A Rant

I really don’t want this to turn into a blog where I just complain about the state of the world.  I really don’t.  And if after reading this you decide that this blog is too negative, you can opt out.  That’s totally your prerogative. But something’s been on my mind lately, and I have to get it off my chest.  Because the thing is I know for sure I am right about this.  There is more than ample evidence and the answer just seems so… obvious.  So I am completely baffled how anyone could believe otherwise.  This isn’t just a case of “you believe what you believe, and I’ll believe what I believe.”  No.  That’s foolishness.   I cannot be “tolerant.”   I have to take a stand.  Sometimes, you absolutely have to stand for truth.  And justice.  And the American way.

I’m talking, obviously, about the upcoming “Superman vs. Batman” film.  I am grieved that Hollywood is wasting money on the ridiculous notion that somehow, in some way, Batman is actually a formidable opponent of Superman’s.

On what planet?   Because it’s not earth.  Are Batman’s fans really THAT delusional?  Just look at some of my well-researched evidence, taken mostly from the Batman and Superman films because I don’t really read comic books.

One superhero flies around in an expensive helicopter (the “Batcopter,” if you will) while the other flies like a big blue bird while holding a helicopter in one hand and his best lady reporter in the other.

One drives a mid-life crisis vehicle fast around Gotham city- it looks like a penis- while the other is inherently faster than a speeding bullet.

One wears armor to protect him from bullets and knives and so forth.  The other once had a bullet bounce off his eyeball.  He didn’t even blink.

One is vulnerable only to very rare radioactive green rocks from his native planet.  The other is susceptible to: rocks of all types, boulders, bullets, knives, boiling water, acid, lyme disease, the cold virus, tendonitis, fire, sunburn, cobras, black widow spiders, poison ivy, cat people, clowns, and I heard he may have a peanut butter allergy.

One had to learn martial arts to fight with his enemies.  The other can let out a deep breath and cause his enemies to blow away.

When one superhero’s favorite lady reporter died in an earthquake, he simply went back in time to save her.

Neither Katie Holmes nor Maggie Gyllenhaal appeared in the third Christopher Knowles Batman film.  Why?  Because Rachel Dawes was blown up in the second film.  Batman did not go back in time to save her, and even worse, he didn’t even try.

I don’t even want to hear it from you Batman fans.  I don’t care if you think Batman is cool and Superman is a dork.  I don’t care that you think Superman is flying around in his underwear.  Guess what?  Superman can fly around wearing a pink tutu and bunny ears if he wants, and it does not change the fact that he can turn a piece of coal into a diamond by simply crushing it in his hands- a geological phenomenon that usually takes tens of thousands of years to occur.

And don’t give me the same old Batman sob story.  Yes, he witnessed his parents’ murder, but you know what?  Superman also lost his parents and his entire planet.

Is Batman smarter than Superman?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  But remember that Batman does come from a lot of money, and had access to the very best education.  Superman grew up in Smallville.  Superman is smart enough, and really, when you’re that handsome and powerful, you don’t exactly need to be a genius.  I think that pointing out Batman’s “superior intelligence” is a bit elitist.  But then again, it doesn’t matter.  Superman can read minds, so the entire argument is moot.

I think I’ve made my point.  Superman vs. Batman?  Please.  I can’t even.  This is stupid.

That is all.

 

(Video has foul language.)

The Good News Club vs. The Better News Club: A Disheartened Response

 

Image credit: www.xkcd.com

 

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

In January, I heard that a group who called themselves the “Young Skeptics” were forming a club that would meet at my kids’ elementary school.  The Young Skeptics are lead by a group of atheists who wanted to offer an alternative to the “Good News Club,” a Christian group that also meets at the elementary school.  Both groups are community groups, and are not sponsored by the school district.  Initially, the leaders of the Young Skeptics club insisted that their mission was not to debunk Christianity or any religion; in fact, they wouldn’t be discussing religion at all.  Their aim was to expose kids to critical thinking skills, weighing scientific evidence so that they could make their own decisions regarding things like Big Foot, aliens, and, we have to assume by extension, deities, Christian or otherwise.

No problem, except that the Young Skeptics are sponsored by “The Better News” club.  Ouch.  That was enough to make this rather quiet Christian feel defensive and a little ornery. So I did what any ornery suburban Christian mom would do:  I contacted the Good News Club coordinator and offered to help out with snack.

The Young Skeptics first meeting took place a day before the GNC (Good News Club) met together.  Their debut made news, both local and national.  Everyone expected that the Christian community in Churchville Chili would make a big stink about the club and try to shut it down.  As far as I know, no one has brought any sort of complaint against the Young Skeptics, nor has anyone shown up to protest their meetings.

At the next meeting, held in our elementary school’s cafeteria, I was prepared to hand out Dixie cups full of water or milk to a bunch of wild elementary school-aged kids, and to be on guard against potential food allergies.  (Being the snack lady is a very important job.)

The GNC leaders were woefully unprepared for what happened next.  A woman showed up- an atheist- wanting to observe the goings on of the GNC.  It was clear that the GNC leaders had not established a protocol for this situation.  Community groups are not exclusive: anyone can come.  Even an adult to a kids’ club.

One of our leaders became immediately defensive.

“I have a right to be here,” said the visitor.

“And I have a right to ask you to leave,” said the leader.  (She didn’t, actually.)

The visitor eventually did leave, prompting the atheists to ask the obvious question:  What doesn’t the GNC want us to see?

What is the Good News Club?  According to their website, the Good News Club’s purpose is to “evangelize boys and girls with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and establish (disciple) them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living.”  Having been involved with evangelical churches all my life, and having now sat through several GNC club meetings, I would say the club is like being in a Sunday School class outside of the church basement.

That the GNC clubs meet in school makes atheists, humanists, and others uncomfortable.  Their position is that holding a religious class within a school is confusing for the children, many too young to differentiate school-sponsored learning from private, religious learning.  The opponents of the GNC took their cause all the way to the Supreme Court, and lost.  You can read all about the case here, with its exceptions and clauses and other law talk.  The Churchville-Chili GNC opponents know this, which is how and why they formed the Young Skeptics Club (which honestly sounds like a great program, though I wouldn’t send your first-grader there if he or she still believes in Santa Claus.  These people are like the no-nonsense mother in Miracle on 34th Street.)

