funny stories, memories, nostalgia

Repost: Whatever became of Margaret, my worst ever roommate?

I wrote this post on June 14, 2017. It appears here mostly as/is. Names, certain locations, details, and dates have been changed to protect the guilty. A follow up post from June 15, 2017 is available here.

Sometimes, when I get bored, I go into “obsessed fan” mode. For some reason, last night I decided to look up my very first roommate at Longwood College. After some determined sleuthing, I found her. Apologies in advance, because this is going to be a long post.

I mentioned this ex roommate a few years ago, when I discovered that my final college roommate, Latissia, had died of a heart ailment.  It was probably because of my experience with my first ex roommate that Latissia and I lived together.  Latissia had decided to move on campus because she could no longer afford to pay rent off campus.  She ran into a bunch of rejections by potential roommates on campus.  She claimed it was because she was black.  For all I know, that very well may have been the case.  Racism is still alive and well in Virginia. 

Truth be told, I didn’t want a roommate for my final semester in school.  I like living alone (or with Bill).  But thanks to ex roommate #1, a hideous woman I’ll call Margaret, I relented and agreed to live with Latissia.  That turned out to be a good decision.  Latissia was a nice person and a considerate roommate.  I’m truly sorry she died so young.  She may have had heart disease, but she also had a big, warm heart.

I distinctly remember my very first day at Longwood College.  It was August 1990.  I had talked to Margaret on the phone.  She was coming from Richmond, although she had graduated from a private boarding school.  Her parents were wealthy.  She and her brother had both been adopted by their attractive and well connected parents.  Margaret’s father had graduated from the University of Virginia and had grown up in Charlottesville.  Margaret told me all of this during our first communication, in between asking me what appliances I intended to bring with me and letting me know that she was bringing a 25 inch TV, a fridge, and a microwave.  I also learned that Margaret is exactly 10 days older than me.  That’s probably why we got paired by the housing office.

We were assigned a room in Curry Hall.  At that time, most freshmen were being housed three to a room because Longwood was short on dormitory space. Each of the rooms in the high rise buildings had bunk beds, and a single bed in them.  For some reason, Margaret and I did not have a third roommate.  Curry was, in 1990, one of the newest dorms at Longwood.  It had been constructed in 1970 or so and was air conditioned.  Next to it was an identical high rise building called Frazer.  Because Virginia summers are insanely hot, in 1990, it was considered a good thing to get to live in Curry.  More dorms and apartments have since been built at Longwood.  It’s probably downright cushy now. (ETA: Both Curry and Frazer have since been gutted, renovated, and renamed, since their former namesakes had ties to racism.)

So there I was in August 1990.  I opened the door to my dorm room.  There was Margaret.  She was about 5’10” and morbidly obese.  Besides being very large, Margaret wore braces.  She had frizzy dark hair that had been bleached and badly needed a touch up.  It was pushed back from her face with a padded hairband.  I remember my mouth dropped open at the sight of her.  I know it’s unkind to write this, but given the way she ultimately treated me, I think it’s fair.  She was downright ugly, both inside and out.

Margaret had already claimed the single bed in the corner of the room.  I took the bottom of the bunk bed.  I had brought a horse blanket (it was never actually used on my horse, since I already had one for him) that I won in 1988 and draped it over the vacant top bed, so I had a makeshift curtain.  Margaret had also put her huge TV on my dresser.

At first, Margaret was nice to me.  She liked James Taylor, as do I.  She had what was then Taylor’s latest album, Never Die Young.  I distinctly remember her playing it, followed by “I Shot the Sheriff” by Bob Marley.  To this day, when I hear songs from Never Die Young, I think of Margaret.  Strangely enough, I like that album despite the negative connection with my least favorite roommate of all time.   

I remember we sat around and chatted a bit.  It seemed like we would get along.  She told me that her mother had just spent a couple thousand dollars on her wardrobe.  I remember thinking the clothes weren’t all that special– certainly not a couple thousand dollars worth.  Perhaps the money went toward the sheer volume of fabric required to make them.  I don’t know.  

Margaret also told me that she’d been hospitalized for some reason, and that had cost her parents a lot of money.  But, she added, they had plenty of money, so it was no problem.  Money, it seemed, was Margaret’s main contribution to any relationship.  Money, and food, that is.  Later, when I said I didn’t feel like going to the dining hall, Margaret said we should go because that was our dinner.  Then, I’m pretty sure she ordered a meat lovers pizza from Pizza Hut, which in those days was still pretty good.

