Laura G Owens ~ Writer. Raw. Real. Chronically ambivalent.

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do, you apologize for the truth. – Benjamin Disrael

Category: Inspiration – Personal Growth Page 2 of 4

On Grown & Flown

walkingI’m delighted I found Grown & Flown, a website and blog about parenting older kids (ages 15 to 25).

Grown & Flown recently published my essay “Why I Stopped Worrying If My College Daughter Was Lonely”

Tina is a thousand times more self-loving and grounded than I was at her age. This is probably why I keep asking if she’s lonely; I’m projecting my 18-year-old unsettled feelings on to her. At 18 I was still emotionally damaged from childhood, anxious and terrified of every new situation. I didn’t enter college as my own best friend and I was always trying to fit into some group or some version of myself.

If you’re interested, you can find the full essay here.

 

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Stop letting seniors off the hook for saying horrible stuff

We’re all guilty of this. We slip out a horrible or ignorant comment, cringe, then wish we could take our words back.

Before I was became a mom I once asked a very pregnant friend who mentioned she was going to the beach, “Do pregnant women go to the beach?” “I mean I know they can but do they want to? What kind of bathing suit do they wear?”

“The kind made for pregnant women. Maternity,” then she shot me exactly the you dumb ass look I deserved.

But for the most part unless you’re a horrible person, these verbal gaffs are just innocent ignoramus blunders.  Foot in mouth. Hopefully we apologize, eat crow and move on.

But what about senior citizens who regularly say outrageous stuff simply because they think they can.

They do it because we think “they’re too old to change.”

Nonsense.

I once had a beloved relative who I loved dearly for her warmth, charm, sense of humor, elegance and full on unapologetic moxie.

I remember the day she screamed “Asshead!” across a golf fairway to former Bears coach Mike Ditka because he accidentally hit his golf ball too close to her putt. I’m sure he didn’t hear but the fact that she waved her golf club in his direction surely got her point across. (Coach Ditka hobbled over on his painful hips and apologized). I had to keep myself from laughing in case my amusement pissed her off even more.

“Asshead” was also this relative’s favorite expletive when people cut her off on the road.

But as full of charming moxie as this wonderful lady was, there was a line she crossed for me. Not often, rarely in fact. But once was too often.

She casually referred to black people as “coloreds.”

One time as “that darkie.” She never said it to black people but about black people. She also collectively and with ever so slight disdain, sometimes referred to “those Jews.”

Again this was rare, but it only takes once to shudder.

Out of respect for her age and our relationship, when she said “that darkie” I politely interrupted and asked how she managed to raise six kids who weren’t racist.

“Oh I’m not racist,” she said calmly. “I know plenty of black people I like.”

That she thought “darkie,” a word abandoned by even the overt modern day racists, was okay because if you “like plenty of them,” you like enough, is a level of convenient ignorance I can’t ignore.

This relative was a warm sophisticated smart lady. She lived among well-aware class suburbanites. She read books and newspapers. She religiously watched the nightly news. She and her husband, (equally privately racist) visited historical monuments near and far, sites stained with our nation’s enslavement.

Of course she knew “colored” and “darkie” were racial slurs.

But to keep the peace, most of us (myself included) usually shrug off senior citizen’s racist words because we’ve given up.”That’s the way some of the older generation is. They’re too old to change.”

No one is too old to change. Old dogs can learn new tricks.

Listen, I get as we age we want to put less energy into filtering our words. At 80, 90+ years old we’ve earned the right to not give a crap what people think.

Not exactly. The free-to-finally-be-yourself movement, you know, the “When I’m Old I’ll Where Purple”movement, isn’t about letting down your racist hair.

It’s about the freedom to be who you want to be in your mind, body, spirit and flashy gold lame shoes. It’s about dancing like no one is looking, but they are looking.

What seniors rightfully earn is respect for their impressive years, fortitude, and their contribution to our nation, families and collective wisdom. Every generation should bow to their elders for what they endured and sacrificed.

Seniors have earned a level of mild crankiness, should they feel cranky with pain. We’ve earned our eccentricity for oddly matched clothes we believe expresses seasoned or tired confidence. We shorthand politeness in favor of blunt talk to get to the point. Maybe we’re a beloved pain the ass.

But basic decency doesn’t have an expiration date. None.

I don’t think seniors should be allowed to pull the “Well I’m old so I’ll damn well say what I want. Not in front of you or God forbid in public.  No, “colored, nigger, darky, “faggot, A-rabs, Kikes, Spics or Orientals or hey you girlie”

I don’t care if grandma or grandpa are pushing 107. If they’re of sound mind, they need to join us in this century. If they can’t change their views (too old to change, frankly, that’s a load of crap). Then they need to keep their mouths shut.

People are fighting their asses off for civil rights and unfortunately more often these days, for their literal lives.

The Sort of Sad 

I’ve been seriously depressed. Very sad people generally just hole up quietly and don’t bother anyone because they don’t have the energy.

But low simmering sad people who aren’t clinically depressed but who hate their life and really hate that you love yours regularly get a pity card (“Oh that’s just Fran. Ignore her comment about how you always look tired. She’s always miserable. I feel bad for her”).

Sure, if someone lost her job or has a child hooked on drugs or was just diagnosed or is in chronic pain or God forbid lost a loved one, clearly the right thing to do is to let her spout off for a while.

But I told my stepmom years back, even a paralyzed guy in a wheelchair is an asshole if he always acts like one.

“But maybe that’s why he’s an asshole,” she said, “because he’s in a wheelchair.”

But there has to be a statute of limitations on using sad to say whatever we want because at some point sad is no longer an excuse, it’s just a bad personality.

So here’s the thing, being politically correct can be filled with land mines. Not giving a crap is less work.

So sometimes I think we let the non-pc mouthy types off the hook because maybe like us, they’re nervous about what’s okay to say.

