book reviews, true crime

Repost: My review of They Always Call Us Ladies by Jean Harris…

This will be the last repost of today, an as/is Epinions book review I wrote of They Always Call Us Ladies, by Jean Harris. It was written in October 2005. The paragraph immediately below is an introduction I wrote when I reposted this review on my original blog, on January 21, 2015.

Here’s yet another interesting review of a book written by a woman who committed murder.  In this case, the perpetrator was Jean Harris, former head of The Madeira School in McClean, Virginia.  She shot her lover, Dr. Herman Turnover, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, dead when she found out he was being unfaithful to her.  Well educated and well employed, Jean Harris was the last person anyone would have ever expected would end up behind bars.  In 1992, Harris was released from prison on compassionate grounds.  She died of natural causes in an assisted living center on December 23, 2012.  She was 89 years old.

A very unlikely voice from behind bars…

Jean Harris, author of the 1988 book They Always Call Us Ladies is probably the last person anyone would have ever guessed would have ever spent time in prison. Harris, who is a graduate of Smith College, had spent her whole life educating people, even working as the headmistress of the exclusive and very expensive Madeira School for girls in toney Great Falls, Virginia. But in March of 1980, the 15 year relationship she had with Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet, came to an end. She fell into despair and decided to visit Dr. Tarnower in New York. Unfortunately, she brought a gun with her, allegedly planning to kill herself that night. She ended up killing her lover instead and wound up sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 

Much has come to light about Jean Harris’s case. In fact, just last week, my husband Bill and I caught a special on Court TV about Jean Harris. She is now out of prison, having been released in 1993 after thirteen years behind bars. Her book, They Always Call Us Ladies, was written four years prior to her release from behind the walls of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in Bedford Hills, New York. As I read this book, I got the feeling that Jean Harris was trying to make the best of her situation, as hard as it was for her. In many ways, They Always Call Us Ladies is an eye-opening book. In other ways, it leaves some questions unanswered.  

I don’t remember exactly when or where it was that I picked up Jean Harris’s book. I do remember that I got it at a second hand bookstore, probably about ten or eleven years ago. I was lured by the subtitle: Stories From Prison. I didn’t even have an idea who Jean Harris was when I purchased this book. I suppose I was looking for lurid details. At the time, I lacked an appreciation for books that weren’t long on action. I remember trying to read They Always Call Us Ladies and setting it aside after only a few pages or so. I was disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get what I had been looking for.  

I picked up Jean Harris’s book again last week after I saw the special about her on television. This time, when I started reading it, I was able to keep going. And now, I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Jean Harris, the convicted murderer.  They Always Call Us Ladies is a remarkable book that goes far beyond just “prison stories”. Jean Harris also tries to educate her audience about the history of her prison and the importance of prison reform. Clearly intelligent and articulate, Harris offers readers some valuable insight into what it’s like to be in prison and puts a human face on the ladies with whom she did time. She points out that no one is ever called a “girl” in her prison; instead, they are all called ladies. But despite the overtures of gentility, prison life is hard and Jean Harris effectively drives home that point. 

At the time Jean Harris wrote They Always Call Us Ladies, she was more than halfway to her first opportunity for parole. She focused a lot of time and energy toward helping the other inmates, especially those with children who were born in prison. The fact that she actively spent much of her time helping and getting to know her fellow inmates is clearly evident as she relates more stories about the “ladies” around her than herself. It’s not surprising that Harris is empathetic to the other ladies. She explains how and why some of the other prisoners ended up in prison and why a few of them came back again and again. They were simply unequipped for life on the outside of the prison’s walls. At the same time, Harris injects her own opinions about what she sees. Although she is sometimes disapproving toward the lifestyles of the ladies with whom she is serving time, she is always supportive of them as human beings. I got the feeling that she took a fond motherly or grandmotherly interest in the other prisoners and they, in return, took a similar interest in her. 

One thing that did strike me about They Always Call Us Ladies was that, although Harris makes it clear that her life was hard, I got the feeling that the prison she was in was very progressive. The prison had a children’s center, where new moms could keep their babies for a year. If the mother was going to be paroled within eighteen months of giving birth, officials would allow the mothers to keep the child until the mom got out. Harris explains that Bedford Hills was the only American prison that was allowing new mothers to keep their babies at all. She then points out that in Europe, prisons are much more accommodating. I got the feeling that she much preferred the European way of doing things. It’s not that I blame her for liking the European way better, but I did notice that Harris doesn’t really explain the differences between the European and American cultures. Just as some people view imprisonment as strictly punishment, other people see it as a chance for rehabilitation. I got the impression that Harris is more for rehabilitation than punishment and evidently that’s the way the Europeans feel about prisons, too. 

Another thing that stuck out at me as I read They Always Call Us Ladies is that it must have been a HUGE culture shock for Jean Harris to be in prison. She is nothing like the other ladies she writes about and, I suspect, that Jean Harris never had much of a criminal mind. In fact, I think it was a tragic turn of events that led her to prison in the first place. Because she is so much a fish out of water, she gives her readers a rare and different glimpse of life on the inside of a prison. She doesn’t seem like she belongs there.  