When the Young Skeptics formed a couple of months ago, Good News Club participants didn’t make a stink about it.  They didn’t rally together to protest.  Most realize that doing so would be hypocritical, as the law applies to all groups, regardless of religious belief.  Again, free speech, and all that.  You will find no evidence that the GNC club did anything to try and hinder the Young Skeptic Club.  None.

At the next GNC meeting, the humbled leaders admitted there was absolutely nothing to hide from the community at large, so they pulled together and developed a plan for dealing with our visitors.  When I came in to help with snacks, I noted they had set up a table specifically for guests.  Their strategy was to be polite and not engage.  Some were excited about the opportunity to show hospitality to self-ascribed atheists, because honestly, the opportunity doesn’t come up often.

74% of Americans believe in God.  (The percentage has declined over the years.) Most of the non-believers and skeptics aren’t evangelical about their beliefs (or, rather, non-beliefs.) Example: my best friend since high school claims complete atheism, and has (over the years) regarded my Christianity with bemusement.  Or amusement.  Or maybe both.

At the second GNC meeting after the Young Skeptics Club was announced, no atheists showed up.  The table sat empty. The “welcome visitors” sign was taken down.  We thought the drama had subsided, and that the atheists were going to leave us alone.  We were wrong.

At the next meeting, nine atheists showed up to observe the going-ons at GNC.  They skulked around in the background as the kids divided up into small groups for memory-verse memorization, and then continued skulking as everyone came into the cafeteria for snack and story time.  They sat with their notebooks and, with grim faces, stared and whispered amongst one another.

“Should I serve them snack?” I asked our group’s coordinator, who is a kind, soft-spoken person.

“Oh, I don’t know.  We’re supposed to ignore them.  Of course there’s hospitality and all that… go ahead!  Offer them snack.”

So I did.  They mostly said no thank you.  I heard one woman whisper to the man next to her that I “had been trained to offer up hospitality,” as though I was brainwashed, or was trying to brainwash her.  She was too smart for me, though.  I continued my evil plan by asking if they wanted anything to drink.

I offered them Kool-Aid.

I was trying to break the ice with a little joke.   A couple of them took me up on my offer, and I said, teasingly, “You really want to drink our Kool-Aid?”  They finally got the joke and rolled their eyes.  One of the men looked at me intently and asked why he wouldn’t want to drink our Kool-Aid.  I said we didn’t have any Kool-Aid, just water and milk in dixie cups.  He requested water.  Ice was not broken, literally or figuratively.  They were not going to engage in friendly banter.  They were going to stare at us with their arms crossed.  Like mobsters in a courtroom.

Why, if they knew there was no way to kick the group out of the elementary school, were they coming to observe us like they were involved in some great anthropological experiment?

“Being a Humanist means trying to behave decently without expectation of rewards or punishment after you are dead.”  Kurt Vonnegut

According to the Young Skeptics website:  “The Better News Club feels the approach of Good News Clubs is a form of psychological abuse, akin to telling small children they’re flawed or evil, and must subscribe to a dogma in order to avoid eternal punishment.  It’s a fear tactic that accompanies extremism and is a dangerous, albeit effective, technique when performed on children who trust adults and believe what they’re told.  This is why Young Skeptics originated at Fairbanks ES… to give children (and parents) an alternative.”

Psychological abuse is a really heavy term to be throwing around.  It’s also not an easy term to define.  While looking for a standard definition, I found one article from a medical journal entitled:  Emotional and psychological abuse: problems of definition. Here’s the closest thing I could get to a concrete definition, though it seems to mostly pertain to women who are in abusive relationships:  Psychological or emotional abuse involves trauma to the victim caused by acts, threats of acts, or coercive tactics, such as those listed below.

  • Humiliating the victim
  • Controlling what the victim can and cannot do
  • Withholding information from the victim
  • Getting annoyed if the victim disagrees
  • Deliberately doing something to make the victim feel diminished
  • (e.g., less smart, less attractive)
  • Deliberately doing something that makes the victim feel embarrassed
  • Using money that is the victim’s
  • Taking advantage of the victim
  • Disregarding what the victim wants
  • Isolating the victim from friends or family
  • Prohibiting access to transportation or telephone
  • Getting the victim to engage in illegal activities
  • Using the victim’s children to control victim’s behavior
  • Threatening loss of custody of children
  • Smashing objects or destroying property
  • Denying the victim access to money or other basic resources
  • Disclosing information that would tarnish the victim’s reputation 

I cannot speak for other Good News Clubs in the country, but I can personally attest that psychological abuse is NOT happening in Churchville Chili.  There is teaching from a Judeo-Christian worldview, which believes in the veracity of gospel of Jesus Christ: namely, that all who believe shall have eternal life in heaven.  The GNC leaders teach a story from the bible, a story about missionaries in foreign lands, and have kids work on memorizing bible verses.  The parents of the children attending GNC mostly already ascribe to Christianity, and have signed a permission slip that allows their children to attend.  Since I signed the permission slip, that means that the leaders of the Young Skeptics believe that I have subjected my children to psychological abuse, and by extension, am probably abusing them at home by espousing my Christian beliefs.

I have a serious problem with that accusation, which was made publicly on their website and has been distributed through local and national media.  We live in an age where a mother can have Social Services harass her for years because she left her child in the backseat of the car while she ran into the store for five minutes to grab just one item.  There is nothing more disconcerting than having someone question your capability as a parent, especially in a public forum.  Threatening the loss of custody of children is so unsettling that it, itself, qualifies as psychological abuse.

“Declare your allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ, or you get no supper!”  said no Christian parent in the Churchville-Chili school district ever.

Christianity fits under a rather large umbrella: there are extreme liberal Christians and extreme conservative Christians, and then there are those in the middle.  There can be a wide spectrum of Christians under the roof of one church: some people in my own church, for example, wouldn’t touch alcohol with a ten-foot pole.  Then there are people like my husband, who ran around all weekend wearing a Guinness cap with a built-in bottle opener.

