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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musings

Seven years ago…

Every day, I’m newly amazed at where Bill and I are. Seven years ago, I never thought we’d be living in Germany, especially for as long as we have. Seven years ago, we were in San Antonio, Texas, having a terrible summer. I remember July 2014 was particularly awful, as my dad had his very last health crisis and we were dealing with constant real estate showings and trying to plan for our overseas move to Stuttgart.

We worried about so much, particularly since we had dogs and Bill had a month of unemployment. I remember when he was offered the job in Germany. It was as if he was a custom fit for the kind of person they were looking to hire. We wanted to move to Germany. They wanted someone experienced in a niche field who would take a low salary. The lack of money is partly why we wound up renting our cheap, weird house, dealing with a very intrusive and controlling landlady from hell. However, living there was a good thing, since it set us up for adventures and helped us save a lot of money.

Plus, I paid off my student loans. In 2014, I still owed over $40,000 on my loans. By 2018, they were completely retired. I don’t think we could have done that if we hadn’t had a cheap house and Bill hadn’t had a job at which he is a star performer.

On this day seven years ago, my dad died after having spent about six years suffering from dementia. I remember my sister leaving me a message on my phone, sounding concerned, but not panicked. She said our dad had a really bad gallbladder attack and had needed emergency surgery. The surgeon removed Dad’s gallbladder successfully, but my Dad was never able to recover from the anesthesia. I remember my dad tried very hard to keep breathing after the respirator was removed. Mom finally told him to let go and be with all of the people on the other side waiting for him. So he stopped fighting and died.

Since then, four uncles, an aunt, and a cousin have died. Three of my uncles died in 2015 alone. I haven’t been home since we did our memorial for my dad, back in November 2014. I have newly born relatives who don’t know me at all and a few who have probably forgotten me. Some have said they’d like to see me, though I wonder if I should believe them.

I do kind of miss Virginia, although the United States seems to be getting weirder by the year. I read a news story this morning about a self-described Virginia militia member who is hoping to see Virginia secede from the Union. He was arrested for breaching the Capitol on January 6th, even though the feds didn’t take that step until he mistakenly told an undercover DC cop and an undercover FBI agent posing as “patriots” about his plans to raise a ruckus.

The “militia member”, name of Fi Duong, is a former Marine of Chinese and Vietnamese descent who says his family has been running from communists. He doesn’t want to see communism take over the United States. So, for that reason, it’s okay for him to be talking about testing Molotov cocktails at what used to be Lorton Prison in Virginia? What about the fact that Virginia went “blue” last November? I mean, I come from Virginia, so I know that there are many conservative voters there. But the conservatives did not win last year. Why is it appropriate for guys like Fi Duong to try to force change that the people clearly don’t want?

It’s scary to read about all of the extremism in the United States right now. People are very polarized.

Still, although I am not a Trumper, I do have a lot of Trump loving family members. Some of them claim to miss me. The truth is, I miss a lot of them, too. There may come a time in the near future at which I’ll want to go home for a visit. But I’m not sure I even want to live in the United States anymore. It’s gotten too strange and dangerous. I almost wonder if I’d even fit in there.

I guess this experience of being in Germany for so long has given me some idea of what immigrants go through. We aren’t immigrants, of course, and we don’t even have resident status here. We’re here on SOFA status, which means we don’t really have the typical expat lifestyle. Germany isn’t home, and probably won’t be, but it feels so much more normal here. Yes, there are some extremists, but not as many as there are in the United States. And there are many fewer guns, which is a nice thing.

I still can’t believe we’ve been here for seven years. It just doesn’t seem real. I look back on it and realize it’s actually been a long time, but the time seems to have flown by so fast. It’s been a mostly good time, too. Sometimes I miss being with people I know and love, but for the most part, being away has been good. I’ve learned a lot and changed… In fact, I may not be able to go “home” again. A German lady we met in 2019 told Bill and me that living here has made us “too European” for the United States. She knows of what she speaks, too, since she had lived in the United States for years. I think living there changed her, too.

