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Gender Non Conforming…and Me

31 Jul

First of all, let me set some things straight.  I’m not gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual, and I never have been.  With that said, I do have immense empathy for most of the issues plaguing the LGBT community.  I’m not homophobic, and I know without a single doubt that I will never “catch the gay”.  I’m also old enough that I’m not shocked by seeing public displays of affection between same sex couples, as long as it is within the same boundaries of good taste that I expect from heterosexual couples.  In regards to PDA, I’m probably a bit on the conservative side.

I also live in a small town in the South.  The Bible Belt isn’t particularly sympathetic to the LGBT community, and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll see a gay couple strolling down the street holding hands anyhow.  I suspect that most gays in our small town prefer to remain under the radar or even in the closet rather than face the consequences of coming out.  I guess I don’t blame them.

I’m a bit non-conforming in a lot of ways in regards to the Bible Belt, such as my interests in the paranormal and non-Christian religions.  For this reason, if you knock on my door and I open it, you will not see my bookshelf.  Instead, you’ll see my sewing machine.  The bookshelves are out of sight, preventing me from rocking the boat of any neighbor, witnessing Christian, or casual visitor.  I’m not an evangelist for opening minds, and tend to be a recluse who prefers to be unnoticed in my own neighborhood.

My husband and I, (Gregory is a male and was born one, btw!) knew that we were buying a home in a conservative blue collar neighborhood in a small town in Mississippi.  We have chosen to live here for personal reasons, and they do not include religion or politics.  We also do not debate the topic with our neighbors, although we have talked some local issues with our representative to the city council.  We’re a pretty normal couple, I suppose, other than we spend much more time together (almost all day every day) and rarely have actual angry disagreements.  We get along better than most couples, it seems, but we’ve also only been married a few years.

While this is my second marriage, I still regard my relationship with Gregory as the first healthy relationship I have ever had.  Maybe, as I hovered at the half century mark, I was finally mature enough to do so.  We share a deep respect for each other, as well as love.  We also accept each other’s idiosyncrasies and individual needs.  He’s my best friend, and the first person I sound things off of as well.  I do not feel a need to keep secrets or avoid letting him know certain things about me.  I don’t even mind letting him read things I’m writing when they are still in that vague first draft state, although he isn’t inclined to do so without a lot of encouragement (okay, without me being really PUSHY about him doing so.)  He accepts me, and I am comfortable letting him see me as I actually am, good and bad, along with the mostly in between stuff.  He knows my fears and dreams too.

He also knows that I am a gender non-conformist in many ways.  I was labeled a tom-boy as a child, and since my given name is actually “Georgia” rather than Gia, I grew up being called George, just like my father, even though him and I were nothing alike.  Calling me Georgie was a certain way to end up with a confrontation that usually resulted in someone getting hit, and I was perfectly willing to deliver punishment to anyone that dared do that.

I was also a bit slow to become interested in the opposite sex in any way other than as fishing partners.  My daughter, hearing me talk about my own childhood and adolescence, is firmly convinced that my maturing was retarded.  I don’t know–I do know that my body matured earlier and faster than the other girls and I was immensely uncomfortable with it.  It felt like my own body was betraying me, and being forced into even more “girly” clothes was increasing my own discomfort.  I hated dresses, ruffles, silky fabrics, lace, etc.  I felt stupid in high heels, and despised wearing makeup.  I had little interest in doing my hair and fussing over it like other girls.

It didn’t change much with adulthood either.

I worked non-traditional jobs.  I felt awkward when forced into a traditional feminine role anywhere, except as a mother.  Of course, this didn’t include my sexual side.  I was attracted to men, not women.  I was not attracted to men who demanded a woman behave traditionally, however.  Rumors that I was actually a lesbian were always fluttering around me.  Of course, in a small town, that isn’t uncommon–men who are turned down for sexual favors or even dates are often going to say that you have to be a lesbian.  It’s unfortunate, but true–it’s how small minded men (they are not all like that, obviously) can preserve their own dignity, since I obviously could not turn down such a prize as they are, right?

Yeah, small town life can be interesting sometimes.

As a teen, I shopped in the men’s department.  I preferred Levi 501s, flannel shirts, and football jerseys to anything that was regarded as feminine.  I refused to wear anything with ruffles and bows without a great deal of protest.  Since it was the 1970s, I lost the protest often.  School activities often forced me into outfits that I despised and made me feel like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I sometimes wondered if something was wrong with me.

As an adult, I didn’t change much in terms of my clothing.  Part of it was my physical build.  From the back, I could easily pass as a boy or young man.  Only my bust size, which I regarded as immense and garnered a lot of staring from guys, told the world that I was a woman.  I used my boyish appearance a lot when walking around at night, dressing to appear as a boy, with my hair in a hat, I was unlikely to be harassed.  It wasn’t hard–a tight t-shirt under a loose shirt or jacket, combined with a ball cap, and bingo, I was neutral.  I felt safer in neutral anyhow, I wasn’t “fooling” anyone then.

When I did have to show up somewhere dressed more feminine and fulfill somebody else’s idea of formal attire, I chose clothing that was more tailored and understated.  I still refused the ruffles and bows.  I still hated high heels, and finally repeated knee injuries made them something that I had an actual medical reason to avoid–they could cause me to seriously injure myself again.

I also had predominately male dominated hobbies and interests, and most of the company I kept was that of males.  I felt more comfortable with the guys, usually.  I understood them.  With women, I always felt like I was missing something, that I had missed a critical chapter in the book of womanhood.  I was lost in that world, whereas the men’s world was comprehensible.  I’d rather buck hay than sit around discussing soap operas, childbirth and the latest cookie recipe.

I often felt inadequate with my daughter too.  She wanted me to be friends with her friends’ mothers, but I couldn’t find common ground.  I finally explained that to her, and as she was navigating her own way through puberty, she began to understand where I was coming from.  She also discovered that the world considered it very peculiar that her mother taught her how to use power tools such as circular saws and drills, as well as how to cook, build a fence, saddle a horse, clean a horse’s hoof, fix the roof, etc.

I do remember a guy friend telling me that I was not feminine though too.  He wasn’t a romantic interest, we were genuinely just friends, and he happened to have a huge crush on my best friend at the time.  He spent a lot of nights at my house, sleeping off a drinking binge on my couch, then playing games with my son the next morning.  At the time, I was confused and hurt.  I was really trying to get with the program, and I obviously was failing if I was obviously not feminine.  So, I asked him what feminine was.

I pointed out that I did all of the expected things: I cooked and baked, I sewed, I did crafts, I wore makeup and did my hair, I wore clothing from the women’s department (and some home sewed items as well).  I wasn’t ugly.  What was wrong with me?

He had no idea what feminine was, even if he did recognize that I was not actually feminine in a traditional sense.  He thought it might be  partly related to my independent nature and the fact that I was very capable of solving almost any problem on my own.  I was not needy in any way, and he thought that maybe, most men found that threatening to their own sense of masculinity.  He might have been right, but I also was not interested in the kind of man that wasn’t totally confident with his own sexual identity.

Still, his comment has haunted me for decades.

I was further confused when a lesbian friend of mine confessed she had a crush on me, and that I appeared to be a lesbian in everything about me, except for my long hair.  (I’m not sure what that really had to do with anything, but okay?)  In my case, I loved her as a friend (and still do) but I had zero interest in a romantic or sexual relationship with her.  She was able to understand that, even if her girlfriend at the time could not.  The girlfriend remained intensely jealous and suspicious of me, as well as openly antagonistic.

It seemed that I was a miserable misfit.  I appeared to be a lesbian, but I wasn’t and didn’t want to be.  I was not feminine.  What in the hell was I?

Then, I saw a video about clothing for people who are gender non-conformists.

Hot damn, I’m not alone????

