn’t because she was so dedicated to supporting us she had to labor that hard just to bring in enough income for meeting our needs... no, that circumstance was mostly caused by her inability to ever find a way to hold down one job — something was always getting in the way of her success, and to hear her tell the tale (which she was only too eager to fire off at anyone who would listen), whatever “it” was, it was never her fault. Her official diagnosis was PSD (paranoid schizophrenic disorder), but more accurately, I believe that conclusion probably resulted from the masking technique of BPD (borderline personality disorder), as this more comprehensive condition is wont to mimic others, and over enough time, I was able to identify recognizable symptoms.
My brother and sister and I pretty much raised ourselves for a few years — they would get themselves up and ready for school, with me crying as they caught the bus off to their 2nd and 4th grade classes, respectively, holding onto their clothes, begging them not to go. (A favorite game of my brother’s was to pretend he didn’t notice when I threw myself on the ground and wrapped my arms around his legs to prevent him from leaving... he would pull one foot out, making a big production of going anyway — as if he hadn’t noticed me there, so he would have to end up taking me with him — walking towards the door for a few steps, dragging me along, until I couldn’t hold on anymore because I was giggling too hard.) They would both shower me with hugs and tickles and smooches, promising to be home in the afternoon, “before you even know it!,” then wave and blow kisses from the windows of the bus as it carried them away, leaving me on my own until they returned.
He was 10, she was 8... I was 3.
I popped across the large lot over to the elderly neighbors who owned the land we lived on, snacking on kumquats from the bushes in their front yard, knocking on their door to be let in for an individual cereal box or a pop tart (which I feel pretty sure they probably kept around just for such occasions) and morning cartoons. The 2BR/1Bath sharecropper’s shack we “rented” from them for the upkeep on it had been converted from a chicken coop when they’d become old enough to retire from active farm operations. After breakfast, I took my dolls, and my books,* and followed my cat out into their orange groves, the two of us wandering together for the bulk of the day... it was easy to lose myself out there in the serene stillness and quiet beauty of nature.
*(Mother had become overly ambitious about my pre-K home education once she’d recognized how smart I was as a young child, and had taught me to read before I could speak — though I was already talking up a summer storm by the time I reached 3 — but I almost never went anywhere without my favorite books.)
When I got hungry, I ate fallen fruit off the ground because those were the ones I could reach — I developed a strong, instinctive sense of what was too far turned, a taste for slightly rotten oranges, and an iron constitution — though sometimes my brother or sister packed me a bologna-n-cheese or PB & J to carry along, because if my father was passed out at home, it was never a good idea to be nearby when he came to. Whenever I had to go, I would simply squat, making use of leaves and grass for hygiene materials. On days he was on the road, though — which were preferable — I could hang around the house, watch Sesame Street, use the facilities, and make myself mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen, sandwiches, cereal, or toast (which about comprised the extent of my “cooking” skills in the kitchen, but that’s far more than can be expected of most 3-yr-olds).
My excursions out into the wild with my best friend came to an end, though, when my father murdered our cat — he grabbed him by the scruff, yanked him into his car and held him in his lap, got up to highway speeds, then tossed him out the window — I know about it, because he did this with my brother in the car. I can only imagine how traumatizing that must have been for my brother — I think the intent was to intimidate my brother, to show what could happen to him if my father got too tired of him, as he was tired of caring for my cat. I didn’t find this out from my brother until years later, after I’d spent weeks and months back then crying over missing him, calling outside and at night for my cat, never knowing where he’d run off to, wondering why he would leave our home, desperately hoping he would return.
My father was a drunk. He routinely deliquesced into his knock-off lazy-boy, mostly naked, watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, while scratching his balls... when I was little, I would have sworn he had three stomachs, and at least two necks. To this day, the smell of cheap yellow beer takes me back to dark, sticky, sweaty places, with hot, rancid breath dripping off bristly whiskers, stumbling flab rolls, and fumbling fingers.
My father frequently beat us. With his hands. With his belt. With the matchbox car racetracks my brother got for Christmas. With a freshly cut twig from a young sapling skinned of bark to the bleeding green underbelly, until it whistled in the air like a pan-flute, cracked like a whip, and welted skin bloody with the barest touch.
Well, no... that’s not quite true... he beat my siblings — especially my brother, the only other male among us, a natural threat to my sire’s totalitarian authority. For me, his only biological offspring — his darling prodigy, his perfect creation, who could do no wrong in his eyes — he spared the rod, and spoiled the child... he just “loved” me “a little too much.” My sister’s role was so much worse, though, as he and Mother often weren’t home at the same time for too long, and, you know... a man has needs.
My brother took it upon himself to save us — he knew he wasn’t strong enough to confront all 400# of my beer-induced-rage-filled progenitor himself, so he determined to run away — his “grand liberation plan” to form a band along the lines of the then very popular KISS, earning enough money as a rockstar to swoop back in as the valiant returning jukebox hero made good, and bust his sisters out of that toxic environment. Pinching together every penny he had, he hitched to a neighboring town, and got as far as a 24-hr highway truckstop diner, where he had just enough to buy a coffee, before passing out in a booth, exhausted from the road, and the stress of it all. Waitresses changing shifts hours later discovered him numb to the world with his icy cuppa joe well past a gradeschool kid’s curfew, and when one sat down to hear his sad tale of two sisters trapped in the abusive clutches of a monster, DCFS was called, and the jig was up.
He was 12, she was 10 — I was 5.
I remember Mother calling us all to her and issuing a tearful farewell, explaining why she had to leave (I never recalled the details, other than frantically, angrily, desperately pleading against her retreat), and I remember the child welfare people being at the door to collect us... for the first half of my life, I’d believed this was one recollection of the same night — it wasn’t until decades later, in my 20s, my brother clarified for me those events had been 2 years apart. Our mother had responded to being confronted by my brother about what my father was doing to our sister by first furiously accusing him of lying and beating him, then making herself the victim (because somehow, whatever it was, it was always about her), deciding she was too beleaguered to deal with it, and walking out on us all. We’d already endured two years of fluctuating between either fending for ourselves on our own, or surviving abuse without any maternal buffer of protection before my brother made his drastic attempt at a heroic rescue.
I’d had memories of Mother being gone, of missing her, of wishing she was around — but my toddler brain had squeezed the gaps together, and I’d just since rationalized she’d always been working during those absences. That revelation of the truth hit me with the kind of hard-knock shock to the system that reframed my entire perspective on much of my life up to that point. My brother also shared with me, part of Mother’s argument during that heated confrontation was to explain to him, my brother “just didn’t understand” my father, as he had no idea what that man had been through... then she told him a sob story about the nightmare of his grueling tour in Vietnam, leaving my brother dumbfounded and appalled, not because of the horrific nature of the tale, but because he knew it to be total *8@77$#!%*. Outraged, my brother cleared the air for our Mother, by informing her — that wasn’t my father — that was Chuck Norris in Missing in Action!
Mother subsisted her entire disturbed life in a dodgy relationship with the truth, but that was primarily due to the effect of a condition resulting from her psychopathy, because she was able to lie to herself so convincingly, she then believed her own lies, which thereby effectively became her truth. The same cannot be said, though, of my father, who was merely an expertly opportunistic manipulator of her vulnerability and trusting, gullible nature — as he was with anyone whose convictions could be twisted to meet his ends. I know there are some who would say he had a condition, too, as alcoholism is a disease — and, let’s not even go there with pedophilia — but I’m not one who is of the mind to slap a medical label on inexcusable behavior in order to wipe the slate clean... people still have choices to make... no one gets a free pass.
My father was a racist and a bigot — Archie Bunker, without the “charm.” He was the first to introduce me to the term “light in the loafers,” and although I understood the gist of who was being referenced (that is, I got folks like Jack Tripper and Liberace without really knowing what that meant), it took me years to understand what a man’s choice in footwear had to do with any of it. I remember once getting berated and cuffed for being “limp-wristed” as I walked into a Kroger — my short, stunted arms and hands carried in the position they fell most naturally then, like a kangaroo — because I looked “like a faggot,” and what would people think???
I recall retelling off-color jokes I’d heard from him, which never returned a word of dissent. By the time I got into school, I remember absentmindedly doodling in the margins of coloring pages the swastikas I’d seen around our house on the model airplanes he built, because I thought they looked cool, but not one of my teachers raised an alarm — though a counselor bothered to call attention to pictures of bunnies I’d drawn... apparently, their clawed hands holding Easter baskets were somehow thought to possibly represent boobs. (???!!) That was Florida in the 70s, though — priorities, you know — by that time, thanks to foster placement, “the state” knew entirely too much about the world I’d come from, and they never let me forget it.
The family that adopted me a few years later turned my world around in a mostly positive fashion — at least by elevating my social status to a respectable middle class, anyway — though, while the potential for my future certainly became brighter for that reason, there were enough damaging issues and destructive conflicts of a different kind in my new family, it might be a stretch to say I was completely out of the fire at that point. I do remain forever indebted for their willingness to take me in, sharing their home and their love, for becoming a permanent fixture of stability in my life, and for creating an environment in which I could thrive among them as one. There isn’t any merit in comparing heartbreak, obviously — and yet, even so, the overall impact of my adopted family experience was not inconsequential enough to be overlooked on the roadmap of my life.
My mom was quick to inflict black and blue bruises up and down my arms with a lightning ninja pinch any time I disagreed with her — because she saw any argument from me as a personal affront, lacking respect for her authority. She regularly slapped me in the face, or beat me with the belt I’d saved up my allowance to buy her for Mother’s Day (leather, ornately embossed with intricately dyed flowers, engraved “Mom”) until I was old enough to fight back, and strong enough to make her stop for good — I was 12 then. No pre-adolescent should ever find themselves in a position to get into a knock-down, drag-out, blow-by-blow brawl with any adult, much less a family member, but after 5 years of assault, 3 years of administrative custody, and nearly 5 years of battery justified by “tough love Christian parenting,” I’d had enough of violence, and I was done with it.
Mom is the adult child of an abusive alcoholic, resulting in severe codependency issues, and an extreme lack of self-esteem, to the point she needed to impose her every meticulous whim upon every movement of every individual susceptible to her control, as she otherwise questioned their love and loyalty, because she had no belief she was worthy of either. As a non-blood relation, I was less trustworthy than most in this regard from her perspective, as I had no genetic predisposition or contractual obligation to love her. (After years of soul-searching, this is what she admitted to me about why her love for me was conditional for so long, and this personal epiphany was what allowed her to grow enough to finally build a healthy relationship with me.)
And, because I hadn’t grown up in that environment, I hadn’t yet learned — as my brothers and my Dad had — how to “handle” her by the time I came to them. (To this day — as my husband came to conclude on his own through observation, before he even knew any of this backstory — my Mom now lives in a peaceful, comfortably placated alternate reality, partially because through a lot of personal growth on her part, she’s progressed enough to have put a lot of the need to control others behind her, but also not insignificantly because everyone associated with her life has been well trained in how to “handle” hher.) It took some time (and some distance) for me to also grasp the unspoken rules of “handling” my Mom, as well, but basically, it amounts to recognizing, with her, there are quite a few more sensitive subjects than most people have with the potential to result in a volatile reaction, so therefore these must be considered taboo, and kept off the table — stick to the general guidelines, and stay out of trouble zones, and things usually work out okay... also, the older she gets, the more she’s learned to let go, the more mellow she is, the less she cares about a lot of it, and the easier it has become to get along... which I’m so relieved by, and proud of her for.
My Dad had been raised in a much more relaxed environment, which pretty much had effectively only a few general rules, more or less amounting to: Trust God, love others, don’t be stupid. Mom claimed she resented his lack of hands-on involvement with raising us — and this was the singular constant sticking issue between them that frequently threatened to damage their relationship — but he remained emotionally unavailable throughout my preteens and adolescence. I believe that has more to do with her overbearing attention to particulars about every tiny detail of my life, from what I thought to the way I breathed (I do really wish I could say I was exaggerating about this, but I promise I’m not), which left him so out of his depth, he had no idea how to be of any help, and so he left it all up to her — one less thing for him to “handle.”
Mom frequently challenged him to redress his level of participation in the corrective actions she imposed upon their kids. But, if it had been up to him, there probably would have been about 20% of the total discipline enforced throughout our lifetimes for all five of us — at about 5% of the severity. For that reason, I suspect all of this was just the song and dance acted out between them for the purpose of allowing her to play the role of the overworked, unappreciated martyr... although him being the type who avoided conflict at all costs and effectively “checked out” didn’t help the situation any, I’m sure.
Though nothing I experienced in this healthier setting compared in magnitude to what I lived through during my formative years, by far the worst injury was being disowned as their daughter, “for the good of the church.” They would tell you it happened differently, I imagine, probably touting something about my “choices,” asserting I was the one who left them,* while downplaying it as irrelevant anyway, because, after all, they’ve since come around from that prolonged period of estrangement (around 8 years), and we’ve all moved on from there. That is, as much as we are able to, anyway... some things are harder to get over than others.
In contrast, I can honestly attest with assurance, I’m quite certain nothing I could have done in this world would have ever made my original Mother not claim me as her own. (She directly vowed as much, herself, which, although I believe her, is still ironic, coming from someone who didn’t have any qualms about deserting us, and who later in life told me she didn’t love me anymore because I refused to lie to a judge on her behalf when she was arrested for beating me, even though there were other witnesses — but that’s another story.) There’s not much worth pining over in that world of “what if,” though, as I’m sure if I’d hung onto any more than incidental exposure to Mother’s world, I would have found it much more challenging to maintain any appearance of “normalcy” in this life. But she was the one who’d stipulated, when signing away her parental rights, that I could only be adopted by a “Christian” family, though I later found out, she was apparently quite livid when she learned I’d gone to a “Protestant” home, and not a “Pentecostal” one — so, all things considered, I suppose it could have been worse, and I’m thankful the agency didn’t give too much weight to her wishes, as I probably dodged a bullet, there.
*(They sat me down for an “intervention,” in which my Mom did most of the talking while my Dad held his hands in his lap and kept his eyes on the floor, as she explained my actions had rippling consequences in association with him being an elder in the church — ordained according to scripture, in which the Bible clearly defines an elder as, “husband of but one wife and father of all God-fearing children.” Since it was obvious to them and any casual observer from my way of life at the time I could no longer be considered a god-fearing child, my Dad would have to be disqualified from the eldership. Because there were only two elders in the church at the time, that would dissolve the eldership, as one single man cannot put himself in a position of power over the church, and that would then leave the church without leadership, which was an unfair position to put the believers of that congregation in — and so, therefore, if I didn’t change my ways, they would have to disown me as their daughter.
For the record, I wasn’t living a particularly “sinful” life according to their religion at the time — that came later, after I discarded the institution of religion entirely as a result of this “threat,” and now no longer have the same concept of “sin.” No, their assertion of my “non-god-fearing” nature was due to my willingness to be outspoken in my open questioning of certain elements about total indoctrination, because I’ve never been one to merely accept at face value everything I’ve been spoon-fed, no questions asked — that’s just not who I am. I was 17.)
I write the story of this firsthand knowledge, not at all in the slightest to re-experience any portion of the painful scarred wounds of these calloused memories, but to capture whatever benefit the study of such moments in our shared family history might harbor to offer my son, before the ability to recall any of it has escaped from my mind. Proofreading out loud to my husband — as I do — I expressed surprise at finding myself choking in places, but Minion countered, wondering why I wouldn’t naturally expect that. That answer is because I would have thought by the time I’m more than halfway closer to 50 than 40, none of this should be raw anymore... and my loving partner wisely and gently reproached me with, “It may be in the past, and you may have put it behind you — but you will never get over this.”
It’s really remarkable, how resilient children are... it’s truly amazing what we as humans can be capable of bouncing back from. Most importantly, though, it’s critical to recognize how much kids pay attention to every specific detail and every minute aspect of each new life experience. It’s crucial to notice not just what they’re learning, but how... especially during those moments when we’re not intending to teach.
Many folks who place gratuitous stock in their “credo” believe the best way to instill their own standard of principles in their young is the good ol’ fashioned way — by bible beating it into them — the “tried and true family values” of Judeo-Christian ethics, passed along through the teachings of the good book. I may have spent decades around religion, but that’s not how I became who I am. It took me getting to this week of rumination in my life to come to the realization, most everything I now consider an inseparable component of my integrity, I have learned by experience — through the mistakes of others — by vigilant observation, and by clinging tightly onto what not to do.
My family was poor; my father lacked self-control...
...so I’m slow to splurge, careful with spending, an unabashed bargain hunter and dogged deal finder, decent at home crafting, great with repurposing, always appreciate the value of materials, treasure lost and tossed aside things, cherish what we have, and have an ingrained understanding of how to let it all go when necessary, because after all, it’s just stuff.
Mother couldn’t keep a job, because she couldn’t get out of her own way long enough to tow the line and work for someone else. I may be cut from the same cloth as she was, but I can make and honor a commitment to an employer. So far, I haven’t found a permanent business partnership to settle down into, but I do regularly have clients asking to get me back into repeat contracts, because I know how to go above and beyond the parameters of the project laid out for me, to meet and exceed expectations, to fulfill my obligations, and to keep my promises — when I say I’m going to do something, I find a way to get it done.
Our parents left us to our own devices...
...so I became efficiently independent and self-reliant, and though I still crave personal space and require alone time, I learned to make the most of every quality moment I am able to share with those I care about.
I was shown kindness by people with no responsibility to me...
...so I try to extend random kindness to others as often as I’m able.
My father was a cruel to animals...
...so I have spent a lifetime rescuing those who needed the most care and love.
My father was a drunk... so I don’t partake — and neither does anyone I’m closely connected to.
My father was violent, and abused our affection... so I’m slow to strike, and quick to cuddle.
My biological parents were both wholly incapable of speaking with anything resembling even a kernel of truthfulness to it... so I can sniff out BS from 13 miles away, and I have a strong moral imperative to be direct, honest, and up-front in every interaction of my life.
Mother left us... so I never got good at walking out... even when I should have.
My father was a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist... but I believe people and places are made better by diversity in gender, culture, and identity, and I strive to paint my surroundings with the kind of varied tapestry that more deeply enriches my life and those peripheral to my world.
My father was a bully and a tyrant, and there was nothing any of us could do about it...
...so I learned to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, to protect the weak and defend the vulnerable, and to fight against abuse of power.
