PlazaJen: The Blog

Riding the Bike with One Pedal.

Category: Perspectives (page 1 of 2)

A Tale of Two Christmases…

Growing up, Christmastime was always a mixed bag. Because my dad’s mother passed away before Christmas, and he would, shortly after Thanksgiving, go into a very dark depression.  I don’t remember my grandmother – when she died, I was maybe two? And we had plans to go to Florida to visit her, but instead, as life will do, plans changed. My father would retell the story of flying from Florida to Chicago with his mother’s ashes in an urn in a package on his lap, the elderly lady next to him cheerfully chirping, “Christmas present?” And in Dad’s typical biting dark streak, he replied, “You could say so.”  He would then describe clawing at the frozen ground, attempting to spread her ashes, not realizing what the urn ultimately contained. I’ll spare you the vivid description, but it galvanized me as a child, and basically drew a line around my father, his dark moat, he was not to be messed with in December.

So every other year was my Mom’s “Year” for Christmas. A huge tree, loaded with lights and decorations, geegaws and ribbons and red velveteen everywhere. The off years were Dad’s. I would string popcorn and put it on the ficus tree. We had this really old, and to me, AMAZING, three-dimensional ornament that unfolded from two sides of cardboard, revealing accordion-folded beehive-like tissue paper that once the little metal tabs clasped over the other side of cardboard, displayed a two-foot Santa Claus. That was it. That was his concession,  a ficus tree decorated with ornaments I made from colored paper and popcorn and an ancient santa that grew more delicate each year. His darkness got its turn. We tread lightly around him no matter what, and there was always a sense of relief when the holidays were over, when January arrived, bringing with it a new year and the darkness receded.

I felt that deep dark current come forth this week, as someone was trying to excuse another person’s terrible behavior, trying to justify their actions, that they were sure the holidays were hard for them, given some of their life circumstances. I tartly countered, “Is it a competition?  Both my parents are dead. Nobody gets a pass at the holidays and everyone ultimately has to behave.” I regretted it, albeit fleetingly, but it ultimately summed up in five words what’s heavy on my mind, and contributing to a feeling of isolation.  Both my parents are dead. It sucks. I’m alone. My party of three is now a party of one, when you look at all those formative years of Alternating Christmases.  But I also tell myself, I’m not a Syrian refugee, either. I’m not being raped or beaten with my own baby. I’m not suffering through chemo treatments or in an abusive relationship. There are lots of worse places to be and lives to be living.  But I have my own dark current (god, could I sound more like Dexter? Don’t worry, I’m not ordering rolls of plastic sheeting and dressing in three-button henleys) and I know the holidays are challenging for most people, whether they’re trying to measure up to a societal projection of perfection, or are coping with all the things that hobble our lives.

We never had big gatherings – my father shunned them – and weren’t close to other family, whether it was geographically or emotionally. Basically, I’m wired for small gatherings and being the best hostess possible. I was talking to my therapist about this – he pointed out that for some people, it’s not a true celebration unless there are hordes of people gathered.  Obviously for others, smaller gatherings are more valued.  Not having any siblings, I’m kind of out of my holiday traditions, even if we’d stopped getting together, there were cards and gifts and emails. Strands of connection.  There are so many variables, you know? As you blend new families together, as you go home to your parents, the dance steps and conversations and expectations and all that … history. It drives the bus, it plays the music, it conducts the orchestra. We have expectations we don’t even realize we have until they don’t happen, or the plan changes, and then we still don’t necessarily know what those things were, we just know we’re unhappy. Or angry. Or sad. Or all of the above.

All I can say is, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. If you have a dark moat that rises this time of year, don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, because that only makes the moat angry.  Angry moats want to rise up and drown you with lies and destruction. Acknowledge your moat, even sit with it at times. Because it’s just part of the whole thing. Say some of the things that hurt the most out loud. When I finally said, “I miss my mom,” it was like the dam broke. And it hurt and I cried, and I felt confused, because we had our issues with each other, but those fine strands of connection I maintained are gone, now that she is gone, and this year more than last year, I feel the holes they left behind, and what those holes are connected to inside of me, my expectations, my dreams, my sadness, my history.  And even in my loneliest moment, I am trying to say, over and over, until it feels true, “I am enough.” My heart is not there yet, but I know in my mind, I will be ok. If you have any of this in your own heart or head? I hope you are ok, too. I have faith that you can find it. We are enough.