I had actually come to terms that I was as some oddball misfit.  I was okay with who I was, even if I did dress funny.  I was now past fifty, the mark when women in the South are totally allowed to be eccentric and odd.  I’d found out what kinds of skirts were comfortable in the hot summers, even for me, and learned what I was comfortable wearing and not.  I’m also much heavier than I ever was before, and that has meant that many of my tastes in clothing have changed, as well as my desire for “fashionable” clothing that I was comfortable wearing.  I’d long since gone to wearing women’s suits, choosing simple designs without the embellishments I despised.  I loved blazers with either pants or a skirt, over a plain blouse.  I preferred flat shoes.  I often still shopped in the men’s department (and still do for some items).  I was perfectly happy pairing a men’s shirt with a skirt.  I had different rules than most women did.

A decade or two ago, I would have been thrilled to buy clothing like they are selling to the gender non-conformists, although the price tag would have likely stopped me.  I’m not willing or able to pay the price for a tailored suit, and face it, there weren’t shops that offered tailored-to-fit clothing in Flagstaff, Arizona, in the 1990-2003 era either.  (That’s the closest city for shopping when I lived in Northern Arizona, prior to moving to New Orleans.)  Northern Arizona was okay for someone like me anyhow–I got by with my jeans-and-flannel-shirt look as well as my peculiar assembled outfits without much attention there.

Maybe it’s silly, I’m in my fifties, and after a lifetime of fighting against wearing labels, I’m suddenly ecstatic to have found one that fit me, at least beyond the ones like mother, grandmother, wife, daughter, sister, etc. that I was already comfortable with.  But it defines what it is like to be me to a world that honestly doesn’t “get it” any more than I got the whole feminine thing my entire life.

Greg and I talked about it tonight too.  Not like the fact that I was me was a big surprise to him–he knows me pretty well.  It was the label that we talked about.  We even had the lewd jokes and sexual innuendos that a couple will share privately, because the label doesn’t bother him.  He doesn’t need to see me suddenly become someone else in order to stroke his own ego or make him feel safer with his own sexual identity.  He doesn’t need me to feign being helpless to do so either, although disabilities have made me far more needy in terms of help with various things than I ever was before.  I don’t have to pretend to be stupid or vapid, inept or foolish.  He isn’t attracted to a woman like that.  He loves me, because I am me.

So if I’m happy that “gender non-conformist” is a label that suits who I am, then it makes him happy.

I think the truth of it all is really that I am happier knowing that I’m not a single freak in the entire world.  Nobody likes being a freak, even if their freak status isn’t putting them in the side show at a circus.  I’m happier knowing that being who I am is not that uncommon really, even if I hadn’t been dwelling on it every minute of every day.  I really was uncomfortable with the unpleasant remarks about some of my views, opinions, behavior, and attire being inappropriate and somehow wrong though.  Being honest about who I am is part of who I am, and that should not make me wrong or a freak.  So I’m not feminine in behavior and tastes, that’s no big deal.  So what if I act and appear somewhat masculine despite long hair?  It doesn’t matter if I have an aggressive walk or stance–it’s not that I’m challenging anyone, but rather how a woman who doesn’t behave in the way society has determined she should behave is perceived because she is walking, talking, and standing more like a male.

I laugh because so often, my voice and name has people conjuring up an image of an Italian model to match me and the radio show.  That is so not me!  Sure, I have (or actually, had–it’s going platinum now) dark hair and dark eyes.  That’s not an Italian exclusive thing.  I’m told by many male listeners that my voice is “sexy” and that makes me laugh too.  I actually look more like the stereotypical grandma than I do that Italian model image.  I’m short, overweight, and dress badly.  Tonight, I’m wearing a pair of olive drab shorts with a far too big navy blue scrub top.  My hair is confined in its usual folded pony tail that is neither a tail nor a bun.  I wear oval granny glasses to see with, either my “computer” glasses or bifocals.  My shoes of choice lately are tennis shoe-like clogs that just slip on.  I’m sitting bolt upright in an antique “occasional” chair that is in serious need of re-upholstery.  It’s late at night, and I’m sipping now cold coffee.  When I finish this blog post, I’ll likely either put the finishing touches on a skirt I’m sending to my great niece or work on my writing…or both.  I have big plans for tomorrow–Greg and I will make some ginger-pear preserves from pears from our neighbor’s tree.  We also need to take the box for my niece to the post office and send that to her–she’s expecting twins.  Their big sister is getting some skirts similar to the ones I have made for my granddaughter.

So I’m a gender non-conformist.  I still bleed red blood.  I still love my family and friends.  I still have a husband I adore.  Is it any wonder that I think the LGBT community should have the same rights to have a spouse and family as I enjoy?  In my case, my gender non-conformity is confined to my interests, hobbies, and clothing.  Sexually, I identify completely as female.  I just was never comfortable wearing those badges that society has determined I should wear because of that sexual identity.  I also was and still am uncomfortable with the unreasonable restrictions that sexual identity has put on me.  A woman’s body IS different.  It means that I had less upper body strength than a man of equal proportion, but I had more lower body strength than a man of equal proportion.  I had to deal with a menstrual cycle, cramps, pregnancy, boobs, and mood swings.  It didn’t mean that I couldn’t do a job because I did those things, nor should it mean that I should get paid less because I was a bit short tempered a few day a month.

But that’s a rant for another day, isn’t it?

Just for a head’s up…

This blog is being MOVED to www.exogenynetwork.com in the next month.  At this time, posts are being made on both sites during the transitional phase.

Pro-choice, pro-life, or pro-abortion?

30 Jul

The whole abortion debate is a hot one in Mississippi, as the state fails to close its last abortion clinic in Jackson.  Tempers flare quickly when the pro-choice topic comes up, but much fuss is over a lack of understanding rather than an actual difference of opinion, at least in my case.

Living in Mississippi and being pro-choice is sort of like being an atheist and living in Spain during the Inquisition.  Definitely hazardous to one’s health and well-being. All across the nation, the debate is fiery and often turns violent.

I have to shake my head.

I don’t get some of the more rabid fanatics of the pro-life faction.  They claim to value life, but they then resort to actually killing abortion clinic workers.  They claim to be Christian, but then they harass patients who approach the abortion clinics, when the usual reason for going there is not even abortion.

I’m unable to see how they justify their behavior.  It’s utterly alien to me.

You see, I’m pro-choice, but also anti-abortion.

Huh? How can that be, you wonder?

They are not the same thing.  I’m pro-choice, because I don’t feel that I have the right to choose for all women in all circumstances if and when they would opt for the abortion.  I don’t think that abortions should be used as birth control either.  To me, abortions are a last ditch solution to a problem that actually has no solution.

It might be rape.  It might be genetic flaws that would leave the fetus to grow into a baby that would die young, after many months of struggling and even pain, never getting to enjoy even its mother’s arms.  It might be a baby that has some birth defect that means that it will die during or shortly after birth.  It may be a case of incest, a girl too young to safely give birth, a woman too old to safely go through childbirth, or a woman who’s own health is so fragile that pregnancy and childbirth are apt to destroy her physically if not kill her.  It might be some sort of circumstances that I have never thought of.

But it isn’t my responsibility to predict when and if a woman should be able to get a legal abortion.  That’s her moral and medical decision, one that she should not take lightly either.

I’m in my fifties, going through menopause.  That does not mean that I am sterile, however.  I never conceived easily, and when I did, it usually ended with a miscarriage.  It’s not impossible (though highly unlikely) that I could end up pregnant now.  When I was a kid, “afterthought” children were not uncommon, and they typically were the result of a woman thinking it was all behind her, and then surprise, here’s a baby of your own that is younger than your grandchildren!