Jean Harris does include some examples of dialogs she heard in prison, even writing them in dialect. She explains the racism that she witnessed in prison, mostly directed at her fellow inmates. She comes across as almost detached. I had heard on a few occasions that homosexuality is rampant in prisons and Jean Harris doesn’t dispute this fact; in fact, she offers statistics on homosexuality in prisons. She also doesn’t give any indication as to whether or not she engaged in homosexual conduct. She seems especially detached from this issue as it personally pertains to her, even though she addresses it regarding other prisoners. 

Harris’s memoir does include some foul language, but it’s used in the context of quoting other people. She never uses it herself and doesn’t condone its use in other people. In fact, in one passage, she writes disapprovingly that those who must use the word “sh*t” in place of every noun have a serious deficiency in their vocabularies. As I read They Always Call Us Ladies, I was continually reminded that Jean Harris is first and foremost a teacher, not because she actually wrote those words, but because of her actions and her writing style. I do believe that Harris must have been a great asset to her students, despite the fact that she later wound up in prison. 

My comments on They Always Call Us Ladies so far have been overwhelmingly positive. For the most part, I did really enjoy reading this book, even though it’s been sitting on my shelf unread for years. Despite my positive comments, however, this is not a perfect book. For one thing, Harris writes a lot about legislation circa 1988. For an historical point of view, this is a good thing. I get the feeling, though, that Harris didn’t mean for her book to be read years down the line; she meant for it to be read when it was hot off the presses. Consequently, her references to “now” and 1988 drive home just how dated this book is. For another thing, anyone who is looking for information about what got Harris put in prison will be disappointed.  For that story, you’d have to read one of her other books. 

Because she doesn’t really discuss her crime, I almost got the feeling that she didn’t think she belonged in prison. I got the feeling that even though she was in prison, she wasn’t of it. And while at times her writing drifts very slightly into self pity, she never really gave me the impression that she felt like she deserved to be in prison, even though she did kill a man. Again, I don’t believe that Jean Harris initially set out to kill Tarnower. That doesn’t change the fact that she did kill him. Yet, there are times in this book that she seems to take a detached, almost superior position over the inmates about whom she writes. On the other hand, I have no idea what prison must have been like for Jean Harris. Maybe taking this position offers her a defense mechanism– a way to protect herself from the reality of her situation. The last, but not necessarily negative, comment I want to make is that this book is challenging reading. Even though I enjoyed reading They Always Call Us Ladies, I didn’t find it the kind of book that I could finish in a matter of hours.

They Always Call Us Ladies appears to be out of print. If my review has enticed you to seek it out, be warned that you may have some trouble finding it. Nevertheless, I will recommend it to a wide audience because I think it is an impressive and enlightening book. If you have any interest in prison reform or history and want to read an eloquent, true account from someone who’s seen prison firsthand, I definitely would encourage you to read this book if you get the chance.  

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book reviews, dogs, Virginia

Reviewing My Journey with Ernie: Lessons from a Turkey Dog, by Heidi H. Speece

A few weeks ago, I ran across an entertaining article in the Daily Press, a newspaper I read when I was growing up in Gloucester, Virginia. I had to use a VPN to read the article, thanks to the strict privacy laws in Europe that have made reading the news from home more complicated. I am glad I had the VPN, though. Otherwise, I might not have ever had the opportunity to read about Ernie, an adorable golden retriever “Turkey Dog” who is now happily living in York County, just across the river from where I spent my youth.

In that Daily Press article, I was introduced to Heidi H. Speece, a high school English teacher who decided she needed a change in her life. Change was most certainly in the cards for Heidi– in the form of a rescue dog from the streets of Istanbul. After I read the newspaper story, I was interested in reading Speece’s book. It turns out we have a lot in common, and not only because I grew up just over the river from where she now lives. We’re close in age, and I was once an English teacher, albeit only for a couple of years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Like me, Heidi Speece is a dog lover. Her former golden retriever, Buddy, had died about a year before Speece heard of a very special dog rescue called Kyra’s Rescue, which is based in Washington, DC. Kyra’s Rescue aims to find homes for stray dogs, primarily from Turkey. Turkey has a big problem with homeless dogs, many of which are golden retrievers or mixes thereof.

After Buddy died, Speece was missing canine company. She had visited Turkey on a cruise in the late 90s and had loved the country. So she contacted Kyra’s Rescue and started the process of adopting Ernie, a golden retriever who was found abandoned outside a Turkish auto body shop in March 2017. Now about ten years old, Ernie has brought Speece laughter, adventure, and much joy. But it could have turned out very differently for Ernie if not for a few guardian angels, both in Turkey and the United States.

When he was found, Ernie was malnourished, mangy, and had a bad hip injury, most likely caused by being hit by a car. He had managed to survive, thanks to kindhearted mechanics who worked at the auto body shop. They gave him scraps of food and let him sleep in the shop when the weather got too inclement. Later, a woman took Ernie to a pet boarding facility, where he was eventually connected with Kyra’s Rescue. Ernie arrived in the United States on July 4, 2017; Heidi picked him up in the parking lot of an IKEA the next day, and gave him the middle name “Bert”. You can probably guess why she added the name “Bert”, if you are familiar with the children’s TV show, “Sesame Street”. I used to live in northern Virginia, so I know exactly where the IKEA is where Heidi and Ernie came together!

