book reviews, politics, Trump

A review of The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal, by Mary Trump

In August 2020, when the world was still in the desperate throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Donald Trump was still the POTUS, I read and reviewed his niece, Mary Trump’s, book Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. I remember feeling vindicated as I read her words about her uncle, Donald Trump, whom I had correctly identified as a malignant narcissist or sociopath. Mary Trump wrote about what it was like to grow up in the Trump family, and how much she suffered, even though she was a member of a very wealthy, powerful, and celebrated clan. Unlike her uncle, Mary Trump is a basically normal person with an excellent intellect and a fully functioning id and superego. Mary’s first book was very interesting, but it was also terrifying. At the time I read it, I was genuinely frightened of what was going to happen if Trump won in 2020. Thankfully, that is not what came to pass, in spite of Trump’s relentless and nonsensical insistence that the presidential election was stolen from him.

I liked Mary Trump’s first book, so when she published her second book, The Reckoning: Our Nation’s Trauma and Finding a Way to Heal in August 2021, I was quick to download it. It’s taken me a year to finally read Mary Trump’s book, because it kept getting supplanted by other books. This morning, I finished it; it was a refreshingly short read, long on history and theories as to how the United States finds itself in the horribly polarized, angry, unhinged state it is in right now. Some of The Reckoning was uncomfortable to read, as Mary Trump unflinchingly writes of how Black people were treated before and during the Civil War era, as well as in the decades that followed it. She reminds her readers that slavery officially ended in 1865, but the persecution of Black people has continued since then, and only in very recent years have people of color had a chance to succeed in the country they helped build against their wills.

Mary Trump rightfully points out that American high schoolers are not taught enough about American history. What they are taught is the “white” perspective of American history, and now that people are insisting that more of the whole truth is taught, many white people are fighting to prevent it from happening. Trump explains that every white person is born with inherent privilege, simply for having white skin. However, she also mentions poor white people, who also suffer due to classism that also exists in our society, and the mistaken belief that sharing resources means having less for themselves. And she reminds readers that there are many people who, consciously or unconsciously, are doing all they can to maintain things the way they’ve always been. Her uncle, after all, won the highest election on his platform, “Make America Great Again”, having never before held public office. Lots of people in the United States are terrified of evolving into a nation that plays on more level ground for everyone. Below are a couple of key quotes from Mary Trump’s book that really summed up things nicely, in my view:

I remember when I was an English major at Longwood University (then Longwood College), my advisor gave me a hard time because I didn’t want to take a Shakespeare class. Instead, I was interested in the Women’s Literature and African American Literature courses that were being offered. I thought I would be more interested in the subject matter, having already been exposed to Shakespeare in high school and college. Good ol’ Dr. Stinson, who also used to tease me about all the music classes I insisted on taking for fun, sighed and signed me up for both classes. I took both courses during the same semester, and got a huge dose of studying lesser known books by women and people of color.

I didn’t do particularly well in either of the lit courses; because to be honest, I was kind of a lazy English major. I wanted to write things, not read and analyze literature. But I learned new things in spite of myself. Both courses exposed me to works written by Black authors, Black women’s writings, as well as slave narratives, which were bits of history that had been withheld from me in the years leading up to college. I now believe that high school students should read at least one slave narrative. The subject matter is tough, but it definitely inspires empathy and a broadened perspective from writers who should get a lot more recognition.

I mention my college experience and the attitude surrounding the importance of Shakespeare, because Mary Trump repeatedly explains that most Americans have a poor understanding of history. And today, in high schools across the country, there are legislators, school boards, and parents who are lambasting against “Critical Race Theory” being taught in schools, and trying desperately to suppress the truth about America’s past. I never thought I’d see the day when so many school systems were being pressured to ban certain books, and teachers, already overworked and underpaid, were being forced to catalog their libraries and submit them to scrutiny by third parties. I was heartened to see the outraged response to one Tennessee school district’s decision to ban Art Spiegelman’s excellent graphic novel, Maus. I had not read that book myself, before it made the news. But because Maus was in the news, I decided to read the book. It was life changing. I now know that simply by writing a few blog posts about Maus, I helped inspire other people to read the book.

