Assigning Blame

If you followed the recent news, you may have noticed that we lost two beloved celebrities last week. And I’m here to tell you that their loss had zero real impact on my life. By that same token, I also recognize that their deaths strongly impacted those around me, and they definitely impacted their friends, family, and business partners who find themselves struggling with “what comes next?”  I understand that struggle. I live with it EVERY SINGLE DAY – every time I walk into this house.

Like many, I read the articles to try to glean the facts. What happened? How did we end up here? Then the follow-up articles came out – those discussing the inevitable confusion of people who don’t quite understand depression – the “but they had so much to live for – they were adored – if only they could have seen that…” – those folks who naively believe that simply smiling will destroy all the demons. The “yay life” cheerleaders. The ones who view the victims as people who just need to toughen up a bit, to believe and fully embrace that tomorrow is a brighter day – the ones who see the victims as unfortunately having a bit of a weak constitution – the very ones who add to the shame that prevents people suffering from mental illness from seeking much-needed help – the ones who unwittingly are part of the problem.  And I was fine with these reactions, because they weren’t unexpected.

Then I read more follow-up articles designed to increase clicks and further milk the celebrity death interest, articles with a different angle – with new, exciting perspectives. By Friday I started shutting down while I processed all the words that were out there. Granted, I may have been unconsciously drawn to articles that would upset me, and I may have latched onto a line or two that skewed my abilities to fully comprehend all that I was reading. I’ll own that.  But what I felt like I was reading, and what I definitely reacted to, was this idea that the people around suicide victims were at fault for not doing enough. That it was through their failures to listen, to get this person the necessary help, to ask the person if they were suicidal, or to remove any means for the person to carry out the act that ultimately led to their special someone’s death. And let me tell you, I absolutely refuse to abide these sentiments.

Yes, we should always listen, yes, we should point people towards getting help, and yes, we should remove all judgment when that person is speaking frankly about their intentions. That said, unless you are a trained mental health expert, you are NOT a trained mental health expert. The best thing you can do is encourage them to get help from a professional. And if, at the end of the day, after you’ve done everything you can, they choose to take their own life – that is not on you. How dare those authors even lightly suggest that the people around the victim are culpable when we, the friends and family of the victims, deal with our own guilt, guilt we’ve piled on our own shoulders whether deserved or not, every single day. We don’t need the help figuring out where we could have done more, and we don’t need fingers wagged in our face by people who lightly perused a website about suicide trying to increase their organization’s readership.

In my previous blog post, I warned that this month I was going to be blunt about suicide. If you are sensitive to this type of story, I strongly encourage you to stop reading at this point. I’m not kidding.

I struggled trying to get Jay to seek help from a mental health professional for years, and it wasn’t Jay I was struggling with – it was the stigma surrounding what seeking that help involved.  I had to find cases of acquaintances and friends who were under care – people he respected – to make it ok.  And one day, after the meds had finally taken hold, he looked at me and said, “this is the first time I’ve felt happy.” Do you know how hard that is to hear? To hear the person you love more than anything in the world has never experienced true happiness, and to wonder what it was like for him to finally have that weight of depression lifted. My personal default setting is “happy” and if I’m truthful, it’s probably better defined as “goofy.” My idea of a perfect day would be to twirl in the parking lot every morning, arms outstretched and sing, and I cannot imagine a world where that is not my truth. So, to hear someone I love, my best friend, has never felt that way before, made my heart hurt. Imagine a world where you’ve never known true happiness.

Well, the thing about antidepressants is they need to be adjusted and changed, and the person needs to be monitored, which was what I was talking to Jay about in our last real conversation before he died. His depression prior to his death had returned with a vengeance, and that was combined with his untreated sleep apnea – something that wasn’t being addressed by his C-PAP machine.  Severe depression plus extreme fatigue is a deadly cocktail. We talked about going back to the doctor – that the meds and lack of sleep were not ok. Or more precisely, I talked about it and Jay got quiet, because he knew when I came home from my trip I was going to start pushing that issue – that’s what I do.

My brother-in-law and I live with the guilt of his death EVERY SINGLE DAY, but don’t you dare imply it was our fault – that we failed Jay, that we didn’t talk to him, we didn’t listen, or pay attention, or wrap him in bubble wrap, because at the end of that day, after all of our talks, Jay walked outside and shot himself in my backyard, and that’s on Jay.

