family, funny stories, memories, mental health, music, nostalgia, psychology

“Go with the flow”…

A few days ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with one of my relatives, who quipped in passing that she thinks that she and I are both empaths. I didn’t contradict her at the time because I had a feeling that if I did, we might end up fighting. So I let the comment pass, but I was definitely shaking my head about it. I guess I had decided to “go with the flow” and “sweep it under the rug”, which sometimes is a good idea. On the other hand, sometimes, it’s not.

Last night, we were chatting again. This relative has been interested in my musical pursuits, which includes my attempts to learn guitar. After I wrote yesterday’s post about “musical flu”, which was inspired by watching an online concert by the jazz ensemble at my alma mater, Longwood University, I actually sat down and learned a new song. I not only learned it; I played it– shakily– on the guitar. No, I don’t play particularly well, but I did manage to play a song yesterday as well as sing the vocals. Fair disclosure, I did the vocals before the guitar part. I’m not quite ready to do them both at the same time. Still working on that pesky F chord, too.

This is a cover of an old song done by Linda Ronstadt with Dolly Parton doing harmony…

I don’t actually relate to the lyrics of “I Never Will Marry”. I just think the harmonies are pretty. I wanted to see if I could replicate them. And, with the help of Chordify and a capo, I was able to play it somewhat. I literally learned the song and the guitar part and recorded it in a few hours. And, because I was feeling tired and bitchy after that effort, I used a clip of my dog, Noyzi, as the video part. The video doesn’t really matter that much to me, anyway. I’m about the music.

A year ago, I could not have done what I did yesterday, even if my efforts from yesterday are imperfect. This was a pretty big achievement for me. I have a long way to go before I’m ready for busking on the street corner, but I felt pretty accomplished.

My relative listened to the song, praised it, but then said she didn’t like the song itself. She said she thought the lyrics were self-pitying. I don’t disagree, but I still think the harmonies are lovely. My relative went on to explain that she doesn’t like “whiney” songs, and that reminded me of a funny story from my past. I proceeded to relate a short version of the story to my relative, but she completely missed the point in a non-empathic way. Since I’m not drunk on wine right now, have nothing better to do, and I’m writing with a clear head, here’s a longer version of the story for all of you dear readers.

When I was a freshman at Longwood College (now Longwood University), I was forced to move out of my dorm after the first week of school. I ended up in what was considered the “worst” hall on campus. Well… it wasn’t really the “worst”. It was just a single-sex dorm with hall bathrooms. And, unlike the dorm I had moved from, it didn’t have air conditioning, which really sucked during the late August Virginia summer heat. I imagine the heat lasts longer these days than it did in 1990.

Anyway, the hall below us was an all men’s floor for freshmen. At the time, it was the only all men’s hall that wasn’t used by a fraternity. The women on the second floor and the men on the first floor all hung out together, and most of them attended a mandatory class called Longwood Seminar. It was a special class for incoming freshmen, designed to teach them about how to survive in college. The sections were divided by dorms, which back in the 90s, were still where most Longwood students were living. There wasn’t a lot of off campus housing then, nor did people tend to commute a lot.

I was not in the same Seminar class as my new hallmates were, since I was still in the group I was put in with my original dorm. Because I was not in the same Seminar group, I missed the incident that led up to the invention of the word “brently”, coined by my old friend, Chris.

Back in 1990, Longwood instituted a new rule that freshman dorms were to be “dry”. That meant that alcohol was forbidden on the halls dedicated to freshmen students. Of course, even though there was a rule against booze in freshmen areas, that doesn’t mean people obeyed. One day, early in the semester of our first year, the Longwood Seminar professor talked about avoiding alcohol. And a guy named Brent stood up and said, “If Longwood is so serious about preventing underage drinking, how come half my hall was drunk last weekend?”

Naturally, that confrontation did not put Brent in good stead with his peers. Brent also had an unfortunate habit of being a bit “whiney” and “self-pitying”, much like the song my relative said she didn’t like. Brent would go around saying things like, “Basically, I’m just fucked up the rectum…” as he cringed and complained that he’d just shit his pants because he had amoebic dysentery. I swear… I am not making this shit up. 🙂

Brent also got a lot of people upset because he was involved in an interracial relationship. I’m sorry to say that despite its many progressions lately, Virginia is still a southern state, and even in 1990, some people had issues with the races mixing. Personally, I didn’t really know Brent or his girlfriend that well, and I didn’t care who he was dating. But people supposedly said something to him about his girlfriend and Brent’s response was, “I can have any white woman I want,” which I think we all know is patently untrue. No one can have “any person they want”, no matter who they are. Anyway, the general consensus was that Brent was an arrogant asshole who was very uncool. And he also bore a slight resemblance to Ronald McDonald, except he used to bike shirtless around campus.

Well, people were upset with Brent for busting them in Longwood Seminar class, so my friend Chris decided to play a prank on Brent. He knew Brent had an illegal sword collection in his dorm room. Chris was an English major, so he knew how to draft professional letters. At Longwood, we had a student run Honor Board and a Judicial Board. So Chris wrote a letter to Brent, ostensibly from the Honor Board, inviting him to a “hearing” about his illegal sword collection. Brent, lacking situational awareness, quickly panicked and started searching frantically for the R.A., a guy named Jack.

Chris felt sorry for Brent, so he said, “Brent, man, it was just a joke. Calm down.”

Brent then seized Chris, threw him up against the wall, and snarled, “Oh… so you think it’s funny, huh?” And then he kneed Chris right in the balls.

Chris said, “No Brently… I just feel… SICK.” as he crumpled to the ground. I still laugh when I think about this part of the story.

From that day on, whenever someone said or did anything victim-esque, my friend Chris would say, “Brently!” And we all knew it meant the person was being a martyr or acting like a victim. To this day, I still think of the made up word “brently” when someone is self-pitying or pathetic. Bill’s ex wife is a prime example of someone who is “brently”.

I thought I was just sharing a funny story from my college days. But my relative, the non-empath, immediately calls me (and my friends) out for “bullying” Brent, just because of his looks. She said Chris deserved to be kneed in the nuts, because “karma is a bitch”.

