Follow your instincts

Earlier this year a woman posted in the Seal Beach Facebook group to warn residents that her daughter had been followed down Main Street and into several different shops by a man she didn’t know. Her instincts told her that there was something off about the situation so she pretended to take a photo of the man, causing him to quickly flee the scene. Fortunately for this young woman the story has a benign, although unsettling, ending. And most of the folks in the Seal Beach FB group agreed that she was lucky and had handled the situation well. For the most part, our little town is incredibly safe and I have rarely been fearful for my security. But to reiterate that dangerous situations still happen, even in our sleepy beach community, I told a condensed version of a story where a man followed me in the grocery store parking lot late one night. (I’ll expound on this is a separate post.) Here is how the FB comment section unraveled afterwards. (Note: Last names have been removed, and I have edited the comments somewhat to keep the narrative as brief and to-the-point as possible.) The bottom line is, follow your instincts and believe women when they say they have been targeted!

  • Lauren: “I had a man follow me out to my car in the Pavilions parking lot one night. Fortunately I saw him and got in my car quickly and locked the door. He stood next to my driver’s side window and waved at me. I believe he was just asking for a handout, but I didn’t give him a chance to say anything. Once I got home I called the store and told them about the situation.”
  • Josh: “Personally, I’d rather enjoy life and deal with situations as they arise and not be on constant alert, believing everything is a threat. Terrorism works because the actual harm is statistically small (3k people died in 9/11; 35k people die every year in car accidents alone), but the emotional reaction ruins people’s lives, ruins entire economies. Bad things happen, but not very often, statistically, and media that implies that bad things happen all the time is, in my view, salacious and manipulative.”
  • Lauren: “Unfortunately as women we have to be vigilant or we are vulnerable. Take a look at the comment I made just before yours. I was not a victim because I was alert, recognized the situation, and got myself to a safe place. Others are not so lucky.”
  • Judi: “It’s easy to feel this way when you’re a man. You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman – we have to be ever vigilant and aware. That’s not to say we have to live in fear and paranoia, but for us, the threats are very real. Sex trafficking aside (which is also an increasingly growing threat) – 1 in 4 (or more likely 1 in 3) women are sexually assaulted in their lives. Don’t deny or diminish our experience as women, you really have no idea.”
  • Josh: “You should become aware of any sudden increase in immediate physical risk to you (or your family). But that is not the same as ‘increased vigilance,’ which I am thoroughly against. Increasing vigilance decreases the threshold for threat detection. This might seem safer, but you pay for it. First, you live a more stressed life. Second, you run a higher risk of false positives. If everyone becomes hyper vigilant, society as a whole suffers. Seriously, if you want to actually minimize your risk of harm and not just make yourself stressed: be extra careful crossing the street and never ever drink before driving.”
  • Lisa: “Josh, first of all, I’d like to address your lack of grace. This was a warning, which is a reminder to be ‘more aware.’ Your comments have intruded and quite honestly lacked any compassion to this topic. Secondly, because you’re a man does indeed make it feel ‘minimized’ by you. Obviously you have a right to feel the way you do and have your judgements but because the nature of this awareness is scary – is not the right time to blast your thoughts of ‘mass hysteria.’ Sir, I have been prey to this type of situation and also was a victim of a mass shooting! There is no harm in saying keep your eyes, and ears open, and look for your exits. If you disagree, then give grace and get off the thread. This I guess, doesn’t apply to you.”
  • Lauren: “Josh, you have every right to live your life in whatever way you wish. And so do we. The fact is that you cannot understand the female experience if you aren’t one. I don’t live my life in fear, especially in Seal Beach, but I am still aware of my surroundings. And it has served me well.”
  • Josh: “I will not raise my daughter to live in fear. You are welcome to do as you like, of course. Sharing my view is no more or less intrusive than you sharing yours. Cheers and may reason prevail over emotion.”
  • Lauren: “And may real-life experiences open our eyes to what is actually going on around us.”
  • Judi: “Josh – I do actually understand what you’re saying and to some extent, I can agree on certain points, but you’re off base to not acknowledge that sex-trafficking and also generalized threats to women and children are very real. You may be able to assess risks based on statistics and even empathize with a person’s experiences in life, but that doesn’t give you the authority to speak to the experiences of women in the same way I – as a white woman – can’t speak to the experiences of a black man navigating life in our society. There’s a difference between being aware, knowing our individual risks, and being smart about how we handle those vs. living in fear. I’ll opt everyday for the first two for myself and to teach that to my children. My husband and I were discussing this recently when we parked at the mall. We parked in a not-well lit structure at dusk. I told him that if I were alone, I never would have parked there knowing I’d be returning to my car after dark. That really gave him pause and he said he’s never given any thought to where he was parking based on lighting or the time of day. Exercising caution about where I park and teaching my daughters to do the same is being aware of our risk and being smart – not living in fear. There’s a difference there that you don’t seem to be delineating between. Why wouldn’t I want to become aware of a sudden physical risk (one that may cause me harm), as you suggested, than use extra vigilance and take precautions to not end up in that situation in the first place?”
  • Mark: “Josh, big difference between ‘situational awareness’ and being ‘paranoid.’ I would suggest you get up to speed with human trafficking numbers. The vast majority are young women, and it’s a lot more than 100. California, Texas, and New York have the highest numbers. San Francisco and San Diego top the cities in CA. It’s real, and it’s getting worse.”