And if we want to play that “what if” game… if I had removed the gun, he would have asphyxiated himself in the garage, if I had removed his car, he would have likely poisoned himself, and if I’d removed all cleaners/medications, etc., he would have found something else. He was in extreme mental pain, and he was highly motivated.

And my brother-in-law and I both dream about him, and in both of our dreams we have to explain to Jay that he died, because he doesn’t understand what happened or why he’s dead – because he had a mental snap. Imagine repeated nights where you have to say, “baby, you were ill and you died” to this beautiful soul who was only 40 years old.

And nearly every day is a varying degree of hard for us without some detached writer pontificating about suicide and attempting to assign blame.

Step the fuck off.

So please forgive me if I’m not more upset about two celebrities when, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 123 people die by suicide EVERY SINGLE DAY. Where are those articles lamenting those lost, and equally as important, souls?

Dear Hollywood

Dear Hollywood,

I think it’s about time we have a chat. Let me start with a little about me. About a year and a half ago I lost my sense of humor. This is really important to the story, so bear with me. It was truly a tragic thing, but chin up, it’s not all bad, I manage to soldier on with an assortment of death glares and the occasional severe lip pursing. There’s a vicious rumor that suggests my face may freeze this way, but I’m optimistic since I don’t actually live in a Twilight Zone episode. What a bummer for the people who do, am I right? Unfortunately, there’s no foreseeable end to my facial reign of terror, and thus I’m starting to suspect my friends and family are undermining me at every turn by trying to find it for me. They’re a treacherous lot.

Not having a sense of humor has allowed me to focus on another skill of mine – ranting. Let me tell you Hollywood, I’ve spent a good year and a half really just cutting loose. You know, just letting my mouth and brain run wild – no longer tethered by things like social niceties. One thing about losing your humor is now instead of people laughing along as I rant away, they stare in silent horror and occasionally suggest I “speak to someone”.  I thought I was, but ok…  

Anyway, enough about me. Let’s talk you.

First, I’ll offer up some understanding: you’re around to make a nice profit, to entertain, and to change minds. Now, now, don’t be shy. You own it! You occasionally even use it for good. Bravo. Second, I get it – there’s nothing you can make on TV or in film that won’t set some troll flipping out over it (like me). One tiny piece of dialog in an indie film that no one has ever heard of can easily spark a protest, but hey free advertising, right? And truthfully, you occasionally make some amazing art. I only say “occasionally” because SyFy still makes their own films. If there were a scale balancing pulp to art when it came to films/television shows, I’m thinking pulp is going to weigh a tad heavier. That’s not a sleight, Hollywood. There are lots of people in the world with differing tastes thus a place for most of what is produced, even stuff by SyFy.

Speaking of taste…

Here’s where I’m a little hypersensitive, Hollywood, and I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m really tired of the glamorization of suicides in everything. It’s likely that I’m noticing it more; I accept that. And there’s a good possibility it happens more in the shows I’m drawn to, but… could we just give it a rest? I’m completely over it. (This coming from the person who loves The Walking Dead; the irony isn’t lost on me. Although, in all fairness I’ve never been able to really make it through any Tarantino film.)

I remember a time when violence happened in the background. Where the horror of a scene was implied instead of spelled out for us in simple language with a gigantic crayon on a celluloid Big Chief. And who wouldn’t want to see that up close and personal? Why be subtle or merely imply it happened with a firecracker-type pop when actually seeing a prosthetic head explode, or blood spray against a back wall while simultaneously leaking from the actor’s nose really raises the stakes. Then we can all say, “oh, that’s what that looks like – I’m better for that knowledge.” From Mr. Robot to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to Mindhunter, the new show on Netflix (great job there – his head was completely gone – I know I was personally excited to see that).  I mean hey, why finesse a scene when you can go all Neegan and straight up bludgeon your viewers over the head with it (be sure to roll sound, and don’t forget to call “action”)? Then go a step further – maybe take it up a notch by having the character narrate their own suicide – makes it sound poetic – you can have the other characters show their sadness along with their deep understanding as they offer tear-stained forgiveness – golly, the victim left a beautiful note. They’re probably up there right now with Aunt May and Uncle Ben group hugging in heaven.

