Gogurt or Oral Sex?

The five year old boy I’ve been hanging out with has asked several times why I’m not married yet. This post may explain?

Also, I had to call a timeout during snack time to write all these down. He asked why I had to write something down because, rightfully, he had no idea he’d made multiple double entendres. All I said was that I had an idea that I didn’t want to forget (which is totally legit because I had a really good idea earlier this week and assumed I’d remember it the next day. I didn’t. It’s lost.)


So let’s play “GOGURT OR ORAL SEX?

(Not familiar with gogurt? Do you live under a rock? It’s yogurt in a tube so you can eat it on the go.)

I like it the messy way!

You have to put it in your mouth and then suck.

I like to put the whole thing in my mouth.

She squeezed it then licked it.


But WHY aren’t you married yet, Laura?

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Repeating Purple

As I mused about this entry, I kept saying purple in my head… you can do it too and see how quickly the word makes you laugh.

So purple…. I watched the first episode of Outlander last night and I’m in Texas where there are bluebonnets (wrongly named, like blueberries, because they are more purple than blue), so we have that to thank for today’s post. For those not familiar with Outlander, she’s picking purple flowers when she passes out and falls back in time. Yeah, I could still be watching it now if I didn’t have any self-discipline.

I wrote the poem below before Tom Petty died, but I think it’s a fitting tribute. I loved the album Wildflowers in high school and was a fan long before that. I could title the poem Tom, but Karl seems more fitting for reasons that make me chuckle.

Many of my friends say purple is their favorite color.

The first and only cubicle I ever worked in was painted purple and orange.

NYU, where I went to grad school and worked for a while, has the color violet as its mascot. (Yeah, my undergrad was repped by a color too… who knew? Go Maroons. Go Violets. WTF?)

Purple is the American Cancer Society’s cause color, and I advised student-planners for Relay for Life for the last several years.

I was introduced to purple shampoo when I was a teenager. It’s usually for old ladies who have silver, grey, white hair. It removes the yellowish build up on light colored hair. I don’t use it very often, but it sure does make my hair that much whiter.

Lavender is said to have relaxing/calming properties, so of course my bathroom stuff is an array of purples because I’m hoping that even the placebo effect will help.

And “Purple. Planted. Ponderous.” is one part of something I wrote that I haven’t changed the many times I’ve fiddled with the words to make the thing (is it a poem? Is it a confession? Is it crap?) purer.

Enjoy. Or not.


“Karl”
~LJD September 27, 2017

Any purple wildflower
shade
shape
number of petals…
I hear your voice behind me
“What are you doing, woman?”

Any rocky coastline
cloudy
sunny
green or grey…
I see your hands rubbing your eyes
hoping to find the right words

I yearn for days of wind
so I can wrap myself in soft wool
close my eyes
be in a field at dawn
The dewy grass tickling my legs
mist rising
Right where you knew I’d be
where you should have been next to me
where purple wildflowers grow

Battle of Wills

I have often picked up my cat to cuddle him even if he didn’t want to be disturbed. If he gave me any lip (or more likely a dirty look) I’d tell him, “I’m bigger than you. I’m stronger than you. And I love you more than you love me.” This never stopped him from fleeing as soon as I let go, but it reminded me where I stood.

That’s why animals are easier than humans. Our pets are totally dependent on us and have very limited minds of their own.  My cat wanted to lay on my bed instead of my couch – that was about as much decision making as his life involved. I imagine it’s the same situation now that he’s living with my mom.

Humans though. Humans, even tiny humans, want to exercise their own will. They claim ownership of space and things. As soon as they learn “no,” they use that sucker even when it doesn’t make sense to say it. Some people stay that way their entire lives. I expect a tiny human to be selfish, to fight for every little thread of sovereignty over his/her world because s/he feels s/he has none. This month I’ve hung out with a four year old who made up ridiculous rules for an action figure jousting competition. As you might imagine, those rules changed and grew as playtime progressed. I’m hanging out with a five year old now who similarly wants to make up the rules as he goes along and gets upset if I don’t play along or if his little sister breaks a rule he hasn’t said out loud yet (which she probably wouldn’t understand anyway).

It can drive a person crazy!

But it’s also totally understandable when you think about it. I’m a grown person and I still want the world to work the way I think it should, according to my rules. Luckily, I don’t express how upset I am that the world doesn’t run the way I think it should by screaming and thrashing around. Think about some of the adults you know though – are they any different from my four and five year old buddies who want to conquer the world on their terms? I know some adults who lose their minds when things don’t go their way, so what can any of us expect from a child who is only beginning to understand the world around him/her?