I believe her

“In an effort to preserve my sanity I have been using Facebook mostly for photos lately, but today I have to say something. What kind of message are we sending to the females in this country by putting a man on the Supreme Court who has been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct (at the very least) by multiple women? How many young girls are watching this unfold and deciding that they will never report sexual assault because of how Kavanaugh’s accuser was treated? How many young boys are realizing that they can get away with bad behavior because a judge on the highest court in the land was given a free pass and a guaranteed job for life? This is a step backwards for our country. Maybe several steps. It makes me sick.”
My 10/6/18 Facebook post

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that on October 6th Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed by the Senate to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. This was in spite of the fact that he had been accused of sexual assault by three different women, one of whom was brave enough to publicly identify herself and testify in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing after the judge’s nomination. For hours Dr. Christine Blasey Ford was grilled by Senators and prosecutors about the details of a night back in 1982 when she says a drunk Kavanaugh trapped her on a bed with his body, groped her, tried to undress her, and covered her mouth with his hand so she couldn’t scream for help. They were both high schoolers at the time. The two boys in the room laughed while a helpless Christine was terrified that she was going to be raped or accidentally asphyxiated. Very fortunately luck was on her side and she was able to escape the assault without more severe physical consequences, but not before she suffered deep emotional scars that would affect her for life.

A lot of people (mostly Republicans who were eager to get Kavanaugh’s position on the Supreme Court secured) dispute this accusation, especially since the event happened so long ago, but Dr. Ford took a polygraph in August and she was determined to be telling the truth. As a woman who has been taken advantage of by men, and who knows a number of ladies who have been raped, I believe sexual assault reports. Or at least take them very seriously until there is evidence to the contrary. In our patriarchal society males have a majority of the power and can get away with all sorts of nefarious deeds with minimal consequences. And sexual crimes are rarely prosecuted even if they are reported to the police in a timely manner. Even with physical proof gathered by a rape kit, or even eyewitnesses, it usually becomes a “he said, she said” situation where a rapist can lie and go free. All the while, the victim who was injured, both in body and soul, has every aspect their behavior during the assault, as well as their life in general, raked across the coals in order to discredit them. The deck is stacked against them from the start. I came across this comment on a blog post that disputes this ridiculous practice.

“When somebody says their car got stolen, nobody says ‘Well, let’s wait until we have all the facts’ or ‘Well, you really shouldn’t have parked it in a bad part of town or ‘You’re not just saying that because you wrapped it around a telephone pole while you were drunk, are you?’ But when a woman comes forward and says she got raped, she gets hit with ‘Did you scream?’, ‘What were you wearing?’, ‘Did you come on to him?, ‘Oh, come on now, he’s a pillar of the community, he wouldn’t do that!’, or ‘You’re not just saying that to get him in trouble, are you?’ Or, more likely, most of the above.”
-Blog comment from A Guide to Sexual Assault Claims for Bible Belt Evangelicals

And we still wonder why women don’t report sexual assault! Because more often than not, nothing happens to our assailants even when we do! This needs to change. We need to believe women when they tell someone they were raped or attacked. We need to take all accusations seriously even if they seem unlikely. We need to make sure that there is no backlash against the victims (unless they make a false report, of course). We need to ensure that adequate consequences for sexually aggressive behavior are levied on the men that use women against their will for their own selfish pleasure. This should not be a partisan issue. Everyone, both Republican and Democrat, should find rape repulsive and want it stopped. Unfortunately the behavior of certain groups makes me think otherwise. They would rather protect their “chosen one” rather than force him to admit that he acted like less than a gentleman when he was younger. Heaven forbid he have to take responsibility for his actions. And since the Senate disregarded Dr. Ford’s testimony and (narrowly) voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court he doesn’t have to. Tragic.