Mary Trump’s comments were unpleasant to read at times. She states outright that it’s “impossible” to be a white person who grew up in the United States and not be racist. She’s probably right, although I hesitate to use words like “all, every, or impossible”, because experience has shown me that there are almost always exceptions to every rule. And given the family that raised her and what her family spawned, I was caught between disbelief that she was making such a statement, and relief that she could acknowledge racism in a way that was surprisingly humble.

I also found this book a little bit depressing and hopeless. Yes, it’s important to acknowledge problems. That’s the first step in correcting them. It’s important to atone for wrongs committed. That’s the best way to promote healing. BUT… she makes the problem seem so entrenched and deep seated that fixing it seems extremely difficult. It won’t happen in my lifetime, although the more optimistic side of me acknowledges that in my 50 years, there’s already been some substantial progress made. I was born in an era when things were a lot more “black and white”, so to speak. It wasn’t uncommon to hear people casually toss around the “n word”, for instance, especially on television. But that progress is hindered, because of Trump’s uprising and the many emboldened racists who are desperately trying to stop progress, and resorting to cheating and violence to get what they want.

Anyway… The Reckoning offers a lot of food for thought. It’s a short book, and easy to read. Mary Trump’s writing is engaging and informative. Maybe some readers will be uncomfortable, or even offended, by her comments. Some people might have trouble believing that someone with her background can have true empathy for the downtrodden; she is a Trump, after all. But in spite of that, I found Mary Trump’s commentary steeped in truth, and eye-opening. I think this is a good book. But don’t come to it looking for dirt on Donald Trump. She wrote about him in her first book, and The Reckoning is about a different topic entirely. The Reckoning isn’t about Trump; it’s about what led us to Trump. And it offers an important warning to us all to open our eyes and our minds and vote accordingly… or else.

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divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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ethics, Ex, music, true crime

Vince Gill was wrong… there is often a glimpse of the future in the past…

The featured photo was one Bill took when he was at war in Iraq. He was sitting in the latrine at the time. I’m suddenly reminded of it today.

Back in 1993, I was a student at Longwood College (now Longwood University). I never had any money in those days, but I often bought music, anyway. One album I remember purchasing back in the day was by the great Vince Gill. Even though in those days, I wasn’t all that hot on country music, I loved his song “Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away”, so I bought the album from where it came– 1992’s I Still Believe in You. I ended up really liking that album and listened to it all the time. I recall that there was a song on it called “No Future in the Past”.

A nice duet between Vince Gill and Alison Krauss. They’re singing “No Future in the Past”.

The lyrics to “No Future in the Past” refer to a love relationship gone wrong. A man is lamenting how his woman left him, and he’s lying in the dark all alone, missing her, and unable to stop ruminating about the love he lost. The chorus goes:

I still remember
How my love once held her
How long do old memories last
Why can’t I forget it
Why can’t I admit it
There ain’t no future in the past

These lyrics suggest that he should just get on with his life, since she’s probably not coming back. Maybe that’s true sometimes, especially when it comes to love relationships. If the breakup is bad enough, the couple will split and never talk to each other again. But in the years since I was a college student, listening to Vince Gill’s plaintive tenor singing about losing love forever, I’ve learned that there’s often a glimpse of the future in the past. It may not be a return to a love relationship, but there are often pearls of information that, if we look hard enough, we can use to gain wisdom for the future.

This post is not about love lost, per se. It’s more about how we can learn from failed relationships of all kinds. One thing I’ve learned, after almost 50 years outside of the womb, is that people often show us who they are. If we pay attention, and take action when it’s warranted, sometimes we can avoid disaster.

