On Ageism

Once, living to an old age was an accomplishment of sorts. It meant you had survived the various illnesses that plagued our kind before modern medicine. It meant you had survived work-related accidents, and/or wars, and/or childbirth. In an era when horseback was the most common means of transportation, surviving to an old age meant surviving the various dangers of merely traveling from point A to point B. Once, the elderly were rare enough that their mere existence, replete with hard-won experience of decades, was worthy of enhanced respect.

gandalf-2

Like Gandalf from LoTR, a Wise Old Man Archetype.

That view has largely gone to the wayside. Nowadays, old people are everywhere. Sometimes they’re amazing and awe-inspiring, with ongoing contributions that effect the world we live in transformative ways–Stephanie Coontz, George R.R. Martin, and Margaret Atwood come to mind.

Other times, they’re maybe not famous-levels of amazing, but they’re beloved and treasured within their own family and social circle, and they continue to share the wisdom of their experience within the family.

And then there are the other old people.

Crotchety. Racist. Bigoted. They expect a pass on their awful, racist, sexist, homophobic statements because things were “different” when they were young, and people actually indulge them.

They demand to be let to the front of the line because they’ve managed to survive 7+ decades.

They slowly drive their vehicles down crowded freeways, squinting at the signage and shaking trembling fists at anyone who dares honk because they’re driving too damn slow and half outta their lane.

We’ve all heard of them, or seen videos, or even observed one or two incidents in person. They’re not the majority of the elderly population, but they’re foul and loud enough that they’re the ones who snag our attention and capture our memory. These are the examples I think of when I think of ageism and judging the elderly.

I suppose another spin on the “ageism” prompt could be for labor discrimination against employees of or over a certain age range. That would make sense, too. But I already started picking apart the social dynamics of ageism, so I’ll just roll with it.

~*~

The thing is, ageism is weird.

It’s obviously wrong to dislike someone on the basis of something they have no control over–skin color, gender, sexual orientation, whether they were born into rags or riches, the religion they were indoctrinated/ raised into, their age–but by the very dint of a lifetime lived, a lot of those factors appear to be mitigated by the element of choice and effort.

Sure, social sciences tells us that if you’re born a poor Christian, you’re likely going to die a poor Christian; and if you’re born a wealthy Muslim, you’re likely going to die a wealthy Muslim. People generally stay within the range of the wealth bracket they were born into, and steps up the economic ladder are accumulative and generational (the linked article discusses some of the historical circumstances that specifically targeted communities of color and prevented them from building up wealth and passing it down to their children over the past century, leading such communities to have lower savings and financial resources overall).

Almost two-thirds of people stay in the religion they were raised in. Even if they leave, I would argue from my own experience that the specific religious teachings a child is taught becomes the template for their adult perspective of the world, whether as a lens through which they choose to accept/ believe said teachings, or reject/ negate said teachings.

Supported though these statements are by data and research, they do not fit a narrative particular to the time and place in which I live: The myth of the self-made-man, the quintessential American hero. Here, it is said that no matter what the data indicates, a person born into poverty can die wealthy and respected.

http://www.lasvegasbuffetclub.com/blog/?p=3370

Self Made Man, by Bobbie Carlyle

Here, choice reigns supreme, and many people value their perceived rights above all–their “right” to own guns, regardless of the statistical danger to themselves and the population. Their “right” to free speech, which they think has no restrictions (but actually does).

girl_gun_fuck_yeah1

Their “right” to religious freedom, which is often interpreted as being allowed to live their lives both openly and in private according to the morals and values they hold dear even if it means restricting (both openly and in private) the movements, freedoms, and speech of those whose morals and values they disapprove of.

Although I disagree, strongly, with these narratives, I’ve been raised in a culture steeped with them. In many ways, often unconsciously or semi-consciously, such attitudes still obscure the lens through which I view the world and affect my attitudes.

~*~ Respect Your Elders! ~*~

lady

I think such American attitudes are where my irritation this segment of the elderly comes from. Like, the other day I was in line at the store and this older woman in front of me got upset because the checkout clerk didn’t call her ma’am. Then she couldn’t hear a question he asked her  about check or charge, so she began yelling at him when he had to repeat it.

I mean, who rants at the checkout clerk for that? Seriously? She actually accused him of, “not showing his elders enough respect.” What kind of shit is that? What exactly had she done to earn any respect up to that point? Was she polite, compassionate, or respectful? Did she treat him with dignity and kindness another human being deserves?

No. No, she did not. She screamed at a guy doing his job, and went on a power-trip based on nothing more than her age and the fact she was a customer. Who cares that you’ve lived seven decades, lady? Maybe your family, but a random clerk in a grocery store couldn’t give two shits. You’re just a stranger and a bad day to him.

 Mind you, I personally think respect is earned on an individual basis for everyone. So, for example, if Bill Gates or Beyonce or someone walked into a store and got upset about misunderstanding a checkout clerk, then went off on a power trip about, “Do you know who I am? You better show me some respect!” … I’d be disgusted with them, too.

I don’t think having more money, or more diplomas, or more years, or a different skin color or gender or religion, makes one person more valuable or worthwhile than another. None of that matters when its people, face to face. Just people.

So when an old person says something awful and expects to get a pass because they’re old, I’m just like, nah.

~*~ Heed the Wisdom of Your Elders! ~*~

~ On Race! ~

Speaking of awful shit some old people say–the ones who are the subject of this entry–what is with the thing of a 70+ person saying something completely racist/ misogynistic/ homophobic getting a pass because they’re old and grew up in a “different era”?

News flash: Today’s 70 year old was born in the 1940s, at the tail end of WWII. An 80 year old would have been a teen in the 1940s, a young adult in the 50’s. Someone in their 90s would’ve been in their 20s in the 1940s, which means they probably would have fought alongside black soldiers in WWII (then come home and watched them get shafted by the GI Bill), in their 30s through the 1950s (for reference, today’s Millennial Generation encompasses those in their 30s), and in their 40s through the 1960s.

Let’s break that down, context-wise.

These people would have had front-row seats as Emmett Till‘s murder gripped and horrified a nation. They witnessed the school desegregation debates. They grew up steeped in the Civil Rights Movement, as Martin Luther King, Jr. preached nonviolence and lunch-counter-sit-ins made headlines and the Freedom Riders were beaten and imprisoned.

This means one of three things. One, they were on the right side of history back then, which means they are not saying racist shit today. Two, they were neutral/ tried to stay out of it, which (especially if they’re saying racist shit now) puts them on the wrong side of history. Or three, they were one of the pro-segregationist assholes throwing firebombs and screaming slurs and beating up kids trying to go to school and eat lunch and ride buses.

If some old person is saying racist-ass shit today, do you know what that means? It means they were probably just like these racist-ass kids from Tennessee, standing all proud on the wrong side of history:

 

These are not people who somehow drifted through a conflict-free era, ignorant of the issues at hand. That would be like someone of our generation trying to claim to their grandchildren, “Why, I’ve never quite understood what a gay person is, or what this marriage fuss is about.”

You would have to be deaf, blind, and voluntarily ignorant not to know what the fuck the situation is there. Any person in the US who lived through the Civil Rights Era couldn’t escape knowing about it, even if they avoided participating in it.

~ On Women! ~

If an old person is in their 80s or 90s, they might have attended Federally-funded daycare while their mother worked. You would think such a person would be in favor of government supporting childcare programs and paid parental leave, having benefited from similar family support policies.