P.S. In situations such as this you’ll hear the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” a lot, especially by the deniers However, that concept only applies in criminal trials. Brett Kavanaugh’s wasn’t applying for a job at a fast food restaurant – he was nominated to fill a lifetime position on the highest court in the land. His personal life was as free to be scrutinized as his professional life.

Feminine wave

I purchased a lot of dresses and skirts over the summer, mostly because I like the way they make me look and feel, but also because they are comfortable and stylish in the heat. But then I realized that they also make me feel more confident in my less that ideal body at the moment. (As always, it’s a work in progress. My exercise routine is great at the moment, but my diet is terrible, and my sleep is just plain atrocious. So there’s still progress to be made.) I originally wrote about this feminine overhaul back in April as part of my retail therapy series. I’ve worn those Old Navy swing dresses that I wrote about in that post many times, for work and on the weekends, and I’ve added to my collection as well. I now have a number of beautiful dresses which make me feel pretty and at least slightly fashionable. Trust me, I’m not trying to keep up with the younger/thinner/cuter, ladies at work, but I always seem to have a more positive mindset when I like what I’m wearing. And most of this new apparel was inexpensive (from Amazon or Uniqlo) which is a major plus. (Not too long ago I realized that I need to cut back on my emotional (but never completely frivolous) spending, but that’s a topic for a separate post.) However, some of my new clothes have cost a bit more money. Earlier in the summer two of my close friends helped me select three dresses at Ann Taylor and Loft, during a fortunate sale, and I found a beautiful black shift dress for presentations at work which was sadly not marked down at all. But it was too perfect to return. I’ve learned that money can sometimes buy small slices of happiness.

As far as the existing clothes that were clogging up my closet even before I purchased anything new, I am starting to make some strides. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am never going to wear a lot of the dresses that were previously in my wardrobe. They are currently two sizes too small, and I don’t want to torture myself by gazing at them wistfully anymore. So I decided to get rid of the colorful shift dresses one way or another. So far I’ve given three to a friend, after a visit to the dry cleaner, of course. It’s good to know that they will be worn by someone who will appreciate them. My next stop will be a consignment shop or two to see if I can sell any of the remaining pieces. They are all high quality, semi-pricey dresses in great condition, but who knows if they have any resale value. I guess I’ll find out. The final avenue will be pursuing a donation to Dress for Success, a charity that provides professional clothing to women in need to wear to job interviews, and when they are newly employed and getting back on their feet financially. I can’t think of a better way for my old dresses to be used to make the world a better place. Plus, I’ll feel a lot better when I reduce the clutter in my life as much as possible. I’m trying to purge not only the negative thoughts from my mind, but also everything unnecessary from my house. I have acquired way too much stuff over the six years I’ve lived here and it’s getting a bit overwhelming. I have my retail therapy spree in the first have of the year to thank for a lot of that! It’s time to start scaling back again, but this time while wearing a dress.

Only the beginning

“My personal conversation with my body hasn’t yet progressed far enough to the point that I love what I have. It’s a process, I know, but frankly, I want to spend as little time as possible thinking about my arms and legs and the way the fat on my back folds when I’m not paying attention at the beach. I just want apathy – to feel nothing about my body at all, to be merely grateful that it functions as I require, that I put clothes on it (when forced), and food in it when necessary (surprisingly often!). Love, like hate, requires too much active effort for something I don’t even want to deal with.”
-Scaachi Koul

It’s no secret that I have less than loving feelings for my body. In fact, I’m undoubtedly its worst critic. I am rarely happy with how I look, much to the detriment of my self-esteem. This is something that I am working on. (Yesterday morning I gave myself compliments as I was putting on my makeup.) Specifically, I wrote about focusing on my successes rather than my failures not too long ago, but it’s (unsurprisingly) an uphill battle. I keep trying to remind myself of the progresses I’m making at the gym and with my running, but I still have a long way to go when it comes to obsessing about my weight and the size of my clothes. Fortunately, taking a break from the 6-week fat loss challenge that ended last month was very beneficial. I kept exercising as much as I had been before, but I worried less about strictly following the diet plan and posting pictures of every single meal and snack for the trainers to comment on. This greatly reduced my anxiety and allowed me to focus more on my overall health. The Monday after the fat loss challenge ended I weighed in at the gym and I had only lost 4 lbs, but I had also lost inches on just about every measurement. That was encouraging. Not that I kept the progress going since then, in fact I’ve regressed a bit, but it’s good to know that if I can find the energy to work hard enough I can eventually get where I’m going. It just might be a long road with a number of obstacles along the way.

