the strength of character I seek

In my life, I seek to be like my late great-aunt Vi, who never stopped in her practice of her faith.

I have unending respect for Vi. She was a teacher who, in the 60s, taught her fourth-graders lessons about human rights and dignity, issues people were dying for daily in those years.

My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996
My great-aunt, Violet Panzram, 1910-1996

She did more than teach those children. She sent money to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as evidenced by a letter now in the archives of The King Center, dated April 20, 1967.

“You have been in our fourth grade Hall of Fame for many years,” she wrote to this great leader, “but never have I held you in such high esteem as since your strong statement against the war in Vietnam.”

She went on to refer to a slide show she’d seen of children affected by napalm. She was appalled.. In response, she sent a check to Dr. King “for (his) peace efforts,” and told him she prayed for him daily.

If she said she prayed for him daily, that’s what she did. There was never a truer Christian than Violet Panzram. Her faith led her to action and compassion, and a kindness that shown like a beacon.

In her 86 years no doubt she faced trials that tested her strength, character and faith, but I have no idea what they were. A few years ago, I found myself wishing I knew more about how she worked through her dark days as I faced my own.

I’d been betrayed by someone I trusted to a point where I’d lost my career, my home and my trusting nature.

I’d been betrayed by someone I trusted to a point where I’d lost my career, my home and my trusting nature. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my friends, nor did those who knew me best stop believing in me, and never did they believe the horrible lies that spread through our community.

I realize that because of mental health issues, I’m limited in some of the ways I can change in my behavior. There are times when the beast within me takes control, and I struggle to fight without fully realizing what’s happening.  I’ve sought changes in my life, but some won’t come until I learn other hidden truths & solutions, or until I die and shed the constraints I’m bound by in this life.

Me
Me

Yet thankfully there are changes no amount of depression, anxiety or the multitude of issues I deal with can halt. Some of those changes include the excellence of character my great-aunt demonstrated, so I pursue that through the choices I make every day.

Surely Vi had her good days and bad, perhaps not in the same manner I experience them, but with their own restrictive features.

I move forward, and trust I’ll be a better person tomorrow, and even better the day after. I’ll always have my faults and my failures that anger and frustrate those around me, but I pray the good in me will be what’s remembered when I’m gone.

Featured image credit: (candles) © 9comeback — fotolia.com; (background) © lpopba — Dreamstime.com; (background) © Leksustuss — Dreamstime.com.

moving forward

Earlier this week I alluded to the “rabbit’s hole” I speak of in this post.  In honor of a new era,  I’m reposting this piece, a favorite of mine:

A few weeks ago I found myself sitting alone in a crowd, anxiously searching for a familiar face.

I was expecting a friend–until her text  told me not to. Now I was faced with sitting by myself at a celebratory service that would no doubt be an emotional, spiritual, uplifting experience (it was). I started looking for anyone I might know, a bit nervous but not wanting to seem so.

Thankfully, someone did appear, a more than gregarious man, well-known for being a bit of a character.  I’d only met him once for all of thirty seconds, but I didn’t hesitate to call out his name and invite him to join me. He did, and it made that service a whole heck of a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until days later it hit me:

this was not only the first time I’d had the courage to do something that bold, but I hadn’t thought twice about it. For years I’d sat alone in services and what-have-you, often because I was too frightened to reach out to someone and ask them to join me.

This was another significant change in me I could count as the result of terrible betrayal.

All my life I struggled with being pushed around by co-workers, boyfriends, classmates, even family. I simply could not stand up for myself. Try as I might, I was unable to say what needed to be said, or even imagine what that should be. Instead I would stand there, dumbstruck, humiliated and frustrated.

I desperately wanted the ability to detect when others were pushing me around.

That is, if I were sharp enough to see what was going on. Sometimes I’d be pushed pretty far before I realized it.

When that happened, I was left with shrinking further or getting back at people, although more often than not they brought on their own trouble with their back-handed behavior. I didn’t like dealing with things either way, however, it never felt good.

Instead, I desperately wanted the ability to detect when others were pushing me around and belittling me long before it got out of hand. More than that, I wanted to project an attitude that precluded demeaning treatment. I just couldn’t come by it. I had no idea how it worked.

