Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quilts -- A Writer's Love

When I was a little girl my family would make an annual trek to Minnesota to visit family. The change in altitude and humidity usually laid me low for a couple of days, but when I was about four I did actually get sick enough to be put to bed in my grandmother's house.

I lay all alone under the sloping room of the spare room with nothing to do and did not feel at all like sleeping. My eyes strayed across the patchwork quilt. All of the different patterns and colors caught my eye. I started out picking and choosing my favorites.

From there I began making up stories for the different patterns -- which ones came from dresses, which ones from house coats or aprons, a blouse, a shirt -- whatever. Chances are that my mother set me off on this path or I wouldn't have known that quilt fabrics had a previous incarnation. Still, I liked to think that the purple floral print had once been Grandma's favorite summer frock.

It helped me pass the time when I would rather have been outside looking at the hollyhocks in the garden or taking a walk down to the lake with Grandpa -- or my favorite past-time -- "bumping" down the stairs. This was sitting on the top step and proceeding to descend by bouncing down on my butt.

Perhaps this was the start of my fascination for writing and storytelling, but I kind of think I was born hard-wired with the gene for that kind of self-punishment.

After many years that quilt is now mine. It is very old and the fabric is rotting in a few places, but it is still beautiful. I know that it was carefully hand-stitched by my great-grandmother. The pattern is Grandmother's Flower Garden. To me ir represents a history of the women in our family -- a long line of very strong people.

I also know now that much of the material was purchased rather than saved from clothing, though some is.

When my mother passed away and I was going through the many things that my mother had saved from the family I knew that I could not keep much. So I chose to keep those few things that meant the most to me. I kept the quilt and the china-faced doll, and a ceramic collie that my mother had been given as a teen for dog-sitting. Most of what I kept from my mother is the love of writing -- and a disc she left behind with the manuscript of the book she had been writing. Something left for me to finish.

Paranoid Prepping

Back in the 50s and 60s people were so freaked out about nuclear proliferation that some were building emergency bunkers in their backyards. They wanted to be prepared just in case the Cold War suddenly heated p. Most of them were more like storm shelters in the Midwest rather than something that would be able to withstand nuclear fallout and "the end of the world." But people felt safer when they had one.

These days bunkers are back in style and they are getting pretty extreme -- not to mention being extremely expensive. However, now people are putting in filters to collect the radioactive fallout, communication systems, arsenals, food stocks, and living amenities knowing that it isn't just about surviving the initial event, but the aftermath as well. They also build with the knowledge that there are any of a number of events that could bring civilization to the brink of anarchy and survival.

I have a friend who is paranoid and is working on her own prepping plan. Not having the money or the land to build a bunker she is doing more of her own thing. She has had no survival training and is in her 70s with some serious health issues, so it would be interesting to see if her plans would ever work. Her basic plan at this point is to have a bug-out bag for herself and one for her cat. A few weeks ago she informed me that she was making me a bug-out bag as well. Somehow I managed not to roll my eyes, and just asked her not to.

I am definitely interested in prepping, but for me it is fodder for the writing grist mill. I like to ponder the possibilities of what it would take to survive and the issues that might arise. When I was 11 I started writing a book I titled "The Day the World Started Over." It was crap, of course, because I had no real notion of what it would take to survive with only a handful of people left on the planet. Nor did I have much of a clue about the things that might lead to such an apocalypse. The subject has always interested me, but I don't walk around with enough paranoia to think that this is something that is likely to happen -- not on that scale anyway. 

It is not that I don't want to have a bag for emergencies, it is just that I would rather create my own. This is because I know her. She gets ideas that she thinks are really good and they may work for her, but they don't necessarily work for other people. If you don't like the idea she gets terribly offended on top of it all.

Another part of the conflict here is that I have had survival training and so I am aware of things that she isn't. So I know what I want in an emergency bag -- like the one I've had in the car for years. Ever since the survival training I have tried to keep a few basics in the car just in case the car breaks down in a tough place.

Since her packing is based on watching television and mine on training I don't know what I will think of what she comes up with. I know that she has been all up in the air over packing paperwork that she thinks she will need.  I have no plans for that beyond what I usually carry in my purse.

The actual emergency planning I have done is having some extra canned goods and water on hand, as well as some candles. Most of what is most likely to happen will not take me out of my home. Same for her, but her head is filled with all of the things that could go wrong.

To me there is one most important thing you need to have to survive and that you have with you all the time anyway -- right between your ears. If you aren't thinking straight you can have all of the tools, food, and arms in the world and still end up as a spot on what's left of the pavement.

So if the worst happens she may be more prepared, but I'm okay with that. I'm more interested in being prepared for today.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Orphans -- The Story of Us

The hard truth of life is that almost all of us will become orphans. I'm not talking about little children wandering the streets looking for someone to take them in. I'm talking about us -- all of us.

Except for those few who will die before one or both parent, the majority of us will end up as orphans.

Okay, that is kind of a strange thought for me to throw out there, but there it is. We all will end up alone. For those of us who have not had good relationships with our parents this may be no real big deal. If your parents were horrible and abusive this may even seem like good news.

For most of us this will be a gut-wrenching realization. No mommy, no daddy. It is not about who is going to take care of us now in the physical sense. It is a level of emotional support that is suddenly missing from our lives.

For the last couple of years of her life I had to do quite a bit to help Mom keep going. I would buy her groceries every week and would put most of them away. I would take her to doctor's appointments. Most of all I would listen. She was trying to write a book of her life during the Depression and so she was moved to tell me all sorts of stories that were cropping up because of that.

I can't really tell you what many of the stories were about because she was easily drawn off-topic into tangential areas. This happened often enough that I sometimes didn't bother to try to follow the story, but would let her ramble through the past. I usually did these conversations by phone so that I could take care of stuff on the computer, chop vegetables, or go through the mail.

We were best friends as well. She was also the biggest fan of my writing. So when she passed away it left a huge hole in my life. My father had passed 13 years previously so there was nowhere else to really turn. I am an orphan.

I do still have my step-mother, but, as Cinderella taught us, that is not always the best option. Though she is a kind-hearted woman, she is not the best at communicating that -- or many other things. She is rather judgmental and not afraid to voice those thoughts. Based on what my father would tell her about my mother, she could not stand my mother and would tell me as often as possible. For example, she once told me that my mother had never wanted me. I knew the truth behind the statement that she undoubtedly did not and ignored it. So this is not a place to find the support I am now missing.

When my mother passed away my step-mother first said that she wouldn't help me clean out her old apartment, but next thing I knew, there she was helping out. Perhaps her curiosity got the better of her, but I really appreciated her help (and that of her current husband). At one point she was trying to be supportive (in her way) and she started to congratulate me on no longer having my mother. It was coming out wrong and she stopped herself, but I knew where she was going. She wanted to acknowledge that the positive side of this situation was that I would no longer need to spend so much time taking care of my mother.

