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. πŸ˜‰

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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condescending twatbags, Ex, memories, narcissists, nostalgia

“Dick”… a man who doesn’t know dick! On not “suffering in silence” anymore…

Last night, I was on Facebook, reminiscing with fellow Longwood University graduates about a wonderful professor we all knew. In my case, she was the very first Longwood professor I met when I came to orientation during the summer of 1990. I was immediately impressed by her optimism and enthusiasm. She was friendly and fun and dynamic, and it was all 100% genuine. She really set an exciting tone for me during those early days at Longwood. I’ve never forgotten it, or her. She was the first of MANY excellent professors I had in college.

For many years, this professor taught speech and theater. I was an English major, but I had double minors in speech and communications, so I did end up having her for one of my classes. I always remember her to be a wonderful, kind, and energetic role model.

A little 90s era mood music for people like “Dick”…

During my junior year at Longwood, I had this professor for a course called Interpersonal Communications. It was a large class, so after class began, she decided to split it into two sections. She wanted me to take the later section, which was co-taught by a teaching assistant. I had a conflict, though, because I was also taking voice lessons in the music department, and my lessons were scheduled during the time the other section was being held. Voice lessons were arranged privately between teacher and student. Obviously, my Interpersonal Communications professor had looked up everyone’s schedules, saw that I didn’t have another scheduled class, and figured she could just stick me in the other section.

I don’t remember why we did it this way, but I ended up attending both sections of the class. On the days I had my voice lessons, I went to the earlier session. On the other days, I went to the later class. It worked out fine, and I got an A in the class, although I wonder what would have happened if I’d had a job or some other commitment… but then, it was Farmville, Virginia in the early 90s, and jobs weren’t that plentiful in those days.

This professor’s class was always interesting. I remember she had people come in to speak to us. One day, a physical education professor, notorious for being a very tough grader, came in and told us about how he and his ex wife had lost a child to leukemia. I didn’t have this P.E. professor myself, but I remember my friends talking about how difficult his class was. When I heard his tragic story about how he’d lost a child and it ruined his marriage, I saw him in a very different light.

The professor also told us a lot about herself, and her history. I distinctly remember her talking about her first husband, the father of her sons, and how he was a severe alcoholic. My father was an alcoholic, so I empathized a lot with her story about her ex husband. One day, I wrote in a paper about my father and this professor gifted me with an insightful book about how to deal with alcoholics. I ended up passing it on to my mom, and she was so very grateful, because the book was helpful to her. I also remember going to this professor’s home one Saturday, along with the rest of our class, and being treated to a wonderful home cooked brunch. I still remember her delicious breakfast casserole.

Suffice to say… I have some very warm and fuzzy memories of this professor, and my college, where I got an excellent education in a supportive environment, and found so many lifelong friends. The professor is still living, but is currently in a nursing home/assisted living housing. Her health is declining. So we were all in this Facebook group, remembering her, and I was really enjoying all of the stories and memories… Someone shared her mailing address so people who love her can send cards to her.

And then, he showed up…

There’s one in every crowd, isn’t there? That person who just has to come in and shit on everything. That person who has to break wind in the middle of a room where there’s nothing but good vibes, sunshine, and fresh air. I’ll call him Dick, because frankly, that’s what he is. But that’s not his real name.

I kind of knew Dick when we were students at Longwood. We were both involved with the radio station. It was an activity I had really enjoyed and had a knack for doing. My junior year, someone nominated me for music director of the station. Dick was also nominated. He had ambitions to work in radio. I probably did too, although I don’t have the same kind of overbearing, domineering personality that Dick has.

I remember that Dick had rather forcefully inserted himself in the business at the radio station. He used to lecture everyone about the FCC regulations, warning the disc jockeys about not playing music with swear words, lest we get a “$50,000 FINE!”. I don’t remember why he was lecturing people, as at the time this was happening, he didn’t have any kind of official authority. We were all volunteers anyway.

I also remember that he was constantly ordering people to play new music instead of whatever they wanted to play on their shows. A lot of the music he wanted people to play, quite simply, sucked. But he was bound and determined to be in charge, and was trying to force everyone to do things his way, even though the station only had ten watts of power and could only be heard within a six mile radius of the school. He wanted to take over, come hell or high water.

