The grudge

You’ve seen that movie, right? Either the original Japanese version, or the remake? Personally, I really dislike horror movies, but this one plays right into human psychodrama. The wronged person, who comes back from the Great Beyond, to wreak vengeance. Who hasn’t thought such things at one time or another? “I’d like to haunt them,” or “I’d love for that person to know MY suffering!”

It applies everywhere, and I’d even venture to say that it has to do with jealousy more than anything. Someone hurts you, and they keep on living their life, never seeming to have “karma” visit their doorstep. We’ve had that in our lives, we all have. Just yesterday, someone I know “outed” her bullies from years ago, when we were in high school. She said that they had “no souls”, that she “wouldn’t accept” apologies from them now….

I immediately contacted her privately to express my concern over naming people on social media like that, especially in light of the face that it’s been over 20 years since we were in school. We were ALL self-centered jerks back in our teens, don’t try to tell me we weren’t. And one of the people she’d named was someone who, in my opinion, was just an ordinary mean girl who had outgrown it.

“How do you know,” you ask? Well…she was one of the first people I came across when I delved into Facebook, and discovered to my horror that she had just lost her child to cancer. A child who was only a few months older than my own child. In spite of the pain, somehow she and her husband had managed to shake off the haze and start a foundation to help other families coping with the same thing.

So no, I do not believe she is the same person, any more than I am who I was. But what of that moment of public naming, and claiming that this woman has “no soul”?

Look, I was bullied too, I told my friend, though I didn’t share the extent of it – who wants to have their pain compared to someone else’s? By the time I graduated, nobody intimidated me anymore (helped that I was taller, and that the football team knew I could bench and lat pull better than half of them, lol) – and made sure to stick up for kids who needed it (not that I was perfect, either) – I wish she’d told me that this was happening, I said to her, because I didn’t actually see anything.

We were lucky, by the way. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have to worry about our bullies following us into our homes, via the internet. But I don’t see the point in staying angry…just in talking about what happened, so that it has less power over us.

Let’s face it…we’re forever works in progress. Pointing a finger straight at myself, here. Work in progress! Screws up a lot! Heart on my sleeve! BUT – has compassion for those who have lashed out. Truth. Won’t stop – and teach my kids that as often as possible – as well as to look for the kids who need some kind words, and give it to them. We can only try. We won’t be perfect at it, but at least the effort will be felt.

 

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Putting perspective on its ear.

This is true for all of us in our various stages of life. My younger son is constantly saying that he wishes the day was a few hours longer, but this is in the quest for more reading or DS time. I remember feeling that way in school, but it was usually because I hadn’t finished some assignment or another. My husband feels that way (quite rightly) because he blows two hours a day on commuting. In New England. Where we live, a two hour commute isn’t so much about traffic as the fact that most roads around here are merely paved over cow paths. Meandering. Random. GPS-defying.

For the modern mom, though, it’s turned into the obvious quest to be better than every other mom…or, barring that, just not to feel like the world’s crappiest mom as everybody we know is pinning cute ideas and seeing them through, moving their elf on the shelf like Martha was watching, or just generally appearing to be perfectly beatific. We’re actually none of us like that. I suspect we’re more like this. Except, I hope I’m not to be found lying on the floor at the end of everything. And I think Elizabeth Banks is awesome, by the way.

I’m not perfect. Holy hell, I know I’m not. I grew up with a priest for a father, and got to hear all the jokes and jibes. But when you grow up seeing perfection, so-called, in that light…I found myself seeing people quite differently than I otherwise might have. I’m also quite acutely aware of my own flaws. In addition to what I’ve just mentioned about my childhood, I grew up in a household where, how shall I say this…nobody EVER liked to admit being wrong or at fault. And defensiveness was ALWAYS the best offense. I won’t go into the particulars…good grief, I’ve been trying to talk through them my entire adult life, but I think the whole of it dumped me off in adulthood being a little hobbled. I know for a fact that it’s involved in about 50% of the arguments that I find myself in with my husband.