My step-siblings are a great source of support. They are better and communication than their mother, and have not placed judgment on my mother or my relationship with her. The possible exception to this is my step-sister who had had the opportunity to get to know my mother a little bit before my father and stepmother ever met. So she knows my mother was a good woman with a kind heart.

I also have some great friends who are a huge source of support. Wonderful as they are, there is just no one who can REALLY take the place of your parents in your life. Your parents have been around in one way or another all of your life. They taught you all the basics to get going in life -- you know, all that walking and talking business. You were a hero to them when you started using the potty on your own.

All of that history is exactly that now -- history. There are no future chapters to be written unless Mom or Dad start haunting the house. Now when I really want my mommy I can't even pick up the phone.

The time has really come when "You can't go home again."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Never Forget -- Memories of the Holocaust

Last night I was watching yet another documentary of survivors remembering their experiences during the Holocaust. I know that there are people who are tired of the subject and others who don't believe that it ever happened.

Trust me, it happened. How do I know? Because I am one of the other kind of Holocaust "survivor."


You read me. I am a Holocaust survivor. Okay, technically I died in the mud of a prison camp in Poland. I was then reincarnated into this life time. I am not alone. There are many of us out here around the world. Okay, to understand my story, it helps if your believe in reincarnation. Even if you don't you are likely to be entertained.

During World War II my mother was in her formative teen years. As she eventually learned of what had happened to the Jews she wished with all her heart that she could help at least one of these people. She got her wish years later, but hardly as she would ever have expected.

She started by marrying my father, a man who, though all Scandinavian, looked VERY Jewish. During WWII he had been in the army and faced anti-Jewish bigotry himself in the form of another soldier who hated him with a vengeance and went out of his way to be mean to my father. Then one day the guy found out that Dad's last name was Olson. He then apologized to my dad adding "I thought you were Jewish." Because of that Dad could hardly accept any apology.

It was to these two people I was born. Perhaps my soul had chosen these people in part because of these issues. I could be a baffling little kid, too. When I was in pre-school I would demand that my mother explain to me why we weren't Jewish. I would also seek out Jewish children to befriend in the early years of grade school. That was not an easy task back then since there were almost no Jews in Boulder, Colorado at the time. They had to drive to Denver to go to Temple. I still managed somehow.

As I got older I would have dreams I could not explain. In them I would often be wearing a green woolen coat with a yellow star on the breast. I could dream in fluent German, though when I studied it in school I was crap at it while awake. When I finally learned of the Holocaust I was shocked by the accuracy of my dreams.

As an adult I entered psychotherapy to deal with many of the issues that were turning my life upside down. After awhile I ended up asking my therapist if she could recommend a past-life regression therapist after having read about how successful it was and believing that I had been in the Holocaust. It turned out that she was able to do this kind of therapy. We began the next week.

The memories she brought up in me. I now remember at least the basics of more than a dozen lives from the past. Those lives did include an astonishing and, at times, horrifying life under Nazi rule. When we started this therapy I had been suffering from bulimia. As soon as we started that problem vanished, never to reappear.

I won't go into all of the details of the memories, that would take ages, and kind of defeat the purpose of the novel I am writing based on these regressions.

During these years I took on obsessively reading biographies and autobiographies of survivors. I was amazed at what strong and resilient people these folks were, despite still carrying obvious emotional and sometimes physical scars from their experiences. My therapist's office was just a couple of doors down from a large bookstore and if there was time before my appointment I would stop and shop.

One evening I was looking over the books for a new autobiography and there wasn't much of a selection. I finally settled on a slim volume and I started to walk away from the shelves, not terribly happy with my choice. All of a sudden, at about three feet away, I stopped, turned around, walked back and stuck out my hand. Beneath it I found a book I had somehow overlooked. It was Beyond the Ashes: Cases of Reincarnation from the Holocaust by Yonasson Gershom.

I couldn't believe my eyes. It was my subject. I dropped the other book back on the shelf and grabbed this one. It was like I was having some sort of a religious experience.

In that book I discovered that not only was I not alone, I was also right in line with the statistical norm of those who reported these memories and certain behaviors. Rabbi Gershom had noted that most of the people telling him about their experiences were baby boomers and had baffled their parents with unusual questions and/or behavior as children. That was me.

The people who had survived the Holocaust alive are dwindling as the years go by. Many of them have left their stories for us, but we still run the risk of forgetting one of the most regrettable and horrifying events in history. The duty of remembering is falling to those who remember in a different way.

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." ~ George Santayana

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Men, Men, Men, Men, Manly Men

Many years ago I created the "Heckuva Guy Awards." I would print out certificates and give them out to guys I knew who went above and beyond in being wonderful, caring human beings while not compromising an inch of their masculinity.

I didn't give out a whole lot of them. My list of truly manly men is fairly short because I am quite discriminating in my choice for the awards.

On Saturday I had to say goodbye to one of the men on this list. He was my "second" godfather. For some reason my parents couldn't decide for sure who to make my godparents, so I ended up with two sets. We lost contact with my "first" godparents after my parents divorced. My "second" godparents were amazing people who managed to stay friends with both sides.

Dewey was one of the sweetest and kindest men who ever walked the planet. He was the man who put the gentle into gentleman. The only time that I heard of him raising a hand to one of his children was when his eldest daughter was a toddler and she made a run at the street. The thought of her ending up as a spot on the road scared him so much that she earned a spanking for it. My mother used to tell this story to demonstrate how kind he was. The spanking of his daughter just about killed him.

When he was a young man he met a young woman named Sonja from Sweden who was in the United States for a short time. He dated her during her time in Colorado. It wasn't until she was on a train going to New York to catch a ship home to Sweden that he realized that he was in love with her and couldn't let her go. He hopped a plane to New York (this was the early 50s and not something one did lightly) and met her train at Grand Central Station. It was like a scene from some Hallmark movie, though Sonja said it wasn't quite as romantic as it sounds. It was a hot and dusty day and they found out that the state of New York had a three-day waiting period for a marriage license. They ended up taking a train back to Colorado and making a beeline for a Justice of the Peace.

They scraped and saved and bought a tiny cracker-box of a starter home right next door to my parents. When their first daughter was about to arrive in this world it was my mother who drove them to the hospital. The story goes that a skunk wandered into the path of the car and Sonja started moaning that the hospital would never let them in if they all smelled like skunk. Mom managed to miss the skunk and Gina came into the world without further incident.

When I came along over a year later Mom and Dad not only brought me home, they brought me to THEM, my other family. Gina was enamored of me and called me "Boo Boo," which is toddler speak for baby.

For many years our families traded Christmas Eves -- one year at our house and one year at theirs. Part way through the evening Dewey would disappear and like magic a Swedish Santa Claus would show up and hand out our gifts. Of course I always knew it was him. Though one year their son, Tom, showed me the mask and Sonja got mad at him for ruining Santa for me. No one really understood that I never believed that Santa was real. It was just that to me it was a wonderful time of year when even the adults were playing my favorite game of let's pretend. It was more about believing in miraculous possibilities for me.