I remember that Dick set his sights on vanquishing me in our mutual bid to be music director. He harassed me when I was on the air and complained about me to the station manager. He got his male radio station friends to gang up on me, even blatantly getting them to publicly endorse him during our meetings. His friends were popular and into music, but they were otherwise slackers who didn’t really give a shit about their educations.

I had worked very hard at radio, taking time slots for shows that no one else wanted. At one point, I was on the air from midnight to four in the morning on Saturdays. I did those shows because I truly loved radio, even though I’m not naturally a night owl and people weren’t always listening at that hour.

And then Dick came in and RUINED it. I have not forgotten that, nor, if I’m honest, can I say that I’ve forgiven him for being such an insufferable control freak and shitting on an activity I enjoyed so much. I’m not very good at forgiveness.

I couldn’t stand Dick, and since I was not as resilient or assertive back then as I am now, I ended up quitting the radio station so I wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore. I regret that I did that now. In fact, even then I hated to do it. Unfortunately, once the radio station was overtaken by Dick and his cronies, I just couldn’t stomach it, or him.

Of course, today I would politely tell Dick to go fuck himself. Therapy is a good thing.

I never forgot Dick…

So last night, there we were, posting our memories about this beloved Longwood professor. In comes Dick.

Do you know what that asshole did? He related a story of his own about the professor. He’d had her for a class. Because she was a very caring and engaged teacher, one day she pulled him aside and asked him why he wasn’t participating in class. And Dick wrote that he told the professor he’d already read all the books she’d assigned when he was still in high school. He related this story in a smug, superior way, as if we should be impressed.

Then, to the rest of us, he wrote that Longwood isn’t a prestigious school like the University of Virginia or Rutgers University (Dick is from New Jersey). And that none of his employers ever cared that he went to Longwood.

Before I knew it, I posted “You were a total jerk in the 1990s, and I can see that nothing has changed.”

Someone else asked him what he was doing in the group, since he had such disdain for Longwood. Clearly the rest of us love the school, even if it’s not the most prestigious university. And, actually, Longwood is a pretty good school, especially for teachers, although there’s a lot more to a good college experience than reputation and acceptance rates. My husband, Bill, is a graduate of American University, which is a well-known, prestigious school. But he marvels all the time about the wonderful experience I had at Longwood, and the fact that I still know professors and fellow graduates almost thirty years post graduation.

Dick’s self-congratulatory post about how “above” Longwood he is, especially in a thread about a wonderful teacher, was bad form and totally out of place. It reminded me of something Donald Trump would do.

Maybe Longwood isn’t for everyone, but it’s a fantastic school for many people. Dick has no right to come in and take a dump on other people’s good memories about a beloved professor with his negative, pompous, arrogant bullshit.

Dick responded to me. He wrote, “I don’t remember you at all.”

I’m not at all surprised that he doesn’t remember me; and, in fact, I am relieved. So I wrote, “Good. I’m glad you don’t remember me. Let’s keep it that way.”

This morning, I noticed that Dick’s comments were deleted. I hope he got deleted from the Facebook group, too, since he obviously has such a low opinion of our alma mater. What a narcissistic asshole!

Although maybe it was wrong for me to call Dick a “jerk”, it was obviously something he needed to hear. Or maybe it was just something I needed to tell him. I know I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t stand him back in the day. Based by the reactions he got last night, I’ll bet I wasn’t the only person who was shocked by his comments about our teacher. I’m sure a lot of people were suffering in silence.

Obviously, Dick hasn’t matured beyond who he was thirty years ago. But I have done a lot of growing… and I have Longwood, in part, to thank for that. It’s too bad Dick wasted his time at such an “inferior” school for his prodigious “gifts” and “talents”. Wish he’d gone somewhere else.

And now for a somewhat related segue about narcissism and how the universe allows us to fix recurring situations…

Bill and I have both noticed that sometimes, the universe gives you a way to fix wrongs from the past. Last night, I got a chance to tell “Dick” that he’s a jerk. I wouldn’t have ordinarily called him a jerk. Ordinarily, I would have used more profane language. But, because I was commenting in a thread about a wonderful Longwood professor, I decided to keep my comments rated PG. Yea for self-control! That’s something of which impulsive narcissists don’t have much!