Still, we have to teach children how to manage themselves in a world that doesn’t go their way. And that is an exhausting endeavor. It may even be impossible, but I think enough parents do a decent job because the world isn’t grinding to a halt. It’s a battle though. Which times do you give in because you have the power to give a child what s/he wants? Which times do you hold your ground because you have to create an environment where there is discipline, consequences for actions and decisions? It was a challenge in the classroom with other people’s teenagers.  I’ve known it was a constant stress for parents since having little siblings, but I’m being reminded of it while staying with a dear friend and her two little ones.

When you do decide to hold the line, what are the appropriate consequences for bad behavior? It might punish you as the adult if you take away a toy that can distract a kid and give you a minute of quiet.  The same is true for punitive pop quizzes in the classroom – whenever I did that, the kids didn’t like it, but I was the one who suffered with the extra paperwork.

It’s a stand off sometimes. Who will cave first and do what the other wants? You’d hope that an adult could be patient, but we all know our patience has a limit. And what do you do when both parties are technically adults? Like, say, the leaders of nations that have nuclear capability?

I guess you hope that some third party who isn’t invested comes along and distracts one of the battling wills until the disputed toy, activity, snack, right etc is forgotten.

 

Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD 

A few things to remember about parenthood and raising children before deciding to have your own (from someone who loves kids and is good with them, who also wanted EIGHT of my own before my dad started blessing me with younger siblings, who isn’t 100% sure where I stand now): 

Being a good parent is a 24/7 job. Kids don’t stop being kids when you don’t feel well and haven’t slept. Kids make up the rules as they go along. Kids will cry and/or scream when they don’t get what they want. It’s exhausting. You will tell yourself “that’s not how it’ll be for us” because your partner is x, y, and z and your situation is your own. It doesn’t matter. Children run you ragged no matter what. 

But they also need you. They need you to do everything for them in the beginning. Then they need you to teach them as patiently as you can. They are watching and listening. They are absorbing everything. They are figuring out their place in the world by seeing you take yours. 

And every once in a while they will sweetly tell you they love you. It’ll come out of nowhere and melt your heart. Sometimes they’ll even blow your mind by telling you how coal can be used to fuel a train… and here you thought your kid couldn’t learn anything! 

You can’t be selfish and be a good parent. The two cannot coexist. So how can you be a good parent and take care of yourself so you keep being a good parent? That’s a trick few ever master, but it’s the goal. There are as many ways to strive toward it as there are parents, but there are also plenty of people who will judge you.

Not everyone is meant to be a parent. Yeah, we all have reproductive organs, but that’s not the same as being equipped for parenthood. We’re conditioned to think having a family of our own is a mark of a successful and complete life, but being a parent is not for everyone. When you aren’t suited for the job, your failure extends to a child. More than making yourself and the child unhappy, you will likely end up hurting the kid – psychologically at least.

How do we all not end up raving lunatics? I’m not sure that we aren’t, but if some people are sane, it’s because of grace.

We Have Problems

Define rape. Now differentiate it from sexual assault.

Define sexual assault. Now differentiate it from sexual harassment.

Define sexual harassment. Now differentiate it from flirting

You now know one of the problems we have.

Even “uggos” and “fatties” are sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, and raped. Actually, I was sexually assaulted more times when I was heavier than I have at a smaller size, though that might be a numbers game: I was fat for longer than I’ve been less fat.

Did you catch that?

I’ve been sexually assaulted more than once.

More than twice.

More than three times.

I think the count is five times.

I was not raped, so everyone can calm down (I guess, but I’ll have more to say about that later). Two times strangers masturbated next to me in a movie theater and reached for me and leaned in to me as they did it. That IS sexual assault. The first time I didn’t even know what was happening, so he faced no consequences. The second time, I moved seats but did nothing more.

One time I was fondled from behind on a public transit escalator. He got his hand in there real good. That IS sexual assault. At first, I thought it was someone innocently but rudely mishandling their umbrella. When I realized what was happening, I only glared at him.

One time a man on the subway tried to stroke my leg as he masturbated. That IS sexual assault. This was the most recent incident, and I felt strong enough to say loud enough for the whole subway car to hear, “excuse me!” I shamed the man off the subway.

The first time, when I was 12, a boy grabbed my butt after verbally harassing me. He also cupped his hands on my mouth and breathed on me, not like a kiss. That was the only time I held the guy accountable to more than shame. He was a preacher’s kid, so in addition to the school’s punishment, daddy made him call me to apologize, at which time he denied doing anything to my face/mouth… like grabbing my butt and saying nasty things was acceptable gross behavior, but something else wasn’t. The worst part is that I thought the boy was cute, which is probably why he chose to target me in the first place.