I still have a German friend who lives in North Carolina. When I first met her, she complained a lot about North Carolina. Since then, she’s earned a nursing degree and had several American boyfriends. She also bought a house. I suspect she may be there for the long haul. Funny how we kind of traded places. She’s responsible for us finding our sweet Arran.

Well… I guess that’s enough musing for today. I wish I had more to say, but I’m a bit preoccupied. I spent this morning finding and booking a hotel near Zurich. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to enjoy a long weekend down there. Bill will indulge his curiosity about Jung and I will get some beautiful photos for my travel blog. Tomorrow, I will be singing in an online memorial for my old friend. Hopefully, it will go well.

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family, LDS, mental health, Military, rants, rock stars

“Honoring” Alan Osmond’s ego and being “flavor of the month”…

Apologies in advance for this post, since I’ve written about Alan Osmond’s ego before. I’m sure some people wonder why I would write about his ego, given that he’s in his 70s now, and no longer “flavor of the month”. It’s just that I recently stumbled on a video done by his eight sons, The Osmonds 2nd Generation, and I was struck by the egotism of the lyrics in their performance… Behold!

These are Alan’s sons. They have remade Billy Joel’s song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” as a partial ode to family friendly acts, as well as their dad. “He’s our dad; we’re his kids! How do you think we got this gig?”

Maybe it was a combination of finding this video, Father’s Day, and the Donny Osmond birthday video my sister sent me that has me thinking about Alan Osmond this morning. No, he’s not “flavor of the month” anymore. He hasn’t been in many years. There’s no doubt that he has musical talent, as do his sons and other family members, like Donny. Maybe that talent makes them special. Actually, I think Donny is probably the most talented of all of them, in terms of his dance ability, singing voice, and enduring cuteness even in his 60s. I genuinely enjoyed the birthday video my sister sent and was amazed by how charismatic Donny still is, many years after having been “flavor of the month”. But it seems that at least one of Donny’s brothers is still a bit conceited, and thinks of himself as more special than the rest.

As I watched the video above, listening to Alan’s sons praise their dad for realizing his “dream”, I was reminded of a rant I wrote several years ago when I ran across a YouTube video featuring Alan Osmond. He was bragging about how he was a great soldier who was too important to send to Vietnam because he was a show business performer with connections. In the video below, Alan talks about how Heavenly Father basically intervened in keeping him out of a war zone, despite his superior abilities as a soldier.

Um… wow… is he a bit self-congratulatory in this video.

The first time I watched the above video, I got pissed off. Why? Because my father went to Vietnam and suffered from PTSD for decades after he came home. I respect Alan Osmond for doing his bit as a clerk at Fort Ord. That is a valuable service to our country. But in this video, he acts like he was Rambo and was spared the war because he had a “higher calling” in show biz. That’s a bunch of crap.

My dad was forever haunted by his memories of Vietnam. Toward the end of his life, he used to have terrible nightmares. He’d jump out of bed while still sleeping, swinging his fists at imaginary assailants. One time, he hit the wall while fighting in his sleep. He damaged his middle finger so badly that there was talk that it might have to be amputated. My dad also had a serious drinking problem that was exacerbated by being at war, where booze was handed out freely. Nowadays, boozing isn’t promoted in the military like it was in my dad’s day. My dad, who came from a long line of drunks and was raised by a violent alcoholic, was a prime candidate for developing alcoholism himself. The stress of combat, along with the easy availability of booze, was devastating for him. And that devastation had ripple effects on everyone around him, as it profoundly affected him. So, when I hear Alan Osmond acting like Vietnam was a big adventure and he was this hot shot recruit who was deemed “too valuable” for combat, it smarts a bit.

My dad really suffered… and I, as his daughter, also suffered. My dad would have been a better father, husband, friend, and person if he hadn’t been an alcoholic with PTSD. My dad has been gone now for seven years, and I’m still haunted by him. I have some really good memories of him, but I also have a lot of traumatic ones. By the time he died in 2014, I had some complicated and confusing feelings about our relationship. I see all my friends sharing pictures of their dads on Father’s Day. I shared a couple of them, too. But the truth is, as much as I loved him, I didn’t like him very much. And a lot of the reason I didn’t like him was because he was abusive to me. I can’t help but wonder if he would have been less abusive if he hadn’t gone to war and come home with PTSD. I believe he would have been an alcoholic regardless, but maybe the PTSD wouldn’t have been as bad. Maybe we could have had a better relationship. I believe he had it in him to be kinder to me than he was.