But let me face this:

I tend to react to teasing badly. Wonder why? Hmmm. I used to get teased endlessly if I said something the wrong way, or said something that was “dumb” – I still recall being teased for years because one time I happened to pronounce the word “leg” as “lag” – it turned into part of a mocking nickname that I had. And I’m not free from sin in that area. Because it was normal in how we functioned, I’m sure I participated with the younger members of the family as well. But it isn’t normal. And it isn’t nice. I try really hard not to perpetuate the teasing…BUT, that leads me to the next thing….

I never learned how to laugh at myself and that making mistakes is no big deal. When nobody admits fault, or is willing to look at mistakes, you never learn these two (I think) crucial things. You start pointing fingers everywhere but at yourself. You get mad at silly things. You tell yourself that you’re too good for levity, or better than others…to me, it’s a troubling place to be. I should know. I’m still struggling to get free. Nothing was more obvious than that point when some extended family and I were all together at a restaurant, and the server spilled a tray of drinks on two of the party. One, an adult who had come from the same “system” as me, struggled for a moment, and decided to be upbeat about it. The other, a child, had parents who cautioned us “not to laugh, because (the child) gets mad,” about being laughed at. I suddenly realized that we were keeping up the myth. People laughing at a situation doesn’t mean being laughed AT, it means we’re trying to be positive about something that’s challenging. I know other members of my family who would have become enraged or at least seething about such a thing happening to them.

Lastly, the one big ding I have on myself is feeling like a social moron – I don’t think it’s a construct…it’s me. I didn’t have an ongoing example to draw from growing up…this is where social media can be helpful and…um, not so much, at times. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and to focus on the other person a lot more, through the years…at the same time, the internet can be at times vague, polarizing, too easy…basically a dumping ground.

So there I am, laid bare. Just like everybody else, I’m hard on myself, a doubter, a seeker, insecure, sometimes drowning….but I know now that everybody else is like me too. Sure, there are challenges that are unique to my life…but again, I’m special, just like everybody else. It’s somewhat reassuring and somewhat terrifying. Nobody has the time that they need or want – so when I feel like I never get to edit or that the frigging snow days are going to be the end of my sanity…hundreds of other parents feel the same way.

I’m sure all I need is a support group comprised of all the other people who are just like me, awkward, time-crunched, lonely people, who like to sip wine and watch Dr. Who (or Downton Abbey, or Psych)…god knows I’m not coming across them yet! Somebody should (and quickly) get on this: a dating site for people who just want friends…okay, I’m getting carried away. This editing isn’t going to happen on its own, and we have a birthday to do today, wrestling practice, winter concert, and V-day tomorrow, shopping on Friday for a party on Saturday…it’s just a little heart attack, right?

Surviving

We all grow up, eventually. If facebook has taught me one thing, it’s that the people we grow up around will all end up being ok with one another once we get over our hormones. The petty squabbles that you have with friends will fall away. The crushes, well, you’ll look back and wonder (in many cases) what you were thinking. If you’re like me, however, it’s a new journey in a) forgiving, b)letting go of old hurt, and c)trying to get out of old habits. I tend to worry a lot, I am always wondering if people think I’m…well, insert deepest fears here. I was one of those bullied kids, though I wonder if a lot of my peers from those days might not have thought so.

But let’s be honest: even as a child, I knew that the tormentors were acting out of their own pain. I could see it. Oh, sure, some of them were riding a bandwagon, or trying to get accepted by being nasty. Oh, and lest I forget, there was a culture of bullying that, to me, was fully supported by the teachers and administration in our city.

I’ve written about this before, but in light of recent events, I want to just lay out a couple of things for everyone who has kids now, especially for those who never experienced being treated the way that I was treated (and so many others who were as well).