Sure, there are instances where people use Christianity in order to psychologically torment their children.  I’ve met them.  They do exist.  Most of the evangelicals I know are really good parents, and their children are physically and emotionally healthy.  Yes, they expose them to Christian values and the concepts of heaven, and yes, even hell, but from what I’ve seen and from what I know about these parents, the focus is not on the depravity of their souls, but rather the love of Jesus Christ.  The “Good News,” so to speak.  Some of these kids grow up to become Christians; a large percentage opt to leave the church.  We evangelicals are actually doing a pretty crappy job of indoctrinating our children.  After all, we’re allowing the public school system to instruct them for the vast majority of their waking hours.

 

“If I am capable of grasping God objectively, I do not believe, but precisely because I cannot do this I must believe.”  Soren Kierkegaard

Religion and philosophy and ethics are not easy things to talk about.  Just look at the list of great thinkers who have struggled with the question of their own existence: Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beethoven, Cezanne, Descartes, Rousseau, Galileo, Auden, Galileo, among many others.  The Young Skeptics group teaches kids critical thinking and scientific truth.  What if a first-grader asks what happened to her deceased grandmother after she died?  Is it psychological abuse to describe the decomposition process, and the annihilation of her grandmother’s consciousness?  Perhaps a first-grader can’t handle that information yet.  Perhaps the instructors tell the child that her grandmother’s body simply returned to the earth from which it came, and then move swiftly on to the next topic.

Perhaps the same child asks her agnostic mother if she will ever see her grandmother again, and her mother tells her, “Yes, grandma is in heaven, and you will see her one day.” And that brings the child comfort.  Is it better to tell the child what you believe to be true, or what will comfort them in their time of distress?

Is just telling your child that they’re someday going to die psychologically abusive?

Is sending your child to middle school a form of psychological abuse?

 

“David, I’m going to hell! The worst place in the world! With devils and those caves and the ragged clothing! And the heat! My god, the heat! I mean, what do you think about all that?” Elaine from Seinfeld

What about consequences?  After all, what are heaven and hell but extensions of the earthly justice system?  When he was younger, my son wanted to know what happened to kids who did really bad things.  I explained to him what juvenile detention centers were.  He became obsessed with the idea of going to a juvenile detention center, a place where mean people separated children from parents, where freedoms were taken away, and where you had to eat disgusting food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I assured him there was no way he was ever going to end up in a juvenile detention center, but he worried about it incessantly.  Although he had heard the concept of hell over the years, he didn’t seem concerned about it.  It was not in the present.  It was an abstract concept, something he couldn’t wrap his young mind around.  Hell was just a word, not yet a place.  He was much more bothered by my telling him about juvenile detention centers.  

The Better News Club insinuates that mainstream Christianity uses shaming techniques to control our children.  Evangelicals really don’t “shame” their kids more than non-believers shame their kids.  We put our kids in timeout when they misbehave, or take away privileges.  Christianity accepts that fact that all people do bad things- that it is a part of human nature- but that we are loved by a perfect, all-powerful God anyway.  

The leaders of the Young Skeptics Group don’t actually care that we believe in God.  They may roll their eyes at liberal Christians’ devotion to their Marxist Jesus Christ, but as long as their political beliefs are to the far left, it’s cool.  The leaders are opposed to evangelicals who vote Republican.  They’re concerned about the rights of the LGBT community, and other social issues.  (Social issues that are not discussed at GNC.  Also- the group is not comprised all fundamentalists.  I am not a fundamentalist.  I support LGBT rights, including their right to marry, and I consider myself a political moderate.  I do not wish for a political theocracy- the thought is terrifying- and I can honestly say, I don’t know any Christians who do.)

The far left’s hatred of conservatism is a big, broad topic that couldn’t even begin to be covered in one blog post, so I have to stick to the issue at hand:  A group of left-wing atheists alleging that the Good News Club, and by extension, the parents who support Good News Club, are psychologically abusing elementary school-aged children.  These accusations perpetuate a growing culture of intolerance and hatred toward people who ascribe to evangelical Christianity.

I asked my most liberal atheist friend to read this blog post.  (Credentials: He used to work for the ACLU.)  His response:

Speaking for all atheists everywhere, I can honestly say there is nothing inaccurate or objectionable in it (the post) , at least as far as I can determine.  The only problem I have with the GNC program is simply that, from my point of view, it’s encouraging kids to believe a fantasy, which does nothing to further their development into reasonable adults.  Notably, however, I’m not Dear Leader of the United States, and it’s not my place to tell parents what they can and can’t teach their children (thank God – I mean, um, Mother Earth or something).  The claim of “psychological abuse” is nonsense – I would never say that.  These Young Skeptics folks seem to be acting like rude boors, and in my opinion that’s a worse offense than anything the GNC people are doing.  So I agree with your response.

—————

 A couple of Thursdays ago, the entire Churchville-Chili school district was put in lockdown after a disturbed person called and threatened our children and our school’s staff members.  (My oldest was thrilled: he got to spend two hours in gym class.) The caller intimated that he might already be on campus.  I first heard about the lockdown by the cashier in Rite Aid; the first calls to parents failed, and I hadn’t received a text or phone call yet.  When I left Rite Aid, which is not too far from the schools, I noticed that there were police cars on every corner.  I went home and turned on the news.

They soon found the man, arrested him, and lifted the lockdown.  The kids came home, safe and sound, excited about the excitement.  Parents were a little shaken up.

 

“You’re not wrong.  You’re just an a#$hole.”  The Dude from The Big Lebowski

The day after the lockdown, my daughter came down with a stomach bug and we were unable to attend GNC.  We missed another visit from the Young Skeptic leaders, who decided the day after a lockdown was a good day to come in and videotape and take pictures of the club’s leaders, and glower at them and the kids.  (In most cases, a bunch of adults coming to stare at a bunch of kids during a club meant for kids would be weird and creepy.)

The day after the lockdown, this group of individuals felt that intimidating a bunch of suburban moms during a community gathering was appropriate.

