Shame, Shame, Shame!

When I was a child and had done something wrong, my mother would shake her finger at me. I hated that pointing, wagging finger more than I hated getting yelled at. The gesture conveyed shame, even if my mother’s words didn’t.

Nowadays we seem to see a lot of pointing and shaking fingers, pronouncing blame or shame on the offending parties. Here are some that you are likely familiar with and others that you may not be.

Fat-shaming This is probably most common kind of shaming and comes in various forms. One of the most noticeable kinds is fat-shaming actresses for carrying a few extra pounds – or even ounces. Increasingly stringent and nearly impossible standards are held up. Who the hell notices whether the woman in the supermarket or on the soccer field has a thigh gap anyway? Are the rest of us supposed to try to achieve this dubious standard? Thigh jiggle was bad enough. And 99% of those “People of Walmart” photos? Fat people in outfits that don’t even have the “decency” to try to hide it.

Body-shaming There are other types of body-shaming. Skinny-shaming. Have you ever heard someone pass a thin woman and call, “Eat a sandwich”? Fashion models are held to unrealistic standards of thinness, then mocked when they do. Women at science fiction conventions are shamed for having the “wrong” body type to wear a She-Hulk or Slave Girl Leia costume. And forget black Supergirls and Wonderwomen. You’d think we’d be over this by now. But no.

Slut-shaming Even the term makes my skin crawl. It contains the assumption that there is such a thing as a slut who can be recognized on sight. Or if you’re not going strictly on clothing, hair, and makeup, it becomes sexual-behavior-shaming. It’s a thin line between that and blaming rape victims for the crime.

Mommy-shaming Suddenly, everyone’s an expert. Underprotective mothers, overprotective mothers, breastfeeding mothers, bottle-feeding mothers, mothers of “free-range children,” “helicopter moms” and “tiger moms.” Worst of all, people feel entitled to comment on their behavior, not just on social media, but face-to-face with the mothers themselves. Oh, there’s plenty on social media too. Recently a celebrity was caught giving her child the wrong sort of toy, which apparently viewers could see had eyes that were a choking hazard. There’s nothing like 100,000 people telling you you’re killing your child.

Age-shaming This started in Hollywood too, it seems. Feminists have long noted that female actors’ careers are over when they hit 40 – or long before, especially if they play romantic leads. Meanwhile, male actors star in such films long into their 60s or 70s – with ingenues young enough to be their granddaughters. Body-shaming is also involved. When it was announced that Meryl Streep was starring in the action-adventure film The River Wild, critics couldn’t help sniping that no one would want to see the 45-year-old Streep in shorts or a bathing suit. But this insidious trend isn’t limited to LaLa-Land. Think about all those articles you’ve seen that tell women over 40 what they shouldn’t wear – even women over 30, for God’s sakes! I’m not throwing away my leopard-print flats just for them!

Poverty-shaming Again, think about those “People of Walmart” photos. Who shops there? Not the rich. So the poor are targets for shaming. Now think of the “Welfare Queen” stereotype – a woman on public assistance who drives a Cadillac, has her hair and nails done weekly, smokes and drinks and drugs, never works, dines out on steak and lobster while feeding her kids junk food. You’ve seen it in memes and rants on social media and even heard it from elected officials. This is particularly hurtful, because it affects public policy. And it’s simply untrue. Most people on public assistance have jobs and close-to-the-bone lives. But even school lunches for their kids are politically controversial. Life is hard enough without the shaming.

Am I just ranting that shaming is shameful and wrong? Of course I am. It’s mean-spirited and insulting and unnecessary. But look at who gets shamed the most – women. And often, it’s other women who do the shaming. From the time when fashion magazines covered the eyes of women committing clothing “crimes” to nowadays when women can be shamed for how they look – no matter how they look – and for what they do and how they behave.

And people wonder why women have low self-esteem and doubt their every decision, and why poverty is seen as a moral failing. Shaming is a nastier form of gossiping, which is nasty already, but it is worse than that. All those pointing, wagging fingers are pointing the wrong direction. What we need is a little more shame-shaming.