You have to have some understanding of your child’s school, other than going for open houses and conferences. I make it a point to drop in whenever I have a concern, but in the town where we live, my fears are a lot less than they would have been where I grew up. From about day one of middle school, life started its downhill slide for me. I was in that stage of life during the rise of slam books, I was a gawky, shy kid with glasses and size 9 feet, a late bloomer for puberty. My parents were not really involved with school except for my dad to utilize his network of “spies” – to wit, his parishioners who worked at that school – so al he knew was whether I was “behaving” or not. He and my mom had no clue what was really starting to go on. And I was terrified to tell them. No, I don’t remember why. I just know that I felt like I couldn’t. Some of the teachers loved to openly mock the students who were not meeting expectations, something that had started for me back in grade school. Maybe they thought it would embarrass me into doing my homework – but that wasn’t going to help, I was classic ADD in a day before anyone understood it – but I think it pissed them off that I would score high on mastery tests and not be able to produce in class what they wanted. They also turned a blind eye to kids going after one another. In one case, a class I was in turned on a substitute teacher, and had her in tears. I was even egged one day, walking home from school, and when I finally got myself in front of the principal to lodge a complaint, he essentially told me that he felt it was my own fault.

Teach your child compassion, no matter what. Even through the worst of what was happening to me, I knew, as I said, that my abusers were in pain themselves. It’s hard to sell that to a kid who is getting threatened and broken down, but it’s crucial. It allowed me to forgive (even if I don’t forget). And it apparently comes through to the kids who are bullying. Some of my worst “enemies” in middle school found themselves in big trouble when a cheating ring was discovered. They’d picked the biggest dragon lady of a teacher in whose class to do it, too. I remember seeing them all lined up outside her room, one could almost hear a bell tolling, and one of the kids approached me. He had been pretty awful to me, even getting his younger sibling to mock me in the halls. He looked ill at that moment, though, and asked me what I thought he should do. I got that sick feeling, wondering why he was asking me of all people, but I told him to tell the truth. It couldn’t get any worse, and confessing might begin the getting better. Not that I was able to do it all the time, but I really thought it was the only option for his situation. I was telling him this, knowing that his father was probably more terrifiying to him than the teacher. For all I know, he got a beating for what he’d done. We understood each other in that moment, and I stopped hating him. I think I stopped hating anyone at that point, and decided to figure out a new way for myself to live. Not long after that, I think, was when I decided to take advantage of a program that allowed me to go to high school in a different town. I’m not sure what has happened to some of the kids who were so unhappy and so mean, but thanks to social media, I have “friended” a few of my middle school classmates and found that, indeed, we all grow up – not only that, that they thought differently of me than I might have imagined.

Teach moral courage. Another not so easy sell, because this one means standing up and making noise when we see something that’s not right. I was friends with every type of person through all my school years. It never mattered to me whether someone had a “disability” or was different – I looked for good-hearted, funny people to be around. After a while, it became obvious that I had to speak up and tell someone to shut it when they were being cruel. But that was only after I felt empowered to do so. A big part of that came from my high school principal, an amazing man who told me that I was allowed to feel safe at school. He was serious about it, and knew that I was a good kid who needed an ally. He gave me my life back at that moment. I would really beg of school administrations to decide to be bulldogs for their kids, and tell those kids that they are allowed to feel safe. It was my first time feeling like anyone had my back, and I cannot express enough how much things changed for me after that. When I started as a freshman, I was in basic level classes, getting by with C’s, still picked on, unhappy, alone. By the time I graduated, I was in honors and AP classes, making honor roll, captain of the track team, maybe not belle of the ball, but much happier (stupid hormones and teenage angst aside!).

Be honest with your kids. If you were bullied, you’ll probably share that. I say lay it all out, even the stuff that is embarrassing to you still. I will tell my kids that I got egged, had pennies and gum thrown at me, the names that I was called, that one girl told me she would kill me…and I’ll talk about how I handled it (not well at times – I did try to run away, after all). But if you were one of the mean kids, yeah, maybe that’s not so easyto confess. But you should. If you feel bad about how you acted at that age, say so. And say why you think you acted like that. You don’t really want your kids repeating that behavior, I know you don’t. here’s obviously more of a zero tolerance policy, and more of a huge reactionary mentality after these situations have spiraled into tragedy, but don’t wait. Sit down now with your kids and talk. “Do you get picked on?” and “Are you ever mean to other kids?” It’s as good a place to start as any. I try to stress to my younger son (our older one is autistic, and we deal with that differently) that kids are sometimes going to be mean and angry. They’re going to say things because they hurt inside (like his one friend who kept saying mean things to him – this boy’s dad had lost his job, and they had just bought a house – you do the math), or they’re scared, or they’re just doing what other kids do to try and be liked more. Not everybody will like you. That’s ok. It’s more important to like yourself, because that shines through, and people are attracted to that.

