book reviews, funny stories

Brotherhood… and sisterhood… and a reposted book review.

This morning over breakfast, I was telling Bill about a former friend of mine… a guy I knew in college. We met when we were freshmen at what was then known as Longwood College. He lived on first floor Tabb, which was the only all male floor at that time that wasn’t associated with a fraternity. I lived on second floor Tabb, which was an all female floor. Both were dedicated to freshmen students and supposed to be “dry” halls.

This former friend– former because a few years ago, he took me on in a comment section when I dissed Donald Trump, and it ended on a rude note– went on to pledge one of the fraternities on campus. The frat he joined no longer has a place at Longwood. I believe they got kicked off campus because of hazing, so their chapter is now “inactive”. However, in the 1990s, they were known as sort of the everyman’s fraternity. The “nice” guys were members. Their parties were the most welcoming to all comers. That was as opposed to some of the other brotherhoods at Longwood, who seemed a bit more discerning as to who could come to their chapter room and dance to ear splitting 90s era music while sipping flat Beast.

One time, my former friend was talking about another fraternity on campus, known as Alpha Chi Rho– AXP. He asked, “You know what AXP stands for?”

I shook my head, because I didn’t know the Greek alphabet at that point.

“Assholes expecting pussy!” I must admit, we shared a big laugh over that joke. Sadly, there was an element of truth to it, although I think that could have been said for most of the fraternities at Longwood.

Former friend once took me to task for referring to his “brotherhood” as a “frat”. I asked him what the big deal was, and he said, “You don’t call your country a ‘cunt’, do you?” At that point, I had more of an understanding as to why so many of the women at Longwood seemed brighter than some of the men. I don’t think fraternity shortened to “frat” is quite the same as country shortened to “cunt”. But at the time, I didn’t feel the need to correct him on the point. It didn’t seem important to try to correct his thinking, as we were “friends”… even though this guy, now the father of a couple of daughters, used to run his hand, uninvited, up my thigh just to see how I would react. One time, he did that, and I involuntarily smacked him right on the dick. It wasn’t the last time, either. I can think of at least twice that he tried something pervy with me and wound up doubled over, calling me a “bitch” because I protected my own honor from his probing fingers. He was kidding around, but my reflexes didn’t know that.

I never joined a sorority at Longwood, although a lot of my friends did. I did join an honorary music fraternity for women, which was a lot cheaper, made fewer demands on my time, and was less intimidating. Consequently, I didn’t have much of a social life in college… at least as it pertained to dating. Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad I didn’t date in those days. I think it spared me a lot of heartache.

In fact, the older I get, the more I think trying to connect with people ends up being a waste of time. It’s like panning for gold, finding people who are true friends. So many people turn out to be temporary contacts, and the breakups can be brutal. Or, they can be heartbreakingly mundane. Someone just fades out of your life, forgotten like an old toy. One they they’re your friend. The next day, they’re gone.

Although I never went “Greek” myself– unless you count Sigma Alpha Iota, the music frat for women– I have always been kind of interested in Greek culture on college campuses. But then, I think I look at those groups as kind of akin to fringe religions, which readers of this blog may notice I find very intriguing. I wouldn’t want to join a group like The Way or the Jehovah’s Witnesses myself, but I do find them interesting to observe and study.

Back in 2004, I even read a book about Greek life, and reviewed it for Epinions.com. In the interest of preserving as many of my book reviews as I can, below is the review I wrote May 2, 2004, of Alexandra Robbins’ book, Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. As usual, it appears here as/is. I seem to remember that some people weren’t too happy about Robbins’ characterizations of their sisterhoods. In that respect, the sorority members aren’t unlike the disgruntled members of religions who get angry with outsider opinions about their faiths. I see Robbins has also written about fraternities. I might have to read and review that, just to be fair to all the brotherhoods.

It’s not easy being Greek: the truth behind sororities

I’m a graduate of Longwood College, which is now known as Longwood University, where four national sororities were founded: Kappa Delta, Zeta Tau Alpha, Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri Sig), and Alpha Sigma Alpha. Greek life, that is membership in a sorority or fraternity, was very big at Longwood when I attended. I have little doubt that being Greek is still a very important part of life on the Farmville, Virginia campus where I got my undergraduate degree.

I vividly recall the hullabaloo surrounding Greek rush at the beginning of each semester. My freshman year, I lived with a woman who rushed Kappa Delta. Kappa Delta was full of pretty women– KD ladies, according to my ex-roommate, who were among the most popular women on campus. When she had accepted her bid, her big sisters had decorated our door. Every time I walked into the room, I felt like I was walking through a throne. The whole door was covered in signs and decorations with KD colors and symbols all over it. And then my roommate was a pledge and she constantly went to parties, got involved in philanthropies and fundraisers, and spent all of her free time studying about the sorority and its mission. I witnessed firsthand some of the experiences Alexandra Robbins writes about in her 2004 book Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities.