Mom beat me... so I learned to stand up for myself.
Mom was overwhelmingly domineering and crushingly high-handed...
...so I learned to prioritize the important things in life that can be controlled — like my thoughts, my words, my choices, my actions, and most anything related to myself — and to never lose a moment of my life over trying to control anyone or anything outside of myself, which about covers most of the rest of everything else.
My dad was emotionally unavailable and uninvolved in parenting me and my siblings...
...so I married a man who is committed to be an active figure in our son’s everyday life.
My parents disowned me over religious differences...
...so I learned to think for myself, and to seek and find my own purpose and direction in life, without the need for guidance from a loosely interpreted, cherry-picked set of rules that has been debated over for centuries.
I have experienced a lot of repeating patterns throughout my life — beginning with childhood, and bleeding into adolescence and my young adult days — I kept running into a lot of the kind of noxious “love” that hurts, that has no healing, no heart, and no hope, because that’s what I knew best. I floundered for a while, trying to find something that worked, by “looking for love in all the wrong places” ...kissing too many frogs that belonged back under the rocks they’d crawled out from. But through a long period of trial and error — including plenty of mistakes of my own — I have worked to break the cycles of dysfunction, and I’m so very grateful to testify, I finally got there... eventually.
The Vedas teach us, the questions asked of us feed into our internal programming, whether they are initiated by someone else, or whether we internalize them ourselves. When a question is posed to the mind, the subconscious will find an answer for it, to solve for “X,” laboring in everything we do, whether we are proactively cognizant, otherwise occupied, or even while we are at rest. If you wonder to yourself, “Why am I so ugly,” your subliminal self will decipher this puzzle for you, presuming, according to your inner guidance, that you are indeed ugly, it will give you an answer, showing you all the reasons why you are so ugly — just as you presented — to satisfy your inquiry.
For this reason, I take great care in what kind of programming my words and actions present to our son’s self image and sense of worth. Every night since he was tiny and whenever he is overly flustered, I repeat to him a mantra of traits about his character that make him special and unique — it continues to grow and expand along with him, just as the nature of his essence does — these words have a calming effect on him, because he understands instinctively, these words together belong only to him, and to no one else. I am careful never to ask of him, “What is wrong with you???,” because I never want him to wonder that about himself.
Whatever’s wrong with any of us, it had to begin somewhere. “That’s just what I was taught,” is no excuse for holding onto ignorant, backwards ideals, because whatever gets passed on to any of us, we always have the choice in whether or not to accept it. “That’s just what I was taught,” is merely where it starts... it’s our responsibility to choose where it ends.
Ignorance, intolerance, hatred, selfishness, bigotry, and greed are the flames of a fire that has been raging since the dawn of man... but it’s a fire that must be fueled and fanned to spark new life into itself — we have always had the power to snuff it out with every new generation. What is wrong with me might be the result of just what I was taught, but may I never be so caustically costive as to rekindle a flickering ember and breathe a fresh glint into that blazing inferno of human frailty — may I have the strength to hold my ground. And though I cannot hope to cure the ills of all mankind, I can cap the outward ripple from the tendril that has engulfed me... so for my part, at least, may just this strain of evil be stopped — here, and now, with me.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 27 - Topic:“VALUES ARE LIKE FINGERPRINTS…” This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum,LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
My husband and I have been losing sleep lately, trying to convince our boy he’s not a vampire. It’s not just the biting, and the refusing to eat people food, though, certainly those are problems worth addressing. But how do you make a 3-yr-old understand abstract concepts like, we are diurnal creatures, child — humans are designed to sleep at night. They don’t play and laugh and squeal and fuss and carry on the whole time it’s dark out, and then wait until dawn breaks after Mama and Papa have just barely drifted off for less than a half hour to begin screaming, thereby starting the cycle all over again... TWICE. This is not how things are supposed to work, baby — and now Mama’s nerves are shot.
I’d love to claim not being able to pass out before near 10ish in the morning for a few fitful hours of dozing on and off until I can find the strength to force myself up sometime after noon is an isolated incident. I really, really would — you’ve no idea how much I’d like that. Seriously... this is not how I wanted to start this day — nor any other, for that matter.
We had a routine. It was beautifully, gloriously functional, if a bit outside any standard of passing for “normalcy” these days — whatever that is. Then the world turned upside down, and we drifted into the oncoming traffic of changes we had no say in. It didn’t happen all at once... like a frog in boiling water, we slowly steeped our issues in the compounded factors of forces outside our control. I mean, sure, we made some shortsighted bad choices we’re stuck with the ramifications of now, but there’s not much to be done about that at this point, so... no use losing any more sleep over it. And three months later, here we are.
Contributing to the population of the next generation changes how you perceive your place in the universe, and, to be fair, I knew it would. But it colors so many of my priorities these days, it’s hard to separate the “what” of anything I do anymore from the “why.” For example, it’s the reason I’m here, struggling to meet a pressing deadline after only the barest minimum of a brief recharge last night.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not so arrogant as to believe the world needs a memoir from me... I haven’t done anything special enough to warrant one. Well, not yet, anyway — but I’m still young...-ish. And no, I don’t have any grand designs on making or changing history, but really, whoever does?
I mean, I look around, and I don’t like what I see. I want a different world — a better world, for myself, my family, and every beast who breathes. I don’t have a plan for making that dream come true right now... but I do have an uncanny knack for getting what I want in life, probably because I’m efficient in chaos — I’ve spent enough of my life in turmoil that I tend to thrive in disarray by enveloping myself in a bubble of centered serenity to push through... it’s my variation on “active meditation,” I suppose, which is the only type I can hope for, since I pretty much suck at any other kind.
There’s an organized kind of madness to my unruly disorder, though... it’s almost the only way I know how to get things done. And I don’t know about you, but this handbasket is starting to feel pretty pandemonious to me. I’m seething with barely contained outrage, but methodically controlled, and meticulously calculating; I know there must come a time for an end to all things, but I don’t give up easily; I’m tenacious, and I am most certainly not a well-behaved woman. So, yeah, it could happen... stranger things have. But I’m not a superhero, and that’s not why I do this.
Like all of us, I’m just trying to make sense of my world right now. I write, because that’s what I can do... indeed, in this moment, perhaps it’s all I can do. But I’m merely speaking from my own perspective, since that’s the only world I know, and it’s not nearly as vast as I’d like it to be. So I try to expand my horizons, in what limited capacity I’m able. I won’t delude myself — I realize I have a fairly small audience, for what it’s worth — but the target demographic is even smaller... less than 40#, to be exact. He’s not much of a taskmaster, but he is a powerful driving force.
I just kinda have a lot of extra baggage on my mind of late, go figure — but then again, who doesn’t??? I came up with 48 distinct topics this week to offer anyone who requested a jumping off point, just in case someone needed a springboard for inspiration, and a handful to choose from, because, well — I’m just too much like that, I guess. But I didn’t have a problem coming up with an idea of my own. I keep a running spreadsheet of all my ideas, not just for such a purpose, but as a handy writing tool for chronicling the experiences I might want to share some day. (Come on, now... don’t give me that look. Everyone here already knows what a nerd I am, so stop shaking your head, for dork’s sake.) I had a problem coming up with one I felt like sharing — one that YOU might want to read, that is.
BACKSTORY I want to share his origins...
— the fairytale romance that sparked his life, and the journey of his arrival in this world —
...because I want him to know who he is.
• How Minion once accidentally kidnapped a cat; how he also once gave an entirely new meaning to the notion of “putting the cat out.”
• How we lost 4 beloved fids in our first 14 months of marriage, then fostered and rehomed a handful of others before we found the right balance for our family, so our house felt for a little where there like it had a revolving critter door.
• How Firebird was delivered with the help of his Papa on the bathroom floor, and the scene was so chaotic, his birth certificate records the time of his birth incorrectly by at least 10 minutes.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because you’re probably sick of me cooing all over my brood, and besides... I’m not really a Mommy blogger.
HERITAGE I want to share our family history...
— the good, the bad, the ugly, and the strange —
...because I want him to know where he comes from.
THE GOOD • Coming of age in a 5BR/3BA farmhouse my parents built from scratch on 7 acres of mostly woods 17 miles out of Tallahassee with a rural route box address, a clothesline vineyard, a chicken coop, and a 1-acre garden.
• The priceless legacy of gentle worldly wisdom bestowed upon us by our great family patriarch.
THE BAD • How my Mom (his Granny) set the stage for our ongoing power struggle by picking a fight with me the first day we met. How she never understood me, yet still insisted she knew what was in my head better than me, and effectively trained me to lie to her, by refusing to accept any other responses about what I was thinking besides the parroting back of carefully crafted statements she created for me.
• How Mother died alone, and none of her children attended her funeral.
THE UGLY • Early childhood memories of abject poverty — Growing up on foodstamps in a 2BR/1BA sharecropper’s shack occupied by 5 of us, in the middle of a Florida orange grove.
• How I was bounced around “in the system” across 17 different foster homes in less than 3 years before being adopted by a white family.
THE STRANGE • How I grew up with 3 brothers, but I have 4. Well, actually, I have 1 brother and 1 sister... no, wait, I mean 2 brothers, I guess — I never met one of them, so I often forget to count him. Though, if you add them all together, I have 6 brothers and a sister, total — but to be technically accurate, I’m really an only child. I know, it’s confusing... Firebird might need me to help him sort it out.
• How my peacefully inclined Dad, apparently miscalculating his gun settings and forgetting to aim for a warning strike (because decorated Marine officer instincts are hard to unlearn, even in muscle memory), once got up from the dinner table where the local preacher and his wife were seated for Sunday afternoon dinner, shot an animal rummaging through their trash, then sat back down to continue eating.
• How my Mom & Dad once invited their best friends over for chicken dinner... while failing to mention they would first be helping with the killing & de-feathering of the chickens beforehand.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I couldn’t get all the pieces put together in time.
MICKLORE I want to tell stories of my life...
— the epic tales, and the not-so-impressive anecdotes of my personal history —
...because I want him to know who I am.
• How I called my senior high principal by his first name, and how, on behalf of a Muslim friend, I organized an institution-wide rebellion against an oppressive school policy that permanently impacted school practices — because you can get away with a lot when you’re smart & charming.
• The Minnesota Rite of Passage that is corn detassling with Jacques Seed Co.
• Getting taken in at an impressionable stage of young adulthood by perfume pimps.
• Challenging masculinity for 2 bucks a blow at the MN Renaissance Festival. (Hey, I’m talking about heavy swung strikes with a hammer, you perv... get your mind out of the gutter — this is a family show! ;-)
• How I accidentally moved in with my ex.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because some of those stories are attached to pieces that still sting, and every time I tried dipping into that well, I kept coming up dry. (It’s hard not to feel pretty “basic” when faced with the prospect that by one’s mid-forties, every life story worth telling has already been told... though perhaps I might feel differently after I’ve gotten to sleep on it some more.)
MISCELLANEOUS I want to present my random aimless thoughts...
— from the clever, to the nutty, to the downright ridiculous —
...because I want him to take life seriously, and think for himself, but I also want him to take himself lightly, and find joy in simple, silly things.
• Why do we drive on a parkway, and park on a driveway?
• Why aren’t iPhone chargers called “Apple Juice?”
• If vegetarians have an issue between them, is it still considered a beef?
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I haven’t had it in me to be that witty lately.
ACHIEVEMENTS I want to regale him with reports of my successes...
— from the laughable happy accidents, to the fantastical legends —
...because I want him to believe in triumph, and strive for greatness.
• How I came to be credited as a writer and filmmaker on IMDB.
• How I soloed at the Headquarters of the United Nations for a Global Youth Conference on saving the environment, 25 years before saving the environment was a human imperative.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I don’t want to come across as bragging, and because the stories themselves are really nowhere near as exciting as the teasers.
LIMITATIONS I want to confess my struggles, vent my frustrations, and chronicle my failures...
— the pitiful, the painful, and the shameful —
...because I want him to know I’m only human.
• How I struggle with executive dysfunction, and I’m concerned about getting diagnosed with spectrum disorders, because I can check off damn near every box in some capacity, and I’m terrified of passing my shortcomings on to him.
• How despite being a passable writer, I’m actually a terrible communicator, and do a lousy job of following up with people I care about.
• How long-term unemployment is hard on one’s self esteem, especially on top of the natural coping mechanisms regularly employed to address the effects of a permanently dysthymic disposition.
• How imposter syndrome sometimes hits me so hard I feel paralyzed and powerless, and how often I feel like a complete and utter useless waste of the potential my life once promised.
• How our dreams of home ownership have gone up in a cloud of contagion, and are now on indefinite hold until Mama finds work, or the world somehow rights itself.
• How I’d like to find whomever engineered this shabby excuse for a dilapidated domicile and take them out. No seriously, I want them taken OUT. (Or at that very least, to be delivered a swift kick to the nethers.)
• How Mama’s needs are always the lowest in priority to be addressed in our home, because that’s just the only way our household can function right now.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I don’t like to be that vulnerable in public, and I hate to come across as whiny.
BREAKDOWNS I want to recount cold narratives of the abuses I’ve suffered in failed relationships...
— from the over-abundance I’ve endured, so he may learn from my experiences —
...because I want him to know he should always speak his mind, even if his voice shakes.
• How once you’re in an abusive relationship, you’re likely to continue repeating the same cyclical pattern with others, until you figure out how to break it.
• How no one I’ve been involved with has ever hit me, but physical trauma is far from the worst kind of violence one can inflict upon another.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because even after many years have passed, I’m still not quite ready yet to give power to that evil by speaking its name. I don’t know if I will ever be.
DRAWING A LINE I want to speak to the pressing issues that cannot be swept under the rug anymore...
— from those that impose their twisted version of reality upon those they deem unequal or unworthy, to those that represent the gravest threat to all of us —
...because I want him to never have any doubts about where I stand.
• How I find it hard to celebrate the “independence” of a nation whose promised guaranteed freedoms of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness continue to be denied for much of her citizenry.
• How the term “White Privilege” is a damaging misnomer that fuels and further promotes racism.
• How Black Lives STILL Matter, even once the news has stopped paying attention because there’s only so many dramatic, sensational headlines to be pulled out of any situation for distracting the sleeping masses until the public becomes desensitized, everyone’s feeds have returned to normal, and folks feel free to go back to ignoring microaggressions, blatant acts of racism, and undaunted domestic terrorism, by pretending it’s all just “politics,” and they really don’t want to have to deal with the “drama” of it all.
• How white people are not entitled to “but.” How white people haven’t earned our trust. How white people don’t get to decide for you what you should be forced to accept.
• How white allies need to understand, some POC may never trust them, but if they’re going to make a difference, they will have to just accept this, and still fight for what is right anyway, because only white people can eradicate racism.
• How we refer to most US citizens by the origin of their ancestry, but we don’t get to call white folk Anglo-Saxon or European-Americans... it’s almost as if they believe they’re the default for this nation — the sole representation of the population deserving of and/or privy to all the entitlements that go along with that.
• How maybe no one will ever see you as anything but BLACK, Firebird, but just remember, whenever some ignorant knuckle-dragger tells you to go back to where you came from, YOU are of NATIVE ancestry... Only YOUR people represent the FIRST Nation. You were here FIRST. This is YOUR home.
• How anyone who doesn’t view the situation we’re in as conclusive proof that our system of profit before people is broken, either hasn’t been paying attention, or just doesn’t care.
• How the US Government has repeatedly proven on an almost daily basis that a massive pile of dead bodies is no reason to implement any changes from the status quo, and the fact that you can’t even be sure which issue I’m referring to is the most damning indication of everything wrong with this country today.
• Internment cages. Martial Law. Rampant Police Brutality. Routine Mass Murder. School shooter drills. Economically Exclusive Healthcare. Enemies of Democracy converted into allies. Enemies made of our allies. Vilification of the free press. Systemic Racism. Predatory Capitalism. Political Corruption. 40M+ out of work. 135K+ dead. ARE WE GREAT YET???
• How everything US citizens have been socially conditioned — through great care and expense — to accept as “normal” is considered appalling in every other first world nation. How Americans are the effective equivalent of gaslit victims of Stepford Wives syndrome, and we are long overdue for a global intervention.
But I couldn’t share any of that with you this week, because I don’t know what value there is in being just one more angry voice screaming into the wind, and I have a hard time wondering why my mine should matter, or how it can make any difference — though I’ve honestly been meaning to, and even trying at times for the last month or so — I just really don’t have the emotional bandwidth to get it done right now.
THE PROMISE OF TOMORROW I want to serenade him with my dreams of a brave new world...
— from the far-fetched fantasies to the plausibly tangible conduits to change —
...because I want him to have hope for the future, and to believe in possibilities.
• How I’ve sleeplessly expended mental energy spinning the theory that John Connor prepared his whole life to meet his father, probably imagining he would have to become like a best friend to him in order to create the special bond that would allow Kyle Reese to be convinced to go back in time, but the story doesn’t mention they were that close... in fact, it probably really didn’t take much more than a faded polaroid and a few shared memories, because, when people are miserable and desperate for change, they are willing to do whatever it takes, and can be talked into almost anything. It almost makes me wonder how bad things have to get before we become our own science fiction dystopian fantasy, and whether there’s someone, somewhere out there in the world, desperately working to perfect a time machine to fix all this.
• How I’ve burned more thought than is probably healthy imagining what I would do with 3 wishes from a magic genie, which really isn’t terribly useful at all... but at least it gets the problem solving gears turning, which is exactly the kind of alchemy we could use more of right now.
• The value and importance of every election, at every level, and every vote, and holding elected leaders accountable to upholding their promises, and to meeting the needs of the people we pay them to serve.
So I’m trying to share some of that with you this week, because it’s the most I could manage to pull off while running on empty at full throttle... Snippets. Fragments. Bits and pieces. Scraps. Half-finished sentences, half-hearted thoughts, and half-baked truths. This is all I have to offer “in these troubled times.”
In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter what I think you want to might want to read from me. Not that I don’t cherish your friendship and treasure your feedback, but you’re not my primary motivation for doing this. No, that distinction belongs to someone a fraction of your size. And besides, I have never pretended I came here to win. I have always had my own reasons for playing this game — now maybe you have a better understanding of them, and perhaps, even, a little bit more about me, as well.