They don’t target churches, where they are vastly outnumbered. (Can you imagine these white, far-left atheists sitting in the back of an African American church while the black pastor preaches about fire and brimstone?)

They don’t harass Christian school teachers, Young Life groups, or VBS leaders.

They target volunteer suburban moms, taking advantage of the community group bylines that allow anyone to attend community clubs.  Do they have the legal right to be there?  Yes. Are they trying to close down a legitimate club through the very tactics they denounce on their website?  

Yes.  

One of the main leaders of the Young Skeptics club is a member of The Atheist Community of Rochester.  The Atheist Community of Rochester’s web page says the following:

Our mission is simple: bring the local non-theist community together in a warm, welcoming way, where every member can speak openly and honestly about his or her lack of belief in supreme beings or deities without being judged and without the fear of reprisal or condemnation from society at large.

We ask for the same.  Oh, and that the false and total crap accusations of psychological abuse stop.  

 

Hallowieners

 

I dropped a large bomb on my children this year.  I told them I wasn’t going to purchase them new Halloween costumes.  Not even from the Goodwill.  They stared at me, gape-mouthed, and cried out, “What?  You want us to wear costumes we already have?”  I told them that was exactly the plan, or if they were feeling especially creative, they could make their own costume.  I told them how my sister one year went out as a flower, with a green trash bag as the stem and large petals all around her head.  They looked at me with total disgust.

Ella wailed, “My Elsa dress is too small and it’s ITCHY.”  I made her try it on.  It was indeed too small, and she did appear to be itching a lot.

Every little girl is going as Elsa this year, but my daughter is superior to all of the other Elsas because she has long, flowing blonde hair that I can braid down the side.  Plus, her name is Ella, which is almost the same as Elsa, except without an S.  (Ella pointed that out to me herself.)  So, during Ella’s gymnastics class on Saturday, I high-tailed it over to Walmart and found the very last Elsa costume in Rochester.  It even came with a crown.  Pleased with myself, I rushed quickly to the checkout lane, afraid that the costume would magically disappear like frozen fractals all around.  Or something.  The cashier rang up the costume.

“Forty dollars!” she yelled.

I was stunned.

“But this is Walmart,” I said.  “This is the Gates Walmart.  Are you sure?”

”It’s forty dollars!  Does your kid have to be frozen?”

I took a moment.  I pictured the look of joy on Ella’s face.  I looked at the incredulous face of the cashier in front of me.  I concocted a lie to tell the boys- someone had given us the Frozen costume because they were inspired by Ella’s long hair.  I took a deep breath.

“No.  No she does not have to be frozen.  I will take this diet coke, however.”  

So Ella’s going to be the Pink Power Ranger again.

Caleb used his own money to buy a dementor costume.  A dementor, according to the Harry Potter wiki page, is a “non-being and Dark creature, considered one of the foulest to inhabit the world. Dementors feed upon human happiness, and thus cause depression and despair to anyone near them.” It arrived Wednesday, and he’s been skulking around the house with it ever since. It’s a long, dark black costume with a creepy black mask.  The dog hates it.  She barks and lunges at him.  Caleb was upset that I wouldn’t allow him to wear it to the church harvest party.

“No scary costumes,” I said.

“What if I don’t wear a mask?”

”Caleb.  You’re a dementor.  It starts with the same letters as demon.  Do you see why this could be a problem?”

“No.”

The costume actually complements his tween attitude perfectly.  The rest of us went to the Harvest party; Caleb stayed home and watched the World Series in his dementor costume.

This morning before school, Ben and Daniel kept changing their costumes.  They were as indecisive as women before a cocktail party.  Daniel settled on an old Superman costume, and Ben went off as Harry Potter again.

“If you see any dementors, you know what to do,” I said.

“Yeah, I’ll zap those Hallowieners!” he said.

“Oh honey, let me have your wand.  No props at school.”

He scowled and his round Harry Potter glasses fell down his nose.

“Ugh.  Like the wand actually works.  What, are they afraid I’m going to do a Confundo curse?”  He drew his robe around his body dramatically, and made his exit out the front door.

Daniel looked at me and asked, “Don’t you think Superman could beat up Harry Potter?”

Ella’s long blonde ponytail swung as she advanced toward Daniel rather aggressively.

“Pink Power Ranger can beat up EVERYONE!”

It’s so weird, because their teachers say they are perfectly behaved at school.

They finally left.  Now I’m sitting here writing this post, profoundly aware of the large stash of Halloween candy in my cupboard.

It’s going to be a long day.

 

 

My Illustrious Career

 

I am still following the Art of Manliness’s 31 Day Journal Challenge.  At a glacial pace.

Take some time today to reflect on your career. Jot down a timeline of it, including all the ups and downs. What was your best experience? And the worst? What would you like your future to look like, in terms of your career? If you’re a young man and haven’t started in yet, focus on that future part. What do you want your work to look like?

I was a very dedicated and studious child, who aced AP Biology and did not spend any time eating frozen Cool Whip on the side of Wegmans with her friends, and I had many aspirations.  It was only natural that in the fall of 1996, I made my way to dolphin training school, DTS, located in Orlando.  I took advantage of my location and, during my free time, studied the migration patterns of the Great White Shark, became a novice astronomer, and went to acrobatic school most nights. (ASO is like the Harvard of acrobatic schools, also located in Orlando.)  I was later able to combine these skills during an immensely popular program at the zoo: a dolphin acrobatics stargazing event followed by a shark feeding (in a separate location, of course.)  Ah, to be young!

As I matured, I poured my heart and soul into the arts.  I won a Tony for my portrayal of Florence Vassy in the Broadway musical production of Chess.  When not on stage, I wrote a bestselling book entitled “The Philosophy of Time Travel” (under the pen name Roberta Sparrow.)  After missing out on the Nobel Prize in Physics for that effort, I was excited to learn I had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for my photography work.  My series “Koalas Falling Asleep in Trees,” featured in National Geographic, was taken during spring break in 2000.

