Good Credit

As humans, we give ourselves a horrible rep.  Every time we turn on the news, there seems to be more evidence supporting the “humans are inherently evil” argument.  And there is no credible way to deny that there are some truly awful people in the world doing some truly awful things.  There are so many lists of terrible statistics that anyone would start to feel discouraged about the state of our species.

But then again, we tend to forget the hundreds, thousands, millions and sometimes billions of dollars that get sent around the world in situations where people are in desperate need of aid.  For every major world disaster, not only do governments step in and offer money, but charities crop up and people show up: volunteers, military forces, church groups, peace corps, just tons and tons of people coming together.  Sometimes these people fly halfway around the world just to hand out bottled water after terrible earthquakes or storms.

Let’s not forget the huge number of people who have, over the years, delved deep into inhospitable or unknown regions to bring food, hope and medical attention to communities unknown to most of the world.

I bet that if someone were to add up all the money given to any charities or tithed to any churches, that number would be absolutely staggering.

It doesn’t matter why we do it: if we do it in the name of our god or gods, if we do it in the hopes of bettering humanity or giving our children a brighter, safer world.  It doesn’t matter if we do it because it’s how we were raised, or because we are outraged at the current state of things.  The fact of the matter is, humans do huge amounts of good every day, for a hundred thousand different reasons.  We deal in hope as well as destruction, in love as well as hate.  You cannot simply say human nature is “good” or “bad.”  It’s human nature.  Personally, however, I see plenty of reason to be hopeful.

Dear Guy Who Cheated, I Broke Us Too

Dear “Guy,”

Let me tell you why cheating is viewed as such a destructive thing by most women.  I know you don’t completely understand what ‘the big deal’ is.  After all, you told me yourself: she didn’t mean anything to you.  You were just drunk and it just…happened.

And for you it’s probably not a big deal.  You fucked up, you know it, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t love me.  You do, and you’re sorry, and it won’t happen again, so why can’t I just forgive and forget?

Well, I tried.  I did.  I tried to forget about it as the months went on and nothing remotely like that happened again.  I tried not to feel nervous and self-conscious every time you were out of town and would go out for drinks with coworkers, or every time we were around beautiful, charming girls that made you laugh.  I tried to forget the mental image of you and her, and for the most part I did.  Sometimes it would flash across my mind, and I would feel that sting again, but we went on together because I knew you did love me.

But here’s why our relationship was never the same.  It wasn’t the physical act.  That was bad enough, but time marches on quickly.  Our relationship was never the same because with that one slip up, you told me that all the times I very privately wondered if I was pretty enough, or sexy enough, or interesting enough for you…that I was right to doubt.  You told me that never touching your phone, that never asking too many questions, that loving you and supporting you didn’t make up for not being there when you were drunk and horny.  You told me that I was right to worry about if I was satisfying you sexually, even if you constantly reassured me that I satisfied you emotionally.

You would tell me this is stupid, of course.  You probably would think that it’s the stupidest thing you ever heard.  But I had insecurities which I tried not to give into, and you went ahead and reaffirmed every doubt I ever had about myself in our relationship.  And that’s the part that really hurt.  I forgave you, but I never, ever felt like I was enough for you again.

So that’s it, “Guy.”  That’s what happened after you cheated.  Maybe you’ll never understand it, and I certainly know you didn’t mean to.  But my confidence in myself as an awesome, loving girlfriend to you was never there again.  So in the end, it was both of us that damaged the relationship.

I just thought you should know.

-Me

Uncomfortable Read

First off, I’d like to apologize for taking such a long break.  The July 4th holiday really set me behind and I’m just now catching up in regards to school, household maintenance, ect…

I have a serious topic to talk about today.  I’m going to apologize here and now if anything said below is offensive in any way.  This is PURELY my opinion and a reaction to something I was reading on another blog, and not meant to come across as preachy or in any way as instruction for how others should think or live their lives.

Now that that’s said, I recently read a blog entry written by a woman who had gotten an abortion several months ago.  It took me two tries to read it all the way through, and I was struck by her tone in several places of the article.

I have a hard time defining my standpoint on abortion.  On an entirely personal level, I find that I have a hard time even considering the termination of a life that is growing inside of me.  Especially since losing my brother, the thought of ending a life I carry inside of my own body seems simply impossible.  HOWEVER, the fact that I can make a choice is extremely important.  I view a woman’s ability to choose whether or not to carry a baby to full-term as an inherent and important right.  That is a choice for her and her partner to make, completely independent of my thoughts and opinions.