Lately, I’ve been writing more about my husband’s ex wife, mainly because I suspect that, once again, she’s up to no good. After a few relatively calm years during which she mainly left Bill’s family alone, she’s boldly re-entered the scene. Last month, Ex and two of her daughters visited Bill’s 71 year old stepmother, who is potentially vulnerable due to losing her husband (Bill’s father) in late 2020. I’ve recently started watching Ex’s activities much more closely on social media, which is a new thing. I didn’t used to look her up at all. Maybe it was my intuition at work, but at some point last year, I decided to see what she was up to. Perhaps it was due to boredom caused by the pandemic lockdowns, or maybe it was just a sixth sense that something bad might be brewing.

At first, Ex’s activities were pretty laughable. But then, I noticed some rather obvious grifting schemes, first directed at celebrities, then crowdfunding, and finally “Ye olde surprise visit” to my SMIL. I can’t confirm it, but I have a feeling that Ex has successfully squeezed SMIL for money. It would make sense, since she deleted the link to the unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign after her visit. Also, she’s done it before, and people tend to do what works.

Bill is conflicted about what to do about this situation. He would really like to forget about his ex wife. For a number of good reasons, he isn’t very close to his stepmother. It’s not his business if she gives his ex wife money. BUT– he does care about his sister, and she is directly and negatively affected by Ex’s presence. Moreover, Ex has a habit of doing sketchy things to get by in life. She really shouldn’t be squeezing her bereaved former stepmother-in-law for cash. Bill doesn’t have a great relationship with his stepmother, but he cares about her as a fellow human being, and he knows that his ex wife is capable of criminal actions. So we’ve been talking a lot about this, discussing what should happen.

As luck would have it, this morning I was reminded of my writings about Erin McCay George, who is currently locked up in my home state of Virginia, serving a 603 year sentence for murdering her husband. I’ve written about Erin a few times, mainly because she went to Longwood, and she was there when I was. People knew Erin when we were at Longwood because she was the very controversial editor of our campus newspaper, The Rotunda. She “spiced up” the paper by publishing the salaries of the faculty members and devoting an entire issue to the topic of sex. She even made headlines by putting condoms in the paper. Some people thought she was awesome. Others thought she was a menace. Years later, after I read the book she wrote about being incarcerated– a book that is being used in a lot of criminal justice courses– I decided to have a look at some of the issues of The Rotunda that were published when she was the editor.

In May 2019, I wrote a blog post called “Foreshadowing trouble”. “Foreshadowing”, as we former and current English majors know, is a literary device in which a writer gives advance warning, or even just a hint, as to what will happen later in a story. Foreshadowing is also a more general term, especially when we look in the past. Sometimes, when we look back on events, we realize that there were warning signs that predicted disaster. In Erin McCay George’s case, it was her habit of allegedly embezzling money from The Rotunda’s coffers. According to people that knew about the incident– folks I knew when I was at Longwood– Erin was caught with her hand in the figurative cookie jar. She skipped town while an investigation was going on regarding the missing funds, journeying to England, where she met her future husband… the man she later killed for insurance money.

It occurs to me that if Erin had been properly dealt with in the 1990s, when she was allegedly embezzling money, maybe she would have gone to prison for that, instead of murder. Maybe she would not have had the opportunity to kill, or to have children who grew up without their parents. As I mentioned in a later post titled “Juicy threads!”, I suspect there might have even been a method to Erin’s madness as the college newspaper chief. Maybe the “spicy articles” were intended to distract people from what she was doing with the newspaper funds. On the other hand, her position as chief didn’t exactly give her a low profile. It’s possible she was just very narcissistic, entitled, and emboldened, and she knew she could get away with her crime. Indeed, it appears that she did get away with stealing from our alma mater. But, if she had been prosecuted in the 1990s, isn’t it possible that she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to commit murder? Obviously, she thought she could get away with that, too.

So… in looking at Erin’s case, and realizing that her very serious crime might have been avoided, I might apply the same wisdom to dealing with Bill’s ex wife. She has shown us who she is on multiple occasions. She has a trusty bag of tricks from which she habitually pulls her best laid plans. She manipulates people for money. Many people from her past have been burned by her, to include a certain university where she was once employed. She was quietly fired… and you might guess for what reason– hint hint… it had to do with her mishandling funds.