I am familiar with the homeless dog issue myself, having spent two years in neighboring Armenia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I still vividly remember the packs of street dogs there. I’ve also visited Turkey, so I’m not surprised that there are stray dogs there. However, I was surprised to read that the homeless dogs in Turkey are often golden retrievers. Golden retrievers are originally from Scotland. Also, I’d always known them as great family dogs, lovable, sweet, and friendly. But then, although I’ve adopted several rescue dogs, I have little personal experience with golden retrievers.

As I read Speece’s hilarious story about Ernie and his non-stop antics, I sort of understood better why they might be cast out of their human families– not at all that I condone abandoning a pet. It turns out that golden retrievers are sweet, but very mischievous! People who are inexperienced with golden retrievers sometimes adopt them, forgetting that the cute little puppy will eventually grow into a large dog who can raise all kinds of ruckus. Very soon, Heidi Speece got the excitement she needed, as her new companion collected balls, ran amok at football games, and attacked model skeletons in veterinary offices. Ernie quickly bonded with Heidi’s mom, who lives in Williamsburg. She dubbed herself Ernie’s “grandmummy” and also eventually adopted a “Turkey Dog” from Kyra’s Rescue, another golden retriever named Limerick.

I really appreciated the thoughtful touches that are included in My Journey With Ernie. I mentioned that Heidi Speece teaches English, so her book includes some resources that other authors might not have considered. At the end of her story, she admits to knowing that high school students often use tools such as “Cliff’s Notes” to familiarize themselves with works of literature. In that vein, Speece offers a “watered down” version of her story, including a cast of characters, which makes it easy for me to remind myself of details I might have missed while reading the book. I thought it was an ingenious touch!

My Journey With Ernie was just published last month, so the information in it is very current. Speece even writes about a recent rule from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that is wreaking havoc with Americans who have pets and live overseas. In July 2021, the CDC imposed a temporary ban on importing dogs to the United States from countries at “high risk” of rabies transmission. Turkey is on that list of high risk countries; so at the moment, it’s much harder for Americans to adopt dogs from Turkey.

I’m in a Facebook group for servicemembers who are moving to or from the United States with pets. Germany is NOT on the CDC’s banned list of import countries. However, because of the hassle and potential liability issues from the ban, Lufthansa, Germany’s national airline, which happens to be among the best for transporting dogs, has also reportedly been declining to transport animals to the United States from Germany. It’s caused a huge problem for people who are trying to rotate back to the States from Germany with their dogs.

I’ve read many panicked messages from Americans trying to move back to the States with dogs and running into roadblocks. And the new rule also doesn’t help that negative impression some Germans have of American dog owners. Speece rightfully points out that, although the rule came about because someone imported a rabies positive dog from Azerbaijan, the odds of other dogs coming to the States with rabies is tiny. The new rule really does make things difficult for a lot of people and their pets. I speak from personal experience that international travel with dogs has never been easy or cheap, even before the pandemic struck and this new rule was enacted. Hopefully, some successful lobbying will get the rule dropped or restructured so that it doesn’t cause such a hardship for Americans who live abroad.

As my regular readers might know, Bill and I adopted a street dog ourselves last year. On August 31, 2019, our beloved beagle, Zane, died of lymphoma. Ordinarily, we would have contacted a beagle rescue and adopted another beagle to keep our surviving dog, Arran, company. But beagles aren’t as popular in Germany as they are in the United States, so they aren’t as easy to adopt here.

Americans also suffer from a lingering bad reputation among animal shelters in Germany, thanks to some members of the military abandoning their pets before leaving Germany to go back to the States or elsewhere. A lot of Americans in Germany who want a dog end up buying them from breeders. We didn’t want to buy a dog from a breeder. Bill and I did try to adopt a beagle from a German pet rescue, just as the pandemic began. But thanks to a series of disasters and an ultimate tragedy, that adoption didn’t work out. You can search my blog for the story on that incident.

But happily, we do have another dog now, which makes me have something else in common with Heidi Speece– as our latest dog is also from a country that has issues with strays. A fellow dog loving friend and dog rescuer introduced me to an American woman named Meg who lives in Germany and rescues dogs in Kosovo. That’s how we ended up with Noyzi, our Kosovar street dog. Noyzi was found by a young man from Pristina. He was a four week old puppy, all alone and screaming in the street. The young man named Noyzi after an Albanian rapper and gave him to Meg, who kept him for about two years, until Noyzi finally found his way to Germany through Bill and me.

Next month, we will have had Noyzi for a year. It’s been such a pleasure and honor to watch Noyzi go from being a terrified and confused dog, to a loving companion and family member who surprises us every day. No, Noyzi isn’t a beagle, and he’s not like any of our other dogs. He’s very special and much loved. So, on that level, I could relate to Heidi Speece’s story about adopting her “Turkey Dog”. By all rights, Ernie, like Noyzi, should not have survived puppyhood. But look at both of these dogs now! They are living their best lives. In a way, it’s a reminder that the American Dream can be a very real thing– even to species other than human!

I suppose if I had to offer a criticism of My Journey With Ernie, it’s that I’m sure some people will point out that there are plenty of homeless dogs in the United States. But personally, I am not going to offer that criticism, since I have a dog from Kosovo, and he’s changed and improved my life. I can tell that Ernie has given Heidi Speece the change she needed in her life. And Ernie has no doubt made a lot of people smile, which is the job that dogs do best.

