memories, musings, psychology, true crime

Repost: “Cootie Kids”

And here’s another repost from January 26, 2018, shared today because I just wrote fresh content about the Turpin case.

Every once in awhile, I read something that really makes me stop and think.  Jennifer Turpin is one of the thirteen “kids” who were discovered living in a “house of horrors” in Perris, California a couple of weeks ago.  Authorities found her and her siblings living in filth.  Some of them were shackled to their beds, completely removed from the outside world.  I have been following the horrifying story of the Turpin family.  The more that comes out about them, the more bizarre and insane their story is.

This morning, I ran across a very poignant Facebook post written by Taha Muntajibuddin, a man who knew Jennifer Turpin when they were both kids. At one time, Jennifer Turpin had been allowed to attend school, and she and Muntajibuddin were third grade classmates at Meadowcreek Elementary School. Evidently, in those days, Jennifer Turpin was thought of as one of the “cootie kids”. No one wanted to be friends with her because she was dirty and smelled bad.

Muntajibuddin remembers that after that year, Jennifer moved away and he lost track of her.  There had been times when he’d tried to track her down through Facebook.  He wondered how she’d turned out and hoped she’d turned into someone totally different than who she was when they were eight years old.  But he never was able to find her and imagined that maybe she was one of the few people in the world who hadn’t succumbed to the lure of social media.  Naturally, like so many people who recently discovered the Turpin family, he was horrified when her real story came to light.     

In his very reflective Facebook post, Muntajibuddin reminds people how important it is to be kind.  Better yet, they should teach their children to be kind.  Every elementary school has a “cootie kid” who gets picked on.  Sometimes those kids are able to rise above that moniker.  Sometimes being harassed and bullied leads them down a dark road in which they turn to violence or substance abuse.  Sometimes, it turns out the “cootie kid” is a survivor of a hell that no one else knows about or understands.

My own class had a “cootie kid”.  I have written about her on this blog (ETA: Maybe I’ll repost about her, too).  Like Muntajibuddin, I went Googling to see how she turned out.  Unlike Muntajibuddin, I actually found our old “cootie kid”.  I was gratified to see that it looks like she turned out alright.  She’s one of the ostracized kids who had enough resilience to rise above being picked on and bullied in school.  Just as Muntajibuddin describes Jennifer Turpin as “pleasant” and having a “whimsical optimism”, the “cootie kid” girl I knew was very plucky and friendly, despite her challenges.  She had some really good qualities, in spite of being made the odd girl out.  She was worth the effort of kindness and consideration, as most people ultimately are.

I don’t have kids of my own, of course, so I have never had the responsibility of trying to teach anyone right from wrong.  I’d like to think that if I’d had children, I’d try to teach them to be nice to others.  I’d like to hope I’d encourage them to befriend kids who need friends.  On the other hand, I’m also a realist and a human.  The reality is, as lofty as those goals are, they often fall flat.  Humans are horribly flawed and fallible.  You can have the best of intentions and still be a total failure in some areas.  You can try to be an excellent example and still not manage to sway anyone to follow your lead.

If there’s anything to be learned from kids like Jennifer Turpin, it’s that everyone is fighting battles that aren’t readily apparent to the naked eye.  Kids make fun of other kids when they are different somehow.  I was made fun of when I was in school.  So were a lot of my friends.  We didn’t have the misfortune of being total outcasts, but we took our share of licks.  I remember how that felt and how it still feels today.  Life is hard for most people, but it costs nothing to be kind.

And yet, as I write that, I know there are times that I’ll fail to be kind because I’m human and fallible.  Perhaps if I can take anything from Muntajibuddin’s Facebook post, it’s the reminder that sometimes the reality of another person’s situation is much more horrible than you can ever know.  If it weren’t for Jennifer Turpin’s sister’s bravery, there’s no telling how much longer she and her siblings would be living the miserable life they were living. 

You never know how you will affect other people.  Jennifer Turpin surely doesn’t know how she affected her classmate and how her classmate is, in turn, affecting everyone who reads his poignant thoughts about her.  Just by existing, she’s already changed the world.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure those who had contact with the Turpin kids now regret not speaking up and calling the authorities.  There’s a fine line in knowing when it’s right to call for help for someone else’s kids.  Some people do it at the drop of a hat.  I think most people would rather not get involved when they see someone like Jennifer Turpin.  I can admit to feeling that way myself, even though I have a degree in social work and would likely have been one of the people who got called when a situation like this is discovered.  It’s hard to stand up for other people.  It’s even harder to know when a situation warrants making a call to the authorities.