I remember wondering at times if being in a sorority would be fun for me. I did join a musical honorary fraternity for women and we did a lot of the same stuff the social sororities did, only our dues were less expensive, membership was based on GPA and the number of music credit hours we had, it wasn’t as time consuming, and there weren’t any parties (though there was also a men’s music fraternity). According to Robbins, being in a social sorority is a major endeavor. First and foremost, there’s the significant investment of time and money. Sorority ladies pay dues that generally cost several hundred dollars a semester, and they are expected to attend meetings and ceremonies. If they miss those ceremonies and meetings, they might be fined, even if they had a good reason like work or school. According to Robbins, there’s a strong emphasis on looking a certain way and always behaving in a way that would reflect well on the sisterhood. There are mandatory study periods because many sororities have a minimum grade point average that sisters are expected to achieve. All of this sounds pretty positive until Robbins reveals the darker, more secretive side of sorority life.

In order to write this book, Robbins had to go undercover at an institution she calls “State University”, posing as a nineteen year old woman during the 2002-03 school year. She had the help of four sorority members: Vicki, Amy, Caitlin, and Sabrina (not their real names) who agreed to risk their memberships in the sororities in order to help her with this project. Vicki was a member of “Beta Pi” (not its real name) and the other three volunteers were members of “Alpha Rho” (not its real name). Sabrina was the lone black member of Alpha Rho. Robbins writes of Sabrina’s experiences of being in a white sorority, where the sisters insensitively made racist remarks in her presence. Caitlin, the daughter of an overly involved mother, was the vice president of Alpha Rho who had been date raped by a fraternity member after a party. Vicki was the pretty, blonde, California girl who looked the part of a Beta Pi sister but had so far disappointed the other sorority members by being too shy and reluctant to socialize. And Amy was another “girl next door” type member of Alpha Rho whose twin sister had died. According to Robbins, Amy was looking for a sisterhood that might help ease the pain she experienced with the loss of her biological sister.

As Robbins acted as a “fly on the wall” watching these four women over the course of the school year, she found out that most of the stereotypes surrounding sororities were actually true. Robbins claims that she witnessed eating disorders, racism, drug and alcohol abuse, psychological abuse, violence and extreme promiscuity. Worse, the abuses were inflicted by attractive, intelligent, otherwise successful women. Robbins balances these sordid stories with interludes about related news items related to sorority women, articles about hazing, date rape, and drug and alcohol abuse. She interviewed several hundred sorority members from campuses across the country, emphasizing that Greek life is most important in the South. It’s taken so seriously that some parents hire rush consultants in order to guide their daughters through the rush process and into the “right” sorority.

Robbins includes an interesting chapter on black sororities, comparing them to the white sororities– one institutionalized part of college life that is still quite segregated. She also includes information about local sororities, that is sisterhoods that are not part of a national panhellenic group. One black woman Robbins wrote about started her own sorority having been twice rejected by the white sororities. The woman claimed that she wouldn’t have fit in with the black sororities and that had she become a member of a black sorority, the sisters wouldn’t have accepted her because she didn’t “act black”; yet the white sororities wouldn’t accept her because of her skin color.

After I read this book, I found myself glad that I didn’t join a social sorority. I had, and still have, a lot of friends who were members of sororities, and I witnessed what happened to some of them after they joined Greek organizations. Most of the women were very nice, but as they became more involved with Greek life, they were a lot less involved with their “independent” friends. It was interesting to read Robbins’ accounts of the peer pressure she witnessed. Robbins also includes a lot of information about so-called secret rituals. If you’ve always wondered about sorority passwords, secret ceremonies, or symbolism, you may really enjoy the section of the book where Robbins removes the shroud of mystery.

The fact that Robbins does include secret passwords and information about secret rituals may be very offensive for those women who are members of sororities. Part of what makes the sisterhoods “special” is the emphasis on secrecy. Robbins destroys that secrecy with her expose, although I have to admit that I found the information interesting. On the other hand, I did wonder why she felt the need to include it in this book, especially since those secrets are part of what makes sorority life attractive. It was almost sad for me to read about the secrets that are held sacred by sorority women. Robbins also didn’t make it clear how she got away with being “a fly on the wall”, since she obviously didn’t join either of the sororities she wrote of. I would think that the sisters would have gotten suspicious, even if most of the contact Robbins had with the four sisters she was keeping track of was via instant messenger.

Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities is well written, thorough, and fairly well researched. For those who are not familiar with the great deal of jargon associated with Greek life, Robbins includes a glossary, but she also does a good job defining the elements of Greek life in the book itself. I found Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities an interesting read, although I doubt I’m a more enlightened person after reading about the sordid affairs that go on in sorority houses across the country.

Robbins concludes this book by writing her suggestions of how national sororities could change for the better. I was glad to see this, since so many expose type books write only of the negatives and yet don’t include any information about how the negatives could be made positive. She emphasizes the need for more “adult supervision”, something I found curious since college students are supposed to already be adults.

Robbins also believes that all women who rush should get into a sorority, a suggestion that I fear would defeat the purpose of sororities. After all, many people join Greek organizations so that they can be a part of something “special” with people who are like them. While I understand the reasoning behind this suggestion and actually agree with the sentiment (that Greek organizations are elitist), I doubt this suggestion would go over well. Robbins writes that the national offices are always interested in making more money and yet they are particular about who can be a member. This is another reason why she believes that sororities should be more open to all college women.