Unfortunately my life, and the world in general (more on that soon), has been a bit rough these days so very few things seem positive. But I know that at some point I will find my equilibrium. My first priority is to get my physical health under control. Speaking of which, I have another sleep study scheduled for this coming Friday to determine whether or not I have narcolepsy. The Klonopin prescription that my neurologist gave me a few weeks ago doesn’t seem to be making much difference so we’re taking the investigation to the next level. My first sleep study was no picnic, but I can endure another one if it means that I might get additional answers into what’s going on with my crazy brain. It’s so hard to take care of your body the way you should when it’s causing you so much trouble. However, I am doing a few things in the realm of self-care to keep my spirits up while things are not all sunshine and roses. I have added an extra day at boot camp every week (which means I am sore almost all the time), and I’ve started running more (which my feet and legs are having to acclimate to again). In fact, my workout buddy and I have started running from her house to the gym (~1.75 miles), completing a boot camp class, and then running back. It can be grueling, but I know it’s extremely beneficial across the board. Then when I get home I’ve been pampering myself with some probably unnecessary, but refreshingly indulgent beauty products. I bought some Kiehl’s shower scrub at the airport on my trip to Portland last month, I got a bottle of way too expensive Crabtree & Evelyn body lotion with some leftover Amazon credit, and I’ve been applying Vitamin C serum to my face every morning. These things might not make any real difference in the health of my skin, but the routine of nourishing my body is soothing when it feels like so many other areas of my life are in chaos. But I know it won’t always be like this which helps me get through the hardest days. I’ll get to where I need to be. I just don’t know when!

Funny high school story

As a palate cleanser I’m reposting a story that I shared nearly fourteen years ago on a very old, very pink iteration of my blog. The formatting got really funky at some point so it’s barely readable over there anymore, but it’s definitely worth revisiting on a regular basis.

What’s the Story Wishbone?
Monday, 10/25/04

My senior year of high school I was enrolled in the Advanced Placement (AP) Language and Composition class, along with four other AP classes, so near the end of the year I didn’t have time to think about much else. When the annual AP tests were administered I spent the better part of two weeks in the local armory attempting to put a year’s worth of knowledge on paper. This was difficult at the best of times, but much more so when you’re faced with a question you’re not sure you have any idea how to answer.

Throughout the entire school year we had practiced writing essays from old AP Language tests so we thought we were prepared for whatever this year’s test had in store. We were wrong. Out of the three essay questions on the exam the first two were standard and self-explanatory, but the third threw us for a loop. Instead of asking us to use the excerpt in question to prove a point, it asked us to use our “own critical understanding of contemporary society as evidence” to agree or disagree with the author instead. It was bizarre. I remember sitting there staring at the question for at least a minute wondering what in the world I was going to write. Using the excerpt itself as evidence was one thing and drawing on my knowledge of literature was perfectly understandable considering it was an English test, but contemporary society seemed beyond the scope of the exam. It didn’t seem appropriate to use my own observations because they were completely subjective. Looking back on it, I suppose the point of the essay was to simply convince the reader of the point I wanted to make, but at the time I preferred to use something more concrete than my own thoughts to do so.

Here is the essay question:

“In the following passage, the contemporary social critic Neil Postman contrasts George Orwell’s vision of the future, as expressed in the novel 1984 (written in 1948), with that of Aldous Huxley in the novel Brave New World (1932). Read the passage, considering Postman’s assertion that Huxley’s vision is more relevant today than is Orwell’s. Then, using your own critical understanding of contemporary society as evidence, write a carefully argued essay that agrees or disagrees with Postman’s assertion.”

Even before I had read the excerpt I knew I was going to disagree with the author. For some reason I always felt that way about essay questions. No matter what point the author was trying to make I would find a way to disagree with it. It could have been anything. I think it was kind of a challenge to prove the author wrong. So what I needed was another literary reference that described a possible future for humankind and helped me discredit Postman. The problem was that I couldn’t remember ever reading anything like that. I sat there tapping my pen on the table, racking my brain for something I could use in my essay. Then I thought of something that would work perfectly, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, but I hadn’t exactly read it.

There was a show on PBS when I got home from school in the afternoon called “Wishbone” that used a little dog to present great works of literature to kids too young to read them. It was always funny to see how novels like Pride and Prejudice were depicted in thirty minutes using a couple of actors and a dog. In one episode, called “Bark to the Future,” the book in question was The Time Machine. From just watching that episode I gathered that a combination of technology and apathy was responsible for the decline of human intelligence, which was a mix of Huxley’s and Orwell’s writings. This would certainly help me disagree with Postman. So I used what little knowledge of The Time Machine that I gained from a children’s television program involving a dog to write my AP Language essay.