Bill and I have had a lot of dealings with narcissists. Each time we deal with someone who is narcissistic or has a “high conflict personality”, we get better at handling or flat out avoiding their bullshit. Slowly, but surely, we’ve found ways to deal with difficult people more effectively, and in a healthier, more assertive manner.

It started with Bill’s ex wife. She is an extreme narcissist, and Bill’s years with her have severely affected us both. We still talk about her, although not nearly as much as we used to, since we’ve managed to process and completely recover from the damage she wrought on Bill. She still comes up today, though, because Bill has been talking to his younger daughter. Bill’s daughter is still extremely affected by her mother’s narcissism. She still talks to her mom, so she still gets injured by her. And then there’s all those years she spent growing up with her mom treating her like a possession/servant, rather than a separate human being who should have been allowed to be a child.

Bill and his younger daughter were kept apart for many years, so every time they Skype, they have a lot of ground to cover. The Ex inevitably comes up in every conversation… and with every conversation, new and shocking things are revealed. Last night, as I was reeling from “Dick’s” nerve, Bill was hearing the latest about his ex wife, and how she continues to use and abuse the people closest to her– especially the people she’s birthed. And she apparently HATES #3, but stays with him, because otherwise she’d either go on welfare or– horrors– be forced to work!

We really shouldn’t be shocked by Ex’s shenanigans, though. She’s just doing what all narcissists do. They behave in shockingly self-centered and inappropriate ways, leaving more reasonable and empathetic people with shaking hands and nausea, or maybe just a sick sort of amazement and head shaking at their incredible nerve.

I shouldn’t be so shocked when I hear stories about how, when Bill’s two daughters were growing up, they’d spend hours doing the laundry, folding and delivering the clean clothes. Ex would address the girls while looking at her cell phone. The piles of laundry would be sitting on her bed, and Ex would say, “Well, this is all fine and good, but you should be putting the clothes away for me, too.”

Younger daughter, to her credit, refused. She and Ex butted heads about a lot of things, because even though younger daughter is as kind and empathic as Bill is, she’s not a doormat. I saw this tendency in her when she was a child, and I remember telling Bill that I knew she and Ex would fight a lot as she came of age. At the time, I thought younger daughter was like her mother.

I knew she’d eventually get in touch with us, and I dreaded it, because I figured she’d try to manipulate us the way Bill’s former stepson had. But it turns out that, actually, younger daughter is a very good person who, underneath all of her empathy and kindness, has a backbone and a limit to what she’ll tolerate. And she very wisely got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she turned 18.

Unfortunately, older daughter is now 30 and still cleans her mother’s house, does the laundry, babysits her younger, severely autistic brother, and languishes with student debt that her mother forced her to take out and share the excess with the household. Older daughter doesn’t get along with the 18 year old daughter Ex has with #3, and she told Bill’s younger daughter that she was so happy because she’d gone into her sister’s room to change the sheets and suddenly realized her sister was at college.

Yes, it’s a shock that older daughter, who has a college degree and life skills, is still enslaved by her narcissistic mother and changing the sheets for her younger adult sister. But you get what you settle for, right? Ex’s daughter with #3 is allowed to go away to college, because she stayed in state, and Ex can exploit her student loans, just like she did with Bill’s daughters. But Ex didn’t want younger daughter to go to BYU… in fact, she even told younger daughter that she hadn’t turned out the way she was “supposed to”. She wasn’t supposed to go to BYU and marry a guy from Utah. She was supposed to stay close to Ex, so Ex could keep using her for doing chores and getting narcissistic supply.

Bill doesn’t mind talking to his daughter about Ex. They need to compare notes. That lessens Ex’s power, since younger daughter can get information for more credible sources than her mother, who lies and twists the truth to suit her agenda. Yes, it keeps Ex in our sphere, but we get better at dealing with her and laughing at her ridiculous antics, rather than getting upset by them. Just like last night, instead of suffering in silence when “Dick” stank up the room, I called him a jerk for hijacking our thread and making it about himself and his alleged superiority. Honestly… was he expecting us to be impressed by that? I’ll say it again. What a narcissistic asshole!

And, those of you who read my protected post from a couple of days ago, might also realize that I dealt with a similar troublemaker, who was stirring up shit in my wine group, by kicking her out and blocking her. I didn’t give her a chance to cause more trouble. She was literally making me feel physically ill with her toxic bullshit. So I kicked her out, dusted off my hands, and now, things are a lot more peaceful and stress free for me… and probably others who had suffered in silence.

