family, money, musings, work

Repost: You’ll never make more than minimum wage…

Here’s a repost from January 16, 2016. I am reposting it because it sort of relates to today’s fresh content, right down to my sharing of Ron Block’s beautiful song, “Someone”.

Today’s post is going to be some personal, self-indulgent, introspective drivel that may not interest everyone…  apologies in advance.

Yesterday, a guy I used to work with who is now a Facebook friend posted a tribute to a retired Air Force colonel who recently died.  The colonel, whose name was Luke, had been a manager at the restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia where my friend and I used to work.  I never knew Luke, but I heard many stories about him.  He was one of those people who became legendary everywhere he went. 

My friend’s tribute to Luke was very moving and inspiring.  Luke knew my friend when he was very young and broke.  He stood up for my friend when others were against him.  He helped him become who he is today.  Luke was a few years younger than my dad and may have even run in the same circles with him a time or two.  He retired from the Air Force six years after my dad did; but he was a full colonel, while my dad retired as a lieutenant colonel.

The restaurant where my friend and I used to work was notorious in Williamsburg.  It had a great reputation as a place to eat, and a horrible reputation as a place to work.  The chef, who was also one of the owners, was rather famous because he’d been on television and written a lot of cookbooks.  He was also a Marine.  Having worked in his restaurant, I definitely picked up the military style that was used there to keep things running.  That didn’t mean there wasn’t chaos from time to time.  In fact, when I worked at that restaurant, my life felt like it was totally chaotic.  I was suffering from depression and anxiety and felt like I’d never amount to anything.  At that time, I was also living with my parents.  I was in my mid 20s and had a college degree and international work experience.  But I still felt like a big loser and was unable to find work that would help me launch. 

I remember the day in March 1998 that I decided to apply to work at that restaurant.  I’d had a huge fight with my father.  He told me he thought I was a very arrogant person and that I’d never succeed at anything in life.  He said, “You’ll never make more than minimum wage!”  At the same time, he and my mother were putting tremendous pressure on me to move out on my own.  I was paralyzed by depression and anxiety at the time, and their demands made me feel panicky, helpless, and hopeless.  I was also very angry about a lot of things, particularly that my parents seemed to be ashamed of me and didn’t seem to recognize that I really was trying to become a full fledged adult.

Immediately prior to working at the restaurant, I had been temping at the College of William & Mary.  I was there for several weeks, working in their admissions office, as well as several other places on campus.  I spent the longest time at the admissions office, where I filed away report cards, SAT scores, personal essays, and all of the other stuff hopeful high school kids sent with their bids to achieve admittance.  Having worked in the admissions office and in other places around the campus, I could see why people wanted to go there.  It’s an excellent and prestigious school.  Looking at all the stellar academic records and flawless personal statements written by potential students, I felt a bit sad for myself.  I was a college graduate working as a temp, filing endless reams of papers.  It was mind numbing work that didn’t pay well.

My sister is a William & Mary graduate.  She’s done very well for herself.  They never would have accepted me.  I didn’t measure up to my sister’s greatness, although I do have some things in common with her.  We are both returned Peace Corps Volunteers; we both have advanced degrees in public health; and we both worked at that same restaurant in Williamsburg.  She worked there when it first opened, and I worked there eighteen years later, when I decided I would make more than minimum wage and get on with my life. 

I remember being very determined on that day in March when I applied for the job at the restaurant.  It was my first time waiting tables, though I had worked with food in other capacities.  I had even been a cook.  I enjoyed working with food and thought I could be successful.  It also wasn’t lost on me that the skills one learns waiting tables can be applied to many of life’s trials.

As I sat for the interview, I thought of my dad and how pissed off he made me… and how much I wanted to get out from under his thumb.  It was my second attempt at getting a job at that restaurant.  I didn’t mention my initial unsuccessful attempt to the captain or the manager who interviewed me.  I knew if I got hired, I’d make money and be able to get away from my dad and his belittling comments.  I would someday prove myself.  I set my mind to it and got the job.  I’m still friends with the man who hired me.

Working at that restaurant was one of the most difficult experiences of my life.  It was even harder than being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  The work itself was very demanding and stressful.  It was physically and mentally challenging.  I remember coming in every day, when I first started working there, and feeling like I was going to throw up.  I lost a lot of weight and learned how to wait tables.  I made good money.  I was also sick a lot during those 18 months.  I saw a lot of people quit and a lot of people get fired.  I was incompetent as hell at first and worried that I, too, would get fired.  One time, I accidentally spilled beer on a customer.  My dad sneered when he heard about it and asked if I still had a job.  I did.  I learned that if you were reliable, worked hard, and were honest, you wouldn’t get fired.  And eventually, I became competent and even good at the job.   