I never thought I’d get cross with you, Hollywood, yet here we are. I religiously watch your blockbusters, your action packed anything. Heck, I’m a huge sucker for award season. Plus, I literally have the tastes of the average 25 year old male (who is crushing on Vin Diesel or Dwayne Johnson); it’s embarrassing. I loved Dexter, Hannibal, The Sopranos, Homeland, GoT  – you get the idea, but FFS can you please give the suicide trope a rest? Or if your writers are really sure it’s going to make their work that much better, they feel the scene absolutely needs it in all of its horrific and graphic glory, then have them talk to actual family and friends of suicide victims so they provide their input and really reinforce how “romantic” and “poetic” suicide is. I’m tired of going to a show or turning on the TV only to turn ashen within minutes while someone tries to reassure me it’s going to be ok. Surely, there’s got to be other things more interesting than another bullet to the head.  Get on that.

In the meantime, I’ll work on finding my sense of humor, and you can work on “We’re the Millers Part 2”. Maybe green light a Ricky Gervais project. FYI – I’m also available for focus groups.

Sincerely,

Beth

A Babbling State of the Beth

I’m back, at least for a moment or two, and I’m going to write some general randomness, babble a bit, and there will probably be a tiny rant.  Hopefully in there will be a lot of love, because I do have that for a group of people who have been completely amazing.

Saturday we had a wake for Jay.  It was hands-down the best party I’ve been to in who knows how long.  If I could choose a recent moment to live in, it would be there in Darrell’s kitchen, talking to friends, laughing, drinking a margarita, or it would be on the couch announcing to my friend Jonathan that I was moments away from hugging everyone and declaring my absolute love for them.  In fact, there’s a ridiculous picture of me on that couch, and having never seen it, I feel it captures my goofiness and love.  (Let’s hope that pans out for me, and isn’t something I wince at.)

I’ve always had anthem songs. It’s just me.  Maybe it’s you, too, but in that moment I was returned to a song that is the most me when my world is right (and it’s usually more right than wrong), and it’s the me I haven’t been in a long while.

I managed to only have one moment where I started hyperventilating and tears trickled down my face, but I did it quietly in front of a group of people with a smile on my face and no one noticed. This may be a new skill  Although, I did have to fight down the urge to go for a long walk – not being able to escape folks in the front yard was the only thing that stopped me.  Damn you Johnny Cash.  The song wasn’t on, only an instrumental version, but I could sense him singing it and each word of the lyrics stung briefly.

Sunday was our anniversary.  Let me clarify a bit.  This wasn’t the anniversary of our marriage, but the anniversary of when we started dating 17 years ago.  While the nation mourns, I always remember that day as the one when we went to Magnolia Cafe, walked over to a park, and Jay told me he loved me for the first time.  On that day I made big, life-changing decisions – decisions that hurt some people unintentionally.  It was the day that kicked off what would be the happiest time of my life, and it was worth all of the anger I felt towards people for the years that followed (I’m just not cut from that “let it go” cloth – Elsa’s goofy little song would fall on my deaf ears. Girl, you let it go.  I got this.  I mean, just ask me about Jessica and the 3rd grade slumber party.  Mmm hmm. I’m not letting that go either) It was also worth the sadness of the last couple of months. That day kicked off a time when I learned the true meaning of friendship – that my closest friends would form a phalanx to shield me whenever I needed protection; they’re amazing.  It was the day I learned how wonderful love could be, and how strong (and in some cases weak) my friendships were.

It also kicked off our “Monthaversary” tradition, and not an 11th passed in the past 16+ years without the declaration of “Happy Monthaversary!!”  In turn, it makes every 11th that has followed varying degrees of painful with yesterday having the potential to wreck me.  My brother-in-law gets a big gigantic shout out here for heading that off by getting me outside, walking around, and then watching impossibly goofy movies.  He is amazing and a truly great and kind guy (yes, you are).

Here’s where I meander over to my ranty bit.  Feel free to hop off at this stop.

What happened with Jay was absolutely horrible; it’s the nature of death. Unfortunately, something I’ve learned from this experience is that people do not understand you if you’re not in a downward spiral.  So, I’m going to be blunt.