I remember years ago, I accidentally came across a news article about her. It was all about her big plans for the future. The story pissed me off, because it implied that she had shown up in Arizona in 2000 with just $3000 to her name, and no support for her, or her three kids (then 12, 9, and 7). There was no mention of the fact that Bill, who was an Army major at the time, was paying her $2550 a month in child support– more than a general officer would have been expected to pay. One of those kids he was supporting wasn’t even his child, and had a father who should have been supporting him. And yet, there Ex was, implying that she’d been left high and dry by the father of her kids. It certainly wasn’t true, and it pissed me off that she was bragging about how, in 2000, she’d pulled herself up by her bootstraps, while my husband (then just my online acquaintance) was barely getting by on $600 a month.

The article also doesn’t mention that she had a boyfriend who had been living in the house in Arkansas Bill bought for her, and for which he was still paying the mortgage. That house later went into foreclosure. Ex had tried to rent it out, but wasn’t cut out to be a landlady. The tenants trashed it and, according to her, actually stole a toilet. I can laugh about that now. Seems almost apropos. Ex was still dating her Dungeons and Dragons partner when she moved to Arizona. He moved out there with her, and they were married in 2002, two months after Bill told her that he was going to propose to me. They have since had two more children. So much for the bullshit about how she was “alone” and unsupported in Arizona. But I guess the truth wasn’t convenient for purposes related to this story. I’ve often wondered if she did this interview so we could see how she became “somebody”… although I’m not so sure the United Way got back much from their investment in her.

I really didn’t mean to find this article when it was new. At the time, I was actually looking for information about traffic stops in the town where Ex was living. Former stepson had, back then, several charges pending about his use of marijuana, and I wanted to know if he might have been caught in a sting. The day I was looking, the paper happened to run this article. I was so incensed by it that, for years, I made a point of not Googling her. I have now come to realize that sometimes it’s a good thing to keep your enemies close.

I think that if Ex would leave Bill’s family alone, I could go back to not paying attention to her. After all, Bill’s daughters are grown, and one of them speaks to Bill. There were a few years during which I cared a lot less about what Ex was doing. But now that Bill’s father has died, Ex has a new potential victim in Bill’s stepmother. While it may not be Bill’s business what Ex and SMIL do, he doesn’t want to see his sister or her wife caught in the crossfire. And again, she did run this crowdfund last month, linking it to her public social media accounts, but then quietly deleted her posts about it after her visit to Tennessee.

As a fan of true crime, I’ve heard and read so many stories about clues that foreshadowed trouble. People tend to want to mind their own business, and that’s not a bad policy most of the time. But when you are involved with someone who habitually does things that are sketchy, it pays to take heed and be proactively protective. So many criminals get away with their bad actions repeatedly until they do something really bad. And then there are real victims. Again, look at Erin McCay George. If she had been properly handled when she was accused of embezzling funds, James George might still be alive today. But too many people would rather turn a blind eye and just get on with life, rather than take the responsibility of prosecuting people when they’ve done something wrong.

So… I don’t agree with Vince Gill that there “ain’t no future in the past.” Sometimes, if you look at the past, you can clearly see what’s in the future. It’s just that we usually aren’t aware of what might happen until it’s too late. We don’t see the signs clearly until we gaze in the past and retrace the steps. When I look in the past regarding Ex and her past actions, I see a familiar pattern… I’ve often felt that the universe gives you chances to learn how to overcome certain issues. You run into those issues repeatedly until you manage to solve them. Well, here she is again… presenting the same problem. Maybe this time, we can do something about it.

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true crime

An update on an old true crime story…

In October 2013, when Bill and I were still living in Texas, I spontaneously wrote a blog entry about a memory from my days at Longwood University (then Longwood College). I reposted that entry in 2020, and it still frequently gets hits. When I look on Google, I see that my post is at the top of search results about Frederick West Greene, a man who, along with a “friend”, murdered a classmate over an insult, buried him, and didn’t tell a soul what happened until a couple of years had passed. I wouldn’t have known anything about Greene if not for a chance encounter when I was in college in the spring of 1992.