If you love dog stories, I would definitely recommend Heidi Speece’s book, My Journey with Ernie: Lessons from a Turkey Dog. I’m glad I read it, especially since I have so much in common with the author. I think it will appeal to anyone who has ever loved dogs and adventure. It’s a quick, easy read, entertaining, and often hilarious. And it really does touch my heart to know that Ernie and Limerick have found new lives in America. Dogs are wonderful for bringing people together and helping them form friendships. I feel like I have a friend in Heidi Speece, even if we’ve never met!

Well, Noyzi the Kosovar street dog is now pestering me for a walk. I’m sure Arran will join him soon. I guess this ends today’s fresh content. I hope you’ll read Heidi Speece’s book and let me know what you think!

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book reviews, business

Repost: Fascinating look at the Thalhimer family of Virginia…

Here’s another reposted book review, which appears as/is, and was originally written on October 6, 2015. It comes up because last night, I was remembering The Sword and the Kilt, and trying to describe popovers to Bill.

Having grown up mostly in Virginia in the 70s and 80s, I often shopped at the Thalhimers department store at Coliseum Mall in Hampton, Virginia.  Since I was a kid back then, I didn’t know anything about Thalhimers or any of the other venerable department stores that were around back in the day.  I just know my mom would shop there with me when I managed to convince her to take me to the mall, instead of AAFES, for my school clothes.  When I got older, I used to go shopping with my former best friend and her mother and we’d have lunch at Thalhimers very cool medieval themed restaurant, The Sword and the Kilt.  It was the first place I ever had a popover.

Sadly, back in the early 1990s, Thalhimers was lost in a hostile takeover.  The May Company, which bought a number of historic department store brands in those days, pretty much ruined Thalhimers to the point at which it was no longer recognizable.  It finally died a pitiful death after 150 years of business, mostly in Virginia and North Carolina.

An interview with Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, author of Finding Thalhimers.

I don’t know what prompted me to research Thalhimers, but I somehow ended up finding out about Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt’s 2010 book, Finding Thalhimers.  I downloaded the book and just finished it today.  I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the history of a local retail giant with a fascinating history.  Reading Smartt’s descriptions of the years when the business was booming made me wish I were older so I could have seen more of it for myself.

As you might guess by her name, Smartt is herself a member of the Thalhimer family, and she grew up watching her dad go to work at “The Store”.  Smartt fantasized about one day being president of her family’s business, but unfortunately, it was not to be.  Discount chains like Wal-Mart, Target, and even K-Mart spelled death for many department stores. 

Finding Thalhimers is about more than just a retail department store chain.  It’s also about the fascinating history of the Thalhimer family, which originated in Tairnbach, a tiny town not too far from Heidelberg, Germany.  Since I am currently living near Stuttgart and have visited Heidelberg, this part of the story was especially interesting.  I learned things I never knew.  For instance, Smartt writes that her family is Jewish and back in the 1800s, Jews were not allowed to have last names.  When the law changed, the parents of the man who would found Thalhimers in Richmond, Virginia, decided to give themselves a name that reflected their origin in Germany.

Smartt then takes readers on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean.  Her ancestors landed in New Orleans and made their way to Richmond, where they would have a profound effect on the local economy and the city’s development.  I enjoyed reading about how Thalhimers had a friendly rivalry with Miller & Rhodes, another venerable Virginia department store institution.  I remember shopping there as a kid, too.  Unfortunately, they also perished just a couple of years before Thalhimers did.

I enjoyed reading about how the name Thalhimer was originally spelled Thalheimer.  Thanks to a sign painter’s sloppy spelling, the brand’s name changed forever.  Smartt’s book touches on so many notable times in history, too.  She writes about an ancestor who spent three months with a friend driving around Europe in his father’s Chevrolet, making sure to avoid the political unrest in Germany that was going on during the 1930s.  The young man visited stores, collected ideas for the business and products to be offered, and had a good time being young. 

Smartt writes about the civil rights era of the early 1960s, when Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes were targeted for sit ins.  I was impressed by how Thalhimers handled the racial tensions of the times.  And she reminds readers that her family once owned the Golden Skillet fried chicken restaurants that once dotted the land.  I used to love Golden Skillet chicken, though it never ended up being the next KFC as some in the family had predicted.

Smartt also writes about some of the business deals her ancestors made, some of which were very shrewd and kind of fascinating.  As someone who grew up visiting Richmond and the surrounding areas, I was very intrigued by her descriptions of what it was like there as the Thalhimer family built their business.  They made some amazing deals that netted huge profits.  I almost got the sense that things might have been different for the Thalhimer family had they focused on what the Walton family was doing.  But that would have certainly upset many of their loyal fans.

An ad for Thalhimers… I remember when furs were okay to wear.

I could tell this project was a labor of love for Elizabeth Thalhimer Smartt, who is just three years younger than I am.  Her writing style is very loving and warm– almost reverent– and she clearly enjoyed talking to many of her relatives and people who were involved in Thalhimers’ success.  I got the sense that she enjoys a close bond with her family, especially her dad.  I was impressed by how she pieced together her family’s history and was able to trace it all the way to their origins in Germany, which she visited with her parents, husband, and sister.