Dewey was a very hard-working kind of guy. He worked at the Borden Dairy in Denver for many years. One Christmas Gina and I both got toy Elsie the Cows from there. Elsie would moo when you turned her over. I remember the times when he was working the night shift and we would try to play as quietly as possible so as not to disturb his sleep. He was the kind of man that made even us little kids want to be nice to him, even when you'd rather be running around screaming.

He always had a smile for a friend and a story to tell. He was a cowboy somewhere in his heart and away from work you would find him in boots and hat. He had, indeed, come from old Colorado pioneer stock.

He eventually went from the dairy to working for Itsy Bitsy Machines. For a few months I worked there as a temp and would occasionally run into him in the halls of an extremely large building. He always had time to stop and talk with me.

He passed his love of horses on to Gina and her daughter. He helped his granddaughter when buying a horse. He would get her to horse shows and help her curry the horse.

At the time of his passing he and Sonja had been married for more than 60 years. All three of his kids had good relationships with him. At his funeral his daughter Lisa said that she had learned the importance of silence from him. Everyone laughed because she had once been known for being a motor-mouth. It was a long education.

The world is a little poorer now that it has lost one heckuva guy. I wish I had gotten around to giving him one of the certificates. I hope he knew that was how I thought of him.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Live Long and Prosper -- Confessions of a Trekkie

I was a Trekkie as a kid. Not that I'm not one now because it is one of those things that you are for life, but when I was a kid I was more your rabid insane fan sort of Trekkie and now I am more your incidental, retired sort of Trekkie. I would rush home every day after school just to watch the reruns of the show ad nauseum. This was long before the days of video tapes and VCRs. I would try to audio tape episodes so that I could listen to them when the show was not on. Okay, that didn't work so well since even cassette tapes were still in their infancy.

Just to be clear here, I do now have the entire original series on DVD. Most of my collectibles have gone by the wayside, except for an original script autographed by Walter Koenig and IDIC necklace. Oh, and a stuffed tribble.

In high school my nickname was Spock. My best friend was Captain Kirk. I didn't know that her real name was Diane until I had known her for several weeks because we met in a Star Trek moment. That moment was also when we got our nicknames.

She was sitting with a mutual friend and saying "This is MY starship!" I walked up and said, "Logically, Captain, the ship belongs to Star Fleet." It was kismet.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Leonard Nimoy himself nearly died laughing once when I was introduced to him as Mr. Spock at a car show in Denver.)

Eventually we had two Captain Kirks as more kids from previous Trek groups joined us. The other Captain Kirk could have been the inspiration for the Big Bang Theory as he went on to be a university physics professor.

My interest in science fiction was hardly limited to Star Trek, but I was often frustrated by the lack of female characters in popular science fiction literature. As an aspiring writer this led me to try to write stories for and about women. The first short story I had published was a sci fi piece about a male astronaut dying alone in space after the destruction of his spacecraft. He is rescued at the last moment by a beautiful alien woman who removes him from his body. Her species had been watching over earthlings for many millennia and we had come to refer to them as angels.

But I digress.

Being a sci fi geek and a Trekkie helped me get through some very difficult years of my life. Back in those days these things were not as mainstream as they are today. We existed on the fringe of society and worried our parents. We endured many jokes of how we were doomed to live in our parents' basements for eternity without ever having sex. While I am sure that happened to someone somewhere along the line, it didn't happen in our group -- that I know of.

I would have happily married the second Captain Kirk in our group, but he turned out to be gay. I never married because I never found the right person. That, and I am unwilling to repeat the marriage mistakes my parents made.

I am still a geek and a nerd and it still makes me happy. It also makes me happy that both sci fi and I are both more mainstream now. Back then we never would have guessed that we would have not only Sy Fy as its own network, but also BBC America loaded with Dr. Who.

Life is good.  Live long and prosper everyone!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Kilts and Kin

Okay, men, I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Women find a man in a kilt very sexy. I don't
know exactly why, but we do. It can't be the knees really, because shorts don't do it so much.

It could be that we hope for a windy day, but since you are all built with pretty much the same equipment, I don't think that this reasoning holds up either.

My favorite reasoning gets into Scotsmen and Irishmen being secure enough in their manhood to be able to wear a skirt, but I've had to rethink that when you consider that men have been wearing kilts far longer than women have been wearing short skirts.

Now I am wondering if it isn't some sort of cell memory handed down from our fore-mothers and the men they fell in love with centuries ago. That or past-life memories we harbor of men we loved in a previous existence. I don't know

What I do know is that I can go to the Scottish/Irish Highland Games in Estes Park, Colorado each September and sit and watch the caber toss for hours without realizing that I am actually watching SPORTS. Okay, men hurling telephone poles isn't exactly the sort of sport that saturates ESPN and there is definitely something overtly phallic about the event, but it is still sports. I rarely choose a single man to cheer for. I seem to just sit and enjoy the view (and I'm not talking about the mountains, which ARE fantastic).

My friend Randi would be sitting right beside me and noting the same thing, trying to hold back the drool and laughing at herself.

Randi doesn't know if she has any Celtic blood, but I know I do. I am descended of the Davidson clan in Scotland. For anyone who really knows me, it should come as no surprise that the Davidson lands are in Glen Ness, not far from Loch Ness. For anyone who is reading the Outlander book series by Diana Gabaldon, the Davidsons were/are neighbors of the Frasers and McKenzies. For anyone who isn't reading the series, I highly recommend it.

I do not possess a kilt in clan tartan. Instead I have a modest woolen scarf. The tartan strongly resembles the more popular Black Watch tartan. While wearing it at the Games I found that Davidsons and those from the Black Watch frequently mistake each other for clansmen, which can prove quite amusing. A Black Watch gentleman and I stopped short once and sized one another up. Then we exchanged clans, laughed, and moved on.

While I'm confessing my drooling attraction to men in kilts, I may as well make one other confession -- I LOVE bagpipe music. Yeah. I never claimed to be sane.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jaws -- The Weight-Loss Dilemma

The whole country from news anchors to late night comedians have been giving New Jersey governor Chris Christie a hard time about having Lapband surgery to lose weight. These were the same people who were giving him a hard time for being overweight in the first place. Skinny people just don't get it and that is an American tragedy because there are fewer skinny people every day in this country.

I've been through much of the same thing. I have been overweight almost my entire life. The last argument I remember my parents having before they separated was about whether I was getting fat or not. I was only seven. And I may as well have been invisible. It was as though they were discussing a piece of furniture than needed refinishing.

I spent years being criticized for my weight. Ironically, the more I was picked on for the fat, the fatter I got. This was because I had picked up the habit of eating to comfort myself when I felt miserable -- and I felt miserable most of the time.