Transgender. Gender non-identifying. Bi-curious. Able-bodied. People of Color. African American. Native American.

It’s hard to keep up.

Let me suggest if you can’t keep up ask someone or Google. And if you make a mistake because someone defines herself in a way you didn’t know, it’s okay.

No one has this all figured out. Political correctness is a moving target.

But basic thought for what is clearly or likely offensive only takes a tiny bit of common sense and decency.

 

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The Pulse tragedy. What finally made me cry

#OrlandoStrong

#OrlandoStrong

After my city’s tragedy, the world’s tragedy, I didn’t cry.

Oh my eyes welled up a little, but I was too shocked, too devastated, too in despair to fully release my horror.

I could not cry because perhaps if I did, I might not stop.

For years and reasons that no longer matter, I’ve learned to place layers of protective emotional covering over my heart. And so throughout my city’s beautiful candlelit vigils, throughout the crowds of sobbing, the overwhelming grief, the tearful hugs, the piles of flowers and the carved crosses lined with victims’ names, I did not cry. 

I do not want to sob.

Still, we must honor our fallen and our hurting, even, especially, if the tragedy is close to home

But how I do this, or you do this or they do this, really doesn’t matter. How we sit inside each stage of grief is for the individual to decide.

I write.

I watch briefly, the stark gruesome news. I painfully swallow the Pulse reality in measured small doses. I cannot imagine the overwhelming sorrow the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, lovers, daughters and sons bear now and forever.

There’s no formula for how each of us heal. When I feel drowned in the details of that night, the night that happened 30 minutes from my home, I turn off the TV and radio.

A mother of 11 protected her son. She died. He did not.

A daughter, only 18 and the youngest victim in the shooting, escaped safely out of the nightclub until she ran back in to save her friend. In moments of gunfire she texted her parents and begged for help. As she huddled in a bathroom stall the gunman came in and she was shot in the arm.  She might have lived, were she not hit in that artery and waited and…

My daughter is 18.

I listen to the stories, to the surreal hell the survivors endured while their friends and others died in pools of blood inches away. Brain matter, one said, on her clothes.

I shudder and then I move away from the words, from the horror of that night. If I don’t I feel helpless and paralyzed.

And so I grieve by activating, by renewing hope through action. I give. I relentlessly support gun control, again and again and again.

I look for signs of recovery. I look for billowing strength.

And those signs are everywhere in Orlando.

You can’t step away from the wallpapering of sad reminders when it’s your town, and yet you don’t want to step away from the showering support from all over the world.  The world is blanketing our community in love.

It was finally this Keep Dancing Orlando video shared on Facebook the other morning, this, that made me weep.

The joy despite the sorrow, allowed my tears to flow.

Our City Beautiful is the world’s epicenter of fantastical fun, of imagination, of diversity and always, not just now, of support for our LGBT community.

And so we rise and once again — we dance.

#OrlandoStrong

#OrlandoUnited

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Remember. Advice to my daughter as she graduates high school.

throwing cap in the airRemember to stand tall.

Shoulders back. Head up. Carry yourself with the spectacular you are. The world will treat you as you expect to be treated. You are mighty and deserving.

Remember that humility is not the opposite of confidence. Humility is to ask, to listen, to learn and to grow.

Remember to apologize. Do this. You must.

Remember to forgive yourself and them. This is very hard. Be patient.

Remember that you’re no one’s fool or doormat or plaything. It is better to be disliked than to dislike yourself.

Remember that true friendship must begin with trust, the rest is gravy.

Remember to speak your truth. Some will hate you for this. Do it anyway.

Remember that beauty is by chance, that character is painstaking and earned. Do not compromise on character, ever.

Remember that your body is a gift to nurture and to share as you decide. Do not compromise your body, ever.

Remember to be safe and smart in your choices.  One mindless decision can alter your entire life.

Remember to create your image on your terms, not his, or hers, or theirs. The media must not define you. You must define you.

Remember that joy is the point of life, it really is. Let no one convince you this is selfish. Joy without harm, is the point.

Remember how much you are loved. It is big. It is wide. It is forever.

Remember that hostile mean hard people are sometimes in pain. I forget this, often.

Remember that kindness is the most important “thing” you can give another human being.

Remember to be open to the “other.” Celebrate diversity because doing this I promise, will make your life feel more compassionate, connected and alive.

Remember to travel to “strange lands,” to eat “strange” foods and to delight in other cultures.

Remember to ask life’s big questions and then to sit comfortably in the not knowing.

Remember that science and faith are never at war. One fills the gap where the other simply cannot. And when you think about it, isn’t that wonderful?

Remember to have faith in the unseen and in the possibilities.

Remember that all men and women are created equal. You are not special. But indeed, you are.

Remember that wonder is life’s greatest free entertainment. Wonder never needs a screen or to re-charge its battery.

Remember to forge your own path. It is yours, and it will be surprising and glorious.

Remember to live your life with unquenchable curiosity. Be giddy. Be ridiculous. Be a wise-ass around the ones you trust, around the ones who understand your family’s twisted humor.

Remember to be courageous and to pick-yourself-up again, and again, and again.

Remember when you fall, and you will fall, to ask for help. The strong ask.

Remember to ask God, anything.

Remember that your version of God is yours to decide.

Remember that the good in your life will return, because good always returns.

Remember that the Golden Rule is perfect. It is divine. It is the way.

Remember to be a voice for the voiceless, for there are millions in our world who need yours.

Remember to laugh and to laugh and to laugh and to laugh. And then to laugh again.

Remember that when you need to cry, do it. Do it unashamed. Do it big. Sometimes our weeping puddles become our only relief.

Remember to be grateful. Gratitude will give you strength and healing. Gratitude for merely the soft warm wind against your tears is sometimes your only, and I mean only, comfort.

Remember that although I don’t always say this, or feel this, or remember this:

That most people are good.