Eventually I was pushed down a rabbits’ hole into a hell that wouldn’t end,

and it was that experience (a story requiring too much detail to go into here) that finally gave me the insight and ability to stay ahead of those who would defeat me. It took a long time, well after the peak of the horror, to fully develop the skills to face others with confidence and enough of a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that I could claim victory. Have I fully stepped away from the problem? Likely not, but I’ve figured out what steps to take.

I also realize I need to use those circumstances to my advantage, to work toward bringing me to a point where I can say, “well, I wouldn’t want to go through that again, but I’m glad it happened.”

I’m not sure when, if ever, I’ll be there, but I look to the good that’s come of out this, and it has been substantial. I used to resent being told “everything happens for a reason.”  While I believe good can come from bad, that doesn’t justify the bad.

I like what Dumas had to say. It acknowledges the bad, but gives proper credit to an overwhelming and affirming end result:

“Women are never so strong as after their defeat.”
― Alexandre Dumas, Queen Margot, or Marguerite de Valois

blue sky balloons

I hate that it took such drastic circumstances to bring about this change for me, and I sometimes wonder, if those events hadn’t conspired, would I still be where I was then, or would I have found another way to grow to where I am today?

I don’t want those responsible for my plight to believe there’s any justification to their actions. Likely they would have preferred I was left in defeat and despair anyway. Is success the best revenge? I don’t know that I’m seeking revenge, but success is by far the best outcome.


Image Credits: Butterfly field (Field of Daisies) © adimas – Fotolia; (Butterfly) © ecco — Fotolia; Balloons Flying High (Sky Background) © Andrii Salivon – Fotolia; (Balloons) © JRB – Fotolia.

Rules, Respect, and Giving a Rip

There was a time when, with a carload of friends, I, as the driver, was caught in a stop-and-go situation in a parking ramp after a basketball game.

“Look!” my friend Kathy said, pointing at another car. “They’re going the opposite direction! Let’s do that!”

We should have, and I had a split second to decide. There was no law, no rule really, against it. Nothing would’ve happened other than getting out of that ramp an hour or so earlier. But I couldn’t do it. The signs told us which way to exit. Going the other way was wrong.

I can’t help myself. I’m a rule follower.

I’ll tell myself and everyone else I’m being respectful, but bottom line, I’m scared of getting in trouble.

You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.
You bet I follow the red light/green light rules. Always have, always will.

I even make sure I’m going in the “Enter” door when I shop at Walmart, and veer to the other side if I find I’m headed for the “Exit” door by mistake. Keep in mind the automatic doors have sensors on both sides, and no one so much as blinks if you go through the “wrong” door. On your average shopping day, there’s no danger or inconvenience in entering through the exit door (on Black Friday, it is, of course, a different story).

This wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t feel like I was being controlled by these rules. That, I think, is the dividing line for me between what is right and what is compulsive. I do not, for example, compulsively follow traffic laws. I do it for two reasons: safety, and I don’t want to get a ticket.

No, make that three reasons. It’s the law. Following it is what you do.

When I was in college — the first time —

it was a VERY conservative school, and students could receive what were called “minutes” for infractions of a plethora of really stupid rules. I think breathing too loudly on Saturday morning before 10 a.m. was one of them.

You’d get three minutes per infringement, and if you flouted your rebellion to a point of getting 30 minutes, you received what was called a “campus”, and “volunteered” three hours of your time to the school pulling weeds or some such.

In the history of the school, only a handful of students had made it until graduation without any minutes. I could’ve been one of them, except for two things: 1) I didn’t graduate, and 2) one Saturday morning I slipped up and talked to another student in the bathroom before 10 a.m. (I almost wasn’t kidding above).

She talked to me first, but no matter. And she was an RA, so I was screwed.

It would’ve been good for me to blast my radio

after hours a night or two, or (really bad) show up after curfew (there may have been more serious consequences for that. And, oh yes, curfew). It would’ve been really good for me to kiss a guy on campus (again, I’m serious, a violation of school policy), but that rarely was an option anyway.

I say it would have been a good thing for me because I might have understood what I only now am fully grasping: breaking certain rules doesn’t make you a bad person, or even untrustworthy. There are boundaries and I probably held mine closer than was healthy.