My father and stepmother picked on me a great deal about my weight. In college I asked for an extra $9 to be able to take an extra dance class. They were very tight about money and freaked out all over me and denied my request in no uncertain and not very kind terms. After I left the room one of my step-brothers gave them some grief in return. He pointed out that they were always on my case to exercise more but they weren't at all willing to back it up with actions to support me doing what they wanted. I ended up with my $9 and my dance class. I lost 25 pounds that school year.

That single act of support did not change my life. The support began and ended there. So that particular portion of my weight-loss journey was short-lived. From there I ended up diving headlong into years of eating disorders. The first being anorexia, followed by bulimia. Years of therapy helped me emerge from that particular self-destructive behavior.

Years later I ended up in a bad job situation where I was constantly being undermined and at the same time started having thyroid problems at the same time. After years of fairly stable, though still obese, weight, I started gaining weight again. I went on a special weight-loss program that my doctor got me a scholarship for and managed to gain weight while on the diet.

My health deteriorated and I was losing my ability to move. I couldn't hold down a job when I couldn't make it from my car into a building. It was taking all I could do to get from my house into my car which was only the matter of about 12 to 15 feet. Because of my thyroid issues (Grave's Disease) I was not only gaining weight, I was losing muscle.

Like Governor Christie I finally decided that I had to go drastic to save my life. I, too, had Lapband surgery. Not everyone was thrilled with my decision. There is a public perception that reaching this point in your life is a personal failure -- that somehow you are less of a person because you weren't able to just lose the weight. This perceptions persists in spite of the fact that diets succeed less than 2% of the time. They have a horrible track record.

It is no wonder that Christie kept his surgery a secret. Who wants to be judged as a failure when trying to do the right thing for themselves and their loved ones? The procedure is not a guarantee of success, either. I just hope that he has a larger number of people supporting him than I did. Emotional support means a lot.

BTW, "support" does NOT mean monitoring and judging every piece of food that goes into the person's mouth. Weight loss can be hampered just as much by eating too little as by eating too much. Support is loving the person and demonstrating that love whenever possible. Find out from them what you can do to assist in their journey. Chances are they are now on a diet you may not understand.

I lost weight afterwards, though not as much as I would have liked thanks to my wonky thyroid which quickly went too low after surgery. However, I lost enough weight to get myself mobile and able to work again, which was my primary goal in having the surgery. I still struggle every day. I still have a huge amount of weight to lose.

Governor Christie still has a struggle ahead of him. This is not magic, it is a tool. Years later I still cannot eat as much as I used to. So I still have the benefit of the band helping me limit my intake, but I still also hit times when I engage in emotional eating and times when I want to forget about diets and just eat Christmas dinner.

So, instead of making fun of him or expecting him to fail, become a part of this cheering squad. He has taken a big, really scary step in the right direction.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Integrity -- On the Brink of Extinction?

It seems that personal integrity is becoming less and less important to the people of this country. Case in point -- the people of South Carolina voting former governor Mark Sanford back into public office despite his lack of integrity in dealing with his affair with a woman in Argentina. The man had made a joke of his office, his state, and his marriage, and yet the people would rather vote for this Republican with a total lack of integrity than take a chance on the upstanding Elizabeth Colbert Busch because she is a Democrat

Can you really trust Mark Sanford? Let me put it this way: Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. If I were that Argentinian fiancee of his I wouldn't trust him for a moment.

Much of our politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, seem to have ditched any sense of integrity whatsoever.

For many years the Republicans gleefully espoused the lack of fidelity and family values of the Democrats and one Dem after another was caught in a compromising situation. They were keen to paint themselves as the party supporting the "disappearing" family values.

And that was great -- right up until the truth caught up with them. Wow, it turns out that they have just as much trouble keeping their trousers zipped as the Democrats! Who would have guessed that this is an issue of humans in power and NOT a partisan issue?

This same "family values" party is also the party that wants to get rid of many programs that support women and children. It is a party plagued with misogynistic and racist white men and yet they can't figure out why their party is on the critical list.

Both sides should be ashamed of selling out their integrity to the overly-powerful gun lobby to not strengthen background checks for gun purchases to include gun shows and private sales. Despite what Republicans and gun enthusiasts want everyone to believe, this is NOT an attempt to deny any law-abiding citizens the right to bear arms. It IS an attempt to weed out some of the not-so-law-abiding citizens from having this particular avenue to get guns. The majority of their constituencies were for this law.

Both sides of the aisle have some culpability in the fact that the budget still hangs in limbo. There are items that the military would have liked to cut to save money, but Congress insisted that those programs remain intact, no doubt because they affected programs the politicians treasured.

Some Republicans have openly declared that they will block any ideas or plans that come from the Democrats -- especially from President Obama. This is partisan politics at its worst. Congress has been holding the American people hostage to support their petty bickering.

Politicians have devolved into spending all of their time worrying about getting re-elected and playing to that rather than getting down to the work they were elected to do in the first place. The rest of us working stiff would have been fired from our jobs long ago if we were sporting this kind of job performance.

Here's an idea: stop blaming Obama for being ineffective when you block him at every turn, pull yourselves out of the lobbyists pockets, stop blaming the poor for being poor, keep support programs in place, tax the rich equitably, be fair, be honest, don't wag the dog with issues like abortion, "birther" red herrings, and gay marriage, and, most of all, start being for all the people you are there to represent.

Take back your integrity and own it. In my opinion that would go far further in getting you re-elected than a boat-load of campaign rhetoric. We're worth it

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hoarding -- A Personal Confession

Hi, my name is Laurie, and I am a hoarder.

Okay, not as bad as those people you see on television shows like Hoarders and Hoarding Buried Alive. There is only the one cat and she does her business only in her litter box or outside. I take care of mice and the occasional fly promptly. The electricity and plumbing work. The furnace is a bit dodgy, but that is new and in the works.

I am a third generation hoarder. My grandmother kept just about everything, especially after having raised her children during the depression. With her, however, she was able to keep everything neatly filed and organized so it never became the out-of-control mess. When she passed away my mother kept an odd assortment of her mother's hoard to bring home and add to her hoard.

My mother was approaching the level of the television show, but did not quite make it there. The saddest part of her hoarding for me was that I eventually had to distance myself from her and her home as she began to blame me for the mess in her home. If I brought fast food to her home to eat while I was there helping her with the computer or what not, she would begin cleaning this up before I was done eating -- in the middle of a horrendous mess that was far more in need of cleaning than a couple of taco wrappers and sauce packets.

A couple of times a friend and I tried to clean the house for her. The first time was when she had gone off to Georgia for a family reunion. We hauled out so much trash that I had to arrange to use the trash and recycling receptacles of her neighbors. We cleared out more than a dozen years of junk mail and
 old calendars.And that was just the beginning. Of course, the cleaning did not last.

Another time Mum was disappearing for several hours every Saturday for an art class and we used that time to clean house again -- this time as her Christmas and birthday presents. Again, it didn't last.