That life is good.

Default to that. Live that. Feel that. Convey that.

This will lift you. I promise it will. And then my sweet girl, you will soar.

Love always,

Mom

 

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One reason I love life (but the point where my grace ends)

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One of the many reasons I love life is the unexpected synchronicity that happens all the time….

Driving traffic-clogged I-4 at 6:50 this morning to get to the YMCA prayer breakfast, I responded (okay, yelled) at the radio because a well-spoken but clearly wrong (by the discrimination yardstick) Baptist Minister explained to the radio host why his speech should be protected and isn’t discriminatory (e.g. denying a wedding cake or photography service to a same-sex couple about to get married is protected speech he argues, based on his Biblical beliefs. But, denying the same couple a hamburger, or accounting services etc he says is discriminatory).

Finally I arrived at the mega Orlando First United Baptist church for the YMCA prayer breakfast. I ran into the packed room, saw our Oviedo YMCA Exec Director at my table and I said loudly to him across the noise,

“I just drove like a bat out of HELL to get here!”

Just as I said this I turned around and seated right next to me at my table is a lovely young pastor with my town’s local New Covenant church. (But you know God has a stellar sense of humor, so goes the saying “Because God made (insert what/whoever you think is worthy of God’s sense of humor).”

I asked the Pastor about his church, told him I’ve heard good things about his pre-school. He shares a little about his church (Anglican). He asks me where I go (Unitarian Universalist). We both make polite conversation. Pastor asks me if my husband and daughter attend UUU (mostly no and I tell him why and why I left my Methodist church. Fond memories and deep gratitude for my daughter’s programs and our religious roots I explain, but I had increasing discomfort, and my new church resonates better with my views).

I tell Pastor a tiny bit more about my church all the while trying to be diplomatic and respectful, yet honest.

Oh yeah, hi there, Mr. President

Then our speaker gets up. Lucas Boyce (Dir of Business Development and Legislative Affairs for the NBA’s Magic). Lucas wrote “Living Proof: From Foster Care, to the White House and the NBA” and is clearly living proof for character and faith and belief in himself (and bold courage).

Lucas inspires us with several stories, each underpinned by his faith and that moving from a crack addict prostitute mother to foster care to life with a loving adopted mother who encouraged him informed his life’s trajectory. Lucas built the life he dreamed as a child (with thanks to God first he said) the moment he saw the White House (and after he saw the coolest airplane ever in the movie Air Force One).

Somehow on his pathway to become a lawyer he became a White House intern/page during President GW Bush’s term. One day President Bush did a quick photo-op on the south lawn with the pages. Twenty-two year old Lucas, not yet groomed on the basics of Presidential how do you do said something like “Hey yeah, how are you? but closed with, “I’m praying for you Mr. President. It’s a just cause (post 9/11 reference).”

The next day President Bush told a staff member he was impressed with “that young man” and to hire Lucas right away. From that moment Lucas’s life moved exactly where he wanted it to go.  

The crowd, all 1,000 of us, gave Lucas a deserved standing ovation.

Passionate. Inspired. Full of faith and conviction.

Believe. Pray. Worship. Inspire others. These are the fuels that feed our compassion and hope and propulsion forward.

BUT while you pray and inspire others, please know this:

The majority public opinion believes that religious beliefs should NOT allow legal rulings to protect speech that denies well-behaved (ruly), shirt-covered citizens service.

So clergy if you must deny officiating a same-sex marriage because it goes against your Biblical beliefs, you have the right as a religious institution.

(However,  I will never believe it feels truly righteous and holy and God-infused, authentic to one’s spiritual core to deny marriage to a loving couple).

Our nation’s individual views on God (and God’s will and use of our free will) is all over the place yet all of us in small moments of respect and grace at round tables can listen to the one another. I truly want to hear someone’s concerns over same-sex marriage however, when the legislative hammer comes down and denies service to our citizens due to sexual orientation, I immediately stop listening. 

Red Barber did his job, so can business owners against same-sex marriage

The radio interviewer then asked the Baptist Minister….. “I know this is a different issue but baseball announcer Red Barber nearly quit announcing for the Dodgers after desegregation and Jackie Robinson started playing. But Barber changed his mind. He knew he had a job to do. Can’t business owners against same-sex marriage simply serve someone and do their job?

The Baptist minister said for him no because it violates his speech.  At that moment the minister said no and denied service to a SS couple, is the moment I don’t believe he worships the same God — I do.

Okay, disagree with same-sex marriage if you must, but your job as an American heterosexual citizen afforded rights is not to deny to others, the same services/benefits YOU enjoy.

We are not, any of us, born chosen or special because we are heterosexual any more than we are born chosen or special because our eyes are blue or brown or hazel.

(To help illustrate the real life wrong in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Let’s use our heart rather than our head. Picture your adult child, deeply in love with her long time same-sex partner. One day both giddily head to the only bakery in their tiny town to order their dreamed-about wedding cake, budget tight but they’ve got just the cake picked out in their head. Lo, the baker-owner Frank who has known these ladies since they were little and used to give them free sugar cookies every Sunday says sorry ladies, I love you both but I can’t bake your wedding cake, my beliefs don’t allow it).

That’s love? 

Postscript:

“The man who broadcast Jackie Robinson’s first season with the Dodgers recalled that, as a boy in **SANFORD, Florida,  (Red Barber): “I saw black men tarred and feathered by the Ku Klux Klan and forced to walk the streets. I had grown up in a completely segregated world.” Red Barber confessed that when he learned the Dodgers would field a black player, his first reaction was to quit his job.” (Society for American Baseball Research).

When we don’t know any better we don’t do better. Once we know better, we must do better.

Feeling joy: living intentionally to re-wire your brain

joy, living intentionallyAs it turns out, we humans adapt pretty well to feeling awful or to living the less dire but equally joyless neutral and numb existence.