Right now, it’s hard to feel like any light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the headlamp of an oncoming train... even if you’re on the right track, you’ll still get run over if you just sit there, so we’ve got to keep moving. None of us can stop the troubled winds that stir a tidal wave of change — progress is coming, whether we’re ready for it or not. Just this moment, though, progress can wait — it will keep, no matter what any of us does — because, despite everything else going on as the world crumbles around us, first and foremost, I’m someone’s Mama, and that’s got to be the main course on my plate for the time being.
Of course, there’s so much more uncommon knowledge to be passed along to our progeny that goes into the home education portion of his upbringing... these are just a few of the pieces distinctly unique to our life experience, and by proxy to his. Naturally, I realize I still have to temper the lofty ideals of raising this inquisitive spirit to become a free-thinking agent of integrity with the mundanity of simply transforming a young child into a functioning adult. I mean, sure, I want to be able to get him all the nutrition his growing body requires without surrendering to letting him slather his food all over his toys for using them as a delivery device, but, hey... whatever works — it still gets the nourishment he needs into his system, and I have to carefully choose my battles — so I’ll take what I can get.
Progress is coming with or without the contributions of me and mine, but I’d sure like for us all to be on that train. I hope, for your sake, my little Firebird, your generation won’t have to be the ones to bring about the kinds of changes that will balance the lives of so many. I hope it comes soon enough for you to know it — to grow up in it, and for the time before it to have no more influence on your outlook for tomorrow than a footnote in the annals of your yesterday.
The world is progressing daily, by degrees... some more minor than others. Years ago, John Lennon believed that enough to tell his son it’s getting better every day, in every way. Although I suspect what happened to him while he was busy making other plans didn’t work out so well as he’d probably imagined.
When the world changes drastically though, in mass movements — the likes of which I have to believe we stand on the precipice of, preparing to bear witness to — it may seem like someone, somewhere, illuminated a light bulb above our collective heads, snapped all our cooperative fingers, and simply flipped a switch. But in reality, there’s so much more ongoing in an unseen capacity, from currents created by the wings of those brave, unsung freedom fighting heroes whose diligent efforts have cleared the passage to prepare the way. The path to getting there may be longer than we’d like, but there are so many already on the way... so many who’ve been traveling that road for such a long time, and I’m so very grateful they’ve never lost hope.
The road to revolution has many lanes, and they don’t all move at the same pace, stem from the same source, or land in the same place. Some protest. Some riot. Some speak. Some broadcast. Some call out injustice. Some talk quietly with love and patience, gently changing hearts and minds. Some organize. Some host. Some support. Some donate. Some learn, and grow, and do better. Some teach. Some create. Some post. Some write.
So we must be kind to anyone moving in the same direction, even if we can’t understand how they got there. Just make sure to keep your eye on the destination, and your foot on the gas. Because until we build our own utopia, my love, I will be here for you... holding your hand, and lighting the path, every step of the way.
(That is, assuming you let me get some sleep sometimes.)
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 26 - Topic: MISFIT META This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
I’m not in the habit of going around saying I have “daddy issues,” though, while I haven’t looked into any sort of official diagnosis, I will admit a professional who focuses on such things might be willing to apply a more formal variation on the term to describe some of my impulsively developed coping mechanisms as a result of learning functional reactions to the dysfunctional behaviors of that particular parental figure... on multiple occasions. My biological father was an individual about whom I can only be grateful existed because without him, I would not have — and while I imagine I could probably fill a small book on our history, in this forum, the less said, the better. My Dad, though, is a good hearted man who loves me, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there for forgiveness of everything else — mainly, his emotionally reserved nature, and his tendency towards conflict avoidance which lead him to be more or less absent in the conventional actions of raising me.
Not being a psychoanalyst, myself, I probably couldn’t accurately speak to in how many different ways these childhood concerns have impacted my life, though for a while in my past, they did create a rather unique pattern related to the types of men whose company I have kept for any significant period of time. One long-term housemate once pointed out that single fathers who’ve been granted sole custody are enough of a rare exception out in the wilds of humanity, it’s quite frankly bizarre that I have been either directly involved or closely associated with at least five of them. I hadn’t ever really given it much thought until he called attention to it... from my perspective, that was just my understanding of what was normal in my world.
Throughout my prolonged single years, I held so strongly to the conviction that whether or not I was fulfilled in life would not be dependent upon whether or not I procreated, I can honestly say I was never intentionally seeking out “good father material” in a male companion out of personal interest or any sense of “nesting” instincts. Also, I have certainly never once for a moment sought out a man to place himself in a position of leadership or control over any aspect of my life — and have in fact violently rejected any who’ve presumed to take on an air of authority over our interactions. Problems resulting from lacking positive masculine paradigms can manifest in multiple ways, but, in my case, an Electra complex, I have never had; a Lolita, I have never been — I have preferred, rather, to instead lean on the internal strength derived from within the power of being a woman, and to forge my own path with the tools readily available at my disposal.
Maybe, though, having had such prolonged exposure to the kinds of characteristics that make up a poor male role model, my sense of the measure of a man came about more from knowing what traits to avoid. Maybe it’s just coincidental that — thanks to a revolving bedroom door of trial-and-error over a longer period of years than I’d care to admit to — I’ve tried on more than my fair share of “types,” and the only ones who had any staying power with me also happen to be accountable with their children. Maybe it was less that I was searching for good father figures, and more that I was unwilling to settle for negligent partners — perhaps it’s just more likely that finding oneself in the company of responsible fathers is merely a natural consequence of surrounding oneself with reliably dependable men... it isn’t automatically a given that being a decent human will necessarily make you a good parent, but at the very least, it’s a requisite starting point.
Minion had been a father for nearly a decade before we became connected, but I’d never had a ringside seat to this angle of his experience until a few years ago, when I delivered his progeny. Bearing witness to the life of your friend and lover as a mentor to your son brings a whole new layer into expanding the ways you find yourself capable of loving — and in many respects completely changes the entire nature of the game. I do my best to show my gratitude, but so often I feel I come up short.
Years down the road, I imagine there will be plenty of terrible ties and crazy socks and discount grooming kits with cheap cologne from our little one — maybe eventually graduating into a phone call from college or another state — but for now, on Father’s Day, Minion gets a card from his baby, one from his pets, one from his adoring bride, possibly takeout pizza, maybe some sugar free candy, and he gets to kick back and take it easy for the day... in theory.* It’s really only a drop in the bucket to try and make him feel a little special, to share with him how much we love him, and to show our appreciation for everything he does for us. (*I say in theory, because Minion doesn’t cool his jets very well — there’s always something he feels he should be doing.)
Since these activities generally comprise the extent of our customary practices, I wasn’t expecting to spend any portion of my Sunday educating ourselves with new details about a variety of animal types. But, as Minion was in the kitchen last night baking me a quiche for my breakfast this week (see previous side note), I happened upon this year’s celebratory Google Doodle for the familial occasion, and as our boy looked on in wide-eyed wonder, I realized I was stuck moving forward with the process. So, with his input, together we produced our own homemade digital tribute to his Papa.
Presenting this offering, I pointed out to Minion the paternal archetypes from the animal kingdom — including seahorses, penguins, and bees (Bees?! Who knew???) — which naturally prompted us, being the nerds we are, to exercise an or so hour of Google-fu, researching into which animal breeds have strong paternal figures. It seems, in addition to those mentioned, there are a variety of other creatures whose fathers take on active roles in parenting — with avian, canine, and primate groups having the strongest showing:
• Arctic Wolves, African Wild Dogs, Foxes, Golden Jackals
(Hey, I took the time to learn these random things, so now you can know them, too!)
In some of these cases, the male is the predominant caregiver for the young. For some, it’s a team effort between both parents. A few make their contributions to the family unit through their support of the mothers.
The Great Horned Owl, for example, is the sole provider of all food his entire family will consume from the time his mate — who is 25% larger than he is — first nestles down upon their clutch of eggs in the dead of winter; she will not move from that spot until her brood is at least a month old, after the month long-incubation period required to hatch them... if not for the diligence of her partner, the proud Papa, they would all surely starve to death.
Ratite** fathers (**category of related breeds, including Emu / Ostrich / Rhea) are the poster birds for stepdads everywhere: classic examples of what it means to take on the care of parenting on behalf of another, and they also represent the epitome of self-sacrifice, losing over a third of their body weight while they incubate the eggs in a nest — at least half or more of which likely do not even belong to them — for nearly two months without food, water, or rest... and then aggressively defend the young as their own once they’ve hatched.
The Grey Catbird — a native of the Americas, named for its “mewlike” call — shares responsibility for the feeding of their hatchlings between both parents, but prior to their arrival, the male sets his mate’s roost on a kind of makeshift “throne” ...literally putting his female partner high up on a pedestal to perch from.
I made a point to confess earlier on that before Firebird was born, I had a strong emotional investment in the hope he would be a girl, because, while nurturing a girl to navigate becoming a strong, independent woman capable of thinking for herself without the need for a man to control her was not just a great responsibility, but a daunting challenge, I knew how to do that — I believed I would be singularly equal to that particular task. My Mom was the one who helped to put a positive perspective on my expectations for bringing up a boy, but in so doing, she also forced me to take stock in how much greater a conundrum it would be to steer a young boy into the kind of man who would always treat women with basic dignity and respect, and I realized then... I have absolutely no idea how or where to even begin taking the first step on the road to that seemingly insurmountable task. Fortunately, I don’t have to do it alone.
The primary function of every parent is to make of one’s children successful contributing members to society, with the secondary expectation of roles being to in so doing, also promote one’s own values forward into future generations. I recognize what that might end up looking like could take on many different kinds of forms, but I have to act under the assumption that my kid might one day want to attract a partner, and create a family, so I need to make sure he’s properly equipped for either outcome, or both. One thing is for certain... if one would ever have any hopes of becoming a good father, he must start out by first being a good man. And, achieving that baseline can come about in large part through having a good father as the pattern to model after (though certainly, this is not the only way, as my Minion is evidence to... his character is primarily the byproduct of his Mama’s rearing, while the obstacles of his temperament and complications of his disposition he constantly struggles to put behind him are a direct result of his father’s abuse).
My husband recently made the statement to me that he “doesn’t understand feminism,” which is ironic, considering he’s married to an outspoken advocate for feminism, and is in fact, himself, a faithful feminist, by his very nature. I explained to him that the notion of feminism is nothing more than an idea — much the same as “Antifa” is shorthand for anti-fascism, or being against totalitarian government — where the concept represents the radical notion that all women deserve human rights equal to those of men, and social treatment with proper respect and basic dignity on the same level as what men experience as their customary standard. When he responded with confusion about why the idea would need to put women forward, rather than simply calling for equal rights for everyone (which is in fact exactly what it is doing), I further clarified that common oblivious response is about as ignorant and useful as the follow-up to BLM that “All Lives Matter,” which immediately placed the position of feminism into a relatable perspective for him.
To be fair, though, Minion isn’t being deliberately obtuse — his myopia comes from a lack of perception — something we’re all guilty of, at times, and must actively work to overcome if we want to be empathetic to the lived experiences of our fellow humans. But while his words suggest he doesn’t get it, his actions declare the reason it doesn’t make sense to him is because he can’t relate to the kind of person who wouldn’t automatically consider all genders to be on the same footing as a matter of course... and in that respect, he really doesn’t get it. Through our relationship, though, my husband has become more aware of the common hardships all women face everyday just for being women, and as a result, he has become more informed and compassionate, because when Minion learns, Minion grows.
It may be, then, that I won’t ever really have to do a whole lot to teach my son how to treat women properly... perhaps, all I really need to do is point to the example in his Papa. I really can’t expect my boy to be decent to girls, or to become a young man who is respectful of women, if what he sees every day in his home life gives him the impression that females are not worthy of reverence, or that males have the right to consider themselves superior. But I don’t have to worry about that, because the man in our house tells a far different story of how the world works, no discussions required, in the little things he does every day that point the way.
These are just a handful of the best ways the first love of my life is a partner to me, who in his action demonstrates to our son on a daily basis what kind of man is worthy of being emulated.
• He cooks all our evening meals and breakfasts once a week • He packs me a lunch to take to work every day • He turns down my linens every night to be cozy for crawling into bed
• He does all the dishes, runs the dishwasher, and puts all the clean dishes away • He picks our toddler’s playpen area every night and organizes the toys so our boy has a clear space to play in the next morning • He handles the greater share of our household cleaning
• He performs odd handyman repair jobs around our shoddily engineered rental home • He’s the first line of minor fix-it mechanics for our aging automobiles • He is willing to ask for directions and get help when he’s stumped or in over his head
• He gathers up all the garbage in the house, takes it to the curb and brings it back each week • He keeps the lawn mowed, hedges trimmed, weeds whacked, and leaves raked & bagged • He cleans the gutters, soffit & fascia clear of debris
• He winterizes all the windows in the house and the three-season porch screens • He keeps the driveways and walks plowed, de-iced, and salted • He maintains a winter safety kit in each of our vehicles, and performs regular routine maintenance to keep them in proper working condition
• He runs errands as needed • He works every day without fail like clockwork at a dead-end job that steadily sucks away a piece of his soul, to contribute the financial foundation that stabilizes our household budget, and to provide for our medical coverage
• He never walks out the door without giving me a goodbye kiss • He always greets me with a smile and a smooch • He speaks to me kindly and treats me with respect • He shows me tenderness and affection
• He shares with me the inner workings of his heart, and whatever random thoughts are on his mind • He consults with me on any and all major decisions, not just for all of us, but even for himself, because he acknowledges my general knowledge, he appreciates my wisdom (he says it’s the reason he married me! ;-), and he values my insights • He recognizes each of us a equal partners in the functions of our family and our household
• He laughs often — he takes great joy in simple pleasures • He finds amusement and diversion in his own personal interests, and does not require his family to entertain him • He relishes his family’s company, whether we are engaging in activities, or doing nothing at all, so long as we are together • He is kind to all animals, and cares for our pets gently and tenderly
• He changes poopy diapers, diaper genie liners, and dirty litter boxes • He hugs and holds, kisses and caresses our son, and engages in active play with him • He sets and enforces healthy boundaries to keep him safe, and to train him
• He vocalizes his mind, even when it doesn’t conform to the accepted norm • He speaks to others with decency, whether or not they have shown they deserve it • He does all of this without complaint, whether he is tired, or sore, or busy, or run-down
I realize this is only an incomplete summary of things the man does, and certainly a man is so much more than a mere measure of the things he has done, but how do we judge a person if not by his action? It is in action we show our true colors to others... indeed, it is only in our actions, we can truly teach. Minion, more than most anyone I’ve ever known, so perfectly represents his own ideals, his way of life is a living testament to a simple truth commonly attributed to St Francis of Assisi...
“In all things, preach. If necessary, use words.”
The Misfit Manor household is not by any stretch of the imagination religious. Minion is a wholly committed atheist, and me... I’m not quite ready yet to let go of the idea that there’s something greater than ourselves in the universe — something beautiful and undefined — but I certainly don’t allow hanging on to that hope to influence my expectations of others. Still, in my experience, I’ve found it is people who do not cling so tightly to the crutch of religion who seem to maintain the strongest holds on their own core beliefs — whatever they may be — and these are the principals we pass on to others as we encounter them throughout our lives.
Minion isn’t by any means perfect, nor, either, of course, am I. Like any couple, we have our issues, but we weather them together, as a unified team. We may not be a village within ourselves, but are blest to have two well balanced companions who love and respect one another equally dedicated to the mission of raising our child in a healthy and loving environment together, offering him equivalent measures of the feminine and masculine essence of the human psyche, which he perceives in equal parts from both of us, as we have each found a kind of harmony to both of these aspects of our own nature within ourselves. It is our hope that our Firebird will so too one day embrace every element of his own generative makeup.
Right now my three-year-old embodies the kind of sensitivity that can cause a particularly overwhelming work of music to bring him to tears — just this afternoon, Thomas crooning a soulful, apologetic ballad made him weep openly, until I had to scoop him up into a cuddle, singing along with the cheeky tank engine to help my son find comfort in the beauty of it. He didn’t get that from Minion... his Papa hasn’t retained that level of emotional expression into adulthood, thanks to having it beat out of him by his own father, but I’m grateful he’s not the type of man who would seek to squelch it in our son. Firebird comes by his emotional sentience honestly, through his Mama, and that is a minefield I do know how to help him not just to tiptoe through, but to tap dance upon, with poise and grace, and perhaps even some exhilaration.
By this point, though we both bear the brunt of the burden as a whole, Minion and I have fallen into a kind of rhythmic routine around our respective parenting responsibilities — as I imagine most couples do — based on the roles that come most naturally to each of us. While we never set out to intentionally define, “You do this, I do that;” we were just willing, as we have been with much of our lives — whatever it may be, come what may — to take it as it comes, and let things work themselves out the way they are meant to. And that seems to be functioning just fine for us so far.
I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone how much of a control freak I can be about many things, and when it comes to the well-being of my boy, I surely haven’t made any exceptions. And yet, in many respects, I feel like it can be counterproductive to squeeze too tightly. What I believe is most important is the freedom to experience the flow of life on your own terms, starting from the comfort of a safe and nourishing atmosphere as the building blocks of a foundation upon which to construct your own path out into the world.
Minion and I are neither indifferent deadbeats nor helicoptering anxious wrecks. We cannot shelter our child in the comforting mantle of wealth or privilege, as we have neither to give, but I’m certain we will be able to provide him with everything he needs — because we are in this together, and because through our partnership, we have built our love nest high upon a throne of deference and devotion, in the hopes that will bestow upon our brood every advantage we can impart. I’m confident that should be enough to allow him to bravely face anything life can throw at him — and for everything else, as long as we’re able, we will be right there with a helping hand to lift him up with the support he needs to make up the difference whenever he calls upon us, because that’s what it means to put love into action... and to pass it on.
LJ Idol| Season 11 • Week 25 - Topic: THE CATBIRD SEAT This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
Around the turn of the latest century, I was in my mid-20s. I wasn’t making great money, but it spent like plenty, for living as a single person with not so much in the way of family obligations or financial responsibilities (funny how that works). In many respects, I had more disposal income then than I do now, even while pulling in barely more than a third what I bill out these days.