After 9/11, in part thanks to my acrobatic skills, I was able to join the CIA.  I can’t really talk about that time.  I served in the CIA from 2001-2004.  I dressed mostly in black, wore matte red lipstick,  and spoke in a Russian accent a lot, even when in Afghanistan.  That’s the way female CIA agents talk.

In 2004, I rekindled my love affair with music, and took a job singing at a smoky jazz bar in the East Village.  It wasn’t long before I had my own show in Vegas, called “Holly Sings the Gershwin Songbook plus some songs from Chess and maybe some Neil Diamond” at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace.  In my down time, I took tourists and boy scouts on the backs of donkeys down the Grand Canyon.  It was there that I met George Clooney, (who was apparently NOT too old for me).  In 2008, I played Catwoman opposite his Batman in Christopher Nolan’s much lauded “Batman and Catwoman are In Love and Kiss A Lot.”

I soon gave up acting in order to devote myself completely to my charity work.  In 2010, I’m proud to say that because of my foundation, “Habitats for Humanity, and by Humanity I Mean Koala Bears,” koala bears are no longer on the endangered list.  In fact, koalas have significantly helped increase the high school graduation rates in Detroit, thanks to my “Koalas for Everyone in Detroit!” program.

 

Since 2012, I have been hanging out in New Zealand, painting a series of watercolors called “Trees!”  I will exhibit these conceptual pieces at the MOMA in New York City.    I’ve been told they look like pineapples, which was totally what I was going for.  When not painting conceptually,  I’ve  been busy raising pygmy hedgehogs, scaling skyscrapers with awesome suction cup shoes, acting as a consultant for the producers of Shark Week, playing Beethoven on the piano loudly, and sleeping whenever I feel like it.

And that brings me to today, where I am quickly approaching my 37th year of life.

It has been quite an illustrious career.  I am thinking of retiring and doing something easy, you know, like raising three or four kids.

We’ll see.

Milk (the Beverage) is Trying to Kill Me

The next writing prompt from the Art of Manliness journal challenge wanted me to reflect upon a whole week of journal writing. We’re just going to skip that for obvious reasons.

Instead, I’m going to regale you with tales of my latest health woes: it appears that I have suddenly at the age of 36 become lactose intolerant, which is so strange, because I don’t really believe in lactose intolerance.  I mean, I do, but sort of attributed it to people who are “weak.”  Physically frail, I mean. For instance, my neighbor is this skinny IT guy who wears Clark Kent glasses and likes to pay my kids to do lawn work, which means he cares even less about his lawn than John and I do about ours.  He also has a grass allergy, so when he mows his lawn, he wears what looks like a World War II gas mask.  It really freaks out the neighborhood kids.

Anyway, he’s the type of person I would expect to be lactose intolerant.  

There’s always a chance I’m wrong about being lactose-intolerant.  I’ve self-diagnosed myself based on the fact that when I eat no milk products, I feel good.  When I do eat milk products, I manifest cholera-like symptoms.  I hope it’s temporary.  Sometimes lactose intolerance is brought on by a weird infection  and goes away in time.  If it persists, I fear I’m going to turn into one of those annoying weirdoes who asks everyone if the bread they are serving was made with milk. 

Going out to eat has become problematic.  Yesterday, John and I went to lunch.  He took me to a brick-fired pizza place.  We sat down and realized that, based on my new diet restrictions, it probably wasn’t the best spot for lunch.  But I persevered.  I found a vegan panini with no cheese: it was comprised of some kind of pesto, squash, and roasted beets.  

It was… edible.

Afterward, the server asked us if we would be interested in dessert.

“Could I interest you in a slice of cheesecake or a budino?”

“What’s a budino?”

“It’s an Italian chocolate pudding topped with a salty caramel sauce.”

“Yes.  I will ‘share’ this budino with my husband,” I said.

He brought it forth and it was wonderful and it never occurred to be for a minute that pudding is, you know, 80% milk.  Quite frankly, I’m lucky to be alive.  You really have to be on your toes about this lactose-intolerance thing.  

In other news, I’ve  decided I can no longer be friends with anyone with a gluten allergy.  Because, where would we go to eat? How would we even relate to one another?  Don’t even talk to me about the people who are both lactose intolerant and have Celiac disease.  The idea bothers me so much that I must change the subject immediately.

How about that Ebola?  

Thoughts on manhood even though I hate the term manhood

I am still plugging away at a self-inflicted blog challenge.  I’m only a month or so behind.  Here’s the next writing prompt:

Pick a quote from our 80-ish quotes on manhood and reflect on why it stands out to you. Does it reflect a man that you aren’t yet, but hope to be? Does one of them remind you of a great man in your life who you’ve tried to model? If you can’t seem to reflect on a single quote, just take the time to write out a few of them that you like. Doing so will keep them top-of-mind and perhaps lead to some thoughts later down the road.

“The search after the great men is the dream of youth and the most serious occupation of manhood.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

First of all, I don’t like the term manhood.  I don’t like womanhood either.  I don’t have a good reason; the terms just make me feel uncomfortable.  Not because I believe sexuality is actually ambiguous (in my experience, I’ve found men and women to be quite different from one another), but because I just have a negative, visceral reaction to the terms like some people have to the word “moist.”  (For the record, I don’t have a problem with the word moist.  I do not like the word “panties,” however.  Or the words “flesh,” “secretion,” and “masticate.”)  Now that I’ve got that out in the open, we can move on.

“The search after the great men is the dream of youth and the most serious occupation of an adult male.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson, revised.

The surest way to have a once admired author’s personality sullied forever is to take a class from a professor with an agenda.  For instance, it is not as much fun to study the American transcendentalists through a “feminist lens.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson (and who doesn’t adore Emerson?) comes off rather badly.  In fact, reading a few selected quotes from his journals might put the young female graduate student in a funk.

Still… Emerson is very pithy, and therefore very quotable, and I like the above quote.

I should mention that I am not a man. I would go so far as to say I am happy not to be a man.  However,  I am raising three potential men, and I hope they strive toward the idea of “the great men.”  Emerson’s definition of “the great men” is left a bit ambiguous here, so here’s what I want to instill in my boys:  This is from the bible.  Ahem.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with thy God seem to be characteristics that “the great men” have.  Like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Mister Rogers.