 

X-Ray Vision

When I was a kid, I thought the idea of X-ray glasses was SO COOL. Imagine, being able to see through  anything you wanted! Clothes, wrapping paper, notebook covers, locker doors, the list was endless. Now, of course, I think something like that would be more of a burden than a blessing; imagine if you could see someone’s soul, their fears, their desires, their hatred, before you even spoke a word.

I had my annual mammogram today, pleased that they were open on a Saturday, bright and early. In the hallway, I was delighted and surprised to see the woman who gave me my first mammogram there, 8 years ago. She wasn’t my technician today, but we greeted each other, and while I waited for my results, she stopped by the small chamber to ask me how things were going.

I said, “I’m anxious. It’s been stressful. This election season has been like none other.” And we did that careful dance of words, establishing that we were both on the same side, so we could speak more freely.

See, she’s getting ready to retire. She’s been doing this for about 40 years. That’s what first drew me into conversation with her – what she had to have seen over her career, the advancements in technology alone would be mind-blowing, and knowing that in this gig, you’re going to also have your share of heartache to go with the joy of seeing  some survivors return – and others not survive.  She’s thinking that after she retires, she’s going to try and find a job as a caretaker for people with early on-set dementia, because she watched her son’s MIL decline, and the care out there being expensive and hard to find. She is one of those people that shows you her soul quickly, and it’s the soul of a kind, caring, wonderful human being.

She also told me that in the past year, more women have asked to not have her perform their screenings. Oh, yeah, now is when I’m going to also tell you something else about her, something that shouldn’t have any bearing:  she’s black. And apparently, in these crazy times, people now feel even more comfortable saying to her face, “You can’t know what you’re doing, I want someone else.” Tears of anger and compassion flooded my eyes as I conveyed my horror and shock.  We spoke of how hatred and racism surely have to have been there all along, but marveled at how emboldened it’s become, and how acceptable it now seems to be to show it, speak it,  act on it. She closed her eyes, shaking her head and said, “You know what, all I can do is live my life. I’m a flawed black woman and I will stand before Jesus and be judged, just like they will, and they’ll have to answer for their sins, just like I will.” All I could do was murmur something at that point because I couldn’t scream the invectives and curse words and denials, that they needed their comeuppance on this earth, that they need to be shamed and excoriated for their flawed choices under the banner of hatred.  That they need to learn and be different. That they should have let this kind, capable, experienced woman perform their exam.

I hugged her, because she may not be there next year when I return, because her retirement is on the horizon, and she’ll be somewhere else, giving of her time and wisdom to someone who needs it, giving peace and comfort to that person’s family.

I see what we have become as a nation, and I don’t like it. Hatred may have always been there, but clearly the shame attached to it has been lost. And I’ve picked it up, because I am ashamed on behalf of those women who could be so racist and callous to someone so undeserving. I shoulder the burden of bad choices by others, because when I know a wrong has been done, I feel compelled to try and right it, somehow.

Still, I’m grateful I don’t have x-ray vision, to be able to see so clearly those around me, their basest fears under their sleeves. It’s enough to speak up when you see it and hear it.  Maybe find common ground or understand what the fear is that’s fueling the hatred.  I’m looking at my own fears, and it seems like talking to our elders is a good way to go: every person I’ve talked to this past week who is over the age of 60, has a calmer view on where the election could take us: no matter what happens, we’ll still be here. We’ll get through it. We’ll do what we need to do. We got through the last (X), we’ll get through this.  And in the end, we must only answer for ourselves.

Choose wisely, my friends.