I’ve since had the occasional thought, “MAN! What I wouldn’t give for that kind of throwaway cash now... and what do I even have to show for it from back then???” I guess that means I’ve finally reached the age and stage of life to understand what folks mean when they say, “Youth is wasted on the young” (not that getting to this particular milestone does anything for me). :-/ Though, to be fair, what I do have to show for it are a lot of avenues explored, as well an eclectic and educational collection of valuable memories, and many of the adventures (and misadventures) behind me which have helped me to become the person I am today — so I really can’t even afford to complain all that much.
I was single in the sense that I wasn’t married, but I was sort of casually coupled... Liam was one of my first semi-official male companions — I believe we even loosely referenced each other as boy/girlfriend — and I guess I didn’t know a whole lot about what a committed relationship was supposed to look like, but I’m pretty sure ours wasn’t it. (If I’m being honest with myself, though, even if I’d had an idea of what was expected, I don’t guess I’ve ever been that great at going by the rules — least of all when it comes to following the standard playbook or doing whatever else is most often considered typical.) He wasn’t my first roommate, but he was my first informal domestic partner, after I “accidentally” moved in with him (a tale for another time), so we sometimes shared space, but mostly didn’t. I almost always kept my own place, even if I was hardly ever there, but I had a ton of time to myself, often using it to contemplate the voids in my life, and how to fill the gaps left by what I felt was missing from it (since Liam and I were clearly not so “right” for each other that our life together was any kind of focus for either of us in and of itself).
I yearned for an external creative outlet — in some more accessible media than the files on my computer — more specifically, for expressing myself through music. A few years out of school, with the kinds of opportunities that had lead to soloing at the Headquarters of the United Nations becoming a more distant memory every day, I longed to reestablish the cooperative dynamic between artistry and alliance, discipline and talent I’d once known, that nourished the dramatic drive in my soul — and there wasn’t anything in my life holding me back from exploring my options. Back then, the free classifieds section of our local weekly arts publication — the City Pages (our Twin Cities’ answer to “The Villager” of Greenwich Village) — was the best resource for connecting with other musicians seeking to form new gigs or restructure working collaborations.
Because it had been years by then since I’d actively played an instrument well enough to perform in public, so I had nothing to offer there; because I’d learned through experience what a cold shoulder having the wrong “equipment” got me with most players (thanks to the disproportionately miniscule window of prospects open for females looking to break into the music biz — even in go-nowhere local cover groups), and because I didn’t have the inclination to invent a new wheel, I focused my search primarily on working gigs with steady contracts seeking to add or replace a female singer. There were usually a small handful; I’d periodically feel them out, sometimes get an audition. During one such exchange, I set up an appointment, then had to cab it, because I was temporarily without wheels after a recent fender bender.
The taxi driver was old enough to be my grandfather, and he looked every bit like the kind of B-list has-been you’d expect to find in some Minnesota variation of a Wilford Brimley movie, not that I was judging... I don’t routinely harbor much in the way of demands from the transportation service providers I encounter. He was a talker, though, as many are — I’d guess previously retired, by the looks of him... probably rejoined the working ranks on his own terms, less for the money, and more for the human interaction. So you can imagine my surprise when the indignation he expressed upon finding out I was headed to audition for a band was not so much related to some generational old-timer’s offense over the indolence of kids these days, but rather, his feeling of having been slighted because I hadn’t responded to his City Pages music ad!
He had the weekly circular up front with him at the ready, open to the musicians seeking musicians section... he passed it back to me, pointing out the spot circled in red sharpie, which was odd enough I was inclined to wonder how many times he’d already done that this week with other passengers. He’d come to figure out what I was up to because he not only recognized the address, but even knew the name of the band I was meeting — and felt compelled to offer his opinion on how “those yahoos” weren’t right for me, and didn’t deserve a gal as good-looking as me, which, considering the 40+ year age gap between us, came off a tad on the creepy side. I don’t remember the exact verbiage he used, but the tone of his frustrated rant about not getting the kind of responses from talented, attractive young folks he’d anticipated made me half expect to hear the words “whippersnappers” and “tarnation!”
I reviewed the area he’d highlighted, which in only a few poorly structured run-on sentences of mostly incoherent babbling, managed to precisely showcase exactly the kind of emotional baggage I had a natural instinct to steer clear of with a 10 ft. pole. I don’t recall what it said, specifically, but if you picture the character I described, then imagine Yosemite Sam published his post, you probably wouldn’t be too far off on your general impression. The more relevant point, though, was, it didn’t meet either of my criteria — established groups in search of female singers — so that’s all I told him about my reasons as I handed the paper back to him, hoping that would be the end of it. Sadly, it was not... he was doing most of the talking by that point, so I just held my breath and waited it out... fortunately, the ride wouldn’t be that much longer.
As he dropped me off, Art Carney the cabbie couldn’t resist the urge to make one more last ditch pitch at getting me together to “jam” with other potential band mates — using such hard-sell closing tactics, I started to suspect his last job had been as a used car salesman in one of those cheap, “BUY HERE / PAY HERE” lots for poor saps with bad credit, and that image suddenly somehow perfectly rounded out the entire persona, which explained a lot. I might have said I’d have to see how things went here first — meaning in the meeting he’d taken me to — but I’d think about it, and maybe follow up if I was still looking. As for that next encounter, well... the smell of ganga wafting from the house hit me so hard while I was still on the sidewalk, I almost thought about just getting right back into the taxi without even knocking on the door, til I realized I wasn’t willing to pay the price — which would surely be episode II of Grandpa’s woes on everything wrong with today’s music players, complete with a heaping helping of “I told you so...” so, on I went.
Inside, the entire main level had an open floor plan completely cleared out of any furniture except bean bag lounge chairs, and all the accoutrement of a regularly working band... drum kit, mic stands, etc. The room was low lit except for a handful of overturned crates covered with Indian pashminas and tie-dyed serapes to hold lava lamps and incense burners — as if that helped — and there were actual beaded curtains separating sections of the space. If I were to ever write my musical memoirs, I might devote half a chapter to my brief experience with that groovy collective of doped-out hippies whose frontman was a nearly identical doppelganger to Brent Spiner in Independence Day — if he dressed and spoke like Shaggy of The Mystery Machine Gang — but, suffice it to say, we were not a good match, and our association didn’t last long.
A few days later, I received an unexpected, out-of-the-blue call from Grandaddy Hackman, who’d apparently kept my number in his cell phone from when it was entered into the service dispatch as part of the process required to order the cab — so the driver can text upon arrival. He let me know he was finally set up with enough responses from his ad for gathering a group of various instrumentalists to play together, and he wanted me to join them. Now, mind you, I don’t know if chauffeuring practitioners have any sort of professional code, but if so, I would expect this surely would have violated it. Still, as I wasn’t playing out anywhere yet, and I’d since sorted out my vehicle situation, I agreed to the meeting, and took down the address.
After a trek out to a suburb on the cusp of the outer metro ring from where I lived in Minneapolis — any further and I’d have declined on distance alone — I found Gramps hosting in the free-standing party room of an upper middle-class townhome community, which was clue #1 this wasn’t going to be the typical garage / basement try-outs. I was the only female presence at this showing, but along with the mature coordinator, there was a drummer, a keyboard player, and a bassist, none of whom were kids, but even the oldest of them probably only had about 15 or so years on me, which still put them 25 or more behind him. I was the last to arrive, apparently because I’d been given a different time to come than the rest... I guess Gramps had wanted them all to get a good rhythm going with each other before they brought in a singer.
I walked in the way I always did on such occasions in those days... dressed like I was ready to take the stage of an arena shared with Heart and Queen, and sauntering with the confidence of a rockstar who owns the place... back when I could feel every eye in the room on me, and soak it all in — when that kind of high felt right to me (man, I wish I still had that much swagger in my game!). At the time, I was in-the-know enough to have a finger on the pulse of groups getting gigs in the cities — if you wanted to play the big clubs who paid out the big bucks (enough for a 6-piece to take home), you stacked your setlist with whatever music the primary demographic is nostalgic for, with a hard-hitting focus on the kinds of dance numbers that would get them out onto the floor — because dancers sweat, and sweaters drink, and all managers really care about is whether you can pack the house. So, naturally, given the decade, I was anticipating heavy 80s rock, with a few classic 70s throwbacks, and one or two ballads, for the sweethearts to slowly fall in love all over again.
I was not expecting Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison — mainly, because I had an interest in working someplace other than VFWs and American Legions, preferably for audiences who hadn’t seen action in Viet Nam. I realize that era was probably Grandpa’s heyday, but if that’s what he was going for, why bring in all the rest of us young guns? Weren’t there others out there of the more senior variety he could have opted for, who would be better acquainted with and accommodating to such wistful stylings???
And when I say dude looked like someone’s Grandfather, I’m not intentionally trying to be ageist. Don’t get me wrong, I realize there are plenty of our elders who can still maintain an incredibly commanding stage presence. I mean, Neil Young looks like someone’s granddad, too — and very well could be, I suppose (but in fact, isn’t) — though nowadays he comes off less like a rocker, and more like he should be in a rocker on the front porch of a retirement home; Rod Stewart looks like he belongs in a wheelchair; Ozzy can barely form a coherent sentence anymore, and I’m pretty sure Keith Richards and Willie Nelson are probably long overdue for a private swordfight in an underground parking lot somewhere — but put a mic in their hands and an ocean of adoring fans in front of them, and you’ll believe folks who say you’re only as old as you feel... at least for 90 minutes a night at a few hundred bucks a head, anyway.
That kind of legend, though, this guy was not — he was hunched over like Quasimodo, as if his guitar strap held the collective weight of all the world’s stage fright jitters — creating a sympathetic ache in the bones for anyone who cast an eye in the direction of his slumped shoulders, only to become fixated on his abnormally twisted spine, which then naturally compelled one with an overwhelming urge to try and help him sit down, or at the very least grab him a walker. This was certainly not the type of figure one expects to find at the front of any musical group, not even a bar band — this was the kind of silhouette you would expect to see in a Metamucil commercial. But that wasn’t even the worst of it...
No, the worst of it was... Grandpa sucked. He worked his pedal like he was thought it would help him run a yellow light, with no real concept of its purpose; his guitar playing invoked the same feeling I would expect of most parents having to sit through second grade recorder concerts, and based on the pained expressions of the rest of the room, I’m sure it wasn’t just me who thought so — I suspect everyone gathered there were all busy calculating in our heads exactly how long we would have to stay to meet the requirements set by the social standards of “Minnesota Nice” before we could make our excuses and escape. I’m positive from the time I showed up, that timeframe was actually less than an hour, but it felt to me when it was over like it had lasted for about a week and a half.
As I made my exit, trying to restrain myself from sprinting to my car, I was motioned over to where the drummer was hanging out on the patio with the keyboard player, both having a cigarette. I explained I didn’t smoke, and I had a long drive ahead before an early morning, but he promised he would be quick, and there was a pleading kind of desperation in his eyes demanding attention, so I relented. His first confession was, based on our host’s skill level — or lack thereof — he’d been ready to leave only 5 minutes after he’d got there, except for one thing... Gramps had told him a female singer would be stopping in later, and he knew a good one had the potential to be what he referred to as a “powerful weapon in any band’s arsenal;” and the reason he’d stayed after I came on the scene was because my presence had “upped the ante.”
His second confession was — as he said, “like any red-blooded American male” — he’d initially been unable to tear his eyes off my gigantic set of lungs... right up until the moment I opened my mouth to sing, whereupon I had changed everything about the name of the game for him. He’d gone to audition for a band, but instead, a rudderless crew had materialized in front of him, and he was ready to take the reins, man the wheel, and run with it. Together, we comprised a powerful front, an accomplished drummer, capable keys, and what he referred to as a “swinging dick” bassist — which was his way of saying, what the bass player offered would do for the time being, until we could get someone better — all we needed was a competent guitarist with some genuine sex appeal, and we’d be good as golden. We caught the bassist on his way to load up his trunk, and we all agreed to continue the conversation at the nearest Denny’s, where we talked shop, and sealed the deal.
I broke my rule about looking for working groups, but the drummer seemed to know what he was doing — he’d been a musician for Disney Studios (not that there’s much excitement in laying down the cymbal track for the theme to the “Duck Tales” cartoon, he admitted, but the money was good enough), and he’d toured with Brass Kitten back in the day (not that I’d ever heard of them). More importantly, though, I’d be getting the chance to have an equal contribution to the functionality of our act, rather than just coming in as a hired gun to stand on my mark and do my thing — which was appealing to me on a whole new level, so long as I trusted we could get it done. And I did... we had an organizer who was hungry to eat, literally — he had an 18-mth-old baby girl to feed, and drumming was all he did for a living... we were going to make some real money. It was starting to seem like I was finally right where I needed to be to start making things go the way I’d wanted for what seemed like forever, and I was plenty good & ready — it was about damned time.
Flash forward a few months, and our fearless leader gave me a random call one night with a sense of urgency a touch more stressed than was normal for him, to ask if I’d been watching the news. I hadn’t, because I didn’t (and still don’t), but even if I had, I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the before-we-go “final five” spot he was referencing... it seems there had been a terrible accident on the new light rail that had killed a taxi driver — the very same one who had originally brought us all together. We harked back to how unimpressed we’d initially been with him (I think the term thrown out was “two-bit hack”) but he confessed even if he’d bad-mouthed the old man maybe a bit more than he’d deserved — because it was fun to be catty sometimes — he would never have wanted him to die... he would never wish that kind of end on anyone.
I had to talk my by-then good friend off the anguish ledge, to steer him from his overwhelming guilt, to remind him that people die every day, and most of the time, there’s not much we can do about it. We aren’t capable of causing bad things to happen to others just by the power of our will, and even if we don’t always have the best thoughts about some folks, that still doesn’t produce an invisible cyclone of cosmic energy somewhere that can somehow bring about the ruin of those at whom we have directed negative thoughts — if it did, what a powerful weapon that would be, and what a different world we would all be living in. The reality is, something bad happened to someone we’d both encountered briefly, and while that can certainly impact one with a profound reminder of our own mortality, it shouldn’t cause us to miss a step in our own lives, any more than to take a moment of silence, and be grateful for our many blessings — especially those who care about us.
That seemed to have the positive effect he needed to hear right in that moment, but I get where he was coming from... death has a way of shaking us all to our core — especially the abrupt, unpredictable kind. It forces on us an immediate and intense, pinpoint-focused perspective of our very existence, like a magnifying glass on an ant, which can be pretty jarring on any given day when such a thing isn’t on your to-do list, particularly if you happen to be an ant. In my case, it reminded me that, like sand through an hourglass, the moments we have for pursuing our own interests are always steadily slipping away from all of us every day, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.
I suspect this is what Grandpa cabbie must have been feeling when in his mid-late 60s he picked up a guitar — I’m guessing either for the first time, or the first time in ages — and determined there was no time like the present to form a band and play the music he’d always loved. I don’t know what inspired him in that moment to tackle that particular mountain... I don’t know what else he’d achieved in his life by then, or what he felt was missing — but I know it seemed to me like a mirror was being put in front of my face, and I’d do well to take a good long hard look. At the time, even though my dream of being a rockstar — or at the very least being able to call myself a professional musician — was still a distant image in a far-off place with a chasm between us I didn’t know how to get over, it still felt like working with this group had me on the right track, and maybe, finally, I was on the road to something else... something newer, brighter, more exciting, more rewarding than the everyday grind of managing property.
In that mythical musical memoir I may never get around to writing, my experiences with the band accidentally formed by a frustrated older taxi driver — which did not include said frustrated older taxi driver — would most certainly garnish a small collection of chapters, with a handful of engrossing tales. But, in the end, we never went anywhere... eventually the drummer* abandoned us for what he referred to as “the bigger better deal” (*who for very different reasons I won’t get into here no longer haunts my friends list — but let’s just say there’s only so much “obsession” I will tolerate). So, effectively, all but our illustrious ringleader got kicked to the curb, just as we had once done to a sad old cabbie with a new guitar, a lot of expensive equipment, no genuine artistic aptitude or real musical talent, and a rapidly dwindling dream of something more.
I hadn’t thought much about that experience in many years until recently, but, the older I get, the more I’m starting to understand what it might be like for one to find yourself in your twilight stages as no more than a frustrated cabbie, when maybe you’d had such greater, grander plans for your life. I certainly never would have expected to find being the 46-yr-old mother of a toddler on my own personal bingo card. These days, most of the music that comes out of me has an audience of one — but it’s a pretty special one — and it’s teaching him a profound love for the sound that soars, that soothes, that inspires... it’s teaching him to sing.
Maybe that isn’t what I’d planned to do with my life, and maybe 20 years from now, I’ll find myself in a cab wondering why no one responds to my ad. Though I do hope, if so, that even then — I still know how to get attention when I want it, how to rock, and how to lead — because, until there isn’t, then there’s still time. And, this... this moment, right here, right now — this has to be good enough for me, because it’s everything I have in this world to show for the whole of my life so far — so I’d better make the most of it.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 24 - Topic: LIVE YOUR HORN This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
This work represents one half of the collaborative effort put forth by “AlarmaSoulson,” the creative team of AlyceWilson and KarmaSoup. The challenge was to choose a partner with whom to create an “intersection” of correlated entries.As our fates are intertwined, please be sure to check out her contribution on this theme:
Please also give a warm shout out to my very accommodating cohort, whose willingness to reach deep into her own past and pull out a story with such eerie similarities to my own have resulted in the uncanny pairing we present here.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
The municipality of Minneapolis is across the mighty Mississippi River from the home I share with my husband and our son in the adjacent twin city, 11 miles from Cup Foods, the neighborhood grocery where a grandfather and father of three made his last commercial transaction, for a pack of cigarettes. It became his last, after the $20 he’d used to pay for his purchase turned out to be counterfeit, and because he couldn’t be convinced by store associates the money was fake, he’d refused to give the cigarettes back; MN state law requires businesses to report these incidents to the police, so the grocery store clerk did so, while the shop owner admits this frustrated customer very likely did not know the single bill was a phony. When the police arrived on the scene, they found him sitting outside the business in his vehicle, and from there, things quickly escalated beyond reason.
I couldn’t tell you how or why George Floyd had the misfortunate of finding this bogus twenty to have landed in his wallet. It should be plainly evident to anyone that Frank Abagnale, Jr., George Floyd was most certainly not, and no one could have perceived this isolated encounter as the result of some greater forgery conspiracy ring. If so, the “perpetrator” most likely would never have been using racketeering gains for a pack of cigarettes at the corner grocery in the heart of an inner city neighborhood, and he most assuredly would not have been quietly waiting around in his car in front of the establishment he is alleged to have effectively ripped off of twenty bucks and a pack of cigarettes.