 

Grammar Rules I’ve Given Up

For my entire life, I’ve been known as a Grammar Nazi. The Punctuation Czar. Now, not so much. I’ve written about that before: http://wp.me/p4e9wS-6z

In that post I said:

I used to take delight in knowing all the rules and enforcing them ruthlessly. Gradually I have gotten away from that practice. I felt it was impolite to go around correcting people unless they had asked for my help. I still corrected my family because – hey – it was mentally painful to be around people who misused “hopefully” or split infinitives. Or who mispronounced “nuclear” or “foliage,” for that matter.

Gradually, I changed. Here are some of the rules I am no longer an enforcement officer for.

Split infinitives

I admit that my desire to throw this rule overboard was influenced by my hope that I might find a way to approve of the phrase “to boldly go.” (Okay. I was a grammar geek, but the other kind as well.) Then, one day, I found my “out.” The rule was not only wrong; it was stupid.

The old bugaboo about not splitting an infinitive, to which I was passionately devoted, has its source in the fact that in Latin it is impossible to split an infinitive. Latin infinitives are all one word. It makes no sense to transfer that rule to English.

I breathed much easier the next time I watched Star Trek.

Impact 

I hate the use of “impact” except as a way of referring to one thing crashing into another thing – an asteroid into a planet, for example. I still much prefer that to its metaphorical usage, in which it means “has an effect on.” There’s already a perfectly good word for that – “affect.”

My co-workers, however, ridiculed me mercilessly on this one. They showed me examples of “impact” used to mean “affect” in other pieces of writing. They counted the number of times I made the change. They never let up.

And eventually I caved. It still sounds awful to me, but I have given up defending the usage. I have not, however, given up the rule that “affect” is a verb and “effect” is a noun 99% of the time, with the one percent being so seldom used as to be negligible.

Not starting sentences with “and” or “but”

Or “so.” Or “or,” for that matter. I know that conjunctions don’t belong at the beginning of sentences in Standard (Formal) Written English. But what I write is usually informal, colloquial English. If I followed the aforementioned rule, that last sentence would have had to have been, “What I write, however, is usually informal.” I use “however” enough as it is. And phrases like “would have had to have been.” (I suppose since I am writing informally here, I should have written “would have had to be,” but there you are, it’s hard to break these habits after so many years.)

There are some grammar and punctuation rules that I have not given up, however.

The semicolon

Noted author David Gerrold recently declared the semicolon obsolete and ugly. I disagree, and not just because I have one tattooed on my left wrist (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-9G). To me, the semicolon is both elegant and useful; it implies a connection between two independent clauses. In that sentence, the semicolon means that the semicolon, by implying a connection between the two halves of the sentence, is therefore both elegant and useful. If I had said, “The semicolon is both elegant and useful. It implies a connection between two independent clauses,” those would have been true, simple statements. But they would not have emphasized the connection between the function of the semicolon and its beauty and elegance.

Okay. I’ll shut up about the semicolon now. David Gerrold and I will just have to agree to disagree.

The Oxford comma

First, let me say that one of my main clients does not use the Oxford (or “serial”) comma in the pieces I must edit, and it chips away at my soul each time I have to remove one. The lack of an Oxford comma can make a sentence both confusing and laughable. You’d get book dedications like this: To my parents, my English teacher and Barack Obama. Without the Oxford comma (the one that should go after “teacher”), everything after “parents,” becomes an appositive – equivalent to what came before. In other words, sans Oxford comma, the author is saying that her English teacher and Barack Obama are her parents. All that hilarity and confusion can be avoided with a simple comma.

The subjunctive mood

Don’t get me started on the subjunctive mood. No, I mean really don’t. We’ll be here all day.

Redemption of a Turkey

Monty was a jerk. A turkey. An overstuffed, giblet-jammed tom gobbler. That’s what people called him, especially his in-laws.

There wasn’t any real reason to object to his marrying into the family. He wasn’t violent, or a drug addict, or a criminal.

He was just . . . obnoxious.

Monty was large and loud. He laughed gratingly at his own un-funny jokes. He was ignorant, but proclaimed his expertise. About everything. He was greedy and self-centered and repellent in so many ways.