The Turpin kids needed a lot more than friends.  In fact, it sounds to me like they weren’t really allowed to have any friends.  But the ones who went to school no doubt interacted with others.  We should teach kids– really each other– to simply be kind… and Muntajibuddin’s post is an excellent reminder to do so.

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lessons learned, musings

Repost, plus new comments for 2020: Empathy: we can’t afford to waste it!

I originally posted this piece on January 10, 2018 on my old blog. I am reposting it today because as 2020 closes, I think we need a reminder. At the end of this as/is repost from 2018, look for a few new comments from yours truly.

When I was growing up, it was very common to see public service announcements on TV.  One PSA that I remember from my youth was one from the Department of Energy.  The ads had a very recognizable musical cue followed by a small chorus of singers who sang “Energy: we can’t afford to waste it!”  Their line would be followed by a very late 70s early 80s electronic musical flourish.  I wish I could find a video of one of those ads.  They used to run all the time.  As it is, I’ve only managed to find a picture of the record that used to be played for the radio PSAs.

I’m reminded of that campaign this morning.  The slogan was catchy, as was the dated musical interlude that came with it.  It’s sad that we no longer see PSAs the way we used to back in the day.  A lot of people could use a helpful reminder of what’s important.  Empathy is important.  We can’t afford to waste it.

Bill hates this story. I can’t blame him.

Last night, Bill and I were talking more about how he and his younger daughter have reconnected.  In the course of our discussion, the topic of empathy came up.  Bill was telling me about how his ex wife used to compare their relationship to the one described in Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree.  Bill hates that book, even though it illustrates a very effective lesson on empathy.  Bill recognizes the value in Silverstein’s story, but his ex wife had an annoying habit of using children’s books to make points about her perceptions of Bill’s “shortcomings”.  

You can watch the video above to get the whole story.  Alternatively, here’s a short synopsis.  The Giving Tree is the story of a boy and a beautiful tree.  They once had a loving and mutually beneficial relationship.  The boy would play on the tree and lavish attention on it.  The tree would provide shade, branches for him to swing on, and apples to eat.  Sadly, as the boy grew older, he began to neglect the tree.  His interests had changed.  His needs had expanded.  The tree could no longer give the boy all he wanted.  But she could provide the materials for him to give him what he needed.  She would suggest ways he could use her and he would thoughtlessly take her up on her offers to give herself to him.  

The boy used the tree over and over again.  The tree was happy to have him use her to make his life better, even though his endless needs literally took away pieces of her.  She was selfless, empathetic, nurturing, and loving.  He was thoughtless, neglectful, exploitative, and cruel.  Finally, the day came when they were both old, and there wasn’t much left of either of them.  In one last act of selfishness, the boy sat on the tree’s stump and rested.

My husband’s ex wife claimed that she was like the tree and Bill was like the selfish boy who used the tree over and over again for his own self-interests.  She claimed she was “happy” to let him “use” her.  In my opinion, Ex’s decision to use The Giving Tree as an object lesson is a classic example of projection.  She is one of the least empathetic people I’ve ever known, and her penchant for using children’s literature to make her points is one of many grating features of her narcissistic personality.

In fifteen years of marriage, I’ve heard many stories about how Bill’s ex loved using children’s books for “object lessons”, particularly books by Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein.  She repeatedly preyed on other people’s empathy and twisted things so she’d somehow look both wounded and virtuous.  She had an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what “lessons” she thought her victims needed to learn and would most readily receive, but lacked the talent to “teach” them with original materials.  Instead, she relied on venerable children’s authors to deliver her toxic messages, ruining their works for her victims in the process.  She would also choose the least appropriate times to employ her methods, like during major religious holidays, on birthdays, when the whole family was gathered… or when Bill was about to go into a combat zone.

Right before Bill went to war, he wanted to call his daughters and ex stepson and tell them he loved them.  Instead of cooperating with Bill and arranging a phone call, Ex sent him a children’s book about forgiveness that he used to read to the kids when they were small.  He never got to say goodbye to them.  Instead, he got another shitty “object lesson” from his ex wife about “forgiveness” in the form of yet another children’s book. 