Kids, relationships, jobs, falling finances and health vie for every inch of our energy. For some, crippling pain or depression or anxiety or loneliness overshadows sensations of joy, stifling an existence that is designed for pleasure.

Soon the moments of joy we do notice become special occasion exceptions rather than our rule for living.

Embrace hedonistic happiness

And yet, as humans we’re designed to pulsate with pleasure, to feed our craving for self-gratification (hedonistic happiness) and to pursue a noble meaningful purpose that elevates our mind and opens our heart for the greater good (eudaimonic happiness).

And yet our happiness can be notoriously fed or doused by the company we keep.

Misery might love company but positivity is contagious and a habit like any other. If we align long enough to people who recite reasons why life is out to get them we reinforce a rut of joyless and pained living.

And while we don’t necessarily need to abandon every negative person in our lives (although a toxic relationship dump is a grand idea in some cases), we can become immune to their soul-sucking (however unintentional) vibe.

This emotional protection is, in a poetic sense, what Herman Melville in Moby Dick referred to as our “insular Tahiti,” a self-protected encapsulated practiced place of peace and joy we strive to live, despite external chaos.

Humans notice the negative: breaking patterns

All of us can unlearn parasitic patterns of negative thought that erode our well-being (thoughts that literally affect our health). I’m not suggesting daily pep talks or posting sticky note mantras on the fridge will radically change your well-being (although these can’t hurt), I’m suggesting making our thoughts and actions intentional, habitually feeling grateful and engaging in happiness-stoking activities that literally re-wire our brain from our human tendency towards the negative, to the positive.

Humans, explain evolutionary psychologists, have a natural negativity bias in order to survive earlier threats. When man spotted a lion (negative) he ignored the carrot (positive) because he knew the carrot wasn’t a threat and would likely be there tomorrow, but he might not there tomorrow if he ignored the lion.

We simply adapt to our day-to-day positive experiences (we wake up rested, the sunrise is stunning, we eat a nice breakfast, our child is dressed on time, our dog is loyally loving us, the traffic flows for a change, purple flowers cover the highway median, our headache is somehow gone).

We tend to notice the negative that interrupts the web of positive that makes up the majority of our day.

We can however re-wire our brain. Experts in the field of positive psychology often cite that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”  In other words, engage in happiness activities (what you truly love) over and over and over and you re-program your brain towards a positivity bias, and you feel better.

We now know our noggin is far more pliable than we ever imagined.

No longer do we need to become our doctor’s diagnosis and we can bathe our mind and body in feel good, healing and calming chemicals by, for example, spending time with others, feeling genuinely grateful and showing empathy towards others.

Walk barefoot on the sands of a quiet beach at sunrise, sync with the ebb and flow of the ocean as you whisper thanks to a divine and you will simultaneously relax your mind, breathe in spirit and soak in the earth’s abundant healing electrons (called “grounding” with 15 years of evidence to back its benefits).

Intentional living means we focus on the many everyday moments that continue to go well.

We can tap the healing powers of our natural world to create emotional and physical well-being.

We can use what we now know of neuroscience to maximize our brain’s capacity for joy.

We can embrace the unseen forces in the universe for our own good and the good of others, call this force God, divine, or if you prefer, energy.

We can merge science, our natural world and spirit to elevate our mind and body to a place of intentional and habitual joy. This isn’t a prescription for nirvana or bliss, that ethereal place we imagine only for monks, it is a real-life prescription for better living, through better feeling.

Image credit: Maggie McCall

Good girls don’t get the corner office

Image: Wikipedia

“Teach your daughters to resolve conflicts, take risks, tout their strengths and “check your good girl at the door,” writes Rachel Simmons in her book, The Curse of the Good Girl.

Gender stereotypes start young.

Instead of taking risks and honing their leadership skills young women unwittingly sabotage their success by questioning their abilities and diminishing their potential, explains Leslie Mann in her article, Family duties make women executives prone to depression: study. “The result is a ‘psychological glass ceiling.'”

So, say good-bye to the nice girl. But let’s be clear, the not-nice girl isn’t the often mis-labeled bitch.

Bitches have nothing to do with corporate America, although you might find one there or down the street or in the grocery store.  A bitch is, pure and simple, a personality that can crop up anywhere, but she’s not the assertive, confident, authoritative woman doing her job. Bitches are aggressive, petty, underhanded, mean-spirited, back-stabbing and so it turns out, bitches are also men.

“Definitions of “feminine” and “masculine” must change, Pudrovska said. “When women in authority are assertive, dominant, powerful and confident, they’re viewed as unfeminine,” she said. “Men don’t have this conflict; these are ‘masculine’ traits.”

Women with a firm confident demeanor are sometimes seen as having “some nerve.”

Indeed, it takes some nerve to speak up. Assertive women exude authority, they challenge long-held gender expectations and status quo. Status quo is cozy comfy predictable, it tells us how we “should” operate as boys and girls in society.

But no one ever changed anything worth changing by staying within the confines of “should.”

In other words, as the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history, or get the corner office. 

Successful women don’t speak in meek diminutive tones, nor do they yell or bull-doze over everyone else in the room.  

I have what I think is a pleasant enough and also firm voice. No whispering mouse lives inside my voice box (anymore I kicked her out decades ago). I speak politely but with an audible strong tone if I have something meaningful to offer in meetings.  I challenge points diplomatically. And if I make someone uncomfortable with my “masculine” qualities that individual needs to ask why what his or her male peers exude is threatening, only when I do it.

“Women excel at compassion and empathy, which complicates their leadership roles, Breathed said. ‘When men get to positions of authority, they’re like the chest-beating silverback gorillas; they’ve made it!” she said. “But women say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to fire a woman with two kids.'”

I respect businessman who exhibit among other traits, “female” qualities (known typically as empathy, compassion). I don’t see this as lacking the cojones to be effective leaders. When the hammer has to come down then they bring it down, until then, they listen to the human at the other end of their desk.