I’m not here
To decorate your world.
If you don’t think I’m pretty?
I don’t care.
You may sneer at my size
The space I consume,
And to that I say kindly,
Go fuck yourself.
The beautiful thing about getting older
Is no longer caring
What a stranger thinks.
It’s hearing crazy responses
And instead of taking them inward,
As a fault of my own,
I think, instead,
“What’s your damage?”
Your words fall into the chasm
Between where you want them to land
And where I actually stand.
I just don’t care
Because I know myself.
I finally do.
I’m here to tell you
It is beautiful to be
Exactly
Precisely
Unabashedly
Me.

Won’t You Take Me To…

Oh my. Funky Town, the dance club melting pot, located in glamorous Raytown, MO has long been a destination for people in KC. I remember seeing it when I first moved here, from an errant exit onto 350 Highway instead of remaining on 435. I knew people went for the disco, and to party in large groups, but I’d never made it there myself, until last night.

That place is something else. I think I had a goofy grin on my face at least the first 20 minutes, because it was a feast to gaze upon. Talk about a cross-section of life! I’d say the average age was around 40, so at least I didn’t feel awkward or -cough- old, and you could not have gotten a greater mix of types of people – races, heights, weights, ages, dress, fashion-sense, all mixing it up on the dance floor, or in a dance cage, or on a light-up dance box. Granted, it was still predominantly white, but it definitely felt like a representative population slice of the entire city. I think I got most mesmerized by the group sitting front and center to the dance floor, and it quickly became clear to me these were Regulars, with a capital R. The motley assortment tended to line dance to most of the music, all eyes upon their leader, a skinny, middle-aged man in baggy jeans (not sagging, just 80’s bagging) and a 2013 Tate Stevens t-shirt who determined which line dance they would do and began each dance with an emphatic flourish and a clap. The others fell into place around him, and then even others, not part of the head table, would jump in and out, swinging a right leg forward and back, a little Saturday Night Live disco jab to the sky upon completion of one set.

Then there was Disco Stu. The name was suggested by my friend John, there with his NOW fiancee, Heather, and another couple. (John told me last night that he was going to propose today! I won an Oscar for disguising my happiness while still conveying it, and while it would have really been epic had he done it at Funky Town, perhaps they will have their reception there.) Anyway, back to Disco Stu. He had a glorious smile on his face, joining the line dancing to some of the songs, dancing to his own drummer on others. At one point, he got up on the light-up box, and as I watched, the gravitational pull of his fellow line dancers turned his freeform steps into a synchronized, albeit elevated, line dance all on his own. Later, I saw him dancing rather suggestively with a middle-aged blonde woman, and all I could think was, “Heeeey, get it!”

People in their 60’s showed some magical dance moves while others seemed to do no more than shuffle from side-to-side. Most people shout-sang along to the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s tunes, forming large circles that shifted back to their smaller group sizes. One young man, I imagined to be an IT professional by day, writing code and pushing his square black glasses up on his nose, demonstrated some fancy foot work, attracting the attention of two women (my age) who gyrated and sandwiched him repeatedly, perhaps viewing him as a veritable fountain of youth. He did not appear to mind one bit.

The bonus part of the evening? A full-on Michael-Jackson inspired floor show (EVERYONE GET OFF THE DANCE FLOOR) to Thriller and then some. Zombified dancers hit the floor and performed some awesome, choreographed moves (I confess, I looked around to see if Tate the Line Dance Leader might have transformed into Michael, and I still can’t confirm they are two separate people.) Everyone shouted and cheered, and returned to the dance floor with gusto when it was over. (Now through the end of October, and apparently they have a mega costume contest on the 24th, and I kind of want to go. I can create a killer costume!)