Every day for several weeks, I would see that book lying on the floor in a spare room we had.  Every time I passed it lying there, I wanted to burn it or at least throw it away.  I did not do so, because it wasn’t my property.  The sight of it made my blood boil.  Finally, I asked Bill to do something with that children’s book so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.  He finally sent it back to his former wife with a note that read “You need this more than I do.”  Then Bill went off to Iraq for six months without saying goodbye to his kids. 

I noticed this canister yesterday while I was pouring myself a beer…

All of this build up leads me to an explanation of the above picture.  That is an unopened canister of chocolate protein powder.  It’s been sitting on that shelf for about two years.  I had noticed it before, but figured Bill had bought it for himself.  When he was still in the Army, Bill often bought supplements to help him maintain his physical fitness.  He had to take physical training tests every six months and, as he got older, the tests were harder to pass.  I thought maybe he was going to use the powder to get in better shape.

Last night, I finally asked him about the canister on the shelf.  It had been there so long that I actually wondered if it had been left by the previous tenants.

Bill said, “I bought that for you when you had oral surgery a couple of years ago.  I was concerned about your nutrition.  I thought maybe you’d have trouble eating solid foods and wanted to make sure you’d be able to get some protein.  I’ve had a lot of dental work myself and I know how it is.”

My mouth dropped open.  I have always known Bill to be empathetic and kind.  He has always been thoughtful and solicitous, sometimes to a fault.  But for some reason, it never occurred to me that he’d think enough of me to buy protein powder.

I am really grateful to be married to such a genuinely empathetic person.  I never asked him to buy me protein powder.  He thought of that himself.  He had anticipated my needs.  I gave him a hug and told him just how much I appreciated that he cared enough to buy me protein powder so I’d be okay after my oral surgery (which turned out to be no big deal).  In my mind, it was extraordinary. 

A lot of people have the idea that all men are thoughtless jerks who don’t consider others.  I somehow got lucky enough to marry a man who is incredibly empathetic and thoughtful.  Every time I think of what Bill’s ex wife so thoughtlessly threw away, I experience a weird combination of rage and gratitude.  I will always be grateful to her for being dumb enough to dump him, but it also angers me that she abused him for so many years. 

Bill’s ex wife repeatedly took advantage of his kindness and rarely appreciated thoughtful things he did for her.  As a matter of fact, when he would do thoughtful things for her, she usually regarded him as a chump.  The kind deeds would inspire contempt rather than gratitude.  It was like she thought he was a sucker for being considerate. 

After awhile, Bill stopped doing nice things for Ex and withdrew from her.  That behavior also inspired contempt and complaints from Ex.  She used Bill’s new withdrawn behavior as “proof” that, deep down, he was really an asshole.  She predicted one day he would leave her.  No matter how many times he tried to reassure her, she wouldn’t believe him.  She’d escalate her bad behavior and disrespect to the point at which he could no longer ignore it.  Finally, the day she told him she wanted a divorce (Easter Sunday while at the in-laws’ house), he agreed.  Her predictions that they would split had finally come to pass.  And then, after he forced her to follow through on her divorce threats, she made him an enemy not even worthy of saying goodbye to his daughters when he went off to war in Iraq.

I mainly write about this stuff, not just so I can process it, but also for other people who are in this situation.  Plenty of people live with others who lack empathy.  I write these stories for them, so they know that they aren’t alone and they aren’t crazy.  But I also write them, maybe because I know that there have been a lot of false stories spread to people who matter to Bill.  I know his daughters and his parents heard a lot of lies about the kind of person he is.  I have no doubt that the ex wife used The Giving Tree and other children’s stories to make her point to people who aren’t wise enough to see the truth.  Maybe this story is to try to undo some of the damage wrought by her constant lies and truth stretching. 

Let this tale serve as a PSA, just like the one from the Department of Energy in 1980.  “Empathy: we can’t afford to waste it.”  Choose to be empathetic to those who will recognize and appreciate it.  To those who won’t, move on, because life is short and resources are limited.  Just like The Giving Tree, you really only have so much to give during your short time on Earth. 

And for 2020…

I was reminded of this post from about three years ago this morning, as I was reading a Facebook post that my friend Elizabeth commented on, pictured below.