Now it’s true, Greg and I would welcome that baby, despite the adjustments that it would require in our lives.  But how would I feel if I found out that there was something seriously wrong with that baby, that it had little to no chance of anything resembling a normal life, and that carrying it to term would also endanger my own health?  Would I want to take the risk to have a child that was severely handicapped or would die anyhow?

I don’t know.

Making that decision in a hypothetical situation is not the same as making that decision and then having to drive to an abortion clinic either.  I don’t know what we would decide, and I’m not going to pretend that I do.

But nobody else has the right to make it for me either.

That’s why I am pro-choice.  My aversion to the idea of killing a fetus makes me anti-abortion.  Who knows, that fetus might have been the next Mozart or Einstein.  At the same time, it could be the next criminal or mass murderer too.  No woman knows for sure, but no woman in her right mind with anything resembling a moral compass would make the decision lightly to opt for the abortion.

I’d cry.

I would cry as I agonized over the decision, and I’d cry on the way there.  I’d cry on the way home too.

But I would also remember the woman I heard about.  She was pregnant, and the baby was kicking inside of her the way they do that last trimester.  She could feel it, alive and moving.  The whole time she felt it moving, she knew that when it was born, it would die.  There was no chance of survival beyond a few minutes.  She carried that baby to term, knowing from the first trimester that it was going to end that way, and then, she gave birth and the baby died, just like the doctors had known all along it was going to do.

I could not bear that agony. That knowing that there was absolutely no hope for that baby and that his fate was sealed at the moment of birth.  There was nothing that the doctors could do about it, his defect was not repairable.

She was a far stronger woman in her convictions than I would be, I’m afraid.  I would likely have opted for termination once the reality of the situation was known without a doubt.  I don’t think I could have deluded myself into a fantasy where there would be divine intervention at the last minute to change the course of fate.

I would have also thought about the immense amount of money being invested into a non-viable situation.  How could I justify that when so many go without medical care at all, even when the medical care would spare their lives?

I’m anti-abortion, but pro-choice.  I believe there are times when modern medicine and the mother agree that the pregnancy is a really bad idea.  I believe there may be other situations in which the pregnancy is a horrible thing, beyond inconvenience or embarrassing for the mother.  I agree that there are times when a girl’s body is well developed enough to become pregnant, but not developed enough to manage a pregnancy without causing her harm.  I don’t see where there is an up side to telling a 10 or 12 year old girl that she has to carry a baby to term after being molested, even though it is likely to leave her unable to bear a child when she’s old enough to actually be a mother.

At the same time, I don’t think that even the parents should be able to actually force a teen to have an abortion.  I remember a girl I knew when I was a teenager.  She became pregnant and hid the pregnancy from her parents until it was nearly time for the baby to be born, using baggy clothing and even a girdle, as well as half starving herself to keep her weight down.  She told no one, not even her closest friends, about her pregnancy, fearful that word would get back to her parents in the small town.  She was certain that her parents would physically drag her to an abortion clinic and force her to terminate the pregnancy.

It also meant that she had no  prenatal care, and it all resulted in disaster.  Whether it was a preventable disaster is probably debatable, as the boy was born with some genetic issues and a severe type of dwarfism.  At five years old, he was the size of an infant, yet able to walk, run and play the same as any other five year old, and without any apparent intellectual handicaps either.

I still remember the fear in the young mother’s face as she talked about what her parents would have liked to do, but that she had managed to hide it too long for it to be an option.  At seventeen, she did not have the legal right to refuse the abortion (in that state, at that time–laws are different in most states).  She did, however, have the legal right to refuse to put her son up for adoption, and she did raise him, at least through the age of five, at which point I lost contact with her.

As her teen peer, I agreed with her that it was wrong for her parents to be able to do that to her and the unborn child.  I still agree with her on that front.  She should not have had to hide the pregnancy to prevent the abortion.

But she should have had the choice.

That choice is why I am pro-choice, even if I am anti-abortion.

I hope that it has helped you understand that there is a difference, and it is a really big one, between being pro-choice and being pro-abortion, and that being pro-life does not mean that you have to be anti-choice either.  When I say I am pro-choice, I’m also saying that I don’t have the moral right or responsibility to decide when and if a pregnancy should or could be terminated.  If women are opting to use abortion to kill unwanted children over and over, then we have an issue with their morality and that is what needs to be addressed.  Surely it is far cheaper and easier to use birth control to prevent conception than it is to endure repeated abortions anyhow, and the few women that I know that have ever had an abortion weren’t exactly thrilled to have the opportunity either.  It’s a tough decision, and none of them chose it lightly.

 

 

The Life Debt Concept

27 Jul

Many years ago, I first had the life debt concept explained to me, and it has altered the way I perceive the world ever since.  It’s not a difficult concept and while it is undoubtedly a philosophical concept, it lacks the usual high brow association that most people give the entire realm of philosophy.  It’s actually pretty down to earth.

From the moment we are born, we owe a life debt.  It starts with the debt that we owe our mothers for giving birth to us.  It’s a big debt too, for she endured physical discomfort and pain to give us life.  In some cases, she may have endured emotional pain that we will never know about as well, even if she isn’t the woman we’ll call our mothers through childhood, we owe our birth mothers that initial debt.

We continue accruing debt as we’re nurtured through infancy and early childhood, when we are incapable of paying back any of that life debt.  Then we enter our childhood, the part that we can remember through adulthood, and begin expanding our network of life debts.

Every single relationship, whether positive or negative, involves an exchange of life debt.  Friends and enemies alike exchange a portion of our initial base life debt, along with teachers, mentors, siblings, extended family, even medical personnel who help us be as healthy as possible.  Each relationship we establish with another person means that we take on, often unknowingly, a piece of their life debt, as they take on a piece of ours.  This invisible exchange is the foundation of those relationships, and the larger the exchange, the stronger the relationship is.

In our youth, our elders invest heavily in our bank of life account.  It’s the natural order of things, to invest in the future generation.  They take on more than a fair share of the debt we’ve already accrued in order to give us a good start in life and our life debt account.  In due course, when we mature and become elders ourselves, we’ll repeat the same process with the next generation.

The goal is to live a long life, paying off our life debt as we go through our lives.  At the same time, not everyone pays off their debt at the same rate.  Just like any other debt, some people may be inclined to not do more than pay a minimal payment, while others work harder to pay down that life debt at a faster rate.

Is there a tangible difference?

It’s not like we get a life debt balance sent to us in a statement each year.  It doesn’t work that way.  We can’t call the bank of life and demand customer service give us a running total either.  It doesn’t matter what your religious beliefs are, what you may or may not call a supreme being, or even what day you have designated as a day of rest.  It doesn’t matter if you are saved, a heathen or die a religious martyr. You don’t avoid the life debt concept by being an atheist.

There won’t be any big splash across a magazine cover telling us who the richest people in the world are in terms of their life debt balance either.  Nobody else knows how you are doing with your balance, nobody else can see you make payments, and not even the Joneses know whether you are keeping up with them or have surpassed them.

The only one who can know how you are doing with your life debts is you.

That’s the real clincher.  You don’t make the payments to impress anyone or to improve your credit score.  If you don’t make the payments, there won’t be a collector calling on the phone to remind you.  There is no option of insurance to cover the debt either.

There is no bankruptcy option.

Oh, sure, there are people who tell you that you’ll pay a spiritual debt when you die, but none of us know for sure what happens when we die anyhow.  We have to believe in something after death, without proof.  That’s a tough one–this vague threat.  It’s like hearing “just wait until your father gets home” when he isn’t going to be home for a long, long time.  We can forget and ignore the threat.

At the same time, there are times when the debt is reneged upon.  We call that suicide.  The person has opted out, failed to pay their life debts, and that’s that.  There can be varying amounts of unpaid debt, of course, as suicide can occur at any stage of life.  For some, there is likely to be little, if any, debt remaining, as the suicide occurs near the end of their life due to illness or infirmity.