If they’re only in their 70s, they were probably raised in the 1950s by a stay at home mom (if the family was of low socioeconomic status, she might have been a working mom. There have always been working moms in America, and always will be as long as there is a working class).

A 1950s stay at home mom might have felt curiously stifled and unfulfilled, because the average housewife of the era was discouraged from educational pursuits and married by the age of 20. Would every kid have picked up on this? Who knows. Could you always tell when your mom was sad or depressed? I could.

Betty Friedan tapped into this angst with her best-selling book, The Feminine Mystique, which means the generation of now-elderly, then-children would have watched their mothers, sisters, and wives go through the feminist movement–perhaps even experienced it for themselves.

Today’s 70-somethings spent most of their working lives with women in the workplace. They saw firsthand the legal struggles of their coworkers, friends, and family members as they played out across the national stage. Through the 1960s and 70s, women fought to obtain pregnancy coverage on health insurance policies, the end of so-called “marriage bans” and “age ceilings” (where an employer could refuse to hire her if she was married/ over a certain age, or could fire her if she got married/ hit a certain age), and for parity in wages (still don’t have it).

~*~ IN OTHER WORDS ~*~

The 70-90 year olds of today are not exactly relics of the 19th century pioneer era. They’re not Civil War vets, confused and doddering as they try to figure out this new-fangled electricity. They’re not baffled Victorians, wondering how on earth women ended up in pants and earning an income.

suffragette-pasting-10

These people are products of the 20th century, same as the majority of the population–and they’ve managed to live well into the 21st century. They’ve had plenty time to adjust to a new status quo. Five decades, at minimum.

That’s FIVE DECADES to revise their attitudes from being on the wrong side of history. FIVE DECADES to learn, at the very least, to treat others with respect if they expect to receive respect in return.

So when you look at it in that light, anyone who uses bigoted and hateful language today is actually signaling a pretty clear message that they want the world to go back to a sadder, smaller, more separate place.

Racial slurs indicate a desire for a world where schools are segregated, lunch counters separated, and American apartheid is a way of life. It shows a longing for the days when the forced deportation and illegal incarceration of American citizens based solely on the color of their skin was an openly-acknowledged thing.

Those of the older generation who say misogynistic, sexist shit are hearkening back to a world where women couldn’t easily conduct financial/ business transactions without her husband’s signature.  A world where someone must be at fault to acquire a dissolution of marriage. Where their nostalgic memories (or unfulfilled fantasies) of a woman waiting hand-and-foot on them as she prepares all the meals and cleans up after them without complaint take precedence to the humanness of the person in said scenario.

These are sick desires. They are not, “Things were different when I was young, it’s hard to keep track of all these changes.”

No, it’s just straight-up bigotry. Not, “Ooops, I misplaced my glasses because I’m getting old–oh, and I forgot I have to treat those pesky bleeps with respect now. Gosh durn it, things were different in my day! Why, I could give a bleep a good wallop and no-one would care!” 

Bigotry.

~*~ SIDE RANT ~*~

I’d like to take a moment to note that tons of politically progressive minds have been both influential and ordinary in the distant and recent past. It’s not like the path of history is some … some bright ladder, always stretching upward and progressing to a final penultimate point of clarity and awesomeness for the human race. History is more like the tidemark on the beach, constantly being reshaped by the shifting waves of history as the same basic events repeat in new formations with each new tide that washes in and out.

Labor rights activism washes in, labor rights activism washes out. Gender equality washes in, gender equality recedes. Religious freedom advances, religious freedom retreats.

Don’t go thinking we’re somehow more advanced, or morally superior to our ancestors. Humankind has been wrestling with the same basic social questions for thousands of years in various iterations of culture and throughout numerous governmental experiments. We keep adding complications–the written word, the printing press, the typewriter, the word processor, the internet–but in the end, it comes down to the same thing. There are multiple perspectives trying to convince one other to agree with differing ways of seeing the world, and sometimes when the words fail, the arguments devolve from persuasive language to fists (or the modern equivalent thereof).

In the past three centuries, we’ve managed to spectacularly fuck things up on an unprecedented level in recorded history by linking slavery to race and making it a generational thing, which meant even once we got rid of slavery, there was still this whole socially ingrained idea our culture had spent the last THREE FUCKING CENTURIES hammering in that the color of our skin was somehow relevant to our character–an idea that was like, nada before.

Before, they judged you on religion.

~*~ BACK TO THE MATTER AT HAND ~*~

So, yeah. When I exhibit ageism, sometimes I feel a little bit guilty, because my mom used to say, “Imagine that was your grandpa!”

And I loved my grandpa. He was a pretty neat guy. He also never said anything racist or sexist or homophobic to my knowledge. As far as I know, he loved everyone.

So when I get impatient with old people, or make ageist jokes, I hear my mom’s scolding voice in my memory and feel a twinge of guilt. She’s right, I suppose. I mean, systemic social circumstances and all that. I hate it when old people drive, but its not their fault our public transport system sucks balls.

Well. It’s kinda their generation’s fault. Because they didn’t vote to increase taxes to pay for better public transportation, and now my generation is stuck with their lack of forethought.

What, did they think we were just going to drop everything to drive them everywhere? Did they think they would magically never lose their faculties–that they would be the first elderly in the history of the fuckin’ world not to experience loss of hearing, vision, and memory, and spatial awareness?

… but then again, there were a lot of corporate interests invested in making sure the automobile took precedence over public transport. No-one was exactly thinking 100 years into the future when all those individuals would be doddering away behind the steering wheels of multi-ton high-speed death machines. We could just as easily blame the corporations and marketing companies. It would actually probably be more accurate–they had all the money, why weren’t they funneling into the future of the community? Oh, right. They were lining their fucking pockets.

~*~ Okay, okay, that didn’t work. But … ~*~

Well, how ’bout this: It isn’t old people’s fault we have no sort of useful, comprehensive eldercare system.

… except, again, yeah, the taxes thing. Actually, on that one … I think we can blame everyone who was of voting age from 1980-2004 and chose to respond to the Civil Rights era by voting for any or all of the following: Reagan, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush.

Yeah. If an old person voted for most of those guys, they preeeetttty much brought any current shitty circumstances regarding retirement/ social security/ medicare/ healthcare on themselves. Thanks, you didn’t just screw yourselves over–you screwed your kids and your grandkids over, too.

~*~ Show some respect ~*~

I really try to give angry bigoted old people the benefit of the doubt, believe it or not. I know it doesn’t sound like it, from this entry, but just imagine it from their perspective. For an old person today, born somewhere between the 1920s-1940s, they probably knew an elderly person as a child–a family member, or friend of the family, or a scary old person the neighborhood kids whispered about in hushed voices, or an honored member of several prestigious-sounding leadership boards.

This elderly person probably was respected, in large part, just for being old. I mean, the grandparents of the 1920s-1940s had lived through the pre-vaccine era. They knew polio and cholera and Spanish Influenza all up close and personal. Measles was a thing to be scared of. Women still regularly counted themselves lucky to survive childbirth. Like, what the fuck. The men had fought in wars when they still used bayonets. Gangrene and trench rot was a thing for the men of that generation. Mine cave ins, factory fires, and all sorts of workplace accidents. Workplace safety wasn’t really a “thing”.

Surviving to seventy, back then, kind of was an achievement all on its own.