ALL of these are sexual assaults, so when women ask if a stranger grabbing their boobs “counts” as sexual assault, I get irate. I will not make trauma a competition, but I do understand the violation of rape is more private than some types of sexual assault; and as far as sexual assaults go, I do consider mine minor. The fact remains that any kind of sexual assault is an invasion of personal space, often body parts associated with sex, ans is worthy of note. Women should not worry if the way their personal space was invaded “counts” as sexual assault. It’s not a point of comparison that we’re raising. It’s a point of WHY THE FUCK DOES THIS HAPPEN SO OFTEN?

You see another one of our many problems.

I’ve asked myself why I didn’t hold the men who assaulted me accountable for their actions. Some of it was the sheer shock that it happened in the first place. Some of it was not knowing how to find the man after the fact, when I thought about doing something. Some of it is simply the fact that I was raised in a society that objectifies women and tells us over and over that we are not allowed to take up space in the world, to have an opinion (much less voice it), to stand up for ourselves against men. I’m ashamed of myself for the four times I did nothing. I think too many women live their lives assuming that kind of thing “just happens” and assume there isn’t anything they can do about it.

Problem #3.

Sexual harassment is an even grayer area because it relies a lot on perception and can be anywhere from comments that can be easily shrugged off to behaviors that make people feel physically threatened without being physically touched. I myself have been guilty of sexual harassment that I’ve chalked up to humor. I don’t want to become a comedy nazi, living in a world where people call foul at any off-color remark, so it’s hard to know where the hard and soft lines are when it comes to what we say.

You guessed it, another problem.

Furthermore, when it comes to sexual harassment, I can understand why many men are so confused. While society is delivering damaging messages to women, it’s also sending mixed information to men.  We talk about dating and courtship using words like “game” and hunt.” Well, “game” is problematic because it presumes that there is a set of KNOWN rules, which we all know are not clear and are not universal. It also implies that there is a winner and a loser, a victor and a defeated party. “Hunting” implies predator and prey, and in the animal world, that usually ends in death, not sex. Moreover, we talk about “the chase” and “playing hard to get.” I hear you, guys, when you say, “So am I supposed to be persistent and prove to her I’m really interested or am I an asshole for mentioning that she looks nice?” Would John Cusack’s character in Say Anything standing outside a bedroom window with a boom box held aloft still be romantic in today’s mixed up world? Or would that be something to call the cops about?  It can’t be easy when you think about how much money the 50 Shades franchise has taken in – yes, it was all consensual and contractual, but the idea seems to be that women want a man who takes control when it comes to sex. (And then I hear Beyonce singing, “I’ma LET you be the boss of me” … it’s about a completely conscious release of control, not the control being TAKEN from you without your consent, understanding, acknowledgement).

Yet another problem.

I don’t know that I have viable solutions, but I think the first step is acknowledging each person as a human being, not something else (like an object for your pleasure, whether that is your visual pleasure or your sexual pleasure). I think another step in that same direction is equally valuing each human being’s rights to his/her personal space. Men and women are entitled to take up the same amount of space in the world, to speak at the same volume for the same length, to have control over who touches them and who does not, and in what ways they are touched. That sounds really simple, but apparently it’s not.

Men need to stop saying “I have a daughter, a mother, a sister” when they condemn the behavior of other men. I appreciate the public condemnation, but re-frame the way you think of women. We deserve to be treated with respect not because we’re sisters, daughters, mothers, but, like I said above, because we are HUMAN BEINGS.

Like I said, we have problems.

 

Emotional Masochism

A dear friend sent me a Whatsapp message on Saturday evening that began, “Lady with the words…” in which she asked me about the meaning of some John Mayer lyrics. I love everything about the exchange that followed. We met because of John Mayer’s music, so it figures that she’d ask me about his lyrics 15 years later, but our friendship encompasses so much more than our shared musical loves. We also know the agony of loving Jordan Catalano and wanting our hair to be redder than red. We dream big and we make those dreams reality, regardless of how crazy anyone thought we were when we dared to dream. We’re products of 1982, and even though she’s English and I’m American, our shared frame of pop culture references binds us together. We love an impossible romance in books and movies. In fact, between her influence and randomly having to teach Gothic Literature, I dove into Twilight.

We were on a subway platform discussing books and relationships one night. We were talking about the broody outcasts who are unsuitable for one reason or another but always seem to draw us in. Without much forethought, I identified what we were talking about as emotional masochism. It’s like some people heard “the course of true love never did run smooth” and fully accepted it as fact, so stories like Bella and Edward, Jordan and Angela that are full of angst and uncertainty are the standard. It’s not so much that one partner creates the drama like some high maintenance princess; it’s more that without the push and pull, an emotional masochist can’t feel the passion. It was a huge “ah ha” moment for her. I don’t know that it changed the way she approached relationships, but giving it a name somehow made it more acceptable. I check my own emotional masochism every now and then, worrying that I’m oddly addicted to having all the feels.