There are other kinds of reneging though too.  One can isolate themselves from others to the point that there is no possibility of making a payment.  It can be a physical as well as emotional isolation, or it can simply be one or the other.  It can be by simply refusing to pay forward too, and becoming selfish and self-centered.

Everyone has their own concept regarding death and afterlife, if any.  The same goes with being judged after our lives are over.  I’m not going to tell you how your life debt will or won’t affect you after your life ends.  That’s going to be a huge surprise for me, just like it will be for you.  We can believe whatever we choose to be true, but just like in life, that belief does not make it so.  It’s still going to be a surprise.

I’m holding onto the hope that it’s going to be a wonderful surprise though.

Customer service?

27 Jul

Almost all big stores, especially with chains, are going to have a customer service desk.

Well, that’s what they call it anyhow.  They really should call it the customer annoyance counter.

Why is customer service so hard?  Why is it so hard for companies to find employees that will honestly try to do their jobs to the best of their abilities while remaining courteous to customers?

I have a few ideas on the subject.

The first is that good old bottom line.  Most companies are not particularly concerned about the quality of employee they hire and retain, but rather how cheaply they can hire and retain someone that does what they are told.  Even retention of employees isn’t a huge concern for most companies anymore–it’s cheaper to rehire than retain, especially if there is a possibility of having to pay for benefits or retirement somewhere down the road.

Employees who really try to do their job are even apt to be penalized for doing so.  We’ve all seen articles about employees who did a good deed of some kind while at work, ones that didn’t cost their employers a penny, and yet they were terminated for some technicality.  Many of us have been the employee who was taken advantage of repeatedly by unethical co-workers and employers because we did try to do our jobs well, only to end up missing out on promotions, overworked to the point of burn out, failed to get promised raises, or had some other less-than-wonderful result from our hard work.  Immediate supervisors will often even deliver disciplinary action or termination as a result of trying too hard, simply because it makes other employees or the supervisor themselves look bad.

Corporations may have a lot of power in the political world, but they are also incredibly powerful in everyday life.  Everyone either works for one or is forced to do business with these large corporations because of the monopolies they have in many areas of our live in America.  Telephone, natural gas, cable television & internet providers, and electric companies are all privileged to have monopolies in most communities.    Other companies have apparently coordinated their needs with their so-called competitors, resulting in contracts that prevent customers from terminating service with them for a prescribed length of time, typically from 12-36 months.  In these situations, the corporations have very little motivation to try and please their current customers.  After all, if they don’t like the service or the customer service, what can the customer do about it?

Manufacturing companies have moved many of their production facilities overseas for cheaper labor and fewer regulations, and quality control seems to have become random in how stringent it is.  Companies that were once known for high quality products no longer can boast of that same quality.  Unfortunately, they have also often moved their customer service centers overseas too.

Then, the American consumer is inflicted with a customer service representative that may not understand their particular dialect of American English, and it is just as likely that the customer is going to have a great deal of difficulty understanding the representative’s  version of English.  A number of people have claimed (unverified by me) that these representatives are judged by how often they have “successfully resolved” the customer complaints, and that disconnecting the call is one way to successfully resolve the issue.  I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that with certain companies, disconnections are frequent as soon as it is apparent that the issue is not going to be resolved easily or if the customer asks to speak with a supervisor.

Even with American based customer service call centers, there is the “wrong department” issue.  It’s always that you have called the wrong department and then you will have to be transferred.  These transfers usually occur after an extended wait time for a human to begin with.  (I’ve waited as long as an hour.)  Then, without a number to skip the wrong department and go to where you are supposed to call, you end up disconnected.  How many hours do you want to spend on the telephone to get a warranty replacement of a $50 small appliance?

For businesses, the latest buzz has all been how to use social media to engage their customer base.  It’s gotten to the point of more annoyance than engagement, however, as they follow some plan dreamed up by a guy who didn’t shop there to begin with.  Do you really want to “like” that company or follow them on Pinterest to enter that contest or get that coupon?  The end result is that customers feel like they are being coerced, and it does little to endear the company or product with their potential customers, especially if they are using the current customer disservice model that most seem to be using.

So what is the real reason that companies no longer bother with good quality customer service?

It still boils down to that bottom line, folks.  It’s the fault of the consumer.

Accepting crappy customer service from any company, whether they have a monopoly  or not is allowing their bottom line to show that they don’t have to supply customer service.

So what can you do?

Complain.  Loudly.  Repeatedly.

  • Use the normal channels, whether it is a call to their call center or via their website.  Don’t scream or use profanity-that’s always counter productive and provides a good reason for your call to not be taken seriously.  Don’t use threats either.
  • Use promises.  Promise that you will never, ever shut up about how unhappy you are!
  • Record the calls.  If you get an exceptionally bad one, post it to YouTube. Keep the calls on file–you may need them later.
  • Write down names, phone numbers, dates and times.  It’s a great reference as your complaining becomes more prolific too.
  • If you are a blogger, blog about it.  Even years after I tossed my Tassimo machine, I still get hits daily on my experience with their crappy customer service.  It’s a great way to spread the word.
  • Review the product everywhere you can, including the customer service experience.  Many retailers will accept reviews on products even if you did not purchase it from them, such as Amazon and Walmart.  If you are reviewing the retailer or service provider, post those reviews anywhere and everywhere you can find as well.  Sure, it takes time, but what else do you have to do while you are sitting on hold?  I actually put my phone on speaker and then I can type with both hands.
  • Got Face Book? Twitter? Pinterest?  Speak up.  Tell everyone about your experience.  They may not be shopping for that item or service or company now, but they will remember what you said about them later too.  You may be surprised at how quickly someone from the company in question makes contact with you as well.  They may try and resolve the situation, which will make you happier than if you are ignored.  Some corporations often ignore social media complaints (yes, I’m talking about you,  Tassimo, Microsoft & Comcast!)  Smarter companies do monitor social media to engage dissatisfied customers and attempt to improve the customer service experience.
  • Post reviews to review sites such as Viewpoints.com as well.  For local companies and services, there are sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List (they require membership with a substantial fee,) Yahoo, etc.   Even lawyers, dentists, doctors, and medical facilities are reviewed!
  • Write the company an email.  Often, the corporate office is separated enough from customer service that they may not be aware of the type of experience you have endured.  Typically, the corporate website will have a “contact” tab at the bottom of the page.  Some have it in a bar at the top as well.  Be polite and explain the problem(s) clearly, along with your customer service experience, using dates, times, and names when possible.  Don’t forget to add what you expect the company to do to resolve your complaint as part of the letter.  Be reasonable with your expectations!

On the flip side of that coin is the excellent customer service experience.  When you have one of these, be just as vocal about your compliments, and use the same venues that you would use for complaints to voice your positive experience.   I had a terrible experience with Overstock.com once, and complained about it via Twitter.  Their representative on Twitter contacted me, we resolved the situation, and since then, I have enjoyed great customer service as usual with Overstock and would not hesitate to purchase from them again.  I also love shopping with Zappos.com and Penderys.com for the same reason–they provide good, dependable customer service.  I wish my representative and senators to Washington were as responsive to me as they are!

Expect reasonable and efficient customer service to be delivered with courtesy, and when you don’t get it–do something about it.  Do not ever accept it as just the price of doing business because it is not.  Make companies accountable!  That’s your job as a consumer!

Spelling counts

16 Jul

No, it’s not some new hybridization of spelling and mathematics in the latest educational fad.

Despite that, spelling can count and is more likely to count against the independent or self-published authors we see prolifically producing non-fiction digital books in the explosion of titles we see, especially on Amazon.

I’m a self-published author, and I’ve had my moments with typos and misspelled words slipping through the editing process.  That’s not a good thing, when it is missed until readers catch them and get the giggles over soaking biscuits in a bear instead of beer.