I was promoted a couple of times and made enough money to cover all my bills.  Living with my parents allowed me to save up for the next step I needed to take.  I sought help for the anxiety and depression I had been suffering from my whole life.  That process, too, was very difficult for me.  I came to some tough realizations about people I cared about and trusted.  After a brush with insanity and suicidal ideation, I finally felt a lot better and made the decision to go back to school. I took the GRE and applied to graduate school and was accepted.  I haven’t had to look back.  It was my final escape from Gloucester County after several dramatic attempts, one of which being my decision to join the Peace Corps.

Going back to school was a life changing experience for me… as much as the Peace Corps was.  But, I have to admit, working at that restaurant with people who knew and loved Luke, was equally earth shattering in the grand scheme of things.  I never knew Luke, but seventeen years after quitting, I am still friends with many of the people I knew in the late 90s when I was working at that job.  I have read their tributes and comments about Luke.  I can see that they all think of him as a comrade or even family…  Maybe they even think of me that way.  I hated the job when I was doing it, but now I’m honored to be in that group of people.  We were the ones who didn’t quit and had achieved some success.

This morning over breakfast, I was talking to Bill about all this stuff on my mind.  I remembered how my dad had told me I’d never make more than minimum wage and would ultimately amount to nothing.  Back then, that comment was devastating to me.  I was in my 20s, and unsure of what to do with my life.  I felt like I was really struggling, even though others surely struggled more than I ever have.  I kept doing all of these things that I thought would help me succeed, yet nothing seemed to lead anywhere.  But now I think of my friend who wrote the tribute to Luke; he actually slept outside a couple of nights because he lived far so away from the restaurant and had to take buses to and from work.  He’d missed the last one and couldn’t afford a motel.  He did what he had to do to succeed in the job and survived.  Now he’s thriving, living in Washington, DC and enjoying what appears to be a very good life.

Thanks to my parents, I never had to sleep outside.  But I felt like I was never going to launch.  Now, I look back on what my dad said and realize that he had no reason to be ashamed of me.  While I may not be the highest achieving person on the planet, I’ve done alright.  And I have made more than minimum wage more than once.  Maybe I didn’t end up being as successful and awesome as my sisters have, but at least I found someone to love, who loves me back.  I haven’t done anything really shameful or embarrassing.  In fact, aside from being overeducated and too fat for my Dad’s tastes, I’m even living an enviable life.  Maybe that was part of his problem with me.  Maybe he felt like I didn’t deserve what I have.  He probably thought I wasn’t living up to his idea of what my potential was… or maybe he was just projecting some of his psychic shit on me.  Who knows? 

Anyway, though I can’t say working at that restaurant was a whole lot of fun most of the time, I did learn a lot and met some fine people.  The skills I picked up have served me well in life.  In fact, I’d say in many significant ways, I ended up rather rich.  Reading my friend’s tribute to Luke made me realize something important.  Ripple effects can be positive.  Luke inspired and influenced my friend and my friend, in turn, inspired and influenced me.  I’d say that’s worth as much or more than minimum wage.  And I don’t have to be “someone” to be worthwhile.

This isn’t the way I feel about my dad, but it is kind of how I feel about success…  This song is called “Someone”.  It’s by Ron Block, a musician who has earned my admiration and gratitude.  The words are very wise and meaningful to me.  I think this song could be a theme for my life. (And at the time I wrote this post, Ron hadn’t shared a video of “Someone”, so I made one myself.)

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family, musings

On being a black sheep who isn’t missed…

This is kind of a depressing post… but although I wrote it a few years ago, I found myself saying almost the exact same things last night. And although we had a fun evening at the wine stand, I started thinking about this stuff that I probably shouldn’t. I also think I need to see a doctor… but I can’t bring myself to make an appointment. The thought of seeing a doctor fills me with dread and anxiety. And, to be honest, I also don’t really feel like I’m worth the effort. Just the idea of asking for an appointment and getting there seems overwhelming and pointless. I worry that it will set off a cascade of other appointments that I don’t want to deal with. I probably feel this way because of the way I was treated when I was a lot younger.

For much of my existence, I’ve gotten the message from various important people in my life that who I am isn’t okay.  I was always too loud, too opinionated, laughed too much, weighed too much, said too many weird things, overshared too much, offended too much, and simply needed to be taught how to be a lady of some sort.  Many of the people who shared this message with me, either verbally or non-verbally, were close relatives.

I don’t know what Joanna Connor’s life is like, but I relate to her.  I suspect people have the same opinion about her they did about Susan Boyle, before they heard her sing… and the way some people do about me before they get to know me.

The most hurtful messages came from my own father, who often criticized me.  More than once, he left me with the message that no man would find me attractive and I would never make more than minimum wage.  Then, sometimes he’d reverse that comment and say I was “good looking” (after assuring me that he didn’t have to say that even though he was my dad) and, sometimes with surprise, he’d say I was smart.  Although I do remember a few times when he genuinely seemed proud of me and my accomplishments, other times, he acted like I was an embarrassment and a huge pain in his ass.  