Hmmm…

One might not think this would be a controversial post, but it was. I read through the comments, which quickly became very contentious. This post, while admittedly kind of confrontational, was basically about being decent and kind to others. I noticed my friend becoming somewhat sarcastic when other people disagreed with her. Pretty soon, the whole thing devolved into insults. It didn’t help that someone tried to hijack the post with complaints about male circumcision, complete with a graphic photo.

I noticed one young woman was disagreeing with the post. As people confronted her for her “Libertarian” views and going against the grain, it occurred to me that we would get a lot more accomplished if more people had basic respect for others. That means trying not to fall into derision and name calling when someone disagrees.

Although I am definitely not a conservative anymore, there are a few conservative ideas I accept. This lady, who later claimed to be transgendered, was basically pointing out some things that were common sense and, at least on the surface, correct. But what she was posting wasn’t politically correct, and people were calling her out for it in very rude, condescending, and offensive ways.

I didn’t get involved myself, except to call out the lady posting about circumcision with this photo…

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have, but…

When she laughed, I clarified that I am actually against circumcision, but I am even less for people hijacking threads with off topic spam. I encouraged her to fight the good fight. Then I got back to the very interesting debate going on, in which one poster had referred to the self-reported Libertarian transgendered woman as “honey” and tried to school her.

I wondered what that attitude accomplishes. It makes you feel better, sure. I will even admit to sometimes indulging in it myself. But in the long run, being really rude and insulting when you try to take someone to school doesn’t really help. It turns into a waste of time in a hurry.

I do think we’d get further in making things better if more of us would listen to what others have to say and respect their right to disagree, if they want to. As long as there’s basic respect and empathy for the other person’s viewpoint, new ideas that make more people happy can be formed. But right now, there’s just a lot of polarized noise. Nothing is getting accomplished. And discussions about tolerance and kindness ultimately go nowhere.

Of course… most of us are in a pretty bad mood. 2020 has been a really hard year for many people. We’re all hoping for better days in 2021. I sure am, anyway… at least an end to the constant sickness and violence and hatred toward each other. I do think if we were all a bit more understanding and kind, maybe things would be better. And that means if you preach it, practice it. Easier said than done, I know… and I will even admit to my own hypocrisy at times. As human beings, we all bleed when we’re pricked… and when we encounter a prick, we all bristle.

I’ve been very fortunate to have found an empathetic man with whom I can enjoy my life. I look to him for inspiration. If I need an example for kindness, I remember how Bill wanted to be sure I had protein after oral surgery and bought me a protein powder supplement. He did that, even though I was liable to be cranky after my surgery. And I didn’t have to ask him. He did it because he was thinking of me. Maybe if more of us were like that toward everyone, the world would be a nicer place.

Anyway, those are my deep thoughts for the last day of 2020. Time to have some lunch with Mr. Bill. Happy New Year, y’all!

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family, psychology

…Put up, show up, shut up…

Some people think I’m not a very “nice” person, mainly because I often speak my mind and don’t roll over to their demands. I think it’s better to be kind or good, rather than “nice”. There is a difference. A “nice” person is pleasant to be around and doesn’t make waves. They usually have self-serving reasons for being “nice”, which range from simply wanting to be liked by others, to actively wanting to take advantage of other people.

A good person with kind intentions might make waves for the good of all, even if it causes temporary strife. A good person does things that might not be popular with the crowd, but are ultimately in everyone’s best interests. A good person has mercy and compassion and thinks of the big picture, even if it means temporarily pissing off other people.

Nice people often end up screwing over the unaware, even if the screwing doesn’t cause any pain at first. Superficial charm can be a valuable weapon against the weak. Someone who is pleasant at first can easily end up turning into a nightmare, leaving others bewildered, shocked, and reeling from the surprise pain they cause. But good people are sometimes abrasive for the right reasons. What they say and do might hurt at first, but they take those actions because they want to minimize pain in the long run.

Sometimes I feel badly about being less likable than I could be. But then I realize that Bill loves this about me, because I encourage him to be assertive and stick up for himself and others. Also, since I don’t need to be liked as much, I often have a broader perspective than he does about some things. He rules more with his heart and emotions than I do, and that sometimes leads him down the roads to Hell. However, with me around to be firm and offer another perspective, he’s often more able to make decisions that hurt fewer people. Sometimes those decisions are unpopular and make people angry, but in the grand scheme of things, they turn out for the better.