Yep, that was my most infamous “oops” moment. Embarrassing, but humorous, right?

It’s not always humorous.

Sometimes, it’s just plain a road sign indicating awful ahead, especially when it is in the title or the description of the book.  I wish it was rare, but start scanning through the lists of low cost non-fiction digital edition of books, and guess what?

It’s a lot more common than it should be.

Sometimes, what we first perceive as a misspelling turns out to be a case of different dialect–American English spells things differently on occasion, like with color-colour.  We can get over that, even when the book is being marketed to the American audience.  Most Americans are capable of understanding even with the difference in spelling.

I am also aggravated by is profiles for social media.  These are short pieces and I’m referring to the pieces written in connection with the promotion of the book(s) an author is written.  Sometimes, the authors are NOT self-published, and yet have glaring errors in their profile because they didn’t particularly regard it as important.  

Bullshit.

These short profiles, like are used on Twitter, are very important.  Leaving typos and misspelled words in those short profiles is potentially more damaging than showing up drunk and in your underwear to a public book signing!

Surely not, you think?

Surely yes, they are!  Thousands of people see those profiles, whether you are aware of them or not.  With that poor profile, you are telling each one of them that you don’t regard that glance as important.  They may think you are as careless in your writing as you were with the profile you wrote too.

No, that short profile is not going to be the best example of your writing–it’s seriously short, like the posts on Twitter, and everyone is trying to cram in as much information as possible while remaining coherent.  The same thing with the other profiles that one sprinkles around the internet, from LinkedIn, About.me, Facebook, Pinterest, Skype, instant message profiles, etc.

Proofread it.  Not just when you write it, but go back again.  Update it periodically, how often depends on how much change is occurring in your life or with regards to your writing.  Choose a day, whether the first Sunday or the seventeenth day of the month, when you take a look at each and every profile, tweaking them as necessary.

On your book titles, especially on the cover art, just plain pay attention!  If you are an uncertain speller, double check each word.  Ultimately, it is YOUR responsibility, not the artist, editor, or even publisher, to make sure that your name is not associated with a misspelled title.  A misspelled title on the cover is going to cost you credibility and respectability in a way that is difficult to recover from because as a non-fiction author, you are presenting yourself as an expert on the topic.

What expert cannot even spell the name of their area of expertise?

In your book description, spelling also critical.  Far more people are going to read the back cover and catalog description than will ever read your book, and that is a cold hard fact.  This is true of both non-fiction and fiction books as well.  It’s often your one opportunity to convince that person that reading your book is the most important thing they have to do in the near future, and as a result, buy your book.

To illustrate this, I’m going to write a description of my own latest book and leave in common misspellings and typos.  Then, I’ll show the difference by writing it properly.

The Big Book of A-Z Muffisn is a colletcion of recpies to make muffins.  EAch lettre of the alhpabet has been used, with a divers assotrment of receipis that are sure to temtp our appetie and make every body smile weather its brakefast or super.  They are all eazy to make to! Fast, they go from ovne to tabel in half an our or less, and with a choise betwen savory or sweat, tehy can be great snacks or deserts too.  The recipes are ritton with eazy direcktions that you are shure to be abel to foller, even if you are a novise in the kitchin.  Experenced backers are also going to injoy making these simple recpies.

Now while that has an exagerated number of typos and misspelled words, it does show that it’s not only hard to read, but is not even humorous so much as embarrassing.  The reader can’t help but feel sorry for the writer while simultaneously (and probably correctly) assuming that the interior of the book will be as horrific of an experience to try and enjoy.

The Big Book of A-Z Muffins is a collection of recipes to make muffins.  Each letter of the alphabet has been used, with a divers assortment of receipts that are sure to tempt our appetite and make every body smile weather its breakfast or super.  They are all easy to make to! Fast, they go from ovne to table in half an our or less, and with a choice between savory or sweat, tehy can be great snacks or desserts too.  The recipes are written with easy directions that you are sure to be able to follow, even if you are a novice in the kitchen.  Experienced bakers are also going to enjoy making these simple recipes.

This one isn’t so bad, but it isn’t perfect either.  With just two typos, and a couple of cases of the wrong word spelled right, it may slip past the casual reader unnoticed, but the critical reader isn’t going to miss “divers” instead of “diverse” or “sweat” instead of “sweet”, even if they could forgive the typos that still remain.  (Yes, I know there are  more wrong word issues, but we’ll get to that…)

The Big Book of A-Z Muffins is a collection of recipes to make muffins.  Each letter of the alphabet has been used, with a diverse assortment of receipts that are sure to tempt our appetite and make every body smile whether its breakfast or supper.  They are all easy to make too! Fast, they go from oven to table in half an hour or less, and with a choice between savory or sweet, they can be great snacks or desserts too.  The recipes are written with easy directions that you are sure to be able to follow, even if you are a novice in the kitchen.  Experienced bakers are also going to enjoy making these simple recipes.

I hope you can see the difference in the level of credibility that each one has.  Presenting myself as an expert on the topic of muffin baking, it is equally important that I be able to spell the words that pertain to the topic, as well as proofread the material well enough to know that weather is not the same as whether, desert is a far different thing than dessert, etc.

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Use spell check.
  3. Proof read it again.
  4. Have someone else proof read it, even if it’s just a friend who skims over it!
  5. Read it yourself again, and then look at it periodically to make sure it doesn’t need a bit of tweaking to improve it.
  6. Profiles, cover art titles, and descriptions are your billboards.  Take them seriously.

If I’ve missed something you think is important, please comment to add it to the post!

The Homosexuality Contagion

12 Jul

I’ve heard a lot of anti-gay rhetoric.  I live in the Bible Belt where there seems to be a genuine fear that they are going to “catch the gay“.  There is a lot of statements about how people don’t want gays in their neighborhood, schools, workplace, restaurants, or churches too.  I have to assume that they truly believe that it is somehow contagious and they are afraid that they too, will become gay.

I have also read a lot about how people are gay from birth, as well as arguments that people are homosexual because of their upbringing, experiences, choices, etc.  I can’t answer those questions, and that’s not what this blog post is going to address.  I’m only going to look at the fear of “catching the gay.”

I have had a number of friends who were homosexual over the years.  I’ve gone camping with them, eaten meals with them, cooked and laughed with them, and on occasion, even shared a drink with them.  I’ve had plenty of opportunity to “catch the gay.”

Guess what?

I don’t have a single symptom of being gay.

I’m married, I’ve had kids, and I’m totally comfortable with my sex life as a monogamous heterosexual.  I don’t feel threatened by gays, whether male or female, unless they are armed and specifically state that they are threatening me.  Of course, I would feel equally threatened at that point, regardless of sexual orientation.  I have to also admit that I have never once asked anyone who was threatening me with bodily harm about their sexual orientation.  It just never seemed relevant at that point.  The assailants that were known to me also happen to not be gay, so I also don’t regard homosexuals as potentially threatening individuals.

I’ve also heard that homosexuals are basically child molesters in training.  Thinking back to the years that I worked in law enforcement and corrections, I try to remember a single case involving a convicted child molester also being a homosexual.  Guess what?  I don’t remember any.  That’s not to say it is impossible, but I don’t think the two have anything to do with each other.

The next bit I hear is how the Bible specifically forbids homosexuality.  Well, sure it does, but the Old Testament has a lot of things that we don’t regard as moral or legal in modern society, like incest, polygamy, stoning, etc.  Besides, what happened to that bit about separation of church and state that is in our constitution? Or maybe the whole bit about “thou shalt not judge”?  Or even all that bacon, sausage, pork chops, etc. that America buys in the grocery store each year…that is forbidden too, if you want to get right down to it.  So, we’ll toss out that Old Testament bit, and the New Testament mostly talks about tolerance and love, and stoning homosexuals is definitely out.