There is a young woman I know who terminated her pregnancy.  She’s a good friend of mine, but knowing that she ended that life is a little difficult for me.  I have tried to understand why it’s such a hard concept for me to confront, and ended up down a moral rabbit-hole.  With so many ways to prevent conception in the first place, I find it even harder to reconcile myself to the thought of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.  However, I am aware that no form of birth control is perfect, and that there are people that are not ready or do not want to be a parent at all.  And though I instinctively find myself somewhat opposed to the idea, I don’t think that I have a right to decide what any other woman does with her body.  I don’t think that anyone has a right to tell a woman what she does with her body, beyond reasonable concerns for physical health.

So while I had a hard time with this article, it wasn’t because the woman had chosen to have an abortion.  What struck me so deeply was simply the way she talked about it.  From the beginning, it was breezy: a discussion of blame for the pregnancy, and admission that she sometimes went a couple weeks without being on birth control while waiting for a new prescription.  That she had forgotten to take the Plan B pill in time.  It was so very matter of fact…all these barriers to a pregnancy she and her at-the-time boyfriend breezed past, leaving her to decide ( alone, she didn’t tell him she was pregnant ) to terminate it.

She moves on to describe walking into the clinic, and she discusses the picketers outside.  She acknowledges their right to assemble and protest, and then tears them down in a cool and highly cynical fashion.  She utterly denounces their overly emotional response, and while I understand why she feels they should go home and mind their own business…I found the way she talked about them extremely disturbing as well.  Her cold and snobbish dismissal, the way she ridiculed their beliefs, was difficult for me.  They hold the belief that she was about to end a life as deeply as she holds the belief that she has the right to choose what is best for her, but though they have just as much of a right to their beliefs as she does, she calls them names like “fetus crusaders” in her narrative.

The article goes on to talk very briefly about the process of checking into the clinic and the steps there.  She talks about how non-judgmental the staff was, but also how disillusioned they are.  She called the process “an abortion assembly line, just waiting until the conveyer belt takes you to the vacuum room.”  That statement itself, with both its gruesome imagery and the almost clincal matter-of-factness, struck me as rather brutal.  And not just for me as a reader: maybe for the first time, reading that, did I understand how punishing the writer found this process as well.

I’m not trying to tear this woman down.  Her decision and her view about that decision are completely valid.  They baffle me a little, but they are 100% valid.  The article is certainly brave, and very unapologetic honest.  However, I found the rhetoric to be so cynical that it hurt to read it.  In a part where she describes a Pro-Life speaker ( this particular woman was a late-term abortion that was born alive and the doctor saved her ), she wonders if the woman appreciates the irony that her mother didn’t chose life but did “write her meal ticket.”

Perhaps this brutal outlook is how she’s armored herself in her approach to life.  I don’t know her personally.  What I do know is that reading it, I felt as though her outlook on life was sarcastic and in some ways, mean.  It hurt to read, not because of the subject matter, but because it represented ( to me, anyway ) how easily we tear down each others’ beliefs, and how punishing we can be to ourselves as well.  It came off as a very one-sided, “my way is the only way that makes sense,” kind of argument that I find so arrogant: her only argument was that everyone else was on a silly crusade, and that everyone else over generalized the arguments both for and against.

What was even harder to read was her thought process while she waited.  She admits to it being a day of self-loathing, and is equally brutally honest about herself and her view point as she was about the views of others.

It ends with her reflecting that she wished it was more of a mani, pedi, abortion experience and that the doctor said she had a tight vagina and that she hoped he told all girls that so they wouldn’t think they were worn and blown out.

Maybe I’m wrong to find that article so…very sad.  Sad, not because of the abortion parts, but because of how hard this outlook is.  How cold and lonely.  Perhaps it was just in these moments that she felt this way, and I could certainly understand that.  But there was a high-handedness, a sarcasm and defensiveness, that was in a small way crushing to read and think about.  Perhaps grieving a close member of my family has made it hard to think about the termination of life at all.  But I certainly hope that we are not so bleak and petty a society as that article seemed to suggest.

Honest Guilt

I’m a big girl.  I try to be okay with it, because apparently I don’t hate it enough to make the huge life-changes I would need to make in order for me not to be a big girl.  For me, it would be more than working out on a regular basis ( although that does make a big difference ).  My body needs more help than that, and I know — I worked out like crazy for a couple years.  For me, it would mean making huge changes to my diet.  And to be frank, I don’t want to do that.  Yet.

But there’s something new I’m discovering about my perception about myself.

I hate to eat.