Ultimately, business men and women can learn from each other by recognizing the value of “male” and “female” traits and when best to use them.

 

 

 

 

 

Vicious closet cyber bully converts

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Warning: A small part of this post below is deeply disturbing, but if you hang on the emotional investment pays off.

Converted bully: Hey Lindy, I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you. It wasn’t because of your stance on rape jokes. I don’t find them funny either. I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self. (a “passionless life” he called it).

Bullied: It’s frightening to discover that he’s (the bully) so normal. He has female coworkers who enjoy his company. He has a real, live girlfriend who loves him. They have no idea that he used to go online and traumatize women for fun. Humans can be reached. I have proof. Empathy, boldness, kindness, those are things I learned from my dad, though he never knew how much I’d need them. Or maybe he did……….I still get trolled every day. If I could get through to one troll, the meanest one I ever had, couldn’t I feasibly get through to any of them, all of them?

Laura: If you haven’t experienced cyber bullying, thank God.  The Internet’s spawned some vicious verbal warfare thanks to the distance and cowardice of the keyboard. 

No one’s ever cyber bullied me but I’ve had a few nasty attacks out of the blue (I say out of the blue because no one else on the thread, that I knew of, seemed upset, just this one man or one woman and with such spitting anger you knew the issue — wasn’t the issue. 

The rare times someone came at me swinging before I answered I spewed George Carlin’s 7 dirtiest and dumped my anger into the air, or I ran like hell (left the forum or ignored the post). You can’t stop people from beating you up online unless you disappear or convince them there’s a living person at the other end of their poisonous pen. Conversion can happen.

Cyber bullying bothers me for the obvious. It’s mean. But more, I can’t figure out who these trolls are (trolls are online posters who slay people with relentless verbal attacks sometimes to the point of stalking or threatening violence).

I assume these piranhas have mothers, maybe kids, a cat, a friend or two, that they cry, bike, garden, kayak, make all day spaghetti sauce, call their grandmas.

A recent This American Life podcast gifted me with a stark and hopeful A-HA moment.  Moral: If you’re miserable, making someone else miserable won’t help. Not even a little. If you apologize, come clean, remember the human at the other end, you’ll feel better, at least a little. 

Here’s the story:

Writer, blogger, feminist Lindy West wrote a piece in response to dialogue circling the Internet, do comedians go too far when they use material about violence and rape against women? Lindy wrote yes, these topics should be off-limits to get a laugh.

As usual she wrote her honest unapologetic opinion.  As usual she expected a boatload of misogynistic hate email because she got them all the time, but one person went too far. 

“One midsummer afternoon in 2013, I got a message on Twitter from my dead dad. I don’t remember what it said exactly. And I didn’t keep a copy for my scrapbook. But it was mean.

And my dad was never mean. So it couldn’t really be from him. Also, he was dead. Just 18 months earlier, I’d watched him turn gray and drown in his own lungs. So I was like 80% sure.

And I don’t believe in heaven. And even if I did, I’d hope to God they don’t have fucking Twitter there. It’s heaven. Go play chocolate badminton on a cloud with Jerry Orbach and your childhood cat.

But there it was, a message. Some context– in the summer of 2013, in certain circles of the internet, comedians and feminists were at war over rape jokes. Being both a comedy writer and a committed feminist killjoy, I weighed in with an article in which I said that I think a lot of male comedians are careless with the subject of rape.

Here’s just a sample of the responses I got on social media. A quick warning, these are internet comments about rape, so it’s going to suck.

“I love how the bitch complaining about rape is the exact kind of bitch that would never be raped.” “Holes like this make me want to commit rape out of anger.” “I just want to rape her with a traffic cone.” “No one would want to rape that fat disgusting mess.” “Kill yourself.” “I want to put an apple into that mouth of yours and take a huge stick and slide it through your body and roast you.” “That big bitch is bitter that no one wants to rape her.”

It went on like that for weeks. It’s something I’m used to. I have to be. Being insulted and threatened online is part of my job, which is not to say it doesn’t hurt. It does. It feels– well, exactly like you would imagine it would feel to have someone call you a fat cunt every day of your life.

I wrote about Paul West Donezo in an article for jezebel.com. I wrote sadly, candidly, angrily about how much it hurt, how much that troll had succeeded. And then something amazing happened.

The morning after that post went up, I got an email. “Hey Lindy, I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you. It wasn’t because of your stance on rape jokes. I don’t find them funny either. I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my own self.

I have emailed you through two other Gmail accounts just to send you idiotic insults. I apologize for that. I created the paulwestdonezo@gmail.com account and Twitter account. I have deleted both.

I can’t say sorry enough. It was the lowest thing I had ever done. When you included it in your latest Jezebel article, it finally hit me. There is a living, breathing human being who’s reading this shit. I’m attacking someone who never harmed me in any way and for no reason whatsoever.

I’m done being a troll. Again, I apologize. I made a donation in memory to your dad. I wish you the best.”

They attached a receipt for a $50 donation to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance where my dad was treated. I guess he found that out in this research too. It was designated Memorial Paul West.

I didn’t know what to say. I wrote, is this real? If so, thank you.

The troll wrote back one more time, apologized again, and this time, he gave me his real name. I could have posted it online, which he knew. But I didn’t. And I’m not going to be saying it here either.

That was almost 18 months ago, but I still think about it all the time because I still get trolled every day. If I could get through to one troll, the meanest one I ever had, couldn’t I feasibly get through to any of them, all of them?

Was he special? Or did I do something right? I wonder how he would tell me to respond to the people trolling me today. I wish I could ask him. But then I realized, I could.

Lindy West

I don’t know. I guess I’m just kind of nervous. But it’ll be OK, right?

Chana Joffe

Yeah.