Yesterday turned out to be kind of a yucky day for Bill. He had a very busy and frustrating day at work. Then he came home and found out that his dad is very sick and in the hospital. How did he find out? Through that ever popular medium, Facebook… and it was a family friend’s post that alerted him that something was wrong, not his sister or stepmother.

I think he was hurt that his family didn’t tell him before the news wound up on Facebook, although he wasn’t surprised. This is not the first time he’s been left out of the loop, although in fairness to the family, we are pretty far away and he is a product of his father’s first marriage. My husband’s stepmother doesn’t like Bill’s mom and was jealous of Bill when he was a boy, taking his father’s attention from her. She also doesn’t like me, because I don’t let her push me around and she doesn’t think I’m “nice”. Still, Bill has always loved his dad and has done his best to be a good son. So he was saddened that no one bothered to let him know about his dad’s situation.

Mood music for this post. I was introduced to the magic of Lyle Lovett by a Mormon couple I knew when I was serving in the Peace Corps. I consider it a gift they gave me far more valuable than the Book of Mormon.

I am familiar with this kind of pain myself. Last year, my favorite uncle passed away suddenly, having suffered a stroke. I found out about the stroke, not from a family member, but from a friend of the family… someone I don’t know personally. She’d posted her best wishes to my cousins. When I later asked my cousin why I had to find out about her dad on Facebook, she claimed she’d asked my sister to tell me. That made me sad, since I’m not that close to my sister. In fact, before this happened, I would have thought I was closer to my cousin than my sister. But I guess she didn’t have the same regard for me that I did for her.

About a week or two later, when my uncle died, I did hear about it from a relative. This time, it was another cousin who told me… one of the few who talks to me anymore. I remember when my dad died, I didn’t hear too much from most of my family then, either. I’m beginning to feel a bit divorced from them. I guess I can’t blame them too much. It’s been awhile since we last saw each other, and my outspokenness about politics has turned off a lot of them.

I still couldn’t help but remember back in 2017, when a very old and dear friend of mine took the time to send me a private message on Facebook to tell me that her dad died. She said he’d always liked me and she didn’t want me to read about his death in the paper. It meant a lot to me that she’d had the regard for me and the consideration to tell me about that, rather than letting me read about it on a public social media posting. It was more consideration that I’ve gotten from my own family when relatives have gotten sick or died.

This morning, Bill was getting updated on his father’s condition. He’d had to ask his sister about it after seeing the status update from the friend of the family, indicating that something was wrong. She has kindly been explaining the situation. It turns out Bill’s dad may have been exposed to COVID-19, so he’s currently in isolation. He’s got some underlying chronic health issues that could make him less likely to recover from this illness, especially if he’s had the virus. They are testing him now to determine if he has. At this point, he’s still lucid and seems to be feeling better. But he’s in the hospital and is showing some signs that he might have been infected with COVID-19 and possibly gotten over it while, unbeknownst to him, sustaining lung damage.

Naturally, that led to us thinking about what we should do if he doesn’t get well. This would be a difficult problem, even if there wasn’t a global pandemic going on. We live in Germany, and our families are in the United States. Going home means being on a plane for hours. Going home during the pandemic means being on a plane for hours, masked and exposed to strangers, and dealing with whatever COVID-19 policies are in effect in the United States. Then, once it’s time to go back to Germany, quarantining… but only after being exposed to people who lived with a man who may have had COVID-19. That means Bill might be be exposing people who are also in transit, then coming home to our neighborhood, which has many elderly people in it. I have asthma, although I don’t take medication for it. I’m also pushing 50 and overweight. It wouldn’t be good if I got the virus.

We are so lucky to live in Germany, which so far has not had the horrifically high number of COVID-19 cases the United States has had. But living in Germany comes with a cost when it comes to seeing family, especially in times of crisis. I suspect that if the worst happens, there could be quite a shitstorm. I advised Bill to think long and hard about whether or not he should risk possibly going home at this time, given how many people could be affected.

Bill’s stepmother is a difficult person. She has a tendency to think mostly of herself. She’s quick to take offense without looking at the big picture. I’ve written about this situation a few times over the years, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll write about it again.