I commented on the YouTube video about how “full of himself” Alan is. Some guy named David, who claimed to be a veteran himself, took me to task and told me to STFU. I ranted about that, too, on my old blog. Just because I am not a military veteran, that doesn’t mean I can’t make a comment about Alan Osmond’s service. I am so sick and tired of people trying to shut up people who express themselves. This attitude is especially prevalent in military circles, where it’s very common for veterans to ask anyone who says anything negative about the military if they’ve ever served. Whether or not a person has served should be irrelevant. As Americans, we should be able to express opinions about the military without someone demanding to know if we’ve ever served in the military. As someone who has been in the “military world” since birth, I certainly CAN have an opinion about it. Maybe my views about the military not as informed as Bill’s or another veteran’s would be, but it’s ridiculous and short-sighted to assume that someone who is exposed to the military world, even if they don’t wear a uniform, can’t form an opinion and express it.

If veterans who tell me to STFU really cared about real freedom and what putting on that uniform means, they would cherish the rights of people to share their views, regardless of how “offensive” they may be. I have spent my whole life around veterans, and I have tremendous respect for them and what they do. BUT– I have even more respect for veterans who understand that part of serving honorably is doing so with a pure, unselfish heart. Telling someone to STFU because you don’t think they have a right to an opinion is not particularly honorable. Why should I have more respect for someone who joined the military if they don’t have enough regard for me, as a fellow freedom loving American, to let me speak my mind?

Moreover, one can serve one’s country and NOT be a military veteran. I served my country in the Peace Corps. Others serve by being public servants or even being elected officials, although some elected officials have lost sight of being of “service” in their roles. I took the very same oath that every service member or government employee takes. Like my husband, I vowed to support and uphold the Constitution. Taking that oath as a military servicemember doesn’t make someone “special”. Peace Corps Volunteers also take that oath when they swear in, even though they don’t carry weapons or go into combat.

Someone called “Unknown” left me a comment on that old post about how I shouldn’t disparage Alan for being a clerk. The person wrote:

“There are a lot of soldiers that are on the clerk side. Without them the military would not be able to survive. So you are basically saying unless you were in a combat unit you didn’t serve. There are hundreds of thousands of soldiers that are in the offices as clerks. Doesn’t make them any less important.”

And this was my admittedly irritated response to “Unknown”, who obviously didn’t read very carefully:

It looks like you may have completely missed the point of this post.

I never said and don’t believe that clerks who serve in the military are “unimportant”. On the contrary, I have basic respect for anyone who serves, including Alan Osmond.

My point is that Alan Osmond’s comments about what he did during the Vietnam War are in poor taste. He admits that he only joined the Army because he didn’t want to go on a Mormon mission. He felt that he would have more impact for his church if he stayed home and continued performing with his brothers. So he got a connection in the entertainment business to see to it that he could stay in California and be a clerk. 

Alan Osmond was never in any actual danger, but he brags about how “awesome” his military skills were. I would think that if his skills were so excellent, it would have been more honorable for him to use them in support of his country. But his attitude seems to be that he was too “special” to do that; his job was to be a pop star so that he could spread Mormonism to the masses. 

I am fully aware that there are many “cogs in the wheel” who serve in the military. Each and every one of them has the right to be proud of their service. However, I think bragging about being a typist during the Vietnam War era, especially as you imply that God had bigger plans for you to be a singing star, is very tacky. Moreover, there is a huge difference in simply being proud of one’s service and blatantly bragging about it on YouTube. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with members of the military who serve in non-combat roles. My husband went to Iraq, but basically had a desk job. There is also nothing wrong with people in the military who never see combat, but perform important supporting roles back home. My issue with Alan Osmond is that it’s inappropriate for him to boast about what he did during the Vietnam War era when so many people, not lucky enough to have family connections, went off to war and either died or came home permanently changed for the worse.