Lindy West

This is me in a studio with producer Chana Joffe-Walt and a phone.

[TELEPHONE RINGING]

 

Man

Hello?

Lindy West

Oh, hello?

Man

Hello?

Lindy West

Hi. How are you?

Man

I got to tell you, I’m really nervous at the moment.

Lindy West

I’m a little nervous also.

Man

At least I’m not alone.

Lindy West

No, no, not at all.

I asked him why he chose me. He’d said in his email that it wasn’t because of the rape joke thing, so what exactly did I do?

Man

Well, it revolved around one issue that you wrote about a lot which was your being heavy– the struggles that you had regarding being a woman of size, or whatever the term may be.

Lindy West

You can say fat. That’s what I say.

Man

Fat. OK, fat.

Lindy West

I write a lot about body image, about the stigma and discrimination that fat people face, about being a fat woman. He told me that at the time he was about 75 pounds heavier than he wanted to be. He hated his body. He was miserable. And reading about fat people, particularly fat women accepting and loving themselves as they were, infuriated him for reasons he couldn’t articulate at the time.

Man

When you talked about being proud of who you are and where you are and where you’re going, that kind of stoked that anger that I had.

Lindy West

OK, so you found my writing. You found my writing, and you did not like it.

Man

Certain aspects of it.

Lindy West

Yeah.

Man

You used a lot of all caps. You’re just a very– you almost have no fear when you write.

Lindy West

Yeah.

Man

You know, it’s like you stand on the desk and you say, I’m Lindy West, and this is what I believe in. Fuck you if you don’t agree with me. And even though you don’t say those words exactly, I’m like, who is this bitch who thinks she knows everything?

Lindy West

I asked him if he felt that way because I’m a woman.

Man

Oh, definitely. Definitely. Women are being more forthright in their writing. There isn’t a sense of timidity to when they speak or when they write. They’re saying it loud. And I think that– and I think, for me, as well, it’s threatening at first.

Lindy West

Right. You must know that I– that’s why I do that, because people don’t expect to hear from women like that. And I want other women to see me do that and I want women’s voices to get louder.

Man

I understand. I understand. Here’s the thing. I work with women all day, and I don’t have an issue with anyone. I could’ve told you back then if someone had said to me, oh, you’re a misogynist. You hate women. And I could say, nuh-uh, I love my mom. I love my sisters. I’ve loved my– the girlfriends that I’ve had in my life. But you can’t claim to be OK with women and then go online and insult them– seek them out to harm them emotionally.

Lindy West

In my experience, if you call a troll a misogynist, he’ll almost invariably say, oh, I don’t hate women. I just hate what you’re saying and what that other woman is saying and that woman and that one for totally unrelated reasons. So it was satisfying at least to hear him admit that, yeah, he hated women.

He says he doesn’t troll anymore and that he’s really changed. He tells me that period of time when he was trolling me for being loud and fat was a low point for him. He hated his body. His girlfriend dumped him. He spent every day in front of a computer at an unfulfilling job. A passionless life, he called it.

And then gradually, he changed. He enrolled in graduate school. He found a new relationship. He started teaching little kids. He had a purpose.

Slowly, his interest in trolling dried up. We verified nearly everything that he told us about himself. Except, did he really stop trolling? I have no way of knowing, but I believe him. It felt true. And if this was all a con, it’s one that cost him a $50 charity donation.

We talked for over two hours, and I spent a lot of time trying to get him to walk me through his transgressions in detail– the actual physical and mental steps and how he justified it all to himself. I felt like if I could just get the specifics, gather them up and hold them in my hands, then maybe I could start to understand all of the people who are still trolling me.

Lindy West

How did you even find out that my dad died? How did you–

Man

I went to my computer. I googled you– found out you had a father who had passed. I found out that he had– you had siblings. I forget if it was three total.

Lindy West

I have two siblings.

Man

So–

Lindy West

Did you read his obituary?

Man

I believe I did. I knew he was a musician.

Lindy West

Yeah, I wrote that. I wrote his obituary.

Man

What I did was this. I created a fake Gmail account using your father’s name, created a fake Twitter account using his name. The biography was something to the effect of, my name is– I’m sorry, I forget the name– the first name.

Lindy West

His name was Paul West.

Man

I wrote, “My name is Paul West. I’ve got three kids. Two of them are great, and one of them is an idiot.”

Lindy West

Yeah, you said embarrassed father of an idiot.

Man

OK.

Lindy West

Other two kids are fine, though. And then–

Man

That’s much more worse.

Lindy West

And you got a picture of him.

Man

I did get a picture of him.

Lindy West

Do you remember anything about him? Did you get a sense of him as a human being?

Man

I read the obit. And I knew he was a dad that loved his kids.

Lindy West

How did that make you feel?

Man

Not good. I mean, I felt horrible almost immediately afterwards. You tweeted something along the lines of, good job today, society, or something along those lines.

Lindy West

Yeah.

Man

It just wouldn’t– for the first time, it wouldn’t leave my mind. Usually, I would put out all of this internet hate, and oftentimes I would just forget about it. This one would not leave me. It would not leave me. I started thinking about you because I know you had read it. And I’m thinking how would she feel. And the next day I wrote you.

Lindy West

Yeah. [INAUDIBLE].

Man

And I truly am sorry about that.

Lindy West

Yeah, I mean, have you lost anyone? Can you imagine? Can you imagine?

Man

I can. I can. I don’t know what else to say except that I’m sorry.

Lindy West

Well, you know, I get abuse all day every day. It’s part of my job. And this was the meanest thing anyone’s ever done to me. I mean, absolute– I mean, it was really fresh. He had just died.

But you’re also the only troll who’s ever apologized. Not just to me, I’ve never heard of this happening before. I mean, I don’t know anyone who’s ever gotten an apology. And I just– I mean, thank you.

Man

I’m glad that you have some solace.