I’m certainly not perfect. I have a lot of neuroses and complexes. I have a lot of hang ups that stem from my “troubled past”. I continue to work on them, though, and I think I’ve made some progress, even if it’s not always obvious to my readers or other people.

Maybe I shouldn’t have called “Dick” a jerk, but it sure felt good to do that, rather than suffer in silence. He needed to be called out for his self-important comments about how Longwood was “beneath him” and a kind, caring professor, who’d regarded him and her job enough be concerned about him, was “unworthy of teaching him”, since he was so well-read, skilled, and talented and belonged at a “better” school.

Likewise, I don’t have to suffer in silence regarding Ex… or toxic people in my wine group who don’t know how to behave like good citizens, rather than stirring up shit and sabotaging what I’ve built. There was a time when I might have let the troublemaker in my wine group shut me down, just as I once let Dick shut me down. But those days are over. I’ve evolved. Clearly Dick and his ilk are the same jerks they were 30 years ago.

And now, that we’ve learned and evolved, Bill and I can help younger daughter free herself from her mother’s craziness, too. What a good feeling that is.

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Military, music, musings, nostalgia

The “road not taken” is sometimes an overrated thrill… Common paths can still lead to spectacular places!

In the spring of 1991, when I was a freshman college student, I joined the concert choir at Longwood College. I did so because the previous semester, the very first one of my college career, I had taken a group voice class. The teacher, who was acquainted with my musical dad, recognized that I, too, had some musical gifts. She thought I should join the Camerata Singers, which is one of Longwood’s auditioned ensembles. The trouble was, I had never really sung in a choir before. In fact, I had never really sung before. So, just so I could learn the ropes, I enrolled in the concert choir with the plan to audition for Cameratas that semester. I also took my first private voice lessons that spring.

My parents are/were musicians and I somehow knew that I’d wind up being enmeshed in their stuff if I studied music. This was not so much an issue with my mom, who was a church organist for about 50 years. But it was an issue with my dad, who had a habit of either competing with me or trying to show me off to his friends. My dad and I never really got along that well, especially once I hit puberty. I loved him very much, but we rubbed each other the wrong way. He was extremely active in choirs and choral societies. I relished the times he was at practices or in rehearsals, and I didn’t want to end up in a situation where we would end up spending too much time together and getting into fights.

Also, I honestly didn’t know back then that I had a good singing voice. I knew I could sing on key, but I didn’t realize it was anything special or unusual. I did have some rudimentary music knowledge, having taken piano lessons as a very young child and been identified as having “perfect pitch” (AKA absolute pitch). I was in band for a year… first playing drums and then, when that turned out to be the wrong instrument for me, I played my sister’s clarinet. Although I was pretty good at playing clarinet, I didn’t like the band teacher and wasn’t encouraged by my parents, so I dropped out of that and focused on my horse. I have much less talent for horseback riding, but I do love animals. πŸ˜‰

Years later, when I decided to study voice outside of college, my dad proved that my instincts about his tendency to want to “compete” with me were dead on. I signed up to take lessons at the Eastern Virginia School of Performing Arts. I didn’t tell my dad at first, because somehow I knew he’d also sign up. Sure enough, when he did find out I was taking lessons, he signed up with the very same teacher. πŸ™‚ I wasn’t all that happy about it. I was taking lessons to help alleviate my depression and relieve stress. And at the time, he was a major source of my stress, as I was living with my parents after having finished Peace Corps service. As grateful as I was that my parents let me live with them, it was definitely not an easy time for any of us. But I am glad that they didn’t object to my decision to supplement my treatment for depression with voice lessons.

“The Road Not Taken” from Frostiana… words by Robert Frost, music by Randall Thompson.

Anyway, I digress… back to 1991… and my first semester in a choir. I remember during that semester, the concert choir did a piece from “Frostiana“. It was the American poet Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken” set to music composed and arranged in 1959 by Randall Thompson. Much to my shame, when I was 18 years old, I had never been exposed to Frost’s poetry. “The Road Not Taken” was a new concept to me, and I actually loved the choral piece. I see from YouTube that it’s still commonly performed.