In general, he was just a pain to be around.

But he was devoted to his wife, dragged her along with him to everything he was interested in. You couldn’t say that he left her home alone, sobbing. The young couple was the despair of his parents, with whom they lived, but that was their look-out. Every attempt to get a job and move out failed for some reason.

The family sighed in despair, and said, “Oh, that’s Monty. What are you gonna do?” and tried to get used to him.

Then, one day, something changed. It was hard to notice at first. Perhaps that first sign was when he was in a grocery store with his wife, who was doing her mother’s shopping, when Monty decided to buy Mom a coffee cake. With his own money. “She’ll like that,” he said. And she did.

The next sign was when he started bring Christmas presents to family holiday gatherings. He even brought one for a guest who always spent the holidays with the family. They weren’t great presents – inexpensive folding knives and cheap wine, which, given his work situation, were nevertheless impressive. It was clear he was trying.

He started giving and accepting hugs, asking first and thanking the person afterward. He went to Christmas church services so that his mother-in-law could point to the row of people and introduce them proudly as “my whole family.”

It was like watching a turkey drop its feathers and morph into a human. It was a stunning alteration to the family that had merely put up with him for all those years.

To what could they attribute this change? Age bringing maturity, perhaps? His wife’s devotion to her family? A Grinch-like conversion?

The answer may never be known. Some people think it was due to the job he finally landed. It didn’t pay enough to get Monty and his wife out of his parents’ basement. But it was a job delivering meals to shut-ins and seniors.

Maybe that job inspired him to think about the wants and needs of others. He might have learned, after taking care of other people day after day, that other people needed and deserved attention. Perhaps he saw that he could make a difference.

Whatever the reason, Monty changed. He still laughed at his own jokes, but not as loudly. He still bought himself hobby gear and collectibles and toys. He still expounded endlessly about them. But now it was bearable to be in a room with him for more than half an hour. Now the hugs could be comfortably returned. Now Christmas with the family wasn’t an ordeal for everyone.

Monty had grown into the family. And grown out of being a turkey.

 

Naughty, Pesty, Embarrassing Cats We Love

Cats are supposed to be furry, adorable purring machines that sit on your lap and provide you companionship, right?

Here’s the truth: Cats are all that, but they can also be naughty, pesty, and downright embarrassing. Having a cat around the house is often entertaining, not always in a good way. But we love them anyway.

Speaking of entertaining, you can expect cats will yak on the carpet when you have important visitors. That’s a given. But we’ve seen worse behavior.

Little Maggie, a half-grown stray, once interrupted a lively game of Trivial Pursuit by dragging a hiking boot (of the smelly variety) into the living room, by one shoelace. It made loud clumping sounds as she strove mightily to bring us her kill.

And on the subject of gifting humans with dead things, Django used to save his kills “for later” by putting them in his pantry. It wasn’t our pantry – it was the innards of our sofa. He also left half-mice lying around, usually in the bathtub, where they were at least easy to clean up, but not so great for visitors.

Toby and Garcia both had a craving for pizza – so much that they liked to walk or even jump on them. I tell you, there’s nothing like a paw print in the cheese to spoil your appetite.

Unless it’s tongue prints in the butter. If you leave butter out on the table or the counter, a cat will assume it’s an invitation to snack. Their rough little tongues leave striped impressions that instantly betray their endeavors, even if you don’t catch them at it. It’s disgusting. Take my word on this.

Other food violations abound. Once my husband and I were eating in front of the television, our plates on the coffee table, when our foster cat Joliet took a notion that she wanted to dine too. She swooped in, seemingly from nowhere, and without hesitation snatched a steak from right off the plate and skedaddled, steak flapping in her wake. We could barely afford steak for ourselves, much less Joliet, so we rescued the rib eye and washed it off. I’m just glad that wasn’t one of “in front of guests” incidents.

Then there’s what cats do to their companion humans. Kittens are probably the worst. Our cat Louise grew into a polite, sweet-tempered cat. But when she was a baby, she was a vampire kitten with a fetish for toes. Kittens have tiny, pointy teeth as sharp as little needles. And they are relentless. A moving toe is a prime target, but even the stationary toe of a sleeping person is considered fair game. (Until she grew out of the habit, which kittens do (thank God), her nickname was Naughty Baby Fek’lhr, (a joke only geeks get).)