I think the best part about the entire experience was that the place is without any pretense. Nobody cares. Everyone’s having fun. It pretty much doesn’t matter if you can or can’t dance, if you look a certain way or weigh a certain amount or dress a certain way (though I did get very confused and thought a woman was not wearing any pants; the black lights do a number on certain colors, and her shrimp-colored leggings were transformed and seemingly disappeared!) As John put it, “Out there (in the rest of the world), I’m like a 7. In here? I’m an ELEVEN!” It’s not that there aren’t gorgeous beautiful people there (there are! I was terribly envious of the 6’+ blonde with legs that probably ended at my shoulder height, in her heels and short black shorts.) It’s just that – again – nobody really cares. For once, a place where your attitude counts – and outweighs – the superficial.

Written Saturday, publishing late late late so no beans get spilled on the proposal. 🙂
Funky Town
8300 Blue Pkwy
Kansas City, MO 64133

The Beauty Myth/Mystique

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say. Does that mean we can “behold” ourselves, clearly and rationally? I don’t know. For me, the answer is usually, “No,” since I’ve got more than half a lifetime spent with criticisms and measurements and definitions of beauty that only revolved around a number on the scale, which can really torque with the way you define your own sense of worth in the world.

The conversation has been rolling around in my head ever since someone posed the question, “What if I have an ugly baby?” It was semi-in-jest, semi-serious, as the person has a friend with a pretty grizzled up baby with – as they say – a face only a mother could love. Is that really possible, though? And if you had the proverbial Ugly Duckling, wouldn’t you still love it with all your heart?

Growing up, I got a lot of, “Well…you’re ok from the neck up and the knees down,” or just an easy sort of shorthand, “You look fat.” I suppose now, I see if people will love me in spite of my copious extra adipose, or if they, too, will use it as a bludgeon and a barrier, a blight against me. Truth be told, I often find myself looking at myself and thinking I have a bit of a drag queen in me (maybe it’s my attitude seeping through), if only because I see my father’s features and having only known them as masculine, it’s hard to make sense of them on a female face. All I know is that it’s rather exhausting, and yet I still wish to be… pretty? Attractive? Somehow acceptable on only the surface, while rejecting the notion that surface definitions are the most shallow, that count the least, that in the form of rejection shouldn’t hurt, shouldn’t haunt, shouldn’t resonate with the old stuff I’ve pushed far below, because to have it out and riding shotgun is a horrible way to live.

The conversation at work grew painful, because my own upbringing, combined with that Upper Midwestern stoicism that tells you any semblance of vanity and self-worth are terrible character flaws, leave me feeling like the proverbial ugly baby myself, and I get defensive, because going through life having people eyeball you for being the fattest person at the nail salon or have kids point at you at the grocery store tends to eat away at the Teflon armor. It was even more challenging because my crankiness came off as fishing for compliments, and let me tell you, Upper Iowa Minnesota Jen wanted to run into traffic to escape, it was that horrifying. Anyway. I think we have to draw our confidence and self-assurance from more than just the mirror, but not necessarily to the exclusion of the mirror? Somehow throwing the ugly baby out with the bathwater feels like overkill.

So as the clock continues to tick, and the wrinkles around my eyes deepen, I’m sure of only one thing, and it’s that I have to be ok with me. As I am, as I was, as I will be. I may color my hair, use some products that promise to defy aging and peer at my face as I see my father’s eyes staring back at me, looking for what new mark of life’s process is stamped upon my skin. I actually surprised myself, because I was trying to figure out how in the hell my laptop camera actually took a picture and unprepared, I got one. This is me. Minimal makeup, no gigantic smile. Just… puzzling and thinking. I think a lot. Sometimes too much, but I still like doing it. And most days, I like me. Despite what all the old voices – and sometimes new – may try to tell me. Because the Beholder doesn’t always care, even if they should.

Pondering PlazaJen

Wow.

So a ton of people are reading the jaw-dropping, eye-opening, no-he-di’n’t statement that wannabe-Senator Todd Akins said in an interview over the weekend. It’s all over Facebook, Twitter, and just about every single news source in America has posted on it.  (here’s the exchange with the interviewer, in case you missed it:

“If abortion could be considered in case of, say, a tubal pregnancy [which threatens the mother’s life], what about in the case of rape?” asked KTVI host Charles Jaco. “Should it be legal or not?”