A friend of mine introduced me to her cute male friend from her high school in tiny Franklin, Virginia. His name was West, and he was a cadet at Virginia Military Institute, which was at that time still an all male college. My dad was a VMI graduate, as was my uncle and several of my cousins. Several family members worked at VMI back in the day, too, although no one does now. That may be why I paid particular attention to my friend’s friend. I recall that she really seemed to like West very much.

On August 14, 1992, then 20 year old Greene was arrested and charged with capital murder, robbery, and use of a firearm. Greene and his friend, Michael Jervey, fatally shot their 17 year old classmate Trent Whitley, then buried him on a farm owned by Jervey’s parents. For two years, no one knew what happened to Whitley. But Mr. Jervey eventually confessed to the crime. Two days later, Greene was arrested.

I remember my friend talking about it. She was in utter shock and disbelief, as the gruesome details about her former friend and classmate came out to the public. I remember her saying, her voice filled with anguish, “How could he do that?” I didn’t know it at the time, but she had spent a lot of time alone with this man who was a murderer. There’s no doubt in my mind that she realized he was capable of anything. I’m sure it made her blood run cold to think about it. It’s entirely possible that she could have been one of his victims, under certain circumstances.

Below is a newspaper clipping from VMI’s student newspaper about Greene’s arrest when it happened.

Wow… the years have passed so fast…

I am not close to the case involving Greene. I’m not from Franklin. I just happened to know one of West’s high school classmates, who went to college with me. I have a mind that stows memories very efficiently, and I like to write about things that happened long ago. Maybe it’s my way of preserving the past. My days at Longwood were pretty good, most of the time. I still have many friends from that time in my life, and I even still talk to some of my old professors. I find true crime a fascinating subject, too. That’s really the only reason I brought up West Greene on my blog. I’m glad I wrote that post, since it got me back in touch with my old classmate. We’re still in touch now, even though she eschews Facebook (good for her). She does follow this case closely, because she still lives near Franklin, and many people there know the families and victim involved in this crime.

Google tells me that Greene’s father, Frederick West Greene, Jr., died January 18, 2019. Greene’s father, who went by the name Fred, was himself employed as a warden at one of Virginia’s many prisons. He was living in Brevard, North Carolina when he passed.

Recently, my friend let me know that Mr. Greene was recently released from prison on parole. I see from a cursory Google search, Greene was granted release on May 11, 2019. Although Greene was sentenced to a long prison stint, and Virginia abolished parole consideration for felonies committed in 1995 or later, Greene’s crimes were committed before 1995. Virginia now requires felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, but parole is still granted in some situations. He now lives in Brunswick, North Carolina, and on January 4, 2022, was charged with assault by strangulation. His mugshot appears here. It appears that Greene still has some violent tendencies. It surprises me that Greene was allowed out of prison in Virginia, and that he is evidently still free in North Carolina after allegedly committing a violent crime. How is this not a violation of Greene’s parole?

I’ve learned from watching Jessica Kent’s excellent YouTube videos about her prison experiences that ex-cons have to adhere to strict conditions to stay out of prison. She has said on more than one occasion that if she messes up, she can easily land right back in the pokey. Jessica Kent actually comes across as a pretty good person, even though she’s been in prison. How is it that she has to walk a straight and narrow path, but that evidently doesn’t apply to every felon? I mean, Jessica didn’t kill anyone. West Greene did. But apparently, he’s out. I can’t explain it, but I will be watching to see what happens.

I would like to write more, but there isn’t a lot about this case open right now. Since I live in Europe, I have to use a VPN to access the old articles from my hometown paper, the Daily Press, and I don’t have a VPN set up on this computer. Suffice to say, I was surprised Greene was released. My friend says it’s possible he got out for compassionate reasons, as evidently his mother was very ill. Generally speaking, I am for humane treatment of people in prison. I think we have too many incarcerated people in the United States. But… I do draw the line at violent criminals who are unrepentant and liable to reoffend. I don’t know the circumstances of Greene’s recent arrest, but it does appear that he was arrested for being violent. I pray for the safety of those around him.