I like that this verse inspires action: ACT justly, LOVE mercy, WALK humbly.  It really coordinates well with this other Emerson quote:

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

So there you go.  Two quotes: one from an Old Testament prophet who predicted the downfall of Jerusalem; another from a pantheistic, sexist, but self-reliant essayist.

My boys are still young, and it takes years to cultivate justice, mercy, and humility, and so I’m currently trying to teach them that great men never roll their eyes at their mothers and almost always play a musical instrument really well.   (But are humble about it.)  Great men also brush their teeth on a regular basis, because bad breath is offensive, as is tartar build up.

I have lots of other thoughts about great men, but I think I’ll leave you with just one more deep thought:  A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

That Emerson is just so pithy.

 Funny movie clip I can’t figure our how to embed:  http://www.anyclip.com/movies/whats-up-doc/pretending-to-be-eunice/#!quotes/

An Ordinary Day in an Ordinary World

Duranduran_ordinaryworld.jpg (209×205)

Ordinary World by Duran Duran. I owned this album, and then I lent it to someone, and now I don’t have it anymore. It was one of my first compact discs.

On this day, simply write about your day. This may seem especially boring, but write out the events of your day. What time you woke up, what you had for breakfast, what your commute was like, what you did during at work, how you spent your evening. If you’re journaling in the mornings, write about the previous day. The beauty of this exercise is that you may discover something that you hadn’t realized. Maybe you weren’t very productive at work, and reflecting on it can allow you to analyze why. Perhaps you finished a big project on the house when you got home; you can think about what motivated you, how it made you feel to finish something big, etc. Don’t discount the seemingly simple task of writing about your day.

So, I skipped a few challenges.  The next in line was “write a letter to a loved one,” and I was kind of freaking out about that.  I put off writing it for several days.  Then I remembered that no one’s the boss of me, which is the coolest thing about being an adult so far, so I decided to skip it.  I skipped several, in fact, though I’ll probably go back to them.  I’m going with the above challenge, because yesterday was slightly more interesting than most days.

September 24, 2014.  A Wednesday.  A Seasonably Warm Day.  

7:30:  I wake up!  

7:35:  I think very seriously about getting out of bed.

7:40-8:00:  I get out of bed.  Put bathrobe on over pajamas and pad downstairs.  John is home this morning, so I slept in.  John already fed the kids, but Ella has not touched her oatmeal.  Her oatmeal is now cold, so I put it in the microwave. I make lunches and make sure kids have snacks in their book bags.  I tell the boys to get dressed.  They whine.  Ella sits at the table, reads a book, and pokes at her oatmeal.

8:00-8:30:  I pick out an appropriate outfit for Ella.  She still hasn’t eaten her oatmeal.  She runs upstairs to change and comes down in the most ridiculous getup I’ve ever seen.  I make her go back up and change into the outfit I picked out.  Ella whines. Meanwhile, the boys need socks, so we head over to sock mountain and play the fun sock matching game.  I tell the boys to brush their teeth.  The boys whine.  I eat breakfast: an instant cinnamon oatmeal packet and a clementine orange.  Ella comes down in proper attire.  I put her oatmeal back in the microwave.  She takes two bites and insists she’s full.  I tell her it’s time to do her hair. Ella whines.

8:30-8:40:  I brush Ella’s hair while she screams.  Something distracts me, and she runs away.  I chase her and brush her hair again.  Then I put her hair in a ponytail, but she doesn’t want a ponytail, she wants braids.  I tell her there’s not enough time to do braids.  Ella whines.  I discover a rip in Daniel’s shorts, and he is forced to do a last minute change.  He doesn’t whine.  This surprises me.

8:40:  The kids wait for the bus.  I quickly change into workout clothes and grab my gym bag, which is of the double bagged plastic Target variety.

8:45:  The bus mercifully takes the children away.  I hop into the van and go to the local YMCA.

8:55:  I arrive at the YMCA and do a 30 minute workout- mostly jogging.  My shins ache and my toes go numb, but I persevere.  My sneakers are very old and I need new ones.  I feel very sorry for myself.

9:40:  I take a shower in the locker room.  I’m in a rush, so I try and put my jeans on before my legs are completely dry.  This ends badly.  

9:53:  I drive to my friend Kelly’s house for our weekly moms get together.  We sip tea and share daily struggles and triumphs. Then we pray for one another and for each other’s children.  I play with Kelly’s baby, who is so plump and cute I want to run off with him. But I don’t, because that’s not being a good friend.

12:15:  I drive a ways down the road to Wegmans, where I grab a magazine and eat a salad.  The salad has romaine lettuce, artichoke hearts, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, and a pomegranate dressing.  It is not a particularly enjoyable lunch.  There are submarine sandwiches nearby.  And pizza.  I am obviously a strong and disciplined person to choose a salad in this environment.

12:40-1:45:  Grocery shopping.  I always start in produce, end in frozen foods, then go all the way back across the store because I forgot the raisins.  The store has recently undergone a complete layout change, and they moved the raisins far from where they should be.  They now happen to be next to the bulk nuts, which tempt me,  but are not in this week’s budget.  No cashews for me.  

2:00 Home.   I put frozen foods and refrigerated foods away.  I leave the rest of the food on the floor because I get distracted by a phone call.  It is gorgeous outside, so I sit outside and spend a good twenty minutes on the phone with Blue Choice, talking with an agent named Monica.  Monica is well; when she inquires about my health I share about my recent abdominal pain.  After an awkward pause, I realize I shared too much.

2:30:  I take a long look at sock mountain.  Then I take a long look at the sunshine.  I have an hour and a half until the kids come home.  I need to do some writing,  but Kiah wants to take a walk, and I want to be in the sun.

3:00:  I eat a snack on the back deck.  I accidentally doze off in the sun.  

3:20:  I must write!  I do so for almost half an hour.