This book wasn’t entirely negative.  Robbins does include information about some of the positive aspects of sorority life, such as forming enduring friendships and business connections outside of college life, although the overall emphasis in this book is the negative side to Greek life.

I believe that Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities might be useful for high school senior girls and their parents, however I also believe that what is written in this book should be taken with a grain of salt and balanced with other sources. If you aren’t looking to go Greek but just want to read about sorority life, you might enjoy reading this book as well. Go to Amazon.com to order this book, though, and you will see many negative ratings contributed by indignant sorority members who are upset that Robbins has attacked an institution that they hold sacred. Still, I believe her account was fair, even if it was shocking.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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complaints, rants

Being “canceled”…

As someone who grew up in the 70s and 80s, it’s been a surreal experience to go from having in person relationships to online relationships. I remember when I was dating Bill, I told my mom that we’d met in a chat room. My mom was horrified. She thought it was so weird. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t tell her what kind of chat room it was. 😉

Nowadays, a lot of people meet and even become friends online. Some people never meet in person. Others are people we once knew offline, but then continue a relationship on the computer. I think communication has really changed significantly with the development of the Internet. In many ways, it’s made people a lot less civilized than they once were.

Take, for instance, my experience yesterday. On Wednesday, I had shared an article about Mike Pence, who was talking to Kamala Harris at Joe Biden’s inauguration. I remarked that Mike Pence had really redeemed himself in my eyes over the past couple of weeks. I said I thought he had a hell of a lot more class than Trump does. I thought some of my more conservative friends would appreciate the nod to Pence, but I immediately got backlash from so-called friends about this statement.

One of them got so pissed that she eventually blocked me, having also criticized me for saying I was going to buy a Donald Trump toilet brush for my bathroom. My remark to her, when she said she wouldn’t want anything “Trump” in her house was, “Luckily, it’s not your house.” I was totally kidding when I wrote that, but apparently, it struck a nerve. In my defense, I read her comment back to me yesterday morning, while sitting on the toilet and before I’d had my coffee. Maybe she thought it was rude for me to say it wasn’t her house, but I think it’s rude to criticize people’s shopping choices– *shrug*.

For context, we were discussing my new Angela Merkel citrus strainer, which Bill was using to make me a celebratory cocktail on Wednesday night. I have started collecting funny household items, particularly if they involve politicians. I also have a Margaret Thatcher nutcracker, and Soviet Matroyshka dolls that feature all of the former leaders up to Yeltsin. I had commented that the only Trump item I would want is a toilet brush. I wouldn’t want the toilet paper, since I don’t want Trump’s image that close to my genitals. However, I think he’s perfectly useful for scrubbing shit residue from my toilet. It was a joke, anyway.

Yes, I finally bought one… I need a new one anyway. I also used to have a Michael Vick chew toy before Arran destroyed it.

I can only assume that I got “canceled” because this person, whom I once knew and greatly respected offline, is gay. Mike Pence is famously anti-gay, and when he was Indiana’s Governor, he had no regard for anyone identifying as LGBTQ. Many homosexuals suffered under his regime. I don’t agree with, or condone, the way Pence has treated homosexuals. I suspect he does it because of his deeply religious nature. Like it or not, most religions are against homosexuality. I don’t think being anti-gay is Christlike behavior myself, but as we all know, lots of people have different views and don’t care what mine are.

Whether or not anyone wants to believe me, I actually don’t give a flying fuck what someone’s sexual orientation is. I have several gay relatives, one of whom has become somewhat close in the past few years. My sister-in-law is a lesbian who has been married twice to women. I also have a fuckload of gay and lesbian friends, all of whom I value. I don’t give a shit what anyone does in their bedroom, as long as the people participating can and do consent, and there aren’t any pets or livestock involved.

The person who canceled me yesterday was someone I had considered a friend, but clearly it wasn’t so… she didn’t value my friendship at all. I say this because this one incident involving my comments about Mike Pence upset her so much that she very quickly dropkicked me out of her Facebook sphere. She did so, even though I reiterated repeatedly that I didn’t vote for Pence, and wouldn’t vote for him. I simply recognized that instead of going along with Donald Trump’s criminal QAnon gang, he’d followed the law and probably spared us a bloodbath. And then after that, he was the only representative from the Trump administration who attended the inauguration and acted like a mature and civilized human being. Maybe it shouldn’t impress me that he did his job, but it really did. I see nothing wrong with stating that.

I used to not have any appreciation whatsoever for Pence, so the fact that he’s gone up a few notches doesn’t mean that I love him. The bar was set very low, so any positive regard that came from the past couple of weeks still doesn’t negate his actions of the past. And I truly thought I was being nice when I made that comment on my own page. I certainly didn’t imagine it would turn into a controversy. Perhaps it wouldn’t have gone so far south if I hadn’t used the word “redeemed”. But it was late in the evening; I was feeling emotional, and had enjoyed my evening wine.

I bring this up today because I’ve been really disturbed by the phenomenon of cancel culture. People don’t want to discuss things rationally anymore. We have arguments, and if someone disagrees, it turns into a hair flip and a “Fine, we’re done!” attitude. I know that this wouldn’t happen so quickly if folks were face to face, but it’s hard to do that right now, thanks to the pandemic.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. Last summer, when Mary Kay Letourneau died, I got into an argument on RfM with someone who called me a “rape apologist” because I expressed condolences to those who had loved her. The woman who called me a rape apologist insisted that having any positive regard or empathy for Mary Kay Letourneau meant that I condoned her actions against her former student, Vili Fualaau, who later became her husband. Vili was at Mary Kay’s side when she died. He is also now a grown man, and obviously didn’t consider his former wife his rapist, even if the law and society say she was.