I’ve no idea where he picked up the bad bill... perhaps someone passed it to him as a tip at Conga Latin Bistro, where he worked as a security guard — or El Nuevo Rodeo, just 2 miles down the road across the Minnehaha highway, where he helped out at the door for special events — which would not have been unreasonable, because George Floyd was known by most anyone who’d met him for his big smile, his kind heart, his gentle manner. It was said of him that he stood up for people, he was there for folks when they were down, that many members of the community knew him as someone who had their back, who would go out of his way to help others. His fiancé said he had a soft spot for people who’d been thrown away, admitting the kindness he’d shown to her at a Salvation Army three years ago was the reason they’d initially become involved; she confessed he’d been changing her life ever since, teaching her by example to be a better person.
George Floyd was the kind of employee who knew customers by their first names — often giving and receiving hugs — who would walk anyone who asked to their cars at night to keep them safe. He was known by many as a man of peace, who had a knack for lifting people up with his caring presence, often in ways he didn’t even realize. I can’t speak to anything else about his character beyond what his friends and family and those who knew him have been willing to share — I’m sure like most folks, he was neither demon nor saint.
I do know plenty about his criminal record, though, because that’s always the quickest personal background to be put out in these cases. I know he’d had a history of violence in another state — some of it even pretty nasty stuff — but he’d served his time, and he’d moved here to get a fresh start, which it seems he was able to do... he’d kept his nose clean for over 10 years. I’m not intending to put George Floyd on a pedestal, but I know whatever was in his past, he didn’t deserve to die that day, and he didn’t need to become another statistic in the long line of authoritarian killing of unarmed Black people as a result of the institutionalized, systemic racism in this country that has been permitted to run rampant for far too long.
No one does... Ever.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that ended George Floyd’s life. I would think unless you’ve lived in an underground bunker for the last few weeks, you’re at least aware of the recorded accounts of his unnecessarily brutal arrest, in which a white cop kept his neck pinned with the weight of a full grown man upon it, while three other officers stood around and watched. Perhaps, if you’re like me, you haven’t been able to bring yourself to bear witness to the horror of his final few moments — gasping for breath with his hands cuffed behind his back and his face pressed into the street, begging for his life and calling out for his Mama — before he lost consciousness.
I’m not going to address the question of why it would take four men more than just a few moments to load a non-combative man — even a big, dark, strong one with a history of violence — into a police wagon once he was handcuffed, subdued, and in custody. I’m not going to wonder what they were doing during that time, what they were waiting for, or why his murderer kept his hands at his pockets. I will leave that speculation to the Minnesota State Attorney General, who is prosecuting their respective cases, because the Hennepin County District Attorney has a long track record proving he can’t be trusted to serve justice.
I’m not a reporter; I’m not responsible for bringing any news to light about these events. I’m not a journalist; I’m not documenting an historical record of significant world happenings for future generations. I’m not a teacher; if you wanted to educate yourself about the inequitable conditions minorities face every day — to become more knowledgeable about the reality of how greatly their lives differ from yours — you would do your own research, figuring out on your own how to learn what you don’t know, without putting the onus of that task on the people of color around you.
I am a mixed race woman in a mixed race marriage with a mixed race child, and I live in the epicenter of the latest path of destruction in America’s violent and often deadly ongoing war of racial inequality. I can’t change the world... I can’t even change minds. I can’t know what I know and not say what I see, but I can make sure my son grows up knowing the truth about what happened here.
If you’re watching from afar, perhaps all you see is the misdirection, the smoke and mirrors, the twisted spin so many so easily put upon any “blow-up” of civil unrest such as this to make it fit that classic, time-honored, convenient, comfortable narrative that lets the complacent white majority sleep at night... that much more easy to swallow story of making the angry, dark skinned folk out to be ungrateful, villainous, opportunistic thugs who don’t know their place, and who will jump at any chance for an excuse to take by force whatever they can get their dirty hands on from hard working business owners and even their own communities. But I need you to understand, if that is what you’re seeing, it can only be because you’ve being blinded by privilege, and making a conscious decision to accept the story you’ve been spoonfed in a neatly giftwrapped package — the one that serves the interest of those who seek to maintain the status quo, and to keep the oppressors in power, with a knee on the back of all our necks. And I need you to realize that in order to do so, you have chosen to reject reality... so let me pull back the curtain of our world for you.
This community is understandably hurting, angry, and traumatized; and we have been pushed beyond our limits. But WE are peacefully protesting. It is the POLICE who are rioting, with the aid of allies in external white supremacy groups called in by the dog whistle of our resident racist-in-chief, whose tweets have declared open season on the Twin Cities to any red-hat wearing yahoos with a chip on their shoulders and a hankering for a past time in this country when this kind of thing could be done in the streets without consequence, back when our nation was supposedly, “Great,” in that bygone era toward which they would like us all to collectively return, so the “master race” may go back to raping and murdering with impunity, as they believe is their god-given right.
I’m not making false accusations, or weaving conspiracy theories. This is not the underground, cloak and dagger, daytime talk show exposé by a person who is easily swayed by BS, or a gullible yokel buying into emotionally charged fairytales meant to illicit a reaction for the purpose of achieving an ulteriorly motivated result. I’m attesting to what I know, because I am on the front lines of this particular ground zero, and I am in touch with those on the street, in the trenches — they are my friends, my family, my neighbors, my business associates, people I care about and love... this is my community... this is my home... this is what’s going on.
TO PROTECT AND SERVE On the first night of protests, while people were gathered together, talking, chanting, and singing, police drove by and sprayed mace into the crowd from their car windows; when no one moved, police threw flash bangs off the roof into the crowd. Cops barricaded all roads out of the area to prevent anyone from leaving, and when the protesters began to retreat, police followed them on bikes, to mace them. I’ll say that again, a little louder... COPS MACED PROTESTERS FROM BEHIND AS PEOPLE WERE FLEEING TO DISPERSE.
There was no announcement over a bullhorn; no orders were given, no loud call of instruction, no siren, no whistle... there would have been no warning at all, except those who were at the front — close enough to the police line to be able to watch what the cops were doing — saw when the entire department donned gas masks. Then, a reaction rippled through the group gathered there as the first wave turned their backs, and shouted at others to do the same... many, thinking it was part of the demonstration, put their hands in the air, and began a new chant, “Don’t shoot me! I’m unarmed!” And that’s when the shooting started — volley after volley of mace, tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets and sponge rounds were fired by the police indiscriminately into the crowd, which began to scatter, running blind and choking from the hail of violence.
Police tear gassed teenagers who were on their knees with their hands behind their heads — that’s CHILDREN who are not old enough to vote or enter a bar unaccompanied — who were complying with the demands of civil authorities, as they’ve been taught to do.
...These accounts represent a general summary of how the tone was set for the environment in the Twin Cities that continued on throughout the duration of these civil uprisings... this consolidated report of incidents like this happening all over the metro, but especially in the city of Minneapolis, from people I know personally — and some I’ve come to know as a result of this shared moment in our history — who’ve taken the time to write about their experience, to bear witness with play by play testimonies, to give evidence with shared pictures, and to get the word out, with the images and video recordings that law enforcement has been working at every turn to supress. All of them are saying variations of the same theme — there was a massive repression against protesters who never crossed a police line or endangered any cop — though many were understandably justifiably angry, most weren’t even yelling. Cops weren’t ‘responding’ to ongoing rioting — they CAUSED it.
But that isn’t the story the news wants you to know, so that isn’t what’s being shown.
It gets worse, though ... St Paul Police Officer Shohara, whose badge reads 633025 — but who answered my friend his # was 777 when she inquired — made a clear and direct threat to her in front of her children, when she pulled out her phone to take his photo, by asking her, “Who are you going to call when you get raped?” His intentions were clear: to display his power over her, and to create fear. She captured his image, and sent it to his superiors — I haven’t seen an update on whether anything came of it, but who knows... if we’re lucky, maybe he got a finger wagged at him, and was given a stern talking to. :-/
Other accounts show police shot flammables directly into parked cars and bushes in front of Target. One more time, with feeling, for that one, too... COPSBURNED VEHICLES ON THE STREET belonging to citizens of the city they were sworn to protect, and COPSSET FIRE to a prominent Minnesota-based business. Also, COPS in riot gear threw shopping carts through the glass walls of the bus shelter across from Target by their police station... they’d been easy to come by, as protestors — who don’t show up in riot gear — had used them to surround themselves with for protection.
The news isn’t showing you that, either.
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY On the afternoon of the third day following Floyd’s murder, in an unprecedented turn of events, the entire CNN television news crew was arrested and taken into custody, just for being on the scene and filming what they saw on the ground in the streets of Minneapolis, while local troops aligned to the department — whose cameras were trained on looters, with a keen focus on dark faces — were permitted to remain and keep rolling. The world watched this happen live during an on-air cable news broadcast, and yet, immediately afterward, the Minneapolis Police Department denied it happened. Our state governor quickly intervened to get the team released the same day, but it begs the question... if the cops are willing to bold-faced lie to us about what we know we’ve seen with our own eyes, how can we trust what they’re saying about what they will not allow to shown to us, but which people who are there testify to of their own accord?
A St Paul police officer, standing and watching the destruction of a building without moving to lift a finger to stop it, instead turned around and threw a tear gas bomb at the feet of two white female reporters who were taking photos — one of whom is a friend of mine, who has asthma and thought her lungs were going to explode and her eyes were going to burn, until a kind stranger poured milk on her face to ease her suffering.
Some friends who lived close enough to the 3rd precinct went out after a few hours when the noise died down, because the quiet was even more disturbing, and they wanted to make sure everyone was okay. They observed the gathering from a safe distance of about 100 ft away from the main group at the barricade — who were standing with their hands in the air — while sharing an umbrella across the street. When my friend’s partner took out his phone to take a picture of the scene of protesters positioned as if in a hostage stance at gunpoint — an act neither illegal nor aggressive — they were shot at with rubber bullets, as were the empty-handed protesters in surrender posture.
TO KEEP THE PEACE Another friend lives across from the police training facility in North Minneapolis, where he watched large groups of battle ready cops regularly congregating outside in the parking lot, just a few feet from the sidewalk, for an hour at a time or so, in varying shifts throughout the day. My friend was able to listen from his apartment window, and also walked his dog several times every little while to get closer, encountering other neighbors out and about who were just as horrified at this collective of bros boasting about their battles. There was no formal organization to it, and no one was in charge... they seemed to be just hanging out there to socialize before their next “tour,” mostly bragging, without a care for who heard them — unless being overheard was an underlying tactic — about their experiences the night before, and how much they were looking forward to their plans for the night to come, in a way that indicated this was all fun for them.
The atmosphere of macho joviality clearly showcased these cops felt assured they would not need to worry in the slightest about any consequences from their actions. They smacked each other on the back, making sure everyone had gone through all their bullets, making excuses and apologizing if they had not, and cheered when they heard each man would be getting more spray for the night. It would seem there was a game or a pool or a goal of hitting the max number of people per outing, as if this was all just some sort of first person shooter video game, and the very real humans being shot were just “targets.” “We spray, they pray,” someone said, to an uproar of laughter, a round of bro taps, and a rousing chorus of repetition within the group... it became repeated often enough across multiple shifts, it comes off like the new unofficial motto of the MPD.
On another note... cops in Minneapolis apparently don’t care anything at all about the dangers of Covid. They must all be in the “it’s a hoax” camp, as they hang out in large groups, standing merely inches away from each other, their camaraderie complete with hugging, back-slapping, fist-bumping, and not a single one using any coverage to contain their germs. So it should be no surprise — since they obviously do not recognize the validity of this very real risk — that there were multiple reported cases of cops going through crowds and ripping off protester’s face masks.
INSTIGATION Perhaps you’ve seen a video — or maybe several — of a mysterious white man in a chemical gas mask and bio-hazard gear easily wandering through the crowds of peaceful protestors, and calmly approaching the local Auto Zone to nonchalantly smash out all their windows with a hammer, as casually as if he were merely a postal carrier dropping off the day’s delivery. Some videos show him retreating as protesters confronted him for his actions; some even follow him all the way back to the police station, where he walks right in through the front doors — in one of them, one of the protesters questioned him directly, “Are you a *#>@%!<&*cop?,” to which he can be heard responding through his standard police issue respiratory protection equipment, “Does it matter?” Here in the cities, we referred to him as “Umbrella man,” and via six degrees of social media, we worked together diligently until in only a matter of hours, we had identified and doxxed him, by the gear he was wearing which was recognized by someone who knew him personally (his ex-wife), and the side by side comparison of his distinctive prominent heavy brow ridge, invisibly blonde eyebrows and deep set dark blue eyes were unmistakable enough for facial recognition software to confirm a match.
He is a cop. Police initially denied there was any such officer working with them, then admitted he does, though they claimed he wasn’t the same guy, naturally — but, really, what resident of a city who is enraged by police brutality and inclined to take to the streets to express his unrest about the state of affairs would carry an umbrella on a sunny day so he could be picked out even from the air, dress in tactical gear, then coolly slip through a crowd of chanters with signs just to smash windows? How stupid do they think we are???
If you’ve been following stories put out by whatever flavor of mainstream media you prefer, you might have seen a variety of media sources showing Black people (one report referred to them as “savage animals”) beating up or blasting a fire hose on a white woman in a wheelchair. What you didn’t see (but local first-hand videos that didn’t make it onto the air show) is that she could walk just fine, but she’d parked herself in a wheelchair to barricade the exit and block people from escaping a store in flames (the one cops set ablaze), and she had a knife and was stabbing people as they were running out — but only the Black folks, naturally. So, yes, not surprisingly, she was eventually attacked in retaliation — after she’d wounded dozens of others — then she got up out of her wheelchair, left it, and walked away, later giving a tearful interview, her shirt stained with the blood of her victims, about how she’d tried to save the Target from being robbed.
Your news report might not have given you that full story.
INFILTRATION The United States has had racist presidents. In the nearly 2½ centuries since we broke free from colonialism, we’ve had bigots, nationalists, chauvinists, misogynists, ableists, religious freaks, total whackjobs, egomaniacs, bullies, cowards, hotheads, liars, phonies, hypocrites, spoiled brats, whiny babies, idiots, morons, and imbeciles who couldn’t string a coherent sentence together occupying the white house at 1600 Pennsylvania. But I suspect most historians would agree, in the history of our nation, there’s never been a point in time during which a single inhabitant of the oval office embodied each of those characteristics all at once — along with a titanic chip on his shoulder, a blatant self-centered agenda whose sole function is to serve nothing outside his own interests, a direct line of instant communication to the radically zealous base of a psychotic cult, not the first clue how even the smallest component of government operates, and an innate inability to get within the same planetary orbit of any statement resembling the truth, who has destroyed every institution he’s ever touched. When he says jump, they dive from a plane with no parachute.
When he says tiki torch bearing neo-nazis who run down crowds over the removal of loser trophy civil war monuments are “very fine people,” but uses the language of a racist segregationist inciting the race riots of 1967 as a dog whistle to refer to members of a community kneeling in prayer and singing songs together — to express our collective dissent because a man on the ground in handcuffs wheezing, “Please don’t kill me!” was lynched and murdered in broad daylight — as “THUGS,” his “very fine people” hop in their big wheel pickup trucks and head to Minneapolis to *#>@%* some *%!@@3&**@$$*up. The rioters who came in from out of town aren’t even trying to hide it — they’re boasting like crows on social media, pandering to their supportive and adoring “fans.” Sometimes it’s just pre-game *$#!&* talking, but other times, there are pictures of what they’ve done, like serial killers with their trophies... the apparent goal, openly bragged about, and even TAUNTED directly to Black people, is to “make y’all lose your shit tonight so you can be killed with cause.”
The first couple of nights — once the police had properly kicked off the violence and got the riot ball rolling — the external influence was mostly comprised of anarchist white boys from the affluent suburbs of Minnesota... kids who just want to go out during pandemic and have some fun seeing the city burn because they’re bored from being cooped up in the house. They hide in the masses, taking the status of the situation from protest to pandemonium. Most probably fall into the red hat category, but who knows, maybe a handful might have even had good intentions and thought they were helping.
By the 3rd night, after Gossamer issued an open invitation for proud boys, rednecks, and boogaloos from all across the country to loot, pillage, and destroy us, our cities were inundated with utility vehicles sporting extreme right wing stickers coming in with out-of-state plates — by the 4th night, they were roaming around with their plates removed. (It’s a pretty safe bet no one who is an extreme right wing conservative is going to be taking a knee and saying a prayer and singing a hymn on the side of peaceful protesters.) These are not people angry about the killing of George Floyd — this is provocateurs who intend to spark a race war... the more dark bodies put down, the better.
The US has a long history of implementing this strategy, because it works. In the beginning, when the rest of the country is reeling from the tragedy — when the hurt is fresh and raw, and it’s easiest to sympathize — right wing plants show up at protests to wreak havoc, blending into large groups, using the crowds as a diversion. When anger is raging and adrenaline is high, it wouldn’t take that much to tip the scales of a peaceful protest into an out of control insurrection — especially when cops are fighting a war against citizens. That way, the reports can show everyone watching how awful “those people” are, and the injustice that started it all gets pushed to the back of the collective hive mind and forgotten.
TO ENFORCE THE LAW In Linden Hills — a Minneapolis neighborhood a couple city grids removed from most of the “action” — a local dentist office put out a public statement about why, despite their relevant distance that one would figure might (in theory) offer some safety, they were choosing to board up their windows and shutter their doors to keep their business safe. They indicated they didn’t have a problem with the protesting or the rioting... they understood and supported the need for both. Their problem was with the police, or lack thereof.
The statement noted, businesses in Minneapolis have been in a position to have observed for some time, members of the Minneapolis Police Department ARE NOT under the command of the Mayor or the police chief. Rather than diffusing the tensions of peaceful protests, police actions have been to deliberately escalate the situation at every turn.This is a direct quote from their posted announcement:
“Their strategy seems to be: ‘Either we get to kill Black men when we feel like it with no criticism from you people, or you don’t get any law enforcement it all. Nice little city you got there... be a shame if something were to happen to it. Miss us yet?’”
