Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

February 22, 2011

An Art Lesson

I hated math and science classes when I was in school.  I hated them a lot.  My math and science teachers were dull at best, condescending at worst.  I hated the subject matter, that it was so black and white and so, so dry.

I loved art classes when I was in school.  I loved them a lot.  My teachers loved what they were doing, and were thrilled to share it with us, regardless of our level of talent.  I loved that there was no black and white, no right or wrong answer.  I loved that we were graded on how well we expressed an idea, regardless of what that idea was, on how well we expressed ourselves.  My art classes were what made me opt to pass up an early graduation, because I wanted to stay and learn more about drama, music, painting, and pottery.  Without art classes, I likely would have dropped out of school the instant it was legal for me to do so.

Today, having been out of school for a couple of decades, I can say honestly that I have yet to find myself scrambling to remember the formulas and theorems of algebra and geometry or the mass of the elements on the periodic table.  But every day, without fail, I find the need to think creatively.  Every day, I have a need to express myself in one form or another.  And every single day, I find cause to appreciate the beauty around me.

Seeking to eliminate the arts from a standard school curriculum is hypocritical.  We all enjoy movies and television.  We like good books.  We have prints and paintings hanging on our walls.  Without art, we have no actors, no cameramen, no script writers, no authors, no painters, no photographers, no public speakers, no musicians… the list goes on.  Look around you; your home was designed by an architect– an artist.  The car you drive?  An artist decided how it would look.  The magazine you’re reading, from the photographs to the layout is all the work of (say it with me, now) artists.  And most artists find their passion when they’re young; they find it in art classes.

Without art, we lose a lot of what makes life so enjoyable. And where does it end?  Creative writing is an art!  Get rid of it!  Literature?  Nope, that’s art, out it goes.  In fact, get rid of Language Arts altogether; it’s even got “art” right there in the name, so it’s gotta go.  Wait, those cheerleaders… are they… dancing?  Oh dear, dancing is an art form; we’ll miss you most of all, cheerleaders.

There’s a reason why we start school with crayons instead of compasses and paints instead of protractors.  There’s a reason why, as children, we loved to play dress-up, and why we loved pretend games like cops and robbers.  Imagination is a vital part of what makes us human, and it’s so very important that we nurture that instead of doing such a great disservice to future generations as teaching them that the world is composed entirely of dry facts.

Life isn’t black and white.  Education shouldn’t be, either.

February 11, 2011

All the World Loves a Clown…

I’ve been thinking about my late mother a lot recently.  I think it’s because, as I get older, I see more and more of her in myself.  I did a blog post awhile back about the funny things we remember in our lives, and that absolutely holds true with my memories of Mom.  Most of them are just random things about her, like the slight “mm” before she said “hello” when answering the phone, or the goofy look she’d get on her face when she was swing dancing in the living room.  But my favorite memory is one that I can’t even retell without laughing out loud.

My oldest nephew was around six years old at the time.  His birthday is in late December, and the family was gathered for the Christmas holiday.  My mother called my nephew into the kitchen to give him his birthday gift.

Oh, how excited he was as he came running in!  A gift!  One just for him that wasn’t part of the holiday festivities!  Oh, how quickly excitement can turn into fear, and fear into sheer terror.

Mom called him over to her, and reached around and picked up the gift… a clown doll.  If one wasn’t already creeped out by clowns, this doll would have done the trick, with its big, red nose and dead, staring eyes and maniacal, blood-red grin.  She held it out to him, and his eyes grew wide as he slowly backed away, shaking his head.  Mom insisted it was adorable and kept waving it at him, and his little head shook faster and faster as he backed up against his own mother and found he could go no further.  Eyes huge, he stood his ground and tentatively reached out his tiny hand…

And then Mom pulled the string.  The string that made the clown laugh.

It was the laughter of every wake-up-screaming nightmare you’ve ever had, the cackle of a thousand mad scientists in a thousand old horror movies.  Vincent Price at the end of Thriller couldn’t touch this laugh.  It was the laugh of a dead-eyed clown that wanted to devour your soul.  My poor little nephew shrieked, turned, and practically climbed up and over his mother in his attempt to get away.  I suppose it didn’t help that the adults were all shrieking with laugher by that time, too.  I can only imagine it from my nephew’s viewpoint, all these bigger people cackling like insane hyenas as the Laughter of the Damned rang out above it all.

To this day, I have no idea whether Mom really thought that was an appropriate gift for a six year old, or if it was just her own brand of hilariously twisted humor.  I like to think it’s the latter, but that’s mainly so I have an excuse for my own warped mind.