While I agree that what Mary Kay Letourneau did was very wrong, she did do her time in prison. And even though she went to prison, Vili Fualaau was waiting for her when she got out. They were married for twelve years, divorcing only because Vili wanted to start a marijuana farm and couldn’t legally do so with a convicted felon as his spouse. My thinking is that whatever I might think of Mary Kay Letourneau’s actions are secondary to what her victim thinks. She paid her debt to society, and she clearly had people in her life who loved her, including her ex husband. Although Mary Kay is dead, those people are still left behind and were grieving their loss. They deserve respect and sympathy, even if Mary Kay might not have.

The same thing goes for anyone convicted of a crime. Very few people have no one in the world. Very few people are so awful that there isn’t someone who appreciates and loves them. So when I express sorrow for someone who’s done bad things dying or being injured, it’s not just for that person. It’s also for the innocent people who love them regardless of any negative things they’ve said or done. I feel like I should be allowed to do that without being labeled, chastised, or canceled. In a different era, I probably would be. Or, at least I might have a chance to explain, right?

I can understand why people cancel each other. Nowadays, we’re all bombarded with so much information and relationships tend to be wider and more shallow, rather than deep and narrow. We live in an era where it’s easy to become acquaintances, especially online, but it’s hard to become real friends. And so, when someone is annoying or upsetting, we can just change the channel, as it were, or click the unfriend or even the block button. I’ve done it myself a few times, although I usually do it to strangers before I’ll do it to people I’ve interacted with regularly. I usually don’t unfriend people for being offensive unless they are repeat offenders and I’ve asked them to stop at least once. A person I’ve actually met really has to upset me before I ostracize them completely by hitting the block button. I’ve never done it to a relative, although some of my relatives have done it to me. The vast majority of the people I unfriend get dropped because I don’t actually know them or speak to them, they’ve gone inactive for a long time, or they’re dead. I reserve blocking for people who won’t leave me alone, people who are stalkers or creepy, or people who have been deliberately hurtful.

I know a lot of people are perfectly fine with calling people out and “canceling them”, as if they’ve never done anything wrong themselves. But personally, I find it a very disturbing phenomenon. I’m a big believer in allowing people to be heard, even if what they have to say isn’t something we want to hear. Sometimes unpleasant messages have truths within them, and sometimes group think can obscure humanity. For instance, some years ago, I watched a Disney propaganda film about the rise of Hitler. It’s called Education for Death.

This is a pretty interesting film…

At about five minutes into the above video, we see a schoolboy named Hans in Germany being taught about a fox hunting and killing a rabbit. Everyone in the class is all about the fox killing the rabbit except the little boy, who expresses sympathy for the creature. He’s ostracized and ridiculed for having a different viewpoint, so under tremendous peer pressure, he eventually loses his natural regard for the rabbit and joins his classmates in their bloodthirsty enthusiasm for killing. The narrator says sarcastically, “Hans has now come around to the ‘correct’ Nazi way of thinking.”

Now, I am not in any way comparing what happened to me to Naziism. What I’m trying to point out is that respectful discussions and sharing different perspectives are good things. It’s useful and helpful to talk about different views. I see nothing wrong with recognizing something good in someone’s actions, even if that person has been “canceled” or is not politically correct or popular. Like I said, I don’t think there are too many people who are truly all good or all bad. I do think “all bad” people exist, but my opinion is that there are very few of them. And a person should have the chance to redeem themselves, if they can. It’s not a good thing for someone to go through life being hated by everyone.

I also think hating people takes a lot of energy. There are a couple of people in the world that I can honestly say that I legitimately have no regard for at all. I have my personal reasons for feeling that way about them, though, and I don’t expect others to feel the same way I do. Having negative feelings about those people who actually harmed me in a personal way already takes a lot of energy. I don’t have the energy to spare to also hate politicians with whom I disagree. Trump, of course, is a different matter. I probably do legitimately hate him, and I make no apologies for that. But I’m not going to kick people out of my life for disagreeing with me. If I did that, I’d never speak to my family again.

My former friend apparently loathes Mike Pence. She has her reasons for loathing him. I probably even agree with her for feeling the way she does. But prior to the other day, it was not something we’d ever discussed. I can’t say we really discussed it the other day, either, since she quickly got pissed off and split. She just expected me to share her view and canceled me when I didn’t. Or, at least that’s what I concluded, since she didn’t talk to me about what had upset her so much. And I was left realizing that this person I had once respected, and had even told that I respected, had no respect whatsoever for me.

I know some people will tell me I’m too sensitive. In fact, when I posted a thought about this situation, I got a comment from someone who acted as an apologist and gave me advice. Advice was not really what I was seeking, though. What I was doing was requesting that those who are too immature to have a respectful discussion to go ahead and unfriend me now. Because that’s not how I “do” real friendship– at least not with people I actually know and care about offline. And I am not going to let anyone tell me how to think or what I can or can’t say. I’d rather have fewer real friends than a bunch of fakes clogging up my feed.

