Things I Hate (or, that make me want to poke my eyes out) Part One

  1. feelings (see previous post)
  2. hamburgers (Okay, so once every three or four months I’ll crave a thickburger from Hardee’s or something, but then I’m done.)
  3. also, meatloaf (only bread should come in a loaf)
  4. pushy people
  5. doing the dishes
  6. having plans made for me without being consulted
  7. being told what to do (see #4)
  8. being ignored (this should go without saying, right?)
  9. licorice flavored jelly beans
  10. fake people
  11. having to be nice to fake people
  12. not saving money
  13. eBay (I just… I don’t know. I’ve never liked it. I don’t know why. It may or may not be related to being forced to attend lots of car auctions in my youth. I’m not an auction person, okay? I just want to pay for something without having an argument or a competition over it.)
  14. mesh clothing (I mean, really, what’s the point?)
  15. baseball caps on the kitchen table
  16. 80s synthesizer music (this should probably be closer to number one, but I’m writing this as they come to me, so keep that in mind)
  17. Axl Rose (but Slash is amazing)
  18. the janky carpet in my house that I want to replace but can’t
  19. flan (yet I love creme brulee, and they’re really similar when you think about it)
  20. Michelob Ultra
  21. Sports Talk Radio
  22. any talk radio
  23. anyone talking on the radio, actually – I just want them to play songs. Is that so much to ask?
  24. ambiguity
  25. Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion (Sadly, I’ll probably get more flack for this than anything else.)
  26. when people misuse apostrophes to make things plural (An apostrophe is meant to show possession and join words into contractions! That is ALL. IT NEVER MAKES THINGS PLURAL. So stop it.)
  27. when people use the wrong form of a word (this one I can let go occasionally – the apostrophe thing I can’t)
  28. small talk
  29. ‘touchers’ (You know – the handsy people who touch everyone or have no concept of personal space so they’re all up in yours? I can’t handle those people. And that’s weird because I’m fairly affectionate with people I love. But if I don’t love you, don’t touch me.)
  30. gratuitously violent movies and TV shows (I’m a comedy person.)
  31. people who aren’t dog people (I don’t trust those people.)
  32. whiny voices
  33. complainers (Yes, I see what I did there.)
  34. hypochondriacs
  35. negative people (This is not the same as complainers. There is, of course, some overlap, but there can be a difference.)
  36. incredibly loud places (or at least for ridiculously long periods of time)
  37. the teacups at Disney (just… no)
  38. Nascar (sorry Dad)
  39. cigarette smoke (I’m allergic to it, so obviously it bothers me.)
  40. poison ivy
  41. mosquitoes (why do they even exist?!)
  42. people who litter
  43. people who don’t say “please” and “thank you” and hold open doors for other people
  44. Chanel No. 5 (I’m pretty sure my grandmother wore this. And I loved her. But I hate this stuff.)
  45. fart jokes (there were far too many of these growing up with brothers)
  46. people who keep their phones in front of their faces all through dinner

 

To Be Continued… (probably)

We Don’t Do That Here

I’ve been exploring and talking a lot about my feelings over the past couple of weeks. I hate doing that. I’m not good at it; it’s incredibly inconvenient because if I talk about them I have to reflect on them and if I reflect on them I have to admit I’m not perfect and that I really do have the feelings even though I don’t do the feelings. Who has time for that? I’m not a starving, mediocre poet writing lines about the trash on the sidewalk. I’ve got bills to pay.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally fine talking with other people about their feelings. I’m quite good at that, actually, and make my living helping other people explore their reactions and why they have them and then overcome them so we can get stuff done. Because after the feelings have been felt, there is still stuff that has to get done in order for the progress to continue. And I am all about progress while I still do care about the feelings of others.

Unless the progress is mine, apparently. That’s what I’ve learned while feeling my feelings over the past few weeks.

I have made very little progress toward my own goals in life. I’ve rah-rahed and fist-bumped my way through team-building exercises and I like to hope I’ve inspired other people to reach their potential, or at least think they can. But if life progress were measured in speed and miles I’d be a flea in a rusted go-cart a couple of inches from the starting line.

“There’s nothing wrong with feeling things,” I’ve been told, usually by people who have their lives together and don’t worry about all of the many possible scenarios that have literally and will likely never happen to them in this life, which is one of the things I catch myself doing. (I legit waste a lot of free time having imaginary arguments in my head that never come to fruition – line by line, action by reaction. I’m told this is one of the trademarks of a true INTP. Of course it is, because I wouldn’t have a useful trademark like making friends easily or being naturally athletic. No. Instead, I’m one of the lucky ones who has a high probability of being recommended for new anti-anxiety drugs and clinical trials to help alleviate ADHD symptoms.) And that’s great for them if they like to get worked up over their emotions and really engage with that mess. I hear there are also some people who love kale smoothies in the morning. I’m happy for them.

I would rather be stripped to the skin, drizzled in honey, and tied face-down to the top of a fire-ant hill (is that a thing? do fire ants have hills?) than talk about or even acknowledge ‘the feels.’ I feel the same about kale breakfast smoothies, to be fair.