Several years ago Mum had to move out of her mobile home and into an apartment as a part of getting subsidized housing. More people were on hand to help this time. Mum tried to help, but much like the people on the television shows, she wanted to go through absolutely everything and throw away nothing. No matter what we said, she couldn't understand that the entire hoard from a large two-bedroom mobile home was not going to fit into a small two-bedroom apartment. Finally we got enough to the apartment for her to go stay there while we finished up the mobile home. So we moved her and told her to stay there.

After more than a month of moving and cleaning it was just impossible to get it all done. Fortunately the mobile home was slated to be hauled away and discarded. So we ended up just throwing trash into several big piles as we searched for what needed to move and tossed the rest. Even then we weren't able to get everything moved. Most of the books had to be left behind.

Mum busted my chops for so long over what hadn't gotten moved that I finally told her off. I pointed out that we had spent WEEKS moving what we could and that within that God-awful mess it was impossible to find everything. A large number of us had shut down our lives for those weeks to do this just for her and instead of any gratitude all we were getting was complaining. She was also damn lucky that I had lost my job at just the right time to allow me to do this for her or she would have lost the apartment and the subsidy.

She was much kinder after that, but no less a hoarder. After the move she had an elder care helper come in and help her with things like housework. I charged the woman with helping keep down the hoarding. She did as I asked and kept Mum from picking up broken toys from the grounds of the apartment building and bringing them home.

Last year Mum passed away and I was still faced with a mountain of crap that had come with her. Toward the last few months of her life she finally understood when I called her a hoarder and what a hoarder was. I told her in the light that I was also one, as is a good friend of ours.

As I was packing up her things to be tossed, given away, or kept I was constantly amazed at many things that I found. When the friends and family who had come to help me get the apartment cleaned out heard me swear they knew I had run across something baffling. I gave all of them whatever I wanted as long as it wasn't something I needed to keep or sell.

Being a hoarder myself I knew that I needed to be strong. I was fairly ruthless in getting rid of stuff. Every now and then someone would say "Oh, you want to keep that!" I would emphatically decline. If they asked me if I was sure then I offered it to them. They would decline and I would respond with "If you don't want it, why would I?"

I still kept too much. Much of it is sitting on my patio and inside my car. I am loathe to bring it inside until I have a proper place for it. Much of it will still be given away or sold. I have just been waiting for winter to wain enough to allow me to really get at things. Murphy's Law being what it is we have had 47 inches of snow in April and another foot in May so far.

From the inside, hoarding is a complicated and difficult thing. I can get easily confused and baffled on what to get rid of and what to keep, not to mention what to do with the things I choose to keep. I will get to the end of an evening and only then realize that the dishes went undone, in spite of the intention to do them. It becomes easier to leave everything rather than trying to deal with them -- much like difficult emotions that I haven't dealt with. Having learned to hang on to everything doesn't help.

So I have to work at it every day. My daily to-do list includes such obvious things as "collect trash" to make sure it all makes it in the bin, and "wash dishes" to help me remember. Things will still get away from me. The house still smell of the litter box, though I can't smell it any more. The important thing is that I am aware and keep trying.

The one thing I keep reminding myself is that if it lost in the mess and I have forgotten I had it, I don't need it. If something is lost in the mess and I bought three more because I couldn't find it then I need to find a proper place for that item. There is a fear of lack involved. A terror that when I am truly in need I will not have what I need. It is not really about the stuff. It is about feeling unsupported emotionally so I try to manufacture what appears to be support.

With Mum gone I will also not end up with so much stuff. She was constantly buying me stuff I "needed." This is how I ended up with far more sheets, towels, socks, undies, pots, pans, dishes, and books than I needed. A friend once suggested that I get rid of it all. I replied that I would but then she would just buy it all for me again.

My last bout of unemployment became my mission to downsize while I searched for a new job. I figure that I threw out at least a ton of old crap. I gave away 75 bags and boxes to charity. And still I have too much.

So my struggle continues.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Gay Rights

Okay. I'm going out on a limb again. I will probably offend someone here, though I know that most of my friends are on the same page.

On May 1, 2013, the State of Colorado started allowing civil unions for gay couples. A dear friend of mine and his significant other of more than 15 years were among the first to make their relationship official. I am so happy for them both, except . . . I still think that they should be allowed to get married.

What is marriage, really, when it comes down to it? It is a civil union to make sure that the couple has legal rights on many issues, such as shared property and inheritance. It covers any progeny that the union may produce, etc., etc., etc.

While many people add God into the institution, it is really a covenant created by man, not God. Historically marriage has been used to create and cement political and economic alliances. It has been an institution for survival. Marrying for love is a fairly new concept and that, too, took a great deal of arguing to be accepted.

The musical "Fiddler on the Roof" was about this struggle set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. Tevye is a poor dairyman with daughters he must marry off. Even though it is the early 20th Century, the characters are still living in a culture where they believed that young people were incapable of deciding such important things for themselves. So Tevye sets out with the best intentions to make the best possible match for his eldest daughter, with no real consideration of her feelings. He made a choice to make sure she would be economically well-off. Never mind that the man was old enough to be her father.

She protests, begs her father to let her marry the poor tailor she loves. He relents and has to convince his wife that the original plan would have been a horrible mistake. Why did he relent so easily?

The musical did not tell the entire story. If you go back to the original short stories from which the musical was taken, Tevye had another daughter, older than Tzeitel. He had tried to arrange her marriage and he had been completely intractable about her personal feelings and he insisted that she would marry the man he and the matchmaker had chosen for her. So she drowned herself in the lake.

Not exactly the stuff of Broadway musicals, so they left that particular story out of the equation. However, it does explain a lot. Tevye was not a man without feelings and he couldn't face losing another daughter in such a horrific way. So his beliefs began to change.

Marriage is not a static state. It has been evolving for centuries. A wife is no longer considered chattel (the legal property of her husband). The right to marriage dissolution has become commonplace.  Interracial marriage is increasingly accepted and unquestioned. It is now thought of as an institution of love instead of a contractual arrangement.

Allowing same-sex couples to marry is the natural next step in this evolution.

Heterosexual couples have often made an even greater mockery of the institution of marriage than any gay couple anyway. Marrying for a few hours is the first to come to mind. Marrying and divorcing seven or eight times also doesn't help. Religious sects forcing young girls to marry old men is right up there. It goes on from there.

Where is God in all of this? God is love. If you don't believe me, check your Bible. These people love one another. God loves "them" as much as she does you. (Yeah, I went there too.) God doesn't make mistakes, least of all in the creation of sweet, beautiful people who may just happen to be a bit left of center to you.

The problem, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. I behold gay people to be people first and the gay part to be as incidental as the fact that I am not. Their sexuality is not a definition of who they are as individuals.

If we cannot accept this, then what happens to women's rights? Does this mean that we have to go back to the whole barefoot and pregnant thing? We have spent years learning to not judge women by their gender, that this is not the full measure of their identity.