I said, “Wait a minute. People weren’t bullying Brent because of his looks. It was his behavior that did it, although his looks didn’t help. Aside from that, this was thirty years ago. I haven’t seen or talked to Brent since the early 90s. And when I did know him, I wasn’t involved in these incidents at all. I was not mean to Brent, nor am I routinely mean to anyone, unless they ask for it.”

My relative continued on about how she felt sorry for Brent, being “bullied” by us… and she basically lectured me as if I was still a child, even though I’m almost menopausal.

So I said, “I don’t have any pity for Brent. He brought that treatment on himself. Moreover, all Chris did was play a harmless prank and scare him for a minute. Brent committed assault and battery and could have been arrested for his retaliation.”

Again, I really don’t think people picked on Brent solely because of his appearance. I don’t think most people cared who he was dating, either. Some people did, because it was Virginia and some people are backwards and racist. But I don’t think that was the overall attitude toward Brent. It was his arrogant behavior and confrontational attitude that got him picked on… calling out freshmen for drinking when he was, himself, breaking the rules by keeping knives and swords in his dorm room.

So then, I said to my relative, “Anyway– the POINT of the story is not about Brent being bullied. I was trying to tell you about a funny word made up by my friend, which could describe the song, ‘I Never Will Marry’. It’s a ‘brently’ song.”

Now… how does this relate to my relative falsely referring to herself as an “empath”? Besides the fact that she completely missed the point of the funny story and went straight to shaming me, as if I were 12 years old, it’s also because I have many memories of her bullying me. I remember her telling me she thought I was “stupid, fat, and ugly” when I was a kid. I also remember her physically abusing me when I was a small child and couldn’t fight back. I remember many, many meltdowns from her over the years, and a lot of entitled behavior, even after I had reached adulthood. For instance, here’s another rerun story from the past.

Christmas 2003– Bill and I lived in northern Virginia, not far from my relative’s home. My family was having Christmas at their house. My relative, then in her 40s, asked if we wouldn’t mind taking her down there with us. I said it would be okay, but she needed to realize that if things got shitty, we would be leaving. I didn’t want to hang around if there was any fighting.

My relative agreed, so on the day we were leaving, Bill went to pick her up. Naturally, she wasn’t dressed when he got there at the pre-appointed time, so he had to wait for her to take a shower, dry her hair, get dressed, and have coffee. This put us on the road later than we needed to be.

We got down to my parents’ house. All the other relatives were there, and most were sleeping at the house. Bill and I were relegated to the office, where there was a very uncomfortable fold out couch with a metal bar that would hit right in the middle of the back. I had also started my period, so I wasn’t feeling very well.

There was a lot of tension in the air and we were all walking on eggshells… Sure enough, hours after our arrival, I got into a fight with one of my sisters, who decided to get all self-righteous and holier-than-thou with me. My feelings were hurt and, whether or not the fight was my fault, I didn’t feel like staying in that environment, which had become pretty toxic. I just wanted to go home and be in my own house, with a comfortable bed and a toilet where I could tend to Aunt Flow in peace.

Remembering that I had vowed to leave if there was a fight, I told Bill I wanted to go home the next morning. So we told the relative who had bummed a ride with us that we would be leaving early. She had said, before accepting a ride with us, that she was okay with us leaving early if the need arose. But then, when the situation actually came up, her response was to try to manipulate Bill into talking me into staying. Why? Because she was hoping we’d drive her to nearby Williamsburg to go shopping. She wanted us to drive her around, even though at that time, we didn’t have much money, and I sure as hell don’t get my kicks watching her buy stuff. She really can be a terror to clerks and wait staff.

When Bill didn’t talk me into changing my mind, my relative tried. I said I wanted to leave and nothing was going to change my mind. So she flew into an EPIC rage. She was still in bed when we packed the car, but she got up, took a shower, and came storming into the kitchen with wet hair. She screamed at me that she needed to dry her hair and have coffee, so she wouldn’t catch cold. I was just flabbergasted that a woman in her 40s was acting like this. I turned to Bill and said, “Let’s just go.” Because I knew that having her in the car would be hours of hell, and I had had enough hell.

So, while my relative was still angrily orbiting around the house, Bill and I got in the car and fucking left! And my relative ended up taking a bus home. She gave me the silent treatment for a year after that, not that I minded. Somehow, our decision to enforce a boundary also became a reason for shaming. I remember my dad telling me I was “mean” to leave my relative stranded like that. He had no idea what had transpired, but just assumed, after hearing her side, that the whole thing was my fault.

Leaving my relative at my parents’ house was the right thing to do, but it was also a hard thing to do. Because I have been trained since childhood to overlook other people’s bad behavior and be “nice” at all costs. And when something goes south, I get blamed for it, even if the other person was the one acting like a jerk. I was expected to just “go with the flow” and sweep it under the rug.

My mom was always a big fan of “going with the flow”, and she always tried to tell me that’s what I should do, even when someone was outrageously abusive to me. Like, for instance, the time my father humiliated me in public, treating me like a six year old when I was a married woman in my 30s. That incident occurred, again, when I was doing a favor for my “empath” relative, who had asked us to drive my elderly parents around northern Virginia.

Bill and I were sitting with my relative’s boyfriend in a noisy stadium on the occasion of my relative’s master’s degree graduation. My parents were not sitting next to us, but they must have seemed like they were with us, because some strange woman who sat near us apparently felt we were being too rowdy. Instead of speaking to us directly (we weren’t being any louder than anyone else in the stadium was, and we were all adults), she complained to my parents. And my dad turned around and yelled at me, “Shut up! You’re DISTURBING PEOPLE!” It was really loud, and I’m sure everyone heard it. Including that cunty woman who complained to my parents instead of directly to us. I still don’t know how she knew we were together.

Anyway, after my dad screamed at me, Bill says the look on my face was one of unbridled rage. I wanted to kill my father right then and there. I was absolutely LIVID. Instead, I got up and left. Bill found me, and I told him I just wanted to go home. But because we had driven my parents’ car, that would have meant arranging for alternative transportation. At the time, we had very little disposable income to waste on rental cars or even train fare. Once he had me calmed down somewhat, we found my mom. I went to the bathroom, and my mom was telling Bill that I should just “go with the flow” and not let that incident ruin our “lovely day.”