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin said, referring to conception following a rape. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Argh.  When will the people who want government to stop meddling in their lives fiscally take a lesson from their own playbook and stop trying to impose their values, beliefs, morality and religion on everyone else? Not to mention maybe doing some scientific research before gum-flapping complete bullshit rehetoric that suits your platform?

But really. Anyone who knows me or has read this blog over the years knows that I am a feminist, I wear that label proudly, and I support a society with reproductive rights as upheld by the Supreme Court of our great country. So you knew the whole thing would make me a bit…frothy. But this time, it was less about defending a woman’s right to choose, it was the giant concrete block of the word “Legitimate”.

Legitimate Rape.

Um, what is that? So many beliefs, attitudes and prejudices just rolled all over me with those two words. Because the opposite (“Illegitimate Rape”?) makes you think that sometimes rape isn’t…rape. Just…. roughhousing?  Are we really going back to the infamous line from Claytie WIlliams, “If it [rape] is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it”? But in this case, it would seem that might be at cross-purposes with our magical built-in uterii’s uncanny ability to eliminate pregnancy if we’re really being raped.

Twenty-four years ago, I sat by a woman’s bedside in a hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Tubes left her body, transporting bloodstained urine, draining wounds from the stabbing she’d received days earlier from the hands of her rapist. Her will to survive made such an impression on me, that it was the first thing I thought of when I heard that quote from Akin. She had been raped, sodomized, stabbed and left for dead in shed near a cornfield. She begged her attacker to take her with him, because she had enough presence of mind to realize if he left her, she would die that night in the cold darkness. She promised him money, just take her to an ATM, she’d give him the number when they got there. And when he left the vehicle to get that cash, she dragged her body across the parking lot and got the attention of a truck driver, who rescued her from the nightmare that would now be forever in her memory, part of her Life Experience, the curse of her will to survive that she would also have to bear those memories for the rest of her days.

The crisis counselor murmured, “You are so, so brave. So brave.” I barely spoke, because I was the art major doing an internship, who wanted to help people with my sympathy, caring, and understanding. Be the change you wish to see in the world. I just never knew how terrible the world could be.

Doesn’t it always feel a little bit different, when you put a face, or a story, or a name on the unthinkable? That maybe our black & white thinking doesn’t always apply. That an extreme stance on anything means taking someone else’s rights away.  I would never tell that woman we needed to review just  how legitimate her rape was. Or that she’d have to carry that evil shit scum’s baby to term. Could you? Todd Akin thinks he could. And for that, I can’t forgive him any “mis-speaks”.

 

If It Weren’t For Handguns, We’d Still Be British Subjects

I always think of that line on the 4th of July. Our local nutjob in the small town in Iowa where I was raised had hand-lettered it (with electrical tape) onto the back of his very long trenchcoat.

A tall, imposing silhouette, children ran from him or taunted him from a safe distance. I knew of three classmates who waited until he left his house and then dared each other to go in. Apparently he was a hoarder long before they made TV shows about them; piles of newspapers and magazines created a path (and only a path) through the two rooms they dared to enter. Nowadays, I wonder what Marvin’s story really was – was he one of our lost veterans, abandoned to live in their own haunted minds? In any event, he still crosses my mind, thirty-plus years later.

Freedom is an interesting thing. A friend posted on Facebook that the First Amendment was her favorite and worthy of celebration. I couldn’t agree more, though the true definition of Freedom of Speech can be very subjective.  I ponder why I write on this blog, I ponder why I don’t write everything I want to say. I ponder what would be in a book, if I wrote one. I am always excruciatingly aware of how easily it is to fall into the trap of passive-aggressiveness when you want to scream out at people who’ve fucked up, insulted you, abandoned you, all that shit. Then I think, is it worth it? I already gave you fuckers some rent-free space in my head, now I’m giving you bandwidth, too? And is it really what you wanted in the end, to “make the blog”? LOL!