On that first day, Margaret told me she had traveled a lot as a child and wanted to spend her life traveling.  She was majoring in political science.  Her dad worked a lot in South Carolina and had a home there, as well as in Charlottesville.  Margaret had also been accepted into the University of South Carolina.  She had decided on Longwood because, according to her, “Anyone can get into USC.”  Then, she said she’d like to go to the University of Virginia, but was willing to “try to fall in love with Longwood.”  Funny that I eventually went on to earn two master’s degrees at USC– a school that “anyone can get into”. 

In 1990, all new freshmen at Longwood had to take a class called Longwood Seminar.  Introduced in 1987, it was a college orientation course.  In 1990, Longwood was still a very residential school and most students, even the seniors, lived in dorms on campus.  Most people got to know their roommates and hallmates pretty well.  By the time I finished college at Longwood, I knew most of my classmates. 

Longwood Seminar sections were divided by residence halls or, if you were a commuter, you’d go to a section with commuters.  Everyone in my Seminar class was from our floor in Curry.  Margaret and I were in the same section.  There was another woman in our Seminar group I’ll call Marie.  Appearance wise, Marie was everything Margaret was not.  Tall and slim, she had big brown eyes, adorable dimples, porcelain skin, a giggly Marilyn Monroe-ish voice, and beautiful strawberry blonde hair.  I remember she was striking, very friendly, and popular with the men.  She lived across the hall from us with two roommates.

Somehow, in the very first couple of days of our college careers, Margaret and Marie befriended each other.  Marie was suddenly inviting her new bestie, Margaret, to attend fraternity parties with her.  I stayed alone in the dorm room and went to bed early.  One night during our very first week of school, Margaret and Marie went to a frat floor (there was one next door in Frazer) and stayed out until about 3:00am.  They barged into the dorm room, turned on the overhead light, and very rudely and unapologetically woke me up.

Although it would have been wise for Marie to go back to her room for some sleep, it became clear that these two bitches intended to stay up and party some more, even though we had classes in the morning.  Later that day, Margaret boldly proposed that I move out of our room and into Marie’s, so Marie could room with Margaret.  I remember being absolutely floored at her nerve, expecting me to move out just days after I’d moved into a room that was rightfully as much mine as it was hers. 

Naturally, Marie’s two roommates also didn’t want me moving in with them because, like all of us, they were in a room that had originally been intended for two.  If Marie was moving out, they wanted the room to themselves.  I can’t blame them for that. 

I remember chatting with the peer advisor on our floor, a nice girl I’ll call Samantha.  Samantha’s job was to help freshmen settle into college life.  She tried to smooth things over between Margaret and me, but it became very clear that our rooming situation was not going to work.  Margaret wanted to live with Marie and had made it very plain that she expected me to leave.  If I didn’t leave, the two of them were going to make it their mission to make me miserable.  Marie made some crack about my dated tastes in music, then very frankly told me how much her twat itched (this part of the story is not made up).  I couldn’t help thinking that her itching was probably due to her extracurricular activities on the frat floors.

Days into my college career, I went to the housing office, which was overwhelmed with trying to deal with all of the new students.  I explained the situation. They told me I should try to stick it out with Margaret.  I don’t remember exactly what I said, because it seems to me that it was a policy that freshmen weren’t allowed to switch rooms so early in the year.  I probably cried, because I cried easily in those days, and I was definitely frustrated and overwhelmed by the situation. 

The housing people gave me a list of names of upperclassmen in dorms who didn’t have roommates.  They told me I needed to go see if one of them would let me move in with them.  There I was, my first week of college, knocking on doors.  Naturally, none of them wanted me living with them.  I distinctly remember one woman I talked to, a pretty black woman who lived in Frazer, telling me honestly, but somewhat kindly, that she didn’t want a roommate.  But, unlike the others, who wouldn’t even deign to talk to me, she did say that if I couldn’t find anyone to live with, I could come back and we’d discuss it.  Of course, having been told to my face that I wasn’t welcome, I didn’t relish the idea of crawling back and begging to be allowed the dorm space that my parents had paid for.

I went back to the housing office and explained that none of the people on the list wanted to share a room with me.  They said quite firmly that those people were going to have roommates eventually, which gave me small comfort, but still didn’t solve my problem. 

Then, after a little searching through their files, the housing officer said I could move to the second floor in Tabb Hall.  Tabb was considered one of the “worst” dorms.  It was not air conditioned and had communal bathrooms.  Because of the bathrooms, everyone on that floor was female, while there were guys living on the first floor.  I wasn’t too thrilled to move to Tabb, but the housing people did tell me the room I was getting was vacant.  The woman who had been living there had applied to move to another room and supposedly had left.