Indeed, it’s as if the Minneapolis police seem to take orders only from their vocally outspoken white supremacist union leader, Bob Kroll, who regularly wears a “White Power” badge, and who has since Floyd’s arrest issued a letter praising the outstanding work of the MPD, criticizing leadership of the police, the city and the state as “incompetence” for refusing to acknowledge the department’s hard work and “shifting blame,” and declaring he intends to fight to get jobs back for all 4 cops who murdered Floyd, claiming they were not given “due process.” (The men who acted as prosecutioner, jury and executioner to enforce “street justice” are entitled to the very “due process” they denied the man they murdered.)
Minneapolis cops are so out of touch with reality, they were reportedly furious when the four officers involved with killing George Floyd were immediately fired, and even furious they were being directly criticized about it. They have responded by turning that fury against the residents of the city they have sworn to protect. I am reminded of the general attitude of the Colonel Jessup character played by Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: “I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to someone who rises and sleeps under the very blanket of the safety I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it... I would rather you just said THANK YOU, and you went on your way.”
Multiple accounts from businesses and residents have reported, police in this area have pretty much abandoned their responsibilities while this turmoil is going on. Cops are seen doing nothing to stop looters or people destroying property, they just stand around watching it happen, but are quick to deploy force against anyone who tries to create a visual record of these activities or to stop the destruction. The Minneapolis Police Department is effectively no better than a mafia protection racket.
I would like to have begun that last statement with a clarification of, “at this point,” but the truth is, we got to “this point” because this has been the standard status quo for how Minneapolis has been conducting law enforcement operations for quite some time now, so the sparks created by this arrest finally caused this powder keg to erupt in an explosive enough manner to boil over... it was inevitable that something would. These cops have literally been getting away with murder for so long, they seem surprised and downright pissed that anyone would dare to complain about it. And that’s how you end up with a man kneeling on another man’s neck for 9 minutes with his hands in his pockets... he’s making a bold statement, plain as day, that he believes you can’t touch this.
US VS. THEM The population of Minnesota is primarily comprised of generationally established Scandinavians, many of whom seem to be by nature fairly tolerant of others, if a bit stand-offish. Over time, cultural diversity has increased to a make for a colorfully attractive smorgasbord within the Twin Cities region, but we’re still mostly pretty milktoast around the rest of the state, and even in some parts of the metro area. The Minneapolis police force, though, is overwhelmingly white and male, with 92% of cops who work in the city returning at the end of a shift to residences in far off suburbs, more than a half hour’s drive away from this community.
There’s no way to maintain a sense of familiarity, connection, loyalty and trust for the people of a specific locality with a group that keeps such a distance from them, effectively setting themselves up as a master class of overseers. It is painfully obvious they don’t see their function here is to serve these people; they have no concept of “keeping peace” or maintaining law and order — they will do what they want, when they want, and no one can make them do otherwise.
In many respects, this isn’t even about race anymore — Black residents of the cities make up only 19% of its demographic, so most of the people protesting are actually white. Now it’s just a bunch of good ol boys throwing an old fashioned temper tantrum — cops are having a dick waving pissing contest on our cities over maintaining control. They are letting us know they will remain in charge as they see fit, no matter what color anyone is, and whoever doesn’t like it, had better get used to sleeping in ashes.
Swat teams in full tactical gear are combing neighborhood streets at dusk, shooting paintballs at people standing on the front porches of their own homes and discharging gas canisters through any open front doors of residences. Once the locals are buttoned up, then looters, vandals and provocateurs — most from other states — move in when the sun goes down, while police stand by and watch, then vanish once the chaos begins... they just kick back and let it all burn. The real criminals are having a field day making a party of our towns because the gossamer-in-chief poured gas on a dumpster fire for these gangsters, and they have an ally in the cops.
URBAN SPRAWL Waking to the news of Floyd’s death the morning after it happened, I was outraged, incensed, and downright *#>@%3&* up in the head at yet another senseless tragedy brought against an unarmed Black man by cops within the region of the Twin Cities metro — enough to spiral me into a grim cloud of dysfunction for the rest of the day, barely managing to cope as I scrolled through every new update, and at one point I just had to scream, scaring the crap out of my son, who then had to be comforted, because admittedly, he’s never seen his Mama completely lose her *$#!&* before. Yes, we’ve been down this road here in the past — this is not a new story, sadly, so I knew, to some degree, what to expect. But I never could have anticipated the magnitude of the impact the outcome of this corruption would have on such a grand scale so quickly.
After catching word online of the plan to hold a protest across the river from the scene of Floyd’s murder, in my city, at the doorstep of our home, I admit my first thought was, please, p – l – e – a – s - e... PLEASE don’t bring that devastation and destruction here! Our house is just 15 blocks from the site where not 4 years ago, Philando Castile, returning from grocery shopping with his family in his car, to go home and prepare his birthday dinner, was pulled over for matching a certain description, and shot at point blank range in front of his girlfriend and their 4-yr-old daughter, a mere 74 seconds from the moment he turned his engine off, because he dared to believe in a world where a Black man could legally carry a licensed and registered firearm in a conceal-and-carry state while driving and being Black... but the cop who stopped him took care to send a message — with 7 bullets, so as to make sure everyone knows — that world doesn’t exist. So, yeah... one of my brothers is a beat cop on the night shift in this area — and he’s one of the good ones — but the police in this area are not without blood on their hands, too.
Most of the protesting is just a little shy of where we are, so we had the luxury and the privilege of staying indoors to avoid the worst of it. If I were younger, if I didn’t have a husband at high risk to the pandemic, and a baby who needs his parents, I might have been out there with my face to the ground. But these days, any time we leave the house could be a threat to Minion’s life, because of his hypertension and heart condition, which, interestingly enough, reports say, are the exact same conditions which prevented George Floyd from being healthy enough to be choked for 9 minutes.
When Covid landed on our borders with months of foreseeable warning, the US didn’t have enough PPE or testing, but as soon as any peaceful protest includes a significant number of darker faces and bodies, our “civil servants,” whose motto is, “to serve and protect” us, are immediately at the ready with tear gas, rubber bullets, flash guns, and Mad Max level tactical gear for multiple police forces all across the country. It hasn’t been even a month since mobs of white people armed with loaded, live, semi-automatic weapons were permitted to storm multiple courthouses across the country to scream in the faces of police casually dressed in their standard uniforms, wearing only face masks as protection, with no more weaponry other than what they typically have on them... cops were even positioned in a casual, “at ease” stance, while quietly ignoring the chaos around them, like the guards at Buckingham Palace. And yet, wouldn’t you know it, somehow, not a single law enforcement officer ever felt for a moment his “personal safety was in jeopardy...” really puts perspective on our priorities on life, and a completely different take on that whole concept of the “sanctity of life,” not to mention a clear statement about which lives really matter.
By the time the weekend rolled around, and we needed a handful of groceries, my husband was unwilling for either of us to venture out on our own, for fear we might get caught in a situation we couldn’t escape (not that having his family in the car with him provided any protection for Philando Castile). The gas station on the corner, our local grocery store, and the nearest pharmacy were all was boarded up for safety and closed, with many other stores in the nearby retail center also having shuttered their windows, while remaining open because they couldn’t afford to lose the business. We had to take a 20 minute trip 10 miles away to get the few perishable staples we couldn’t do without (milk, eggs, bread, etc.).
This was an eye opener for wondering what a hardship this would be on those poverty stricken areas where most people don’t have cars to escape to larger, safer shopping facilities, and usually get around on busses which had suspended service, and could no longer walk to their corner market for basic needs, because it was now in ruins, or how folks without direct deposit on UI or SSI who depended on postal delivery for sustenance would fare once the mail stopped coming into the hood.
OBFUSCATION A popular media clip might have showed you the story of a semi trailer barreling through a crowd of protestors on one of our busiest Minnesota highways — a friend of mine who was there lost his phone running for his life from that trucker. What that report may not have informed you about is, the protest was a scheduled peaceful assembly, approved with a formal permit by the city, whose officials coordinated with local law enforcement to barricade all entrances onto that stretch of road for the duration of the pre-arranged event. Police were responsible for warranting all traffic had been cleared from the protest zone before setting up the barricades; no other organization had access to allowing vehicles onto the highway at that time, and anyone who tampered with those blockades would have had to have done so in full view of the police force guarding them.
Even more damning, the protest itself had a planned route, and followed a programmed itinerary of activities. The semi careened onto the freeway right when the crowd was taking a knee and bowing their heads in a moment of silence, according to the approved schedule. Putting 2 and 2 together for you... COPS — whether by direct action or negligence — allowed an 80K# 18-wheeled semi tanker onto a freeway packed with 5K – 6K people, at EXACTLY THE PRECISE MOMENT when they would be MOST VULNERABLE to being SLAUGHTERED.
Your news program probably didn’t mention that.
It may or may not surprise you to know, though, it’s not as easy as one might expect — even for a vehicle as powerful as a semi — to slice through a throng of thousands, and yet, fortunately, somehow, no one was seriously injured. As if by a miracle, the crowd parted like the red sea to let the weaponized carrier through, and when it finally slowed, the truck was quickly surrounded and overwhelmed by the teeming mob, who stopped any further forward momentum like a herd of walking dead, yanking the driver from the cab. This scene could easily have turned into a grizzly reminder of Reginald Denny in the LA riots, but peaceful protestors defended the driver, guarding his body with their own, protecting him from harm until he could be safely handed over to police to be taken into custody... because that’s Minnesota.
Some broadcasts might not have clarified that for you, either.
Cops on the scene, who were there to ensure the safety of the protesters, responded by tear gassing and macing them. The MN State Governor has announced the MN Department of Public Safety, in conjunction with the MN State Patrol and the MN State Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, is looking into this incident as a criminal investigation, including the mishandling by law enforcement. But the wagons have been circled, and bureaucrats involved are already calling it a tragic, unintentional accident.
KINDLING On a different day, my own brother might have been on that freeway, as he and his wife have made a habitual practice of participating in such demonstrations for some time; if he’d not been working at that time, he would have been there. I learned a lot from him, when I asked about this tactic sometime ago — I inquired, why harass ordinary every day people just trying to go about their lives? The general public didn’t cause these problems, and traffic commuters aren’t going to impact this situation — why not protest a police station, a mayor’s office, a governor’s mansion, or a legislative house where relevant changes that could make a difference can be made?
My big brother gently schooled me that those places are filled with people who aren’t going to lift a finger to do a thing unless it’s in the public interest, and it will never be perceived as necessary until the general public puts on enough pressure to demand change. So, yes, every day people ARE going to make the difference. Indeed, they’re the only ones who CAN.
We need to have our regular routines interrupted... We need to be broken out of the comfortable patterns of our lives, and give focus to these issues that will never go away just been we choose to ignore them. And, yes, as much as it hurts us all to admit, I’ve grown enough to appreciate, the general public DID cause these problems, and we will never be able to correct them, so long as we continue to go through our lives with our eyes and our mouths shut. As long as we choose the comfort and convenience of ignorance over action, then our silence will continue to beget more violence.
At the time of his death, DMV records showed since the day he’d first got his license, Philando Castile had been pulled over for minor traffic infringements and equipment violations 49 times — most of which were summarily dismissed as minor, nuisance infractions not even worth bothering the courts over. That’s a history of being stopped by a cop roughly every 95 days, for 13 years. Try to imagine for a moment would it be like for that kind of treatment to represent the normal routine for your world — then imagine a reality in which there’s a very strong possibility it will only be a matter of time before any of those random, easily tossed out incidents could finally be the one that kills you.
For Philando Castile, it was a legally registered licensed firearm, on traffic stop #49.
For George Floyd, it was a $20 bill he didn’t know was fake.
For Freddie Gray, it was a pocket knife — the kind carried by 174M civilians every day.
For 12-yr-old Tamir Rice, it was playing cops and robbers in the park with a toy pistol.
For Trayvon Martin, it was a pack of skittles and a hoodie.
For Botham Jean, it was a bowl of ice cream in front of the TV in his living room.
For so many others, the tiny little things we do in our ordinary lives every day that most people wouldn’t think twice about, could be what puts a biased cop or a vigilante with a gun enough over the edge to take your life... if you’re Black. And, if your killer is white, then that might be the end of it. A mock trial will be held, in which a three ring dog and pony circus makes a scene of pretending anyone cares, and your name will be added to a list of the martyred... because that’s just the way things are.
What do we tell our children when compliance and evidence doesn’t matter? When guilt or innocence doesn’t matter? When our outrage doesn’t matter?
This is not justice for all. This does not meet the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why we protest.
When the thunderous roar of hate is deafening, love cannot remain silent. We must speak the truth and shame the devil. And MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD.
Go out and tell our story... Let it echo far and wide... How justice was our battle, and how justice was denied. And say to those who blame us for the way we chose to fight, ...that sometimes there are battles that are more than black or white. And I could not put down my sword when justice was my right. Make them hear you... make them hear you.
Go out and tell our story to your daughters and your sons, and tell them, in our struggle, we were not the only ones. Your sword could be a sermon, or the power of your pen. Teach every child to raise his voice, and then, my brothers... then ...will justice be demanded by ten million righteous men. Make them HEAR you. MAKE them hear you.
Give the people a day of peace, a day of pride... ...a day of justice we have been denied. Let the new day dawn, we pray... We shall not know heaven till we reach that day.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 23 - Topic: RUNNING FROM OUR PROBLEMS This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol.
This work represents one half of the collaborative effort put forth by “DarmaDo," the creative team of Dadi and KarmaSoup. The challenge was to choose a partner with whom to create an "intersection" of correlated entries.As our fates are intertwined, please be sure to check out her contribution on this theme:
And please don't pass up the chance to give a shout out to my lovely partner, as she has demonstrated such patience and grace throughout this incredibly crazy week, despite being more or less thrown under the bus as the world came crashing down around us by my inability to find the mental focus to write on anything else but this. Our original plan hand been to make a connection over shared family histories — tales of an extended family member of hers and mine. Honestly, there’s nothing I would have loved better... But this is a part of my family’s history now.
If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
ISAK ABDIRAHMAN ADEN | JOHN ADAMS | CARLOS ALCIS | RAYMOND ALLEN | WENDELL ALLEN | TANISHA ANDERSON | ALONZO ASHLEY | AHMAUD AUBREY | JORDAN BAKER | ORLANDO BARLOW | RONALD BEASELY | SEAN BELL | JAMES BLAKE | SANDRA BLAND | THURMAN BLEVINS | REKIA BOYD | DANZIGER BRIDGE | RUMAIN BRISBON | JAMES BRISSETTE | RAHEIM BROWN | JOSEPH BURKE-MONERVILLE | MALIKA CALHOUN | AARON CAMPBELL | MIRIAM CAREY | CHAVIS CARTER | PHILANDO CASTILE | KENNETH CHAMBERLAIN | WILLIAM CHAPMAN, II | JAMAR CLARK | STEPHON CLARK | MCKENZIE COCHRAN | JOHN CRAWFORD, III | TERRENCE CRUTCHER | REYNALDO CUEVAS | ROBERT DAVIS | RONALD DAVIS | SHANTEL DAVIS | JORDAN DAVIS | AMADOU DIALLO | NEHEMIAH DILLARD | PATRICK DORISMAND | REGINALD DOUCET | SAM DUBOSE | SHARMEL EDWARDS | JORDAN EDWARDS | DEAUNTA TERREL FARROW | MALCOM FERGUSON | JONATHAN FERRELL | GEORGE FLOYD | JAMEL FLOYD | DEION FLUDD | EZELL FORD | SHEREESE FRANCIS | SHELLY FREY | ERIC GARNER | HENRY GLOVER | RAMARLEY GRAHAM | OSCAR GRANT | KIMANI GRAY | FREDDIE GRAY | AKAI GURLEY | KENNETH HARDING | KIWANE HARRINGTON | DARNISHA HARRIS | ERIC HARRIS | KOBE HEISLER | DANROY HENRY, JR. | JUSTIN HOWELL | JESUS HUERTA | DONOVAN JACKSON | LARRY EUGENE JACKSON | KENDRA JAMES | BOTHAM JEAN | ERVIN JEFFERSON | ATATIANA JEFFERSON | KATHRYN JOHNSTON | PRINCE JONES | DERRICK JONES | COREY JONES | JEREMY LAKE | SGT. MANUEL LOGGINS, JR. | ABNER LOUIMA | RONALD MADISON | TRAYVON MARTIN | DAVID MCATEE | RENISHA MCBRIDE | KENDRIC MCDADE | JEREMY MCDOLE | DYMOND MILBURN | ROBERT MITCHELL | SEAN MONTERROSA | ALBERT MOSELY | EARL MURRAY | DANTE PARKER | NOEL POLANCO | KAJIEME POWELL | DANTE PRICE | TAMIR RICE | TAYMON ROBINSON | LUIS RODRIGUEZ | GILBERT SALAS | KEITH SCOTT | WALTER SCOTT | YVETTE SMITH | ALBERTA SPRUILL | AIYANA STANLEY-JONES | TIMOTHY STANSBURY | VICTOR STEEN | ALTON STERLING | STRATFORD HIGH SCHOOL | BREONNA TAYLOR | EMMETT TILL | ALESIA THOMAS | TIMOTHY THOMAS | SHEM WALKER | JOHNNIE KAMAHI WARREN | STEVEN WASHINGTON | DAVID WASHINGTON | VICTOR WHITE, III | JESSIE LEE WILLIAMS, JR. | MALISSA WILLIAMS | TARIKA WILSON | TYREE WOODSON | OUSMANE ZONGO
“The Island of Sodor is surrounded by beautiful blue sea. It has fields of green, and sandy, yellow beaches; there are rivers, streams, and lots of trees where birds sing; as well as windmills, a coal mine, docks where visitors arrive, and a profusion of railway lines...” ...that carry anthropomorphic, sentient train engines into sensational escapades which have thrilled locomotive enthusiasts and children of all ages since WWII.
Or that’s the story, anyway.
Our little Firebird was hooked from the first moment I showed him an old classic Thomas the Tank Engine episode, back when he was barely a few weeks old — not quite big enough to do much more than sleep in my lap for several hours a day, during that post-partum period when there wasn’t much more to my life than hanging out in bed for about that same timeframe. You might think he would have outgrown it by now, at almost three, but so far he hasn’t yet. These days, he’s happiest while playing with an audio backdrop that brings him enchanting anecdotes of Thomas and his friends.