  1. Some facts – I get out of the house.  I started work a week later.  I went back to the gym
  2. I don’t need meds.  I don’t have the desire to hole up in a dark corner. Thank you for suggesting that, but I don’t need to not feel.  Maybe that’s you.  Feel free to get meds if so.
  3. Death is sad. It’s ok to be sad.  I don’t choose to wallow in this feeling although I might tear up on occasion. You see I lost my best friend who also happened to be my husband. I lost someone I talked to daily.  I lost someone who thought I was ok despite a list of flaws.
  4. Don’t tell me it’s not my fault.  I know that. See, I learned a long time ago that I can’t actually control other people.  It’s nice of you to say.  It’s annoying when it gets re-emphasized over and over again when I’m not actually claiming responsibility.
  5. Don’t tell me I need to see a therapist or go to group therapy, because you feel like that’s what all people who suffered a loss must need.  No, I don’t – at least not right now.  Sweeping into my life during a tragedy when you don’t know me well doesn’t qualify you to judge my mental state.  There are exactly five people I’d listen to on this subject.  If you just paused and wondered “Is that me?” It’s not. Two of them are my family (blood or otherwise), two of them live together, and the last is a surprise – well, probably not to them.  The day they put together an intervention is the day I’ll go, but right now they’re telling me I’m fine, and well… remember that phalanx?  Don’t push it. They’re fierce.  Also, they’re about to get punchy if they hear me say one more time, “yeah, she told me she didn’t think I had anyone to talk to, made the sad face, and got upset I wasn’t in therapy”.
  6. I was raised by a social worker and a big portion of our family friends were social workers.  Plus, I’m lucky in that I naturally come with a pretty large tool kit for coping.  Don’t assume I have no tools to work through grief.
  7. Do not ever tell me someone is not Jay.  I am keenly aware of this, and I need exactly zero reminders. Also a fun couple of facts –  therapists are not Jay.  You are not Jay.  So, if the point is to to suggest I’m trying to find a replacement, I can’t. No one can replace anyone else. Each friendship I have is unique. If the point is to suggest you or a therapist would be a better choice, well we’ll have to agree to disagree. My not sharing with you doesn’t mean I’m not talking to someone, I am.  It doesn’t mean I don’t love or value your friendship, I do, but the fact of the matter is that different friends have different abilities.  My phalanx was chosen for their unique skills. Thankfully the world is a big enough place that all types of friends are welcome, but don’t keep shoving your resume in my face when you can’t lift a shield, and don’t be jealous of those that can.  They’re a highly specialized and elite group.  They have their own standard they fly. (Well, they will now. Hey guys, can we work on that? You know who I’m asking. Maybe get the kids on it? They’re crazy creative. Maybe think of some theme music?) There can be a huge difference between empathizing and sympathizing.  Thank you for thinking of me.  Don’t push it.
  8. Don’t tell me that Jay’s choice had to be a relief or that he got to “leave the bullshit” behind. I am that bullshit. His family is that bullshit. Sam is that bullshit. Mind your face and the words that just dribbled out, and realize that the times I’ve needed to be in therapy have never been for sadness, but for anger. Also, there’s a short distance between me counting from 1-10 and breathing.  Hope I chose to count to 100.

The non-ranty bit (a list):

  1. There are not enough numbers to enumerate all the great things individuals have done or said.  You’re all part of my incredible tool kit that get me through each day. Your thoughts and kind words have been helpful.  Thank you for thinking of me.

Now I suppose I should wrap this up.  Did I mention this is babble? It’s kind of hard to put a neat bow on babble.  Maybe pretend I said something here that ties it all together, and I’ll pretend I had a lot of margaritas, am giving you a big hug, and saying I love you guys.  I LOVE YOU GUYS!

The Lazies: What the Service Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

One more rant and then I promise to stop for a bit and return to things like genealogy or anecdotes about my random encounters with fake mustaches to celebrate Freddie Mercury. Of course, that is unless someone does something wacky like fly a Confederate flag over their Capitol building and wonders, “how on earth could racism possibly be alive today?”  As usual, I digress.

A few months ago I was reading a post by Mike Rowe.  Now let me just say, I completely adore Mike Rowe.  He’s introduced me to a world of things I never want to do in my life, and he’s made me appreciate those who do. If you aren’t familiar with him, he’s the former host of “Dirty Jobs” and is the narrator for Deadliest Catch.  (WOOO! Northwestern! WOOO! Time Bandit!) He has that every-man appeal, a beautiful voice, oh and he used to sing opera.

I follow him on Facebook to get my weekly dose of “Friday’s with Freddy” and to read his responses to crazy fan mail, which he always greets with a great amount of wit and humor.  He’ll also occasionally tackle tough political issues, and while we don’t always agree, I always appreciate the eloquent way with which he explains his point of view.  You can tell he’s put a great deal of thought into the subject at hand, and if I’m not in agreement I almost always walk away thinking, “While I don’t agree, I completely see and appreciate where you’re coming from.”

Back to that post from a few months ago – the subject had to do with livable wages and raising the minimum wage.  What I want to talk about is not what Mike said, which was against raising the minimum wage, but the comments that followed.  The gist of which seemed to be a highly vitriolic stew of, “people who work in minimum wage jobs are lazy.  If they wanted to have more money, they could.  No one to blame but themselves.” (Imagine all of that written rather hatefully.)