Certainly I didn’t need to trap me and my friends in that parking garage for more than an hour. If I’d gone the wrong way, worst case scenario half the other cars might have followed me. As it was, my decision cast a pall on the evening; that’s what we always remembered about an otherwise fun night.

Who's in Charge smStill, old dogs, new tricks. Forget dogs — I should be like my cats. They (reluctantly) follow the few rules I absolutely enforce and don’t give a rip about much of anything I else I ask of them. Somehow they know what really matters. I rarely reprimand them, or think any less of them for their indifference.


Photo credit (stoplight): © Graphic Stock; (Kitty and Candy) © geosap — stock.adobe.com

 

Layers and Secrets: A Message to My Friend, Part 1

The day after my brother’s wedding reception, the family and a few close friends gathered at his and my sister-in-law Ann’s apartment.

It was about as a casual an occasion as you can imagine, so I took out my knitting. I happened to be using some beautiful hand-carved needles for a project made of angora and lambswool. Ann’s friend David, an artist, took note of the needles.

“They’re a piece of art by themselves,” he commented, and graciously asked me about what I was making. In turn, I told him how beautifully he’d sung the night before, something I’m sure he was used to hearing. David has a phenomenal voice; at one time he was a soloist in the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. Let me assure you that is an accomplishment.

We had a really pleasant conversation. Seventeen years later, I still look forward to the time we speak again. David later commented to my brother how nice I was, and my brother was  certain he hadn’t spoken to me. Nice? Not how viewed his sister.

I am nice, to a fault. But while I can be very, very good, I can also be horrid. Less so as I’ve gotten older, I suppose, but yes, I can be nasty. Family dynamics being what they are, I’m guessing this was a time when there was more tension between my brother and me than happiness.

December 2014
Friends typically are taken aback by this shot of me from Dec. 2014. I generally look so much “nicer.”

A few years ago I went through a hell I’m working hard to move past, and it changed me. Initially I found I was much better able to stand up for myself, and a layer of anger seemingly charged all of my actions. The anger still exists, but it’s only a small part of the whole now.

Sometimes, though, my anger and frustration can’t help but eak out, and I have to have a long talk with myself. I choose not to become someone who resorts to passive-aggressive tactics to communicate her feelings, but in order to do that, I have to monitor what I’m feeling and and why.

I am not someone it’s easy to get to know. I constantly surprise those who think they know me well with an offhand comment that reveals I’m not so naÏve or sheltered as they think I am. I frequently hide much of myself from others and conform to their image of me. It’s easier that way.

The blessing for me in all of this is I understand people are more complex than we often realize. I tend to be less surprised about someone’s hidden talents or quirks because I accept that that is the norm. We all have layers we hide beneath the everyday aspects of ourselves.

Layers, and secrets.

(A three-part series on Layers and Secrets.  Look for Part 2 next week!)

Layers

how to effectively waste your time

Thankfully, I had to think about this one.

Sadly, there came a point when the ideas, all based on real-life (mine), came a’tumblin. For the record, I haven’t done everything on this list — at least not #4.

Anyway, here are some ideas for how to effectively waste your time:

1. Write your acceptance speech for your Academy Award.

Then give it — tears and all — to your pets, stuffed animals or your own image in the mirror.

2. Play computer solitaire.

This is an old-time favorite, and there are plenty of newer or more complex games out there as well. But I chose this because a friend of mine (friend — yeah, right. no — really.) has played an incredible number of games, as evidenced here. (I wrote the number really large. You may have to click on the picture to believe it.)

Number of solitaire games my friend has played as of August 2015.
Number of games my friend has played as of August 2015.
3. Take selfies. Lots and lots of them.

I started to take a bunch of myself and post them here, then I remembered photos from these posts end up on Google Images under your name (check it out if you don’t believe me).

4. Oh yes, check Google Images for the disconcerting pictures that come up under your name.

Then check all your friends’ names & images. Then save some of the more intriguing images, e-mail them to the corresponding friend and ask them what it’s all about.