Overall, I really enjoyed Smartt’s book, though I get the sense that she writes the story while wearing rose colored glasses.  I can’t really blame her, since she’s writing about her family.  But naturally, it’s not the most objective look at the Thalhimer family.  I’m sure there are people out there who might have a different take on some of the stories Smartt shares.  I have no horse in that race, though, so I’ll just say I really enjoyed reading this book and am happy to recommend it, especially to Virginia and North Carolina natives who remember Thalhimers.  It’s also a good read for aspiring businesspeople. 

Edited to add: Elizabeth Thalhimer Smart used to have a Facebook page for this book. I wrote a comment and she was kind enough to respond. It turns out that I currently live not too far from where the Thalhimer family originated.

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memories, mental health

Repost: The futility of advising someone to “let it go”…

I wrote this post in the fall of 2018. It was “born” out of a comment I got from someone who was irritated about my tendency to “trash” my husband’s ex wife. This person, who wasn’t someone who had been reading the blog for a long time, thought I was just a bitter second wife. I’m pretty sure I know who the “anonymous” commenter was, as she had been sending me private messages about moving to Germany. In those discussions, she told me she was a “first wife” of someone. I suspect that she thought I was attacking all first wives, when I was really just commenting about my situation with Bill, and how I felt about HIS ex wife. Bill’s ex wife is a special kind of terrible. And no, I certainly don’t think ALL exes are like her, and thank GOD for that!

Anyway, the offended person left me a comment telling me how “inappropriate”, “TMI”, and “negative” she felt my blog is, and advised me to “let it go”, or keep my negative posts about Ex private. She said I came off as “bitter, petty, and snotty”. I was kind of scratching my head at those comments. Was she really expecting me to take her unsolicited advice, especially when they were delivered in an insulting way? I mean, maybe I would if she was a friend of mine, but she was a random person on the Internet who had left me a comment with the moniker “Wondering Why”.

Maybe I would have considered taking her suggestion if people were paying me to write this blog… but as it stands right now, I don’t even take tips for this space. I only recently monetized this blog as an experiment. I may decide to demonetize it, since I don’t like looking at ads any more than anyone else does. But the travel blog is monetized– so far it’s raked in a big fat $1.70. I get far fewer hits on the travel blog, so I would like to see if this blog does better, and if so, how much better.

This post from November 2018 is left “as/is”. It came in the wake of a post I had written comparing Ex to “Wile E. Coyote”. I was inspired to write the coyote post after Bill told me about things his daughter had told him about growing up with Ex and some of the really fucked up shit she did (and continues to do). My husband’s former wife is legitimately toxic and crazy, and it was upsetting to hear about things she did to her own children. So I processed those feelings by writing about them in an admittedly “negative”, “personal”, and “snarky” post comparing Ex to a feckless cartoon character whose harebrained schemes never work out for the best.

Like Wile E. Coyote, Ex usually assumes she knows better… and in fact, she often seems to think she knows all. But the end result of a lot of her big ideas usually turn out to be disastrous, and they have ripple effects that harm innocent people– even people like me, who get upset at hearing about them and write blog posts that piss off clueless readers. I get rude comments, then feel compelled to write even more. 😉 See? More ripple effects!

I should mention that at the time, I was feeling especially stressed out, because we were about to move out of our last house. I knew ex landlady drama was coming, as well as the sheer pain in the ass of moving, so my mood was definitely affected. I still think there are some pearls of wisdom in this piece. I was pretty gratified that several then regular readers left comments for “Wondering Why”, advising her to move on if she didn’t like my material. I still think that’s good advice for anyone. So here goes…

About twenty years ago, I was working as a temp at the College of William & Mary’s admissions office.  While I was working there, I became friendly with an older lady named Peggy, who, like me at that time, lived in Gloucester, Virginia.  As I got to know Peggy, I learned that she had a daughter who had been friends with my older sister, Sarah, when they were in high school in the early 80s. 

Over the few months that I worked in the admissions office at William & Mary, Peggy and I got to know each other better.  The work I was doing was pretty boring.  It was mostly filing and data entry on an ancient (by 1998 standards) computer.  You might be surprised by what high school seniors were sending to William & Mary in 1998.  William & Mary is a very prestigious school, and it receives many applications from outstanding students around the country and the world. 

I don’t know if it’s still true today, but back in the late 90s, Virginia had a law that required in state publicly funded colleges to admit a certain number of students from Virginia.  That meant that gaining admittance to William & Mary as an out of state or international student was extremely difficult.  Consequently, not only did the admissions office receive stellar test scores, personal essays, and transcripts from hopeful students; it also received a lot of other supporting documents, all of which needed to be filed.  That’s where I came into the picture. 

It was really an eye opening experience to see what people sent to the admissions office in their personal quests to become members of the “Tribe”.  It was insane, and created a lot of work for temping drones like me.  I noticed that most of the extra stuff did nothing but add detritus to each applicant’s folder.  It was pretty rare that an extra supporting document would result in an offer of admission to someone who otherwise would have been rejected.  Some of it was entertaining to look at, though.

I remember one girl’s mother sent a photocopy of her out of state nursing license and a picture of a younger version of the girl standing in front of the Wren Chapel with her family.  There was a supporting document from the girl’s dad, a police officer, stating that the family planned to move to Williamsburg to support their daughter in her academic endeavors.  I recall that this young lady didn’t gain acceptance to William & Mary.  I hope she found a school that she liked just as much.  Having been rejected by my first choices when I was a high school student, I understand how rejection feels.  But then, I did manage to find a great school for my purposes, so it all turned out fine in the end.