After the exam was over we learned that no one had ever seen a question like that before so there was no way we could have been ready for it. I was pretty proud of myself for finding a literary reference to help prove my point, even though I hadn’t actually read the book. I’ll never say that television doesn’t have its redeeming properties ever since “Wishbone” helped me pass an AP test. As soon as the test was over I swore I would read The Time Machine to make sure I hadn’t grossly misrepresented it, and I even bought a copy at the used book store, but I never actually sat down to read it. Maybe one day I’ll know if I used it correctly to prove that human indifference is not the greatest threat to our society, but at this point I don’t know any more about the book than I did then.

P.S. As of 9/25/18 I still have not read it! And I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t think my copy made the move to California with me sixteen years ago!

Deserved to die?

A while back an article was brought to my attention about Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student who was murdered while out jogging over the summer. This wasn’t a straightforward, fact-based news story detailing the tragic death of a promising young woman, but an opinion piece by a judgemental “Christian” woman calling herself The Thinking Housewife who suggested that Mollie was at least partially responsible for her own death. Yep, she pointed an accusatory finger at the girl who was abducted, killed, and dumped in a corn field. Please tell me I’m not the only one who thinks this is ludicrous. The author of this blog post speculated that Mollie was a target for a man to murder simply due to her clothing choices and their effect on her attacker’s impressionable male brain. Here it is in her own words.

“Feminism is also to blame for her death. A society that says female modesty and restraint are oppressive does not protect young women from potential predators. No amount of feminist social engineering can change the facts of nature. A woman who jogs in skimpy clothes on country roads — or even in the city — is a serious temptation to a small criminal element. Jogging in revealing clothes – or even just jogging alone – is dangerous. Safety depends on modesty and restraint.”
The Reckless Female Jogger

This is blatant victim blaming. Heaven forbid some “ladies man” has to control not only his lustful thoughts, but his violent sexual tendencies in the presence of an attractive woman. From the news reports I’ve read, Mollie’s alleged murder got angry when she rejected his advances, and his response was to attack and kill her. First of all, females running outside (or inside, even) are not doing so for the benefit of onlookers! Believe it or not, we exercise for our own health and well-being and not as a pretense to beguile the opposite sex. Additionally, society has convinced men that they are entitled to the attention of any woman they want just for having a penis. We ladies are supposed to be flattered, bat our eyelashes, and thank our lucky stars when a member of the male species deems us worthy of their consideration. These are lessons that we all need to unlearn.

As you can see in the above photo, the members of my running group don’t wear anything remotely provocative. Some of the ladies are in great shape, but the rest of us aren’t quite so fit (including myself!). Still, even though I don’t look like a fitness model, I wear tight shorts or pants when I run (because if I didn’t I would have serious problems with chafing), and I wear fairly close-fitting shirts too (because otherwise the fabric would move against my skin and cause rashes in terrible places). No, I don’t run in short-shorts or an exposed sports bra, but my outfit still wouldn’t be considered “modest” enough for The Thinking Housewife. According to her, if some man approached me with ill intent it would be at least partially my fault for enticing him with my provocative clothing choices. How dare I wear an outfit that’s appropriate for my current activity! I have been on the receiving end of unwanted attention while running, and I’ve responded in the most rational way possible – I flipped the bird at those jerks. But I’ve been one of the lucky ones who hasn’t been physically assaulted – not because of my outfit, but because I was extremely fortunate. What a woman is wearing rarely has any impact on a man’s bad behavior, and implying otherwise does a disservice to both sexes.

Searching for the correct diagnosis

“Not only do I still have twitchy legs sometimes during the day, but I’m so tired all the time. And some days I just can’t get out of bed at all. I can sleep all day, and it doesn’t feel like a choice I’m making. I just wake up in the afternoon/evening and feel depressed that I’ve lost yet another day to my poor health.”
8/10/18 webpage post