If you asked Firebird, I’m sure he’d tell you Sodor is his happy place. Minion, an avid ferroequinologist in his own right, has mused if you worked in the railway industry, Sodor would be the best place to settle down, since it seems there, anything that could possibly go wrong is deemed the fault of animate engines with their own hare-brained, half-baked ideas about how to get things done, and there’s effectively zero accountability for their human operators, who mostly seem to just be along for the ride during all the shenanigans. I’ve noted, too, it must surely be one of the safest places in any mythical universe, as the most commonly re-uttered phrase among its many often regaled tales of adventure is, “Luckily, no one was hurt!”
HISTORY Obviously, these are things children are clearly not supposed to be thinking about while taking in all the excitement. But parents who aim to maintain some discretion about the quality of materials absorbed by susceptible young minds have a responsibility to consider the effects of conditional programming from multiple angles. It wasn’t quite the same when we were growing up... back then, cartoons were mostly only available to us on Saturday mornings and afternoons between school and the dinner hour — just long enough to preoccupy latchkey kids with more complacent pastimes than burning the place down, I imagine — and parents didn’t mind that much, so long as everything was still in one piece by the time they got home from work.
...among others. And on Saturdays, we had the same Bugs Bunny our own families had cut their eyeteeth on — so there was simply no need for them to bother with paying any attention to all that kidstuff.
But Looney Tunes lead to Tiny Toons, giving way to the increasingly irreverent Animaniacs(from which we thankfully getPinky and the Brain!), and “the depravity of MTV” opened the door for more outrageous offerings like Ren & Stimpy and Spongebob (both of which I’ve happily managed to successfully avoid), and before we knew it, we’d been a complicit party to the animated media revolution that introduced the world to The Simpsons. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t sacrifice growing up with those standards — which effectively represented the disenfranchisement of our generation — but I also want to think carefully about how much of that “X attitude” I’m willing to pass along at this impressionable stage of our son’s development, which is no small task... the sheer volume of options has jumped from 57 channels with nothing on, to thousands of networks, carriers, and streaming services, each with their own theme and agenda to be sorted through. On the one hand, I suppose it must feel empowering for many to acknowledge something out there for everyone, but on the other hand, not every flavor of ethos deserves a platform in my kid’s subconscious.
Thomas The Tank Engine, originally created by an Anglican reverend, was initially aired as a regular segment of a separate train themed children’s broadcast, which admittedly in the beginning included a handful of dodgy incidents not easily uncovered amongst the historical records accessible today, and with good riddance. True, some still argue against what they refer to as an oppressive, authoritarian nature to the show’s storylines, but researching into a handful of such opinions makes me wonder if those parents unrealistically expect their children to grow up in a fictional world that will provide for spending a lifetime merely finger painting and building toy models, or if they would oppose their kids cultivating the discipline required to get an education and hold down a job. At least a couple presented misplaced misgivings clouded by either such a profound mechanical ineptitude, or a such complete lack of historical reference and general cultural knowledge, I’m inclined to wonder if they ever actually watched the show, as it’s pretty apparent they’ve never seen a train, nor cracked a book on engineering, science, or technology.
But I was pleasantly surprised to find the concept devised by a clergyman over 75 years ago has eschewed overt and even discreet attempts at indoctrination. The core moral lessons it imparts instead focus on the general themes of valuing companionship, observing boundaries, forming a solid work ethic in the willingness to be a contributing member to the greater community, taking responsibility for one’s actions (assuming you’re a train, and not a human driver, that is! ;-) and accepting the consequences, the strength in numbers of friendship, the power of respect for others, the celebration of diversity, and the freedom of independent thought — exactly the kinds of messages I want our boy to soak up. So I’m totally okay with him geeking out over Thomas... but not everything popular on kid’s TV so easily meets with our approval.
A few are non-prejudicially precluded offhand for having no educational purpose or other redeeming qualities of value... like Peppa Pig, or Mighty Mike, for example; some say there’s nothing wrong with the occasional bit of useless silliness, and I wouldn’t disagree — he has Noddy and Duggee or Paddington* for that — but we try to seek out a healthy balance. (*In fact, he’s expressed such a preference for BBC productions he’s actually learning to speak some words with an English accent! XD) But there are others — even some generally accepted by today’s culture — that are boycott in our household on principal.
CAILLOU We are definitely not in the minority for our rejection of Caillou — which one writer referred to as the world’s most universally reviled children’s television character, the hatred for whom has sparked a veritable surfeit of social groups formed to bond over shared abhorrence. Yet, while I can certainly appreciate and respect anyone who expresses disapproval for a primary figure whose only language is whining without impunity or consequence to parents who are obviously not in the slightest based on actual humans with children, with his use of such phrases as “I can’t!,” “I won’t!,” “I hate it!” and “Go away!” invariably resulting in him getting his way, and whose opening theme alarmingly advises growing up is tough when you’ve “had enough” (!) — what surprises me most is seeing so many parents complaining about having to watch it with their kids.
Wait, what??? How is the toddler in control of viewing decisions? Anyone who believes either the parent or the child has to watch anything has clearly missed a childrearing memo somewhere. Apparently, multiple parent-teacher petitions have been put forth pleading with PBS to take this toxic waste off the air. I wouldn’t suggest this isn’t a pursuit worth exploring, but in the meantime, maybe a simpler route to managing access might simply be to turn it off, and don’t allow the child to consume such garbage.
PBS Kids falls into the category of having had more of a positive influence on kids in general than many other children’s media outlets, but as a publicly funded resource, this institution can’t be expected to fulfill every child’s early learning needs. Some of their catalog is over Firebird’s head; some isn’t to his taste. Sometimes, the programs make attempts at value added viewing, but occasionally miss the mark, and other times, they just get it wrong altogether.
DANIEL TIGER Daniel Tiger, for example, is a spin-off from the original land of make-believe in Mister Roger’s neighborhood, and offers a fair intrinsic value in its own right, from showcasing formula-breaking gender positive examples, and a robust environment of social diversity, to effectively addressing real issues today’s growing children will face in their everyday routines — and I can’t fault that. But it seems to me the show’s underlying subtext is as much about teaching younger generations how to parent when their child has a meltdown. In this respect, Daniel can be a less obnoxious version of Caillou, in that, while he isn’t always whiny, he can easily lose his grip on self-control, and throw a minor temper tantrum anytime things don’t work out exactly the way he would have chosen, but, to the show’s credit — as well as where it diverges from the rampant unbridled infantile domestic terrorism of Caillou — Daniel’s family and the community around him always quickly step in to divert whatever petty crisis he’s growling over from manifesting into a major catastrophe, and to teach young Daniel a better way to respond to similar situations in the future.
Don’t misunderstand me, I know my boy is going to whine sometimes... that’s to be expected — it’s what growing babies do. Some days, it’s hard for a young burgeoning brain to navigate so many complex emotional reactions involved in the transition from infant to toddler to little boy. Some days, growing up is tough.
But that doesn’t mean I want him studying a peer role model who demonstrates that kind of behavior for him to emulate. Right now, if my son is whining, it’s because there’s something wrong that needs to be addressed — he’s tired, he’s hungry, he needs affection, etc.; it’s my job to sort out these issues and work through them. So if Daniel Tiger is going to be on, it will only be on those occasions when I have the time to sit down and watch it with Firebird, so as the orange puppet’s behavioral volatility rears its ugly head, I can immediately pull the plug with a quick flick of the remote and the decisive reaction of a safety guard tweeting ,“>FWEEP!< Everybody out of the pool!” — because, in short, I can’t trust Daniel Tiger to be alone with my son.
PINKALICIOUS One show I consider an epic failure in available options is Pinkalicious, though it does seem to have something of a die-hard fan-base — I’m guessing primarily from among those who long for a reversion of society to an era when every woman was a housewife who wore heels and pearls and hoop skirts to bake and vacuum in while scrubbing her breadwinning husband’s happy home spotless with a song in her heart and a smile on her lips. While I may not right now have the responsibility of teaching a young girl to make her way through this life, I’m still as much if not more accountable for making sure my boy has healthy, realistic depictions to draw from for his perceptions on how to relate to this foreign creature that is the opposite gender from him. So, though Pinkalicious does have its worthwhile moments — Pink is sweet to her sibling, their family shares every meal together around the table, and the stories do try to convey worthwhile life lessons about community — its counter progressive undertones in the backwards stereotypical genderization of the primary characters (Pinkalicious and her little brother, Peterrific) are the reason my son is not permitted to see it.
The primary glaring flaws with this pastel-hued disaster include:
• Every single young female character is always wearing a dress and never anything but (which is not in the least true to life compared to the world of today).
• Every single character is portrayed with the same exact unrealistic body type — as rail thin as an anorexic stricken with consumption — which wholly negates the notion of body diversity in humans, and presents an implausible body image for everyone.
• Though there’s nothing specifically wrong with young girls (and even young boys!) having an interest in things and activities which have conventionally fallen into the spectrum most often previously perceived by social standards as “girlie” (I’ve actually got nothing against a person of any gender choosing to “own” any specific color, and I believe the sterotyping of associating colors with gender at all should be completely eradicated from all cultures), this premise takes this particular obsession to a level of extreme that becomes a hindrance to getting through everyday life... such as when Pink chose to bail on her commitment to her teammates in the middle of a soccer game because she was having a bad hair day.
• The titular persona, while good-natured, kind, creative and imaginative, is also acutely one-dimensional, as well as rather pushy and demanding, especially when it comes to insisting her friends follow along with her every whim and play her way by her rules.
• Pinkalicious lives so much in her own separate reality in which the rest of the cast are merely pawns whose sole function is to dote on their perfect pretty pink princess, one is forced to wonder if the entire world is merely the meandering fantasy of a neglected child trapped in a coma induced dream sequence.
• Affiliated available merchandising seems to have been massed produced in 1984 — separating girls and boys into categories of pink for Pinkalicious and blue and purple for Peterrific — in which suggested activities for the girls events are limited to:
— decorating necklaces, bracelets, barrettes, crowns, tutus and wands in pink beads, feathers, sequins, glitter, and pom poms
— baking and accentuating cupcakes with only pink versions of bubble gum, cotton candy, Jordan almonds, Red Hots, and Good and Plenty;
...but boys get to have the kind of good times that include:
— building towers;
— making jet packs;
— reading space and adventure books;
— playing with Legos, tinkertoys and play-doh;
— and pretending with adventure gear, such as goggles, helmets and tool belts...
...further promoting the notion that STEM activities are only for boys.
• The backstory of the nickname handles assigned to these two — derived from common compliments — tells you everything you need to know about how the creators see the difference between the genders: Pink + delicious = Pinkalicious, whereas Peter + Terrific = Peterrific... so, boys get to be “terrific,” while girls are “delicious.” (WTAF???)
— Is that a reference to merely being eye candy? I don’t know, it doesn’t really make sense, and is surely not an appropriate way to describe any child. I just know it’s not equivalent, and the same kind of stepford *8_7#!&* that starts being imposed upon children from before they’re even brought into this world, between gender reveal parties, and toy sections being segregated, and T-shirts that declare one pretty, while the other is Superman! ...and it has got to stop — we cannot continue to perpetuate this misogynistic psychosis into every new future generation.
Pinkalicios realistically has the same influence on children of either gender as the 1990s talking Barbie that came out the year I graduated high school which informed kids of that era that girls think, “Math is hard!” We should have moved past such stereotypes by way back then, but we absolutely ought to be beyond them by now. We can do better — and as for me and my house, we will.
MAX & RUBY One of the most seemingly innocuous vetoes on this list is Max and Ruby, which is so adorable it’s almost cavity inducing, and on its surface, it comes off as relatively harmless, at first. In fact, I’d actually let Firebird enjoy a handful of episodes over a few weeks before I finally had to put an end to it after recognizing the pattern of a recurring theme running through every narrative segment. It seems the character of Max more or less amounts to a pudgy baby bunny version of the tramp archetype made famous by Charlie Chaplin, whose bumbling, buffoonish antics somehow always accidentally allowed him to stumble into being the hero and saving the day — much to everyone’s surprise and delight.
While Max’s playful clowning capers are innocently sweet, and comically cute, and there’s nothing wrong with a kid learning it’s okay to screw up sometimes, what I don’t want Firebird to come away with after enough repetition in this vein, is the idea that screwing up will always work out for the greater good in the end, because that’s a fantasy fairytale it’s best if he never believes in the first place, only to have to become painfully disillusioned about later. In the real world, we can recognize and appreciate that mistakes are going to happen and we’re going to love each other through them anyway, but that doesn’t change the reality that sometimes, mistakes can hurt, and may even cause real world problems that might lead to serious consequences which could require serious solutions. And although I’m not trying to burden my 3-yo with that much of a heavy weight on his heart right now, it’s best if when he starts to learn those kinds of tough lessons down the road sometime, he hasn’t already spent so much of his life with his head so high up in the clouds that coming back down to earth will be unnecessarily traumatic.
PAW PATROL The worst of the worst, though, by far, among those commonly raved over in many homes, is Paw Patrol......... I mean, let’s set aside for a moment that there is absolutely nothing about the entire premise that makes even the slightest logical sense — so badly it hurts the brain — because, well, some things just have to be overlooked to entertain children who live for a while in a magical world of illusion and silliness; and, let’s ignore the fact that the show never offers even the least morsel of a life lesson or teaching moral to any storyline, for the sake of argument that it’s only for entertainment. Even so, this trash heap is still riddled with crimes against childhood, but, in the interest of brevity, I’ll only address the nastiest derelictions here. To start, there’s gender inequity in this selection, too, but that only scratches the surface of its troubles.
Of the 6 primary dog characters, only one* of them is female, she is a significantly smaller “toy” class breed, hyper cheery, overly emotional, full of questions and self-doubt, and dresses and acts in the outdated-by-decades commonly perceived standard of a traditionally feminine way, thereby sending the message that if girls are going to be permitted to “run with the big dogs,” they should expect to be required to do so in a “girlie” manner in order to be accepted. (*Yes, a couple other female characters were introduced in later seasons after the backlash, but they’re not regulars, they’re not considered part of the “A” team, and they don’t stay in the same location as the main group.) So, effectively, this cartoon is the dog version of the Village People, where, for the most part, only males can be standard community rescue workers — I guess there were no animal behaviorists on this drawing boardroom’s writing committee to inform them: in the dog kingdom, it’s actually the females who are smarter and more easily trained. :-/
But the biggest issue with this general offense to humanity in children’s works, is the distressing representation for people of color, which would be almost non-existent, except for where it’s pretty much blackface. There’s only one member of any cultural minority — a character of non-specific ethnicity with a generically melanin-infused caramel-toned complexion and non-descript facial features (voiced by a white actor, btw) — who is both female, and has agreeably risen to the illustrious rank of mayor... over a creepy almost ghost town in which every adult is an inept imbecile completely dependent on a 12-yr-old with a pack of dogs for their basic civic services. As if to counteract those attributes, though, she is only ever displayed as a blithering idiot who carries a chicken in a purse as an emotional support pet, who plays the washtub bass in her spare time, who doesn’t know her *@$$* from a hole in the ground and couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag with a road map and a flashlight, and whose blustering incompetence regularly exhausts the entire resources of the town’s (canine) rescue team (you may recall, I did mention none of this makes sense, right?).
Putting a person of color in a position of power might be a positive example for young people, if it wasn’t completely undermined by the mayor’s overwhelming and excruciatingly inadequate, all-encompassing defects, which wholly transform her into no more than a laughingstock, and the brunt of most of the jokes, often resulting from her own awkward, blundering bungling, and mismanagement of every situation. This is not a person whose actions garnish reverence or even respect. I couldn’t tell you if the purpose of rendering her in this manner is to teach children it’s okay to laugh at and disrespect women, people of color, adults in general, or authority figures, but I find all of those options disgracefully unacceptable.
A good friend I worked with at the contract before last — whose toddler is in the same age category as Firebird — invited our family to her son’s Paw Patrol themed birthday party, and upon her attempts to commiserate with me as a parent she naturally assumed would also have been compelled to watch this inane drivel on a regular basis, I disclosed our son is not permitted to see it, and doesn’t miss it; at her inquiry, I revealed my major issues with it. She found my perspective interesting, if perhaps not as relatable (she and her family are all of white, Anglo-Saxon descent), though it didn’t change anything about her son’s viewing habits (but, to be fair, he was already deeply entrenched in the toddler subculture of the franchise — hook line, and sinker — and I suspect it would have been a harrowing ordeal to have attempted to pull him out by that point). My friend has since confided in me, though, that ever since I pointed out the many problematic concerns of this irrationally popular program, she hasn’t been able to “unsee” it.
I am quite fond of this friend, and I know her to be a kind-hearted, loving, gentle spirit who appreciates the good in all people, regardless of their background. Racist ideology has never held so much as a synapse of thought in her cerebral cortex. And yet, I can’t help feeling saddened to be reminded again how often it takes a person of color to expose to the privileged majority when people of color are being marginalized — even when it’s out in the open, clear as day, right in front of them, as plain as the noses on their faces.
SEPARATE, NOT EQUAL There’s a harsh reality most white people still have yet to face, and until they do so en masse, nothing is ever going to get any better for anyone else. And that is, racism is NOT *our* problem. Racism was created as a means to divide people, to classify human superiority by skin tone, and continues to be maintained by the lighter classes against those who are darker, despite every effort of civil rights leaders, social justice warriors, and disturbed tongue cluckers, who shake their heads at the unfairness of it all, before closing out the news, and going back to their regularly scheduled lives.
People of color can do nothing to “fix” racism — especially not so long as the only tragedy of this parasite on civilization even worth clocking for most non-minorities is when white folks continue to carry a license to kill unarmed people of color in broad daylight. Yet, while there are a hundreds of micro-aggressions and outright acts of hostility leading up to examples as extreme as that, even that sort of happening has become so unextraordinary it no longer always make the front page or the top 10 minutes. So long as this remains our socially accepted standard of “normal,” things can only get worse from here.
The biggest hindrance, though, to there ever coming a day when a majority of white people will stand together as one, and collectively say, “This ENDS. HERE, and NOW,” is the deeply ingrained belief held by so many that THEY can’t possibly be part of the problem, because they’re not racist — a bitterly defended core value so strongly clung to by some, they will defer, deflect, and argue against all evidence to the contrary, even if doing so costs them valued relationships with friends and associates. The thing is, you don’t have to be racist to have benefitted throughout your life — and to continue to benefit from — the institutionalized, systemic structure of racism that propagates the further oppression of the already disadvantaged, while giving a leg up to those who fall into categories deemed “desirable.” Really, all you have to be is white and breathing.