Bill, being the prince he is, told my mom that actually, my dad’s outburst was embarrassing, uncalled for, and totally wrong, and that I had every right to be as angry as I was. Moreover, we were at the graduation as a favor to my parents and my relative. I hadn’t even WANTED to be there. I had just let her talk me into doing her a favor, yet again. As we rode in the car to the very nice restaurant where Bill and I had gotten engaged the year before, Bill was making small talk while I squeezed the blood out of his hand. I was so PISSED.

It happened to be Mother’s Day that day, and the restaurant was giving out pretty potted Impatiens flowers. They gave one to me and my dad said, “Why do you get one? You’re not a mother.” To which I said, “I am a stepmother.” This was before Ex’s parental alienation campaign had ramped up to the toxic levels it eventually got to. And then, when we sat down to brunch, which my father would be paying for, I proceeded to order steak and eggs, several whiskey sours, and dessert. Bill smirked at me, knowing full well that I was passively aggressively taking my rage at my father out of his wallet.

The following week, Bill finished his first master’s degree. We went back to that same restaurant and had a less expensive, but still very enjoyable, do over of that brunch. And ever since those incidents in 2003, as well as Ex’s sick Christmas stunt of 2004, in which she tried to compel me to spend Christmas with her in my father-in-law’s house, I have become a lot more assertive and less likely to just “go with the flow”. Especially, when it comes to dealing with my relative who, I repeat with emphasis, is NOT AN EMPATH by any stretch of the imagination. However, she is sometimes pretty “brently”.

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humor, music

Catching the “musical flu” and spreading it around…

My friend Ken Turetzky, pumping his own gas…

I should preface this by saying that Ken and I are only the most casual of Facebook friends. I have never met him in person, although he did reach out to me about twelve years ago, when I wrote a review of musical comedian Red Peters’ album, Best of Red Peters Comedy Hour, Volume 1. Ken’s song, “Her Shit Don’t Stink” was featured on that compilation. It reminded me of Bill’s ex wife, who was at that time, pushing a false narrative that her shit didn’t stink. Anyone with their eyes open and nose unstuffed knew the truth, though, and those who weren’t aware would soon become aware as they came of age.

Years later, I care a lot less about Ex than I used to… Bill’s daughters are now grown women and we’re no longer subsidizing Ex’s household to the tune of $30,600 annually. However, we have become aware that for all of Ex’s gas pumping, she was mostly full of hot stinky air. Enough said about that, although there’s a lot I would really like to write. I won’t, though. Not in this post, anyway. Instead, I want to write about something totally unrelated– except I wish I could have helped spread the musical flu to Bill’s daughters.

Yesterday, my sister sent me a private message, asking if I subscribe to Apple Music. I wrote back that I don’t, mainly because I prefer to own my music rather than renting it. Also, I read some disturbing accounts of Apple Music overriding people’s private music collections. I have some rare stuff that I managed to get from Napster back in the day. Those were the days of dialup, so you know I spent a long time downloading those things. I don’t want to lose them by allowing Apple Music to invade my machine. I would imagine that Apple Music has fixed this issue, but I still prefer to buy rather than rent, particularly when it comes to music. I have so many tracks that it would probably take a year to listen to everything, anyway.

My sister, on the other hand, does use Apple Music. She wrote that she heard a song by the jazz player, Michael Franks. She hadn’t really liked him much, but got hooked on this song that came on Apple Music. I told her that I have a similar problem. I’m the kind of person who remembers really obscure songs from many years ago and tries to find out who did them. Sometimes, it takes years. I got tickled by my sister’s comments about Michael Franks, because it turns out that one of his songs was a track I obsessively “hunted down”.

I was first introduced to Michael Franks’ banal style back in the year 2003. Bill and I hadn’t been married a year. We lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in a cheap apartment, because that was what we could afford. We decided to go to the Army Birthday Ball. I needed a formal dress for it, so I drove to a mall in Northern Virginia to go shopping. It was probably Springfield Mall, which is where I used to go shopping when I was 6 or 7 years old.

Eureka!

I was in a department store trying on dresses, and this song by Michael Franks came on. I didn’t know who Michael Franks was, of course. I just remember the song and its monotonous, mind numbing chorus, “Don’t touch that phone.” repeated by female singers over and over again. I don’t even remember liking the song that much. I just remembered the chorus. It stuck in my head for years. I had no idea the name of the song or who sang it, but I relentlessly searched until, finally, I found it. And even though I didn’t love the song, I ended up downloading the album.

My sister and I kept chatting and it occurred to me that she has really had an enormous impact on my musical tastes. It’s almost like she was carrying a kind of “musical flu” bug. Although she is not the sister closest to me in age, I shared a room with her when I was a little kid. I was exposed to a lot of what she liked. My sister famously introduced me to the magic of Kate Bush. She also introduced me to James Taylor, The Police, and Dead Can Dance… as well as the hilarious stylings of Ami Arena, who can’t sing, but is funny as hell.

One of my favorite songs by Kate Bush. I was introduced to her when my sister bought Bush’s 1982 album, The Dreaming, when I was about ten years old. Years later, I bought the album myself, and have since bought it a couple more times.

Back in the early 90s, when I worked as a summer camp as the cook, I had a week off mid summer. My sister invited me to visit for a few days. While I was visiting her in Northern Virginia, she took me to Ellicott City, Maryland. We went shopping, and she introduced me to the band, Dead Can Dance. I remembered one song in particular and liked it, but it was about sixteen years later that I finally broke down and bought the album it came from. It’s still awesome music, even though the album is probably 30 years old by now.

This song stuck in my head for years until I finally bought the album. It’s still a great track… it doesn’t age.

During that same trip, I was exposed to Amy Arena and her sarcastic and very funny brand of music. Amy Arena can’t sing, but she’s witty and snarky and I enjoyed her very much. My sister played Amy’s album and we shared a laugh over the irreverent lyrics. Years later, I bought her CD, too…

She’s a certain king of gap toothed woman… I’m a gap toothed woman, too.