3:50:  The children are home.  I meet them at the bus.  I check with the bus driver to make sure Ben and Dan behaved themselves. This has been an issue, which appalls me, because as a child I was an exemplary bus rider.  The boys are not exemplary at all.  At least Danny hasn’t mooned anyone this year.  

3:52:  I am chasing the school bus in my van.  Ben has left his saxophone on it, and he needs it to practice.  I dash out of the car when the bus stops to let the last child off, and I call out the bus driver’s name.  The bus driver laughs at me.  He is so not getting a Tim Hortons gift card this Christmas.

I’m lying.  Of course he’s getting a Tim Hortons gift card.  The man loves Tim Hortons.

4:05:  I am drowning in a deluge of school papers.

4:10:  Snacks for everyone!  

4:15- 5:30:  Kind of a blur.  Neighborhood kids come in and out.  The dog barks a lot.  I daydream about Wegmans’ submarine sandwiches.  

5:30:  John comes home to find me lying on my stomach on the couch.  I have abdominal pain.  This has been going on for about a week. It is the same abdominal pain I told Blue Choice about. It feels good to lay on my stomach.  As John stares at me I remember I didn’t put the rest of the groceries away.

5:45:  I put the rest of the groceries away so my husband doesn’t leave me for some hot Albany intern.  Because not putting the groceries away is the very thing that might drive John over the edge one day.

6:00:  Leftover pasta bake for dinner!  The neighborhood kids are told to go home.  One stares in the window while we eat.  I shoo him away with a broom.

6:20:  I head out the door with the twins.  I drop them off at the church down the street, where there is a fun kids program on Wednesday evenings.  My friend Steph tells me there’s a food truck at the church that night, and that there will be fruit there.  I bring my wallet expecting some kind of farm stand/ hot dog sale.  The church is giving away free food!  I ask for squash, and they give me a whole case of it.  I get peaches, apples, wraps, coleslaw mix, bread, and juice.  It’s like Christmas.  I’m incredibly happy with my loot.

6:35:  I head to the middle school, thinking about the different types of things you can make with squash.  It is Caleb’s open house. I’m late.  I meet Caleb’s teachers and learn about the year’s curriculum.  In health, they are doing a whole unit on HIV/AIDS awareness. How eighties.  NYS needs to revamp their curriculum.  Chlamydia is where it’s at these days.  They are also doing a “growth and development” unit, which is essentially a “you’re going to go through puberty any minute now” unit.  But the teacher will not tell them what sexual intercourse is.  I don’t know how they’re going to talk about HIV prevention and erections and ovaries without discussing sex.  

8:00:  On my way home.  I’m driving down the country road near my house when I spot two deer in the middle of the road, precariously close to where my van is going to be seconds later.  I slam on the breaks.  Stupid deer think they own this town. They’re gangly-legged menaces.  I drive home, heart pumping rapidly.

8:10:  At home, I enter the house through the garage.  Caleb is sitting at the table doing his homework.  He mumbles something, but I am focused on what appears to be a bird flying behind his head.  Is it a bird?  A crow perhaps?  Am I seeing things?   But it is not a bird.  It is a bat.  It is a bat.  I let out a blood-curdling scream.  John, who is on the back deck talking on the phone, says “I have to go, Holly is screaming.”  The bat is everywhere all at once.  It swoops and dives.  Caleb quietly leaves the area and goes to the top of the stairs while Ben dodges the bat,  whooping joyfully.  John brandishes a racquet and knocks the bat to the floor.  Then he bludgeons the the thing to death.  Is he seriously walking toward me with a lifeless bat on a racquet? Why can’t I stop screaming?How long have I been screaming?  

8:15- 8:45:  The bat is bagged and placed in the garbage receptacle, which goes out tomorrow.  John and I sit on the porch and talk. I stare at the sky suspiciously, looking for bats.  The twins come home.

9:00 The kids are in bed.  I clean up the kitchen and put away all that wonderful free food.  

10:00:  I eye sock mountain.  I sort and match socks while watching 30 Rock on Netflix.

11:00:  I start getting ready for bed.  I read a while, then close the book and curl up under the covers.  I remember I was going to take the pork out of the freezer so it would thaw overnight.  I should go down and get…

I’m asleep!  And I stay that way until morning.

Analysis as suggested by journal challenge:  I hate bats.

Halibut really aren’t so great.

 

This is Harold the Halibut.  He thinks he’s pretty great, but he’s not.

 

I am on Day 4 of a self-inflicted blog challenge.

Day 4: Via negativia; today, pick a habit that you’d like to eliminate from your life. Bad habits are like armpits, we all have ‘em and they all stink. Whether cutting soda out of your life, or putting a stop to your porn addiction; either way, as with yesterday, think about the steps you’ll take in order to put the kibosh on that negative habit. And again, also think about how you’ll keep yourself accountable to that goal.

I’m going to take just a moment today and say something about the incredibly high prices of wild Alaskan halibut.  Do you want to know why more people aren’t incorporating wild Alaskan halibut and other fishes into their diet?  Because it’s really freaking expensive.  Two frozen fillets for 17.99.  I know, because I was dead set on preparing halibut with nectarine chutney.  Tilapia is reasonably priced, but it tastes like fish.

I always thought, hey, if apocalypse comes and we are looking for food source, at least we live near a GreatLake!  Lots of fishies! But women under 50 and children under 15 aren’t supposed to eat ANY fish from Lake Ontario, Niagara River, or most any New York State lake because of the mercury and other tasty-sounding chemicals like Mirex and Dioxin.  If the zombies didn’t get us and we survived on local fish, we’d all be laden with tumors within a year.  Except, of course, if we stocked up on wild Alaskan halibut beforehand, which apparently only the top 1% can do because it’s so expensive.

I did end up splurging on some halibut, but that will probably be the last time, unless I happen to be fishing in Alaska.  I’m determined to incorporate fish into our weekly dinner experience.  Next week, we are having fish tacos made from the much less expensive fish sticks, because the back of the Gortons fish stick box has a recipe. The fish tacos will be accompanied by nectarine chutney, because that, quite frankly, was the best part of the halibut recipe anyway.