I admit that I still have trouble socially – but my family was more about making fun of one another than teaching how to laugh at ourselves – at looking for someone to blame and pointing out others’ mistakes, rather than taking the blame and admitting that we’d screwed up. Teach your kids how to laugh at themselves. I can’t stress that enough. I wish I was more able to do that. I’m still learning that skill at 35. Let your kids screw up, and then talk to them about what might be learned, and how to avoid it next time. We’re too much in the way these days as parents, as far as mistakes go. We’re there to catch them before they fall, but not to teach the lesson that might have been learned. Our younger son was roughhousing with my husband, and knocked his little noggin into daddy’s eye socket not that long ago. It resulted in a black eye for my husband (who had to put up with all sorts of cracks from his coworkers), but also in several lessons for both of them. For our little guy, he learned that we can unintentionally hurt people we love, that his head is as hard as granite, and that it’s ok to get ribbed about beating up daddy. My husband learned that people think he secretly goes off to do UFC fights. And that he’s not as thick-skinned as he wants to be.

The biggest thing to repeat is the refrain I keep hearing now, “It gets better.” It does. It really does. Life is so much broader than middle or high school. You might have to put your head down and bulldoze to get through some of it, especially if  you want to get out and be any kind of success, but someday, after the caps have been tossed in the air, we all walk out into the real world. And your time will come where you will have kids, or maybe you’ll be a mentor to a child in your life, and you must try to be honest, have courage, and teach a child the same. We can survive, we have made it through the terror tunnel of teenage years for eons. Believe me: I lived through it, and so can you.

Updating the goals…

After yesterday’s ennui-flushing, in which, I confess, I felt a bit like a teenager afterwards, I have through about it a little further. “Rebuff” was probably the wrong word, if not too strong a word. It’s more like me bouncing off the plexiglass of my own making.

Fellini's sense of humor....

As I mentioned, navel-gazing is not a wonderful pasttime, as opposed to Naval-gazing, which very often can be, particularly if dress uniforms are involved. One of the things that happens with writers, or with people who find blathering about feelings in the written, rather than spoken, word, is that we let it all go. Sometimes we forget that others may be wondering what the hell we’re carrying on about. I’m not saying that’s what was completely at play. Part of my meandering in that post was, indeed, wondering whether anything would answer besides my own echo. I guess that’s ego, in the Jungian world….

I think we all have our own particular worries and self-doubts. They show up at the most inconvenient of times. They take a perfectly decent day and make it addled and uncomfortable. And yes, they drag us right back to the upheaved hormone imbalances of our teenage years. I wish I was immune from it – I wish I could stop worrying, fretting, overanalyzing…but I’m not. Maybe accepting some of these things that are too expensive to fix at a therapist’s office is like accepting that, short of a tummy tuck, pregnancy has left some of us with a lasting gift on our bodies….

Anyhow – once I got past thinking like I was still shopping at the Express and wearing a can of hairspray every day – I was thinking about my goal that I’d set a while back. 10 finished writing projects before year’s end. I think I can still manage, since I was nice and vague about the parameters involved. But I began to think further ahead, to the point when our younger child starts full days of school.

For some moms out there, having a career and a life outside is really a high priority. For me, eh, I never liked the office environment…I’d like to work on my master’s and get certified in the state as an archaeologist. I’d like to just work privately, and contract out. Beyond that, I’d rather be available to my kids. So…I think my goal for next year at this time is to have sold some of the things I’ve written. I’m going to worry about something productive, if I can, and build my writing resume. And maybe look into a class here and there. Online.

human touch

Writing, by its nature, is often a solitary activity; it is best done when the writer is alone with his or her thoughts, preferably in an amiable environment.

I’ve mentioned that I often wait for the kids to both be off at school, and try to cram in as much time as I can. I used to stay up late, after they’d gone to bed, but that doesn’t seem to work very well these days. And since we moved the computer upstairs, it’s harder for me to find that amiable spot to work in. (We moved it after deciding that our kids needed less access to it….) But if I think back, I’ve always been like that, cramming in what I could, where I could, like the time I grabbed some snooze time on top of a pile of luggage in the Mexico City airport.