In 2004, my husband’s ex wife decided to try to force us all to spend Christmas together at Bill’s dad’s house. She claimed she wanted the children (from three different fathers) to feel like we were all one big happy family. I thought it was a terrible idea, but no one consulted me about it. I was simply informed of the idea and expected to put up, show up, and shut up.

I was newly married to Bill at the time, and Ex probably figured that she could try to pressure me into being “nice”. But I knew that if I went to that gathering, it would be a shitstorm of epic proportions. I have experienced many epic holiday shitstorms with my family of origin. In fact, I had experienced one the year prior. And in 2004, by golly, I wanted to have a relaxed Christmas with no fighting. Moreover, we were broke back then and couldn’t really afford the trip. I figured no one in that group needed to see me, especially the kids, who typically don’t care about their stepmothers so much. Given the difficulty of the situation, I opted to stay home. Bill went to see his kids– for the last time, it turned out. Since then, he’s only seen his younger daughter in the flesh once– and that was in March of this year.

Bill’s stepmother was very angry that I didn’t show up. She thought I was snubbing the family. She took my absence as a dig– and was probably spurred on to think that by Ex, whose plans to humiliate me were dashed when I didn’t show up and no one told her I wasn’t coming. Meanwhile, I was thinking that what I did may not have been “nice”, but it was ultimately the kindest solution, since I knew that if I had to spend days watching my husband’s toxic ex wife in action, I’d probably want to kill her with my bare hands. I doubt it would have been a civilized scene. I figured Bill’s dad and stepmother just wanted to see the kids and Bill. Ex had made it clear that no one liked or cared about me, anyway. So I stayed home, saved the money on airfare and dog boarding, and drank lots of wine. Later, I was blamed for how shitty the gathering was, even though I wasn’t there and it wasn’t my idea to plan it.

Several years later, I did explain to Bill’s dad and stepmother my line of reasoning. They seemed to accept it, once they heard me tell them what my reasons were for not attending. While I was thinking of my own mental and physical health, as well as our precarious finances at the time, when I opted out of that gathering, I was also thinking of them and the kids. The kids were especially innocent in that situation. It was Christmas, and I thought they should enjoy it without seeing their mother and stepmother seething at each other. Moreover– I didn’t plan that gathering. I wasn’t asked how I felt about it. I was simply expected to put up, show up, and shut up, as usual. I might as well have been a cardboard cutout of a woman, with no thoughts or feelings, and no right to an opinion.

Unfortunately, even though we explained why I did what I did, other situations have since come up in which Bill has been yelled at by his stepmother for not showing enough deference or regard for his father. She also does this to Bill’s younger daughter. Stepmom is very good at shaming and blaming other people when things aren’t to her liking. And this situation with Bill’s dad, especially if it ends up having the worst outcome, will surely invite drama. Bill will be expected to make a trip to the States if the worst happens. But I have already told him that I think he should consider what going there would mean for other people, to include some who just happen to live in our neighborhood.

Bill thanked me for offering that perspective to him. He said he needed to hear it. I’m sure I will be blamed for it if he chooses not to go, but that’s okay. Lots of people think I’m a bitch. As Ex once famously said, I can’t help how other people feel. Moreover, if stepmother does crawl up Bill’s ass for not showing proper respect by jumping on a plane to see his father, he can tell her that she never even bothered to tell him he was sick in the first place. Respect is a two way street. And while going to comfort her would probably be the “nice” thing to do, it would not be the good or kind thing to do for the vulnerable people who live and work with Bill every day. Even if he did go, she probably wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

In any case, we don’t yet know if Bill’s dad has been exposed to COVID-19. He might not have been… although being in a hospital during a pandemic isn’t really being in a safe zone, either. And he might very well recover, which would be the outcome we’re all hoping for.

For some reason, I’ve found myself in the crosshairs of a lot of manipulative people– women, in particular– who try to pressure me into being “nice”. But, as I said before– it’s better to be good and kind, rather than nice. And being good and kind doesn’t always feel “nice” to others, even if it is the best thing in the long run. I have resolved not to “put up, shut up, and show up” anymore in order to avoid other people’s wrath. I have my own wrath, and my own right to make choices that work best for me and others around me. If other people choose to be loyal to themselves, why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t anyone? Especially a man as lovely as Bill is.