On Thursday I went back to the neurologist as a follow-up to my first appointment a little over a month ago. I’ve been taking gabapentin every night, in addition to the Requip, and that combination of drugs seems to be keeping my legs remarkably calm before I fall asleep at night. I haven’t had trouble with muscle spasms plaguing me after I get in bed, at least. (Unmedicated I’m still a huge mess. I dozed off on my couch the other evening and my legs immediately started twitching. It’s super frustrating.) It’s a major improvement over the situation I was dealing not that long ago, before I started taking any medication specifically for Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). Unfortunately, I’m still feeling tired all the time so, while there has been definite progress, I’m not completely back to normal. When I told the doctor about my constant exhaustion he had a couple of thoughts. First of all, he theorized that the prescriptions I’ve been taking are meant for RLS, but might not be giving me the best results if I have Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). This is what one previous doctor and the technician at my sleep study thought might be the root of my leg spasm problem. With that in mind the neurologist gave me an additional prescription for Klonopin to see if that helps me get some actual restful sleep at night. (Yep, that means I am now taking three different anti-seizure/convulsant drugs every day. Fun!) But if after a few weeks of this new protocol that doesn’t work, he suggested that I might have narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a condition that I knew very little about before Thursday. With my limited knowledge I thought it meant that sufferers had a tendency to simply doze off at the drop of a hat, but obviously it’s more complicated than that. From what I read, in addition to excessive daytime sleepiness (which I certainly have trouble with), narcoleptics experience abnormal REM sleep. The neurologist told me that in order to get a diagnosis I would need to do another sleep study where I would be allowed to fall asleep for several short periods of time to determine whether my brain goes through the proper progression into REM sleep. Narcolepsy apparently causes people to go directly into REM sleep without the usual hour and a half or so of NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep beforehand. While it sounds a little far-fetched, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this is the cause of at least some of my medical problems. I hate to admit it, but I doze off at work sometimes. Only for very short periods of time, but it happens. Especially in meetings, and especially if I haven’t had enough caffeine. Fortunately I don’t seem to have any of the other, scarier narcolepsy symptoms – like cataplexy (periodic loss of muscle function), hallucinations, or sleep paralysis. That also means that narcolepsy might not be the right answer. We’ll see. I have another appointment with the neurologist in six weeks to discuss a path forward. I have some hope that we are zeroing in on something.

On the plus side, I’ve been able to start reading again! I’ve always loved reading, and I used to look forward to immersing myself in a good book when I crawled into bed every night. It was the way I wound down and calmed my brain after a busy day. It usually made me drowsy too. But before my days of taking any RLS drugs I started getting twitchy legs when I was stationary for more than a short period of time – either lying in bed or sitting on the couch. This really put a damper in my reading habit. Books by my favorite authors that I was dying to read piled up in my Kindle app while I was desperately trying to avoid the muscle spasms that made me want to crawl out of my skin. But now that I’m fully medicated at night I can read for a while before falling asleep without worrying about leg craziness. It’s a miracle! Even though I haven’t yet reached the end of my road to recovery (or remission), I’m still so grateful to modern medicine for improving my quality of life. Maybe one day I’ll even feel normal again!

State #36

Back in 2014 I made a New Year’s resolution to visit as many new states as possible. By the end of that year the number of states I had personally visited rose from 27 to 33, thanks to an East Coast road trip and a Yellowstone National Park vacation. 6 new states in one year wasn’t too bad. Then in 2015 I added another two states to the list (New Jersey and Alaska). But since then my travel has stagnated somewhat. However, I am happy to announce that in 2018 I have finally added state #36 – Oregon! It’s hard to believe I’d never been there before considering how long I’ve been living on the West Coast. Fortunately I had the outstanding excuse of a friend’s wedding reception to get me there in 2018. It was an extremely short trip, but I had a great time.

I arrived in Portland later than I expected the day of the wedding reception due to my connecting flight from Seattle being delayed twice. Yes, I had to fly past Portland to Seattle on one flight only to backtrack to my final destination on my second flight. Very annoying. Knowing that my flight was delayed, I applied my makeup in an extremely crowded Seattle airport bathroom to save myself a little time later. Then, when I collected my checked bag in Portland, I changed into my dress for the reception in a nearby bathroom. I was way behind schedule. I had originally planned to take the train from the airport to my hotel, I had even pre-purchased a $2.50 ticket, but it was going to take too long so I reluctantly took a taxi instead. It took about 30 min and cost $60. Ugh. But I got to the hotel in just enough time to stash my bag in my room and catch an Uber to the wedding reception with some of my friends. Phew!

The reception itself was lovely. We ate mini cupcakes as appetizers (genius), deconstructed tacos for dinner (delicious), and tres leches cake for dessert (the best cake I’ve ever tasted). But the most meaningful part was hanging out with my online friends who I don’t get to see very often. Several of them I was meeting in person for the first time, and the others I vacationed with in Hawaii in 2015. (A couple have been to LA since then so I was able to spend time with them at Disneyland, but that’s the exception.) I am so lucky to have found this group of women. It’s remarkable, really. Over the last 13 years they have been there for me through everything, both good and bad. They have changed my life for the better and I seriously don’t know what I would do without them. Flying all the way to Portland for a little over 24 hours was completely worth it.