I’ve also been told how the gay community and especially same sex marriages are going to threaten the “sanctity of marriage.”  When it comes out of the mouth of a man who has been repeatedly divorced or has been publicly pointed out for extra-marital affairs, that’s hardly going to fly.  Personally, I just don’t get the sanctity of marriage thing when 50% of marriages in the USA end in divorce in 5 years or less.  I also don’t see where having a gay couple who is married as neighbors is going to threaten my marriage, unless my husband was going to “catch the gay” (since I’m obviously immune to it.) I also don’t think that a gay couple’s children are going to “catch the gay” or expose my children or grandchildren to the risks of “catching the gay.”

Homosexuality isn’t a disease, and it isn’t a virus.  You can’t catch it.  You either are or you aren’t, that’s all.  Okay, there are people who are bisexual, but that’s another thing entirely.  I’m not addressing that.  Since I’m not bisexual or homosexual, I can’t pretend I understand how or why it is.  The only person that truly knows your own sexual orientation is yourself.

I don’t understand why people are so afraid of homosexuality unless it is because they have not addressed their own sexual orientation and find that thoughts of the same sex indulging in sexual behavior is arousing, and therefore is “bad” and must be suppressed.  I do know that my mother always insisted that those who persecuted gays were afraid of their own sexuality and sexual urges, which is why they became so angry and fearful when exposed to gays.

I think she may have been right.  I don’t fear them, I don’t find that they make me angry, and I do support same sex marriage.  I think it would be great for the economy too.  After all, most gays never have children, and have far more disposable income as a result.  That means that they will spend a lot more money on things like their weddings, anniversaries, homes, cars, etc. over the years than those of us who devote our lives to raising another generation.  Same sex marriages also means fewer children being born–which will mean more economic and educational opportunities for the children that are born into this world.  The same sex marriages will also probably pay more taxes over the years, as they will not qualify for the child tax credit, will be able to concentrate more on career advancement, and will probably make more money in their lives to be taxed as well.

Sure, they can adopt.  They can use surrogate mothers and sperm donors too. Some of them will have kids, and that’s okay too.  They will have jobs, buy houses, build neighborhoods, attend churches, buy goods & services and do all of the other things that other families do.  Why should I care if Johnny and Jane have two dads or two moms?  Why should I worry about their parents’ sex life at all?  Or any of my neighbors for that matter?

As long as they aren’t breaking any of the other laws we have, it doesn’t matter what orientation they have or don’t have.  It doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter, nor should we even give a second thought to what their sex life is about.  I honestly have never gone to a PTA meeting and sat there discussing the other parents’ sex lives or lack thereof.  There are some things that I just do not care about. I also don’t worry about co-workers, other church members, the shopkeeper, or any of the other people I may come into contact with in the course of a day.  In fact, making me visualize such a thing about any of those people is probably going to leave me with an “ewww” and a mental desire to scour out my brain to get rid of it.

The world will be a much better place when we all quit worrying about whether or not everyone else has a better sex life than we do and we start concentrating on our own issues.

Just get over it.  You won’t “catch the gay” even if your neighbors are a same sex couple and they come over for a bbq one weekend.  You can drink after them without it happening too.  You are more likely to catch hepatitis or drug resistant tuberculosis, and neither of those diseases care what sexual orientation you have.  Their marriage won’t make you get a divorce, and your husband isn’t going to run off into the sunset with a gay guy because of it either.  (If he was going to do it, he’ll do it even if you have nobody that is a homosexual in your neighborhood.)  Your wife isn’t going to start lusting after the pastor’s wife either.  You are safe, honest.

You are seriously not that stupid, are you?

22 rules to get more real followers on Twitter

7 Jul

If you use Twitter, you have been bombarded with temporary followers that sport a blatant advertisement to induce you to spend your hard earned money to buy followers, usually to the tune of $29.95.

Are they worth it?

It depends on your goal.  If it’s just about numbers to you, and you don’t care who follows you or how many people actually read your posts, then it is likely a bargain.

On the flip side of that coin, if you are looking for engaged followers, which means people who actually care what you tweet, read your tweets, and maybe even click on the links you provide, then no, these ghost followers are about as useful as a chicken with teeth.  (That should give you some real nightmares, since chickens are a murderous lot and will kill & eat their companions when stressed.  Then, there are also the foul tempered roosters, who may attack if they feel you are threatening their harem and are already equipped with nasty bone-like spurs on their feet.)

Buying followers is a lot like buying blow up dolls to be the guests at your next party.  Sure, they give you a great body count, but their conversation sucks.

So, since you can’t run out and buy the kind of follower you need to make your Twitter account really pop, how do you do it?

It’s not rocket science, actually, and anybody can do it.  Here is a brief list of 22 things to do with your Twitter account to help you gain more followers fast.

  1. Post a picture to your profile and get rid of the universal egg.
  2. Fill out your profile–make it reflect who you are and what is important, while staying brief with your character count. Don’t just put your name or website, or even a series of hashtags–you want to attract followers who are interested in you!
  3. Tweet regularly, at least once a day.  It doesn’t have to be something profound, it can even link to your website or blog.  Just tweet something, for heaven’s sake.  It’s so sad to see accounts that are four or five years old, and have under 5000 tweets.
  4. Follow people who interest you or have similar interests to yours.  If you are a company or brand, then follow people who tweet about your products/services, from your area, or reviewers of similar items.
  5. When someone follows you, follow them back if they appear to be a real person.  There are a lot of fake or “bot” accounts that tweet continual spam on Twitter.  You don’t have to do anything more than look at what they tweet to figure out if they are a porn bot or continual stream of advertisements for various things, etc.
  6. Reply to tweets that catch your interest regularly.  Make this a habit to ensure that you tweet back to people at least several times a week. You can even have real conversations, albeit in 140 characters or less, with others via Twitter.
  7. Retweet other people’s tweets when they are interesting or relevant to your interests.
  8. Mention other people’s Twitter nickname when it is relevant.  It’s a kind of compliment, and it increases their visibility.
  9. Thank people via a tweet when they mention you or retweet something you’ve tweeted, even if it was just retweeting your retweet.  This is a kind of courtesy, increases people’s visibility on Twitter, and since people like to see their name, they are more likely to retweet other things in the future.
  10. Retweet tweets from people who have retweeted your tweets.  They like it, so they’ll retweet you more often.
  11. Read your “notifications” section daily.  This shows you who and when and what has happened while you are not reading Twitter.
  12. Avoid using DMs or “Direct Messages”, which are a kind of private tweet.  Never just automatically send DMs to others–it’s annoying, usually ignored, and many people will not read or respond to DMs.  (I’m one of them!)  DMs have become the hallmark of spammers.
  13. Do not become the kind of Twitter account that everyone despises–the unfollower.  These account holders follow people just until they are followed back, and then they unfollow the account.  It is rude, and many people use an app to show them who is doing this, so that they can reciprocate.  You won’t win friends with this behavior.
  14. Be prepared to spend some time using Twitter.  You learn a lot reading other tweets, as well as have more reason to interact with other Tweeple.  Most people will spend an hour per day minimum reading, retweeting, and posting tweets.  This can easily be broken into smaller segments of time, with as little as 2 minutes spent at a time, although 15 minutes is a more reasonable segment.
  15. Keep your language clean of obscenities, profanity, etc.  It offends some people, and may cost you some credibility with others.  (I am assuming you aren’t a teenager seeking to impress his/her peers here.)  Besides, 4 letter words are not going to create the impression that you are a brilliant tweeter with the 140 character limit.
  16. Don’t be a troll–nobody wants to be your victim, so nobody is likely to follow you just to be one.  Be pleasant, even when you don’t agree.
  17. Don’t post anything on Twitter that you would not want displayed on a billboard in your neighborhood.  It’s a public forum, not a private encounter group. That includes things you do not want your boss, spouse, parents or children to read as well.  Things you say today may also bite you five years from now, so even if you are single & childless today…you might not be that way forever.  If in doubt, don’t!
  18. Don’t be a Twitter stalker.  Stalkers anywhere are creepy, and you don’t want to frighten people away. Reputations spread via the internet, so if you develop one as a stalking creep, you will soon be tagged.  It’s great to admire someone, it’s great to tweet to them or about them, but if you are becoming obsessive about everything they tweet, etc., maybe you should step away from Twitter and seek some professional help.  Don’t do it to your ex’s either–it’s still creepy.
  19. Don’t get into Twitter wars.  They may be your ex-best friend, your worst enemy, etc., but getting into a Twitter war puts your reputation on the line and you won’t come out of it as a winner.  Drama is only amusing for so long, before no one wants to see your tweets anymore.  Follow your mother’s old adage! “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  It’s not bad advice sometimes.
  20. Be yourself. Everyone is tired of the fake people, the fictional characters, etc. that have plagued internet conversations for so long.  Very few people are rich, powerful, beautiful…and have time to sit on the internet all day.  Nobody buys that song and dance either.
  21. Have fun.  Relax & enjoy yourself.  Vent frustrations and aggravations.  Tell people about important things.  Find out about local events.  Find out where your friends are hanging out on the weekend.  Tell people where you went to get great barbecue or a good deal on tires.  Tell them about the lousy service from Company X too.  Get people to read your blog, check out your new book, or read the book review you posted.  It’s all good!
  22. As you increase your followers, your limits on who you follow are lifted as well.  When you reach the point where you have an unbalanced (in Twitter’s opinion) of followed versus followers, it may be necessary to unfollow some people who may no longer be active on Twitter or may not be following you back.  (Follow backs are not mandatory!)  There are also some less-than-ethical Twitter users that follow you just until you follow them back and then unfollow you.  There are  a number of apps available  that are free at least at the basic level that can show you these accounts and make unfollows a little easier and quicker to do.  Most will appear in tweets on your account at some point, and they shift and change according to how recently Twitter has changed their rules and code.  Try them to see which ones you like.