If I want to commend Mike Pence for following the law and showing dignity at the inauguration, that should be my privilege, especially on my space. Real friends will let me say that and have a rational and respectful discussion if they disagree with me. They won’t flip their hair, call me names, or cancel me for voicing my opinion. And if that’s the kind of person you are, as my ex friend said, “count me out.”

In other news… yesterday, we found out Arran has a mast cell tumor. He has to have surgery on Monday. Here we go again.

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book reviews, politics

A review of Melania and Me, by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff

Just in time for the election, former Melania Trump bestie, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, has published her tell all about what it was like to be friends with Donald Trump’s third wife. As you might surmise by the timing of this book’s release, as well as the title, the friendship has ended, and not on a positive note. In any case, I decided to read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book, Melania and Me: The Rise and Fall of My Friendship with the First Lady. Melania is the quiet half of the Trump power couple and I was curious about her. Also, I figured I could relate to the author. I “broke up” with my former bestie, too, and haven’t had a best “girl” friend in many years.

So who is Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, anyway?

Before she got tangled up with the Trumps, the author of Melania and Me was the director of special events at Vogue. She lived in New York City and was still working at Vogue when she met a Slovenian model then known as Melania Knauss. When Melania and Stephanie met, it was Stephanie who was better known. Melania was moderately successful, but not really super famous when she caught Donald Trump’s roving eye. Winston Wolkoff writes that when she and Melania first met, Melania was quiet and unassuming, but caring. Or, at least that’s how she seemed.

Donald Trump married his third wife, Melania, in 2005, and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff was there to see the eastern European model shaped into the First Lady she is today. Melania and Stephanie were ladies who frequently lunched. That was the way Melania preferred it, although Stephanie writes that lunching wasn’t so good because it really cut out a portion of the work day. Throughout the book, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff makes it clear that she’s a “work horse”. She works very hard, and has always had to make her own way, in part because her parents had a bad marriage and wanted their kids on their own as soon as possible (something else I can relate to, as my parents had a good marriage, but wanted me to skedaddle ASAP, too). Winston Wolkoff went to boarding school. She’s also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, and has three much beloved children, one of whom has severe food allergies. She describes herself as a “helicopter parent”, even though she spent a couple of years working for Melania Trump… FOR FREE.

Yes, you read that right. This “hardworking”, “helicopter parent”, “Holocaust granddaughter”, “lady who lunched” did not draw an official salary as she spent about two years thanklessly slaving away for the First Lady, a woman she thought was her “best friend”. She was away from her family in New York, spending her own money on Ubers, lunches at Trump properties, and hotel rooms, helping Melania Trump choose staff members that were not budgeted for, and planning events such as the Presidential Inauguration. Winston Wolkoff complains that she was barely paid anything for her work. She received $480,000 for work she did on the inauguration, which was, on its own, a bit of a cluster fuck. Other than that, zip… as she writes it, anyway.

Why did Stephanie Winston Wolkoff work for free?

She did it for her country, as the old song from Grease 2 goes. Although Winston Wolkoff writes that she was never a voter before the Trump era, claiming she didn’t know enough about politics or the candidates, she decided to vote for Trump in 2016. She did it because Melania was her friend, and because she thought she was being a good patriot by trying to help her friend be a good First Lady.

Through it all, Stephanie and Melania traded texts full of emojis, many of which are included in this book. Melania never had any problem asking Stephanie or anyone else for favors, but when the shoe was on the other foot, she “didn’t have time” (see my post from a couple of days ago). What Melania wants, Melania gets, according to Winston Wolkoff, who writes that she worked so hard for so long that she actually wound up in the hospital.

Want a little whine with your lunch?

While I can commiserate with Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, who claims she gave up a very successful, high-powered career for someone she thought was a real friend, I did think she came off as a bit of a martyr at times. Her writing has a somewhat self-pitying, shaming tone that I found kind of off-putting. I don’t doubt that Winston Wolkoff worked her ass off, but it’s not like she didn’t have a choice. She must have known deep down that her “friendship” with Melania wasn’t very genuine and if she ever said “no” to the First Lady, the “friendship” would end. But if those are the conditions of the relationship and one voluntarily settles for that, then one is also complicit in perpetuating the fake friendship. Therefore, one can assume that one’s motivations aren’t as pure as one makes them out to be.

I do understand how it feels to be used and betrayed by someone who doesn’t share the same level of regard for you that you have for them. I also know what it’s like to work for free, seemingly for the greater good, only to have it all turn to shit.

What I don’t understand is why Winston Wolkoff– who is purportedly as family-oriented and successful as she claims to be– tolerated that treatment for as long as she did. But then… we are talking about the most powerful couple in America and perhaps one of the most powerful couples in the whole world. I’m sure that was a lure that kept Stephanie so close to Melania, even though she was never given a contract and had to enter the White House like any flunkie who never got vetted. Yes, she slept in a guest room right over the White House residence, but Melania never saw to it that her friend could get fast tracked past White House security. Best friend indeed.