A CHALLENGE TO OVERCOME One of the most common defenses offered by the type of white folks who believe racism is not their problem, is the vain and vapid declaration, “I don’t see color!” White people who say this have deluded themselves into believing when they offer up such a statement, they’re telling us they don’t treat anyone in their world any differently than anyone else, regardless of what color everyone is. But what people who use this bruised ego excuse are really saying to us is, they consistently fail to discern — or even deliberately choose to ignore — the commonplace struggles minorities must face every day.
I understand those who make the claim they “don’t see color,” believe racism has nothing to do with them, but that simply isn’t a possibility in the real world — there is no one who is not impacted by racism, and to believe otherwise is the purest example of privilege. To them, I would propose: if you’re serious about not feeding into the machine of racism, the only way to live that truth is to start with the face in the mirror — and be willing to “take a look at yourself and make a change.” Stop overlooking those who remain invisible to your world... step outside your bubble — that cushion of comfort bestowed upon you by the advantage of your skin — a birthright you did nothing to earn.
START seeing color. Start seeking out diversity. Start looking for the beauty in the differences between us — and, once you’ve found it, start noticing when it’s missing from the homogenous feedback loop with which you surround yourself in your everyday routines from the safety of the privilege racism has granted you.
Even further, start recognizing when people of color are being sidelined, downgraded, disregarded, disproportionately or improperly represented. Then, if you have aspirations of doing something that matters to make a difference, don’t look the other way just because it doesn’t affect you... make a U-turn, take a stand, and take action — call it out, call it off. You have choices — you can choose not to participate in events and activities or benefit from things that have a negative impact on people, even if those people don’t look or act or think or believe or live the way you do.
And be ready to pay the cost, because while the compounded consequences of collective inaction have long term sway over circumstances for people of color in the real world, doing nothing likely won’t directly impact your life in any perceptible manner — but taking action might. Taking action will result in uncomfortable conversations; it could result in the loss of valued relationships with friends and associates; it will surely result in the revelation of hard truths about yourself that may be difficult to swallow. And then you might feel an exponentially miniscule inkling of a drop in the bucket compared to the everyday persecution people of color experience just trying to exist as a minority.
SUBLIMINAL MESSAGING I know it may seem like a stretch to go from children’s programs our son can’t watch to the darkness of organized racism and the heartbreak of the worst cases often resulting from that bleak institution, but the line between the two really isn’t as far as you might think. Demonstrating “otherism” to children — especially in a visual manner, particularly presented in a neat, tidy, shiny happy package that makes it all not just okay, but actually fun — teaches them to disrespect those who are different from them. Disrespect leads to personal distancing, distancing leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering and despair — in less time than most folks would even be inclined to predict, because “othering” from your home becomes “othering” on the playground, and that’s where it starts... the Nazis understood that only too well.
Before too long, your child lives in a world of “us” vs. “them” that will have a far-reaching influence over his choices in life, so you will have to decide right now whether you’re okay with that, else you might miss out on the opportunity to change that trajectory until it’s too late. We try to raise our children with an assurance there are no monsters hiding in their closet or under their beds. So why should we undo that progress by simply replacing the image of their monster with the face of someone whose skin is darker than theirs?
There’s a term for not seeing color... it’s “colorblindness” — which is actually a defect that prevents one from seeing properly. To do that, one must first correct their vision. When you shine a beacon into the darkness, the light can be blinding at first, but the more closely you look, though, the sooner your eyes will adjust to seeing the real world for what it is, and the more effectively you can be a part of making it a better place.
A MESSAGE OF HOPE Firebird loves music... a side effect of his Mama always singing to him — since he was in the womb, to put him to bed, to calm his fears, to amuse him. He croons, he hums, he dances, and he’s naturally drawn to anything that lets him take in more merry musical sounds. During the day, most of the time when any TV show is on, it’s just a low rumbling in the background of his playtime, while he entertains himself with his toys, but a song and dance number will immediately stop him in his tracks and capture his full attention.
So it’s fortunate for us the colossal collection of classic tunes from Thomas the Tank Engine are mostly comprised of catchy little memorable ditties that worm their way into your brain and take hold, because the messages most any of them carry are designed to inspire children with noble ethics and constructive worldly wisdom. His very favorite among them comes from the Big World, Big Adventures series — all I have to do is cue up the link to the movie, and by the time the first tones of opening credits ring out, he begins to sing the song, giggling, spinning in a circle with a little shimmy and butt wiggle — it’s all I can do (while trying not to laugh! ;-) to get him to wait through the rest of the story leading up to it. In the story, Thomas the Tank Engine sets out to see the world... to ride the rails, to take in the sights, to encounter the people, to learn the customs, to experience the culture — to dig in, get dirty, and be put to work being really useful — for anyone who might need his help in a foreign land... I don’t think I could have imagined a more cherished ideal for my sweet beautiful baby boy to have latched onto than that.
Si lazima dunia kupita wewe na... Don’t let the world pass you by.
The great big wide world is a journey filled with adventure waiting around every corner — but it’s also full of bright, beautiful color, worthy of exploring... if only we can learn to see it, and fall in love with its breathtaking beauty. The fact that my not quite 3-yr-old baby is most charmed to find his world abundant with colorfully diverse faces and places and sounds, makes Mama’s brimming proud heart feel like bursting with song. I hope this is only the beginning of his love for culture... I hope I will be equal to the task of nurturing his joy... I hope he will learn to share the wonder... and I hope, someday, he will come to know a world that will treasure the beauty of color as much as he does.
BIG WORLD OF WONDER Let’s go... let’s dream... come along with me... The big world is calling... all aboard for a fantasy... The world’s full of wonder... There’s so much we can be, Thanks to imagination and curiosity.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 22 - Topic: HIRAETH This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
TtTE: Big World, Big Adventures – A World Of Wonder
*shut musty book of rerun memories with a bang — cough at escaping dust cloud...
...open cobweb-covered chest of childhood memories — lean in, rummaging...
...climb into chest with a clatter, tossing items around...
*owl hoots,fox cries...
What the... ???
*cow lows, chicken squawks...
Nope, not that one...
*a cat yowls...
Closer, but still — not quite...
*a dog yips...
In the holiday season of 1981...
Ah, here we go!
...I was 7 years old — 4 months from my 8th birthday, which was close enough (I’d been told) to be able to say 7 and 9/10ths, because I hadn’t been taught fractions yet. But even if I had, I probably would have thought 9/10ths sounded a lot closer than 3/4ths anyway, and I was ready to be 8, dangit! I was in second grade, but third grade was where it was at, man, I was just sure of it!
A few days before Christmas break, returning from school one day to the foster home where I’d been staying for a brief spell after leaving the last host assigned to put me up, I was greeted by social workers, and prepped to be introduced to a strange group of folks comprising a new family, who would be coming a long way to make my acquaintance. (I couldn’t tell you why I’d been shunted around to 17+ different types of interim shelters throughout the nearly 3 years I was “in the system,” but then, I also couldn’t speak to what sort of procedures passed for making logical sense behind the scenes at the Health and Rehabilitative Services Department in the state of Florida back then — though I’m pretty sure no one else could, either — I’m guessing neither at the time, nor likely since, for that matter.) I can’t recall a whole lot about that day or that visit, though apparently I was told this family was excited to meet me, which for some reason made me eager to share drawings I’d made in school, and sing Christmas carols I knew all the words to.
I don’t remember thinking I had to perform to earn my place with them... I just knew they had the potential to take me out of the situation I was in at the time, and for me, anything else would have been preferable. I may not have been old enough to have a firm grasp on every worldly concept relevant to me, but even in those tender years, I was well enough past the age of reason to know if a child is old enough to ask — to beg, even — for privacy in the bathroom, then she’s old enough to not need “help” with anything she might have to do in there... especially not from the man of the house. But my sister had been taken away from us when they’d found out what my father had done to her — I didn’t know where she was, and I hadn’t seen her since — so I knew better than to say anything.
I imagine I didn’t really understand then what it meant to be “adopted.” I’m sure if you’d have asked me, I’d have told you I didn’t need another family, because I already had one — I was just temporarily in a bad situation, which resulted in having to stay with strangers until my Mother could get her act together well enough to prove to the nitpicky state HRS reps she was in a financially stable position suitable to properly care for me and my siblings. At least, that was the story she’d told me, anyway, and I was just naïve enough to believe it — mostly because I needed to.
On the 12th of that month, I met the family who would come to claim me as theirs. I don’t know where they stayed that night, well over 200 miles from where they lived, but on the very next day, they got up, likely went to church somewhere in the area, and then returned to collect me from the place we’d met less than 24 hours earlier — a house I was only too grateful to see become smaller behind me as I watched it disappear from the rear window for the last time. I left it to go home with five strangers on December 13th, 1981.
The family at that time consisted of two adults, and three boys, all biological offspring to the parents of the household, all of them older than me — the eldest, born in the summer of love; the middle son, 18 months later in the winter of 69; and the youngest of this gang of my older brothers-to-be, was just 15 months my senior, as of January, 1973. This would cause problems for both of us growing up — neither of us was used to having a rival, but we were about to take a crash course, and the learning curve would be steep. It started that very first night, in the car ride away from my latest accommodations, toward the place I’d never been that would become my new home... in a vehicle designed for 4 people, max.
It was a mid-70s 2-door Datsun hatchback coupe — probably about as old as me at the time. A tiny blue box, with faux wooden side panels, bucket seats for the adults, a 2nd row bench for any cooperative passengers willing to climb in, and a tiny wagon partition in the way back, just large enough for a few groceries — certainly not intended to carry extra children. Representing the cutting edge in the day’s technology, the vehicle was equipped with roll down window levers, mechanical seats that would recline and move forward or back, a telescopic antenna to help acquire signals for state of the art AM/FM radio stations — with 4 buttons to select your preset channels! — and an 8-track player to give hip cruisers access to all the latest disco hits... everything a growing family needs.
I suspect before I was one of the gang, the youngest of my older brothers — now pushing 50 these days, a lanky 6’2” and all of 145# soaking wet, at best — likely just squeezed his tiny hiney in the middle of the bench seat between his bigger siblings. But adding one more to the mix made an additional layer of compression impossible, so he and I were exiled to the way back, where we naturally developed a healthy disrespect for one another. He probably had the harder time of it — all limbs and joints, scrunched up into an unreasonably compact space, and struggling to be contained within “his side” of our compartment — and I suppose the fresh meat of a soft, squishy younger sister, uncalloused and unaccustomed to being teased by mischievous barely older siblings was just too much of a temptation to pass up.
My brother and I have moved past that stage, obviously — we’ve grown into adults with our own families, bonded over our shared history, and have developed a lasting, healthy love and respect for one another we both treasure. Over time, as we grew, in maturity and in size, our folks were forced to procure a more spacious grocery getting mobile with a greater hauling capacity for all of us. What’s funny to me — and a little surprising, I’ve come to appreciate only recently — is, looking back on those days, I most often recalled to mind the memories made in each of our automotive buggies, without ever having given much thought to what they represented about our family.
I grew up recognizing we were never dripping in excess — being tasked to make choices about what I really wanted helped me to prioritize my desires without ever being spoiled — but I never really felt like we wanted for much of anything. We didn’t have the latest brand name clothing, but we hadn’t been raised to have any interest in such things — a label never had any bearing on my sense of self or my status in the world, so it just didn’t matter — but whenever we wanted something bad enough, for long enough, my parents always found a way to make it happen. And by that I mean, I think one of my brothers had to have Reebok tennis shoes, another swore by Nike, and a third would only wear Chucks (I believe they were all three equally devoted to Levi’s jeans); me, I was okay with any old thing from the flea market (the South’s precursor to today’s thrift stores), or even hand-me-downs from church members with older kids... I was less about “who,” and more about “more,” as long the style fit me.
We saw movies when we wanted to, and got the toys that had stayed the longest on the top of our lists for special occasions such as birthdays and holidays. We had extensive, varied wardrobes that never made us feel out of place among our peers, and we ate tasty, filling meals I’d never even noticed had been concocted to feed an army on a budget. We participated in after school events — band, choir, theater, summer camp — and even each had our own small biweekly allowance (providing we donated a portion of it to the collection plate).
We didn’t get everything new the moment it came out, but, it was the 80s — for one, there wasn’t always some sparkly new invention in your face every other week, and, for another, we were brought up by folks whose parents survived the great depression... they weren’t in any hurry to jump on board with every new trinket, and neither were we. If it was a thing for long enough to prove its staying power, eventually, we’d have one too, and not even be the last on the block to get ours. I didn’t have a cell phone or a tablet or even a land line or a TV in my room, but my quiet place was still my sanctuary... I just turned on the radio, did a lot of artwork and writing, and read a lot of books.
So that’s why it was such a surprise when my parents took a leap and bought a brand new, fresh off the assembly line wagon — a 1985 Dodge Colt Vista... still smacking of that new car smell, even! It had everything the Datsun didn’t... power windows, seats, and doors, audio cassette player, SIX preset buttons for radio channels, and, most importantly — the storage section in the way back converted into ACTUAL SEATS! Finally, for the first time in years, my brother and I would be able to sit upright like normal human beings and be safety-belted in like someone actually cared about our well-being in case of an accident (it’s a good things for today’s generation there are laws about such things now! ;-) — with Japanese technology light years ahead of its time (Dodge was affiliated with Mitsubishi in those days), we even each had our own temperature control and our very own ashtrays (which were mostly used for candy wrappings and gum, naturally) and cupholders!
Suddenly, in our sweet new ride, I felt like we were the cool kids on the block — we even had room to pick up friends! Sadly, though, it didn’t last — the Vista was nothing but one maintenance headache after another — it seemed like it was in the shop as often as not. I don’t know if Mom and Dad got a great deal on that particular transport because it was a lemon, or if the Vista was the Edsel of the 80s, and my folks are just the poor suckers who fell for it, but before too long, Dad traded it in for something used and reliable.
In the time I was living at home, in addition to the Datsun and the Vista, my folks have also carried us in...
• a 1991 Pontiac Bonneville whose radiator kept going out, so we had to keep the heat on full-blast through the foothills of the Ozark mountains during one miserably muggy summer trip down South;
• a bright red-orange station wagon my Dad once bought for $800 from one of those questionable used car lots, which lasted all of about a month, and my Dad referred to as an “$800 life lesson;”
• a 1974 Chevy Custom Deluxe 10 pickup whose floorboards rusted out so your feet stuck through until my Dad covered the Flinstone hole with bolted on sheet metal;
• and a veritable slew of Hyundai Excels.
In fact, at one point, everyone in our family each had one of our own. The first of them, my middle brother’s model — which was passed on to me when I bought it from him — was what I learned to drive on, my first vehicle, and certainly nothing to impress anyone, but it was affordable, reliable, economical to maintain, and it lasted for far longer than anyone would have expected it should have.
Now that I have a little more life perspective, I can see more clearly, maybe the reason I never felt like we experienced lack in our lives was because of how well my folks successfully achieved the teachings they required of us... by effectively prioritizing what they wanted. When I weigh my perception of growing up against what I’ve since learned about living expenses at this stage of raising a family, it has finally dawned on me... my folks were neither wealthy or struggling... they were simply able to ensure a large group of people they cared dearly about were able to have what they wanted, do what they wanted, and go where they wanted, mainly by not caring all that much about how fancifully anyone gets there, so long as everyone makes it in one piece. And I think that’s an important life lesson worth passing on — you never need to have *everything* you can get... sometimes, all that’s really required is just enough to get the job done.
I’ve gone through a lot of chariots in my life, now, too — some more memorable and meaningful than others. These days, my husband and I each drive exactly the wheels we both wanted, but not because we broke the bank to buy them — no, instead, we did our research, selecting the best values in reliability, maintenance, and safety standards to meet our family’s needs, because — like Mom always says — after all, we’re carrying precious cargo. And, as it happens, though we shopped among particular makes and models within a certain mileage and budget out of available used stock around the Twin Cities, even still, we both lucked into precisely the specific colors we each would have chosen — Tardis blue for me (of course! ;-), Sterling Silver for him.
We’ve got the space we need to carry ourselves and our loved ones (including 200# of dogs), cart our groceries and our gear — whatever it may be at the moment (including the sizeable accessories and accoutrements of a toddler), and keep us going to wherever we need to be, without worrying too much about how we look, or how clean and pristine our conveyance is. And because we don’t spend overly much on monthly payments, we still have enough leftover to make a certain 2-yr-old rapidly approaching his 3rd birthday excitedly squeal with delight to open the entirely insane collection of Thomas the Tank Engine toys Mama has been secretly amassing these past few weeks for his special celebration. It’s not much, but these days, I’ll take whatever sense of normalcy I can come by... and, hopefully... it’s just enough to get the job done.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 21 - Topic: THE WAY BACK This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.
til my marrow has ached, and some part of me died.
“Dig me a well to the core of the Earth...
...and don’t even stop ’til you’re through!”
It’s tough to maintain a fair sense of your worth,
when tasked with what no one can do. :-/
Cling to your ankles and hold on tight!
No sugar can conjure this medicine’s fun...
...just wasting a spoonful, or all of your might,
when everything asked can’t be done.
“So easy! You’ll get it knocked out in your sleep!”
...the Bigwig assures when you’re hired.
Agendas and schedules and profits to keep...
“Oh, what — You can’t do it? You’re fired!”
How often I’m pitched on this merry-go-round...
...it isn’t that merry for me.
They’ve all got the same thing in common, I’ve found...
...this isn’t who I want to be.
“Reach for the Stars!”
“Project Triumph! ”
“ DREAM BIG!”
... That fairytale feels a bit... soft.
Demolishthis lopsided thingamajig —
...or I’ll dive to my doom just to get myself off!
I’m not murinae —
LET ME OUT OF THIS MAZE!!!
I’ve too much of twisting and turns.
I’m ready to spark the whole puzzle ablaze...
...delighted to gloat
while it burns.
LJ Idol | Season 11 • Week 20 - Topic: BOONDOGGLE This post has been brought to you by an association with the online writing community forum, LJ Idol. If you have enjoyed this entry, please feel free to speak your piece, share the love, and pass it on… ...and thanks for stopping by.