So, thanks for the memory, Mom, and for every wonderful thing you did for all of us.  And thanks, especially, for saving that clown trick for the next generation instead of me.

January 31, 2011

Hi, Anxiety

I heard someone with an anxiety disorder tell someone else, “You don’t know how it feels!”  And I got to thinking… everyone knows how it feels.  Everyone has been in a situation, at some point in their lives, that made them feel anxious.

It’s that feeling when the boss, towards the end of the workday, says she needs to see you in her office.  It’s the feeling when the teacher asks you to stay after class for a moment.  Or when you’re walking alone at night and you hear footsteps behind you.  And sometimes, it’s just a feeling that passes.

We’ve all felt it.  You tense up, your mind starts racing, your heart beats faster.  Your body is entering a “fight-or-flight” response to whatever threat it’s perceiving.  And, while you can control how much of it you show, while you can take deep breaths to calm the physical symptoms, the fear is still there until the situation ends.

The person mentioned above could have done more to explain the problem by explaining that those with a generalized anxiety disorder don’t need a catalyst to feel that way, and there isn’t a situation to just try to get through.  Some days, we wake up with a general feeling of unease.  Sometimes, we hear a certain word that just triggers something in our minds that starts our hearts racing.  And sometimes, we’re just sitting there, minding our own business, when an overwhelming fear drops onto us like a heavy, wet blanket, and it feels like the walls are closing in.  Sometimes it’s just for a few seconds, a fleeting terror that passes.  More often, it lingers.

As you can imagine, this can cause problems.  The fight-or-flight response is called that for a reason, and most of the time in our daily lives, flight isn’t an option.  People with severe anxiety issues tend to be angry a lot, because we can’t escape whatever our mind has decided is a threat.  Some of us are very lucky and we find a doctor who recognizes the problem right away, and helps us solve it.  Others aren’t so lucky; they go through most of their lives wondering the same thing everyone keeps asking them: “What is WRONG with me?”

No one’s really sure exactly what causes generalized anxiety, and, like many other conditions, it’s likely to vary from one person to the next.  Studies show that there are biological and psychological factors, which means there are a lot of treatment options available.  I personally opt for medication, currently with a mild sedative when I feel like I’m heading toward a panic attack, and just living with it the rest of the time for now.  There are daily medications as well, and many people also benefit from cognitive behavior therapy to help them see the world as less threatening.

Sadly, it’s also sometimes over-diagnosed (or worse, self-diagnosed), much like Asperger’s and ADHD, and becomes an excuse for bad behavior.  It makes treatment and understanding more difficult.  The best way to know a diagnoses is accurate is to talk to more than one medical professional.  And don’t use it as an excuse. If you really have it, then you’ll know it can be treated; if you choose not to, that’s on you.

The point of this blog post is twofold.  First, to increase awareness of the situation, for those of you who do wonder “What the hell is wrong with her?”  And second, to increase awareness of the options, so that people can take responsibility for their lives and stop blaming it on a treatable condition.

I hope it helps all two of you who read it.

January 19, 2011

Sooner or Later, You Sleep In Your Own Space

There are a few things I would blog about, but I find that I censor myself to keep the peace with certain friends and family.  It makes me question who I am sometimes.  On one hand, I want to strive for harmony in my life, cheesy as that may sound.  But on the other, I want to be able to express my opinions without worrying about who I offend.  And we’re not talking about radical opinions here, either.

I guess, in a roundabout way, what I’m trying to say is that it’s perfectly okay for people to identify as Christian, Jewish, Muslim (though, I guess that depends how many ignorant folks are around).  Yet I have to be afraid to say, “I am an atheist.”  On Facebook, I say this regularly– to other atheist friends, or to people I don’t know at all.  I said it at work one day, just in a casual conversation when someone asked me what I believed, and the room went silent.  Why?  Why is it that I’m asked to be tolerant of others’ beliefs (and I am, as long as they don’t harm others), yet I get stares for my lack thereof, or “tsk tsk” noises, or told outright that it’s only because I “have the Devil in me.”

I am an atheist.  This is my choice.  It is my life, not yours, and my afterlife or lack of one.  I am not a “wicked, sinful” person, nor am I in league with your Devil.  I am not more likely to kill someone because I’m “godless”, nor am I more likely to steal, harm, commit adultery, nor anything else on your list of commandments.  I am an ordinary, everyday person, going about my life, trying to live it as well as I can.  I give to charities, and when I have time, I volunteer to help others.  I know how to be kind, generous, loving, and I know the difference between right and wrong.  Just because I don’t get my moral code from a book doesn’t mean I don’t have one.