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education, lessons learned, music

Is teaching activism a “bad” thing?

Brace yourselves, y’all. I have a new topic to discuss today!

I am a proud graduate of Longwood College, now known as Longwood University. It’s a medium sized liberal arts college in the dead center of Virginia. When I was a student there, it was smaller than it is now. In fact, I know I would be shocked by the huge changes to the campus since I attended in the early 90s. Not only has the campus changed significantly, but apparently, so has the curriculum. Longwood is offering what I think are some very exciting and innovative courses.

Longwood is the kind of school where students are nurtured and encouraged to try new things by professors who really care. I graduated from Longwood in 1994, and 28 years later, there are still people there who remember me when I was a student. I also have so many real friends from my years at Longwood. It’s at Longwood that I started developing my gift for music, and was allowed– and even strongly encouraged and recruited– to study music, just because I have a knack for it. The faculty at Longwood is, by and large, first rate. And while it was not my first choice college, it turned out to be an excellent choice for me. My four years at Longwood truly changed my life for the better.

Naturally, because I am such a booster, I follow Longwood on social media. And this morning, I noticed a post about a new and exciting course that is being offered this spring. Longwood now offers a Civitae Core Curriculum, which did not exist during my college years. Back when I was a student, we called the core curriculum “general ed”. But things have clearly changed, and now freshmen can take a course called Citizen 110– Music Identity and Social Change. This class, which is taught by Honors faculty member, Dr. Kevin Schattenkirk-Harbaugh, will explore how music can inspire people to take action. It will look at artists such as Billie Holliday, George Michael, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon, and others, to see how music motivates people to take interest and action in the world.

Now… as a music lover who took many music electives at Longwood to supplement my major in English, I know that this class would intrigue me. I haven’t taken a close look at Longwood’s Civitae Core Curriculum, but my guess is that this class is just one choice of several that students can take to fulfill their degree requirements. Based on the class description, I can state with certainty that I would have wanted to take this class myself. It sounds exciting and interesting. And based on the Facebook comments I’ve seen so far, I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who would be interested in taking this course.

Still, there’s a critic in every crowd, and this post was no exception. A woman, who apparently isn’t even a Longwood alum, wrote this:

Activism? This is what parents are paying for?

Another commenter wrote:

The history of activism inspired by music. A unique and interesting examination of how music has inspired some…

And the original commenter responded with:

I get that. But to what purpose? To incite more activism?

I couldn’t help but get the idea that the poster thinks activism is a “bad” thing. And while I usually try not to respond to people on social media, and had already passed my self-imposed one comment per day quota, I felt compelled to leave a response. This is mainly because the person’s comment irked me on many levels, but also because I know I would have LOVED a class like this in the early 1990s:

No. To teach students about how music inspires people to take action. What’s wrong with that? A lot of positive changes have come out of activism. Aside from that, not everyone who takes that course will eventually wind up taking to the streets.

Not all college students are having college paid for by their parents, either. When I went to Longwood, I knew a number of people who were older students and paying for their own education. Or they were in school on scholarship. As legal adults, Longwood students should be trusted to choose electives that interest them. If the course turns out to be inappropriate or unpopular, that will be reflected eventually.

I don’t know this poster at all, but her comment really troubles me. From the implied assumption that all students in college get their tuition paid for by their parents, to the idea that teaching adults about how music inspires action could potentially be damaging, I feel personally affronted by this person’s comment. However, I am not sorry she posted, because her comment did lead me to do some thinking and writing about something besides my current pet topics. I do enjoy reflecting on my time at Longwood, and all of the things I learned there, as well as the many good times I had when I was a student there.

When I was a Longwood student, Virginia was a more conservative state. There was a Confederate statute that stood just off campus. I remember watching many drunken fraternity brothers climbing it at night. While there were some innovative classes offered during that time period, I don’t remember ever seeing a course with such a provocative title on offer at Longwood during my era. I think this new class is a sign that my alma mater is evolving, and I think that’s a really good thing.