Then my sister told me that both Dead Can Dance and Amy Arena were introduced to her by a guy she used to date– a German dude by the name of Bernd, who played in a band that did live music at a restaurant where my sister used to wait tables. That restaurant, name of Whitey’s, is now long defunct. But for years, it was a great place in Arlington for live music, beer, and junk food. And the funniest part of all is that back in the 90s, when I had to get a food handler’s card to work in food service in Williamsburg, Virginia, I had to watch movies about food safety. One was made by the public health bureau in Virginia and they had actually filmed at Whitey’s. I immediately knew it was Whitey’s, because that place had a big sign that read “EAT”. It was unmistakable.

Both charming songs that you should learn…

When my sister told me about Bernd introducing her to that music, it occurred to me that Bernd had influenced me, too, even though I never met him. Although my sister hasn’t seen Bernd in years, he passed along the musical flu to her, which she then passed to me.

And I have influenced Bill, by sharing the music with him. I have also shared stuff with people on the Internet whom I don’t know. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about Rush Limbaugh’s death. In that post, I shared a video by the awesome band, Folk Uke, fronted by Willie Nelson’s daughter, Amy, and Arlo Guthrie’s daughter, Cathy. The video was of Folk Uke singing “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow”. I discovered Folk Uke when I lived in Georgia and I had downloaded Willie Nelson’s “children’s” album (quoted, because Willie gave up on the children’s part of that album about halfway through). Amy was featured heavily on that album and I liked her, so I went searching on YouTube for more of her music… and I found Folk Uke. Now, I am a devoted fan…

I used Willie Nelson’s version of “Rainbow Connection” for MacGregor’s memorial video. This song was on Willie’s “children’s” album, which featured his daughter, Amy, half of Folk Uke! I don’t know why, but there’s something about Willie’s take on “Rainbow Connection” that touches me.

When I met Bill, he was pretty limited in his musical tastes. He liked industrial, progressive music, and shunned anything vaguely country. But I think he had the idea that country music was nothing but the pink sequined pop stuff his ex wife listens to… He had not been exposed to bluegrass or classic country music, or outlaw country. It wasn’t long before I had him turned on to people like the Infamous Stringdusters…

I actually discovered them while watching a morning show in Murfressboro, Tennessee. Ever heard a U2 song done quite like this?

And then, thanks to my constant ear to YouTube, I found the likes of Todd Snider and Paul Thorn, both awesome musicians who are entertaining, talented, and fun…

Story of my life… or at least it was when I was at Longwood.
Damn, I want to see him play. If you have a raunchy sense of humor, listen to this.

Last summer, I was on Facebook, and Keb’ Mo’ shared a track that he was listening to. He had played on guitarist’s Lee Ritenour’s compilation album, 6 String Theory. I looked at the album and quickly downloaded it. Then, noticing that there was a cover of Sting’s song, “Shape of My Heart”, I alerted my friend Andrew. I think he was skeptical at first, but then he decided to check it out. Sure enough, I had guessed right that Andrew would like the cover– he’s a big Sting fan, like I am. But this was a great cover done by other people.

Thanks to Keb’ Mo’, I found Lee Ritenour and a new take on Sting.

Speaking of Keb’ Mo’. I’ve been trying to see him play live for years. I have tickets that were supposed to be used on November 16th, 2020. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the show has been rescheduled three times at this writing. I think it might go on in September, if enough people get COVID-19 vaccines. I was introduced by Keb’ Mo’ by Martha Stewart, of all people. I bought an album she made for new parents. It had really lovely pop music that would appeal to babies and grownups alike, and Keb’ Mo’s song, “Infinite Eyes”, was on it. I liked it fine, recalling that I had heard Keb’ Mo’ on a Lyle Lovett cover of “Til It Shines”, a Bob Seger cover, and liked him then, too. Then one day, when we still lived in Fairfax, Virginia, Bill and I were having lunch at Austin Grill. They were playing some really great music over their sound system, and I heard Keb’ Mo’s unmistakable voice. He was singing “Folsom Prison Blues”, a song originally by Johnny Cash. I loved it, so Bill and I went to a Border’s to see if I could find the album there– it was still the era of CDs, after all.

Well, I didn’t find Keb’ Mo’s cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” until many years later, but on that day, I came home with, like, three of his CDs. And I quickly became a big fan of his music. Now, one of my favorite songs by Keb’ Mo’ is this song…

I love this song… it’s like Bill and me. He gladly indulges my musical obsession. But it’s just one of my favorites by Keb’ Mo’.
This song is more like the reality of my life… 😉 Especially the line about the dog shitting on the floor.

I could do this all day. In fact, thanks to COVID-19, I’ve got little else to do… although I will admit that the above video makes me want to practice guitar. This post does have a point, though. I don’t know how it is for other people, but I tend to catch musical influences like the flu. I hear something, like it, buy it, and use it to find other stuff I love. And then I spread my musical flu to everybody else… even people I don’t know. Just like people I don’t know spread it to me.

I caught Robert Randolph & The Family Band from Eric Clapton. They opened for him at a concert Bill and I attended, and were a hell of a lot better than Clapton was.

And finally… as I sign off, here’s a plug for my alma mater. This morning, I donated $550 to the music department, not because I was a music major, but because the music department at Longwood University literally changed my life. And I really enjoyed this concert, featuring one of my former professors, Dr. Charles Kinzer. His wife is also a professor at Longwood. She used to be my accompanist, and now she teaches piano. This morning, as I watched the jazz concert, it occurred to me that these folks have also spread the “musical flu”, and still do– even 27 years after I graduated.

Anyway… I long for the days of live music again. I love to discover new stuff and spread it around. Bonus points if the music is also funny. And now, it’s time to play with my guitar. Maybe someday, I’ll play it for public consumption, and spread even more musical flu. At least it’s a kind of infection that doesn’t kill anyone.