I love food.  I really do. I like cooking it, I enjoy amazing meals just like everyone else.  But more and more often these days, I feel guilty every time I open my mouth.  I know where the guilt comes from: it comes from knowing what I could do, what I should do to be healthy…and then not doing it.

I know I’m supposed to love my body.  I know it’s within my power to change it if I really don’t.  I’ve been told all the do’s and dont’s of eating, exercising, and body image, told them over and over until I could probably hold a very educated dialogue with health professionals.

Women are told so much about how to feel about themselves, about how to take care of their bodies.  But in my case, it simply comes down to two factors: a stubborn laziness and a reluctance to change my diet and cut out some of the things that I really love.

I don’t have an out-of-control weight problem, but I do suffer from self-esteem issues.  I am beginning to make changes to keep myself under control.  But I want to be honest with those other girls out there like me, the ones who feel a little like a bad person every time they eat something other than an apple: I know how you feel.  We’ve got to get past that — the guilt, the poor body image, and the laziness.  It’s hard…all three of those things require changes to the way we think.  I know, I understand, I’m going to try harder too.

If we want to slim down, we know how to do it.  There is so much information about healthy living out there, adapted for almost every lifestyle.  And if we want to be happy with our bodies as they are, than we need to embrace ourselves, truly focus on things that we love about our bodies.  I usually start with my eyes.

But no matter what, it is time to let go of that guilt.

I am really interested in hearing stories from other women who might be reading this, but please be sensitive and encouraging.  I know I don’t always make the best food choices: I’m a rational adult and I’ve heard it, just like a smoker as heard all the reasons why they shouldn’t smoke.  I’m trying to change.  But I am hoping to hear stories about courage and health.

A Victory for Equal Rights

Prop 8 Ruling

This is a victory.

It’s not my victory.  To be brutally honest, I didn’t campaign or protest the dismissal of Proposition 8 or argue why DOMA is just freaking ignorant.  But for all those out there who did, this is definitely a victory.  And I’m proud of all the people who went into action and stood against an infringement of rights.  Gay marriage can resume in California, and I’m happy that this is the case.

I know not everyone feels this way.  But let me tell you why I do:

When it looked like the American colonies were going to war with England, there were a lot of groups who saw this as an unprecedented opportunity to do something really revolutionary.  Women were one of those groups.  Another were slaves.  In fact, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband and said, “…And by way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” [1]

Do you know what John Adams, one of our celebrated Founding Fathers, did?  He wrote back and essentially mocked her, called her “saucy,” and then completely dismissed her request for women’s rights.

A petition was put forth by a “Great Number of Blackes detained in a State of slavery,” which submitted to a general court assembled in Massachusetts Bay the plea that all men have in common the natural and inalienable right to freedom. [2]

A war was fought over that one, but until almost 100 years later.  And even at its completion, the fight for equality for black Americans was not over.

So why do I support legalization of gay marriage?  It’s not because I don’t understand the moral arguments that certain religious groups have against it.  I’m perfectly capable of understanding their arguments.  I just don’t agree.  In our country, we have a history of suppressing the rights of anyone who does not fall into the category of ‘white male.’  And in a country that has long lauded freedom and equality for all, there is absolutely no place for that.

We claim to be a nation built upon the principles of freedom and equality.  But every time we have a chance to prove it, we fail.  Utterly and completely.  We cannot look an adult in the eye and say, “It is illegal for you unite with the person that you’re in love with.”  Some people may consider it immoral.  Some people may consider it a sin against God, or a sin against nature.  Some may think of it as a sort of disorder or disease.  But the fact of the matter is, it does not cause physical harm or in any way block or infringe upon the rights of any other Americans.

So today is a victory.  It is not a personal victory, but a victory for the principles which we’ve all learned are what make America so different, and so wonderful.  That is worth celebrating.


[1] Abigail Adams, “Abigail and John Adams Debate Women’s Rights, 1776,” in Major Problems in American History Volume 1: To 1877, ed. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning 2012), 109.

[2] “African Americans Petition for Freedom, 1777,” in Major Problems in American History Volume 1: To 1877, ed. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman (Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning 2012), 112-113.

Needy, Greedy Me

It’s been nearly four months since I talked to the girl I had called “best friend” for many years of my life.

The circumstances were weird: I was on the verge of getting out of the Navy.  She was struggling with having feelings for a man who was not her husband.  Both of us were facing major, major changes in our lives and the way in which we’d been living them.  I had assumed we would help each other through those transitions.

My mum has always told me that one person can’t be everything you need in life.  It’s probably the best relationship advice I’ve ever gotten.  It applies to every sort or relationship: romantic, platonic, familial…it even applies in the workplace.  You simply cannot get everything you need in a relationship from one person in your life.  They are going to disappoint you, and you are going to disappoint them.  They’re going to have other obligations, just as you are.  Their lives are as complex and complicated as yours.