Far from having a protective attitude toward me, my dad sometimes actually put me in danger.  I still have physical scars formed in childhood that were a direct result of his boneheaded decisions.  I have a deep scar on my left arm caused when he forced ten year old me to use a box cutter to break down cardboard boxes.  I wasn’t very adept at using the box cutter.  It’s not like he gave me a safety lecture beforehand.  Before long, there was an accident.  The blade slipped from the cardboard and punctured clean through all of the layers of skin on my arm.  I should have gotten stitches, but he didn’t bother to take me to the hospital.  I said I didn’t want to go, and he didn’t insist.

A couple of years after that, my dad took me bike riding.  He wore a helmet and I didn’t.  I had a pretty bad accident when my tires hit some gravel on the side of a busy road (Rt. 14, for Gloucester people who know the roads).  I fell and slid on the pavement, in front of several cars.  I got road rash, sprained a pinky, and had gashes on my face and legs.  I still have a three inch linear scar on the back of my thigh caused by the large sprocket on my bike cutting into my skin.  A nice lady picked me up in her car, while another passerby put my bike in their truck and drove me home. 

Dad rode home on his bike and, once again, neglected to take me to the hospital, even though I had also hit my head.  The next day was the first day of school and I went, looking and feeling terrible.  I remember I made a bad decision to wear an angora sweater.  Little hairs from the sweater were stuck to the huge road rash I had on my side.  There were other situations like this, where I was either neglected or forced to do things that weren’t age or experience appropriate.  I suffered the consequences while simultaneously hearing that I hadn’t been wanted and was a source of shame.    

I also think my dad was very jealous of the fact that I can sing.  In fact, I think he sometimes tried to compete with me.  Like, for instance, in 1998, when I decided to start studying voice privately again, he decided to take lessons from the same person.  He’d bring my mom to his lessons.  When I left the area to go to graduate school, he quit the lessons.

When I first told my dad about Bill, he made jokes about the fact that Bill was LDS.  In fact, everyone in my immediate family seemed to have doubts that I could be dating a really nice, good looking, gainfully employed man.  They also seemed concerned about my competence in picking my own mate.  I got comments from family members who said things like, “I’m surprised at how cute Bill is.” and “Are you sure you want to be dating an Army guy?”  More than once, I heard from my sisters about how unhappy my mom was as an Air Force wife.  They apparently wondered if I had considered her unhappiness when I made the decision to marry Bill.  

Evidently, despite seven years of post graduate education and two years spent living abroad, I wasn’t competent to think about these potential issues.  My mom was nineteen years old when she married my dad.  I was thirty when I married Bill.  Curiously, I don’t remember anyone in my family being concerned about Bill’s psycho ex, who has been the real source of any discontent I’ve experienced (and it’s been pretty minimal, actually).  Later, after we did get married, they mostly seemed to like Bill better than me.  Especially, my dad, who toward the end of his life, clearly preferred Bill’s company to mine.  I don’t blame him for that.  Most people prefer Bill to me.  I’d rather spend time with Bill than almost anyone else, myself.

Later, I’d hear criticism about how Bill and I spent our money (Are you sure you can afford a Mini Cooper?), my looks (Oh my God, you’ve gained weight), my behavior at age 30 (You’re causing a disturbance!), and how I spent my time (Why don’t you get a job while Bill is deployed for six months?).  Sometimes, family members would try to manipulate me into doing things instead of making respectful requests (How long does it take to drive from Atlanta to Durham, North Carolina?).  This was a question I was asked by a sister who felt she knew how I spend my time and wanted me to hop in the car, drive to North Carolina, split a hotel room with another sister, and put in an appearance at my dad’s hospital bedside so she’d feel less guilty about living in Minnesota, where plane tickets and time off from work are too dear.  Instead of asking me directly, she tried to be manipulative.  When I called her on it, she got nasty and accused me of being selfish.  

I’d also get criticized for the things I wanted to talk about beyond trivial subjects like the weather (Why do you always have to talk about such personal things?) or the way I dressed (Why don’t you put on some makeup and fix your hair?  Wear something nicer than what you have on?).  Often, when I’d call home to talk to my mom, I could tell she wasn’t interested.  Then, they wondered why I didn’t want to spend time with them and quit calling home so often.  Oh… and a lot of people in my family hate the way I laugh.  My dad said I sounded like a witch.  My sisters said my laugh sounded fake.  Even my grandmother complained about my laughter, which I will admit is distinctive.  I can’t help it, though.