It reminded me of a training class I recently attended where they attempted to teach the class empathy by assigning us a made-up person, giving us the bare minimum of details, and then asking us how we felt as that person.  Mine was a working mom who had two kids in school and lived in less than ideal living conditions.  When asked how she felt I explained my life was hard in ways people couldn’t understand, but I was proud of my kids staying in school and I worked each day for them.  Now because I could believe that a person in that situation was doing her best and would actually be proud of her children, I was told in front of the class that I was wrong, and the trainer clucked her disapproval at me sensing I clearly failed her assignment, missing the point entirely. (She later attempted to teach us how to read auras.  I allowed her to see mine in all it’s shining glory which led to a small standoff.  When I’m the problem-child in a class, something has gone horribly wrong.)

My point to that story is that not everyone who is impoverished needs your pity, and not everyone who is working a minimum wage job is lazy or lacking in some important way.  If you’ve ever had the pleasure of working for minimum wage, you know there’s not a lot of time for sitting around and daydreaming.  In many cases you’re serving the public either directly or indirectly.  You’re stocking shelves, running forklifts, greeting customers, mowing lawns, trimming hedges, scrubbing toilets, or you’re scrubbing feet, and hands.  You’re picking up trash in a truck or throughout a building. You’re in a file room, entering data or answering call after call.  And when you’re done, you run to the next job, because you understand that there’s a great imbalance between the cost of living and the minimum wage.  You have to keep a roof over your head, food on the table and oftentimes not just for you – you have a family.

I would argue that in general these are not lazy people.  These are the hardworking people who keep our society running and help us feel civilized with our mani/pedis, our towel service, our pool maintenance, groceries, etc.

One of the world’s richest women, Gina Rinehart, once said, “ If you’re jealous of those with more money don’t just sit there and complain, do something to make more money yourself. Spend less time drinking, smoking and socializing and more time working.”  I can only assume she inherited her fortune thanks to her avoidance of vice and of course her hard working  nature (and delightful disposition). She then went on to push to lower the minimum wage for miners to below $2/hour, so that Australia could be more competitive.

Gina got to where she was thanks to her family (despite her blinders that tell her she’s an amazing little tycoon with certain tycooning gifts which include a disdain for her lazy, socializing, smoking, drinking miners). In theory her descendants will inherit that same fortune without doing much more than being born and having decent financial advisors along the way (all of whom I will presume will continue shunning the aforementioned vices).  Much like the Royals.  Much like the Hiltons or any family dynasty.  In fact if you think about how you got to where you are you can likely attribute some of it is your drive, some of it to your environment, some of it to your education, and some to your personal network (whether family or friends).  I am where I am because I am reasonably intelligent.  I went to college and earned a degree, because I didn’t see there was a choice considering my family and friends; it was just a given.  My parents went to college, most of my friends went to college and many of them have advanced degrees – there are plenty doctors of all types, whether they’re PhDs or MDs. (They’re a talented lot even if they are overachievers.) They’re the kind of people who indirectly push you in ways you don’t realize you’re being pushed.

The  jobs I’ve held over the years are a result of family connections and personal connections; I didn’t do anything special other than show up for an interview.  In fact, I can’t name a job that I have had that can’t in some way be attributed to someone else.  Sure, I’ve moved up using my own skills, but I wouldn’t have gotten my foot in the door had it not been for someone else helping to crack it open.  With hundreds of applicants applying for even the simplest of jobs, it helps to have someone say, “hey, would you talk to Beth, too”  Not everyone has that network.  Not everyone has the opportunities I have had. Not everyone is equipped to work in a white collar job, and you know what? That’s ok.  We need everyone; they’re critical to our society..

My point is that there is a lot that plays into getting and maintaining a job, and while laziness may be a factor for a small group of people, it’s certainly not the defining characteristic when we’re talking about the poverty cycle..  If you think it’s an easy thing to break out of, then it’s likely you weren’t born into it.  My father was.  My father went on to be a professor of Social Work, and he can tell you best how he broke free, but suffice it to say it had to do with his environment, his education, his network of friends and a particular family that exposed him to new and different ways of thinking.

So, when I see people standing up and saying, “I want to be paid more to be able to live – to support  my family – to give my children opportunities I didn’t have – to rely less on public assistance”.  I don’t think disdainfully, “that’s just lazy talk”, I think about how we make that happen.  If I pay more for a barely edible burger that I don’t need, and now a person no longer has to rely on SNAP to feed their family, then I’m ok with that.  They’re not asking to move into your gated community, they’re just asking to live safely.