Gay rights ARE human rights. It is the right to be who we are and as we were meant to be. Gay or straight. Right or wrong. Love or hate.

I choose love.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Failure: The Path To Success

When you are a writer you have to get used to failure -- lots of failure. But that's a good thing. The path to success is lined with failure. If you haven't failed you aren't really trying.

Few writers just walk onto life's stage with an agent, a contract, and a publisher. We usually spend years honing our craft and collect stacks of rejection slips for short stories, articles, and essays. Some of us get a degree in English, journalism, or creative writing, while others of us get our education in the school of hard knocks. I have seen many an educated writer start waving their degree in frustration when their writing expectations aren't met when they meet the real world.

Being academically correct in your writing doesn't guarantee a thing in the real world of writing. At the other end of the spectrum is the writer who is functionally illiterate but thinks having a great idea and getting it on paper is enough.

Whichever path you are on as a writer you have to put in the work, accept your failures and learn from them. Learn the difference between constructive and non-constructive criticism and discover for yourself when to accept and make use of the criticism and when to stay your course.

Back in the days when all manuscripts were sent by snail mail I received a rejection slip from Redbook magazine that I still have to this day. It was one of those form notes that publications sent out by the millions to writers. I kept it because someone had taken the time to add a handwritten scrawl at the bottom of how much they liked my story, though it still needed work, it just wasn't right for their magazine. It was one of those failures that contained just enough victory to give me hope.

When I was in junior high I had an English teacher who was extremely supportive of my writing dreams. In high school I had a creative writing teacher who said that I was a derivative hack who would never amount to anything as a writer. My father hated my writing, sure that I was just out to try to become famous and would shun dealing with the real world in favor of the dream. My stepmother went through my scribblings (without permission) while I was away at college and was sure I was deluding myself because my stories never seemed to have endings. A psychic told me that I would never write except to please myself, indicating that I would never be a successful, paid writer.

I had to shut down all of the voices that were out there encouraging me to fail. I had to follow what I knew was right for me, no matter what. I wrote piles and piles of utter garbage. It took a long time, but my writing started getting better, more original, and cleaner. Every time I got an idea I wrote it down. Every time I stopped writing a story, with or without an ending, I started another one.

There is that old cliche out there that says "failure is not an option." While that makes a great movie tag line, it doesn't wash for most of what we face in life. Failures create the steps we need to climb to move upward.

Failure helps us know when to make changes to make something better.  Failures can tell us when to let go of one story or poem and move on to the next. Sometimes all it tells us is to try again.

Years ago I wrote a poem comparing myself to a butterfly, having shut myself into a protective cocoon of my own making and now choosing to break out and flex my wings. It was short and pithy and good. So I sent it into a contest. It did not win. Not only did it not win, a note from the judge was scrawled on it telling me how awful the poem was. The poem was too short, the lines were too short, it was boring and so forth.  I took everything the judge said into consideration and ultimately decided that the judge was wrong. A year or two later I entered the poem into a contest again. This time I won first place.

Another time I sent a poem to a contest that told the tale of the first time my mother tried to show me a rainbow. I couldn't see it. I kept looking for a ribbon tied in a bow somewhere up in the sky. It just didn't take. The judge in this case wrote a note that the total poem was implausible and that of course a child would be able to see a rainbow.

My point here is that the person reading your work is just as prone to failure as you are. Just because they are in some elevated position over you does not necessarily mean squat, be it judge or editor. Sometimes they get it wrong too. That includes with your work.

When something is not performing I set it aside sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a few years. When I take it out again I see it with fresh eyes and can make more critical changes with a bit of perspective. Some things go back in the "vault" while others get reworked and are sent out into the world again.

"Failure" can encompass a world of things that aren't so personal either. I sent a poem in to for a "contest." They told me I won some level of prize for. Then they wanted me to buy the book to see my work. I realized that this failure was learning that the site was not truly legit. This was especially shown to be the case when they kept sending me emails trying to get me to buy other stuff. Most notably was them trying to get me to purchase a lovely copy of my poem mounted on some sort of plaque that I would be able to display to the world. This may have worked if I had only had the one poem in me. Instead I have written over 1,000 poems, many of which have won legitimate cash prizes. So this failure was just a learning process to never, ever deal with them again.

So, while I am still on my journey to be able to support myself full time as a writer, I have climbed on top of a considerable pile of failures to be able to reach higher than I could before.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Embarrassing Moments

If there is one thing that binds us together, not just as humans, but across species it is the tendency to become embarrassed when we do something noticeably and incredibly wrong.

My cat regularly misjudges the height of the table and kitchen counters and ends up hanging from the edge by her paws looking around for a way to regain her dignity before dropping to the floor in embarrassment. If I am looking she will slink off to recover her self-esteem elsewhere. If she thinks I didn't see she will just try again and make it with no problem.

When she first came to live with me she was entranced by everything around her as she memorized her new home. One day I was sitting on the toilet as she walked across the edge of the sink. She was looking around so much that she walked straight off the edge of the sink. Man was it hard not to laugh at her as she ran off to sulk in the living room for awhile.

Of course I have had my own moments to feel like dying. When I was a kid I was sight seeing with my father in San Francisco. I was trying to take in all the sights and sounds of Fisherman's Wharf when I did a full-body smack into a parking meter. My father just about died laughing and said, "You know you are supposed to leave those where they are!" It took a sizable portion of shrimp from a street vendor to improve my spirits again.

A few years later, when I was in college, I was taking a tap dancing class. Let me make it perfectly clear that, though I enjoy dancing, I am terrible at it. As a final requirement for the course we all had to perform in the spring dance concert. The teacher had worked out a routine for all of us to dance in a chorus line to "That's Entertainment." I was certainly entertaining when, during one performance, I spaced a couple of bars of music and started dancing the wrong part. I did recover and get back with the team, but I was horrified. I asked one of my friends "Do you know what I did?" He looked at me and said, "Did I see what you did? Yes. Do I know what you were doing? NO!" All these years later I still cringe at the memory.

Then there was the time I locked my keys in the car. Okay, I didn't just lock them in the car. I REALLY locked them in the car. I was babysitting a little girl at the time and had taken her with me to the grocery store. We had gotten back to my house and taken the groceries inside. I shut the trunk of my car and discovered that I was stuck fast to the back of my car. Then end of my tunic had stuck fast in the trunk.

I hollered for Erin to find my keys. She came out of the house a couple of minutes later saying that she couldn't find them. In the meantime I HAD found the keys. They were inside the pocket of my tunic which was now locked inside the trunk of the car. What to do?

I had Erin grab my coat from inside the car (naturally the rest of the car was unlocked). As discreetly as I could I slipped out of the tunic and into my coat. I went inside to call a locksmith to come and release my keys from the trunk. I told him my tale and he still insisted on asking, "How will I know which car is yours?" Duh. "It's the car with the blouse hanging off the back."