As I got older, I started to recognize the same attitudes I got from my immediate family expressed more subtly by my dad’s side of the family.  Most of them are Christian Republicans who engage in very black and white thinking.  I didn’t used to notice it because I was surrounded by it all the time.  Then I moved away and started getting to know other people outside of the family.  It changed my thinking and a lot of my previous attitudes.  I started clashing with certain people in my family.  Others just simply seemed to stop talking to me.  In fact, the last time I went “home”, I literally felt like a stranger.  Like… there were family members who literally didn’t seem to recognize me.  Who wants to spend thousands of dollars on a plane ticket and hours of uncomfortable time on a plane to be treated like that?   

Some time ago, I noticed that a beloved cousin of mine, close to my age and someone I used to play with when we were little kids, kept commenting and responding to posts by other family members.  But she ignored me.  Like, I’d see her “like” something posted by one of my sisters or even one of their friends, but I never got so much as a “fuck you” from her.  It made me feel shitty to have to keep seeing that.  It’s not even like it could have even been a “two way street” situation, since she clearly looks at social media, but doesn’t post anything herself.  Or maybe she has me restricted.  In any case, repeatedly seeing her respond to other family members’ posts and not mine made me feel bad, so I decided to delete her.  It wasn’t easy to do that, but I think it was the right decision.  In fact, I doubt she’ll miss me.  

I deleted another cousin for whom I’ve had some hard feelings for a long while.  Some years ago, I discovered she inexplicably had me blocked on Facebook.  I’d see her at family events and she’d be nice to my face, but then I’d notice some shittiness leaking out that she thought she’d kept well-hidden.  In this case, I think it’s yet another situation where there’s some jealousy and insecurity.  Like me, she’s a musician and used to be the only “singer” in the family.  I sense she resents that I am also a female musical type and, while I don’t play guitar or write songs like she does, I have a much better singing voice.  That sounds like bragging… and you know what?  I don’t really care.  It’s the truth.  (ETA: I wrote this in 2018. This cousin died in 2020. I don’t miss her.)

A few years ago, when my dad was on his death bed, this same cousin, who once had me blocked, re-friended me on Facebook.  It didn’t take long before I began to realize that she mainly did it because my dad was her uncle and I was the most active Facebook poster in my immediate family.  It was like she wanted in on this particular chapter of family drama– to make a show of caring, probably because she thinks it’s the “Christian” thing to do.  I soon realized that even though she’s my cousin, she doesn’t like me.  And frankly, the feeling is mutual.  If we weren’t relatives, I definitely wouldn’t choose to be friends with her.

There were a couple of other cousins and relatives by marriage I deleted mainly because of a total lack of engagement or a subtle air of disapproval.  They’d become names on a friends list rather than “loved ones”.  A few years ago, I deleted a couple of cousins because they refused to do anything but argue with me about politics.  They weren’t interested in anything else.  Or they’d post smarmy, condescending bullshit about my being “loved and respected” while they proceeded to insult my intelligence. 

For instance, one cousin wanted to know what my master’s degree in public health (with a health administration focus) has to do with knowing how health insurance works.  He insisted that his time as a former life insurance agent meant he knows more about health insurance than I do, despite my having an advanced degree in the subject.  I certainly wouldn’t discount his experience and basic knowledge about how insurance works, since he used to sell it, but why couldn’t he acknowledge that I also have knowledge of the subject?  Maybe he’s just one of those people who thinks college is for chumps.  But you’d think he could at least recognize that I do know something about health insurance.  I didn’t buy my degree from a diploma mill.  My guess is that he sees me as a simple female, which automatically makes me inherently dumber than he is.  

For years, I’ve tried to be a bigger person about this stuff.  I’ve ignored subtle disses from family members.  Except on this blog, I’ve not really acknowledged that no one from my family of origin values any input from me.  I’ve tried to detach from the drama and mostly tried not to take things personally.  I think I’ve finally just gotten to the point at which I’m ready to be done with the stupidity.  Maybe there will be no one at my funeral.  Maybe I won’t even have a funeral. 

It makes me sad to see people with loving family relationships because I don’t really have any myself.  What I’ve had is basically a facade of a loving family.  Underneath that facade is the unspoken message that in order to fit in, I need to change who I am.  I’ve tried to do that and it just leads to major depression and anxiety.  So I’ve decided that the picture below is my new motto.  

Seriously… because a lot of the stuff that pisses me off is stuff that shouldn’t matter.  It’s better to cut bait and be done with it… and them.

I’m done with swallowing criticism from other people, especially those who aren’t even involved in my life.  From now on, I’m going to do what I want to do.  It may mean I’m done with attending all family events, once and for all.  But, I’ve had it.  I live thousands of miles away and it costs a lot of money and time to visit my relatives.  They don’t value my presence in their lives, so fuck them.  I’m going to spend time with people who actually want to spend time with me.  So far, that seems to be mostly Bill and my dogs.    

You probably have to go to YouTube to listen to this, but this song pretty much sums up how I feel today…

And here are the lyrics by James Taylor… a man who knows the trouble I’ve seen.