But today’s old person … it’s like, okay. So … congratulations.

You lived through the era of vaccinations and skyrocketing advancements in medical science. Workplace safety and child labor laws have been enacted, ensuring that you didn’t have to work until you were strong enough and old enough, and that once you started working there were protective measures in place to ensure you would survive the stupidity/ inattention of yourself and your coworkers.

Advanced kitchen technology means you grew up with food that lasted longer and was fresher, preventing tapeworms, harmful bacteria, and various foodborne illnesses from killing you. You grew up in cities and suburbs, far from the lions and tigers and bears that wanted to eat your face off. Despite the fear-mongering on the news, violent crime is dropping year-by-year.

So now when an old person demands the respect their age is due (remembering the grandfather of their childhood), the 21st century product of 20th century vaccinations and EPA and Clean Water Acts and Labor Rights acts and the various benefits of medical science looks back at them and asks (rightfully) … “Uh, why?”

Living to old age, on it’s own, is just not impressive anymore. Now you’ve actually got to be a decent human being along with it.

~*~ In the end ~*~

These days, anyone between the age of 70-90 has had a minimum of five goddamn decades to adjust to the world we live in and the default rules for polite social interaction. They’re very simple.

  1. People of color and women are now equal under the law. Start acting like it.
  2. The n-word is a completely unacceptable slur. I don’t care if you said it in “your day”. It’s been over 50 years since that term was in common and accepted usage. Now stop.
  3. To elderly men: Women are addressed by their Title and Name (eg: Ms. Smith) when in a place of work, not bakery-cafe nicknames such as “honey” or “sweetheart”. If you wouldn’t summon her male co-worker with a, “darling, come here,” then don’t try it on her.
  4. To elderly women: Ditto goes for the guys. It’s not actually okay to go around calling retail and service workers, “honey,” and “sweetie,” and “darling,” and all these infantilizing names. These are grown adults, working jobs in the fastest-growing employment sectors to support themselves and their families. Stop talking to them like they’re confused children.
  5. It was your generation that screwed up the economy so bad that our generation is stuck working below a living wage in a service-based economy. Stop talking down to service and retail workers.
  6. Show respect to get respect.

~*~ Post Script ~*~

Stop driving. Stop driving. Stop driving. For the love of god, at least take a drivers’ test. I’m pretty sure they’ll tell you to stop driving. 

 

Love and Marriage

Prompt: Your current relationship; if single, discuss that, too.

Basically, I’m married and I love it.

I met my husband at the Young Single Adults ward when I was 20.

Mormons are officially of marriageable age when they’re legal adults, and in order to encourage inter-faith marriage, all single 18-29 year old’s are encouraged to attend either student wards (if they’re attending BYU or something similar) or YSA wards. John was 18 and thinking about serving a mormon mission.

I often joke that I sucked as a mormon: Even when I did things “right” (like getting married young), I still managed to screw it up (like preventing a guy from going on a mission because he married me instead).

***

I told him after three dates that I had a certain hereditary mental illness. I had a three-date/ meeting cutoff for telling people, back then, because I’d learned the hard way that if I told them right away, they wouldn’t give me a chance at all … but if I waited and told them after I was emotionally invested, there were some who would throw it in my face and use it against me, or dump me without a word. I decided that a three-date cutoff was the perfect time: Enough time for them to decide whether they liked me more than the stigma of mental illness, but not enough time to break my heart if they bailed.

He spent all night researching it on the internet, and became a mental health advocate in my corner for life.

***

He proposed to me over a waterfall, and we took my parents out for Thai food at one of our favorite date spots to tell them. My mom took my hand and rubbed her thumb across the ring, saying, “Do you have something you want to tell us?” and I said, “Well, we’re engaged.” My parents were delighted. Mom especially thought John hung the moon and stars.

***

We had a lot of difficulties the first 10 years of our marriage. An unexpected pregnancy. The deaths of five people who were very close to us, including parents and grandparents. Natural disaster damaging our home, and trying to repair it. Health issues. A complete shift in religious beliefs, on both our parts. Financial strain. Bankruptcy.

All that said, the shadows come no-where near the sunshine of it all. On balance, there has been much more laughter than tears in our relationship.

***

When we were first married, John got a Playstation because I’d never played video games before. We would play couch co-op RPGs on a regular basis. He even watched me play all of Final Fantasy VIII, and never complained about me hogging the console. He bought me FFIX and FFX, but I didn’t like them as much. Plus, it’s more fun to play a game with the person you love; not with them sitting to the side running commentary.

He introduced me to Netflix, and we used to peruse the website catalog trying to decide which movie we were going to watch on his next weekend. We watched a bunch of classics we’d never seen before, and he introduced me to such B-rated gems as Caveman and Howard the Duck. We watched Fast & the Furious that we could quote it by heart. To this day, we’ll still quote random lines like, “What’d you put in that sandwich?” or, “You embarrass me!”

***

We used to drive to Canada on a whim and stay the weekend, pigging out on Kindereggs.

Before I met John, I did not like tomatoes. Or mushrooms. Or spinach. Or hot sauce. Or sushi. Or Mexican food. Or pizza. Or salmon. I’d never tried bbq ribs or crab or lobster. I’d never had clams.

You’re probably wondering what I did like. Well … cheese hot-dogs. Spaghetti. Chicken nuggets. French fries.

I did not have a sophisticated palate, you could say.

John encourages me to try new things. Consistently and insistently, until, wincing, I open my mouth to that bite of eel on his plate and concede that it is not so bad. I learned that most of the foods I disliked had been blandly prepared, all soggy and overcooked. Canned mushrooms and spinach, btw, are not a good way to introduce a child to those foods. That’s how you make a life-long aversion.

***

When I was pregnant, John fixed me breakfast every morning. During the early months of the pregnancy, we would go on long outdoor walks, but as it progressed along with the season, that shifted to mall-walks. But John knew how restless I was, and was always willing to go on a drive or ramble. That didn’t change after our son was born, either–he just matter-of-factly incorporated the tiny baby into our rambles.

One year, on Easter Sunday, John filled our living room with chocolates and flowers. When we were dating, he taped balloons all over my car. He likes to surprise me, to bring home unexpected and heart-touchingly thoughtful gifts, or to plan out clever dates that involve hiking up to see the sunrise or riding an out-of-the-way road with brand-new sights to see. They always become fond and much-revisited memories.

I am not always good with the unexpected or surprises. I am embarrassed to report that I have sometimes snapped at him or been impatient because I had plan A in my mind, and John deviated and went with, say, plan A.2 instead–mostly the same, minor tweaks. I have learned to relax and go with the flow a little more over the years. I have learned to show gratitude for sweet gestures instead of impatience that we’ve gone off-plan.

***

He’s a wonderful father. In a lot of ways–sensitivity to noise, introversion, attention span, distrust for new/ unexpected things–our son is a lot like me. This is sometimes baffling to John, who is robust and outgoing and loves to push boundaries and try new things … but he is accepting of it. He never tries to push our son beyond his comfort zone. He is proud of our son’s achievements, and actively looks for hobbies and activities they can share together. His goal is to be a father who is present and supportive; who spends quality time with his son, accepts him for who he is, and supports him as a person. He’s pretty great at it.

***

He listens to me, and respects my perspective and observations. He supports my dreams and goals, as I support his. We push each other to try new things–experiences, ideas, food, hobbies.