Toes aren’t the only body parts at risk, and biting is not the only thing you have to worry about. Dushenka licks. Last night she licked my nose and forehead. More often she licks my husband, anywhere he’s got hair, which is pretty much everywhere. She licks his eyebrows, his beard, his chest hair, his arms, and whatever else she can reach. And she doesn’t just give him a single lick and then stop. She keeps on licking with her rough little tongue (see butter anecdote, above) until he can’t stand it anymore. (I ‘ve never seen her lick his armpits, though I once knew someone whose cat liked to do that.)

But of all the naughty behavior I’ve seen from an otherwise adorable cat, none has rivaled the time Bijou crashed my party. I had about six or eight friends over and we were in the living room and kitchen, chatting merrily and listening to music, when suddenly the cat appeared from the direction of the bathroom. All conversation stopped when we saw that she was carrying a pink tampon applicator, sticking out of her mouth like a little bubble gum cigar.

But I loved her anyway.

 

What Dreams May Come (Whether You Want Them to or Not)

My husband has the extremely annoying habit of just lying down and going to sleep. It is especially irritating when he does this in the middle of a fight.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

<head hits pillow>

“Zzzzzzzz”

(I am more of the sit-up-and-stew-all-night type.)

Another thing that Dan can do that I can’t is “lucid dreaming.” What is that?

WebMD says,

Lucid dreaming represents a brain state between REM sleep and being awake. Some people who are lucid dreamers are able to influence the direction of their dream, changing the story so to speak. While this may be a good tactic to take, especially during a nightmare, many dream experts say it is better to let your dreams occur naturally. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/dreaming-overview#2-6

Basically, it’s when a person is dreaming and knows that it is, in fact, a dream. As if that weren’t meta enough, the person can also influence events in the dream, just by thinking about it. For instance, if my husband is about to be attacked by a dragon, he can say (in the dream), “Hey, you’re not real,” and *poof* goes the dragon. Or if he’s back in high school, unprepared for a test, he can realize that he’s graduated and been to college; therefore he doesn’t have to take the test.

My dreams aren’t like that. I have four types of dreams and usually rotate among them (interspersed with dreams in which I can fly, or at least jump long distances or hover 6-12 inches above the ground).

Anxiety/frustration dreams. I have plenty of these. When I traveled on business, they were about missing airplanes or being lost in a hotel. Now that I no longer do that, my subconscious has regressed. Now I dream about missing the school bus and being lost in my junior high or high school. I also have the not-prepared-for-a-test dream, but it doesn’t usually provoke anxiety unless it’s a math test.

The being-lost portion of the dream produces frustration rather than anxiety. I know the building intimately – it is almost always a perfect replica of the school – but I don’t know where my next class will be held. Either that or I don’t have a copy of my new schedule and there’s a line at the registration desk.

Naked dreams. These, I understand, are fairly common. You appear in some public place, such as where you work, with no clothes on. This has happened to me many times (in dreams, I mean). But in my case, no one ever notices that I am naked. They just carry on with the meeting or whatever without blinking an eye. I know most people who have naked dreams find them embarrassing or humiliating. These dreams don’t happen to me very often, but when they do, they piss me off.

Bathroom dreams. Speaking of pissing, another of my dreams is being unable to find a bathroom. I have to pee desperately, but all I can find – even in a swanky bathroom – is a bucket. Or a hole in the floor where a toilet ought to be. Or no toilet at all. Or a toilet stall I can’t fit into. Or toilet stalls with no doors. Or, worst of all, plenty of toilets with appropriate doors, but every one of them disgustingly filthy in ways I won’t describe. (You’re welcome.)

Hot-n-juicy dreams. Now we come to the dreams that I actually enjoy – sex dreams. (My husband says he doesn’t get these, but I think he’s lying.) I enjoy these dreams enormously – I feel they’re like freebies. You can cheat on your partner without doing anything he or she can complain about. So what if I boink Ken or Paul, or a stranger? Nothing happened! My subconscious just had a riotous good time. (Except when it didn’t. Sex dreams can merge with other kinds of dreams – naked is fine, but not frustration or humiliation.)