Winston Wolkoff writes of being relegated to “lawn standing” at Trump’s swearing in. She managed to get a better view only because an official staffer spotted her and got her a better seat. This, even though she had helped plan the event. Melania didn’t care… and in fact, frequently took advantage of her “friend” while dissing her. Melania did send flowers on Stephanie’s birthday, at least until last year or so, when Stephanie finally told her friend, Melania, that she was resigning. After that, it seems their fifteen year old friendship was kaput. Now, all she has to show for it is this book, which really could have been better than it is.

Overall

I have a hard time feeling really sorry for Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, although I guess I can understand on a human level how she ended up in her predicament. It’s easy for someone like me to look at someone like her– close to famous people like Anna Wintour and Andre Leon Talley– and think she should have known better than to get involved with the Trumps (or politics in general). But although she protests to the contrary, that she really was a “true friend” to Melania and other people who helped the Trumps get to where they are right now and were kind of stiffed for their efforts, I have a feeling that the work she was doing was not just out of friendship. Surely she believed she’d get paid somehow. I’m sure she thought it would be more than whatever she makes from the sales of Melania and Me.

Some of the author’s handiwork… Judge for yourself.

I did kind of enjoy Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s commentary on Ivanka Trump (the princess), as well as some of the other Trump staffers. I thought some of her insights into famous gaffes and fashion missteps were interesting, too. Apparently, Melania doesn’t care what anyone thinks and simply does whatever is best for her and maybe her son, Barron, who is reportedly a bit of a prankster.

On the other hand, I also got the sense from reading this book that Winston Wolkoff still has some affection and admiration for her old friend, Melania. At times, she is complimentary of her and seems to miss her, which makes the book a little bit confusing. I kind of got the sense that maybe she hopes she and Melania can bury the hatchet someday and, once again, be besties who lunch. Maybe she thinks Melania will read this book and send her flowers and an apology? Somehow, I doubt that will happen.

Anyway, I’m not sorry I read Melania and Me, but I am glad I’m finished with it. I hope Stephanie Winston Wolkoff has had a nice rest, recovered her health, and is enjoying those three children and her husband that she left over for over a year to work for free, serving the worst U.S. president in recent history (in my opinion, anyway). I do somewhat empathize with her. It’s bewildering when someone you thought was a close friend turns out to be a selfish asshole. But then, when you’re not directly blinded by the magical glare of a shameless narcissistic manipulator, it’s a lot easier to see wolves dressed in baby blue Ralph Lauren frocks.

I think Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and her ilk would do well to read more fables and learn some of life’s basic lessons, starting with this one. Or maybe she should learn the cardinal rule that everyone hears when they fly on an airplane. You have to put your own mask on before you can help other people. Maybe with a little more oxygen to the brain, Winston Wolkoff might have more clarity in determining who her real friends are.

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musings, politics, tragedies

Death of a “friendship”…

I came across an argument between two friends yesterday, as I was hanging out in the backyard, drinking wine. One of my friends is a Trump supporter. The other, who until yesterday was friends with my Trump supporting friend, is a Biden supporter.

My Trump supporting friend, I’ll call Mary, had posted a negative opinion article about Joe Biden. It was up for awhile before the other friend, I’ll call Sherry, showed up and left what was initially a hesitant, yet respectful comment. Sherry basically wrote that while she generally respects Mary very much, she didn’t understand why Mary doesn’t support Mr. Biden. Sherry correctly pointed out that Trump has been accused of sexual assault by many women.

A rather testy exchange developed. I could see that the two women were starting to get angry with each other. Then Mary pointed out that under Obama, eleven missionaries contracted Ebola and had to be treated. Sherry, obviously flabbergasted that Mary would bring that up when so many people are dying of COVID-19, then asked Mary if she was a “fucking idiot”? Naturally, that really offended Mary, and she shut down the conversation. I can’t blame her for doing that, although personally, I agree with Sherry that the Ebola situation under Obama really pales in comparison to the disastrous way the coronavirus is being handled by Trump.

I’ve noticed that when these exchanges happen and someone gets unfriended on Facebook or blocked, the participants later kind of dust off their hands and say something along the lines of, “the trash just took itself out”. I do that myself, although there’s usually a small tinge of sorrow that I lost a “friend”, even if that person wasn’t really a friend. It just highlights how very fragile relationships have become in the age of social media and online communication.

This is just one very recent example of how people who used to be “friends” and or “loved ones” are being pulled apart by our heated politics. Some readers might recall I actually got blocked by someone last week after she started a fight on my page over Donald Trump. I wasn’t even the one who was taking her to task. And yes, after it happened and the person blocked me, I also quipped that the trash took itself out.

It’s a shame that relationships are so easily destroyed over something like politics. But we probably should know better since religion and politics, while often very interesting topics of discussion, are also the subjects one tends to avoid in polite company. That was always the advice given for cocktail parties. Never bring up religion or politics, because there will surely be a row. Of course, when people go to cocktail parties, they often drink. Tongues loosen and some things are said that shouldn’t be. I suppose it’s the same on Facebook, but the relationships are even more fragile because when you’re not looking at someone’s face and seeing their non verbal communication cues, you’re more likely to unload something you shouldn’t.