During high school and college, I worked on perfecting the art of appearing to take notes, while really doing personal writing. Naturally, this worked better in lectures than in, say, math class. It also worked better than my previous activity of trying to hide my personal reading behind textbooks. I would also say it ranks as better ideas than trying to eat a burrito in the bathtub, or sleeping while your assault squad leaves you behind. Not that I’ve ever tried those things…ok, maybe I was falling asleep in the field, but those Kevlar helmets perch perfectly on top of an M-16…but I never got left behind! And during my 9-5 job years, when I wasn’t finding jobs that let me eat all day, I worked at a place where my main task was shipping archery equipment to the MWR departments at military bases all over the world. You can guess how much brain power that sucked up. It wasn’t hard to look like I was writing up documents and making phone calls, when I was actually working on my first book, and making phone calls. Now I’m making myself look like a Gen X slacker, but no so, I swear! I really just prefer accomplishing as many things as I possibly can in a day, especially if I can push out a little of my own agenda at the same time. I do have to remind myself not to do this at PTO meetings, though, because let’s face it, they’re not that long, and I’m sort of one of the officers.

But I was talking about the solitude. The lonely writer, sitting in a drafty garret, covered in ink stains….

Who wouldn't want that hat to wear while writing?

 
Are we writers because we  prefer to be alone?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Or are we alone because we prefer to write?
 
 
One could look to Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald as examples of writers who, in many ways, drove everyone away. Hemingway wrote, albeit semi-fictitiously, about the dissolution of his first  marriage, in his novel, The Garden of Eden. His case makes for the most compelling chicken vs. egg argument of the above questions, particularly in light of his depressions and eventual suicide.
 
Outside of that most famous case, there are droves of writers who maintain Other Lives while having writing feature as their career. I might point to J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman as examples of people who write pretty brilliantly, who vocally struggle with their writing, but also, who share the writing with their families. Both of those authors say they’re pretty heavily influenced by their kids, as we also know to be the case in some of the more classic children’s lit, like Winnie The Pooh or Thomas the Tank Engine (both of which, like Harry Potter, have taken on massive and imperial lives of their own). Rowling, as anyone familiar with Harry Potter’s origins may know, invented this world and her hero in the hopes of providing for her children. It’s the dream of every writer who is also a parent, I believe….
 
But that archetype lingers, as we think of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and even Beatrix Potter. The alienated writer, which is a character that John Cusack seems to be liking a lot these days, the failed star, the genius who could not reproduce his or her initial success, the J.D. Salinger-type, who makes a splash, and hates it enough to go hide in the woods for the rest of eternity.
 
I’m not sure if there is an answer between the two of those ideas…it’s a bit like wondering why there are so many people in Hollywood with personality disorders, perhaps. Maybe you’re bound to behave a certain way under a set of circumstances, or programmed to only cope with so many stressors (as in current psychology theory).
 
Or maybe you have to sit down with yourself, and make the decision, well ahead of the bumpy road, to choose humanity, no matter what.
 
((In that vein, I’m going to take a look at one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle, in one of the next few installations))
 
 

digging in the dirt

Still here, still focused. Yeah, right. Only sometimes.

Sitting here in amongst piles of books that I retrieved from the library’s hold system last night. A couple of them are alarmingly thick. Nim’s Island is on top of all of them, reminding me to take breaks (or providing distraction, at any rate).

I do love researching, making connections, learning new things. All of that jazz. If I could have any job, right now, I’d want to be one of those History Detectives people on PBS, or maybe one of those Cities of the Underworld wonks. Since I’m not getting that job, and the advanced degrees are only a distant glimmer for me right now, I satisfy my urges with writing and geneaology. Some people peruse porn when their spouses are away; I jump headfirst into Heritage Quest and Ancestry.com. I have found quite a few tidbits here and there, places that we’d reached dead ends on. It requires creativity and flexible thinking, really.