Ben was not a fan of the halibut.  He gagged and sputtered and pleaded for me to make him a sandwich.  I did some calculations and told him that there was a good $7.00 worth of fish on his plate, and he better eat it.  He contemplated this for a moment, and then offered to pay me $7.00 so he wouldn’t have to eat it.  I don’t know what the protocol is for this type of thing.  It’s the first time anyone’s ever offered me money not to eat my food.  There’s been whining before, but this was a whole new level of desperation.

So my children are ungrateful.  They don’t know a good, clean, chemical-free fish when they see one.  Heaven forbid they get stuck in the zombie apocalypse.  Halibut is going to look pretty pretty good compared with sardines from a can.

Anyway, back to the journal challenge, of which I am approximately six days behind.  I’m very busy and important.  I don’t have time for self-inflicted blog challenges.  I have to go to the dentist and get some fillings replaced.  They better let me listen to my book on tape, or I’m going to totally freak out. 

Also, I’m a little surprised that the Art of Manliness people went straight to you may want to get rid of your porn addiction.  I guess it’s enough of a problem in the manliness community that the editors felt they needed to be upfront about it.

I do not have a porn addiction.  I am down to one diet coke every other day.

I would like to address this negative habit:  I may complain on occasion, mostly in my head, but sometimes to friends and occasionally on my blog.  I’m sure you haven’t noticed since it’s pretty subtle, but I would like to be more “positive,” and a “joy to be around.”  Less like Scarlett O’Hara and more like Melanie Wilkes.  Melanie Wilkes is so kind.  We should all aspire to be like Melanie Wilkes.

You don’t know who Melanie Wilkes is?  No one watches the classics anymore.  This is what America is coming to, people who would rather watch The X Factor than spend four glorious hours watching Gone With the Wind. 

I have to go to the dentist.  Blech.

Buildings that Groped the Sky

I am taking part in a self-inflicted blog challenge, inspired by The Art of Manliness Jumpstart Your Journaling 31-day challenge.  Today I was supposed to write about a positive habit I am going to implement in my life.  I’m skipping that one to talk about September 11, 2001.

After the towers fell, and it sort of sunk in what had happened, I had the most horrible, horrible thought.  I thought, At least it wasn’t the Empire State Building.  The twin towers, which I had been to the top of at least twice, were aesthetically dull.  The Empire State Building, on the other hand, is an architectural wonder, and a symbol of the beauty, romance, and grandness of New York City.  I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building a couple of times, too.  I know what New Jersey looks like from 102 floors up.

I’ve always felt really terrible about having that thought.  What a petty, insular thing to think.  After I read multiple testimonies and listened to frantic 911 phone calls from that day, I felt more connected to the towers, and more importantly, to the people whose lives were lost.  Stories connect us to others.  If I hear on the news that a man has been killed in a car accident on the 390, I think “that’s too bad,” and carry on with my life.  As stories about the man, a father of two who enjoyed hiking and carpentry, emerge, I become personally invested.  When I hear a story about how he surprised his wife with a handmade rocking chair before the birth of their first child, I am grieving.  Stories break through that first layer of indifference and speak to our common humanity, imbuing us with empathy.

I bought an anthology of essays and poems by American writers in response to the events on September 11, 2001.  I looked for it today and couldn’t find it.  It’s very possible that John hid it.  (When in a deep state of depression, I used to pull out this book.  John would come home, roll his eyes and yell, “Stop reading about 9/11!”  I can’t find my copy of Night by Elie Wiesel, either.)  There are some hits and misses in the book, some self-important authors who rail against the Bush administration, and others whose raw honesty really hit home.  One of the first essays I read, and I wish I remembered what it’s called, starts with the author’s initial reaction after the buildings fell:  Thank goodness it’s not the Chrysler Building, he thought.

What a jerk.  A complete jerk who made me feel not so alone in this terrifying world.

Anyway, it’s a good book, and I’m sure you would find something that resonates with you.  The anthology would be a great resource for teachers and for those who want to read different perspectives about that day from well-spoken people.  (Warning: some of them are jerks.)

Because I can’t find the anthology and therefore have no quotes or poems I can copy from it, I leave you with this excerpt from a poem by Auden, written about another September day years ago, right before the onset of World War II.

 

W.H. Auden, September 1, 1939

…All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die…

Hemingway and Suicide: Day 2 of a Self-Inflicted Blog Challenge

the Antagonist

Continuing to work within that idea of constraints, try to write a six-word memoir of your life so far. This idea is rumored to have originated from Papa Hemingway. The benefit is that with only six words, you really have to filter your life to what you deem most important. It may take you many iterations, but you’ll end up with something that speaks largely to who you are, if not in toto, then at least in this moment in time.

Here is the 6-word short story (not memoir) that Hemingway supposedly wrote:  For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Hemingway had four wives (not all at the same time) and three sons.  Hemingway shot himself on July 2, 1961.  This doesn’t surprise me, given the above six-word short story and the ending of A Farewell to Arms.

As it happens, today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel prize For Literature in 1953 for The Old Man and the Sea.  I’ve often thought that if I won the Nobel Prize for Literature, I’d ride that emotional high for the rest of my life.  I would truly be happy!   Life would be complete.

But it doesn’t work that way.  Depression attacks even Nobel-prize winners.  It really is important to know how to identify the warnings and risk factors associated with suicide.   Hemingway’s (fourth) wife insisted his suicide was an accident.  Too often, we turn our heads because ignoring what makes us feel uncomfortable is… easier.   But suicide takes the lives of 40,000 Americans each year, 800,000 globally.  If the Swine Flu or something killed that many people a year, we’d all be freaking out.  We’d take precautions, immunize if possible, ask our kids how they were feeling several times a day.  If we treated suicide like an epidemic, maybe it could be contained.  Just a thought.

Back to my six-word memoir.  It should be filled with colorful, meaningful words that capture the essence of my very soul.   But I’ve recently cut a lot of sugar from my diet and my head is feeling fuzzy, so here you go this is all I got:

Faith, family, friends: in that order.

Also:

My life isn’t nearly over yet.

Also:

Prefer to express myself via haikus.  (And movie clips.)