Anyway, this story comes up in the wake of yesterday’s minor drama on this blog, in which a first time commenter advised me that I need to “let it go”, regarding my husband’s ex wife.  Telling somewhat to “let it go” is kind of akin to telling them to “get over it”.  Personally, I think it’s an extremely rude, dismissive, and short-sighted thing to say to another person, particularly someone you don’t know.  I do understand why some people think it’s constructive advice, although frankly, I think it’s futile to tell someone they need to “let it go”.  Sometimes, it’s just not possible.  I came to that conclusion while I was working with Peggy.  She offered an analogy that I’ve not forgotten in the twenty years since we met. 

I was sitting on the floor next to a giant filing cabinet and Peggy’s cubicle.  I had a huge stack of essays, drawings, certificates, test scores, and the like, that I was stuffing into manila folders dedicated to each new applicant.  It was mindless work that numbed my brain as it chapped my hands.  Peggy helped me pass the time by telling me about her upbringing.  It turned out that, like me, she was raised by an alcoholic.  However, while my dad was the alcoholic in our family, in Peggy’s case, it was her mother who drank too much.  Peggy’s mother was extremely abusive to her.  Consequently, Peggy grew up suffering from depression and anxiety, and she had lingering feelings of hatred for her mother.  There was no love between Peggy and her mom, because Peggy’s mother had repeatedly beaten her up mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I felt sad for Peggy that she had those feelings toward her mom.  I may not always love the way my own mom behaves, but I do love her very much.  She was the sane parent; which isn’t to say that I didn’t love my dad.  I did love him, and mostly try to remember him fondly.  He did have a good side.  But he was often mean and abusive to me, and those memories are hard to erase.  I am now kind of “saturated” when it comes to abuse from other people.  I simply can’t tolerate it.

Peggy explained that as the years passed, her depression lingered, even though in 1998, she was probably in her 60s and her mother was long dead.  Peggy didn’t seem depressed to me in person.  In fact, she was bright, funny, friendly, and cheerful.  A lot of people have described me in the same way.  More than one person has told me they think I’m “bubbly”.  Some people even think I’m hilarious.  In person, I joke a lot and laugh and giggle.  A lot of “funny” people are like that.  Humor is a way to mask depression and anxiety.   

In 1998, I, too, was suffering from significant clinical depression and anxiety, and at that time, it had gotten really bad.  I had actually had these issues for most of my life, but in 1998, it was especially severe.  That was the year I finally decided to seek professional help, and got prescription medication for the depression that had dogged me for at least ten years.  I was not under a doctor’s care when I worked at William & Mary, though.  At that time, I was too poor to get help, and I had no health insurance.  Also, I didn’t know I was depressed and anxious.  That was the way I’d always been, only it was much worse in ’98 than it was in the preceding years.  That year, I thought of suicide fairly often.  I still sometimes have those fleeting thoughts, but it’s not nearly like it was in those days.  I’m probably more dysthymic now than anything else.

I remember Peggy explained in detail what she’d endured during her formative years at home, when she’d had no choice but to endure her mother’s constant insults, taunts, and physical abuse.  She got away from her mother as soon as she was able to and married a man with whom she was not compatible.  They eventually divorced, and Peggy was left alone to raise her daughter, which was very difficult for her.  At the end of her story, I remember Peggy telling me that having clinical depression is a lot like trying to function with a broken arm.

If you met a person with a broken arm, would you tell them they need to “let it go” and “get over it”? Would you assume that you know what the timeline should be for them to “heal” from a physical injury?  I’m sure there are cases of people who heal from broken bones very quickly.  Maybe you’ve had a broken bone and bounced back in just a couple of weeks.  But does that mean that someone else can heal in that same timeframe?  Maybe the other person has mitigating circumstances that make healing more difficult for them.  I think it’s often the same for depression and other mental health issues.  Some people heal faster than others.

I have never forgotten Peggy’s comparison of clinical depression to having a broken bone.  In either case, the condition is crippling and painful, especially without treatment.  I was especially clued in to how astute the comparison is when I did seek medical help in 1998.  It took about three months, but I finally found an effective antidepressant that literally changed my life.  When I got my brain chemicals straightened out, I was amazed at how much better and more competent I felt.  It really drove home to me that depression is a real illness and not just made up bullshit in my head. 

For so long, I felt so guilty about who I am.  I thought there was something truly “wrong” with me.  When I finally took the right medication and eventually felt the way non-depressed people feel, I realized that I didn’t have to feel guilty about being depressed.  Depression was, indeed, a sickness that was beyond my control.  I couldn’t will myself not to be depressed.  I needed help to move beyond it.  In my case, potent antidepressants and counseling from an empathetic psychologist did the trick.

Now… this does not mean that a person can’t learn techniques to combat depression, and it doesn’t give a person an excuse to be a jerk to other people.  However, I did finally realize that depression is real, and it will probably always be a part of my life.  Being negative, grumpy, and bitter is a part of having depression.  Maybe some people don’t find that side of me pleasant and they think all they need to do is tell me to “get over it” or “let it go”.  I’m sure it seems that easy to them.  It’s not that easy for me.  I write in this blog to process those feelings instead of acting on them in a destructive manner.  In other places, I try to be less negative and bitter.  Some of my readers interact with me in other places and have seen that I’m generally not as “bitchy” there as I can be here.  It’s because I have a place to put most of the bitchy stuff, and that’s here in this blog. 