5. Make endless amounts of bookmarks.

Fifteen years ago I discovered blank bookmarks at a craft store, along with small stencils & stencil paint. I had a couple dozen pots of paint, about eight stencil sheets and a handful of brushes. I made more than 200 bookmarks, and it’s taken me all this time to get rid of half of them. And, I laminated as many as I could. This is a portion of what I have left:

bookmarks sm

6. Watch my all-time favorite YouTube animal video.

It’s mesmerizing:

Goats on Sheet Metal

Before you judge me,

I know you have a list. I’d love to hear it.

hold your child’s hand, talk a little longer

Last week, our hearts were broken.

In response, my friend Wanda organized this silent vigil in our community for the victims of the Emanual AME Church shooting.

Silent Vigil at Crystal Bridges Museum
Silent Vigil for Victims of Mother Emanuel AME church shooting, June 24, 2015. Photo by Ali Wingood

Wanda has two daughters, ages 12 and 14. They’re learning what it means to be black in America. They’re black, so there’s that, and then there’s the bigger picture Wanda is helping them understand.

More to teach everyday, no doubt. It’s hard to be a parent.

In November of 1960,

Ruby Bridges made history. Many of you know the story. Six-year-old Ruby was one of the first black children to cross the lines at an all-white school in New Orleans to claim her right to an equal education in the public school system.

U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960
U.S. Marshalls with Ruby Bridges, November 14, 1960

U.S. Marshalls escorted her & her mother to the classroom that first day amidst rioting protesters, including one woman who put a black baby doll in a makeshift casket and shoved it at Ruby as she walked by.

Ruby was brave, no doubt about it. But when I saw this picture all I could think was how much courage her parents had, how deep their conviction and love must have been.

Her mama probably didn’t sleep much the night before. She likely ironed and starched that dress until it could stand up by itself. There may have been a petticoat, given the same care.

The little white anklets, perhaps with flowers embroidered on them. The patent leather shoes, polished until light bounced off them at every step. The bow pinned firmly in the hair.

When I picture Lucille Bridges, I see a woman who believed in what she and her baby girl were about to do. Ruby was going to shine, inside and out, as she changed history.

And she did change it. Today, countless doors have been opened for children everywhere, and each of us has benefited at one point or the other from the education they’ve earned.

All in my lifetime

Ruby’s story never would have happened if it hadn’t been for Abon & Lucille Bridges, her parents. I wouldn’t care so deeply if not for my parents, who raised three children in the turbulent ’60s and taught us about equality and justice as best they could.

We stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

That’s all anybody can expect, to teach the best way — and words — we know. Perhaps down the road we learn our lessons were somehow off the mark. Yet we stumble through, work together and listen to each other.

I’ve kept my heart, mind and eyes open for increasing understanding because of the foundation my parents laid. Whatever mistakes they may have made, at its heart, their message was right. They believed in equal opportunity. They saw people as individuals with value. They recognized the problems and knew the solutions were bigger, but would take time.

It’s hard to be a parent, but you make a difference. May it change your child’s world, and that of those around you, for the better.

Thanks to the Ruby Bridges Foundation, rubybridges.com, for facts on her story.

behave (as) yourself! whaaat?

During Christmas break when I was in seventh grade, I added bangs to my one length-fits-all hair style, and for most of my life since then I’ve kept them.

I’ll never be sure how much this plays into it, if at all, but I distinctly remember one boy complimenting me when we returned to class in January.

Beth, Thom & Me Summer 1972
My sister, brother and me (far right) the spring I was in seventh grade

“They look really nice,” he said. “They make your face look less round.”

He was a year older than me, and all through junior high, high school and until the last time I saw him, two years after I graduated, he was particularly nice to me.

I didn’t clue into it until about twenty years later, but I think it was more than just a kind nature.

This very popular, somewhat bad, really good-looking boy quite possibly liked me, the socially awkward girl whose weight fluctuated with the changing tide and insecurities overshadowed everything about her.

It makes you think. I’d realized it already on some level by this time (the age of 36 or 37), but it brought home a valuable truth: no one is who they appear to be on the outside. Why one kid is popular in high school is a bizarre combination of the “right” talents, good looks and circle of friends. He’s not better than the girl with none of that, and if he’s lucky, he knows it.