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musings

The joy of writing…

Another week done, one more to go. A week from now, Bill will be home and I won’t have to eat my own cooking anymore. 😉 I’m actually a pretty good cook. I just don’t enjoy cooking for myself and eating leftovers for days. I used to be a lot better at cooking for one. In fact, I used to enjoy cooking, even if it was just for myself. I was even paid to cook at one point in my life. Nowadays, I can’t be bothered. Of course, I miss Bill, too. I live a pretty solitary life these days. I don’t mind being alone, but being totally alone gets really old after a week. We’re now starting week three, and I am definitely over it. Good thing I have my dogs to talk to and give me a reason to get out of the house.

I never got around to posting new content yesterday. I meant to, but I just couldn’t think of anything earth shattering to write about. Writing takes energy, and sometimes I simply need a day or two to regroup. Sure enough, I got inspiration last night. Something happened that reminded me of why I bother to keep writing these posts.

I spent most of yesterday watching old movies. One of the movies I watched was a 1990 classic called Misery. I remember seeing that film when it was new. I was then a freshman English major at Longwood College. My friend and fellow English major Chris and I dreamt of being writers in those days. I had gone to Longwood thinking I’d get qualified to become a teacher, just to have something to fall back on in case the dream didn’t come true for me. Chris had gone in intending to be a plain old English major. Back then, Longwood didn’t offer as many majors or concentrations as it does today. If I were a student there now, I probably would not have majored in English. I probably would have majored in creative writing or maybe even music… but I digress.

What ultimately happened is that Chris ended up becoming qualified to teach. Conversely, I decided to forego trying to become qualified to teach. I realized that I didn’t really enjoy literature classes that much and didn’t want to have to teach English for a living. I mean, I did like some of the books I read, but what I really wanted to do was create. I figured there are enough mediocre teachers out there who went into the field because it seemed like the obvious thing for an English major to do. I have nothing against English majors who want to teach. I just realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. And, having taught English for two years in Armenia, I think I made the right decision.

Anyway, as I was watching Misery last night, I remembered all the time my friend and I spent in the computer lab at Longwood, composing our short stories and reading them to friends. We had so much fun, and those times brought us a lot of joy, if only because some of our stories were hilarious. Then I noticed something that, in the several times I’d seen Misery in the past, I had not noticed. Anytime you write something, you run the risk of pissing people off and becoming “enslaved” by worrying about public perception. Misery is an extreme and fictitious version of that phenomenon, but common bloggers like me experience it too.

The protagonist, Paul Sheldon, is a novelist who feels like he’s in a rut, writing the same wildly popular series about a character named Misery. Misery is making him miserable. He’s bored, and wants to branch into a new direction– find the joy of writing again. So he decides to kill Misery off and write another book with a different protagonist. But, before publishing his last Misery centric novel, he takes off in his Mustang during a snowstorm and has a car accident. He’s “rescued” by a psychopathic nurse named Annie Wilkes, who is a super fan of his Misery novels. She’s a great nurse, but she’s also batshit crazy. She torments Paul, forcing him to burn his manuscript because she doesn’t like it. Then, in a cringeworthy scene, she breaks his ankles with a sledgehammer when Paul tries to escape the hell she’s put him in. Paul is basically forced to write what Annie Wilkes wants him to write. He’s not free to write as he likes, and that is a special kind of hell for a writer. Maybe it’s even worse than having one’s ankles smashed by a sledgehammer.

While I was watching Misery, which I downloaded for a very reasonable $4.99 on iTunes, I noticed I got an email from WordPress. Someone had sent me a message through my contact form. The vast majority of people who write to me using the contact form are spammers, but I do sometimes get legitimate communications that way. And this one happened to be from the author of a piece I had read in The New York Times. I recently blogged about the piece, and the author was writing to thank me.

I felt compelled to write about Adam Barrows’ essay about falling in love with his wife, Darla, who had an eating disorder. I found his story fascinating, and I was dismayed by all of the negative comments he got from people who had focused on what I thought was the wrong part of the story. Commenter after commenter wrote about what a bad person they believed Adam Barrows was, because he evidently hadn’t encouraged Darla to seek treatment for her eating disorder. Many people were engaging in outright character assassination. I doubted that most of them had spent more than a minute thinking about what it would have taken to get Darla into treatment and the difficult position Adam was in, especially given that he was a young man at the time with his own psychological baggage to handle. It occurred to me that some of them also would have also criticized him for trying to force treatment on his wife.

As a fellow writer, I have a lot of empathy for Adam. Over the years, I’ve written about very personal subjects, some of which were controversial. Sometimes, it’s gotten me into trouble. I also don’t have a super thick skin. It’s thicker than it used to be, but I could definitely stand to develop more calluses. 😉 I commend Adam for submitting his story to The New York Times. That took a lot of guts.

I’ve noticed that, as our culture has become evermore enslaved to devices and computerized communications, people have become markedly less civilized. It’s very easy to sit behind a computer screen and judge other people. We’ve all done it. Maybe because I came along during an era when we weren’t always online, I don’t feel comfortable casually popping off sweeping judgments about people who reveal personal things about themselves.

It made me uncomfortable that so many people were calling Adam Barrows a narcissist, especially since they are total strangers and were basing their psychological assessments on a single essay he wrote for a major newspaper. I have had dealings with actual narcissists. The ones I’ve known would not have been capable of writing an essay like the one Adam wrote. Narcissists are notoriously shallow people, and they aren’t capable of much introspection or any empathy. Adam might have been guilty of being an enabler, and he admits that freely. But I didn’t think he was a narcissist, and last night’s thoughtful email exchange proved to me that’s he’s not one.

This isn’t the first time someone has sent me a note of appreciation. It’s always a thrill when someone lets me know I’ve written something helpful or encouraging, or even when someone thinks I’ve written something funny. Those kinds of communications are what keep me going, even if I don’t get them all the time. I don’t do this for money. I do it because life has led me to a place where I can be a writer. It’s something I feel like I have to do.

I’ve also gotten occasional nastygrams from people. For instance, a couple of years ago, I got a message from a woman who had lived in our previous house before us. She was upset about some of the things I had written about our living situation in our former house and basically insinuated that I’m a “bad person” for the things I wrote– which were really just my opinions and perspectives, along with some justified venting about the situation. She also mocked me for thinking of myself as a writer and for calling myself “creative”. She felt the need to defend her “friends”, not considering that I have the right to share my perspectives. No one was forcing her to stalk me, either. If what I wrote was that offensive or upsetting, she could have simply scrolled by, rather than trying to shut me up.