I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I was raised up family, man, I’m glad I’m on my own.
I mean, God bless the child that can learn to live alone, yeah.

Thinking about my cousin, what it was that did him in.
Could it have been that whiskey, rotgut, bootleg, bathtub gin?
It’s like it took a lot of liquor just to let him live in his own skin.

Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, you got to ride it on back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The ship set down on the shore of this uncharted desert island,
me and my people fanned out, I guess we settled down a little while.
Ah, but the devil came with the dark days of winter, man, the children ran wild.

I used to know why, no, I don’t know why anymore.
I used to know why, no, I don’t know why no more.

I get to wonder at the Kundalini thunder, down under my floor.

You got to ride it on back, take me back.
Back in Raleigh, North Carolina, yeah, do you wanna go?
Way back in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Well… in my case, it’s Natural Bridge, Virginia.  But you get the idea.

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family, funny stories, love, marriage, memories

Pulling passive aggressive pranks that get under dad’s skin…

Today’s featured photo is a screenshot of Carmen Miranda.

Hee hee hee…

I had quite an epic laughing fit this morning. You know when you laugh so hard you feel like passing out, or throwing up, or peeing on yourself? That’s the kind of laughing fit I had. It was all because of Bill. My stomach muscles were actually quaking as I forced myself upstairs to calm down.

Bill and I were having a conversation about the meaning of life. I told him I thought maybe I was born to be his companion and dispense wisdom to him. He said, “You share wisdom with others, too. What about that woman who was on the Montel Williams Show and wrote to you when she saw your article about mycophobia?”

Bill was referring to my weird phobia of mushrooms, that I have had since I was a toddler. It’s a problem that has dogged me my whole life, exacerbated by my mean-spirited family members who did things like chase me around the house with mushrooms and draw shark teeth and fangs on illustrations of mushrooms in my coloring books. I know my phobia is ridiculous; that’s what makes it a phobia. I have an irrational fear of mushrooms, and people have laughed at me my whole life because I can’t even bring myself to touch one, let alone eat one. I don’t like looking at them or smelling them. But, at least I’m not as phobic as I was when I was very little. I used to have full on panic attacks when I found them growing in our yard in England, complete with screaming, hyperventilation, and being frozen in terror. Yeah, I am serious. I don’t do that anymore, thank God, but I might if you try to make me touch a mushroom.

Suddenly, I was reminded of the time I went off on one of Bill’s dickheaded ex colleagues, because he was laughing at my phobia. Granted, we were at a Biergarten, and both of us were quite inebriated, because the party was funded by the loose change left by a departed boss. It was over 900 euros worth of coins, and we didn’t even drink enough to use it all up… When the company lost its contract, everybody was basically out of a job. That was when Bill got hired by his current employer, which also hired– and later fired– his ex colleague. Like I said, he’s a dickhead, so it’s not surprising that he got fired.

In any case, this guy was laughing at me at the Biergarten because I have mycophobia, so I cussed him out in a very vulgar and profane way. It was almost like I couldn’t help myself. The guy’s wife was standing nearby with their young son, who was probably about twelve or thirteen years old at the time. Her mouth was agape in horrified shock at my language. Her husband, though, the dickhead on the receiving end of my tirade, was oblivious, and still laughing at me. I remember leaving the gathering still really steamed. I never forgot that guy, even though I killed plenty of brain cells that night and shouldn’t have remembered the incident.

This morning, we were talking about my mycophobia, and how many people had enjoyed the article I wrote about my experiences. I got a lot of comments on that piece. Bill reminded me that the lady who had been on Montel Williams had even found the post. She wrote me an email about her experiences. Bill said, “I’ll bet that was comforting for her. Someone else has the same problem she has.” Actually, I was comforted seeing her on the show, since she was reacting very much in the same way I used to when I was very young. Montel actually got her to eat a mushroom. He would not have been able to get me to eat one, because he did it by kissing her. I don’t like to kiss people on the lips. I don’t even kiss Bill that way.

So anyway, I brought up his old dickheaded colleague, and Bill started talking about the guy’s son, who had witnessed my profane outburst at the party. The kid is VERY intelligent. I remember that he was speaking near fluent German to our waitress. He goes to a private school and is being taught in a European style. I suspect he’ll someday go to a very fine university. I remembered that he was used to hanging around adults. In fact, I recall that a few years ago, the young man pissed off Bill’s former boss’s wife, who had wanted him to sit at the kids’ table. Dickhead’s son cheekily told Bill’s boss’s wife that he didn’t HAVE to sit at the kids’ table. His DAD had told him he could sit with the adults.

I remember Bill’s former boss’s wife drunkenly vented to me about how insolent she thought the lad was. At the time, I probably responded with sympathy. However, after being around the kid a few times, I realized that he was right. He was basically 13 going on 30, and didn’t need to be hanging out with kids. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more “adult” child in my life.