I had come to lean very heavily on my friendship with Michele.  Especially before I entered my current relationship.  We called, texted, emailed…we were co-writing a story together, planning shopping trips, all sorts of things.  We spent a lot of time together, even if it wasn’t physically.  But Michele has a husband and a toddler.  She was ( is? ) struggling in her marriage and her baby girl has recently been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.  Here I was, demanding her attention, insisting she take time out for me when her situation was already quite stressful and complex.  And these days, it really is easy to bug the hell out of someone, isn’t it?  Emails and Facebook and text messaging, all accessible on phones we take with us everywhere.

To top it off, you just plain outgrow people in time.  After being friends for nearly ten years, Michele and I were finally approaching a place in our lives where there were more differences between us than similarities.  I, for instance, do not have any children.  I have never been married.  And the little things were changing too: Michele’s new friends were into hardcore music, so she became increasingly involved in that scene.  She went from loving comic books and geekery to only being interested in hardcore music.  As her tastes changed and developed, it was harder and harder for us to find any common ground.  Which was a little scary for me, because although I had other friends, particularly friends that worked with me in the Navy, she was my only long-term friend.

I’m not saying that it isn’t possible to have long-term, even lifelong, friendships.  I know people who have been friends, literally, from birth.  I know it’s possible to maintain healthy relationships over a span of many years, and even across many, many miles.  But for us, it wasn’t possible.  She was my best friend.  And I had come to rely on her just a little too much.  I expected her to fill too many needs.  And her other relationships were heading in a very destructive path.

In the end, we had one of those horribly personal fights.  The kind of fight that you can only have with people who have known you better and longer than anyone else.  I don’t know if we will ever talk again.  I feel angry with her, I believe she has acted in a very selfish manner toward me and many others in her life.  Then again, I’m sure she feels the same way about me.  But I miss her, too, even if we drained rather than inspired each other at the end.

The moral of the story for me is to cut the people in my life a little slack, especially my boyfriend.  I know that it’s healthier ( and more fun, in the end ) to enjoy each person in my life for what they bring to it, and not to cling too hard to them.  And I know that I can’t rely on Mike to be the only strong relationship in my life.  He is a friend as well as my boyfriend, but he can’t be my only friend…that’s too much to ask of him.  I wouldn’t want him to put that kind of pressure on me, either.

It’s been a painful lesson to learn, and some of the laughter has definitely gone out of my life now that Michele is not in it.  But in the end, I think I’ll be a better friend and girlfriend because of it.

  • They Come and Go (shanmarie29.wordpress.com) – A really good argument about maintaining old relationships, which I agree with ( as long as they’re healthy ).

Our New Lives

I got a comment from Simone telling me about this amazing project she recently launched.  This is a Facebook paged dedicated to having an honest conversation about grief and what you can expect during the grieving process.

I am definitely encouraging people to check it out.  Your loss is unique…but grieving is a part of the human experience, and the empathy of others who have experienced loss can be very comforting.

Please take a minute to hop over to Facebook and check this page out: Our New Lives

Totems

In the days after my brother died, my concept of what was sacred radically changed.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a phenomenon that happens when someone close to you has been lost.  The things that Luke liked, the things that Luke loved, the places he went, became special to me.  I ritually went to Taco Tuesday because he did.  I listened to the music he listened to.  I adopted hot pink as a favorite color because, perhaps only satirically, it was his.  In the weeks after he died, I looked for any way to honor him, to experience his life for just a few moments.

Eventually I realized what I was doing.  I was creating what I eventually called totems.  I was making the things Luke liked HUGE in my own life, like the beautiful giant wooden totems.  Maybe I was trying in some way to feel close to him again.  Maybe I was trying to get to know him better post-humorously.  Or maybe I just didn’t know how else to cope with this huge hole in my life.

Image

It didn’t last, however.  I used to cling to things like Taco Tuesday and Taylor Swift music with an almost religious fervor.  I didn’t know what else to do, I didn’t know what else I could really hang on to.  But the thing is, and no offense to any fans, that I don’t really enjoy Taylor Swift music.  Luke loved her and I tried to ( seriously, I downloaded all of her music ), but I just didn’t.

I love Luke and I still appreciate the things that he loved, but I don’t cling to them the way I did at first.  I can’t make myself like the same things he did, and to do so would be unhealthy.  But I can think back on him stuffing his face with carnitas tacos or singing Taylor Swift at the top of his lungs with a smile on my face.