I couldn’t help but notice that she’d been reading my stuff for over four years, even though she’d apparently only been doing it to monitor and gossip about me with the ex landlady and her daughter. I suspect that despite her haughty, shaming comment to me, she wasn’t as “high-minded” and noble as she pretended to be. My guess is that she was upset that I’d figured out that she’s a liar and was worried that I wasn’t going to tolerate the abuse anymore. I don’t know if she experienced the same things Bill and I experienced. She’s clearly a different type of person than we are, and she claims she’s friends with our former landlady. What stuck out to me, though, was that she wasn’t willing to let me write freely.

She probably doesn’t know or care that what she did was very damaging and hypocritical. But that’s alright… because I survived, and again, she did consistently read for over four years. That tells me my writing must not have sucked that much. It clearly made a difference to her, and was obviously interesting– enough to compel her to send me a message, trying to censor me. It was a negative communication, but it wasn’t based on the quality of my writing. She was trying to shame and silence me. She wasn’t strong enough to leave me alone and simply let me have my say on my space.

Writing is an incredibly courageous thing to do. Making your voice heard is brave, because you never know how you’ll be perceived. I don’t know what Adam thought the reaction would be to his piece. Did he think it would be well-received in our super “woke” society? Or did he know that people would blame him for not trying to “save” his wife? Did he realize that many people would not understand or empathize with his situation? Was he prepared for the fallout? I wonder if he felt driven to tell his story. I’ve often felt like I had to tell my stories, even when they don’t go off well. I’ve taken some lumps over the years. I still write because that’s what I do– for better or worse. Some people don’t understand it or me, and they don’t appreciate what I do. I don’t write for them. I mostly do it for myself, but I also do it for those who are searching for something– information, validation, entertainment, insight… or whatever else that causes people to search Google.

In my original post about Adam and Darla, I related the reactions I got from people after I blogged about how my husband’s ex wife reminded me of Jessica McCord, a woman I saw profiled on Snapped. That post was up for months before anyone reacted to it. But when it was discovered, I got many negative comments from total strangers who had no understanding of our situation. It wasn’t the first time that had happened, but it was probably the first time I got really pissed off about it. I wrote a follow up post which was much better received. I even got a comment from a man who had known Alan and Terra Bates, Jessica McCord’s victims. He got it, and validated what I was trying to convey, which was really gratifying. He generously took a moment to try to understand my perspective and realize why I came to the conclusions I did.

We’re all in this world together. There are real people behind the computer screens. Most people who know me offline, don’t think I’m a horrible person. I didn’t get the impression that Adam is a horrible person. I don’t completely understand his situation because we don’t know each other. I appreciated his bravery in sharing his story. He and his wife are still happy together, and apparently, they’re both healthy. Ultimately, his story is a happy one. I simply wanted to point that out to those who were so focused on his wife’s mental illness and the way Adam handled it that they missed that their story isn’t a tragedy. Ultimately, what I think matters most is that they love each other and have made their marriage work. What other people think of how he handled things means a lot less in the grand scheme of things. They’ve obviously done something right. They’ve been together for decades.

Adam’s email made my day… I love hearing from people. Even the negative comments give me inspiration and material for the next post. I get joy from writing and learning new things. Maybe some people don’t understand it and think I’m wasting my time. Maybe some people think I should go out and get a “real” job. Maybe some people judge me for what I write and how I spend my time. I’m reminded, once again, that we’re all in the world living our lives from our own perspectives. Not everybody sees what I see, just as I can’t see what others see. So sharing that perspective is useful, especially for those who will try to understand and appreciate it. That’s why I keep doing this. And I want to thank everyone who takes a few minutes to try to comprehend my angles.

Incidentally, nineteen years ago today, Bill put an engagement ring on my finger. We were “engaged” a couple months before he put a ring on it, but it became real when he officially asked me to marry him. I wish he was here today to share some bubbly with me, and not just because I haven’t had any wine since he left two weeks ago. I miss him so much. Glad he’ll be back in a few days. When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t be able to write this blog if not for him.

Happy engagement anniversary.

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book reviews, memories

Repost: Reviewing John Peale’s Just How Far From the Apple Tree…

This is a repost of a book review I wrote in 2015. The book was written by my former philosophy professor, Dr. John Peale. I am posting the review as it was originally written in 2015.

Yesterday, I posted about my old philosophy professor, Dr. John Peale.  My post was about my initial impressions of a book he wrote in 2012 called Just How Far From the Apple Tree: A Son in Relation to His Famous Father as well as a couple of memories I had of college, when he taught me.  I admit my first post about Dr. Peale is a bit critical and negative.  Having just finished his book, I think I can be a little less critical with my review, which is what I’m going to write today.  I found the second half of the book more engaging and interesting than the first part, which was mostly about his long academic road to being a full professor of philosophy at my alma mater, Longwood College (now Longwood University).

Dr. Peale’s book is mainly about his life and some of his experiences growing up the son of famed preacher and author Norman Vincent Peale.  He writes Just How Far From the Apple Tree as I would expect a professor to write.  His style is scholarly and somewhat formal, with no contractions or slang.  Though he does use the first person as he relates his life story, the book comes across as more than a bit dry.  There were a few times when I swore I read the same passage twice.  I hadn’t read the same passage twice; instead, Dr. Peale had repeated himself.  My guess is that this book didn’t get much attention from an editor.

The second half of Dr. Peale’s book, the part I hadn’t yet read when I wrote yesterday, shows a side of him that is more relatable to me.  In that portion, Peale comes down from the academic high horse and writes about things he’s faced.  I mentioned yesterday that Dr. Peale has battled cancer and alcoholism.  He writes that he has been diagnosed with cancer three times.  The first time was in 1991, after a trip to China.  His wife spotted a crusty lesion on his back that turned out to be melanoma.  I believe he was dealing with the melanoma when I had him as a professor.  Ever since 1991, he’s been living with cancer.