Bill said that the boy is very clever, and likes to get under his dad’s skin by doing passive aggressive things that are also hilarious. He told me that one time, the dickhead was describing how his son had deliberately pissed him off. As dickhead told Bill the story about his son’s passive aggressive antics, he was kind of chuckling. But it was clear to Bill that he was also still kind of pissed about what his son did. This is where I started laughing so hard that I literally thought I was going to faint.

via GIPHY

Oh my GOD!

Bill said that dickhead is homophobic, and he didn’t like it when his son acted in an effeminate way. He would go out of his way to discourage his son from doing “girly” things. So one day, after a shower, the boy wrapped a towel around his whole body (as opposed to just his waist), and put another towel on his head, turban style. Then he started dancing around his dad like Carmen Miranda would, just to be annoying.

The mental image of that was so funny to me, especially as I imagined dickhead’s reaction to it, that I about fell apart with laughter. I haven’t seen or talked to either of those guys since the night I cussed out dickhead, but I remember how bright the kid is… and what a dickhead his dad is… and I have a feeling that he probably pisses his dad off regularly! The thought of that delights me! I say, all smart-assed passive aggressive kids unite! Kudos to the boy for even knowing who Carmen Miranda was!

The only passive aggressive thing I used to regularly do to my dad, was deliberately ask him questions whenever he sang or hummed in front of me. I did that because I hated it when he sang and hummed, and asking questions forced him to stop singing. His voice was like nails on a chalkboard to me. I don’t know why. A lot of people thought my dad had a lovely singing voice. I was definitely not among them. I used to get in trouble because, when I was very little, I would put my fingers in my ears whenever he sang solos in his many choral groups and church choirs.

I probably didn’t like his singing because he would often try to sound like someone he wasn’t, like when he would mimic opera singers like Luciano Pavorotti. My dad was not trained, and didn’t even read music. He could sing on key, but he was not an opera singer. So, to me, he just sounded like he was very constipated when he would try to sing like Pavorotti. And I really didn’t like it when he hummed. It was very annoying to me. My reactions to my dad’s singing voice are a major reason why I didn’t start singing, myself, until I was 18 years old. Even then, I only did it for a college general ed requirement. It took awhile before I would do it publicly.

But in spite of my disdain for his singing voice, my dad often got solos in church, so I endured a lot of his performances. He further pissed me off when I decided to study voice as a means to help me get over clinical major depression. I deliberately didn’t tell him about the lessons for a long time, because I knew what he would do. Sure enough, he got wind that I was taking voice lessons and decided to take lessons from the same fucking teacher. Yeah… we had a rather rocky relationship.

Bwahahahaha!
Or maybe I was laughing because I thought of this hilarious scene from Three’s Company.

I sure did need that laugh. It was like a full on circuit of sit ups– my muscles actually hurt. Last Sunday, I spent the day pissed off at my cousin, and at Bill, because he went TDY. This Sunday, the endorphins are rushing because I had a much overdue belly laugh… If I could do that every day, maybe I’d lose my beer gut.

I don’t know how the dickhead and his son are getting on these days, but I have a feeling that the lad could be a chip off the old block. It delights me to think that he does creative and funny things to get his dad’s goat. I wish I had thought of something that genius when my dad was still living. It would make for great family story lore. And now, I’m going to be laughing about teenaged boys dancing like Carmen Miranda for the rest of the day. It’s like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon!

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mental health, nostalgia, poor judgment, psychology, social media

AITA? Nah… I don’t think so, even if you do…

Lately, I’ve been following Reddit Ridiculousness on Facebook. Every day, the person who runs that page shares certain over the top threads from the Am I The Asshole page on Reddit. I don’t follow Reddit much myself, but it seems to me that the person who shares the threads on Facebook deliberately picks the posts in which the person asking is very obviously NOT the asshole. Sometimes, the posts are a little bit triggering and provoke unexpected enlightenment. I share them with my friends and conversation develops. I like it when conversations develop, since they promote understanding… especially among people I actually know offline. A friend might reveal something about themselves as they comment on these threads which offers insight into who they are as people. Sometimes, I can relate.

For instance, back in my college days, I had a lot of “issues”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was suffering from clinical depression and anxiety. The reason I didn’t know I was depressed was because I had been that way for so long that it was “normal” for me. I was always a very emotional person. Everything affected me, even really stupid things that should not cause me a moment’s pause. I would either think something was insanely funny and laugh inappropriately, or I would be so overcome with shame, humiliation, or anger that I would melt down in tears. I had a real problem regulating my emotions to the point at which some people thought I was bipolar (I’m not). I’m now surprised I got through those years without some kind of black mark on my permanent record.