I hope this has helped demystify and make Twitter a little easier to navigate through.  It isn’t hard to get followers, by simply being yourself and interacting.  It isn’t instant either, and it does require some investment of time and effort.  As a result of this effort, you can have followers that are interested in what you have to say, as well as ones that are saying things that you are also interested in.

If you would like to follow me on Twitter, my nickname is @giascott.  I have less than 10,000 followers, and I have never paid for a single one of them.  I have been using Twitter since 2009, but until this year, I was guilty of being a sporadic user–I would sometimes go weeks or even months between tweets.  I also only use Twitter on my computer and Kindle.  I don’t use any apps for Twitter–I log in through a browser.  I don’t even regard myself as a Twitter expert, but rather as an “average user.”

Guns, gun control, & mass shootings

11 Jun

I originally posted this on my Facebook page, and a friend wanted to share it.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t share it from Facebook for some reason.  So, here it is.  One of my rants, this time about guns.

I believe in owning guns.  I don’t believe in murder, however.  I’m not sure what an “assault” rifle is, other than it must be a gun designed to do nothing else but kill humans.  I’m pretty sure that’s what the military must have.  I’m not a radical, I’m not even a right-winger or conservative even.  I’m a sort of the middle-of-the-road liberal on most issues.  This is my take on guns and violence.

Some things make no sense at all.
When I was a kid, all of the cartoons were “violent” by today’s standards.
It would have raised no eyebrows to see a kid drive into the school parking lot with a gun or two in the rifle rack in the window of the pickup.
Fights occurred regularly, and some of them were pretty serious. Occasionally, some kids were apt to bring a knife to the party, as the saying goes.

But…nobody got shot at school. None of the fights resulted in a death. I know there were some deaths in the area due to hunting accidents. There were some suicides occasionally that involved a gun. None of them were kids I knew, and I don’t even remember it involving a kid in the ones I heard about.

I took a gun safety course when I was 16. I learned to shoot black powder rifles too. They were a lot of fun, and no noisier than the others. They were a lot more complicated to fire, though. It seemed like guns were in about every home. We also had bb guns growing up, and I do remember my sister getting shot. She might even still have that bb imbedded in her leg.

Why the school shootings? Why these increasingly frequent mass shootings by people? What has changed with our society? It’s such a tiny percentage of gun owners that ever shoot another person with a gun, justified or not, but why the high drama and mass shootings?

It’s not lack of gun control–we’ve got way more than we did in the 1970s, and we are still seeing more mass shootings. Something has changed, and not for the better.

Mother’s Day

10 May

I’m not able to spend Mother’s Day with my mother–she lives halfway across the continent from me.

I’m not going to spend it with my daughter either, although she lives closer.

That doesn’t mean that they aren’t both on my mind.  I love them both, more than there are words to even express.

I’m a bit blue though too, as I think about long ago Mother’s Days.

I remember my Grandma W telling me all about what the flower corsages meant.  You wore one color if your mother was alive, another if she was dead.  I don’t remember what color meant what now though.  She was big on traditions like that.  Mother’s Day meant that soon it would be Decoration Day, which most of the country calls Memorial Day.  That meant it was time to start making the rounds of the cemeteries, putting flowers on graves.  It was a time when she would tell me stories about people who were long dead, stuff like how they died, or things that they had done when they were alive.  Sometimes, she would mention things about some extraordinary act of kindness they had done during their lives.

Most of those extraordinary things weren’t about spending money, or not much anyhow.  It was about simply being kind when they didn’t have to.  They lived on, through that act of kindness.

 

Funny how that works.

Then, my mind drifts forwards to my own adulthood.  I remember one year, my son was very small, he’d just turned two that spring.  My daughter was older, she’d be turning ten in a few months.  I was a single mom, and money was usually pretty tight.  I’d bought my own Mother’s Day gift that year, in the form of a cheap wheelbarrow.  I needed one.  My mom and I put it together with an adjustable wrench and a pair of pliers on the front patio.  We had then left the tools lying, and gone on to other things.

That next morning, the kids were outside playing, including my son.  I don’t remember what I was doing, so it probably wasn’t something important.  The next thing I knew though, my son had taken the tools and disassembled his wagon, a small metal red one.  We never did get it back together.  I was still impressed though.  He had learned how to use the tools from watching us the day before, and had put his new information to work figuring out how to take the wagon apart.  Not bad for a toddler, actually.

He died in 2000.  I still miss him.  He was my fishing and hiking buddy.  I still cry sometimes, and the grief will wash over me as fresh and raw as it was on that awful unbelievable day.  How was it that I was alive and he was dead?  My mind still can’t wrap around that.  It makes people uncomfortable though, so I generally keep that grief locked away tight.  I take it out for airing in private.  It’s just better that way.

I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.

Now though, I focus more on the future.  I have a granddaughter that is the light of my life.  She’s my little hot shot, the celebrity of our clan, you might say.  She is a miracle in my eyes, something I never thought I’d get to see, let alone hold her hand.  Her bright eyes light up when she sees me, and that alone is worth more than all the money in the world.

Her mother isn’t doing so well though.  She has Type 1 diabetes, and a lot of complications.  Her kidneys and her eyes aren’t in as good of shape as they should be.  I often make the trip to her house and chauffeur her to doctor appointments, as well as spend time with my little girl.  There is almost no chance of a second child, but we don’t let that bother us.

The little one absolutely cannot understand that her mama is my baby, and I am her mama’s mama.  To her, mama is HERS and HERS alone still.  Of course, I’m her grandma, and nobody else’s.  She’s right.  She is my only grandchild.