ETA: COVID-19 test was negative.

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Ex, musings

On not being “nice”…

This morning, I was reading a post that I put on my original blog back in 2017. It was basically a top ten list of things that annoy me. I wrote it at a time when I was experiencing a lot of personal angst, which I explained after my vent. At the time, we were contemplating a move to Italy. Bill was asked to take a government job in Vicenza, but taking the position would mean significant inconvenience and a large pay cut. However, we both love Italy and it was an excellent career opportunity for Bill. Also, it would mean he’d have the chance to be a leader again and assume real responsibility. I think not having the ability to make decisions is a challenge for Bill, although it seems like that’s less of a problem now than it was a few years ago.

I was upset about the potential disruption, and feeling totally out of control of my life, so little things were irritating me more than usual. I vented about them in a way that probably made me look like a foul-mouthed, irrational nutcase. That’s my way of blowing off steam, and I do it often. If I had a therapist or a bunch of local friends, I might have vented to them. I don’t have those things, so I vented in my blog. Maybe that post and others like it aren’t “nice”, but writing them keep me sane and probably make some people laugh.

Anyway, as I was reading my top ten list, it occurred to me that some people read my stuff and probably think I’m a massive bitch. And, you know what? They might even be right. I’m not always “nice”. I admit it.

My husband, Bill, on the other hand, is almost always “nice”. He’s a very even-tempered, kind-hearted guy who very rarely gets upset. He almost never raises his voice and I could probably count on both hands the number of times he’s been visibly annoyed with me in the course of almost 17 years of marriage. Bill is naturally a very pleasant person, but he also places a high value on being liked. Unfortunately, always wanting to be liked isn’t always a good thing.

Last year, I got a pissy comment from one reader who tried to advise me on what and how I should be writing. She complained that I wrote “inappropriate” and TMI things, and that I came off as bitter and petty. She’s probably right, although she doesn’t know me from Adam and hadn’t taken the time to understand the context of why I write what I do.

I suspect she felt attacked because of some comments I made about my husband’s ex wife. She is herself a first wife, and I think she assumed I’m “crazy”, because she feels mistreated by her ex husband and his wife. I have a feeling she was projecting her situation onto ours, and assuming that I’m just a mean, nasty person without considering that our situations and the people involved are completely different. I’m sure a lot of people have read my comments about my husband’s ex wife and think I’m the whole problem. I can understand that, even though those people are wrong.

Sometimes nice people aren’t so nice. I’d rather people be kind, instead.

I’m not always “nice”, but I don’t go out of my way to screw people over, nor do I typically lie about major things. I may express unpleasant or unpopular opinions, but that’s pretty much all I do. My husband’s ex wife, on the other hand, has actively tried to ruin his family relationships, not just with his children, but also with his parents. She also tried to ruin him financially. Of course I’m pissed about that, although she was unsuccessful. I’m much less angry with the ex now, by the way. Now that one of Bill’s daughters is finally talking to him again, I find that I care a whole lot less about the ex.

One of the reasons Bill and I get along so well is because we balance each other out. I’m not always “nice”, but I usually try to be kind. People who get to know me soon find out that I have a big heart and empathy for other people. However, I have a low tolerance for annoyance and bullshit, and I tend to deal with it by expressing myself in writing. For a long time, that was okay, as very few people paid attention to the things I wrote. Now that I’ve become somewhat better known, people read stuff and jump to erroneous conclusions about my character. I totally understand that. I think we all do that to some extent. Everybody judges, since exercising judgment is one way to stay out of trouble. On the other hand, sometimes being judgmental leads to problems, particularly when that judgment is coupled with a lack of empathy.

I recently shut down public access to a couple of my older blogs. One of the blogs I cut off free access to is the travel blog, which I know has been useful and entertaining for a lot of people. Many of my regular readers are folks in the government or military community who are either already in Europe or are considering moving here. However, I also have a whole lot of readers from Cruise Critic, because I wrote a couple of very well-received blog series about Hebridean Island Cruises, a niche luxury cruise line that is not often sailed by Americans. Bill and I will soon be taking our fifth cruise with them, so people seek my blogs to read about our experiences in Scotland on a very unusual luxury vessel. If I had left access to the travel blog open, some people would want to read about our experience buying our new car directly from the Volvo factory in Sweden.