I was also suffering from “disordered eating”. I hated my body, so I would attack it by doing unhealthy things. I used to skip meals all the time, which would make me kind of temperamental and mean. I hated going to the dining hall for many reasons. One time I didn’t eat for a few days, but then I broke the fast by drinking a lot of beer. I tried to exercise a lot. I wish I could say I did it because it made me feel good, but I probably mostly did it for optics, and to escape my roommates. I often thought of suicide, mainly because I didn’t know what to do with myself or why I was born.

My problems with dieting started when I was about eleven years old. I grew up with three sisters, and they were constantly dieting and running to lose weight. One of my sisters was like a rodent. She would always eat half of things and leave the rest in the packaging for someone else to find. We actually did have mice in our house, so this wasn’t a very hygienic practice. It was also very annoying for obvious reasons.

I never was one to be ritualistic about food. I didn’t count bites, hide food, or eat a certain number of bites. I would just skip meals. Because I went to a highly residential college, people would notice and sometimes say things to me. I would feel both embarrassed and kind of gratified that anyone cared. I’m sure it was annoying behavior, though… and I’m not particularly proud of it. Sometimes I did it for attention, and sometimes I did it because I actually wanted to self-destruct.

There were other times, besides my college days, when I engaged in these kinds of weird food related behaviors. I usually did them when I had to live with other people who weren’t family, but I did it with family, too. Often, I would skip meals after my dad yelled at me, criticizing my weight or appearance or touching me on the back, telling me I had “fat” I needed to lose. I remember one distinctly humiliating incident involving my father. My mom had been trying to force us all to lose weight and I ate more than my dad thought I should have. So he screamed at me and said, “You hog!” A few days later, my mom asked me what I was “living on”, since she hadn’t seen me eat. That was the only time I remember her ever being concerned, even though I regularly skipped lunch at school. My parents were very image conscious, and I never really did seem to measure up, at least when I was a child. They often had a complaint about my appearance, personality, the way I smelled after being at the barn, or even the way I laughed. So I tried to change, sometimes in the very needy, attention seeking ways that I thought might “show them”. It was all very stupid and immature, but I was definitely not the only one doing it.

There were times when skipping meals caused negative consequences… like the time I lost out on Champion of my division at the state 4H horse show because I had neglected to eat. I was so dazed when we finally got in the show ring that the judge never saw me and my beloved Rusty. We had won first place in the first class, but didn’t even make the “cut” for the second. After the class, we went back to the barn and I was unbraiding Rusty’s tail when I heard my name, summoned back to the ring. It turned out we’d ended up tying for Reserve Champion and had to hack off for the honor, which Rusty and I won. As I was accepting the ribbon, the judge asked me where I had been! Maybe the end result would have been the same if I hadn’t been so focused on not eating instead of what we were doing. Either way, I felt like such an asshole after that class because we hadn’t done our best and it was my fault.

We won this class out of maybe 75 ponies or so… I was shocked.

We could have been champs! Oh well… this was still kind of a thrill. Not a day passes that I don’t miss Rusty. He was my best friend.

Although I was never a thin person, I did used to skip meals all the time. Most of the time, I didn’t seem to suffer any ill effect, except on the occasions when I would faint. But even those episodes didn’t seem to be because I skipped meals. It was more because I would be drinking something on an empty stomach, swallow too hard, cause myself a lot of pain, and have a vasovagal response. I haven’t had one of those fainting episodes in a long time, but when I was younger, they happened occasionally.

When I think back on those days, I feel like an asshole for wasting my youth on so much nonsense. It really was a waste of time to be so obsessed with something as pointless as dieting and weight loss. But in those days, it felt very important. I felt like no one cared, even though I know now that that wasn’t the truth. The truth was, in those days, there were people in my life who cared about me. They just weren’t necessarily my parents. I do know my parents loved me, but they had their own issues, and were trying to run their own business. And I had “crashed” their party by being born when they thought they were done having children. I was too loud, too opinionated, and too rambunctious and obnoxious at a time when they had hoped to relax.

Because I often cracked jokes, people thought I was witty and funny, and they equated being funny with being happy, which I definitely was not. The ability to make people laugh is not a sign that a person loves life. Just look at the number of comedians who have committed suicide or suffered from substance abuse problems. I know a lot of people like to point to Robin Williams as an example of a brilliant comic who committed suicide and hold him up as a poster child for treating depression and suicidal ideation. Personally, I don’t really lump Robin Williams in with people like Richard Jeni and Ray Combs.

Although Robin Williams did commit suicide, he also had a devastating neurological illness that was going to kill him after it made him lose his mind. Robin Williams had Lewy Body Dementia, which is absolutely horrifying. That was the disease that ultimately killed my dad, and after seeing what my dad went through, I would never judge someone for opting for suicide instead of going through that hell. Actually, I generally try not to judge people for committing suicide in most cases. I don’t think it’s my place. Now, I might judge someone for attempting suicide when it’s obvious they’re doing it to be manipulative. But even in those cases, I figure a person has to be hurting a lot to go to that extreme for attention. On the other hand, having to live with someone who pulls kind of manipulative bullshit is also hell.