I tried to explain the lyrics the way I understand them. I can’t be totally sure when interpreting what other people have written, but I love that she asked. I took John Mayer’s entire catalog into consideration to answer, which prompted her to say “tortured soul,” and spurred me to remind her of emotional masochism. Somewhere in the course of our exchange, she assured me she wasn’t high. It was a lovely chat that wasn’t emotionally masochistic because our friendship is not painful except that we rarely get to see each other.

…just a great figure eight or a tiny infinity

Why are you like this?
Like what?
Like how you are.

And a happy 40th birthday to Johnny boy!

 

Existentialism 101

It could be because the handful of Advil has finely coalesced with the NyQuil to bring me out of the cloud of head congestion I’ve been in for days, but I feel relatively okay right now. It might pass. Hopefully it won’t.

Existentialism is a philosophical response to the chaos some thinkers saw in the world in the early twentieth century.  Everything they thought they knew was crumbling around them, so they figured, “hey, maybe it’s all meaningless!” The key to living as an existentialist and not going completely insane, in my opinion, is to do precisely what the existentialists intended: make it matter for yourself, knowing that you’ve made it up and that everyone else has too.

I don’t know if I’m an existentialist, but I certainly understand the idea of needing to make something meaningful because the very foundation you thought you were standing on is eroding beneath you. I do think there are some universal laws. I don’t think all the choices people make are valid – I’m a judgmental bitch, and I hold myself and others to high standards. But I also think that there’s something to be said for recognizing that “the rules” that society has are often arbitrary, so why follow them? Everyone has a different version of what is good, what is valuable, how to put the world in some kind of order.

In the time I’ve been quiet, which has been too long in my own judgment, I’ve been thinking about what makes me happy. What are the things that I want in life to make it matter, to make sense of the world?

One point I’ve come clear on is that I do want to teach. I love working with young people. I love helping young people understand what they read, how they think. I love guiding young people to new ideas. There is an infinite hope in working with young people. Maybe I can’t personally make the world a better place, but maybe through working with the next generation, I can help shape the new world. I recognize the tension in that statement too – the humility to know I can’t make change but the arrogance to think I can influence people who might be able to. It’s a weird kind of power, I know. I don’t abuse it or take it for granted, I don’t think.

I also know that I believe education should let young people question everything. I value analytical thought, so if you come up with more questions than answers, I’m happy. Unfortunately, as I gain clarity about the fact that I do want to teach, I am also sure that New York City public schools do not foster the kind of education I believe in. This isn’t really news to me, but it was a point driven home a week ago when I substitute taught a test prep class. NYC students in eighth grade have the option to take a high school entrance test called the SHSAT. It’s very much like the SAT, and it allows students some choice in where they go to high school. The top scorers are offered seats at specialized high schools, so they can choose where they go. It’s a lot like college admissions, which is daunting. The test is stupid though, as are the prep classes. It’s not about critical thought and creative problem solving. It prepares kids to be little test taking robots in competition with each other.

Part of what I’ve been struggling with is my beliefs about education. I have always thought a solid public education is fundamental to democracy. As a student growing up in one of the best funded counties in the country, I benefited in countless ways from public education. As a teacher, though, I see that my experience as a student was probably an anomaly. The system is not designed to meet children’s needs. It’s a machine. I’ve railed at it before, but something finally broke in me this year. Now that I’m sorting through the pieces, I know I’m too subversive to ever become a leader within the current system. I don’t want to walk away though. That’s why it’s been hard to figure out what I’m doing with myself.

For the time being, it means I’m going to set my sights on international teaching, which is what I thought I should be doing, but I needed time away from a classroom to truly see that.

Another puzzle piece of happiness I’ve managed to figure out recently is that I like having a pet. I took my cat to my mom’s because I’m going to be traveling for a while, and I’ve been without him in my apartment for less than three days. I don’t like it, especially because I’ve been sick and wanted to cuddle. I like having animals around. They’re calming and entertaining. They’re easier to deal with than people too. And it’s nice to be needed.

So, existentialism 101 – what makes it matter: teaching and animals. It’s a start to bringing order to my chaos.

Let’s Talk About Guns. NOW.

I’m one person, and these are my opinions.

Family and Personal History with Guns

Both my grandfathers and my father were in the military, so I know that they were all trained to use various types of guns and other weaponry.

A family story that I’ve heard repeatedly and don’t know the accuracy of (because my dad taught me at a young age “never let the facts interfere with a good story”) tells of a time when my grandpa was beating my dad so relentlessly that my grandma got the shot gun and held in to grandpa’s head, saying “If you lay another hand on him, I’ll blow your brains out.” The gun saved my dad’s young life.