Some of the funniest things I have ever seen involve animals. Like the poor man who was cleaning out the elephants' pen and has an embarrassing accident:

There was also the elephant who demonstrated that you don't have to be human (or live with humans) to be embarrassed:

Granted, humans are more easily embarrassed than other creatures. We seem to be the only ones with some level of modesty regarding farting. And we get terribly embarrassed about delivering a load of air biscuits at an inopportune moment. We've all done it. We will all do it again. I don't have a specific story for this one even though I know I've done it. Like most people I either excuse myself or, more often, pretend it never happened.

A few weeks ago I was ago I was at my favorite Mexican restaurant with my friend Randi. The place has the best refried beans in the world and I had ordered an extra portion. I made an off-hand comment that I was now likely to blow the cat right off the bed that night. Randi laughed so hard she almost choked to death on her chimichanga.

For writers embarrassing moments are, like so many other moments, the stuff of creativity. They are pure gold. To make characters real they need to have truly human moments and embarrassment is one of the ways our egos are humbled when we get too full of ourselves.

My first book is humor, so the embarrassing is a huge part of what happens to people. It is not just embarrassment, but the way you tell it that makes it funny. Making it funny takes the sting out of it. Making it insulting just makes it nasty. So it depends on your story and your character just which way you are going to go with it.

So, how human are you?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Depression

Okay, I had originally planned to write about mental depression, but it was too depressing. So I thought I would write about the Great Depression, which is slightly less depressing. It's a matter of degrees.

The Depression was a terrible time in this country, but it was not just about the economy even though that is what most people focus on. It was also a time of severe drought and one of the biggest man-made ecological disasters in history. Good times.


Allow me to digress. There was so much difficulty in the world that ordinary people became heroes. They weren't jumping over buildings or stopping trains with their bare hands, but they were out there finding ways to support their families when there didn't seem to be a way. Times like that often brought out the best in people.

My mother was born just before the stock market crashed in 1929. It was the family joke that it was this was the catalyst that started the chain of events that led to the crash. Yep. It was all her fault. So she was raised in that time of lack and want, and it affected her for the rest of her life.

Before she passed away, Mum had been writing a memoir about this time in history and the way families were drawn together. It is about the simple life that was lived during these times. She died before she finished the book. I have it on disk, but I have not yet felt like facing it yet. Someday I hope to finish it for her.

She told me many of the stories of growing up in that day and age. She would come home from school, grab a pickle out of the fridge, and go lie on the living room floor with her head under the radio while she listened to her favorite kids' shows. It was what kids did back then before computers and television.

My grandmother was the local busybody. This was not for the gossip value though. She would stand at the window as children would walk to and from school and make notes on who was missing shoes or warm coats. Then she would contact churches and the Ladies Aid Society to find these items for the family. In addition to taking care of her own family, she did her best to help other families as well.

Many women did what they had to for their families. In many cases they had to find ways to feed their families with little or no income. They would pickle green tumbleweeds and purslane. Purslane is a common weed -- almost as common as the dandelions. They would also pick the tender young leaves of dandelions to cook for a nutritious side dish.

My father and his brother hunted small game such as squirrels and pigeons to help their mother put food on the table. Their father suffered from tuberculosis and was often away in a sanitarium. When he was home he was a barber during a time when most people chose to cut their hair at home to save money. There were times when he was lucky to make 50 cents a day to support a family of 7.

When the collars or cuffs on a man's shirt became worn and threadbare his wife would remove them, turn them around and sew them back on to extend the life of the shirt. When garments were completely worn out my grandmother would remove buttons, hooks and eyes, and zippers so that they could be used to make the next outfit.

My grandfather was a banker in a small bank -- one of the few to not close its doors in the panic after the stock market crash. He made sure that he remained present in the family and kept a critical eye on the family finances to make sure that the kids always had what they needed. This was especially important for my mother who was sick with allergies and asthma a great deal of the time and had managed to contract a serious bladder infection during these years. Back then no one had health insurance and so you had to be prepared to pay everything out-of-pocket.

Men who lost their livelihoods during this time suffered most of all. Jobs were not just how they supported their families, it was a definition of who they were as a person. Some managed to reinvent themselves and create new jobs and identities. Others found different ways to support their families. Doing either took a great deal of inner strength.

It was a time when taking any sort of charity or perceived hand out was considered a failure. Even taking a job with one of the many public works projects going on at the time was seen by some men as a failure. It meant giving up on their chosen path in life and resorting to accepting some sort of help from outside. These men were heroes for doing what had to be done. They showed up every day, often doing things they were ill-suited to do, to make sure their families survived.

There were no social safety nets back then. When men lost their jobs the family income generally ended. There was no welfare. There were no food stamps. There were no food pantries to give food to the needy. Many of these programs grew out of what happened to people during the depression.

To get by one of the families in my mother's neighborhood took advantage of the drought. As the drought dried out the lakes of Minnesota they would collect turtles and sell them to the big hotels in Minneapolis for soup. It didn't make them rich, but they were able to survive.

Many of us today spend some time living a modern version of the Depression whether it is due to unemployment, being underpaid, or having amassed a large amount of debt. This is when ramen noodles become a mainstay of the diet.

A friend of mine and I were discussing the things we did to get by when we faced times like these -- from eating cheap mac and cheese to cutting up worn out sheets to use instead of toilet paper. I worked part-time cleaning motel rooms while job hunting once and saved the used bars of soap to grate into soap powder to wash clothes and dishes. Fortunately times are better now.

It's a good thing that things are better now. I can't handle the thought of one more bite of ramen noodles in this lifetime.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Comedy -- Writing Funny

Historically the jester was the only one in the court who could make fun of the king. He was able to do this by hiding it within the jest. By making it funny and couching it in just the right phrase it becomes fairly painless. That doesn't mean that the jester never missed the mark and got sent to the dungeon, but for the most part he got away with murder.

These days comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Stewart point out the idiocies and absurdities of the moneyed and powerful elite. These guys are at the top of their game because they are so capable of hitting their target accurately. They strip bare the absurdities and juxtapositions down to the bare truth that we really knew was there all along. We laugh because we are surprised that they will say it. We laugh because we understand. We laugh because they are right.

They are funny instead of venomous because they back it up with love. Love? Yes. They aren't spewing angrily about any of these issues. They love the very absurdity they witness all around them. On some level they love the people that perpetrate the absurdities. It is about teasing with the truth.

 The first time I wrote something funny I was not at all aware that I was being funny. I was writing my annual Christmas letter and was relating the story of how I had been charged by a buck while raking leaves that fall. I found out that I had been funny when my cousin later told me that she had nearly died laughing over my tale.

So how do you make your writing funny? I had to go back and look at the story I had told.

First of all you need to go beneath the surface. It isn't enough to say I was terrified. I had to explain how terrified I was in pretty specific terms -- and very human terms. I need to be showing you the part of me that you can identify with. So when I realize that this enormous buck is running across the street and lowering his head at me there were all sorts of things running through my head in the space of a few seconds. I was measuring the distance from me to the front door. Nope. I would be a bunch of little Laurie kabobs on his antlers before I could reach shelter. Could I defend myself? The wooden rake in my hand seemed so tiny compared to him and those antlers that I may as well trying to defend myself with a toothpick.