Clear enough?

Alan Osmond on why the Osmonds’ dance moves were so “karate-esque”. Supposedly, these moves also made Alan a hot shot in military training.

Watching and hearing Alan Osmond talk about how he did his bit for the Army and apparently God saved him from the jungles of Vietnam is rather infuriating.  There were lots of loving, sensitive, talented young men drafted and sent off to Vietnam to fight in the war.  A lot of them didn’t come back, and a lot of them were never the same when they did come back.  The same has happened to plenty of people who went to Iraq and Afghanistan, though fortunately those wars have not been as personally devastating to as many people as Vietnam was. We do, at least, have more of an understanding for PTSD. There is more help available now. But it’s still such a real and scary thing that has ripple effects that extend far beyond just the person who has it. When I was a child and a teenager, and my dad would go into drunken rages and lose control of himself, I wasn’t thinking about how PTSD was making him act like that. I was internalizing the idea that he was hurting me because I was a bad person and he hated me. You see?

But our relationship wasn’t always bad. Sometimes, it was lovely, and we could share positive things, such as the dance pictured above, captured at my wedding. We also often shared our mutual love for music. In 1986, my dad bought me a live cassette collection by Bruce Springsteen.  Though I don’t remember being a big Springsteen fan before I got that collection for Christmas, I used to listen to it all the time and really got into Springsteen for awhile.  One of the songs on it is a very poignant rendition of “The River”.  Bruce introduces the song by telling his own story about not going to Vietnam…  But his story is so much more respectful than Alan Osmond’s is…

Fellow former “flavor of the month”, Bruce Springsteen, is famously anti-war, but his story about Vietnam is so much more respectful than Alan Osmond’s is.

When I was practicing social work, I had a client who was a veteran. He used to tell me war stories. I always got the sense that they were probably about 90% bullshit, as was a lot of the other stuff he told me (for instance, he lied to me about having cancer). I’ve been around veterans my whole life. One thing I have noticed is that a lot of them don’t want to talk about war. Even Bill, who only spent six months in Iraq behind a desk, was affected by his time there and what he was doing. The people who actually do things that warrant receiving awards that recognize their valor don’t usually want to talk about it.

When Bill visited my parents’ home the first time, he saw that my dad, who was an Air Force officer, had earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in Vietnam.  It was before Bill had ever been deployed himself.  Bill was impressed by my dad’s award, but my dad didn’t want to discuss it.  He said that the reason he got the award was “bogus”.  I have known my share of military folks.  The ones who are brave and do things to legitimately earn those awards are usually very humble about it… because a lot of times, earning those awards involves doing things that they aren’t proud of or acting heroically in situations that end up haunting them for life.    

And yet, there’s Alan Osmond talking about the “trophies” he won in basic training for being a great shot and fighting with bayonets so well because he could dance.  It kind of makes me want to puke.  If he was really that great, the military would have sent his ass to Vietnam, right?  But no… he was a typist/clerk in California for a brief time.  And he brags about it.  Apparently, the Lord wanted him safely at home in the United States so he could be an entertainer and influence people to join his church.  What self-important drivel!  And Alan didn’t appreciate being called a “draft dodger”.  He even commented on the video with more bullshit about promptings from “the spirit”.  He was special because as a Mormon, God only speaks to and protects him and his ilk.  The rest of the guys who went to Vietnam and came back damaged or dead were not special enough to be typists in California for “the cause”.

Ever since I heard that video with Alan Osmond talking about his military service during the Vietnam era, I’ve had a less than positive opinion of him as a person. But then, when I saw the video with his sons literally singing Alan’s praises in a song ripped off from Billy Joel, I wonder if they came up with the idea to honor Alan themselves. Or were they pressured to honor their father in such an egotistical and ostentatious way? Below is another video in which Alan’s sons “honor their father”, and ask the audience to do the same:

Kudos to Alan for singing with his sons. He is a talented entertainer… and obviously, his sons were taught to “honor their father”.