I don’t want to know what Sigmund Freud or any Freudian therapist (if there still are any) would think of these dreams. Probably something sexual. Except for the sex dreams. Those would be about potty training or fear of clowns. I’ll just interpret my own dreams, get through the ones that bother me, and enjoy the ones I can. And wish I remembered more of my dreams, especially the hot-n-juicy variety.

Whatever Happened To…?

Have you ever had the feeling of waking up one morning and not recognizing the world around you? I’m not talking about the results of a weekend in Tijuana. Just the sense that the world is passing you by. Phones are now cameras and recorders and TVs and computers and watches. To communicate, you must recognize obscure acronyms – not just LOL or BRB, but IIRC, AFAIK, SUATMM, and FTW (two meanings). Your car tells you where to go and parks itself.

Still, the things that bother me most are the things that I DO remember that don’t exist anymore.

Whatever happened to…

… packaging concerns? Remember that circle of little green arrows that appeared on everything? They used to mean “Recycle – Reuse – Rsomethingelse.” Resist, maybe? Anyway, it was a plea to think of the environment, particularly in packaging. Styrofoam and plastics were going to be replaced with paper, cardboard, and other substances that wouldn’t persist in landfills until the dinosaurs returned.

If plastic packaging couldn’t be eliminated, it was going to be reduced (that’s the other R!). No more individually wrapped slices of cheese inside another outer plastic wrap! No more toys encased in plastic inside an additional plastic shell wrapped in bubble wrap with styrofoam inserts! We were all going to carry string bags and put our vegetables straight into them. Toys were going to have a simple paper price sticker on the bottom.

Needless to say, none of that happened, except in a few enclaves of hippiedom, which have not been supported by the manufacturers and wrappers. We still see styrofoam trays of two tomatoes wrapped in plastic, and we bag them in plastic instead of nice, biodegradable paper. (The plastic bags are supposed to biodegrade too, or be repurposed as plastic water bottles, which are now taking over the earth.) Now we even have tiny plastic snack trays with wee little compartments for each separate snack and a foil topper.

…dark roots? It used to be that dark roots were a bad thing, especially for blondes. They gave a graphic way to measure exactly how long it had been since the last beauty parlor visit or home dye job. Just look at Penny on The Big Bang Theory – every season her do-of-the-year features blonde tips and brown roots. Look at any number of Hollywood icons (male and female – think Guy Fieri). Hell, look at the cashier at the local CVS or Waffle House waitress. Her roots could be six inches long before the blonde starts.

Of course, hair color companies still sell root touch-up kits, but their hearts don’t seem to be in it anymore. Maybe it’s the rainbow-colored tips that are doing it. Who looks at your roots when your coiffure features stripes of electric blue and pink? Not that I’m knocking it. I have once or twice considered getting those clip-on colored stripes, just to see how they looked. I feared I was too old to get away with it, though, until I saw a commercial featuring a woman with gorgeous silver hair with two inches of blue tips.

… pantyhose? One day I had a meeting to attend, after years of not being in the business community. So I dusted off one of my respectable business lady outfits and went to the store in search of pantyhose. There weren’t any. At least the only kind I saw were knee-high hose meant to go under slacks. And damn few of them. Plus, this was after tights, but before leggings, so I didn’t have many other choices. I bought the knee-highs and quickly switched my outfit to a nice Hilary pantsuit.

Later I asked a friend. “I know women still wear dresses. What do they wear on their legs now?”

“Nothing.”

“They go bare-legged? In offices?”

“Yep.”

“And what did they do with all the space in the pharmacies and grocery stores that used to have walls of pantyhose?”

“Razors. I think young women shave everything from the waist down. You know all those razor commercials with topiaries? They’re metaphors.”

“Ordinarily I like metaphors, but that is just too…”

“Suggestive? Subliminal? Funny?”

“Something, anyway.”