Longwood has a long, storied reputation as a school where great teachers are trained. It makes sense to me that new courses with exciting subject matter would be offered. My only hope is that this class allows for constructive discussion from many different perspectives. I hope and expect that the professor who teaches it will allow students to explore the topic from all angles. There will be some students in that class who are conservative, and not politically correct in their opinions. There will also be some students who will take a much more liberal view. I hope that all sides will have a voice, and it won’t be a course in which opinions are taught as fact.

BUT– after my own seven years’ experience as a university student at two different schools, I have found that course quality often has a lot to do with who is doing the teaching. Having spent four years at Longwood, I have every expectation that this class will be taught in a way that encourages reflection and broad thought. It sounds like it will be a treat to take this course. I truly wish I could take it myself, and it’s exciting to me that it’s being offered now. I wish I had a son or daughter I could have sent to Longwood. I have to be contented in seeing some of my old friends’ children deciding to attend college there.

Below is a screenshot of a description of this class:

It sounds great to me!

One of the great things about getting a liberal arts education is having the opportunity to broaden one’s perspectives. When I got to Longwood in 1990, my world view was mostly shaped by spending ten years living in a very rural part of Virginia. Although I had the benefit of living in England and the multicultural D.C. area when I was very young, when I was growing up, I was mostly surrounded by white, southern, Christian, conservative people. My upbringing really showed when I got to Longwood, and in fact, after I graduated, I still had some limited views that could have used some informing.

My mind opened up a lot when I joined the Peace Corps and went to live in Armenia for two years. I still cringe a little bit when I think about how sheltered I was when I was in my 20s, not having been exposed to that much of the world. I remember more than a couple of times when I sounded truly idiotic– perhaps even more so than I might today. 😉

Yes, people can choose to take paths that will broaden them at any stage of life, but it would have been great to have had the chance to start the process when I was in college, rather than after I graduated. College is a time for exploration and evolution in a safe place. I think these kinds of courses are crucial for young adults who are coming of age. And they also spice up the usual basic 101 courses that are typically required for freshmen students.

And– by the way– most college students are legal adults, whether or not mom and dad are paying their tuition. Legal adults should be encouraged to take charge of their education, since they will ultimately be the benefactors of it. I know that some parents who pay college tuition bills think they should have a say in what their dollars are paying for. However, I think that’s something that needs to be handled within individual families, not at the level of parents complaining about curriculum offerings. In other words, if you– mom or dad– don’t like what Junior is taking at college, take it up with Junior. Don’t try to take educational opportunities away from everybody by assuming that you, as a parent, should get a say in what courses the university offers when you’re not even a student there. Granted, this one class might not lead a student to a great job, but it might help a student become a person with a heightened awareness and broadened perspective, which could lead them to places they never dreamed of going.

So… count me among those who are cheering about this class, and others like it, that are now being offered at Longwood University. I see nothing wrong with teaching young people about activism, or how certain things– like great songs– can inspire and motivate people to take action, for better or worse. I don’t think the students who are exposed to this course are necessarily going to grab picket signs and stage protests. Some of them might do that someday, but they would probably be the types of people who would have done that, anyway. Rather, I think this class is going to make students aware that they have the power to effect change if they want to– and it doesn’t necessarily have to be for causes that are liberal, conservative, or whatever. It’s just a look at the ways music can inspire and help foster change– for better or worse. I think it sounds like it’s going to be a very stimulating and fun class, and the students are lucky there’s a professor at Longwood who had the vision to create this course. If it turns out to be a flop, that will become clear soon enough.

We shouldn’t be afraid to expose young people to new ideas or exploration of old ideas. We shouldn’t assume that they’ll go astray simply because we encourage them to reach out and learn more about things that might be controversial or against the establishment. I have great faith in the students at Longwood, and I suspect this class will be very successful. Bravo, Dr. Kevin Schattenkirk-Harbaugh! I look forward to hearing more about this course offering.

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