When I was very young, dad was still in the Army reserves and kept a shot gun or rifle (I don’t remember which, nor do I know the difference between the two) in a cardboard box under his bed. I knew not to touch it. That was enough “gun safety” to prevent accidents around my dad’s house.

We had various boarders at mom’s house in the extra room to supplement her income. One of them was a friend of hers from way back. I did not know until after the evening when he beat the shit out of her in front of me that he kept a gun in his room. He did plenty of damage with his fists, so I’m grateful he didn’t think to use his gun. That was the last night he spent in our house.

At a week-long sleep away camp sponsored by the state of Virginia for children who were blind or visually impaired, we did archery at one campsite. Regardless of our levels of blindness, we learned how to load and shoot bows and arrows. The camp moved to a different facility after a few years. This facility had a rifle range instead of an archery range. Blind and legally blind children learned how to load and shoot rifles. Depending on your vision, you could ask to have a beeping target. We got to keep our targets. I probably have mine somewhere. Yes, blind and legally blind children in the state of Virginia learned how to load and shoot a rifle. I learned how to load and shoot a rifle as a 12 year old. Let that sink in a little.

One of my favorite teachers from high school who has become a friend and mentor as I’ve been a teacher was also an avid hunter. He no longer hunts due to his arthritis (I think). He introduced me to the perspective of having some guns for sport.

One of my closest friends is married to a police man who serves on the SWAT team and is in the military reserves. He has four guns in the house, I believe. Each is kept safe from their two young children. I don’t feel uncomfortable when I visit them because I know he is trained in their use and safety measures. I know my friend has worried in the past about when (not if) her son will learn how to use guns. I’m not sure what her current feelings are.

In his early twenties, my older brother went to a shooting range from time to time. As far as I know, he never purchased a gun.

As a result of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I received training of what to do in an active shooter situation. Being a teacher in a large city school, I learned what to do in three generalized scenarios and participated in multiple drills of each possible scenario throughout the school year.

On Sunday, the day of the Las Vegas massacre, I finished reading Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. The story is about the one “gonne” that exists in the Ankh-Morpork society and the havoc it wreaks on the city. It also characterizes the “gonne” as a sentient being that speaks to whomever is holding it, convincing the bearer that he is truly powerful for the first time in his life, that he is a god.

Family and Personal History with the Constitution

With two grandfathers and a dad having served in the military, there was a certain amount of patriotism in both sides of my family. I was brought up loving America, its complex and often uncomfortable history, its freedoms, its grand experiment with democracy. I lived within 10 miles of Washington DC most of my life. There was a strong sense that certain government programs that assisted the working man were great. I also got a sense that rugged individualism was very important, that you shouldn’t let “The Man” (any type of oppressive authority) hold you down.

I learned about the Constitution and the freedoms it guaranteed. I also understood pretty quickly that the Constitution was written at a time when only white men counted, so it was a flawed document. One of America’s values that I am (was?) most proud of is the ability to amend our Constitution as the times change, allowing non-landowning men to vote, allowing woman to vote etc. It is a living document, not set in stone.

That Said

I do not understand how guns have become so interwoven into some people’s American identity.

I do not understand how a statement written in the late eighteenth century can apply without any revision for context in the twenty first century. “Arms” at the time the Constitution was written meant a musket that could fire one bullet before being reloaded, a process that took time for even the fastest shooter. If you are a die-hard Constitutional purist, then people have the right to more than one of these muskets. If that is the case, I’m all for it. Yes. everyone can have a few eighteenth century era muskets. Fine.

I have never tried to purchase a gun, but I very much want to now. Not to have a gun. In fact, I wouldn’t go through with the purchase. I want to see for myself how easy or hard it is to get a gun legally. I’m especially interested because of my personal and family history with mental illness, anger issues, and violent tendencies, as well as my poor vision. It is my understanding that there ARE laws that prevent immediate purchase… in some states. That there ARE laws that require background checks… in some states, to various depths of your history. I do not know what limits are placed on how many guns you can buy at a time or over a lifetime. I do not know what limits are placed on how much ammunition you can purchase in one go or over a lifetime. In the case of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, reports have shown he bought “33 firearms, mostly rifles, in an 11-month period” (CNN). I don’t know if current laws being properly enforced could prevent this, but if they can’t, I advocate new laws that limit the number of guns any individual can purchase in a year, over a lifetime. Surely even a hunter who switches game based on the season only needs a few different types of guns to achieve ideal sportsmanship.