These people aren’t lazy, they just want to survive, and we should be mindful of that when they’re serving us and be thankful instead of contemptful of that person standing at the register. (Because at the end of the day they can spit in your food or dump your trash can on your immaculate lawn).

We should be doing our party to help.

Texas Proud

I’m a Texan. By all accounts (or just the more reliable ones) I’m a “proud Texan”.  I was born here, I was raised here, and if my lack of motivation and drive persists, I’ll die here.  I’m good with that.  As a Texan I was indoctrinated at an early age to love Texas – the good and the bad.  A bit like I love my momma, apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet.  Ok, I don’t actually care one way or the other about Chevrolet – I’m indifferent – that’s the word! They’re fine and all, I’m sure.  I mean no offense to anyone driving one.  Oh, and while we’re at it if we could turn apple pie to some sort of cobbler and maybe replace baseball with tennis, that would be swell.  Now the love of my Momma still stands, except let’s call her “Mom” or “Mother”, that would be more fitting.  Whew.  Got all of that out of the way.  I love Mom, peach cobber, tennis (if I have to pick one) and car companies ending in “a”. And Texas! Don’t forget Texas.

As a Texan, I get to defend Texas to my out-of-state friends more times than I’d care to.  Yes, in education we rank among the lowest, but many of us are fairly state-aware, despite what you were taught in whatever place you came from. And hey, we rank low in a lot of areas! TEXAS PROUD! We’re # (shoot, I don’t have that many hands)!

I feel like I’ve beaten this dead horse before, but let’s face it, I’m too lazy to link back to some post where I defended Texas.  It’s out there.  I’m sure my ire was up.  I probably typed a few sentences using heavy, angry keystrokes. No, I won’t link those two adjectives with a contraction, and I’m aware that I’ve now ended a few sentences with prepositions, but that’s how I’m rolling today. I’ll make 32 other egregious grammar errors before I get through this post.  Blame the Texas education system and a poor attitude.

Here’s the thing – Texas is my family.  I can pick on it, but God forbid someone outside of it start – thems fightin’ words.  Until last week…

Normally, I don’t like to get into my politics on my blog.  I ust like to throw random anecdotes at you until you cry for mercy. Those cries herald an extended blogging sabbatical while I wait for the next thing to inspire me.  Normally, I shrug off what comes across the national news about my state.  It’s rarely good. It’s never an “atta boy, Texas” with no trace of sarcasm. Normally, I don’t cringe.  Did I mention, “until last week”?

Let’s talk about Operation Jade Helm 15. You know that thing where Obama was planning to come to Texas to institute martial law.  I think we were going to be rounded up into Wal-Marts and then who knows what would happen next.  That story.  The one where Governor Abbott sent the Texas National Guard to keep an eye on the US military.  State officials from both sides of our state government sent the Governor notes basically saying, “what the…?” This played out in the media for a bit.  Towards the end of last week we were notified by Gov. Abbott that he’d been briefed by the Pentagon and he now felt assured we Texans were not in peril.  Whew! I’m not a huge fan of Wal-Mart.  Bullet dodged!

I was gobsmacked..

I can handle being called out for my drawl.  I can even handle my out-of-state friends being stunned that some Texans have had book learnin’ and can keep our drool from spilling down the front of our shirts.  But this… this… I’m at a complete loss of words.

So, where I normally would avoid politics and in turn avoid posting other people’s thoughts on politics, I felt I had to be called away from couch sabbatical and post something – sometimes – other people’s words – people who are better at expressing themselves about this lunacy than I.

Strong Language Warning:

From the Stonekettle Station Blog:”Jade Helm: The Insanity that Ate Texas”

“Paranoia is a mental Illness, not a super power.”

And Jon Stewart, who is always brilliant:  You can start at 4:45 if you just want to cut to the Jade Helm chase.

I’m such a proud Texan….

Cool

“You should really thank The Big Bang Theory for making geeks like you cool.”

I stammered in response and finally offered up a fairly well thought out, “uh huh”  right after I did a quick age check to confirm what I already suspected, that I really was too old to care about whether I’m cool.  The fact is that I’ve never, at any age,  been particularly driven to be “cool”. (All of my friends and family just nodded in agreement with that statement.) Call it what you will – a character flaw – a love of Lee when no one could get between Brooke and her Calvin Klein’s – the ability to quote Monty Python or the willingness to argue that yes, Han did shoot first. I’m simply not cool.  And I’m ok with not being cool. Cool isn’t my thing. (Guys, you can stop agreeing.  Sheesh.  I can feel it.)