I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that Alan’s sons “honor their father” so conspicuously. I remember the original Osmond Brothers honored their father similarly, even though in later years, they’ve said he was abusive and demanding to a fault. In this 2003 era documentary about being Osmond, the brothers talk about how their hopes and dreams were thwarted by the desires and needs of their family of origin.

I appreciated the candid look at the Osmonds in this documentary. However, Alan is not the only one with an ego. At the 36 minute point, Merrill brags about saving people from suicide by allowing them to pay him for a phone call during which he’s talked them out of ending their lives. In 2003, he charged $27.99. Now, he charges $50.

We kind of see the same “father centric” dynamic in the Duggar family, as Jim Bob Duggar is repeatedly described as “someone you don’t say ‘no’ to.” Personally, I think it’s kind of egotistical for people to have so many kids. What makes a person think the world needs so many people with their DNA running around? But I know people have their reasons for having so many kids. In the Duggars’ case, it’s that they believe God is “blessing” them and not that they’re just having sex at the right time of the month and farming their babies out for their older kids to raise. At least in the Osmonds’ case, it looks like Mother Osmond raised her children.

Anyway… I’ve got no qualms about stating that Alan Osmond and his brothers clearly have talent. And, as someone who comes from a musical family, I understand the joy of sharing that gift. I’m grateful to Alan for his military service, too. He did his part, which is more than a lot of people can say. However, I would be much more impressed with him if he showed some understanding of how fortunate he was not to have had to go into combat and potentially get injured or killed, or spend the rest of his life forever traumatized by war. I’d have more respect for him if he realized how lucky his family members are that he didn’t come home in a box or permanently changed by spending time in a war zone. And while I think Alan’s sons are also very talented performers, I think they would do well to realize that their dad has a long way to go before he reaches musical genius status. Hell, I think about Sting, who has also been called “conceited” by some… but I have seen Sting perform and watched him generously share the stage with others… and even remember students he had when he was a teacher.

I can’t imagine Alan sharing a post like this…

Phew… I feel better now. Father’s Day is always an emotional time of year for me for so many reasons.

Well, it’s time to walk the dogs and get on with the rest of the day. If you made it through this rant, thanks. And please do me a favor and don’t miss the point. It’s not that I don’t respect Alan Osmond’s military service. I just think he’s an egotistical jerk. That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

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family, funny stories, LDS, music, religion

Repost: Church jerks… or, the only time my dad wasn’t upset by my use of the f-word…

I’m sharing this anecdote from my earlier blog. It was written February 4, 2017 and appears as/is.

I’m lucky.  I grew up in a church that didn’t have that many jerks in it.  By and large, Presbyterians are a pretty low key group.  Or, at least that’s always been my experience.  They don’t tend to get in your business or act holier than thou.  Or, at least they don’t as much as some other churchgoing folks might.  My experience growing up Presbyterian was that we went to church for two hours on Sunday and that was basically it, unless we wanted to get involved in a social activity of some sort.  And it was entirely voluntary.

I just read an entertaining thread on RfM about the biggest jerks in church.  Some of the stories are pretty classic.  To really get the thread, you need to know something about Mormonism.  For instance, Monday nights are sacrosanct because they are “family nights”.  Monday nights are when families do some kind of church affirming activity together.  It’s supposed to promote bonding.

One guy wrote that he was trying to get some church business taken care of and this dude wouldn’t answer his emails.  So he called him at 8:30pm on a Monday night thinking that would be late enough not to interrupt family night, but not so late that it would wake up the guy’s kids.  The guy got an earful from the person he was calling.  The man of the house was put out that the guy would dare call him on “family night”.  Then the church jerk hung up on the caller.

Another person wrote about a bitchy wife who got into a Facebook argument with someone.  One of the parties involved wrote something along the lines of “I hope this disagreement won’t spoil our friendship.”  And the bitchy wife wrote back that she wasn’t “friends” in the first place and basically implied that she was better than the other person in every way.  Hmmm… how Christ like!