Given that I don’t know much about gun laws, I also don’t know much about how well they are being enforced. I do know that the laws vary from state to state, so another concern I have is how we regulate the way guns move in our country. I visit Virginia frequently, but I live in New York City. I might be able to easily purchase a gun in Virginia and bring it back to New York without anyone knowing. It is then up to me to register it in New York? What if I don’t want to because I’m planning something nefarious? Even if there are gun laws that are enforced appropriately, how do we prevent situations like that? I’ve seen people saying that if we “outlaw” all guns the way we have “outlawed’ all drugs, we will just have an illegal gun problem like we have illegal drug problems. Yes and no. I think drugs worry me less because the damage you do if you misuse drugs is usually only to yourself. Emotionally it extends beyond you, but it’s not like a gun being misused. Drugs are not designed to kill and guns ARE. I would be okay if we made all guns (or certain types of guns) completely illegal to cut down on the number of deaths that they are causing.

I also know people feel very strongly that having a gun provides them with a certain amount of security and protection. I see people arguing that the safest thing to do is to arm MORE people, that MORE law-abiding “good guys” carrying guns would prevent the incidents wherein “bad guys” use their guns for evil. I go back to saying that a gun is designed to kill. I don’t want ANYONE, no matter how saintly, carrying around something that is specifically designed to end life. The personal security argument also breaks down completely in the Las Vegas massacre because there is absolutely nothing anyone in the concert crowd who had a gun could have done to stop what Paddock was doing.  Personally, this argument is false because I would not feel safer carrying a gun. There is no situation in which I would feel protected and more secure if I had a killing machine at my disposal. Even if I was being attacked, I wouldn’t want a gun because I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t want to be responsible for taking a human life. I’m also not convinced that me having a gun would prevent someone from hurting me or taking my property of the person was really set on hurting me or taking my property. I would defend loved ones any way I could, but I also don’t know that I would feel more capable or confident about doing so with a gun in hand. Those feelings may be unique to me though. I just don’t feel like a gun would be some kind of security blanket.

I also know people feel that it is disrespectful to talk about gun laws after yet another mass shooting. I can’t agree with that diversion tactic because if one of my loved ones died in a mass shooting, I would damn well hope it galvanized the nation to change. I would be grieving ABSOLUTELY, but I would also be looking for a way to honor my loved one by making his or her death something more than a senseless tragedy that we can almost expect as a nation. I would hope that if I was a victim in a mass shooting, that my loved ones would take action so my death was not just another number added to our national obsession with guns. I mean no disrespect to the victims and their families by talking about this. In fact, I do it out of complete respect for them that their loss is not purposeless.

To tell me guns aren’t the problem also makes little sense. I fully support the use of psychology in background checks because I strongly believe that mental illness is PART of the problem, but to say someone like Paddock could have done as much damage with some other weapon is, frankly, ignorant. In all the school shooting cases, it is similarly ignorant. Yes, anyone can learn how to make a bomb using household materials if they dig around enough on the internet. They can then put that bomb somewhere and cause widespread damage. We have seen that happen. But besides bombs and driving large trucks into crowds, they is NOTHING else that can cause the type of damage guns can. If a person (or a few people) come into a school or movie theater or concert with knives, the speed at which they can kill people is significantly reduced compared to the use of a gun. In the Las Vegas case, there is NOTHING that could have done more damage from where Paddock placed himself. You cannot rationally argue that guns weren’t a huge part of the problem in this massacre. Also, simply because you can think of another way to cause damage doesn’t mean that the guns involved are less culpable. It just means that you can think of a lot of ways to hurt people – which says something about your mental state.

One thing I am seeing is people talking about requiring gun education and registration similar to the way we regulate driver’s licenses. You have to take a written fact-based exam and a road test to get a license in the first place. You have to register your car and renew its registration annually. You have to renew your driver’s license at regular intervals as well. There are age restrictions on when you can begin to drive. We regulate the use of automobiles because earlier leaders recognized that not doing so was a public safety issue. It seems reasonable to similarly regulate guns, which are machines designed to kill, not to get people around town more quickly, in a similar manner.

I don’t have the answers. I am one person who has strong opinions, who understands where my opinions come from, and who wants to stop gun violence. I want to understand alternative perspectives, but I cannot find someone who can engage in a discussion using logic, which I require when we are talking about something that is vitally important.

How’d You Meet?

(Yeah, I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the massacre in Vegas. Yeah, I’m listening to Tom Petty’s greatest hits. But I can’t put any of it down in a way that makes any sense, so I won’t even try.)

It’s one of the first questions you have to answer if you’re seeing someone new. If you’re getting married, you better be ready to tell the story ad nauseam.  Sometimes it’s phrased differently: how do you know each other?

It used to be that saying you met someone online was a black mark against you. Now, most people shrug when they say they met on Match, OKCupid, or Tinder. In fact, a lot of people ask themselves how people even meet one another without using the internet. Apparently generations before us figured it out because here we are, right?

People will even ask the question about your friends, not your love interest or partner-to-be. What if you can’t remember? What if it’s not an exciting story?