I realize that some people don’t like me or stuff I write.  Fortunately, I’ve gotten to a point at which I no longer feel the need to try to please others.  I do wish I were a more likable, positive, friendly, and popular person.  I have accepted that I will never be those things, and that’s okay.  I don’t take antidepressants now.  Maybe I will again at some time, but at this point, I’d rather not.  So I write blogs and publish them, and I make music.  Sometimes people like my efforts, though I think more people are either indifferent or think they can fix my problems by telling me to “let it go”.  My own mother has, more than once, told me to “let it go”.  I actually love my mom and I haven’t been able to take her advice.  What makes you think you’ll be more successful at giving me that advice than she’s been?  And why does it even matter to you if I’m “inappropriate” or share too much information?  It’s not your life, is it?  You don’t have to read this stuff.

I suppose I could make this blog private and I have openly suggested doing that before.  However, I have had several people tell me that they enjoy reading my blog.  So I leave it public for them and anyone else who understands.  If you don’t understand, and you find me unpleasant, I won’t be upset if you move on to another place on the web.  You’re certainly not the first one to find me unpleasant.  But please don’t glibly tell me to “get over it” or “let it go”.  That is a very dismissive thing to say to another person and it’s not right to discount other people’s feelings, particularly when you are a guest in their space.

As for my husband’s ex wife, I’m sure it would be amazing if I could simply “let it go” that she did her best to destroy my husband’s happiness, career, and connections to people who love him.  I wish I were that mature and magnanimous.  I’m not there yet, and I don’t think I will ever be there.  How do you forgive someone who sexually assaulted the love of your life and then denied him access to his children while spreading vicious lies to his parents about the kind of person he is?  I’m sure if it had happened to me, my husband would be equally angry.  So, you’ll have to excuse me for not “letting it go” where she’s concerned.  It will probably take a much longer time than I have left in life to completely get over it.  But with every day, there’s fresh hope. 

Don Henley’s good advice… but has it worked out for him? He’s still pissed at Don Felder, isn’t he?
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Duggars, healthcare, law, stupid people

Jessa’s new plant baby, and my evident status as a “sheep”…

Even though Counting On has finally been cancelled, we can’t escape news about the Duggar family. Yesterday’s big news is that Jessa Duggar Seewald gave birth to her fourth baby on July 18th. Or really, maybe they consider it her fifth, since she reportedly suffered a miscarriage last year.

In any case, baby #4, a girl named Fern Elliana, was born on the same day as her grandfather, Jim Boob, was in 1965. Jessa wisely opted for a hospital birth this time, rather than giving birth on the couch in her tiny house– the very same house where Anna Duggar birthed the first of her babies. In fact, I believe Anna gave birth to one of her sons on the toilet in that house.

Sure enough, People Magazine is on it…

Baby Fern joins big brothers, Spurgeon and Henry, and big sister, Ivy. I’m not sure what is up with the plant based names for the girls. When I think of the name Fern, I’m reminded of Aunt Fern in Steel Magnolias.

Aunt Fern was played by the late Ann Wedgeworth, who also famously played sex crazed cougar “Lana” on Three’s Company.
Aunt Fern famously made the armadillo cake…

Jessa and her husband, Ben, make beautiful babies. I expect Fern will be as adorable as her sister, Ivy, is. I do wonder what the next girl baby will be called, though. Tumbleweed? Tiger Lily? Primrose? Marigold? The possibilities are endless.

In other news, I got called a “sheep” yesterday. Why? Because I told someone, in a Facebook comment section from my hometown newspaper, that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The person who called me a sheep is evidently one of the proud anti-vaxxer types who live in the area where I grew up. I guess she agrees with Jill Rodrigues, who posted today’s featured photo to her Instagram account. Jill is the proud mom of thirteen allegedly malnourished kids who, evidently, aren’t going to be getting vaccinated.

Generally speaking, I’m big on personal freedoms. I do think that personal freedoms must be limited, though, when they can harm other people. It’s not a mystery that COVID-19 is deadly to a lot of people. Infections are going down and/or are not as severe in areas where people are getting vaccinated. I got fully vaccinated over a month ago, and all I suffered is a temporarily sore arm. So I am a big proponent of getting the shot(s), if you can. I think it’s crazy and stupid not to… even though I try to recognize your right to personal liberties.

Anyway… the person who called me a sheep was responding to a headline posted about how hospitals in the Peninsula region of Virginia are requiring staff members to get the vaccine. My only response to the headline was “Good.” Because, folks, people who are hospitalized have enough medical issues without having to worry about a novel virus that has killed a shitload of people over the past 18 months or so. Hospitals are FULL of germs, and they’re actually quite dangerous places for those who are immunocompromised. Why? Because hospitals are full of SICK people, and even though there’s supposed to be an emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness, the reality is, sometimes hospitals aren’t as clean as they should be.

My mom witnessed this firsthand when my dad was being hospitalized at Duke University Medical Center. She watched harried nurses and other staff members slipping up occasionally. I would expect that to happen, by the way. Nurses are human. But hospital staff members getting vaccinations is one important safeguard that can prevent illnesses from being spread by staff members to vulnerable patients. Seems to me it’s a no brainer.