You see, there’s this implied idea that “cool” is “fitting in.” If you’re “cool,” then  “fitting in” is clearly something every person who has been labeled a geek is surely hoping to achieve, but hasn’t quite figured it out yet. I’m here to tell you “cool” has never been my personal goal (and I’m really quite well-accomplished at not being cool).  On the other hand what is popular shouldn’t be how we define cool in my opinion.  Look at any past trend – old photos from any generation. (You know the ones that show you wearing that bejeweled glove with the neon top and those parachute pants. Are you going to tell me you still feel cool?) To me cool is being comfortable enough to be yourself.  A TV show won’t give you that.

I would love this to be a piece about “how to be comfortable with yourself;” however, I’d be misleading you completely if I said there weren’t time that I’ve wanted to be something different, something more, something better than…

I remember the first time I really thought about labels and contemplated the big “who am I?” question.  “Am I cool?” It was around 1980.  It was the summer before I entered 7th grade and The Dallas Morning News ran an article about teen groups.  There were little summaries about preppies, ropers (which when I moved back to Austin were known as “kickers”), freaks, and I’m sure there were a slew of additional labels like “geek” that I can’t quite remember because I’m old (and kind of cranky).

I also don’t remember much about the actual definitions. I do remember preppies were “cool,” but “freaks” sounded closer to the group that best fit me. They were described as wearing jeans, sneakers and concert t-shirts.  I mean, I did wear both jeans and sneakers all the time and I did own that one “Wings” t-shirt from a show I never attended.  How could that not be me? Preppie certainly wasn’t me. My reality didn’t include anything bearing the name of Izod, Polo, Gloria Vanderbilt or Swatch, so that was out of the picture. Later I did own some Jordache and OP things. I stand by those clothes.  We will discuss this no further. I couldn’t name a single country group other than Alabama at the time, so “Roper” was out. “Future president of the orchestra/bookworm nerd” wasn’t a listed choice. That left me with being a “Freak” if I had to choose a category (and the newspaper seemed to think that this had to happen – all teenagers identified themselves by one of these, a journalist wrote it!). Also, at that time I was really working on being a proper delinquent (which the “Freak” title seemed to embrace), but unfortunately my natural prissiness and penchant for a good rule ultimately got in the way.  I did briefly join an all girl gang in name only, but was always “busy” come fight days. “Sorry, I would love to, but I have to go out of town for the rest of my life and during all of my free time. Maybe next fight?.”  Keep in mind this was a Dallas middle-class girl’s gang.  We’re not exactly talking east L.A. and yay, they did go about intimidating my bullies, which made hallway walking much more pleasant.

Still I didn’t truly embrace any label – freak, geek or otherwise.  I was me.  A me who liked math, science, orchestra, German club and reading books.  When a person would suggest I change who I was (fall under a different label) like my grandmother (the former president of her college sorority, president of various ladies clubs, a socialite – you get the idea) when she pulled me aside and declared, “you need to change how you act or no boy will date you.” (She wanted me to play dumb in this case.) My response was, “if someone doesn’t like me for who I am, then I guess I won’t date,” which was a lot like sassing and sassing was a big no-no and earned my grandmother’s immediate disapproval.  Her message of “be different than who you are in order to be more accepted” was never me.  Of course, I didn’t really date until I was a senior in high school, so she clearly read the omens and was onto something there.

During this time one of my fundamental characteristics became apparent – I really wouldn’t change who I was to gain other people’s approval – to be cool – from how I presented myself, to whom I chose as my closest friends, to what my interests were (and continue to be).

Ok, I lied a bit there.  I did drop out of the math club (don’t tell Dad – it was something I was drafted into and didn’t go to willingly) . Though I loved math (and still love it, it’s really quite beautiful). I already had the stigma of being an academic nerd. The idea of competing with the math club was just too much.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bigbluemess/16736367171

If I were to “thank” a TV show, it wouldn’t be The Big Bang Theory though I suppose kudos to them if it helps people be ok with someone else’s love of Star Trek. Just be warned you’ll lose a finger or three if you come at me with your “rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock” (may Leonard Nimoy rest in peace) or if another person says, “you’re a lot like Sheldon.” I may not watch the show, but I do know what you’re saying.  The show I would actually thank is Freaks and Geeks, if I were the thank-y sort.  It’s the one show that got my 80’s right.  In fact, Lindsay is the closest I’ve come to truly identifying with a character (if you threw in a lot more orchestra).