Here’s how I met some people:

Sunday School… I don’t even remember anything we said to each other the first time, but we were all always in the same class because we are the same age. We learned how to say the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles Creed by heart. We had Tuesday confirmation classes together.

Church choir… my mom couldn’t drive me because she wasn’t home from work yet, so your whole family adopted me one night a week.

Church hallway… you know my mom and she trained you to come up to me and say who you were because I don’t see very well. I then learned to identify you by your perfume.

Class at school… most likely I needed to borrow a pencil or whiteout. You are now one of my closest friends (and in the case of both the pencil and the whiteout, you have North African heritage).

John Mayer message boards… I had money. You had a car. We went to concerts. My mom did NOT think it was safe, but when I kept coming home in one piece, she got over it.

The dorm… we were placed together randomly as roommates and THANK GOD we kinda like each other. You lived across/down the hall, downstairs. You were probably into music or psychology, so we had something to talk about.

The cafeteria… elementary school, middle school, high school, college… You were nice enough to let me sit with you. You probably laughed when I said something funny.

Traveling… We were the only ones from our neck of the woods on the work trip, so we bonded. I didn’t like anyone else in the group because they were obnoxious, so we ate (and likely drank!)  together. Study abroad counts here, even if it also counts as dorm, cafeteria, and class.

Through a friend/family member… someone who I already thought was cool gave you pre-approval, so I gave you a shot.

Work/work-related conference/training… we happened to be paid by the same organization and spent at least eight hours a day together. We may secretly hate each other, but in the name of ‘professionalism’ we were decent to one another or avoid each other (if possible). If we get along, we probably went to lunch or happy hour and learned we’re pretty cool. Maybe we gelled because everyone else seemed batshit crazy and we needed to laugh about the insanity. Maybe I was the one teacher you felt like you could talk to and we’ve kept on talking now that you’re out of the unreality that is high school.

There are far more random ways to meet people too. The other day, I needed to buy kitty litter. It was $8.99, and I wanted to pay with credit card. The store clerk said they’d only take a card for a purchase over $10, which is bullshit. I blinked at her. The guy behind me said he’d add his one item (a coffee drink) to my tab and then give me cash for it. It was a good solution. We aren’t getting married though. I’m not sure I’d recognize him if I saw him again. But it goes to show you.

The baristas at coffee shops I frequent know me by my drink. All they need to ask is if I want it hot or iced. We might chat about life, weather, music, apartments, roommates while they prepare my drink. We don’t hang out outside of this brief daily interaction, but we could is what I’m saying.

So today I was talking to a friend’s sister and she told me a story that I want so very much to be the “how we met” story for someone, if not her.

There was a first responder cookout in the apartment complex she lives in, so she went down to have some grub and admire the beauty of firemen (I assume.) She had some chicken chili and a few beers I imagine. She then took the elevator back up to her apartment. One of the first responders was riding with her when her digestive track decided the chicken wasn’t agreeing with her and she let loose a horrible burp, bordering on a gag-possibly-vomit situation. In the elevator. With the (in my version HOT) first responder. He very attentively asked if she was okay, if she had a history of indigestion, if she needed help. If it were me, I’d be a mix of mortified and ready with a witty response. I likely would have wanted to evaporate into the air. I might have even gotten out of the elevator before my intended floor to escape the guy’s concern, regardless of how nice he was being.

That’s all there is to the story, but my fictionalized version, which I told her immediately, ends with “and now we’re married.” Not only would that be a fantastic story to tell about how you met someone, but also if a guy sticks around after you burp-puke, he’s a keeper. Gents, we ladies do have all normal bodily functions like you, so don’t get weird when we burp or fart! (I’m not saying we should all lead with our most deadly flatulence, but let’s not deny it either.)

You really don’t need the internet to meet people, but there’s no problem if you use it to meet people. There’s no judgment here, just an awareness that there are still and have always been myriad ways to meet other human beings. The French president met his wife when she was his teacher, but she has a great figure, so I’m sure no one thinks twice about it. (Why can’t you tell a woman she has a great figure?… ugh. Again, I won’t even try.)

Universal Themes

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification for English teachers of adolescents includes a four part portfolio and a six part test. The portfolio documents stuff you should already do in the classroom if you’re any good. The test is short essays on six topics, three of which are pedagogical, three of which are subject specific. You have exactly half an hour to read and answer the question for each topic. And it’s on a computer with a countdown clock in the corner, so it’s a bit like diffusing a bomb, or at least it felt that way while I was floundering to write something that made  sense. Good job me because I got my National Board Certification on my first try, hitting the top of the NYC DOE teaching pay scale before I turned 30. Yeah, topped out before 30… I’ll come back to this idea in a minute.