In a way, we grew up together. I think a lot of your growing happens in your twenties, and we got married at 19 and 21. Over the past 15 years, we have definitely evolved as individuals, as well as a couple.

Sometimes I think about what if. What if we hadn’t gotten married? What if I’d applied for that writing program in New York? What if I’d gone to BYU? What if my parents never moved to the US after I was born? What if John’s parents had not moved back to our state?

In most of those what-if’s, I think we would have found each other and gotten together. Once we’re together, I have a firm belief (born of all the hardships we’ve overcome) that our relationship can survive anything. In every parallel universe I imagine, our paths converge and we end up together.

***

What’s funny is, our relationship began before we met. A series of coincidences and similarities. We were born in the same country. Our dads both worked at the local Army base–his as an enlisted soldier, mine as a civilian in the JAG office. Our dads both retired when we were about 13.

When I was 17 and he was 16, there was a bicentennial trek thing the Mormon church did. There was a big, country-wide one, and several smaller local ones. Our stake put on a smaller local one, and we both went on it. We were assigned to families, and people wore pioneer-style clothes. I quickly gave up on my bonnet and began stealing a cowboy hat and handkerchief from a boy I was friends with (Brandon). John was in Brandon’s assigned “family group”, and clearly remembers Brandon suddenly being hatless after the first day. We both remember major incidents from the trek, such as when a handcart ran over a toe of one of the youth leaders, and when one of the family groups “murdered” their flour baby to make pancakes, and the sound of a violin being played late one night as we camped in a field beneath the stars.

Later, when I was 19, I went to what turned out to be John’s high school prom. He remembers my date–a friend of his–and remembers said friend introducing his date (me) to John. He has very little memory of what I looked like or what I was wearing, other than the fleeting impression I was pretty.

Through our teens, we attended numerous weekly church-related youth dances and activities in the same region. At several points before we finally met, we were in the same room under the same disco ball, listening to the same music while we watched the same crowd stare shyly and unmovingly at one another across a crowded room. We share the same memories of those awful church dances.

In a strange way, the tapestry of our lives has been winding together since before we knew each other. Sometimes it makes me wonder about the other fleeting interactions in our day–how many of these people move in and out of our lives, mere background characters at the moment, but with the potential for so much more? How many times did John and I meet, our lives briefly touch, and then dance away again before we really saw one another?

***

 

My family raised me to value discussion and therapy, and the result is that I am like the white-water caps on a river, churning up endless discussions of feelings.

His family is more reserved, and the result is that he is like the deep, still waters of Lake Tahoe, with its calm glassy surface and endless depths. A wind-ripple of waves will disturb the surface, but it is not the chaotic and fleeting expressiveness that typifies the flowing river.

Sometimes I get impatient with the stillness of the lake, and he gets overwhelmed by the crashing river, but mostly it works really well for us. We balance each other.

***

My husband is my best friend.

 

A book you love, and one you didn’t

I love the Harry Potter series, and I loathed Twilight. Surprise, surprise.

I remember the day I finished reading Book 7 of the HP series. I had that sense of disappointment that always accompanies the end of a really good series, and it was amplified by the fact that at that point, I’d been reading the series for seven years. I was introduced to the first volume of the series in 2000 by a college roommate, and quickly raced through the four volumes in print at the time. I eagerly awaited each installment, and re-read the entire series before she released each book.

I hated the films, so for me, the final book was the end of the experience. Sure, I can always go back and re-read, but that’s a different experience. The discovery portion was over.

I called my older sister, who was also an HP fan, to talk about the finale. In the course of the conversation, I expressed my disappointment that the series was over and wondered aloud what I would read next. She said, “Well, if you like fantasy, there’s this new series everyone at church is talking about.”

I said, “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. It’s about vampires and werewolves and all those things you like.”

I twisted my lip a little at the vampires bit, and figured I would not read the series. Generally speaking, I am not a vampire fan. There’s a vampire anime I liked as a teen (Vampire Hunter D), and I swooned over Brad Pitt in Interview With a Vampire, and Spike on Buffy brought a little tingle of joy to my heart when he was onscreen, but mostly I just detested vampire stores.

Why? Because for the most part, vampire stories are love stories. I hate that dynamic. If it’s fucking creepy when a 40 year old hits on a 16 year old, why is it suddenly better when the older person is a young-looking vampire? Answer: It’s not. It’s gross and predatory. There is no way in goddamn hell that an immortal being would look at a teenage naif and think, “Yeah. That. That is who I want tailing around me for the rest of my immortal life. That’ll be awesome.”

Here’s how that situation would actually play out: The gross old vampire would seduce her, bang her, and leave her. Maybe suck her blood and kill her. But there’s no rational situation where an immortal decides that a teenage ingenue is exactly what he needs in a life partner. Actually, there’s no rational situation where an immortal of any stripe goes for a human. It never makes sense. Ever. Their backgrounds and personalities and values are just way too different. What the hell is a 20 something, or 30 something, or even 40 something gonna have to say to a vampire? “Oh, you saw the Civil War? Cool, cool. I think my great-great-grandad fought in that. So … do you miss Victorian fashion?”

There’s just no goddamn overlap in life experiences. Everything the human thinks is worth worrying or complaining about is just petty humanity in the eyes of someone who has seen centuries go by.

Anyway, so I clearly wasn’t interested in Twilight, and had no plans to read it. Then, that summer, I was taking this Statistics course. First day, I walk in and see a girl reading this big thick book, and I say, “Whatcha reading?”

Immediately, I wince. I hate it when people ask me what I’m reading when I am reading. But the girl looks up with a wide-eyed, bright smile and says in a breathless, gushy sort of voice, “Eclipse.”

“Yeah? What is that, about the phases of the moon or something?” I joke, dropping into the chair beside her. She gives me a horrified look, as though I’ve said some very unfunny sacrilege (it was unfunny, I admit. Sacrilege? No.), and says, “No, it’s the third book in the Twilight series.”

I wrinkle my eyebrows in thought. “I think I’ve heard of that.”

“You haven’t read it?”

She gasps in horror and real pity, and touched my hand lightly. “I’ll bring it next week. You’re going to love it.”

She did bring it the next week. A hardcover copy. She put it down in front of me with the triumphant air of a messenger delivering a precious jewel, and said, “This is seriously the most amazing book in the entire world. I’m not usually a reader, but I cannot put this down. It’s the best thing I’ve ever read.”

Okay, quick note: The more effusively someone raves over something, the more concerned I am about consuming that particular media, or food, or whatever. I have learned through painful experience that when someone raves about a thing being the most amazing thing in the history of ever, I am bound to be disappointed (ironically, this does not stop me from raving about things being the most amazing things in the history of ever, haha).

So I looked at her with a slightly concerned look, but I accepted the book. During the class, I kind of skimmed it … looked at the title page and whatnot. Saw that despite this being a hardcover copy of her self-professed favoritest book ever, she had not put her name or contact info on the inside cover.

I’ve lost way too many books to that kind of trustworthy lending, so after class I pointed out the lack of info to her and invited her to mark her property. She gave me a suspicious look, like I was crazypants or a lesbian trying to subtly hit on her, but wrote her name and number in an illegible scrawl and pushed the book back at me.

I read it that night, and the only thing that prevented me from throwing the damn tome across the room was the fact that it was not mine. I returned it to her the next day, and studiously avoided her for the remainder of the class.