Second, it is HOW you say things. I didn't just say that I imagined being gored by the antlers. I added to the imagery with an off-beat comment about Laurie kabobs. It made light of a serious situation without dismissing how serious it was. Another part of the story was that he had been tracking a doe that had come running through the neighborhood just seconds before he had shown up. She had dashed between two homes before he came along so she was nowhere in sight. All he saw was me instead and I was not his type and that really ticked him off. Describing the eight point buck as a horny beast allowed me to employ a double entendre.

I was also able to be a bit self-effacing by adding that this was the sort of reaction I got from males -- now apparently of any species.

Third part is how you write. Short, zippy sentences keep the story moving quickly. Take little time describing the scene. How you tell the story should take care of that. I was raking leaves in my yard. That should conjure most of the setting -- grass, autumn, dry leaves crunching, a cool day. It is hard to be funny when you get too verbose. On the other hand, if I had been writing this into a romance I would have gone into the details to set a mood whereupon Ryan Reynolds (or George Clooney for my age group) could sweep in and rescue me from certain impalement. In my version, if either man had shown up, he would have caught his designer sweater in the branches of the wild plum tree and I would accidentally stab him in the eye with the rake.

Ultimately Bucky caught the scent of his lady love again and the valiant ungulate swain took off on her trail again. My knees gave way and I sat down where I was and tried to get my lungs working again. Now that I was safe again I was able to wish them well on their honeymoon.

My second comedy outing was trying to write a funny poem for a contest. I was wracking my brain for what was funny. The answer came to me in the bathroom (a.k.a., the thinking room) when I looked at myself in the mirror. Ah, yes, the bad hair day. So off I went describing how difficult my hair could be, including the fact that it seems to be deserting me. I was stumped for an ending though. I finally remembered a former coworker who used to threaten to shave her head every time she got stressed. Aha! My ending appeared out of the mists of time. I ended up winning third place for my first foray into humorous poetry:

Bad Hair Day (Attitude to Match)
(c) 1996 by Laurie Kay Olson

I have that hair, you know the kind,
It won't settle down and make up its mind.
It flies, it lumps, it bumps, it swirls,
It won't like flat, and it won't go in curls.
I'm getting to work late again this week,
But I hate to go out with hair that's not sleek.
I brush it, I spray it, I comb it and then -
Just one little sneeze and it's hopeless again.
I know that I'm lucky to have hair at all,
I don't have to shop for it down at the mall.
Be that as it may, I just want to yell!
Sometimes I think I'm in follicle hell!
I'm getting so mad, I'm in a huge snit -
I'll just shave my head and be done with it!

 This success led me to apply to write a humor column for the Colorado Daily Newspaper. For samples of my column, click here. The column on sports even garnered me my first piece of fan mail.

I find writing humor and comedy extremely rewarding. I love making people laugh. I love laughing at myself.

Humor is the best medicine and the doctor is IN(sane).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Bullying -- The Undiscussed Issues

Bullying is one of the biggest challenges facing young people and it long has been. In our media-saturated age we hear about it far more often and in more detail than when I was that age. The devastating consequences are brought home to us as never before.

We all want parents and teachers to take a stronger stance against bullies to protect those being bullied. While this is a laudable position, there is a serious flaw in that thinking. It is a problem that no one is addressing in the overall bullying issue.

This problem is that many of the people we are expecting to be responsible for ending the bullying are also bullies themselves. Bullying is not something that only children and teenagers engage in.

I was bullied as a child -- and as an adult. I was bullied by both children and adults. By far the adults were worse simply due to the fact that they were generally authority figures.

I was the fat kid by the time I was seven. So that opened me up to bullying. I was also a gentle and sensitive child, so that made me easily victimized. There were boys who tormented me, and the occasional girl.

Most of all there was my father, my stepmother, some of my teachers, and eventually some of my bosses. These bullies were worse because there was no escaping or ignoring them. They had power over me and they knew I had to take it.

My father could be both physically and mentally abusive. He had most likely been abused and bullied as a boy. So he continued the pattern. My stepmother has always gone more with being highly insulting and using overt attempts at humiliation. She once even told me that if I became humiliated enough I would lose my weight.

My second grade teacher was someone who never should have become a teacher, but it was back in the days when there still weren't a lot of options for women. Still, she was ill-suited to the career. For some reason she didn't like me and that colored all of her interactions with me. She didn't want me to be as smart as I was, so she kept trying to put me into a lower level reading group but she had to keep moving me back up because I so obviously didn't belong in the slower group. One day I had a bloody nose during a spelling test. The paper became soaked in blood and had to be discarded. The next day she called me up to her desk and began to berate me for not having turned in my spelling test. She wouldn't let me speak so that I could remind her of what had happened to the test. She just kept telling me what an awful and deceitful child I was and she kept it up for some time. Who knows how long she would have gone on bullying me mercilessly if my body had not had a negative reaction to her venom.

I threw up on her desk. I blew chunks everywhere. It was, and still remains, one of the proudest moments of my life. At the end of the school year she was banned from the school district. Apparently I had not been her only victim.

My third grade teacher was not much better. My family life was falling apart at this time as my parents divorced and Mom was returning to work, leaving me feeling marginalized. Not to mention that I was still dealing with the pain of my previous year of school. So I tended to check out of the real world and daydream. To deal with this my teacher would sneak up behind me and hit me in the back of the head -- hard.

This was the year that we were introduced to class elections from President down to Trash Monitor. To my frustration I could never get elected to anything more than Trash Monitor. So I asked my mother what I should do. She suggested that I talk with my teacher. So that is what I did. She looked disdainfully at me and said that she couldn't do anything if the other kids didn't like me.

Another time she hauled me out into the hallway to chew me out because I had been accused of stealing a pencil from one of the boys. She had the boy out there too. As she started in on me I was horrified. I would never steal someone else's pencil. So I lost my temper with the boy and asked him if his name was on it. He said that it had been written on it, really lightly, in pencil. That was when the teacher realized that it was the boy who was lying. She couldn't handle the fact that this child (me) that she disliked so much was innocent. She hustled us back into the classroom without another word. The boy received no punishment for having lied.

Fortunately most of my teachers were far better than this, but I didn't exactly get off to a good start in the world of academia.

When I got out into the working world it was frightening to realize that many companies had (and still have) a corporate culture of bullying. There is a mistaken belief out there that if you keep people terrified about losing their job that you will get more and better work from people. The truth is that I always work harder for the companies that treat me well. When I am treated well I will also accept making less money.

How can we expect adults to stop our children from engaging in bullying when so many adults are willing to agree with the bullies, or by also being bullies themselves? These are the role models for our children. We need to stop bullying overall, not just among children.