That night after the reception I was exhausted and passed out early after taking a much-needed shower. Unfortunately that meant I missed a lot of shenanigans that happened after hours, including a midnight trip to Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnut. I am so annoyed that I didn’t get to go, but my body apparently needed almost 12 hours of sleep! The next morning we all headed over to the bride and groom’s house for a donut reception. Yes, more donuts! We had a great time gorging ourselves on sugary pastries, laughing, chatting, and being our usual weird selves. And attempting to ingratiate ourselves with the resident cat, Nibbler. At one point I picked him up to prevent him from escaping out the front door, but he didn’t appreciate that. He bit me several times. (Just little warning nips on my arm so nothing serious.) Fortunately he forgave me later and purred when I pet him. My friends and I reveled in spending all this time together. One of the ladies had already hopped a flight back home, and other folks had to take off for the airport throughout the morning and afternoon, so it was a little sad that our brief reunion was coming to an end.

After the donut reception I went back to the hotel, retrieved my bag, hugged everyone goodbye, and started making my way to the airport. This time I was able to take the train and it was fantastic. I only had to walk a few blocks from the hotel to the train stop, the train was clean and not crowded, and the trip to the Portland airport was scenic and relaxing. Totally worth the $2.50 fare (and way more cost-effective than my taxi ride the day before). And I had a direct flight to Orange County this time so my travel home was completely uneventful. I was upset that my trip to Oregon was over so quickly, but I will definitely go back and spend some more time there in the future. It was way too beautiful not to revisit. Plus, I have friends who live there and have a guest bedroom! It’s a shame that my online friends are scattered all over the country because seeing them makes my heart happy. I am going to do my best to organize another get-together next year so that we don’t go three years between reunions again.

Offended vs. offensive

In case you were wondering if there was any resolution to the issue in my last post, the McGaugh Elementary principal apologized in an email to school families on Thursday. From what the online article quotes, it sounded like a half-hearted apology to me. One those that basically says, “I’m sorry if I offended you,” where the inclusion of the word “if” means that the author isn’t really admitting fault. Instead, the blame is put on others for being offended. This seriously pisses me off, but it’s not up to me to forgive her. That’s for the families and the school district to decide.

As a follow-up to my previous blog post I thought I’d address a similar situation – one that involves me this time. In February 2017 I posted a statement on my Facebook wall after a shocking interaction with a friend that left me nearly speechless. In one afternoon this friend managed to make derogatory statements about blacks, transgender people, immigrants, ComicCon attendees, and the homeless. I didn’t even know it was possible to display that level of insensitivity in a single day. In general I don’t think it’s my job to try and change people’s opinions, no matter how different they are from mine, but in this instance I could only hold my tongue for so long. After she attacked homeless people for “checking out of society” I finally challenged her views. It didn’t really make a difference, but I couldn’t just passively listen to her stream of ignorance any longer. I was so upset that when I got home I posted something vague about it on Facebook. Here’s what happened next. (Note: Other than my own, the names have been changed to avoid further conflict.)

  • Lauren: I’ll preface this with the fact that I’m a liberal and a feminist, but I’ve had all the intolerance I can stand. I just don’t understand how inclusiveness, sensitivity, and avoiding offense can be a bad thing.
  • George: Taken from Reddit – “There’s nothing wrong with being offended by something.
    There is a problem with not being able to personally deal with your own feelings of offense, and trying to regulate/control other people so that you won’t be offended. It’s selfish, bigoted, and myopic. As they say; offense is taken, not given.”
  • Jane: Translation – “I want to be able to do whatever I want, and if anybody holds me accountable, I would like to pretend it is because they suck, not because I am sometimes wrong, or because being a human who has social relationships with other humans necessarily means sometimes being told I messed up and apologizing.” Seriously, George, this quote is bizarre. If you were walking down the street and someone punched you in the face, would you be wrong to say, “What the hell, man?!” Being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. is repulsive, hurtful and preventable, and it’s actually peak fragility to think one must never get pushback about it.