As offensively bad as the book was, I think I especially hated it because people were recommending it to me as I came off the tail of Harry Potter, and comparing it to Harry Potter. That’s like comparing … Sherlock Holmes with The Hardy Boys. One can read The Hardy Boys and graduate to Sherlock Holmes, but it is much more difficult to appreciate them in the opposite order. This is the case with Twilight.

Perhaps if I had never before read a fantasy story or a YA novel, I could have read Twilight and found it transformative and imaginative and amazing. But I came to Twilight after reading the likes of Harry Potter and Narnia and The Golden Compass and The Enchanted Forest Chroniclesand a hundred thousand other fantasy books I won’t bother to look up the authors and titles of. Twilight was doomed for me long before it was a wet dream in the author’s bed, because I’d been on a steady diet of fantasy for two decades before it was published, and I’d developed a taste for really great fantasy. There was just no possibility of me ever liking it.

 

What Tattoos You Have, and if They Have Meaning

I have two tattoos.

The first is three plumeria blossoms on my bicep. I got it while we were in Hawai’i on vacation. I basically picked some flash on the wall of the shop. Out of all the flash, I selected plumeria because John had shown a blossom to me at a park the day before and I really liked the way it smelled.

John got a tattoo at the same time; three turtles with faces on their shells to represent each member of our family. I ended up getting three blossoms to represent our family, as well.

My second tat is a red and blue Chinese-style dragon, and it’s on the back of my neck. It memorializes two people: My mom and “Kay,” one of my best friends. Both of these women died in 2003.

When I was a teenager, I really wanted a tattoo. Like, begging my parents, sketching out designs, daydreaming out loud nonstop about my potential tattoo. This, naturally, horrified my LDS parents. Mormons believe your body is a temple, and therefore a tattoo is essentially graffiti.

I would argue that if my body is a temple, I should be able to paint it lovely colors and put up artwork. I pointed out that cathedrals have elaborate carvings and grotesque gargoyles.

For some reason, these arguments did not fly with them.

In any case, my mom used to joke, “Sure, you can get a tattoo … over my dead body!”

She said the same thing about riding motorcycle, as it happens.

So that’s why the dragon is a bit of a memorial tattoo for mom. I got it a few years after she died, and in an ironic tip of the hat, I chose to have it done in mom’s favorite colors.
81FxmsJLLxL._UY395_

The design itself actually came from a dragon pendant Kay gave me when I was about 16. I used to have a real interest in dragons. I wore the necklace pretty much all the time, until I lost it. Kay noticed I wasn’t wearing it, asked me about it, and I confessed I’d lost it. She bought me a replacement, and in a few short months I’d lost that, too.

To my surprise, she bought me another replacement. I used to wonder why she kept buying replacements. Recently I realized it must have been because I loved the necklace so much, I wore it every day. I guess it made her happy, making me happy. Also, knowing that I enjoyed her gift that much.

Anyway, I lost the second replacement, and the third, and the fourth. I never asked for a replacement. I would lose it, and she would inevitably notice and within a few weeks or a month, produce a replacement.

At some point, she started joking that I’d need to get it tattooed on me to prevent me losing it ever again. When we were 22, she moved to California, and I moved to a new apartment with my husband and child. Of course, I lost the necklace during the move. Perhaps my infant son had tugged too hard on the cord and broken the clasp.

We didn’t speak again before she died.

I thought about the dragon tattoo for six years before I finally got it. I didn’t want to rush into anything. I couldn’t decide if I wanted a small black outline the size of a pendant in the dip of my collarbone, or if I wanted something larger and more colorful. I eventually decided on a piece on the nape of my neck, because I can cover it and be “business professional” by growing out my hair or wearing a scarf.

I sometimes think about getting script of some sort … perhaps the first verse of my mom’s favorite poem.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

— Lewis Carroll

 

Someone who fascinates you, and why

Audrey_Hepburn_in_Charade_4

Mom introduced me to Audrey Hepburn via Charade  when I was about 13 or 14. At first, I was just fascinated by her odd beauty–that square jaw, those huge eyes. In quick succession, I watched My Fair Lady and Roman Holiday and Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s

This was back in the days of Blockbuster Video, before the bounty of Netflix.

I started requesting her movies through the library system instead, and over the next few years worked my way through How to Steal a MillionThe Nuns Story, Robin and Marian, Funny Face, Two for the RoadLove in the Afternoon, Paris When it Sizzles, and War and PeaceAlso, a curious set of gardening videos … I dunno. I tried to get my hands on a copy of the alleged flight safety recording she did before she became famous, but no dice. I didn’t watch The Children’s Hour and Wait Until Dark until I was in my 20s, and I still haven’t seen Green Mansions.

Somewhere along the way, it stopped being a fascination with her curious looks or her talent, and became an admiration for her as a person. She was a genuinely good person–someone worth looking up to. As a child in Austria during WWII, she’d gone without food to make sure her mother and siblings had enough, which led to a life-long weight issue due to the severe malnutrition she suffered during the war. Her estranged father was a Nazi who abandoned his family. She’s rumored to have worked for the Dutch Resistance. After she retired as an actress, she volunteered for UNICEF.

Growing up in the 90s, I didn’t know of any modern equivalent to her: Someone who was principled, and moral, and talented, and lovely. It fascinated me that no matter what role she was playing, the goodness seemed to shine out of her. I don’t think Audrey could’ve played a villain if she tried … she was too kind-hearted, and it showed.

These days, I’d say Emma Watson is the closest equivalent to Audrey Hepburn.

It kinda bums me out that of her entire legacy, most people remember Audrey Hepburn for Breakfast at Tiffany‘s, which I personally consider to be among her worst films.

Norway

Norway is totally a place I would live, but have never visited.

My great-great-grandfather immigrated to the USA from Kasfjord, Norway after being converted to Mormonism. I wish I could write the Norwegian government and apologize for his ill-haste, and request that they would reconsider the unkind decision he made so long ago on behalf of his descendants.

Wouldn’t that be nice, if we could apply for citizenship based on ancestry?

My dad served a mission in Norway. Mom served one in Germany. A few years later, after completing their missions, they met and married. A few years after that, they ended up posted to Germany through dad’s job, which is where I was born. I’ve never been to Norway, though, not even as a baby.

They moved back to the USA when I was less than a year old, and raised me on stories of Norway and Germany. They use to sit the whole family down for slideshows, and show us the parks and mountains and fjords.

At Christmas, dad would put Norwegian flags on the tree, and mom would tuck little German dolls amongst the branches. Even though we were mormon, we would still celebrate Advent, and one of us girls would dress up in a white nightgown with a wreath on our head to bring in the rice pudding with a hidden almond.

We had a collection of dirndls in varying sizes and one bunad, and I would wear one or the other regularly to church family history activities. I liked the bunad best, because it was a rich forest green with gold lacework embroidery, and the apron was made of finer material. The dirndl that fit me was a blue cotton with a red apron.

We had a trunkful of Norwegian sweaters made of itchy cream wool with red and green and black patterns on them. On nearly every surface in the house, my dad would place Henning trolls, and he’d move them every few weeks and tell us the trolls were traveling. My dad used to make us Norwegian waffles in his heart-shaped pan–which I later learned are also called Swedish or Danish waffles, and which I can only get at Ikea these days–and threaten to feed us lutefisk if we talked back.