It bugs me when people hold up Robin Williams as someone who just needed a caring friend and some antidepressants, and that would have prevented him from killing himself. Although he reportedly didn’t know he had LBD when he took his life, he did already have the symptoms of it. Having seen my dad go through that disease, I can tell you that it legitimately makes people irrational, taking away their minds as it wastes their bodies. Think Parkinson’s Disease mixed with Alzheimer’s Disease and all of the indignities that go with either of those diseases; then think of having to suffer both at the same time. That pretty much sums up LBD. Robin Williams was diagnosed only after he died, and doctors said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen. And it had come for him heartbreakingly early. Robin Williams was only 63 when he died. My dad was 81 when he died, but he’d been suffering from LBD for years.

In just a few months, I’ll be 50 years old. I don’t know what I have to show for it, which sometimes bothers me. But then I realize how much time is wasted on stupid shit, like social media. Yesterday, I quit a Facebook group because I got “modded” for something really trivial. In the past, I might have stuck around and tried to argue with the admin. But when I got a message saying that a comment of mine was “removed by an admin” and I should “click for feedback”, I just shrugged and said to myself, “this group is not for me.” And I said “fuck it” and clicked the “leave group” option. Then I wondered for a moment if that was the admin’s goal… to drive people away. But they’ve got 15k members, anyway, so my presence isn’t needed. Then I said “oh well” and took the dogs for a walk. By the time we got back, my mind was on something else… finishing my latest jigsaw puzzle, which I didn’t manage to do.

Why so serious? I’m in the middle, second row, looking depressed, as I often did in the early 90s… and also in the 80s. I was a lot thinner and prettier in those days, too. I should have enjoyed it more, and fretted and obsessed much less. I came very close to quitting this choir because of a row I had with someone. Ironically, it was my dad who talked me out of doing that.

I remember college to be a lot of fun, but it was also a cesspool of people who were dealing with personal problems that most of us knew nothing about. There was often a lot of silly drama and high school antics that went on in those days… things that I thought were so significant at the time, but I now see were ridiculous. I can remember judging people for the way they behaved, without ever really considering why they behaved that way. Years later, I have had the chance to reassess a few people I used to dislike because I didn’t know them very well, and they didn’t know me. I don’t always get those second chances, though, so when they happen, I try to be grateful.

I have since learned that most people who seem like assholes really aren’t; they’re just dealing with something big that no one else knows or cares about. And I think people in their teens and twenties tend to be mired in a lot of drama, anyway. In many cases, it’s really petty drama, but even petty drama can seem huge when a person doesn’t have the life experience they get as they age. On the other hand, there are some unfortunate souls who never learn from the petty dramas and act like they’re about sixteen when they’re in their fifties. Those types of people are always fun to deal with… and in many cases, they really are the assholes that become the banes of everyone else’s existences.

These days, I don’t skip meals very often. It’s probably because Bill notices when I’m hungry and feeds me. He says he can tell when I’m hungry by the way I look, and the fact that I will sigh a lot and get short tempered. I’ll flush red, then get pale and shaky, then plunge into confusion if it goes on for too long. It amazes me that I used to be able to go without eating for as long as a couple of days or more. I can’t do it anymore. I feel pretty sure if I tried, I’d probably pass out… or Bill might decide I am the asshole and file for divorce. I do still have issues with depression, though, and sometimes anxiety, although that’s not as bad as it once was, either. I don’t even cry very often at all anymore, although I still laugh a lot and crack inappropriate jokes… or fart loudly at the breakfast table. Okay, maybe I am the asshole for doing that. Fortunately, Bill doesn’t mind laughing with me.

Thanks to Livingston Taylor for this… it could be my theme song for life with Bill.

Even when I feel like a huge failure when I look at my life and where I feel like I *should* be, I realize that where I am isn’t actually a bad place to be. At least I managed to marry someone who likes me just the way I am. Yes, he also loves me, but more importantly, at least in my opinion, he likes me. He doesn’t want me to change. He doesn’t call me names or tell me I’m disgusting. He doesn’t say he’s sick of me, as my father did on more than one occasion. He also doesn’t do things like pee in the toilet and leave it for me to discover, as my dad did on occasion when I was in my twenties and temporarily living in his house. Somehow, in spite of everything, I found the right man… at the very least. As Livingston Taylor sings, “I Must Be Doing Something Right”. 😉 At least he doesn’t think I’m the asshole, right?

There’s a lot of wisdom in this song. Just remember… just about everything is insignificant, when it comes down to it.
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Military, music, musings, nostalgia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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