Do I have a problem with religion?  You bet I do.  This is it, right here.  It’s a divider, like politics.  It makes it easier to depersonalize others, to write off their opinions because, “Who cares what they think?  They’re an atheist/Muslim/Catholic.”  It makes us put people into little categories instead of the one big category of “human being.”    This is not okay

Just stop it.

Love your neighbor, regardless of whether they worship Jesus, Allah, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Love them because they’re your neighbor, and recognize them as a fellow human above all else.  Judge them on their actions, not on their beliefs.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been wanting to say for awhile now.  I’m tired of censoring it, and I’m tired of not being true to myself.  Just, seriously: let people be who they are.  The world would be dull if we were all the same.

December 25, 2010

The Things That Stay With You

There are odd things that happen, minor little incidents, that stay with you forever for no particular reason.  They usually had no real impact on your life, but when you think back to a particular time period, they’re the ones you remember.  Here are a few of mine.  The age breakdown seems a little weird, but I based it on where we lived at the time.

Early Childhood (Ages 1-6):
– Waking up from a nightmare, and trying to explain it to an adult.  She kept comforting me and saying, “I know, honey, I know.” And I remember being amazed by this and thinking, “Wow!  How does she know what my dream was?”
– Sandals I had when I was maybe two or three years old; I thought they had flowers on them and was horribly disappointed when one of my older sisters pointed out that they were, in fact, onions.
– Our dog, Angie.  She wouldn’t walk across the family room to go out the back door, so Mom had to pick her up and carry her, and she always made a face like she was horribly embarrassed by the whole thing.
– We had a mattress in the family room for my brother and I to jump around on without hurting ourselves.  One time, we decided we wanted to turn it into a slide by putting butter knives under the edge of it.  It didn’t work, but we bent a lot of knives finding that out.
– Teaching myself to read.  Either my mother or one of my sisters didn’t have time to read to me when I asked, and they said, “You know your ABC’s, sound the words out.”  So I did.  I read all about a hor-see who had a bel-el that she liked to rin-gah.

Our First Move (Ages 6-7):
– Our address.  I won’t list it here, but I remember it to this day.
– A garage sale.  Mom wouldn’t give us money for it, but my friend’s mother did.  I bought a wax banana (I know, weird), and two sets of gaudy clip-on earrings.  Mom found out and gave my friend’s mother the money and took away my banana and earrings.  She also made us both apologize.  Later, she crocheted a nativity scene and the earrings became the jewels in the three kings’ turbans.
– Tricking the little girl across the street into eating mud.  She insisted it tasted fantastic.
– The names of every one of my childhood playmates.
– My older brothers visiting.  They got to stay up late and watch Saturday Night Live, but I wasn’t allowed to.  I got up anyway and snuck into the living room to see what the fuss was.  It was some sketch that had clothespins attacking people.
– Being put into the gifted program in first grade.  One of the special activities included a visitor who brought in a huge snake.  I was scared, but it was pretty neat.

Moving to the Country (Ages 7 and Up):
– To reduce the trauma of the move, Mom drove us back to our old school every morning to finish out the school year.  One morning it was especially cold, and she had put the defrosters on high, even though they hadn’t warmed up yet, and we were complaining about how cold it was with the “air conditioning” on.
– At some point during lunch at school, in a cafeteria full of kids, I overheard someone say, “Watch her eat… it’s so weird.”  I have no idea who they were talking about, but I’ve been self-conscious eating in front of people ever since.
– An ad for used cars that went, “Sakes alive! Sakes alive!  Only $57… 95!”
– A time shortly after my brother learned a fairly vulgar phrase.  Mom asked what we wanted for dinner, and he replied, “Hair pie!”  I don’t know if my mother didn’t know what it meant, or whether she was pretending to be naive, but she responded with, “Sure!  What color hair?”

There are lots of others, but at some point, they stop being “childhood” memories.  Of course, there are more profound things that I remember precisely because they did have an impact on me.  And there are some odd memories that I probably only think I remember because I’ve seen pictures.  But these are the ones that come back to me on a fairly regular basis.  When I hear the name “Francesca”, I immediately think of the older friend I had who taught me multiplication tables when we played school.  When I’m sitting in the car waiting for it to heat up, I remember that morning with Mom.  And when I’m reading, part of me will always hear the tiny voice in the back of my mind proudly sounding out “bel-el”.