I don’t know Sherry as well as I know Mary, although I am “friends” with both. I “met” them both online on a messageboard for second wives and stepmothers. My observation about Sherry is that she’s very intelligent, but has a bit of a temper. Mary is older and seems very wise about a lot of things, but she also has a temper. Politically speaking, I align more with Sherry because I despise Trump and I’m pissed off at the Republican party for foisting his brand of craziness on the world. I’m pissed off enough that I don’t think I will ever vote red again.

But– I also agree with Mary that it’s not cool to go on other people’s Facebook pages, lose your temper, and cuss people out or call them names. I may not agree with Mary’s choice for a presidential candidate, but I know for a fact that she’s not a “fucking idiot”. I think it’s too bad that Sherry had to go there, even though I understand her frustration. I don’t know what all was involved in that exchange, other than exhaustion and stress over who is going to lead the United States come January 2021. But it’s a shame when people break up relationships over politics.

I myself lost a good friend– one I knew offline– over Mitt Romney back in 2008. At the time, I really was concerned about Romney winning the White House. In retrospect, I realize that he would have done a much better job than Trump has done. I still am not a Mitt fan, but I don’t think he’s as bad as I once did. And I’m sorry I lost a friendship over Mitt… although if I recall correctly, I was more pissed off by the disrespectful way my former friend was treating me than his political opinions. If he were to approach me today, I would be happy to speak to him. Sadly, I think the ship has sailed forever.

I don’t know how well Mary and Sherry knew each other offline. They live in different parts of the United States, so it’s likely that they only interacted virtually. I don’t know if they were ever close friends, although Sherry did start off by saying she “respected” Mary very much. It didn’t take long, though, before the respect went out the window and Sherry was asking Mary if she was a “fucking idiot”.

I really try to respect people’s rights to their own opinions. I may not always succeed in avoiding calling people out over these things, but in my heart, I do think people must have the right to make choices. It’s frustrating to see people I respect championing a man whom I personally think is very dangerous to democracy and the overall security of the world. It’s hard not to get angry sometimes when people keep trying to prop up Trump as being better than he is. But I also believe that everyone has different perspectives and they don’t generally form in a vacuum.

I will happily tell people why I dislike Donald Trump and would never vote for him. I just hope I never lose my temper and call a “friend” a name that debases them… This political season has been brutal. I’ve lost “friends” and “loved ones” to Trump’s politics. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get them back again. But maybe the ones who stick around are the ones I should pay more attention to, anyway.

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social media

Noise I don’t need in my life right now.

In praise of “real friends”…

Last night, just before I went to bed, I read yet another derisive status update by someone I don’t know particularly well. This guy, famously or infamously known as “newnamenoah” on YouTube, has over 4000 “friends” on Facebook. People tend to love him or hate him. I’ve always mostly thought he was interesting and entertaining, with big brass balls. Here was a guy who invaded LDS temples with pinhole cameras and recorded “secret” ordinances, then posted them on YouTube.

There’s no telling how many people newnamenoah, aka Mike, has helped with his videos. He’s probably pissed off just as many people by ruining the “mystery” of the LDS temples. He’s been arrested for trespassing, too. I followed his antics for a few years, but had no personal dealings with him. I often thought he was funny, especially when he dealt with self-righteous people who wanted to tell him what to do. I had respect for his “work”, although lots of people were angry at him for exposing something they considered “sacred”.

But coronavirus has changed things. Some things have changed for the better. Some have changed for the worse. Some things have just plain changed. I think the virus has forced most people into a different lifestyle… things are topsy turvy, with people not knowing what they’re going to do about certain major issues like accessing childcare, going to school, caring for elderly parents, and paying their bills. I don’t know.

People are stressed out and pissed off. Some are depressed. Many people are frustrated and worried about the future. For some folks, this is about simple survival on the most basic level. Some people are reacting by trying to exert some form of control, whether it be by haranguing rule-breakers or rebelling against the rules. It’s causing a lot of people to be ruder than they might otherwise be, although I think Mike has pretty much always been dismissive and rude to people he doesn’t respect. Fair enough.

At this point in my life, I am very fortunate. I currently live in a country where the virus has been mostly contained, and it appears that we’re going to get to stay for awhile longer. Life is not completely normal here, but it’s close. I’ve been “locked down”, but not really because I’ve had to be. I’ve mostly decided I’d rather stay away from the risks and hassles of being out and about. But I realize that’s a privilege that many people don’t have. As fortunate as I am, though, I have found that the virus has made me a lot less tolerant of things I used to brush off with relative ease.

It’s not even so much that I’m feeling upset anymore. It’s more that I just think I fell into a path that had me putting up with stuff that I shouldn’t. A lot of shit is just that– shit. It stinks and needs to be flushed.

Prior to the virus, I tolerated things that seemed important… I put up with an abusive landlady, griping all the while, yet acquiescing when I was told I didn’t have the right to complain about the shitty way she treated Bill and me. I put up with people being “mean” to me on the Internet, when really all I had to do was unfriend or block them. I wrote many words about being upset or disappointed by people I thought were better, when I really should just expect that a lot of people are jerks and don’t have regard for other people. Just let them go and be done with it. It is what it is. Bitching about it makes me feel better temporarily, but doesn’t really change anything.