My biggest recent discovery was that my great-grandfather remarried about 8 months after my great-grandmother had died. My grandmother, who was raised by other relatives, was always under the impression that he’d met this other wife some years later. It was a little stunning to see the new wife added onto his passport papers so soon. I still am searching to figure out whether he had other children. That job has been complicated a LOT by the facts shifting as I do further searching, that I can’t find him in the 1930 census, and I’ll have to wait until April of 2012 to see the 1940 census records.

It’s not hard for me to quantify my enjoyment of history – I do have a degree in Classical Archaeology. If I ever get to do a master’s, it’ll probably be archaeology, though I admit I’m not keen on going back into Classics. That much Latin, while good for something…I think, is not really my passion. There’s always forensic archaeology, which I got interested in, while reading a book by celebrated anthropologist Dr. Clyde Snow, some fourteen years ago.

I did work briefly in my field, as a field tech for a cultural resource management firm, which, given its definition in the “real world” (yeah, right), sounds so noble and selfless, it makes me want to barf. It’s not noble. Half the time, firms are bound by confidentiality agreements, because we/they go in ahead of developers to see what might be there for artifacts. To companies wanting to build, artifacts = delays and pains in their collective asses. Don’t care. Most of us were hard at work to find as much as we could, even going so far as to do the work that the wetlands assessment teams had gaily skipped past. We got told by a power company that if we didn’t find the 19th century graveyard reputed to be in their survey field, that we were “not to worry”. Another big box company told us not to tell the neighbors in the rural area they were surveying WHO was scouting the land. We took one look at the pre-Revolutionary mill house (modern day B&B), and quietly did what our consciences directed us to do. Hey, I never had a confidentiality clause in my employment contract – I know, because I read through stuff like that – we weren’t even bound by proxy to what our employer agreed upon in contracts.

Shudder. Never shall I return to such sullied things. They wouldn’t want me in crm anyway…I guess I have a big mouth when it comes to things like that.

Anyway, my stack of books right now are leading me into the 19th century, into the Raj, deep into the thorny issues, stereotypes, and often ignored persons. I might as well finish this project next – I’m about 40 pages into it, and got stuck because I’d been ignoring the research. And so, I’ve said, WHY? I obviously like doing it, unless it’s for a class, at which point, my procrastination gene reawakens. No, this is for me, for this lofty goal I’ve set up.

So…eventually I’ll get to them. Yep. It’s cold and snowy outside, and my feet are freezing cold themselves. What could be better than coffee and a good…well, necessary, book?

Where did I put that notebook/pencil/medulla oblongata…?

So yeah, my goal is to finish a pretty hefty number of writing projects over the coming year. As of now, I have one thing done. Somewhat done. Almost there…it’s a children’s book, with the wordy parts done, but the part where the kids look at the pictures, that’s not so much there yet. I should probably sit and sketch it out, at least. I’m not certain that I’m the best artist for the whole thing, though. So, maybe my part is 80…70% done. That’s the part where I pat myself mentally, and say, “Good job, now you can have your coffee.”

I’m a procrastinator and a distractable tangent queen. I invariably forget and remember and forget again several times before I do things like, finally get my birth control pills refilled. It’s not a subliminal attempt to have more kids! I swear! We don’t even have enough bedrooms in this house to consider it, let alone wiggle room with what little sanity I probably have left. And I’m distractable. Did I say that already? No, really, it’s not like that, it’s more like, I get started on one thing, like trying to write, get sidetracked because of the smell coming from the refrigerator when I opened it, looking for creamer, and by the time I throw out everything iffy, it’s 3pm, and the bus is honking outside. And as we all know, when the kids come home, nothing else gets done.

So, I try to do what I can while they’re at school, if I can stay on target. Sometimes I end up doing things like cooking nine dinners to freeze. Or cleaning the fish tank. Stuff that still can’t be done while they’re home…unless I’m feeling psychotic.

Today, the day I’m writing this, I got distracted by facebook, the aforementioned bcp’s, going to Target, and then a frantic call from my son’s school, because he had an unfortunate incident in his pants. And that’s where my day went, well away from a trip to the library and settling in with my thoughts, to write. At least I’m not going to end up in real trouble in nine months….