Lindy West

Honestly, I did have some solace. I forgave him. I felt sorry for him.

It’s so difficult to believe that anyone ever really changes. And he did it. I found immense comfort in that.

Toward the end of our conversation, I remembered that in his email he had confessed that he had harassed from multiple troll accounts, not just Paul West Donezo.

Did I ever write back? Was there anything I didn’t know? He said, yeah, one time he’d sent something mean from his personal account, and I retweeted it to all of my 40,000 followers. He was mortified.

Man

And I’m trying to remember what it was about. I think you had mentioned a comedian. You had tweeted about a comedian who had threatened to throw his girlfriend down the stairs?

Lindy West

Oh, no, he said he wished that I would fall down a flight of stairs.

Man

Oh, OK, and I think I said– I don’t know if I retweeted it or I– what did I say?

Lindy West

Oh. Oh my god, I remember you.

Man

Yeah, OK.

Lindy West

Oh my god.

Man

What did I say?

Lindy West

You said something like, I wish I could be the one to push her, or something. Or–

Man

Or I thought it was, too bad Lindy isn’t your girlfriend.

Lindy West

Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh my god, I remember you.

Man

Yeah, that’s me. I’m a dick.

Lindy West

I can’t believe– I mean, there’s so many trolls. I can’t believe– I can’t believe I remember you.

Man

Yeah, that was me.

Lindy West

At this point, my producer Chana, who’d been listening, couldn’t stop herself from jumping in.

Chana Joffe

God, hearing you guys, you sound like you’re like, oh, you went to that high school? I went to that high school too. Holy cow.

Man

Yeah.

Lindy West

Well, you know, I mean it’s such a normalized part of my life now. I mean, honestly– and it’s kind of a relief to talk to someone who really knows what I’m talking about, even though he’s coming at it from the other direction. There’s almost no one who understands–

Man

Well, you know what, as a former troll, I’d never told a single living human being until now that I did this. So it’s good, in a way, to get that off my chest to get my secret life– my old life– I don’t know. It just feels good to exercise these demons.

Lindy West

It felt really easy, comfortable even, to talk to my troll. I liked him, and I didn’t know what to do with that.

It’s frightening to discover that he’s so normal. He has female coworkers who enjoy his company. He has a real, live girlfriend who loves him. They have no idea that he used to go online and traumatize women for fun.

Trolls live among us. I’ve gotten anonymous comments from people saying they met me at a movie theater and I was a bitch. Or they served me at a restaurant and my boobs aren’t as big as they look in pictures.

People say it doesn’t matter what happens on the internet, that it’s not real life. But thanks to internet trolls, I’m perpetually reminded that the boundary between the civilized world and our worst selves is just an illusion.

Trolls still waste my time and tax my mental health on a daily basis, but honestly, I don’t wish them any pain. Their pain is what got us here in the first place. That’s what I learned from my troll.

If what he said is true, that he just needed to find some meaning in his life, then what a heartbreaking diagnosis for all of the people who are still at it. I can’t give purpose and fulfillment to millions of anonymous strangers, but I can remember not to lose sight of their humanity the way that they lost sight of mine.

Humans can be reached. I have proof. Empathy, boldness, kindness, those are things I learned from my dad, though he never knew how much I’d need them. Or maybe he did.

He was a jazz musician. And when I was born, he wrote a song about me. And listening to it now, it feels like he wrote it for just this moment. I’ll give the last word to him.

Paul West

Music playing, Paul West singing….”You’ve got a lot of nerve, little girl– bundles of nerve, little girl, to come here in a season full of doubt and tattered reason in a world you don’t deserve. You got a lot of nerve, little girl.

(HOST) IRA GLASS: Lindy West in Seattle.

Paul West

You got a lot of stuff, little girl. I hope it’s enough, little girl. Cause in a world so full of greed, it’s pretty likely that you’ll need it all and still have to be tough. 

Whores-de-vores

appetizers

Have you ever butchered a word?  I mean just bloodied the poor thing?

I took French for 7 years and I still can’t pronounce sommelier, the wine expert at restaurants.  I’ve asked. I’ve sounded it out. I can’t do it. I give up.  There’s been plenty of non-foreign words I’ve mangled but I can’t remember. I’ve blocked them out.

My step mom told me she once heard a man order a “seizure” salad (Caesar salad). These word missteps are called malaprops she explained,  “an amusing

error that occurs when a person mistakenly uses a word that sounds like another word but that has a very different meaning.” (Merriam Webster). I think they’re more than amusing, they’re hysterical.

When you read this story you might think I’m a snob, crass or not a nice person. 

Crass, yes sometimes.

But I’m not a fancy mean lady and I think most people will relate to this story either because they’ve butchered a phrase or two, or they heard someone make mince meat out of a perfectly fine sentence.

My husband Andy told me this story and when I want to renew the chuckle I ask him to tell it again and again. The 10th time feels as hilarious as the first but laughing makes me sort of feel like the Mean Girl.

For about two months Andy dated a woman he refers to as Nurse Smith (she was actually a nurse but lets just say her last name was Smith). That he doesn’t use her first name always sounds a little porno star but I think he really forgot her name.  And the fact is the entirety of their dating existed inside his apartment at 11pm after she got off her night shift while she was still in uniform, so their relationship had some slight porno undertones. 

Nurse Smith was, how do I say it? Seriously horny. Andy could count on late night, early morning non-stop round the clock sex till sometimes he had to tell her help, stop, no, I’ve gotta get up for work.

I know, you’re crying him river.

Beyond the rampant romping Andy genuinely liked Nurse Smith although they weren’t spending much time outside the apartment or getting serious.

One night when they did manage to put clothes on they went to a party, one of those outside tent affairs with stations filled with food and drinks.  After a few minutes Nurse Smith said, “I’ll meet you at the whores-de-vores tent.”

“You mean hor d’oeuvres,?” Andy said.