Anyway. I always ruminate as my birthday approaches. What will the next year hold, what triumphs may come, what heartaches, there’s no crystal ball, so we reflect on what has passed. People we said goodbye to, whether with sadness or in anger – the new opportunities that have come along, and the doors that closed.  I realize this is more typically done at New Year’s, and I suppose I do so then, but it’s always different, more intense with birthdays. Maybe more so now, as you realize the older you get, that there are only so many you get. And it’s important not to waste time on the things, people, projects, emotions that hold you back.

I realize it sounds darker than it feels; introspection is like that, I guess. I’m looking forward to the new chapter ahead, and even without the crystal ball, I know there are going to be some awesome things in store for me. As for anything else, well? I just have to trust in my own wisdom and experience to get me through it! I know I wear my heart on my sleeve sometimes, but much like Marvin and his trenchcoat, I guess I’d rather have people see me coming, know who I am and how I feel, than to pretend to be anything else at all.

 

 

Another Letter, One of Compassion and Sadness

Today started with me rolling out of bed, and shortly thereafter, walking into the living room. My husband was folding laundry and had an inscrutable look on his face.

“You’re never going to guess who’s dead,” he stated.

I responded, “Patrice O’Neal? That happened yesterday.”

“Nope. Don Harman.”

And it felt like the floor fell out from under me. The first thought I had was for his little girl, so young. In some ways, she is spared the heartache her mother will carry for the rest of her life. Of course, like everyone else, we searched online for answers, and waited for more news to unfold, wondering if there would or could be any sort of an explanation for why a man in his prime, at the pinnacle of his career, could possibly be dead and by his own hand.

(For those who aren’t in Kansas City, or those who eschew morning news, Don Harman was the meteorologist for WDAF, Fox 4. We switched to Fox mornings after KCTV fired their morning crew, and laughed along with the team who consistently pulled in the #1 ratings in the market for their daypart.)

This is the second high-profile suicide here in two months, the first being John McClure, chef at Starker’s Reserve, about to open a second restaurant and arguable, at the top of his game as well.

And for the second time, I read comments from people online and winced. Sure, there are always assholes trolling around. But I have to say, for anyone out there who calls someone’s suicide “selfish”, let me gently try to convince you it’s the wrong word. I started to write this last month, and pushed it aside, telling myself it was too personal, it wouldn’t make a difference. But I’m not going to care about that part, because frankly, it’s too damned important, and it’s too damned frustrating to see another good person get sucked under by the undertow of pain.

There have been times in my life when I’ve known that pain, where the depression, self-hatred, bleakness all swirl together and try to drown you. I can tell you that in those raw moments, it is truly moment-to-moment. The pain is excruciating. The mind plays tricks, tells lies, and you are in a free fall into the abyss. There’s a reason the Greeks invented The Furies – mythical demons that chase you and hound you until you can no longer live. I come by it honestly. My father told me of times in his life, when he had the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth, tears streaming down his face, as he looked at death and saw it as a viable alternative to how he was feeling. Depression is not something that can always be overcome by force of will or temperament. There are many types of depression, there are just as many treatments. What I’m sick of is the accusations – or worse, silence – that surround the depths of depression in this country and the judgment and misunderstanding that cause it.

And this time of year is the worst. Expectations don’t match reality. Memories of people we’ve lost loom larger in the doorway, the hole they left behind seemingly infinite. Everyone expects happy, magnetic people to always be happy and magnetic. It’s hard to live that prescription every day – and unrealistic. People can tell you that you have everything to live for, even make you lists, but when the pain is so great, you can’t hear them. You can’t give credence to anything, because those people don’t fully comprehend how worthless you actually know yourself to be.

This is the best one-line summary of what suicidal feelings are like that I’ve found:

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

This summation, along with some really sensible advice for anyone who has suicidal feelings, can be found HERE. Want to talk to someone? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Want even more resources? Here’s a good place to start.