What makes me feel cool? It’s not a TV show saying I’m ok.  It’s being me – doing the things I love and enjoying the things that I do. Sometimes that’s standing on a stage with a puppet.  Sometimes it’s taking improv or sketch classes. It’s watching a Battlestar Galactica marathon, playing spoons while waiting for the opening of The Wrath of Khan, and sometimes it’s just singing “Bad Romance” in a karaoke room with all of my friends.

What makes my friends cool? The ones you would label “geeks”? It’s that they do what they love without worrying about what you think.

We never needed a TV show to say it’s ok to be who we are.

Taking the Moment

I’m not a creative person. Now typing that “out loud” might elicit some “of course you ares”, and that’s super sweet, but I’m ok with it. I promise no one is going to compel you into including that in my eulogy.  The truth is my brain is simply not wired that way or perhaps it’s that my muse is on a smoke break, who really ever knows.  (I would end that with a question mark, but it’s more rhetorical (unless of course you know what became of my muse, then do tell.))  I’m left brained.  Although, judging by my grades from school, it clearly does not convey any special adeptness in it’s left brainy specialties. (Why left brain? WHY?!? It’s just theoretical mathematics. Get that X girl, get it!)

Now, that doesn’t stop me from dabbling.  For example, I can draw some of the most adorable dust bunnies with these overly-large, super-solicitous eyes (if you anthropomorphize dust bunnies, you don’t have to sweep them up, because it’s like declaring war on an endangered (endangered because I just typed it) species – this is fact). Granted, I’m more likely to doodle a series of hash marks or cubes, but that’s beside the point.  When inspired, I’m a dust bunny drawing pro.  I’ve tried improv (you remember that brief foray into personal humiliation – the one where all of my classmates were approached to move forward and I was applauded for making regular payments – my pro skill) and then I tried sketch writing (where my teacher actually couldn’t remember my name after 8 months and everyone else was encouraged to go forward with sketch shows and videos).  Now some of this stems from me being a bit odd and squirrelly, but some of it is just genuinely me not being particularly good at it and people recognizing that, (which is always a tad awkward). However, I don’t let my awfulness stop me from trying!  Go me!  I’m content to spread my badness.  Make my videos. Take photographs.  Run up on a stage where they’ve invited two people to come up and then realizing a quick game of “short straw” is going on in the crowd before I get a partner.  Write my blog and ultimately just revel in my creative mediocrity. Go Meh-ness!

But here’s the rub. (No, I haven’t been drinking.) Anyway… the rub! Not everything I see others produce is always great art either, but that whole “treat your friends the way they want to be treated” thing usually compels me to offer them encouragement.  That’s especially true if they’re trying something new or challenging. If asked I offer up my “what if’s,” but mostly I tend to say “great job!”  I make an effort to acknowledge what people are sharing and recognize that a piece of their soul lives is in their art.  Apparently, “wow, that’s right shit!” is discouraging to some.

So, last week I did something that was hard for me and then I displayed it for a small world and got crickets in return, with a couple of exceptions. My soul laid a bit bare and the cool (sarcasm) sound of absolutely nothing. By comparison, I told Facebook I forgot my breakfast and immediately got 22 likes.  Maybe the takeaway is that this is where my real strength lies – not in creativity but my slow, public descent into dementia.  Great. My dreams realized.

Where we stand at this moment – I’m done.  I’m done applauding. I’m done helping. I’m done with “the favor”. I’m done encouraging.  That thing my friend did better meet MOMA standards. If they wouldn’t display it, then don’t think I want to see it as a .jpg in an email attachment.  If it’s not on “Funny or Die;” it’s clearly not worth viewing.  If it isn’t published; it’s not worth reading. If critics aren’t aware of it, and there’s not a blurb stating “Bold!” then you’re absolutely wasting my time.

Ok fine, I suppose that won’t actually be the case, but it really feels kind of liberating and also somewhat  compound sentence-y. I made many words!

Maybe I’ll offer some advice instead of declaratives. If you have friends who have chosen to share with you – whether it’s something completely new to them or it’s old hat, then take a moment to really look, listen and acknowledge.  That’s your one job as a friend; it’s actually your most important job. I guarantee they’ll reciprocate.

To my friends who always take those moments – thank you!

Who emptied the liquor cabinet?