I recently wrote a post called Mask-Misanthropy. I’ve noticed a lot of people hitting it lately. I don’t know why people are reading it. Are they reading it because they agree with me that people have gotten a lot less “civilized” lately? Or are they reading it, thinking I’m a clueless “Karen” (hate that term) who needs a reality check? You know what? Who fucking cares? If you read my stuff and come away with the idea that I don’t take the virus seriously, then I must conclude that reading comprehension isn’t one of your strengths. I don’t like masks and I go out of my way to avoid wearing them. But I do so by staying home most of the time. I think that’s more effective than wearing a mask, and I’m lucky enough that I can do that. When I go out, yes, I wear the mask. I hate it, but I do comply with the rules.

The main point of the Mask-Misanthropy post is that I don’t think being rude and nasty, calling people names, being insulting, and lecturing so-called “friends” is the way to get them to cooperate. I understand that people are feeling tense and frustrated. I get that they’re scared and rightfully worried about the future. I just don’t understand how cursing at and shaming “friends” is the way to make the situation better. If someone is a “friend”, doesn’t that mean you hold them in some kind of positive esteem? How is it friendly to call your friends “morons”?

That was where I was last night as I was looking at Mike’s Facebook page. He’d written a post insulting people who are “anti-mask”. It was one of many I’d seen by him on a variety of controversial topics. He basically called them “mouth breathers”. Someone on his page took him to task for name calling. He insulted her, too. Then, I guess when she decided to unfriend him, he wrote a rant on his page about how he doesn’t lose a minute of sleep over people who unfriend him (I think he might have called them morons, but I don’t care to check). In the past, when he’s done that, I’ve laughed it off. But then it occurred to me that it must matter to him on some level, because he took the time to post about it. And what he posted was just more of the same bile.

I had absolutely nothing to do with last night’s drama. Before I unfriended him, I almost never commented on Mike’s posts. I read some of them, enjoyed a few of them, but mostly they were just “noise” on my page. A lot of his posts were about what a schmuck Donald Trump is. And I agree, Trump is a schmuck– putting it very mildly. A lot of posts were about how damaging Mormonism is. And I agree, Mormonism is pretty damaging to a lot of people. Sometimes, he posted stuff about him living his best life, which was nice to see… but he also posted about being arrested when he stepped on LDS church property. But since a lot of that shit is public, I can read it whether or not we’re “friends”. And I’m getting tired of reading angry, insulting, shaming, frustrated posts by people who paint anyone who doesn’t agree with them with a broad brush and dismiss them as “stupid mouth breathers”. It’s noise I don’t need in my life right now.

As the old song goes, “what the world needs now is love, sweet love”. On the whole, I think being kind and supportive is better than being angry, derisive, and confrontational. I realize that I’m not always one to practice what I preach, but I’m working on it. I mostly try to keep my rantings to my blog, which people have to actually navigate to if they want to read. I understand the impulse to lash out at people who aren’t doing what you think they should be doing, but it seems counterintuitive to call these people “friends” if you’re going to also curse at them and call them names.

I’m finding that the stress of the coronavirus and my need for some semblance of normalcy has made me much less willing to tolerate unnecessary “noise” and drama. I’ll probably unfriend a lot more people as time goes on… or maybe, as I have been threatening, I’ll just dump Facebook altogether and become a recluse. By the way, as of yesterday, I finally lost my “orange badge of shame“. Glad it didn’t take a year.

Bill does this all the time. It drives me nuts.

Mental health is very important. There’s no point in staying physically healthy if your mind is so fucked up with depression and anxiety that you can’t enjoy your life. It’s already stressful enough reading the news every day, listening to Donald Trump speak, and realizing just how much he has fucked up the world. I don’t need the extra noise in the form of angry accusations, constant insults, and non-stop political rants. If I wanted that, I could watch Fox News.

Given that he has over 4000 friends, I doubt Mike will miss me anyway. On the other hand, having tons of friends isn’t a guarantee that unfriending won’t be wounding to some folks. Last month, I got blocked by a guy I unfriended because I didn’t want to read so much about politics. Since we didn’t actually know each other offline and we almost never engaged, I figured he wouldn’t care– although I did know he had a “friend tracker”. Boy, was I wrong! He sent me a PM, apologizing if it was something he said. Then he got all pissed off when I explained that the constant barrage of negativity was causing me mental stress. Guess he wasn’t really a friend, after all. Ditto for the woman who blocked me when I unfriended her for the same reason. I can’t say that I mind being blocked by either of them. It’s not like we were actually friendly.

A real friend wouldn’t want to cause me stress, strife, or anguish. Instead, they would wish me well. A real friend wouldn’t call me stupid, clueless, moronic, or a mouth breather. No one has really done that to me personally, but when I see things addressed to a group as a whole, it turns into an insult that includes everyone who reads or hears it. And I just don’t need it. No one does.

I often like to say good things can come out of almost any situation. Maybe one thing that will come out of the coronavirus is that it will help me streamline who I allow into my life. Real friends are rare and valuable. I’ll do my best to keep them, since I’m lucky enough to have some of them– a few are even people I have never met offline. Fake friends on Facebook are just noises I don’t need in my life. I’m going to learn to let them go sooner rather than later.

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