One of the subject specific topics was something called “universal themes.” The general idea is that most literature conveys similar messages, that any number of pieces can be sharing the same or very similar truth. It’s been a while, but I think it gave a passage and I had to come up with something else that had a similar theme. I used a John Mayer song, as you do. The fact that it was a subject specific test was funny to me because the definition of “theme” comes into question in English departments I’ve been a member of. So has the definition of “Thesis.” You’d think these two words that make up a huge part of what we English teachers teach would have a common definition. Well, they don’t. They’ve caused discussions that revealed me to be a judgmental bitch (read: discussions during which I sorted my smart colleagues from the dumb ones). I don’t think it should be hard, though, as teachers of language, to understand that, while “theme” may have alternative definitions in other contexts, in the context of literature, it only means “author’s message, stated as a complete sentence.”

That means a theme of a novel can never be “Revenge” or “family.” Those are not complete sentences. Nor is “The importance of family.” These are single words or fragments and are, therefore, motifs – recurring ideas in the piece of literature. They are an inroad to theme, but not the theme itself. To get from a motif to a theme, you have to ask “What about revenge?” It’s not always easy to answer, but it’s the way to get to a theme. And no two people will state a theme exactly the same way. Often, themes may seem a little cliche, but I think that’s what the idea of “universal themes” was playing on – many, many writers are trying to tell us the same thing, so when we get the message, we discover that it’s not a new thought; rather a thought expressed to us through a different story. Ah, how literature can make the world both smaller and larger at the same time! This is part of why I loved doing independent reading choices with students because eventually they discover that even a story from a place or time they’ve never imagined can resonate with them here and now.

In non-literature contexts, theme could mean something less specific, but when talking or writing about literature, it’s the author’s message stated as a complete sentence. Except a lot of people disagree with me about that. You might think that all the teachers at one school could agree, for the students’ benefit, on a departmental definition; however, I’ve worked in large schools where the English department is at least 20 people, many of whom are opinionated, some of whom enjoy the sound of their own voice. So even if we should, for the sanity of our students moving from one English classroom to another, nail down a departmental definition of theme, we never really did. Ditto thesis. These poor kids! How can they know how to answer an essay prompt “What is the theme and how does the author convey it?” if they don’t know how the teacher they’re writing for defines theme? And worse, if the teacher (or state test, as the case is in New York) doesn’t even use the word theme, instead dumbs it down with the vague words “controlling idea?”

So we don’t know what the hell a theme is, much less a universal theme. Except that I like my definition, so use it to understand all that came to mind while I was walking this morning.

I was thinking about universal themes in what I’ve read in the last few weeks. There was Hunger by Roxane Gay, then another memoir called Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Next was Terry Pratchett’s Men At Arms.

One, among many, themes of Gay’s memoir is “The world cannot tolerate people of a larger size. It does not know what to do with them except criticize.” Well, this theme feels universal because it goes beyond fat people. Animal Planet now has a show to “makeover” your too fat pet! The theme is universal because it extends even to the animal word. Of course, the not-so-subtle subtext of the show is that you are a horrible person for letting your pet get fat. Just like you are a horrible person for letting yourself get fat. Ugh. I didn’t watch the show, only saw commercials for it. It made me angry. Of course I have my own hang ups about fat, but I also grew up with a fat cat who I loved endlessly. And I wouldn’t have put him on a diet for anything! He was the best cuddle buddy ever.

Hillbilly Elegy had many themes, some of which were very close to home because I definitely have some hillbilly in my family tree. There were a lot of contradictory ideas that Vance was trying to reconcile in his memoir. I am familiar with many of them, and that was one of the most prominent themes: the contradictions we learn in our upbringing are repeated generationally, but eventually they have to be identified, investigated, and reconciled in order to break the cycle.

As for Pratchett, well… one of my dear friends and her family love his novels, and this was my first foray into his world. I wasn’t sure if I was smart enough to get it. I think I understood enough to enjoy it and understand its appeal. One theme of Men at Arms is all too universal this morning with the news of what happened in Las Vegas: a gonne (Pratchett’s word for gun) can cause a person to feel s/he has the power of a god and turn him into a murderer, even against his better judgement.

Around mile 3 of today’s walk (which was about an hour ago) I had some wonderful thread that tied all of this together in a neat, whole … thing. Now that I’ve come home and actually set it down not on paper but in cyberspace, I’m not totally sure what that thread was. Maybe it’ll come back to me. If not, at least I know another universal theme in my life is true: you have to pace yourself because if you get to the top too soon, there’s nowhere else to go. This is true in the novel Corner Shop by Roopa Farooki wherein a Bangladeshi boy dreams of success as a footballer in the EPL. My own life shows the theme because I hit the top of the pay scale a few months shy of my 30th birthday and now at 35, I need a change of direction.