December 3, 2010

The (In)convenience of Online Shopping

The first time I shopped online sometime in the late 90’s, it was for one reason: I’d received a coupon in my email (and this was in the days when a coupon for $10 off was exactly that, before marketers realized “$10 off with purchase of $30 or more” worked better).  The coupon was from and I ended up buying shampoo and conditioner that I couldn’t find locally.  The package delivered right to my door within a week or so, and I decided that had to be about the most convenient thing I’d ever seen.

Flash forward a decade, and I find myself living in an apartment with “secure” entry.  In the case of my specific building, this means that the front entry is locked and the only ways to get in are with a key or having someone else open the door.  This means that anything ordered online which is shipped via any means other than the postal service requires a trip downtown to pick up the package.  I recognize that this is not the fault of the carriers, however it still means that I try to avoid ordering anything online if there’s the remotest possibility that I can get it locally, unless it’s being shipped via the post office, since they do have a key.

Or, rather, that was the case for some time.  Which brings us to today and the fact that I got up three hours early to sit and wait for the mail carrier so I wouldn’t miss a delivery I’ve been waiting for.  The problem?  My specific mail carrier is kind of hit and miss on whether or not he actually delivers packages.  Every now and then, I do get a knock on my door around 10:30am and open it to have a package shoved into my hands.  But more often than not, I sit and wait just to receive an attempted delivery notice in my mailbox downstairs that informs me that my package can be picked up at the post office after 9am the next day.  This confuses me.  The fact that the slip of paper is called an “attempted delivery notice” would seem to imply that a delivery was attempted, which is slightly inaccurate, as I’m reasonably certain that such would require someone to walk up the stairs and knock on my door, and my door is rather unknocked-upon.  And if this is the standard practice of my local post office, then why is it that I need to pick up my package on the next day?  One would think that the reason for the lack of an actual delivery attempt is the result of the mail carrier not physically having the package.  If the mail carrier does not have it, would it not make more sense to be able to pick up the notice left at 10:30am and drive straight to the post office?  Which, of course, brings us back to the question of why I would choose to buy online, when it’s actually more convenient for me to drive to a local store to make a purchase than it is to have anything shipped.  The post office as an entity claims that it’s losing money because of the internet, and yet, here’s an opportunity for them to make money, and they actively chase it away.

And all of this is really just a long-winded rant to say that we really need the transporter beams and replicators that Star Trek promised us.  Get on that already, science!

November 30, 2010

Insomnia and Kitten Giggles

I don’t remember the last time I slept more than five hours all at once without pharmaceutical assistance.  I used to go to bed at a reasonable hour, up until I decided I wanted to marry someone who lived in England.  With the time difference, we were only able to talk at 3am.  When I worked evenings, this meant staying up late; when I worked days, it meant getting up insanely early.  It also left me with a feeling that if I sleep too much, I might miss something important. 

Was the change to my sleeping habits worth it?  The answer to that can be found in a random exchange with my husband.  We had stopped on the way to work to get something to drink, and I mixed some fountain drink that involved strawberry, cherry, and lime.  It turned out pretty well,and I made him take a sip.  He blinked and said, “It tastes like kitten giggles!”  I stared at him.  “What?  It does!”  I laughed and had to agree that it did, in fact, taste exactly like kitten giggles.

Or there was the time we were sitting in the car in the middle of winter with the sunroof open, looking up at the stars.  We got into a discussion (okay, an argument) about whether or not the universe was infinite, and how much it mattered to find out the answer.  My stance was that knowing with any certainty either way would be horrible, because it would take the wonder out of it.  “I mean, if you had everything you ever dreamed of, hoped for, wished for… well, then where would you be?”  His response?  “I’d be here in this car, right now, having this conversation with you.”

Of course, he eventually moved here and we got married, but I didn’t get a bigger bed.  And he does sleep.  Usually diagonally across the bed.  Instead of staying up all night talking to him, I stay up all night listening to him snore.  In fact, it’s currently 6am, and I can hear him snoring away in the next room.

In four days, we’ll be celebrating our third anniversary, which seems weird to me, since we’ve been together just shy of nine years.  Six years of staying up late to talk to each other, three years of snoring; nine years of insomnia and kitten giggles.  And it’s still absolutely worth it.

November 28, 2010

Adventures in Shopping

So, here’s the thing.  I love weird socks.  I love them with stripes, polka-dots, kittens with rhinestone bows, paisley, pink argyle, you name it.  I plan entire outfits around which socks I want to wear that day.  But here’s the thing… when you want to wear odd, colorful socks, you really have to go pretty basic on the shoes.  And that’s where this adventure begins.