Dr. Peale is also an alcoholic.  Having read about his battles with alcoholism, I have a bit more empathy for him.  I grew up with an alcoholic father who exhibited a lot of the same behaviors Dr. Peale describes in his book.  In fact, in some ways, I think Peale’s situation was worse.  My father, to my knowledge, was never arrested for drunk driving.  Dr. Peale was stopped three times.  The first time was in 1971 in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  A lawyer managed to get the judge to reduce the charges to reckless driving, sparing Dr. Peale’s record until many years later, when he got drunk in his office and decided to try to drive to Hampden-Sydney College.  He ended up running off the road and passing out in the car, where he was confronted by a police officer who spotted the almost empty bottle of gin next to him.

I must admit, I was surprised to read that Dr. Peale was caught drinking and driving, was arrested, and had come very close to spending the night in jail.  He was charged with a DUI and finally entered treatment, but continued to drink.  The third time he was stopped, the cop let him off with a warning.  It took a little later before he finally hit bottom and admitted his problem.  He went into rehab and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.  Unlike my dad, Dr. Peale was able to quit drinking entirely and has apparently been off the sauce since March 2000.  I applaud him for that.

Reading about Dr. Peale’s struggles with drinking reminded me of my dad…  finding him in various positions in a state of extreme inebriation.  Like me and my mom, Dr. Peale’s wife found her husband passed out more than once.  Like me and my sisters, Dr. Peale’s children had to deal with their father’s anger issues, much exacerbated by booze.  Dr. Peale writes that most alcoholics are angry people dealing with deep, unresolved pain.  I believe it.  I saw it firsthand in my own immediate family.  Dr. Peale’s pain apparently came from his experiences being his father’s son and feeling like he couldn’t measure up.  He writes that he once felt like his life amounted to nothing.  He didn’t appreciate or value his accomplishments.  He felt ashamed of who he was and drank to try to erase that feeling of shame and despair.  His story is one I can relate to. 

I think Dr. Peale’s book improves dramatically beyond the 45% mark.  The first part of it was off-putting to me and reminded of me of my in person impressions of him.  The second part, the part where he actually reveals part of himself that is painful and personal, redeems the effort that went into reading his book. 

Dr. Peale is obviously very committed to A.A.  He is one of the many people it’s worked for, although not everyone is as successful with it as he’s been.  I think it helps to believe strongly in God for A.A. to work.  Dr. Peale believes in a higher power and I think that, along with having a sponsor who is a good friend to him, has helped him overcome his addiction. 

Anyway…  I’m not sure his book is something that would appeal to a lot of people.  I think it could appeal to people who are interested in the Peale family, but only if an editor revised it and removed the redundancies and stiff, formal, academic style Peale uses.  However, as a former student who attended the university that employed him for so many years, I will say that I found some value in Just How Far From the Apple Tree.  If anything, it was a good reminder to me that everyone has a story and everyone is fighting a battle of some sort.  While I didn’t necessarily appreciate Dr. Peale as a professor, I can appreciate him more as an author. 

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nostalgia

Repost: Even philosophy professors have daddy issues sometimes…

This is a repost of an article I wrote for my original blog on September 1, 2015. I’m reposting it today because I plan to repost the book review that followed it and is referenced in this article. I’m mostly reposting it as it originally appeared almost five years ago.

I am going to preemptively issue a disclaimer.  Ordinarily, in a post like this, I wouldn’t name names.  Since this story has to do with a famous person, his famous offspring, and the book written by said offspring, I’m going to name names in this post.  Apologies to anyone who is offended, because I intend to be brutally honest.

The other day, I started a new Facebook group.  It’s called Random Bullshit.  I started it on a whim and at the suggestion of a local friend after we became disenfranchised from some of the local Facebook groups.  I decided to make the group fairly open to new members, even those who don’t live in Stuttgart, as long as they don’t mind oversharing and raunchy humor.  Right after I started the new group, the subject of philosophy professors came up after I put up a link to my post about how I discovered what enemas are.  One of my friends said he’d mailed an enema to a former philosophy professor at Ole Miss who had given him a poor grade.  I suddenly remembered my former philosophy professor at Longwood University, Dr. John Peale.

Dr. Peale’s philosophy course is, to date, the only one I have ever taken.  In fact, I took the class because I had to; it was called Ethics and everyone at my school had to pass it or something similar to it as part of our general education requirements.  If I recall correctly, the class didn’t meet for the entire semester and was only good for two credits.

With a course name like “Ethics”, I figured I would find the class stimulating.  I remember looking forward to it.  I thought it would be an interesting class, but I was mistaken.  In fact, the only two things I remember learning from Peale’s class are Immanuel Kant (as in, I know he existed and was a philosopher) and existentialism (as in, I know it’s a philosophical theory).  I don’t remember being very impressed by my professor, who came across as pompous, arrogant, angry, and overbearing.  I do remember getting a C in the course, but that was no big deal.  I got C’s in a whole lot of classes, including many of the ones I took for my major.  I never claimed to be a brilliant student.  I came away from Dr. Peale’s class not particularly interested in any further study of philosophy.  Other former students’ mileages may vary. 

One of my best friends in college temporarily had Dr. Peale as an advisor.  One day, he went to see the professor to plan for the next semester’s classes.  While he was sitting there talking to Dr. Peale, my friend noticed a bunch of books on the professor’s bookshelf written by Norman Vincent Peale.  Norman Vincent Peale, who died at a ripe old age on Christmas Eve in 1993, was a very famous minister and author.  He wrote The Power of Positive Thinking as well as many other well-received books.  He was also a founder of Guideposts, an uplifting little magazine that my grandmother used to keep conveniently stationed by her toilet.  I guess they made good reading material.

My friend, whose parents were big fans of Norman Vincent Peale’s books, asked Dr. Peale if he was related to the famous author and preacher.  The good professor said, teeth clenched and with a noticeable edge to his voice, “He is my father.”  Fortunately, my friend had the good sense not to press the issue further and got on with planning the next term’s courses. 