Yes, I’m old! Yes, I’m cranky! No, I don’t want pantyhose to come back! But at least stay off my lawn, all you hussies with nekkid legs!

Creative Genius? Are You Crazy?

It is often said that there is a thin line between genius and madness, usually with a further remark about someone who is straddling that line. But do genius and madness really have anything to do with each other?

For a start, let’s use the terms creativity and mental illness. When we talk about genius, we often think of Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, geniuses in mathematics and theoretical physics. Or we think of prolific and significant inventors, like Thomas Edison and Elon Musk. And when we talk about mental illness, we usually envision killers – suicide bombers, spree killers, sociopaths, and the like.

Those views are limited, however. Creativity – or creative genius – encompasses art of all kinds. Picasso’s paintings, Johann Sebastian Bach’s music, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, Rodin’s sculptures, and so many others are works of creative genius as well.

Now we come to the intersection of creativity and mental illness.

Emily Dickinson had Social Anxiety Disorder.

And Abraham Lincoln suffered clinical depression. So did Charles Dickens.

Bipolar sufferers include Beethoven, Schumann, and Isaac Newton.

Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, and Nikola Tesla were all obsessive-compulsive.

Autism, dyslexia, and various learning disabilities affected Einstein, Galileo, Mozart, and even General Patton.

And Van Gogh! Let me tell you about Van Gogh. He had epilepsy. Or depression. Or psychotic attacks. Or bipolar disorder. Or possibly some combination thereof. Something, anyway.

They must have been! They were geniuses! And some of them acted crazy! Van Gogh cut his ear off! Surely he was insane!

Well, really, no one can tell if any of those diagnoses is true. None of those greats is known to have undergone psychoanalysis by a real doctor who actually met them. Some of the diagnoses didn’t even exist while the creative geniuses were alive. We make assumptions based on what we know about the famous and what we know of psychiatry – very little, in most cases.

The same is true for famous villains and criminals. Nero was a pyromaniac. Saddam Hussein was a narcissist. The Marquis de Sade was, well, a sadist. Ted Bundy was a sociopath, or a necrophiliac, or had antisocial personality disorder, or, well, something. He was crazy!

(In point of fact, mentally ill persons are much more likely to be victims of violence than to commit violence.)

What do we actually know about creativity and mental illness? Damn little. Get five people in a room and try to get them to agree on a definition of “creativity.” Design a scientific experiment to measure the connection between creativity and mental illness. You can’t do it without a definition of creativity and a list of which mental illnesses or conditions you are studying. And any results would therefore be subjective.

One thing I do know about creativity and mental illness is that creative people can be reluctant to admit their diagnoses for fear of being dismissed as a “crazy artist” or stigmatized. Brilliant glass artist Dale Chihuly only recently revealed that he has had bipolar disorder for years. In an interview with the Associated Press, his wife, Leslie Chihuly, said, “Dale’s a great example of somebody who can have a successful marriage and a successful family life and successful career — and suffer from a really debilitating, chronic disease. That might be helpful for other people.”

Indeed. Many people who have psychiatric diagnoses – or who suspect that they might – are reluctant to seek help. Many believe that taking medications for a mental disorder, in particular, might impede their creative flow. That is, they too are equating their creativity with “madness” and refuse to treat one for fear of losing the other.

In fact – and as a person with bipolar disorder I say this from experience – getting treatment can actually improve a person’s imaginative, creative, or scientific output. Level moods, time not lost to depression, freedom from the pain and fear of worsening symptoms, and other benefits of psychological and medical help can increase the time and the vigor and the passion that a creative person puts into her or his work.

That’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to erase the stigma associated with mental disorders. We could be missing out on the next creative genius.

Snowflakes and Babies, Language and Politics

I am tired, really tired, mortally tired, of seeing/hearing politically minded people – on both sides of whatever issue – calling each other snowflakes and babies. (Other playgroundish names, too, but those are the ones that seem to be used the most.)

We have Photoshopped memes of student protestors filing out of an event with pacifiers in their mouths. We see posts proclaiming the opposition as “special snowflakes” who have been hurt (or butt-hurt) in the “fee-fees.” And on and on.

We are talking about serious issues and positions, and, if not the best thing, the most common thing we do is call names.