So this chick, name of Mary, was bitching about her Constitutional rights being violated by this potential ruling by local hospitals. She wrote:

…an experimental vaccine? That’s insane and against Constitutional rights!

I pointed this out to Mary…

The government isn’t forcing you to get a vaccine. And hospitals aren’t forcing you to work for them. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, go work somewhere else, where there aren’t very sick people who are already at risk of picking up nosocomial infections due to hospital germs. P.S., the vaccines are safe and effective.  😉

Mary thinks I’m a sheep who’s been fed bullshit by the media. I really had a good laugh when she called me a sheep. This is what she wrote to me:

 “…you know nothing about how safe this vaccine is. You going by what you’re told! 🐑🐑

And this was my response:

I have a master’s degree in public health. I’ll bet I know a hell of a lot more about it than you do. I have also been fully vaccinated and have suffered zero ill effects, other than a temporarily sore arm over a month ago. Either way, you aren’t being FORCED to do anything. The Constitution protects your rights from the government, not private businesses.

Oddly enough, she had no more comments for me after that. Just for shits and giggles, I had a look at Mary’s Facebook page. I have a sneaking suspicion she’s a Trumper. She posted these things publicly on her page.

I don’t understand why so many people think that the Constitution, or laws like HIPAA, apply to every situation. They don’t. You have basic freedoms, but you’re expected to exercise those rights wisely. You may be free to do certain things, but you are not free from the consequences of those actions– especially if you violate someone else’s rights as you exercise yours. Your rights end where mine begin, understand?

Basically, the Constitution and HIPAA and similar federal laws, are about protecting the public from government overreach. They don’t necessarily apply to private businesses and companies. For instance, federal law prohibits healthcare professionals from talking to other people about your private medical situations. However, HIPAA coverage doesn’t apply to the everyday person on the street, nor does it necessarily apply to your boss. So yes, your doctor or nurse is required to zip it if they treat you for a potentially embarrassing medical condition. But if someone who isn’t in a healthcare profession gets wind of it and runs their mouth, they aren’t necessarily bound by HIPAA. In the United States, the Constitution does not explicitly guarantee a person’s “right to privacy”. However, most decent people recognize that a person has a right to privacy and will respect it on those grounds.

And HIPAA doesn’t protect a person’s privacy when it comes to things like getting required vaccinations and going to work. It’s not unusual, for instance, for people who work in certain occupations to be required to get a tuberculosis test before they can mingle with certain populations. They do that for public health reasons. Tuberculosis is a nasty, infectious disease that spreads easily, is hard to cure, and makes people very sick. It tends to spread in impoverished areas. So, if you’re doing work with poor people, it’s likely you’ll have to prove you aren’t a carrier of TB before you will be allowed to mingle with people who are living, for example, in a nursing home, or at a homeless shelter. This is not a violation of HIPAA, nor is it a violation to require employees to get a vaccination against tuberculosis or tetanus.

Ditto to the Constitution. We all know it protects certain rights, right? Like, you have the right to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech means that the government will not punish you for saying things that may be offensive or even false. However, there are limits to freedom of speech, and having that freedom doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer consequences for exercising it in ways that other people don’t appreciate. For instance, if you called your boss a “cock sucking motherfucker”, you could expect to be fired for that, even though you have the right to free speech.

My “friend” Mary, commenting on the Daily Press article about healthcare workers being required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, cited the Constitution as a reason why the workers shouldn’t be required to get shots. I wasn’t the only one who explained to her that no one was being “forced” to get shots. At this point, the government is forcing NO ONE to be vaccinated against their wills. Private businesses and universities and other non-government entities are requiring them. And they can do that because NO ONE is forcing Mary, or her clueless friends, to work for them or attend classes at them. If Mary doesn’t want to get a vaccine, she can choose to work or attend school somewhere else. It’s as simple as that.

Moreover, Constitutional rights aren’t absolute, and in general, are meant to protect the public good. The Supreme Court has long held that protecting public health is enough of a reason to enact laws that might otherwise violate the First Amendment or other provisions in the Bill of Rights.

Given that the vaccines have been proven to be effective in reducing the severity of COVID-19 infections, as well as the likelihood that a vaccinated person will spread it to others, it makes sense that hospitals and other places where immunocompromised people are found would require employees to be inoculated. Infections are going down in places where people are getting the shot(s). At this point, groups of people who are getting sick and dying of COVID-19 almost entirely consist of people who have NOT been vaccinated. And this isn’t just true in the United States. It’s been true worldwide.

So… I get that Mary doesn’t trust the government (unless, of course, Trump is running it). I don’t understand why someone would trust Trump when he has a long, proven, history of operating outside of the law. I guess Mary is more interested in charismatic people who say what she wants to hear than actual facts and reasoning. Moreover, Mary’s hero has been vaccinated against COVID-19. So why is it a problem for her? The orange turd trusted it. Why can’t she? And why can’t people who work in the healthcare profession? It’s the caring and responsible thing to do… and it might just ensure that she stays alive so she can vote for the turd or his successors in future elections. It’s also one way we can get rid of the fucking face mask mandates, which I am ALL FOR.

Ah well… ya can’t fix stupid.

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