That continues throughout life. The seemingly perfect couple gets divorced. Most of us knew the Duggars would fall eventually (although perhaps not as far). There’s always the pastor who walks away from his church in shame…that’s just a given in any community. Okay, I’m being facetious with the last one. A bit.

The hooker with the heart of gold. A cliché to make a point.

A close friend of mine made the observation a few years ago that who we are is “not about behavior.” It rang true for me instantly.

In her case, her husband had had a benign brain tumor that affected the entirety of his behavior, including his ability to hold a job or even help with household chores.

Their church, in a gross misuse of its authority, directed him to leave his family until he could figure out how to become “the man of God his family needed him to be.”

He had a brain tumor. He had brain damage. His behavior had nothing to do with who he was.

Now, that’s an extreme example. But there are plenty of people, say, with mental illness, who do things that later shock and humiliate them. Virtually everyone I know, mentally ill or not, has done something so “unlike themselves” they have a hard time confessing it to others.

I wish I’d known that boy liked me, if in fact he did. I wish I’d had the confidence to openly reciprocate his feelings, because I probably would have felt something for him if I’d let myself. I could have learned, early on, one of life’s most valuable lessons: who we are is more than what others see, it’s more than how we behave, and it’s more than we’ll be able to discover in a lifetime.

bored? maybe. board? no!

You don’t want to play board games with me.

Not because I’m so good. I’m above average with most, but no superstar. You have a decent chance at beating me.

Board game player isolated.Wherein lies the problem. I don’t like getting beat in board games. Really don’t like it. I pout when I lose, so no one else likes it either. But they’re none too thrilled when I win. I can’t help myself. I gloat.

For some reason, success and failure at Parcheesi & Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble & Monopoly, mean way too much to me. This isn’t a side of myself I’m proud of, so I haven’t played a board game in years.

(Last time I did, by the way, I was partnered with my brother in a game of Trivial Pursuit. We won in one round – the first round. Yes, I’m smiling a little too smugly as I recall this.)

Another place you may not want to be seen with me? Hockey games. I get really low-class in my bloodlust at the rink. I want to see people get hurt going after that puck.

So I don’t go to hockey games anymore either, because in that case, I’m actually a little scared of myself.

Where on earth does this behavior come from? I can’t point to anything, especially the hockey. No offense intended to the sport, but any other time I have virtually no interest in it. I don’t know the rules, the strategies, nothing. Get me live at a game, though, and I’m not me.

parcheesi

Okay, the gloat/pout thing could be a bit of perfectionism, and it’s a competitive side of me that doesn’t have much of a chance to show itself elsewhere, since I am definitively non-athletic. Fit, yes, but I can’t throw, hit or catch a ball. I’m not fast. You get it.

Ah, it’s becoming clearer. I’ve been on the bottom when it comes to sports my entire life. With board games, I have a shot (so to speak). Take that, mean girls!

I know, I know, I hear it. My conclusion here should be, “well, best thing is to give up this desire to beat everyone else. Just enjoy the games and the company with it.”

Rather, I find myself thinking, I need to discover something I can almost always win at.

Almost? Always.

I have a little work to do.


Photo Credits: (top) © isuaneye; (bottom) © carballo, (both) DollarPhotoClub.com

but I want you to like me

Am I an Ugly American? I certainly recognize it in others.

travel to Europe lrBack before the Euro was in circulation, it could be a challenge for American tourists & business travelers to rid themselves of one nation’s coins before entering another country. You couldn’t trade in coins internationally, and tended to spend them at the border.

My boss and I were traveling from France into Germany, and we stopped at a bar he was convinced few Americans knew about.

“Bonjour,” I said to the bartender, who winked at me as he gestured to us to sit at the bar.

As we paid for our drinks, I started to pull out any French coins I had. We were about to end up with a fair amount of money that would be useless to us.

“Don’t do that,” my boss said in a loud whisper. “They’ll know we’re Americans.”

“So what? We’re Americans,” I replied. “I can’t change that.” He looked furious.

“Trust me,” I went on, matching his stage whisper. “They know we’re Americans. They spotted us the minute we walked in. Right?” I looked to the bartender, who gestured to the crowd behind us. I turned and most were smiling and nodding their heads.

I asked the bartender if it were a problem paying in coins. “We have currency,” I told him, “and we really don’t want to inconvenience you.”