If we talk about something as serious as impeaching the President, should we call him a Cheeto? Or refuse to mention his name? Or call his supporters Trumpkins? I had a friend who hated President Obama and all his works fiercely. Still, when she ranted about him, she always addressed him as “Mr. Obama.” When I asked her why, she replied, “My mama raised me right.”

And make no mistake, we are discussing ultra-serious topics here:

Is health care a right or a privilege or an obligation? And in any case, who should pay for it?

How can (or should) people protest an action or opinion they don’t agree with? At all? In silence? Without disrupting normal activities? Mail postcards?

What does the Constitution say about any given issue? What did it mean to the people who wrote it and what does it mean now?

What treatment and/or rights do the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, special needs kids deserve?

What training and powers should the police have? Do they still protect and serve?

What is (or should be) the role of journalists today?

Who are heroes? What do they do to qualify as such?

Does everyone deserve a living wage? What should the minimum be? Who deserves more pay than the minimum? How do we decide?

When does life begin?

Pick one. Any one. I’ll bet you can’t get through a discussion without calling or being called something unpleasant, in real life, and certainly not on social media. There are at least two – usually more – sides to all of these questions, but no one wants to hear, much less consider, an answer other than their own. And one of the “best” ways to demonize the other side is to dehumanize them. They are snowflakes. They are thugs. They are babies. They are pond scum. They are whiners.

That’s a road we don’t want to go down. That way lies madness, and worse.

Author and blogger Steven Brust (www.dreamcafe.com) addressed the issue of labeling in a recent post on Facebook:

I do not use the term Social Justice Warrior, because it … reads to me as disrespectful. Same with Libtard, or Identiterian, or Clintonista, or Berniebro. These all refer to ideological positions with which, while I often agree on the problems we face, I differ strongly on causes and methods of struggle. My disagreements are too profound to be trivialized by name-calling, and my passion runs too deep to be satisfied by insults.

I  have to say that I  disagree with Mr. Brust on many of his opinions (as I’m sure he disagrees with mine), but I think he is right on this.

While people may disagree on the functional definitions of words such as “patriot” and “Christian,” we all agree that “special kind of stupid” is an insult. What I’m saying is not “Wait and and see” or “I will never listen to them” or “I’m tired of being asked to understand their problems” or “All X are Y.” I’m not asking everyone to use their indoor voices and be polite.

I am making a plea that we all remember we are all human beings and that we treat each other the way we want to be treated. Without saying, “But they started it.” Or “they don’t deserve respect because X.”

You can choose whether to listen to or ignore another person’s point of view. You can work to defeat actions you find abhorrent. Hell, you can try to change society if you want to. In fact, I think we should.

I would recommend starting by considering how we talk to one another and whether that will help or hinder the fulfillment of our goals.

Other quasi-political posts I have written include:

Political Noise (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-ol)

Crashing Political Parties (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-se)

The Never-Ending Election (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-qv)

Make America Great Again: What Does It Mean? (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-o2)

Getaway: Creepy to Castle to Country

“How far away is Massachusetts?”

“About 12 hours, maybe more.” My husband has less than a keen grasp on geography. Also, he asks questions out of order. When he asks me about Massachusetts, I know there’s a question behind the question.

“How would you like to sleep in Lizzie Borden’s house?” Ah, the real question. Dan had read that the Borden residence was now a bed and breakfast and he was pretty sure I’d be interested. After all, he’s met me. When we went to London I insisted on taking the Jack the Ripper Walk, the one led by Donald Rumbelow, author of The Complete Jack the Ripper, so I could get him to autograph my copy.

I’m not saying that I would want to do the Assassination Vacation thing like Sarah Vowell, but true crime interests me and we had been talking about a long weekend getaway.

But there was a problem. Two, actually. Apart from the fact that Massachusetts was too far to drive for a three-day weekend, there was the ambience of the Borden b-n-b, as I learned online. Far from true crime, it was being billed as paranormal. Psychic readings. Ghost cams. All that ooga-booga shit I have no use for. I was glad to abandon the idea and search for less hokey, and closer, accommodations.