This morning, I’m reminded of that piece as I reflect on a conversation I had with Bill last night. We were talking about his career as an Army officer. Although he did well enough as an Army officer and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel promotable to Colonel, he thinks he made some regrettable choices during his time in the Army. Had he made different choices, he might have had a more successful career. Or maybe he never would have been in the military in the first place.

My husband is a kind, empathetic, gentle person. He’s probably the antithesis of most people’s vision of a military officer. Military officers are stereotypically tough, gruff, profane, impatient and politically incorrect. Military officers don’t cry easily. They have a “killer instinct”. A lot of military officers are politically conservative and somewhat old school in their views. They aren’t often interested in the arts, psychology, reading books, or visiting museums. They like to watch violent sports and action movies. And they aren’t interested in introspection.

I hasten to add that I realize this is very stereotypical thinking. Of course, the armed forces are comprised of people from all different walks of life, with all of the characteristics that go along with having such a diverse population. However, having been around military folks my whole life, I can attest to the idea that there’s a “type”. And, my point is, Bill goes against type.

When we were dating, my sisters warned me against getting involved with Bill. They seemed to think he was going to be a “knuckle dragger”. Even though I’ve always made decent decisions and have never been in any serious trouble, my sisters, and even my parents, didn’t trust me to choose my own mate. But it turns out that I was right on the money. This year, we will celebrate 19 years of a very successful union. We are shockingly compatible. I guess, like me, Bill sometimes has trouble fitting in with the crowd and goes “against type”.

Last night, Bill was telling me that he wishes he hadn’t been a “combat arms” officer. During his years in the Army, Bill was a “tanker”. He was in the Armor branch. Early in his career, a superior officer wrote that he felt Bill should do something different. The senior officer “fired” Bill from the job he was doing and gave him a bad evaluation. Another superior officer advised Bill that he didn’t have a “killer instinct”. At the time, Bill was offended by his bosses’ appraisals of him. He said he spent years resenting those negative comments that he got early in his military career. He felt that his superiors had been unfair and wrongly appraised him.

Then, in 1995, at his ex wife’s behest, Bill left active duty and worked in low paying and unfulfilling factory jobs in Arkansas. Here was a guy who had studied international relations at American University. He’d learned how to ride a horse and fence. He was interested in politics, religion, arts, movies, music, and so on… and he was making toys at a toy factory. Later, he was supervising a line for Whirlpool, overseeing the production of refrigerator doors. He wasn’t making any money, and he was living in a nightmarish situation with a woman with whom he was incredibly incompatible. Bill stayed in the National Guard to help supplement his meager earnings and, if we’re honest, to give him an escape from his ex wife, who by that time had made his life a living hell.

In 1999, Bill decided to go back in active duty via the Arkansas National Guard. He was unusual in that he managed to get a full time job as a Guardsman, working as if he was back on duty with the regular Army. That decision allowed him to continue his military career, but he was paid from a different pot of money and subject to different promotion procedures. It also helped him avoid lengthy deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. He did spend six months in Iraq– again, working for a very narcissistic boss.

Bill later realized that he probably should have pursued another branch… maybe in military intelligence or as a Foreign Area Officer (FAO). Or maybe he should have become a mental health therapist specializing with working with veterans. Any of those fields might have been better fits for him, rather than combat arms. He was sorrowful about it last night, wishing he’d taken a different path, instead of being an Armor officer, and wondering where it would have led him.

I could relate, as I have often wondered what would have happened to me if I’d studied music instead of English. Maybe I’d still be where I am today. Or maybe I’d be somewhere entirely different. As I mentioned before, I didn’t pursue music when I was growing up. It wasn’t until college that I was especially turned on to music… and realized I had a knack for it. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d changed my major. I never seriously considered doing it, though. I probably suffered a bit of worrying about failure.

I was a very mediocre English major. I love to write and read, but I don’t really enjoy analyzing literature, and I had no desire to teach school. Longwood’s English department, at the time I was a student, was mostly set up for would-be teachers. They didn’t have a creative writing program. They only offered a few classes. Ironically, I never even took the creative writing class, and none of my professors knew that my goal was more to write than study literature. I didn’t tell any of them until after I’d graduated and my former advisor, who had been writing letters to me in Armenia, commented that he thought I had a gift for writing stories. I explained that I’d been an English major because I wanted to be a writer. He used to tease me about taking music classes, but I don’t know where I would have been if I hadn’t had them at Longwood. I loved my music classes. I took a bunch of them for fun. I can’t say that about most of my English classes.