I ached, in my heart. From the time I was a small child, I wanted to go there.

tumblr_myvtguhnid1tniu8bo1_500

As an adult, I have learned that my home is very like Norway. We have fjords, although we call them “sounds” and “inlets”. We have tall mountains, snow, and green meadows. The Native Americans of this region even have a way of preserving fish that is very like lutefisk.

It makes me feel a little better about never having been to Norway. As though, somehow, through the generations and miles, I managed to find a horizon that looks very like the one my ancestors would have one looked over.

All the same, I very much want to return to Norway. Uff da! Return! I’ve never been. I should like to go to Norway (this entire entry applies to Germany, as well–right down to the existence of similar topographical features between my ancestral home and my current home).

10 things I hate about … me?

Wait, I think I have this writing prompt wrong. Let me double check.

Oh. Its ten interesting facts about me. Hmmmm.

See, what I think is interesting and what other people think is interesting are probably two very different things. I always have a hard time writing this type of shit. What the hell.

  1. I’m older than my husband by one year. My older sister is also older than her husband, and my maternal grandma was older than her husband, so I’m just keepin’ the family tradition. My son better marry someone older than him.
  2. My mom used to tell me that I could get a tattoo “over her dead body,” or ride a motorcycle, “over her dead body,” so when I got a tattoo it was in memoriam, and the first long motorcycle ride I ever took was to the graveyard she was buried in. (Mom would have appreciated this humor, trust me).
  3. My mom used to tell me when I was a teenager, “I hope you have one just like you.” I did not realize at the time she was cursing me. Now I say it to my son.
  4. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar at age 14 and spent over a decade on psychotropic medications that fucked with my moods. I haven’t had a mood swing since going off them in 2009, but I do have ADHD. Fun times.
  5. I was born overseas. Coincidentally, so was my husband. In the same foreign country, even (not town, though!)
  6. I am reasonably talented at drawing, but I’m just not very invested in it.
  7. I can type 78 wpm.
  8. I finish most average-length books (about 450 pgs) in a day.
  9. I learned how to sew while my mom was sick, and the first dress I ever sewed I wore to her funeral.
  10. When I was 19, my best friend took me to get pierced. I got a tongue stud and she got a belly button piercing. My parents were furious, and when I got sick with lithium poisoning a few months later, my dad told me it was because of the tongue stud. So I took it out and the piercing healed over. Four years later, my friend died, just a few months before my mom. Three years after that, my husband and I hit a bump in our marriage and briefly separated. When we reconciled, we decided that we wanted something to honor our re-commitment. My husband suggested piercings. We chose each other’s piercings … he chose a tongue stud, knowing what it meant to me, and I chose a cartilage ring in his ear. So we actually both have two pieces of jewelry honoring our relationship: our wedding rings, and the piercings.

First loves and kisses, long gone away

 

1987

Seven-year old Emma sat beneath the shadow of the trampoline, shaded from the hot summer sun by the cool fabric stretched above. The fresh-mowed grass tickled her knees. Her neighbor and second-best-friend in the whole wide world knelt across from her, his round freckled face serious.

“Are you scared?”

“Nah,” he said. He clenched his malformed fingers into a tight fist. Emma tried not to look straight at them. He got embarrassed when you did that, and she didn’t want him to think she saw the webbing instead of him.

“What if something goes wrong?”

“Nothing will,” he mumbled, clearly embarrassed to have mentioned the surgery to her in the first place. She frowned at the ground, not wanting him to go. All she knew of hospitals was that they were cold and white and bright, and people went away to them and stayed away for a long time.

Her mom had stayed away for years after her sister was born.

“I’ll be fine,” he said. She nodded, tears stinging her eyes. The moment was broken when her brother Ed ducked beneath the trampoline. “Hey! What are you doing here?”

“Nothing,” she said, wishing he would go away. Vaughn’s brown eyes lit up at the sight of the older boy, making her heart ache. He adored her stupid brother.

“Eating grass,” Vaughn said. He grabbed a fistful of the green and shoved it in his mouth, making Ed laugh.

“You should eat grasshoppers,” Ed said. “They taste like lemon drops.”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Yuh-huh!”

“Nuh-uh!”

“How do you know? Have you ever tried one?”

“No,” Emma interrupted, stymied by the argument.

“I dare you,” Ed said, his eyes gleaming. “I dare you to eat a grasshopper, and you’ll see.”

“Yeah!” Vaughn said, excited at the idea. “Eat a grasshopper! I’ll catch it!”

The two boys took off in search of a grasshopper, laughing. Emma stayed beneath the cool shade of the trampoline, alone.

1990

“Who are you gonna be?”

“The bride,” Emma said in all her ten-year-old wisdom. Obviously. Big sister rights, here. She draped the length of white lace over her head and looked at her little sister Kari through the makeshift veil. Kari pouted at her.

“Who am I gonna be?”

“Vaughn, duh.”

It wasn’t duh, and they both knew it. Depending on who was there to play wedding with them, Kari had played the role of dad, priest, or wedding guest. She beamed at the groom assignment, and hurried to rummage through their dress-up chest for an appropriate suit. Emma began tying her dandelion bouquet together; daydreaming about the day she would really marry Vaughn.

They would walk down the aisle together, all their friends and family throwing flower petals that would drift around them like a snowstorm. He would turn toward her, his dark brown eyes gleaming like river-soaked rocks, and then they’d be family for real, like Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder.

The sliding door to the backyard opened, and Jo stepped out onto the backyard patio to scowl at her two little sisters. Arms folded, she said irritably, “I’ve been looking all over for you. What are you doing out here? It’s dinner time.”

Seeing Emma’s attire, Jo’s eyes widened with outrage. “Why are you wearing my prom dress? Where did you even get that!?”

“We’re having a wedding,” Kari piped up. “Emma’s the bride.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Jo dismissively. “Mormons don’t have weddings. We get married in the temple.”

She slammed the sliding door behind her, leaving her crestfallen sisters behind.

“Come on,” Kari said quietly. “Here comes the bride …”

“No,” Emma said, pulling off the veil. “It’s dumb.”

1994

Emma bit her thumb nervously, staring across the outdoor courtyard through the double-glass doors at a cluster of teenagers draped around an indoor cafeteria table. Charity was always telling her she was welcome with the church kids, but Emma found them intimidating. Tara, straddling a backward-facing chair, was loose-limbed and confident in her basketball shorts. She didn’t speak often, but when she did it was with a wry twist to her mouth and dry wit that made the table boisterous with laughter. Bryan sat a few chairs away, grinning as he told some story, his hands gesturing wildly in the air. Emma could remember playing flashlight tag in the dark with Bryan only two years ago, when they were twelve.

Back then, they used to hang out all the time.

Vaughn was leaning back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, eyes gleaming with amusement. Emma studied his odd-shaped face with hungry eyes. It really was a funny-looking face–still babyish fat in all the wrong places, with an odd leanness juxtaposing in way that was both eye-catching and repellent. His dark hair was buzzed too-short, amplifying his big ears and outsized features. When he smiled, the teeth flashed in laughter were crooked. She’d outgrown her crush on him years ago, back when they were in sixth grade and golden-haired Andy moved into the neighborhood … but lately, Emma couldn’t help noticing that Vaughn was still thoughtful. Sweet. Funny.

Kinda cute, in a gargoyle-like way. She kind of wanted to ask him out, see where it could go … but it made her stomach hurt to think about him saying no.