“It’s not a problem,” he said, “Money is money. And tourists, we understand.”

“’L’argent est l’argent’?” I replied. I’d studied French. “Or is it, ‘l’argent c’est l’argent’?”

I wasn’t sure if my grammar was right, but the words were correct.

“Parlez-vous français?” he asked with a grin.

I rattled off a phrase I’d memorized in French saying, basically, I’d studied French for six years but now I’ve forgotten most of it. “Actually,” I continued in English, “I’m having a hard time understanding what people are saying here.”

© canicula - Dollar Photo ClubWe went on to have a conversation I’m sure he’d had a dozen – or a hundred – times before, how it’s one thing to learn a language in a classroom, and another to speak it in a native environment. How Americans who study French have little opportunity to actually practice it anywhere outside the classroom. And so on.

I felt so burdened NOT to be the Ugly American, I was afraid I was becoming one.

My boss was fuming. “They hate Americans,” he told me, again with his not-so-subtle whisper.

“Well, I can’t do anything about that,” I said, not even pretending to whisper, and turned to the bartender. “I hope I’ve been respectful. It’s hard sometimes, not knowing how you’re perceived.”

Immediately I was pretty sure I knew how he perceived my boss. We both seemingly deliberately weren’t looking at him.

“If I didn’t like tourists, all tourists, I’d open a bar somewhere else,” the bartender said, and winked again.

We got up to leave. “Au revoir,” I said.

“A bientôt,” the bartender replied, and moved toward another customer, American, I guessed. A few others seated at tables nodded at us as we walked out, and I smiled at them and nodded back.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” my boss said. “Americans don’t know about this place.”

Sacré bleu! Oh wait, the French don’t actually say that.

Image Credits: (top) Map © Teiteosia – Dreamstime.com Airplane graphic © Paul Herbert – Fotolia.com; (bottom) Eiffel Tower graphic © canicula – DollarPhotoClub.com

if only I could curse and fly and eat pumpkin pie

Disney had a few things right, For example, Dumbo. His experience rings true. I’m quite certain if you get drunk and learn to fly, you will in fact become popular, and probably won’t be bullied anymore.

How did they get away with that? A different time, I guess.

movie ticket angled smWait, that movie was released in 1941, the height of strict standards in film known as the Motion Picture Production Code. You’d think sending that message to children would be borderline, at best, and the Code didn’t tolerate a lot of borderline at that point.

I guess drunk cartoon characters weren’t taboo. Or perhaps because Dumbo didn’t intend to drink champagne, the message is different.

Warner Bros. cartoon characters used to sing, “no more cursing, rehearsing our parts” at the beginning of each show. Now it’s “no more nursing, rehearsing our parts.” Nursing, of course, as in nursing something along — a pretty outdated expression, but nothing else rhymes.

They were cursing from 1944 to 1964. Well, not on camera, and saying you would curse met code standards for adults, so I guess no one seriously questioned it for kids. And frankly, that change irritates me. Unless Bugs Bunny actually cursed, big deal. Of all the battles to pick, petitioning for new wording there seems useless, and the difference sounds weird to boot.

(Bugs was a bit of a wise-ass, and Elmer Fudd was a grouch, so it’s easy to imagine them swearing, but that would leave me disillusioned.)

raw vegetables in wicker basket isolated on white

Standards are a funny thing. I have a friend who’s a vegetarian, and endlessly wears us out preaching about the horrors related to eating meat, particularly what it does to your body over a lifetime. Still, she has no problem ordering dessert, as long as it’s “vegetable based” (her words). Like carrot cake. Seriously.

No doubt we’re all guilty of something similar, something we probably don’t recognize anymore than my friend sees that her choice to eat carrot cake but not beef isn’t logical to most. I tried hard to think of my own such inconsistency, but couldn’t come up with anything. Well, given my logic that we’re blind to our own conflicting behavior, that makes sense

Ooooh. Was calling Bugs a wise-ass inconsistent with the sentences immediately preceding that comment?

Okay, let my friend eat cake, and I’ll eat my words.


 

Image credits: (top) © Elena Baryshkina – DollarPhotoClub.com; (bottom) © monticellllo – DollarPhotoClub.com