So, that weekend, the residence education coordinator (REC), an affable guy I’ll call Joe, helped me move my stuff out of Curry and into Tabb, which was across campus.  When Joe got a look at Margaret, he asked me “Was that your roommate?”

“Yes.” I said glumly.

Then he said, “Wow.  A little bit of her goes a looong way.” 

That comment cracked me up!  So many years later, I still haven’t forgotten it.  Joe later nominated me for some leadership training in Virginia Beach that I unwisely passed on taking.  I’m not sure why he nominated me, but for some reason, he liked me.  I probably should have taken the training.  Maybe my ultimate fate as the Overeducated Housewife might have been changed. 

Anyway, I opened the door to my new room, which was smaller and less modern than the one in Curry.  I was puzzled, because the person who was supposed to have moved out clearly had not.  She had gone home for the weekend, though. 

I looked on the wall, where she’d taped her schedule.  To my shock, her name was also “Margaret” (not her real name), although she spelled it differently and went by Maggy.  She also had the same last name as the first Margaret, although they had different middle names.  I remember thinking that was a freaky coincidence.

Sunday evening, Maggy came back to find me sitting there in the room she had previously occupied alone.  Although I know she wasn’t thrilled with the situation, Maggy made the best of it.  Like Marie, Maggy was physically everything Margaret was not.  She was thin and very attractive, a second semester freshman who had designs on joining a sorority.  Maggy also smoked.  But unlike Margaret and Marie, Maggy was not mean to me and even hung out with me at times.  Once, she and one of her pledge sisters even took me to her house in Chesterfield.  We were not best friends, but we were mostly civil to each other until we parted ways.   

Maggy joined one of the most popular sororities on campus and her time was taken up with her Greek activities and hanging out with her boyfriend.  Because of her popularity and activities, I pretty much enjoyed a room to myself that fall.  Then, during the Christmas break, Maggy moved into Stubbs, which was the sorority dorm.  She left her crappy black and white TV, which she later tried to reclaim the following year, but never actually picked up.  No one else moved in during the spring, so I had my own room.

As for Margaret, I soon noticed that she stopped attending our Longwood Seminar class, as did Marie.  I later heard that they were constantly partying and had basically given Longwood the finger. A few weeks later, my parents and one of my sisters came to visit me for parents’ weekend.  We happened to pass Margaret.  I had told my sister all about her, so when she saw her, my sister immediately recognized her by my description.  She elbowed me and whispered, “Oh my God… is that her?” 

I nodded affirmatively. 

“She’s disgusting!” my sister said.  “And even if she wasn’t huge, she’d still be ugly.  I mean, if you lost some weight, you’d be really cute.  Losing weight would not make her look better.” 

I make no apologies for my sisters’ unkind and very frank observations about Margaret and me.  I mean, yes, I know it was a mean thing to say, but what she said was truthful.  Margaret was not only physically unattractive, she was also an unpleasant, inconsiderate, and very entitled person.  She did not have inner beauty to compensate for her hideous appearance.  Moreover, my sister wears a size two and is unabashed about fat shaming.  She’s done it to me my whole life.

Margaret eventually left school– I’m not sure if she was gone after the fall semester.  I later heard from our peer advisor, Samantha, that she had moved to Charlottesville and attended community college.  Then, after a semester or two, Samantha claimed Margaret’s father got her a spot at UVa.  I remember thinking that was pretty shitty, since she had pretty much flunked out of our less prestigious school and UVa’s standards were supposedly very high.  I do know that Margaret’s dad contributed a lot of money to UVa.  It’s possible they altered the standards for her.  On the other hand, maybe she just led Samantha to believe she was going there.  I don’t know.

I also heard from my former suitemate that they’d all hated living with Margaret because she was very inconsiderate and evidently smelled bad.  The former suitemate, a very snooty sorority girl who sang with me in the college’s Camerata Singers, also told me that she hadn’t liked me, either.  Fortunately, she only had to deal with living with me for a few days.  After she made that comment, I couldn’t help laughing to myself that she’d been stuck living with Margaret and Marie.  I also never spoke to her again.

Last night, I got curious about whatever became of Margaret and Marie.  I went looking for both of them and managed to find them.  I learned that Margaret now lives in South Carolina, having previously lived in Dublin, Ireland.  It appears that she often works from home.  It looks like she currently isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids.  It’s possible that she has at least one ex husband, though I can’t confirm it (and don’t really care, except to pity the poor guy).  I have seen her listed by at least two other last names.