Some people don’t seem understand that there’s a difference between “offended” and “offensive.” I am not a member of any of the groups that my friend disparaged that day so I wasn’t directly offended by what she said, but her comments were undoubtedly offensive to blacks, transgender people, immigrants, ComicCon attendees (nerds like me, actually), and the homeless. Just because a person’s insulting statements don’t apply to anyone in their audience doesn’t mean that they aren’t still insults. I wasn’t to blame for objecting to my friend’s comments, but that’s what George’s response above would have you believe. I used to be married to a man who blamed me for everything so this behavior of making the opposing party the one at fault isn’t anything new. But that doesn’t mean it’s right. Never feel like you are “selfish, bigoted, or myopic,” as George said, because you call out someone for offensive things they say. We have to continue to challenge abhorrent views and behaviors or humankind will never make progress. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Subtext is important

It’s an extraordinary day when the daily post from my least favorite blogger isn’t the thing that gets me the most riled up (although today she wrote about the “sin” of obesity so it was a close call). Nope, today it was something from my own little community that disturbed me the most. When I woke up this morning I saw a thread in the Seal Beach Facebook group regarding law enforcement and news crew activity at the local elementary school. Fortunately it wasn’t something life-threatening like a shooting or a hostage situation. Thank goodness! After reading the associated article on the Orange County Register I learned that the McGaugh Elementary School principal posted something contentious on her personal Facebook wall regarding the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick. Yep, another social media scandal. We can’t seem to learn from even the very recent past when it comes to these situations. Here’s an excerpt from the OC Register article.

Along with thousands of other people around the country expressing similar viewpoints, Roni Burns-Ellis turned to Facebook Tuesday, Sept. 4, to condemn Nike for featuring controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick in an ad. But as principal of McGaugh Elementary in Seal Beach, Burns-Ellis drew her own controversy. Above her photo of a Nike T-shirt cut into pieces, Burns-Ellis wrote on her personal Facebook page: “My newest rag! When Nike signs an anti-American thug to represent their brand, I will not support, wear, purchase or endorse their product.”

I added the bolding myself because that is the root of the problem. After reading the principal’s FB post, a Seal Beach resident went to the school administration’s office to complain about her use of a racist term to describe Kaepernick. This woman is in a position of leadership over not just adults, but also children. It’s understandable that parents would be alarmed by racist views expressed by such leadership, right? The elementary school has students of many colors and backgrounds so the principal’s FB post is not just generally offensive, but directly offensive to black students and their families. Seems straightforward to be, but unfortunately not to everyone. The main dispute in the Seal Beach FB page thread was over whether “thug” is in fact a racist term. So many people cited the bland dictionary definition to prove that race was not an implication in the principal’s use of the word. The shortsightedness of this argument is astounding. Unfortunately, there are untold numbers of words that have meanings beyond than the ones in a large, dusty, probably outdated volume. How many times have you had to consult Urban Dictionary to ascertain the current usage of a word or phrase? (I am old and out of touch so I use Urban Dictionary a lot!) We are all aware that calling a person of color an ape, baboon, or monkey is overtly racist, especially due to a few high-profile cases this year, but you won’t find words explicitly defining those terms as racist in your home dictionary. I found an NPR article that explained it better than I ever could – “One of the things that Americans have a whole lot of trouble with…is that words never keep their meanings over time. A word is a thing on the move. A word is a process. And that’s what’s so confusing about the N-word. And that’s what’s so confusing now about this word, thug. Any discussion where we pretend that it only means one thing is just going to lead to dissension and confusion.” The bottom line is that subtext is lost on folks who willfully ignore it. Luckily there was one encouraging comment from a woman in the FB thread.

A vast majority of McGaugh’s military families are minorities. Military members who take off their uniform at the end of each day and step out into the civilian world, only to face discrimination because of the color of their skin. Minorities in the military are not safe from unjust treatment by people in positions of power. I hope all of you parents/community members reading this will take a step back and remember that behind a parent’s job title, there are people and families of color, including black husbands and sons like my very own, who benefit from people like Kaepernick speaking up for them. Calling a black man a “thug” just because you don’t agree with the way he’s exercising his freedoms as an American is racist. It truly is. Please remember that every single service member past and present, signed an oath to defend the constitution and the freedoms that it grants. I don’t pretend to speak for all military families, but I do know many local military families (and thousands across the country) share my sentiments. And I hope you all will help hold those who are supposed to advocate for all of their students, students of color included, accountable for not doing so.

I couldn’t have said it better myself! In a post back in May, I stated that “Some people don’t understand that free speech means that in the United States you can’t be arrested or executed for your opinions, but it does not mean you are completely free from the consequences of what you choose to say. Hate speech can absolutely get you fired.” Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequence! We’ll see how this plays out for the McGaugh Elementary School principal.