Does this mean Don’s wife, co-workers should have done something, could have done anything to change what happened? No. But until we remove the stigma of what it means to be depressed, until we are all better educated on what to do or what to say, it’s worth taking thirty minutes out of your week to do a little reading, possibly challenge some ideas or beliefs that keep you biting your tongue, or telling yourself it’s none of your business.

You wouldn’t tell a man with a broken leg to “walk it off”, would you? You can’t tell someone who’s depressed to “just get over it.”

Goddammit.

Dear Don, You were part of my mornings, your cranky rants and willingness to laugh at yourself resonated in me, and so many others. I wish to hell we could have reached you in time. I’ll never forget meeting you (forgive the bad cameraphone picture below), and I’ll hope that somehow, some way, in some strange twist of fate, that losing your light can somehow save someone else from following you into that terrible, terrible darkness. You are missed. More than you ever believed possible.


Two blurry people. They look happy, right? Sometimes you just can’t tell.

Rights, Rights, Rights.

So, I was mulling over this crazy situation that’s coming up this weekend, with the little cult-like church down in Gainesville, FL that plans to burn the Qu’ran on September 11.
On the one hand, you have freedom of speech, and what they’re doing falls under that umbrella. It’s like the nutters of Westboro Baptist, or the Klan, or any other group you despise. Hate what they say, defend to the end their right to do it.
In fact, it’s the Number One amendment in our Bill of Rights.

On the other hand, you have freedom of religion, and it’s not particularly love-thy-brother to burn any religion’s holy book, declare them Evil and want to eradicate them. One of the persecutions our founding fathers were fleeing was an imposed religion. Wait, that’s also covered in that First Amendment. Hm. In fact, this church’s brand of lunacy dogma is protected as well.

Certainly there are greater scholars than I, who could expound for days on the topic of Constitutional Law, Religion, and freedoms in general.

What our original government never could have imagined was a day when information transmitted in the millisecond of a lightbulb turning on, that images and words and moving pictures would exist and live on ad infinitum in an ethereal world that gives as much as it takes.

So what do we do? We can’t legally order this man not to proceed with his notion of protest. It is in direct contrast to (most of) our collective values, whether you worship Jesus, Jehovah or JellyBellys. (Allah, too, but it doesn’t start with J.) I’d like to see the entire world turn their backs. If the Qu’ran burns in the forest and nobody puts it on the internet, did it really happen?

Of course, our rapacious modern media won’t do this. Someone will argue the need to record the event for historic purposes. But the media attention is what this man WANTS. Giving it to him, and thus elevating his notoriety not only in our country, but the world, is, in my opinion, irresponsible. The so-called minister of this ‘church’, and I use the term loosely, has said he’s willing to die for his beliefs, but he has no regard for how his actions could trigger the reaction that would cause the deaths of our own soldiers abroad. Sure, you can spend another fortnight arguing responsibility there – if I load a gun, turn the safety off, and hand it to a ten-year old, do I get to throw my hands in the air and say, “Hey, I didn’t pull the trigger.” ? To me, this is where the decision breaks down. If you want to burn something – even a flag- and the only repercussions are social ostracization (or acceptance by like-minded people) or the only harm can come to you, then knock yourself the hell out. But when the fucking U.S. General overseeing our military operations says, “Hey, you doing this could really start some bad shit half a continent away, and oh by the way, your little shindig will be used in terrorist training videos,” wouldn’t you think twice? Maybe I’m being generous by using the word “think”. It just angers me that one of our soldiers, doing their job in Afghanistan, could somehow suffer the fallout from this person’s “conviction” to protest.

And, while I’m at it, I object to the conversations that compare this to burning an American flag.  Because when you burn the Bible, you’re making a statement against Christians. Or the Torah, against Jews. So on and so forth. The flag? That’s all of us. You, me, black, white, every shade in-between, no matter your god, no matter your political party, no matter your income or education status: all of us are under that flag. When you make the choice to burn the flag, you are indicting our country in your protest, and it is (pick your option) an act of defiance against the entire country or an act of aggression against the entire country. Even this is still protected in our country. But these two situations are not the same.