I was in the totem stage for a while, and I think that’s pretty normal.  Some of his things are still a little sacred: I have a jacket of his that I will probably keep for the rest of my life, just to remind myself how big he was.  I don’t want to forget those bear hugs.  But for the most part, my insistence on making anything Luke associated with a part of my own life is now behind me.

Be patient, be patient, be patient.  That’s what I’m learning about grief.  To be patient with yourself and to recognize that sometimes you need little totems to comfort you, and sometimes you can let go of those totems and that’s okay too.  Being patient with your emotions as you traverse through grief is the best thing you can do for yourself.

The Price of Learning

Today was my first day of school.

I have been in the Navy for the past five years, a decision I made after totally screwing up my first attempt at college. I don’t regret those five years, although I very much looked forward to my transition back into civilian life. I deployed twice while I was in, and I got to travel to 11 different countries, some of them more than once. Those will always be some of my favorite memories and best stories.

But this was what it was for, the moment when I took my GI Bill and returned to school, this time with a goal and a lot more discipline.

What I find interesting about our country is our attitude about college. Long gone are the days when going to college really set an individual apart. Long gone are the days when financing this endeavor might be difficult but not to the point of being ruinous. Long gone are the days when seeking higher education was considered the product of hard work and dedication to studies.

I’m not saying that getting into certain universities is easy, or that there aren’t students out there striving to give themselves the best opportunities. Nor am I downplaying community colleges as a starting point. I’m attending a community college myself, and I’m happy to be starting this way.

What I am saying is that college seems to have become an expectation.

One of the reasons why my first attempts at college failed so spectacularly is that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. This was on top of the fact that I had zero discipline when it came to schoolwork: I’m more of an interactive individual, and I suffered for not working that into my plans for school.

The thing is, I signed up for college because that was what I was supposed to do. My parents expected it, my teachers lauded it, and by God my “future employers” would demand it. So I did it. My parents spent the money to pay the tuition and buy the books ( because even though I was working and I was going to a cheap school, I couldn’t do it without help ), and off I went. For a little while. And then I just didn’t go anymore. It didn’t engage me.

I was eighteen, like most first-time college students are, and I thought I knew what I wanted to major in, but I had no clue. And that made me a lukewarm student. Paired with my tendencies to procrastinate, I was all but destined to fail.

That’s not an unusual story.

The sad thing is, despite this common expectation, America doesn’t seem to be focused on academic excellence. Most people who end up with degrees don’t even end up with jobs that bear any relation to what they studied. And Americans are coming out of school with obscene amounts of debt. Debt which they carry with them as they then start careers and families. Debt which might prevent them from buying a home, and may even hurt them as they search for jobs.

In a country where higher education options seem to be abundant, and where the expectation is that every student will eventually get that degree or else face a future rife with poverty, a degree these days is not a guarantee of success, or even preferential treatment in a job market that is flooded with graduates.

And the way the prices are raising on that education — an education which might not be worth what you’ve paid for it in the end — is starting to get very discouraging.

But what modern, prosperous country exists without a focus on educating its youth? It might seem like we’re encouraging our children to pursue higher education. But we’re not making it worth their while.

An example? My father has worked with his company for 30 years and has on more than a few occasions conducted interviews. And what did he tell me as I rejoined the civilian world? That having a degree won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have leadership experience, or social skills, or some sort of working background.

I’m okay on that front: the Navy has provided me with ample experience in a tough working environment and placed me in several leadership roles.

My military service isn’t only going to pay for my education, it might even be the key factor in me getting hired.

I’m not saying that every person should graduate high school and immediately march down to their friendly neighborhood recruiter. It is not an easy lifestyle and it is increasingly difficult to stay in. It is not for everyone.

However, having some experience between me and school has done wonders for my confidence, my focus and my discipline. These things I can bring to my classroom and are making all the difference even today, on my first day.

I just wish that America would reevaluate its stance on education after high school. I wish that it wasn’t ‘expected,’ but a special thing to continue on in school. We don’t value a college degree the way that our parents did, and certainly not the way our grandparents did, and that is a shame. If this trend doesn’t change, I don’t see a future in which my children and grandchildren can make better lives for themselves, and isn’t that always the goal? To make things better?

But to end this on a positive note: I think having a degree is very important, and I salute all my fellow students and especially all the graduates. My aunt finally finished school and she’s almost 50! Get out there and get those degrees — and hopefully we can demand that those degrees are respected. Because, let’s face it, they’re not cheap and they take a lot of work.

Best of luck to those of you pursuing learning at any and all levels!