It wasn’t Vaughn that was stopping her from approaching the table, though, or Bryan or even Tara. It was the Becca’s: one blonde, one brunette, and one forgettable. Pug-faced blonde Becca was snuggled up to her boyfriend Bryan, and she scared the crap out of Emma. Something about the sneering way Becca eyeballed her made Emma suspect that the other girl knew about the crush she’d once had on Bryan. It was ages ago, before Becca even moved to the area, but somehow Emma was sure that was no defense.

“Hey,” said a voice behind her. Relieved at the familiar voice, she turned to Allen. He was just her height, with an angels face. Eyes the pale washed-out blue of the Washington sky, and long blond hair so light it seemed silver in some lights. He was so pretty he made her heart hurt. “Where you been? I been looking all over for you.”

“Sorry,” she said. She dug into her back pocket and produced the forged hallway passes she knew he was looking for. “Here you go.”

“You’re an angel,” he said, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her flush against him. She blushed, her heart skidding a little in her chest, and tried to pretend she was unaffected. Allen acted like this with all the girls. When she first met him, she’d been naive enough to think he wanted to be her boyfriend … right up until she met his new girlfriend. A flirt through-and-through, that was Allen.

She glanced past Allen at the group clustered around the table. To her surprise, Vaughn was looking straight at her, his lips pursed in what looked like disapproval. One of the Becca’s leaned over and whispered something in his ear, and his face cracked wide and grotesque with a grin as his eyes squinted mean and piggy at some shared joke. Becca smirked toward Emma.

Emma turned to Allen. “Got a smoke?”

1995

“You look beautiful,” Emma’s mom said, smoothing the silky fabric of the pale-blue dress across her daughter’s hips. Emma faced herself in the mirror and smiled tentatively, her heart hammering in her chest. Her mom had been reluctant to get the dress, which was sleeveless, but Emma had begged. It seemed perfect: blue like water, fitted like a glove, and swirling flared like a mermaid fin down from her knees. What better dress to wear when going to a dance with the star of the swim team?

The doorbell rang, and Emma turned bright-eyed toward it. Kari snickered from where she was draped belly-down on the bed. “I can’t believe you actually asked Vaughn to the dance.”

“Scratch that,” Ed said from the hallway. “can’t believe he agreed to go.”

She ignored the ribbing of her siblings and glided upstairs, heart hammering with anticipation. Kari’s disbelief and Ed’s mockery notwithstanding, she’d done it. She’d asked him, and he’d said yes, and they were about to have their first date ever.

When they were children, she’d liked him so much it hurt. If she concentrated, Emma could still feel the shadow of that wanting across her heart. She wasn’t sure, but she thought it was a seed that could flourish and grow into something more.

If he wanted. If he was interested.

The door opened on the familiar face she’d known for a lifetime. Emma took one look at the features she knew so well, and knew it was all wrong. He pasted on a smile as they posed for photos with her parents. She could feel in the way his hand rested on her hip, his fingers barely touching the fabric, that he would rather be anywhere than here.

She was miserable before they even reached the car, and bright with chatter as she tried to salvage the night. Even if he didn’t like her like that, she thought, they were still friends. They could still have fun.

They arrived at the dance, and Vaughn slammed out of the car and strode toward the school doors. Awkwardly, Emma unbuckled her belt, unlocked the auto-locked door, and let herself out. She had to lift up her pretty skirts and trot to catch up to him. He cast her an impatient look when she reached him at the doors, but said nothing. They stood in awkward silence, his shoulders hunched and hands thrust deep in his pockets as they waited to enter.

Emma shivered in the cool night air next to him, regretting her sleeveless dress. She thought longingly of Allen, who would at least have offered her his coat to keep warm.

“I’m cold,” she said, a hopeful hint.

“Me too,” Vaughn said, a firm rebuff.

The ticket collector held out his hand, and Vaughn thrust their dance tickets at him with a surly grunt. The school cafeteria was transformed with paper lanterns and disco balls, the floor covered in a sheen of glitter. Vaughn led her to the punch table and ladled out two cups, then muttered, “I’ll be right back.”

Half an hour later, Emma finally spotted him dancing with a Becca.

Tears of humiliation burned under her stupid makeup, threatening to ruin her perfectly powdered face. She turned and walked down the hallway, not wanting him to see her react. Not wanting him to know she was hurt.

It was stupid, she thought. They were supposed to be friends. She thought they were at least that. If he didn’t want to encourage her, that didn’t mean he had to be rude. He was supposed to be her friend.

Friends didn’t treat you like this. Friends didn’t make you cry at your first-ever school dance.

“Hey,” said a familiar voice. “What are you doing here?”

She turned and looked at Allen in the dark and shadowed hallway. Against her will, a smile tugged at her lips. “Same thing you are.”

“Avoiding your date?”

“Looks like.”

He held out his hand, and when she took it he pulled her close. They swayed together to the faint music piping down the hallway. Emma slowly lowered her head until it was resting on his shoulder, and he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her closer.

“Don’t cry,” he said softly, his voice a breath against the shell of her ear. In the shadows of the hallway, the dampness of her tears glimmered silver.

“I’m not,” she whispered, ashamed that she was. Stupid to cry over a boy she didn’t even like. Stupid to cry over a childhood crush. Stupid to cry over a boy.

Allen pulled back a little to look at her, putting his curled index finger under her chin to nudge her into looking back at him. After a long moment, he leaned forward and kissed each tear track with a butterfly-soft touch. She inhaled a soft, shuddering breath, and then his salt-stung mouth touched her lips. She froze for a moment, stunned and breathless, and then closed her eyes as she opened her mouth to her first kiss.

*Authors note: I don’t actually remember when Allen and I first kissed, but I do remember that I was upset and he was comforting me. I think it was actually before I realized he wasn’t boyfriend material, though. He was most of my firsts … first kiss, first public hand-hold, first snuggle. Never a boyfriend, though. As his best friend, I ended up having more longevity than any of his girlfriends, so it worked out for me.

I did have a massive crush on Vaughn when I was a kid, and planned to marry him someday. The crush faded as we grew up, and was long gone by middle school. At some point in my teens, the vestiges of my childhood affection stirred again and I asked him to a dance. He said yes, but then was rude and dismissive the entire night. Not only did it kill any budding interest in him, it also killed any sense of respect or friendship I had for him. I kept wondering why he’d even agreed to go if he couldn’t even treat me with basic courtesy.

My Earliest Memory

I am walking as quietly as I can, trying not to draw attention to myself. It is quiet and cool downstairs, and there are no adults around to tell me no, don’t wake up the baby. I look up the empty stairwell, and listen for the tell-tale fall of parental footsteps.

Nothing.

Clutching my treasure under my arm, I push lightly on the door beside me and edge it open. From here in the hallway, door cracked ever so slightly, I can see the wooden crib against the wall. The walls are sunshine-yellow, their summery glow enhanced by the late-afternoon sunlight that slants in through the opposite window in a warm puddle. I push the door a little further, looking at the chubby baby sleeping in the crib.

I remember her wearing a yellow and white striped seersucker outfit, but it may have been blue and white, or pink and white.

Everything is washed with gold in this memory.

She sits up, sleepy eyed. She has fat cheeks and fat legs, and fat little fists. Her cheeks are flushed with sleep, lined from the wrinkles of her crib sheet. Her hair is a mussy golden crown of curls. She is sucking on a pacifier. When she sees me, she grabs the bars of her crib and pulls herself toward me, her cornflower blue eyes wide. She is expectant, eager. She knows why I have come.