So there Bill and I were on the patio, as the sun was dipping down, and we were enjoying the last of our red wine. Bill got a little choked up as he realized that those bosses who had noticed his “lack of a killer instinct” had been right. And if he’d been wise enough to heed their counsel, he might have gone in a different, far more successful direction. There wouldn’t have been any shame in changing course. Everybody fails sometimes, because no one is a superstar at everything they do. For a moment, Bill seemed genuinely troubled at what might have been if he’d only been brave enough to take “the road not taken”.

But again, it’s not like he was unsuccessful in his role as an Armor officer who lacked a “killer instinct”. In 2014, Bill retired from the Army with a full pension. He now gets a paycheck for getting up in the morning and gets to enjoy the benefits from having served in the military. Not only that, but he left the experience mostly mentally, emotionally, and physically whole. I’d call his career a success, even if he hadn’t done work he was perfectly equipped to do.

Realizing that Bill actually was a success, I said, “There’s no point in feeling badly about the career decisions you made. Because even though you might have been better at a different job, the fact of the matter is, you still managed to succeed. By all accounts, retiring from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel promotable to Colonel is still a very successful career. And you left the military whole– with two master’s degrees and marketable skills– free of mental illness and basically healthy and strong. You are very fortunate.”

Bill nodded in agreement. Then I said, “And now you are doing well in your post retirement career. Maybe what you’re doing isn’t thrilling for you, but you are among MANY people who work in jobs that aren’t a perfect fit for them. God knows, I have done plenty of jobs I hated so I could pay the bills. So have you.”

I continued, “You now not only have recovered from a terrible first marriage and financial disasters, but you completed a successful career. Now, you are also enjoying a very comfortable and, I dare say, luxurious lifestyle. And you have the freedom to explore things that interest you. You can study Carl Jung. You can work with a therapist and talk about your dreams and travel to Switzerland to see Jung’s house. You can take courses at the Jung Institute and read Jung’s books and learn guitar… And the reason you can do those things is because, even though you think of the military as a ‘easy choice’ in terms of secure, decently paid employment, and maybe it was not where your true gifts lie, you did a good job. When it comes down to it, you were still successful. I think you should celebrate that, because you’re way ahead of many people.”

Likewise… although I have visions of where my talents and dreams might have taken me, I really can’t complain too much about where I am. I have had the great fortune to see and do many things that my peers never will have the opportunity to do. And they have seen and done things I will never do. That’s the nature of life. We all have strengths and opportunities that take us on a path through life. Maybe it would have been more exciting and fulfilling to take the “road not taken.” But we’re both halfway through life now… and we can’t recapture our youth. What we CAN do is take those experiences we had when we were younger and follow our passions now. So Bill will probably never have a fulfilling career as a FAO or as a “healer”. He can still pursue his interests and learn new things. And who knows, maybe there will still be a fork in the road that takes him down the “road not taken” after all.

Same for me… maybe in the second half of my life, I’ll finally write a book or record an album… or do something else that is earth shattering, life changing, or even just interesting. It beats the hell out of working in a factory or waiting tables to pay the bills. And before anyone gets upset, I hasted to add that there’s nothing wrong with working in a factory or waiting tables if that’s what gets you through life or it something you even enjoy doing. That’s not the point of todays’ post. The point is, there’s no use in lamenting past career decisions that can’t be changed. Life is a continual journey. As long as you’re still breathing, you have the opportunity to change course and try new things. And Bill, for one, is especially fortunate, because he truly does have the ability and the freedom to explore things that interest him, even if he got here on a well-traveled road that maybe he wasn’t the best suited to travel. He still got here… and he still has places to go. I’m glad I get to travel with him.

We’re both lucky, because we can and do continue to do things we love. Not everyone has that luxury. There are so many people who, due to financial, health, or personal constraints, end up spending their lives on the hamster wheel, working to get by and not especially enjoying the process of life as much as they could. We should count our blessings and realize that all things considered, things have worked out just fine. I think it also makes sense to consider that sometimes the “road not taken” is a road straight into Hell. πŸ˜‰

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