Margaret’s dad is apparently still wealthy and involved with UVa.  I see that his son, Margaret’s adopted brother, works with their dad in Columbia, South Carolina.  He is married and has kids.  Amazingly enough, although it’s very clear that Margaret’s family is very pro-Republican, Margaret’s dad was once a Peace Corps country director.  

I was blown away by that realization, especially since I was a Peace Corps Volunteer myself and I am absolutely certain that Margaret would have never made it as a Volunteer.  Not only would the lifestyle have been too hard for her, she would not have been medically cleared due to her extreme weight issues.  But then, I also know that many country directors live in plush circumstances and sometimes those jobs are political.  My own Peace Corps Country Director lived and acted like a queen, even though she had twice been a Volunteer herself. 

I also learned that Margaret’s brother, despite having attended a posh boarding school in Virginia, got his degree from Midlands Tech (basically a community college in Columbia).  Although I have nothing against Midlands Tech, I am kind of puzzled as to why he went there when his family obviously had the means and was image conscious enough to send him somewhere more notable.  Maybe it was his preference, though. 

Looking closely at Margaret’s recent pictures, it appears that she may have had weight loss surgery.  She is noticeably thinner than she used to be, but has the appearance of someone who lost a lot of weight very rapidly.  Although we are ten days apart in age, she looks a lot older than I do.  It also looks like she might be wearing a wig.  Her hair looks unnatural.  If she had weight loss surgery, that would make sense.  I know hair loss is one side effect of not getting enough protein, which often happens in people who have surgery to lose weight.  It’s not that I would necessarily criticize her for having surgery, by the way.  She would have definitely been an appropriate candidate.  On the other hand, it’s possible that she lost weight for another reason.  My guess is that she went under the knife, though.

I looked at old pictures Margaret had made public.  In her younger days, her mother was a very beautiful woman.  I remember her telling me that her mom was of Balkan descent, although she was born and raised in the southern United States.  In the late 60s and early 70s, she definitely looked like a Greek goddess.  She was thin, exotic, and very elegant… again, not at all like Margaret.  I kind of wonder if maybe that was why Margaret and her brother went to boarding schools.  In fact, maybe that was why Margaret turned out to be so shitty.  Maybe her parents were disappointed in her.  I can relate to that to some degree.  Maybe Margaret was treated badly by her family and peers and that’s why she was so unabashedly nasty to me. 

My experience with Margaret and Marie definitely affected me.  When my final Longwood roommate, Latissia, came knocking on my door senior year, I decided not to give her a hard time about being my roommate.  She moved in and we ended up being pretty compatible.  It was actually a pleasure to know Latissia.  She was a good person with a kind heart.  Margaret was not. 

I see that as she had predicted, Margaret travels a lot, but it looks like she mostly does so alone to very expensive places in Europe.  Margaret and Marie (whom I also found last night) are clearly no longer besties.  Marie is still pretty, but it looks like she’s had a few marriages.  She now lives in Ohio.  Curiously, I see that she both worked for a church (in sales of all things) and managing a bar.  I could see Marie managing bars, actually… and in a Jessica Hahn-ish sort of way, I could also see her working in a church.

As for me, I still have friends that I got to know while living in crummy Tabb Hall.  One of my friends is a guy who lived on the first floor.  Over thirty years later, we’re still good buddies.  When we were sophomores, first and second floor Tabb saved a hall in adjoining French Hall (which is no longer a dorm).  We all lived together sophomore year, which was also tumultuous due to my roommate(s) that year.  I doubt I would have made such good friends if I had stayed in Curry.  There’s something about having to share a bathroom that builds friendships.  In fact, I’d say that living in what was supposedly the “worst” dorm on campus probably turned out to be a coup.  I even grew to like Tabb for its convenient location and character. 

It occurs to me that I might be sitting in prison today, because I might have been driven to kill Margaret.  She was an astonishingly rude and inconsiderate person who is likely abusive to her friends and family members.  I am pretty saturated with abuse, so I doubt I would have been able to stand it for long.  On the other hand, Virginia is (thanks to Ralph Northam– was) a big death penalty state.  Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten life.

Anyway… I suppose the point of this long-ass story is that things usually work out for the best.  It all turned out fine and this was probably the way it was supposed to be in the long run.  I’m glad I don’t know Margaret anymore, although it’s weird that our lives are kind of paralleled.  I hope our lives stay parallel and we never run into each other again.  The REC was right.  A little bit of her goes a looooong way. I’ve had enough to last me the rest of my life.

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book reviews, funny stories

Brotherhood… and sisterhood… and a reposted book review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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