“You know what I mean, whore-de-vores, appetizers.”

He broke up with her the next day.

The man dropped his late night sex kitten because she said whores-de-vorse, because she butchered the French word for finger foods.

Not nice. But I admit, I get it.

There’s a few things hard to overlook as much as you want to, you really want to. Bad breathe and yellowed teeth. Butchering words is another one or at least it is for Andy who is hardly Mr. Wordsmith Elitist. He’s a smart guy but not that blow-hard pompous know it all type. He’s a laid back unmacho sort of guys-guy who wears jeans and t-shirts for the most part. Sure, he likes sophisticated stuff, food, wine, travel but without pretense.

How we use language conveys a sense of sophistication. Sophistication without the she-she snooty is kind of sultry. Sultry is sexy.

I’m not saying someone needs to be Rodeo Drive rich, a tenured professor or Hamptons sophisticated. Nose in the air is a buzz kill for sincere relationships but we can at least try to “Make language our friend,” as Oprah once said to an audience who argued the plusses and minuses of being street talk real. 

But, there’s also no need for putting on verbal airs.  Personally, I can’t say this one word everyone I know uses when they for example, spot a great pair of shoes. The word is “fabulous.”  Every dress, restaurant, painting, sunset is “just fabulous.” It feels Hollywood phony even coming from the 99.99% of non-phonies I know who say it.  And if I hear “Fab” I almost throw up in my mouth.

Sometimes I like to pretend with my teen daughter that I’m street talk rap funny. “Yo bee-atch whasssup?” She laughs, then tells me to stop. My window for rapster around my child is narrow.  Old people doing hipster makes teens cringe like whores de vores makes me cringe.

It hurts because they’re doing it all wrong.

I’m not much for people throwing out Ph.D words so they can puff up or stomp on someone’s self-esteem. I’m also not about dumbing down because someone thinks I sound pompous. I go with what naturally falls off my tongue at the time depending on who I’m with.  I might be rapster hipster with my daughter, use raw foul language while I rant or tell a story to my close friends and family, or use college words in context.  

I once used the word “condescending” in a sentence with a woman I worked with and she told me to “stop using my fancy college words.” I had fancier words in my pocket but “condescending” is hardly National Spelling Bee big. See, now I sound condescending, I mean I sound like a bitch.   

I wish my husband’s story about Nurse Smith didn’t make me laugh. I’m taking a cheap pot-shot at someone for an innocent and harmless slip. 

But I come from a long line of wordsmiths and warped sarcastic humorists. We laugh at wildly inappropriate things that comediens Kathy Griffin and Joan Rivers (RIP) and Sasha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell find so hilarious. Half the people agree, half the people think they’re disgusting.

I tell my teen daughter who mimics our irreverent humor, she can laugh all she wants at the inappropriate and the verbal missteps. She can use street words, bloody the language (teen text, RIP language) but you should only loosen your word standards with your parents and your friends, in private, out of ear shot, away from school essays or anyone whose heart your mocking might pierce.

No exceptions.

If she wants to use whores de vores or say that lady has “big ole breastissis” (breasts) at home have at it, but when she gets outside our walls or her friend’s texts, the sentence is “big old breasts” and the word is hor d’oeuvres, thank you very much.

Image credit pixabay.com 

 

Jesus and Jello. Why I liked my religious buffet growing up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Image credit: Wikipedia  

Excerpted from my essay “Jesus and Jello”

I was raised with a la carte religion, a buffet line of a little bit here, a little bit there, mostly Methodist with a dash of Presbyterian. From time to time my mother brought my sister and I to our local church’s Sunday school or services while my father read the Sunday Times and kindly shrugged off our efforts at faith (At least as far as I knew, they could have been quietly dueling Kids Need God vs. Why Bother?).

I don’t remember feeling pressure from my mother or the church that I’d rot in any version of Hell or from my agnostic father that belief was pure nonsense. The most I remember of my father’s view about God was benign indifference with a hint of “Hey if that’s your thing, have at it.” What I perceived of God was my own mish mash of “That nice guy Jesus might have a point,” thinking I was something special to play an angel in our Christmas play, watching sweaty evangelists on TV who looked more feverish and angry than settled and divine, and my own supernatural superstition.

When I was about eight or nine I prayed in bed every night. Eyes closed I chanted silently words that warned me that at any moment darkness could turn to death even for the little ones, a sort of self-propelled ghost tale of comfort and discomfort, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray my Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”

I prayed to ward off worry that God might be extra busy or angry that night and forget to handle with grand decency, the dead girl at 6 Prospect Street who forgot to pray at 9:06 on April 4th, 1974. Around the same time I avoided cracked mirrors, ladders, black cats and without thinking I lifted my feet as our car passed over railroad tracks and then I made a wish. God for me was about performing lucky charm OCD rituals and if I forgot any of them, He’d lower the boom.

As a sprouting seeker, back then God needed to be tangible in my hands and as far as I could tell the Catholics had a better deal than the Protestants, fancier robes and a flair for dramatic church decor. One of my closest friends Kathleen had the coveted saddle shoes which I had too, but hers were permanently new to match her tartan uniform and starched white shirt (that I didn’t want to wear).  If God ranked dress code I had to figure the Catholics’ won first place.

Kathleen’s school I recall, opened with impressive iron gates, a looming presence in our small preppy town in New Jersey where anything bigger than a General Store or Pappagallo was monolithic. A religious school on Main meant the people behind the gates must be extra protected and special, and even though the nuns were humorless finger-wackers (from what I’d heard), to me they seemed to float over the school grounds inside their habits, wings from God elevating them an inch.

And while Kathleen took weekly CCD classes (a huge drag) she was paid back with a spectacular white dress that I envied, a party full of “atta girls” and mounds of cash and presents, all of which I thought weren’t bad trades off for daily damnation jitters…

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