Unfortunately, I’ve been experiencing harassment from people who are interested in causing trouble for me. I won’t go into the reasons why they are harassing me. I suspect they feel completely justified, because they don’t think I’m a “nice” person and, because of that, they don’t think I’m entitled to privacy or freedom of expression, nor should I feel free to assert my basic rights.

I also think some people have the erroneous idea that I write to be popular. That’s not true at all. I’ve been a writer my whole life and I mainly do it to stay sane. Bill says writing is my “vocation”. I suppose he’s right, although I think music is even more my vocation than writing is. I am not writing for money or fame, but because it’s simply what I do.

Some people think I’m a no talent hack… or that I’m spewing nothing but nonsense or hatred or whatever. They are usually folks who read a few posts and jump to a conclusion. I know for a fact that I have plenty of regular readers who have gotten to know me beyond a couple of irate, profane, venting posts. Some people are also folks who know me offline and have actually taken the time and made the effort to get to know me personally, rather than just judging me. I write mostly for myself, but I also write for those people. They get it.

A couple of days ago, I proposed deleting my Facebook page for this blog. I have a few reasons for making that proposal. I don’t actually use the page that much for anything more than posting links to blog posts. A lot of the people who officially follow the page are my friends anyway, so they can see the links on my personal page. I was getting “likes” from creepy spammer profiles and was having a hard time finding out how to ban them from my page (I did discover how yesterday). But the main issue is that the page is wide open and allows people to monitor me without making their presence known. As I mentioned before, I know there are people who want to cause trouble for me, so I don’t want to make it any easier for them.

I was gratified to see comments from people who like what I do. It’s good to know that some people enjoy my writing and aren’t “out to get me”. I appreciate those who care enough to comment and want to read my stuff, even if it means “joining the club”. I hope that will be a temporary thing, since I’m now considering moving the travel blog, just as I did my original blog. It’s time for a more professional and secure platform than Blogger, anyway.

Although some people don’t think writing is a good use of my time and think these blogs are stupid, they do give me something to do. I know I could probably find something more “socially acceptable” to do with my time, but the fact is, I LIKE writing, and I’m good at it. I know I have written a lot of good stuff, even if I’ve also vented a few times and used language that would make a sailor blush. Nobody’s perfect. Aside from that, how I spend my time is my business. It’s my life.

I try to maintain perspective as much as possible, but I’ve found that being too “nice” and eager to please other people doesn’t always lead to fair treatment or equity. The fact is, a lot of people take advantage of “nice” people, especially when there’s money at stake. My husband is extremely nice, so I’m less so. It’s self-preservation. And… again, being nice is not the same as being kind or decent. A nice person isn’t always kind or genuine. Plenty of people have been taken advantage of by people who seem really nice… at least at first. I’ve learned that the hard way. You might not think I’m “nice”, but I promise you, I’m capable of being fair and seeing multiple perspectives, particularly if I am approached with basic respect. I’m also genuine. In fact, that’s one thing people who have gotten to know me have said they like best about me. You’ll always know where you stand with me.

Sometimes, people take advantage of Bill’s desire to please other people. It’s happened to him repeatedly, and I can’t bear to see it happen again. Rolling over may seem to be the easy thing to do in the face of confrontation, but it always comes back to haunt him. I think recurrent problems are karma’s way of showing us that we have to deal with an issue. Bill has turned the other cheek so many times and it never gets him where he should be. In fact, it only encourages more abuse. Sometimes, one just has to take a stand.

I mostly don’t write for money and consider my blogs my “home”. If I’m in my home and notice people casing the neighborhood, of course I’m going to take precautions to make my home more secure. So, for now, making some of my blogs private is one way to increase security and discourage harassment, abuse, and stalking behavior. But I do hate to do it… I won’t lie. It’s a pain in the ass to lock things down and, frankly, I don’t feel like I should have to, because I truly haven’t done anything wrong or unprovoked. And I’d rather not delete the Facebook page if people truly like it, even if a closed group would allow for more privacy. I’m not sure what else to do, to be honest.

I will keep writing, though, even if it means I go totally underground. So if you’re reading this thinking you’ve stopped me, think again. I’m going to keep doing what I do, even if I change the way I do things.

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