Just remind yourself this weekend about what our First Amendment rights protect. And remember the people who died on September 11th, and all the other people, soldiers, freedom fighters who continue to die to protect this right.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the most heralded truth I hold as a citizen of this country, and I am sad that the actions of one tiny pocket of our population (who enjoy the very freedoms they are denigrating) could be seen as representative of our collective beliefs about the Muslim faith.

Contraindication

I’m going to try to write a blog post today in the vein and spirit of an ad colleague I admire greatly – Mr. Sam Meers. He writes great observations on business practices, pulling from ordinary life experiences. I hope I do justice to his style today.

One of the things that has bugged my husband to no end over the years is when we’ll drive by an office building in the evening, and the automatic sprinklers are bursting out water…..in the rain. Or the day following a rain. He’s right, of course. It’s incredibly wasteful. My problem-solving brain ponders this every so often.  I’ve wondered why these automatic sprinkler systems don’t seem to have some sort of moisture-content trigger, rather than a timer. Or at least an employee designated to switch them over to “manual” during periods of heavy rain (like we’ve had the past two weeks – 12+ inches!)

Today, I glanced out my window and saw that the shady side of my building was a congregation area for all the young punk geese who are unicolor and fluffy and awkwardly gaggling about while their parents keep watch and let them feed. I decided to get a closer look, and walked around my desk to stand right up against the floor-to-ceiling windows. I needed to see over the row of hedges, and indeed, there were a whole bunch of birds, some chilling out, some nibbling.
And then I felt it.
A burst of hot air.
From the baseboard heater that runs along the length of the windows.

It’s in the 90’s here. Fahrenheit.

Mind you, I have a thermostat in my office, and it’s set at the lowest setting possible, because I’ve noticed it just never seems to cool down. Gee. No wonder. So we have a call in to maintenance, and soon I’ll stop wondering if I’m going through early menopause every afternoon.

It made me think, though, how much money is wasted by such simple, common-sense practices. You don’t run a space heater at home while you crank down the a/c, do you? Because not only does it cost money, it’s silly. We’re grateful for the rain (in moderation), because it means less watering. This building has been paying for more electricity, because they don’t come through and turn the heaters off when the seasons change. The a/c works twice as hard, less effectively. Boy, I’ve had jobs like that. Doing something the same way as always, because a boss doesn’t want to question the client or the process or suggest a different way of doing things.

Contraindication is used mostly in medical terms, but it certainly applies to situations like I’ve described. It could also apply to a certain oil company who is under the microscope right now, and needs to portray an image of dedication to undoing the worst ecological disaster, ever. Such a visible leader/representative of the company might want to take a break, say, to watch his yacht race, but that would be contraindicated, because it sends the message, hey, I’m going to spend some time on a sport most of you cannot relate to AND I’m not spending time on the disaster that happened on my watch. Tony Hayward, I get it. I bet your life sucks really, really badly right now. You want your old life back. Guess what, it’s not going to happen for a long time. As long as there are tar balls and people wondering when their car’s going to get repossessed because their livelihood was taken away from them, you have to maintain at least the appearance of diligence. No fun for you until your chores are done, that’s how I was raised.

And as for businesses who cut staff and make the ‘survivors’ work harder, and tell them they’re expendable, while keeping spouses on payrolls? One place you might find some extra money is in your landscaping budget. Or your own pocket. Berating and punishing contraindicates a productive work environment. People are your greatest asset, and how you treat them during the bad times, when they want to hang on to their jobs, will serve you when the tide turns. Will you see mass exodus? Or devoted loyalty? The tides are turning in the job market, slowly but surely, and I’ll have my own schadenfreude moments when I see trapped friends finally able to burst free and go someplace new.

Me, I’m in a good spot, thankfully. Life is pretty darned good. Apart from the extra heat.

UPDATE: Since I started/finished this post, Tony Hayward got sacked from being the point person on this oil spill. Hope the new dude learns from his predecessor. I am available for common-sense consulting, should you need it.

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