I had mostly forgotten about Dr. Peale until the other day, after bantering with my friend about enemas on Facebook.  That just goes to show you that I have a mind that can find a tangent with anything.  Anyway, as a result of that bantering session, I had a sudden flashback to Dr. Peale’s philosophy class and being publicly embarrassed when Peale yelled at me for an answer I gave that must have seemed stupid to him.  I don’t remember what I said or why Peale thought it was dumb, but I do remember how I felt.  Fortunately, the incident occurred toward the end of the class period and I was able to slink back to my dorm with relative ease. 

At the time, I had never heard of Norman Vincent Peale and had no idea that Dr. Peale was related to anyone important.  I didn’t know he had some personal issues that affected him deeply enough to write a book about his dad.  I just wanted to get through my Ethics class and was having a surprisingly difficult time of it.  It’s not a pleasant memory.  In Peale’s defense, I think he was going through some rather serious health issues at the time and that may have affected his demeanor.  He retired from teaching just a few years after I took his class.

I decided to search for Dr. Peale to see what he was up to these days.  I found a blog that he wrote a few years ago and that’s where I discovered the book he wrote about his difficult relationship with his father.  Because I am nosey and find human relationships fascinating, I decided to order the book, Just How Far from the Apple Tree?: A Son in Relation to His Famous Father.  I’m about halfway through it and will probably eventually post a review on this blog.  For now, I will comment that the book does shed some light on why Dr. Peale came across the way he did to me and my friend.  Despite growing up very privileged, well-traveled, and financially supported, according to his book, Dr. Peale never felt appreciated, regarded, or properly loved by his parents.  In particular, Peale felt neglected by his famous father, who was supposedly not “there” enough for him.

I don’t mean this to sound snarky because I can understand feeling bitter about having parents who don’t appreciate their offspring.  I have felt the same way sometimes about my own parents.  I think a lot of people have this problem and I know it’s a real issue.  On the other hand, the book also reveals a lot of what I observed when I had Peale as a teacher.  He is more than a bit impressed with himself.

After graduating from an excellent boarding school in Massachusetts, Peale studied at Washington & Lee University, a fine Virginia school in Lexington, located right next to Virginia Military Institute.  Virginia Military Institute and, to a lesser extent, W&L, are a part of my personal history.  My dad, an uncle, and quite a few cousins went to VMI.  Bill and I got married there.  A couple of my cousins are W&L grads, too.  In any case, I know for a fact that W&L is a very good private university in a beautiful town. 

Before he went to college, Dr. Peale went to Scotland to work.  He spent a gap year harvesting salmon with his friends, which he admits was a lot of fun.  He also got to travel to London and Paris after exploring the Scottish countryside.  While catching salmon swimming upstream was hard work, it sure wasn’t digging ditches, cleaning horse stalls, or flipping burgers.

Next, Dr. Peale went to Boston University, where he earned a master’s degree and met his wife, Lydia.  Boston University is yet another excellent and pricey university, though maybe it wasn’t so costly in Peale’s day.  Peale followed up by attending Union Theological Seminary in New York, a school he writes his father was against his attending, because Norman Vincent Peale thought it was too liberal.  John Peale’s choice apparently caused friction between father and son, though they were never actually estranged. 

Having later graduated from seminary, Dr. Peale was qualified to be a minister.  However, though he claims to be a “gifted” minister, Peale felt a calling toward academia, a choice that he claims upset his father.  So he went to the University of Chicago, where he studied, and taught courses at nearby Elmhurst College.  Then, he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he earned a doctorate and taught courses.

Dr. Peale writes in his book that he enjoyed financial support from his parents, who helped him and his wife, Lydia, and their children live comfortably and travel extensively.  One time, his parents even attended one of his lectures; they sat in the back as he taught and weren’t obtrusive.  However, Norman Vincent Peale apparently didn’t show his son enough support for his choice to be a teacher over a preacher.  That lack of regard, apparently, really offended the younger Peale, which seems to be the whole basis for his book.  Peale writes that after his lecture, his father wasn’t effusive enough with praise, and that clearly seriously wounded Peale’s ego.

Peale repeatedly boasts about his successes as a teacher, awards he’s won, rewarding relationships he’s enjoyed with his students and colleagues, and his alleged talents as a musician and minister (and I only write “alleged” because I have never been in a position to see or hear for myself).  More than once, he writes about the great schools he attended and the many countries he’s visited, including China several times.  Peale is fascinated by China and was fortunate enough to be able to indulge his curiosity by engaging in in depth study.  Despite that, he’s unhappy enough to write a book about his father, the man he admits helped him to become who he is through financial assistance and genetics.  According to him, who John Peale is is pretty damned special and accomplished.  But based on what I’ve read so far, Peale is wickedly pissed because his famous dad never recognized him as being as great as Peale himself thinks he is.

Again… I don’t mean to sound too snarky about this.  I understand that feeling unappreciated by one’s parents is difficult.  A lot of other writers have written about this very thing: Pat Conroy and Frank Schaeffer are just two of my favorite writers who have had difficult relationships with their parents.  The struggle is real.

On the other hand, there are so many other things in life that are much more difficult than not being “appreciated enough” by a parent figure.  In fact, Peale has even experienced a couple of them himself.  This is a man who has battled cancer and alcoholism, two significant life challenges that can try a person’s mettle.  He doesn’t write much about those experiences, though; instead, he chooses to try to convince readers of how accomplished he is.  Moreover, besides being able to travel a lot, marry his sweetheart, have children, and study at some great schools, he’s had a career in a field where few are able to flourish.  How much in demand are philosophy professors these days?  How much in demand were they when Peale’s career got started?

Has Dr. Peale ever had to worry about the basics in life?  Has he ever gone hungry or wondered how he was going to pay the rent or keep the lights on in his home?  Has he ever lost a child to suicide or a tragic accident?  Besides his health issues, has Dr. Peale ever experienced any true adversity outside the ivory tower of academia?  Were his parents abusive or hateful to him, as Pat Conroy’s father was?  Did they neglect him?  Based on his book so far, I have my doubts.  But I’m not quite finished reading it, so I will revisit this topic again when I have.  Suffice to say, while I don’t remember learning a whole lot in the so-called “gifted professor’s” Ethics course, I am definitely learning something from his book. 

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