I sit down cross-legged on the floor in front of my little sister and open the book I am carrying. Slowly and carefully, I begin to read her a story, stumbling a little over the half-unfamiliar words of my first reader.

 

Five Problems With Social Media

This popped up in my social media (ha!) feed today, and I figured why the hell not. I’ve been ignoring my blog; I should probably give it some love.

13076693_10154030831911291_8139416202234018228_n

As you can see, the first prompt is “Five problems with social media.” So, let’s have at it.

1. The Echo Chamber Effect. 

To quote wikipedia,

In media, an echo chamber is a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.

Basically, most social media either employs algorithms to show us the shit we like, or we self-select into following only things we like.

For example, on my FB feed, I tend to “hide” spiritual or woo-heavy posts. I dislike them. FB, realizing I dislike them, adjusts their algorithm so I don’t see posts that reference scriptures, religion, prayer, etc. FB wants me to spend more time on their feed, so they fill my feed with the sorts of things I click on and read–Science, politics, writing jokes, and the occasional funny meme.

Twitter is full of posts from people I’ve followed, and it has an algorithm to suggest “similar” posts. Again, keeping me in my ecosystem.

Even Reddit, which is user-upvoted content, ends up being a bit of an echo chamber because I choose which subreddits to populate my feed with and which to ignore or silence completely.

In order to combat the echo chamber effect, I have to intentionally leave my comfort zone and seek out information sources and points of view I disagree with. I do this, but I don’t like it. It’s like taking medicine, and it is rage-inducing. However, I feel it’s necessary, because otherwise I end up assuming that my views are very mainstream, and the information/ news sources I prefer (not to mention my interests!) are the default. If I don’t broaden my horizons, it makes understanding the perspectives of others more difficult.

2. The Difference Between On-Line and Off-Line Personas.

Have you ever met someone in person and you’re like, whoa! They’re kick-ass! How cool! and you love hanging out with them? They’re witty and compassionate and knowledgeable about all types of shit, and you just enjoy their company?

Then you friend them–or accept their friend request–and it’s like a totally different person. Just so different. Maybe they’re one of those people who are agreeable in real life, but argumentative on the internet. Or maybe they seem totally rational in real life, but their social media is full of anti-vaxxer memes. Or maybe they were low-key and chill in person, but their social media is just post after post of scriptures and prayers, or politics galores.

We all have buttons we prefer not to be pushed, and what is one person’s relaxation or uplifting thought is another person’s irritation trigger (I’m lookin’ at you, ‘Spirit Science‘). When someone’s online persona is severely different from their offline persona, it does kinda make me look at them different. I have unfriended a few racists and sexists that I thought were okay people … until I saw the shit they posted online.

I have no doubt people have learned things about me from social media that they never would have learned in real life (or only after years of acquaintance), and it completely changed their perception of me.

3. Vaguebooking, and Complaining About Vaguebooking

Ugh, vaguebooking is the worst, right? Yes. Yes, it is.

Yet we’ve all done it at some point. Everyone fails. Everyone occasionally gets a little passive-aggressive. Sometimes everything just sucks, and you’re mad but you don’t wanna trash-talk your SO or your kids or your friend or whatever, so you vaguebook.

Obviously, constant vaguebooking is a no-no. It’s annoying and whiny and needy, and nobody likes it. But goddamn, have a little compassion for the occasional slip-up. Some of these vaguebookers just need to vent. Or they’re fucking teenagers/ early-twenty-somethings, who are kind of notorious for courting drama. Or maybe they’re in a hurry because shit is going down, and they didn’t mean to vaguebook. I suppose that’s a possibility?

4. Comparing, falling short, and hating yourself.

When I was 21, I got pregnant. Over the course of the next year, I was introduced to what I consider the scourge of any parent: Parenting magazines. These curses in print awaited me at every doctors office, every WIC office, and in every checkout line. As my belly swelled with the life inside me, they blared headlines like, “Are you eating too much? Exercising enough? Beware this toxin! Don’t eat tuna! Check your medicine cabinet!”

Then my son was born.

“Breast vs. Formula! Cloth vs. Disposal! Circumcised vs. Uncut! Why your crib could kill your child! Top Ten Lists of Parenting Advice (Are You Doing Everything Wrong?)”

I read the articles hungrily at first, perusing them like I could find the antidote to my new-parent fears. I thought that surely, somewhere in these pages of arguments between experts, I would find the answer to raising a strong, happy, emotionally secure child. But all that happened was self-doubt. My husband and I began trying for another child, and I would lay awake in bed at night staring at the ceiling and planning what I would do different with a planned baby.

I would breastfeed. Cloth diaper from birth. Co-sleep, maybe. Definitely use a sling instead of a Baby Bjorn. Teach my baby sign-language. Do a natural birth, definitely. Maybe even a water birth. I’d make all the baby food from scratch.

On and on and on, until one day it hit me: I was planning a do-over, not a baby. I tried to imagine this second baby as a toddler, and I couldn’t. I tried to imagine them as a child, a teenager, an adult. I couldn’t. I tried to imagine the things I wanted to teach this child, the world I wanted them to explore … and all I could think of was the things I’d failed to do for my son, because I was young and scared and I followed my doctors advice. And what? I had a healthy, happy child. Why was I so focused on doing it “right”? What was the big fucking deal?

The next day I told my husband I was no longer interested in a second child, and he breathed a huge sigh of relief (turns out he wasn’t, either). After that, I stopped reading the parenting magazines with their contradictory, alarmist headlines, and just focused on my family.

Sometimes social media reminds me of those magazines, with their perfect, air-brushed families and top-ten lists of things you need to buy or do to raise a perfect child. If you end up on certain pages or feeds, there’s an unattainable perfectionism that permeates them. A parent can get to feeling pretty inadequate. Or a creator can feel pretty unimaginative and lazy. Or a teenager can feel ugly and useless. Or a friend can feel unwanted and unloved. And this brings me to my final point.

5. That Everyone Thinks Social Media is a Problem, or an Obligation. 

Basically, social media is a tool. Wield it wisely. Familiarize yourself with the privacy settings and check them at least once a year. If you don’t like drama, unfriend/ unfollow people who cause it. If you do like drama, admit it and stop complaining about it. If you’re worried about your boss or grandma not liking the shit you say, then try:

  • not friending your boss or grandma,
  • watching the shit you say, or
  • putting your boss or grandma in a closed group so they can’t see the shit you say.

Don’t bitch about your SO online. It’s the equivalent of bitching about them to your family: If you end up making up, you’re going to feel embarrassed and everyone in your family is going to think you’re married to a douche. So just don’t do it.

Don’t embarrass your kids online. That’s some fucked up psychological trauma right there. They’re independent human beings with their own personalities and long-term psychological growth to worry about. Don’t be humiliating them online.

Say what you mean and mean what you say, but also recognize that people (including you!) change and grow over time. In some ways, we become more narrow-minded. In others, we soften and become more compassionate and easy-going. Regardless, everyone shifts in their values and worldviews, whether they realize it or not. It’s part of being human, and as long as you can stand by your actions and behavior and defend (or apologize!) for them, you’re probably cool.

Finally, like so many other things, the people you surround yourself with affect your experience for good or ill. This is just as true online as it is in real life.