My favorite shoes are simple, unadorned black loafers.  They work well with jeans or slacks (and even long skirts), and they go with pretty much everything.  But the most important thing: they don’t clash with my socks.  Alas, a month or so ago, my favorite old loafers fell apart (this was not unexpected, since I’ve had them about five or six years).  They are still wearable, but very painful.  And so I’ve been on the lookout for a new pair.  I tend to be cheap when it comes to shoes, because, really… they’re going to be put through hell, and I’d rather save my money for fun, gadgety stuff.  This means my “shoe store” of choice is generally Wal-Mart.

For months, I’ve been checking in occasionally to see what the local Wal-Mart store has available.  And for months, the selection has been visibly dwindling.  I actually counted the other night when we were there… they carry exactly two brands of shoes now, and neither are known for looking nice.  I finally realized that there would be no choice, I’d have to go to a shoe store.

I chose Payless Shoes, because hey, it says “shoes” right there in the name, right?  It’s also right on the way from dropping my friend off at work.  I have about an hour and a half before I have to go to work myself, so I wait for them to open five minutes late, and stride into the store, confident that my search for simple black shoes was nearly at an end.  Except it wasn’t.  I had to actually search for the size 7 section, and when I finally found it, it was about three feet of shelf space, and nearly all of that consisted of 3-inch stilettos.  I decide maybe I’m being too specific, maybe just any black, leather-like slip-on shoes will do.  I check again, but the selection has not miraculously changed.  I finally give up and decide to go to the Burlington Coat Factory across the street.

Now this is where the shopping becomes downright scary.  I get to the shoe section and find row upon row of what polite people call “dancer shoes”, and I promise you they don’t mean ballet.  The heel selection ranges from three inches to about seven, mostly platform, all spiky stiletto, from the ankle-wraps to the metal studs.  After recovering from the assault on my vision, I manage to stumble towards the casual shoes.  I see them!  I see loafers!  Hurrah, I’ve finally found– wait, what’s this?  Every single style is fake crocodile patent leather.  Some have buckles as big as the shoe, others have tassels that nearly touch the ground.  I search both the full-price and the clearance, and this is the best I can find.  I look again, certain that in the hundreds of styles they carry, I must have missed the plain ones.  And then I look again.  And one more time, just to be sure.

And then I give up and decide to buy the pink grafitti-styled low-rise Converse.

But wait, it doesn’t end there.  I pick up the box with my size, open it up… wrong shoe.  I pick up another, and this time, not only is it not the correct style, it’s not even the same brand.  I go through every box, determined that I am not leaving empty-handed after an hour of shopping.  Of course, all I managed to do was kill another twenty minutes for absolutely nothing.  I resign myself to the reality that my fashion sense is vastly different than the rest of the world’s, and I will simply have to learn how to stagger along in four-inch heels.  I turn and begin the trudge to the front doors. 

But on the way out, I see it!  It’s perfect, it’s what I’ve been looking for for months!  I’ve finally, finally found it, my search is over… at last, I have a fuzzy winter scarf in teal!

(Oh, the shoes?  I’m giving up and buying some Hello Kitty Chuck Taylors.)

November 12, 2008

Redefining Democracy?

Gay couples can start to marry in Connecticut

While this is certainly news, it’s not really that part I’ll be focusing on.

No, the part I want to focus on is this:

The Family Institute of Connecticut, a political action group that opposes gay marriage, condemned the high court’s decision as undemocratic.

I’m about as liberal as it gets, so some would call me biased. But I absolutely do not understand how, in any possible interpretation of the word, giving the exact same rights to all American citizens can even begin to be considered “undemocratic”. The the very founders of our nation held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” and agreed that all are endowed “with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. I fail to understand how gay people are not included in this, and how marriage isn’t considered “the pursuit of Happiness” (okay, for some of us married straight folks, that might be a touch questionable at times, but the point stands).

I can not begin to fathom what could possibly make someone believe, in their heart, that they have the right to tell someone who they can or can’t marry. Even if you want to throw out Bible verses that say it’s wrong, that same Bible tells us it’s not our place to judge (Matthew 7:1, which is ironic, because I hear so often that the New Testament is what the Church goes by, but so many want to ignore that and use the Old Testament to back up their prejudices).

Once upon a time, not so long ago, people were denied their rights because of the color of their skin. Forty-some years later, most of us would claim that we find this thinking to be completely unacceptable and wouldn’t dream of trying to take away those rights. And yet, we’re proving over and over again, in state after state, that it’s exactly what we, as a nation, want to do. It’s just a different group of people this time.

We want to spread democracy throughout the world, when we can’t even manage to grasp the concept here in our own country.

June 24, 2008

nothing to say

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