The next thing Dan suggested was a castle. I had told him about the wonderful castle tours in Ireland, and he thought he remembered that there were castles – or at least replica castle hotels – within our state. So back to the Internet I went.

There are indeed castles in Ohio. None authentic, as we’ve never had an Earl of Chillicothe or Baron of Akron, but several nonetheless. Some sounded very interesting, with little, attached taverns or pubs or assorted square and round towers. The problem here was that they were out of our price range. We could afford one night. Driving somewhere, spending one night, and driving back isn’t my idea of relaxation, unless we have an interesting relative within driving distance, which we mostly don’t.

(We’re keeping some of the non-hotel castles in mind as day trips. A tour and a meal sound like a fine one-day getaway.)

By chance, the next day I got an email from a travel discounting service (all right, it was TravelZoo), advertising a 60% off rate on a stay at a working farm in Kentucky. Not an old farm, but one built in the 90s, recent enough to have Jacuzzis in some rooms and Wifi throughout.

If that sounds a lot like glamping, well it is. But the place also offers opportunities to milk cows or goats; gather eggs for breakfast; learn canning, gardening, and other farm-type activities, plus take tours of a thoroughbred horse park or bourbon distilleries and vinyards.

Two discounted nights at the farm were only a few dollars more than one night in a castle, and only three hours or so away. And it seemed a pleasant combination of rest and recreation. I emailed, got a speedy answer to my question, and booked right away, in the middle of the night, from my tablet. Now we have a voucher and just have to pick a date, perhaps around our anniversary.

There’s no crime connection, and no pseudo-castle, but there is fresh air in different surroundings, plus activities that will take me back to my childhood stays at Uncle Sam’s farm. (Yes, I had an actual Uncle Sam. I also had an actual Aunt Jemima. Yes, I know it’s funny.)

In one day our travel plans had ricocheted from creepy to medieval to rustic. We’re flexible like that.

 

 

For Caregivers Everywhere

I have bipolar disorder. My husband is my caregiver. He didn’t sign up for this gig when we met, except for later vowing the part about “in sickness and in health” when we married. I could not negotiate life without him. I try to thank him daily.

My mother was my father’s caregiver when he was dying of multiple myeloma. She knew she was doing a good job of taking care of him, but she asked me to tell her that. She needed someone to tell her she was doing it right.

So this is for my husband and my mother, and for caregivers everywhere.

Thank you. Good job. We need you and we know it.

Some of you are unpaid caregivers who help loved ones for the necessity of it, for the obligation of it, or for the love of it. All of you deserve our thanks.

Some caregivers receive pay, and you deserve our thanks, too. There are many other professions or jobs you could be doing, but you chose to help those who needed it most.

All parents are caregivers, but the parents of special needs children are extra special. You share a task and a worth that few others recognize. You didn’t ask for the job, but you step up to it every day.

You work in homes, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, schools, and group homes. Your work matters more than most people realize. You help not just the sick, but the struggling, the frail, the dying, and the trying.

Respite care workers deserve recognition too. You allow caregivers to continue their work refreshed – give them a space to catch their breath and recharge their spirits. You are caregivers as well.

The care you all give is not easily definable. It involves the physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs of the medically, mentally, or emotionally fragile. It provides sustenance, both literal and figurative. It keeps the people you care for going, or helps them lay down their struggles.

Recently I wrote a blog post called “Caregivers Need Care Too,” specifically about people who care for the mentally disturbed (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-wh). It talked about what caregivers need in return for the attention, care, support, assistance, and love they give.

In it I said that those who care for others need something from those they care for, and from the rest of society. They need appreciation, validation, time away to refresh and re-energize themselves, understanding, support, and recognition. Not all of the people you care for are capable of giving back, for whatever reason.

So, please accept this from me, one who has known caregivers and benefited from caregivers, and loved caregivers. Your work and your devotion do not go unnoticed, Even if the ones you care for are not capable of saying “thank you,” I say it for them.

You are appreciated. You are worthy. You are loved. You are respected. You make a difference. You have value. You are valued. Even if you never hear these words from those you care for, please accept them from me.

I am grateful.