One guy wrote about being bitched out by a church member for “wasting the Lord’s time” at Walmart.  Even though it was “p-day”, the one day they got to do stuff like grocery shopping and laundry, this church member felt it was appropriate to publicly dress down those poor guys, who were no doubt tired, depressed, disheartened, and working for free, anyway.  Sheesh!

The only church related drama I remember from the church I grew up in happened when I was an adult.  I’m sure there were other dramas that I wasn’t privy to, but I am not really aware of them.  My parents mostly got along with people in our church, although my mom didn’t always attend because she was the organist at different churches.  There were two stints when she played organ at our church, but most of the time, she was playing at Methodist or Baptist churches.  I mostly attended church with my dad, who sang in the choir.  My sisters were out of the house, so I was left to sit with another choir member’s wife.

My dad fancied himself a good singer.  Besides being in our church’s choir, he was also in a number of local choral societies and singing groups.  He was often given solos by the choir director, a really cool lady who graduated from my alma mater, coached softball, and taught driver’s ed at the high school.  The driver’s ed teacher served as the choir director for many, many years, but had finally decided to quit.  The church had to find someone to take her place.

My parents were instrumental in getting a Jewish Russian woman hired as the choir director, even though a lot of people didn’t think she was qualified on account of her not being a Christian.  My parents wanted her hired because she had musical expertise, which the driver’s ed teacher hadn’t had.  The Russian lady, name of Olga, had degrees in music from the former USSR, I think.  The driver’s ed teacher had been very nice and was kind to choir members, but her lack of formal musical training had been a source of frustration for my mom, who was tired of playing the same shit every week.

After much debating among church members, Olga did indeed get the job.  She promptly pissed off my mom, who was the church organist at the time, by picking music and not consulting her.  Olga treated my mom, who had about fifty years of experience, with utter disdain.  My mom got so upset that she called the new director an “asshole”.  I had never before and have never since heard her call anyone that.  Mom eventually quit over the choir director and went back to playing for Methodists.

Some time later, the choir director infuriated my dad by telling him very frankly that he “didn’t have a soloist’s voice” and she stopped giving him solos.  To be fair, my dad could sing, but I hated it when he did.  That’s another story, though. 

In any case, this development, quite naturally, pissed my dad right the fuck off.  He was furious!  I remember him asking me to help him draft a resignation letter telling off the Russian choir director. 

I tried to explain to my dad that Russians and many others from the former Soviet Union tend to be brutally blunt.  When I lived in Armenia, it wasn’t unusual for strangers to stop me in the street and offer to sell me Herbal Life because they thought I was too fat and needed help.  And if you were a crappy singer or a lousy artist, they would flat out tell you you sucked.  Fortunately, Armenians always responded favorably to my musical pursuits. 

I understand it’s a bit of a stereotype to say that all former Soviets are like this, but culturally, they kind of are…  at least on the whole.  That’s just how they are… kind of like how a lot of Germans take a very long time to warm up to people they don’t know.  It’s not intended to be hurtful, per se.  It’s just their culture.

My dad wasn’t hearing me, though, and was extremely upset with the choir director.  So I helped him write a letter and titled it, “Fuck off, Olga.”  That was the only time my dad wasn’t upset by my use of the f-word.  I don’t think he ever gave her the letter.  He stayed in the choir for as long as his health permitted.  Olga eventually left the job and they replaced her with someone more appropriate for a Christian church choir.

I haven’t attended a service in that church since about 1993 or so… but there are still people there who remember me and my parents.  But then, it’s a church in a small town and people choose to be there rather than get assigned based on where they happen to live.  It’s my understanding that Mormons are basically assigned wards and they attend whatever ward serves where they live.  Either that, or they go to wards based on their marital status.  That could be why there are a preponderance of “jerks” out and about in Mormon and other “demanding” churches.

Anyway, I’m grateful that I didn’t have that experience with church jerks, except for ones that happened to be my age and were jerks to me simply because they thought I was annoying or weird.  It had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with our ages and/or maturity levels.  Thank God for that.

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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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