I was able to go on her first and second camping trip with her.  That was a riot, and something that I’ll always treasure in my memories.  Next week, we’ve got another first.  I will be going to her very first dance recital.  That’s special too.

I get to see my mother too.  She came for a visit shortly after the baby was born, and has come each year.  This year, she was here far longer than she had originally planned.  Her great granddaughter was very sad to see her leave, screaming “Great Grandma!” at the sky for days, as though she was hoping she would hear and come back.  She went home in March, but just a couple of weeks ago, I was wearing a pair of shoes that my mother had given me over a year ago because she didn’t like wearing them.  (We wear almost the exact same size.)  My granddaughter looked down and immediately informed me that I was wearing Great Grandma’s shoes.  We had to laugh, even though we were surprised that she remembered a pair of plain white tennis shoes from over a year before.  I guessed that the reason was because I never wear white tennis shoes, as I am a stick-in-the-mud.  I had worn the same pair of Keens since she was a baby, along with the same pair of knock-off Crocs.  It was the first time in her memory that I was wearing something different.

But Mother’s Day is more than about your own mother.  It’s about every mother or potential mother that you know.  It’s about your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter, your sister, your sister-in-law, your neighbor, your own mom, your aunts…about women, really.  Of all ages, all sizes, all shapes, all colors, and all types.  It’s a time to honor that femaleness and appreciate it.

Spend a bit of time alone and think about the women that helped shape you into who you are.  Some were related, but a great number of them probably weren’t.  Some were teachers.  Some were just friends.  Some were probably people who never knew who you were, like Billie Jean King.  She helped me become the woman I am today, and I’ve never met her, nor am I likely to do so.  She stood up and stood out, in a way that said it was okay to be different and expect fair treatment anyhow.  Watching her, I realized I could be whoever I wanted to be, not who society expected me to be.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t pay the price though.  I learned about how painful standing out could be at an early age, and how to just grit my teeth and get through it.

I must have done a lot of gritting my teeth over the years.  One tooth after another has been sacrificed after cracking or decaying.  This year, I will be getting false teeth.  While I’ll be a bit sad, and I’m really dreading the pain of the extractions of remaining teeth, I’m looking forward to something I have not been able to do in years.

Chewing my food.

Funny how false teeth reminds me of my Grandma W though.  When I’d stay with her, I’d bring her a container of water for her teeth to soak in overnight.  On the other hand was my own mother, who had to have her teeth (which had no cavities at all) pulled when she was in her late twenties.  I remember the first time I saw her without teeth.  She had forgotten to put them in after showering and dressing, and when I said something, she clapped her hand over her mouth and ran up the stairs again.  I still have to grin about that.  Years later, she had to spend an entire day without them while they were being repaired.  She was mortified.  Now, she has to take them out at night, and thinks nothing about me seeing her without them.  Maybe its the difference in our vanity between being ThirtySomething and SeventySomething.

Corsages, cards, false teeth, wrenches, pliers, wheelbarrows and wagons…for me, they are part of my memories of Mother’s Day.

Most of all, I want everyone to remember to tell the women in their life how important they are to you, as well as how much you appreciate what they do for you.  Tell them you love them, treasure the moments.

Because one day, it can all vanish in the blink of an eye, and instead of a warm hug, you will be standing at a cemetery.  It really does seem that quick and they are gone.  I remember my grandmas, all of them.  My daughter remembers one of them, as the others had died before she was born or when she was too young to really remember them.  One great grandmother that I never met, my daughter did meet once.  I only knew her from stories from my mother, and I wasn’t along on that trip.

I look over our family tree when working on tracing our genealogy.   There are a lot of women there, women that are strangers to me.  I can’t help but wonder about their lives.  What were they really like?  What were their dreams?  What did they most fervently want and did they ever get it?  What made them laugh?

History.  Too often, its just HIS story, and we need more herstory.  Listen to the women in your life.  What is her story?  Tell your own story too.  After all, that’s what it is really all about, our stories weaving together to create a rich tapestry, and our mothers’ stories are interwoven with our own.

It’s about love and kindness, cruelty and dismissal, unfairness and justice, dreams, of watching  your hopes be dashed, or seeing them come to life.

Mother’s Day though, that’s all about the stories and the love.  Mothers give up a lot, even now, to be a mother.  Once, it was often fatal to bear a child.  That’s not true in most countries today, but it still is about sacrificing for the next generation, whether it is time, social activities, career advancements/choices, or even marriage.  It’s about putting that next generation’s needs above the current one too.

Maybe we need more mothers in Washington?

 

Random Acts of Kindness

29 Apr

You will often hear of random acts of kindness, also called RAOK for short.  But what is it?

It’s some deed that is kind and given without anticipating anything in return.  I look on them as a deposit in my karmic bank balance and payments on karmic loans, you might say.  I have been the recipient of many RAOK that were needed badly when I received them.  I have no way of thanking the person responsible, and in some cases, I never even knew who the person responsible was.  The only way I can repay for that RAOK is by paying it forward.

I’m not talking about big deeds, or even all of them being medium sized RAOK.  Most of them are small, after all.

But even the small ones have a cumulative effect.  Imagine it like this.

A flood is coming.  One man fills one sandbag and puts it in front of his house.  The flood comes, and that sandbag doesn’t stand a chance of protecting anything, does it?

The whole equation changes with small acts.  Change that story to the man fills a sandbag and puts it in place.  Someone sees it, and sees the empty sandbags waiting by the pile of sand.  She fills one, and puts her bag beside the man’s sandbag.  Many other people do the same thing, until they are running out of sand and bags.  Someone brings another load of sand and dumps it where the old pile was.  Someone else brings more bags.  Somebody brings hot coffee and donuts for the people filling sandbags, and more people come to help and get a cup of coffee too.  Before they know it, there is a huge wall built of sand bags and when the flood comes, the house of the man is protected, as are his neighbors.  Everyone is happy.

RAOK are like those sandbags, the empty bags, the pile of sand, the pots of coffee, and the boxes of donuts.  It all adds up.  Sure, the coffee and donuts didn’t fill any bags, nor did  they keep the flood at bay, but they still helped build the wall, because it made people happy, satisfied hunger, and made them able to work together longer.  It all helped, just  like each and every shovel full of sand helped, like each pair of hands that laid the bags into place helped.

It’s a case of giving that smile to that harried clerk at the store, it made her feel better, and despite a really rotten day, she was able to go home and be pleasant to her mother in law after work.  Her mother in law, surprised at the visit with her son and his wife going so well, comes home happy.  She’s asked for a donation to the local youth program, and she donates just because she IS happy.  That donation pays for after school programs that helps kids with homework, and because John Doe got better grades at school that year, he continued to improve and learn, ultimately going to med school.  As a research doctor, he cures diabetes.

Granted, it’s not an instant thing, and this example is highly accelerated, but…it IS a plausible story.  That would mean that merely smiling at that clerk ultimately found the cure for cancer!  Just for the cost of the small RAOK of a smile and compliment to a store clerk.

But we can shift that story around too.  Instead of smiling at the clerk, you verbally assault her for a computer error that caused you to be overcharged for a sale item.  You cause a big scene, and storm out of the store, leaving the clerk shaking and stressed.  She goes home, but has a fight with her boyfriend because she is in such a bad mood.  They break up, and instead of getting married to him, she marries someone else and never has children.  John Doe is never born. Her mother in law hates her.

Being simplistic, it’s now obvious that you, the clerk assaulting consumer, are responsible for preventing the birth of the man who discovered how to cure diabetes.

We don’t have to try to save the world by curing world hunger.  We start with smaller bites.  Our own neighborhood. Our own town.  Our own county.  Our own state.  Just do it.  Be a little bit nicer, give a little bit more freely.  Commit that small random act of kindness this week.  Imagine its ripples moving outwards.

It’s a great thing.

 

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