Unfortunately, through an ongoing series of events (and we’re talking years here) and because of some of the books I’ve been reading lately to add some ‘tools to the tool-belt’ for work, I’ve been reflecting on my feels and dreams and hopes and wants and expectations and hang-ups and fears and co-dependencies and I’ve realized I’ve got diddly squat compared to what I have the potential to have, and worse, compared to what I expect(ed) to have at this stage of life. I’ve been forced to look in the mirror, stop having imaginary arguments for a minute or two, and tell myself, sternly, what I always hated hearing from grown-ups when I was a child: I am so disappointed in you.  I thought you were better than this.

I don’t know if you’ve ever sternly talked to yourself in a mirror before, and if you have I hope you had the sense not to do so as soon as you rolled out of bed and before you’ve combed your hair, brushed your teeth, or wiped the previous night’s mascara out from under your bloodshot eyes and the flaking-off drool from your chin. Regardless, it ain’t cute.  It’s downright ugly if you do talk to yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning like I did, but at any time it ain’t cute – not if you do it right.

The crux of the issue is that I’m disappointed in myself for being less than what I know I can be because I’ve spent all of my time ignoring my own feelings, needs, goals, and dreams in order to take care of other people’s feelings and apparent needs. Were they real needs for those people? Possibly, but I didn’t have to be the one to provide for them or fix them. The fact that I felt compelled to do so was a disservice to them and to myself. I tied my self-worth to the validation I felt when others needed me, or at least appeared to need me, instead of to what I know is true about me. I believed I could only be worthy of love or friendship or success if I could prove how useful I was. I watched dream after dream after dream of mine fall by the wayside, fiery meteors of death and devastation crashing to the earth around me. I let go of little pieces of myself along the way, minute by minute, dust particle by dust particle, until I lost myself. I lost friends, time I would’ve loved to spend with them and with my family, the balance I felt when I focused on things I loved like art, writing (see? I’m slowly getting some of my own back), the outdoors, and anything I could possibly get my hands on to read. I lost money, and gave up my goals to travel, and at one point my dumb@$$ gave up the chance at a MacArthur Fellowship.  (Yeah. I’m an idiot. I got that.) I gave up everything I loved about me, everything I loved before I decided I needed to be needed.

All of it. Gone.

I tried to replace it with taking care of people and working my tail off and fitting into a mold that I thought my family expected me to fit into. I tried to tell myself that it was worth it and that maybe this was what I was meant for – to be last in order to gain my ultimate reward. Isn’t that in the Bible, too? “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16)? (FYI, it turns out that verse isn’t about being a martyr like I thought. It’s about a landowner being smart with his resources regardless of what others do for him or how much they think they need from him or deserve. Let that sink in a bit.) And while during some of that time I learned some new things about myself, about how strong I am and can be, and about what I can tolerate and withstand before I’m ready to start slamming faces with a baseball bat, I’ve finally realized something deeply, exhaustingly disturbing.

I was wrong.

And I know I said that the crux of the issue is that I’m disappointed in myself but truly the crux of the crux of the issue is that I was wrong, and I really, completely, totally, wholly hate being wrong. (<— And that is the true crux of the issue. I’m petty that way. I know my truth.) It makes me feel stupid, worthless, and embarrassed. And you know what? I don’t like to feel my feelings, at least not those feelings. Those feelings suck like a stoner siphoning helium from a birthday balloon behind the local Chuck-E-Cheese.

Now, the heart of the crux of the ocean of issues is the fact that I have to make a decision to do something about it. And that means I have to confront my feelings and then talk about them with the people I’ve given so much up for, and we don’t do that here. We don’t fight, we don’t disagree, we don’t stay mad at each other, and we don’t talk about how unappreciated I feel because of everything I’ve given and done and everything I haven’t gotten in return.

We don’t do ROI (that’s Return On Investment for you non-business people) discussions and we sure as heck don’t rock this boat we’ve been patching with peanut butter and holding together with frayed bungee chords while we’ve been navigating the stormy seas of the hurricane we’ve been in for a decade. We talk about how we’ll pay the bills and feed the kids and how in another decade we’ll go on an imaginary trip overseas so we can do more things I really couldn’t give a flying flip about but that I support because it’s what I thought I was supposed to do.

And again, let me be clear: I did this. This was me. There is no blame to be laid but at the door of my dilapidated shack of self-efficacy, washed-up dreams like fragments of seashells and plastic can-rings left by the tide as it washes back out to deeper, bluer, livelier places. I’d love to be able to end this by saying I have a brighter outlook (I do, I think, but I’m hesitant to hope) or with a witty turn of humorous phrase. But I can’t, because this is serious stuff I’m addressing.

And we don’t do that here.

 

How to Throw a Solid Pity Party

*Note: this is not meant to be serious – mostly.*

I have always loved to make lists. I write them on Post-its daily, on the refrigerator (which I use as a whiteboard), on napkins, and during a brief stint in elementary school, I would even write them on walls. And I haven’t included one here, yet. I don’t know how that happened, but it’s time.

Also, just so you know, I’m doing this backwards. I 110% plan to complain (again) about something on here soon. I’m about due, I think.

But first, so we’re all clear about how this thing works, I’d like to educate you, via itemized list, on the joy that is the throwing of a pity party.  (“Pity? Party of one? Pity! Party of one!”) Also, to be even more accurate, you need to know this is Biblical. I’m not making this up. If you don’t believe me, read 1 Kings 19. You’ll see the theme.

So, without further adieu, here it is. The List:

How to Throw the Best Pity Party Ever

1. Make sure you’re alone. Invite no one else. No one – not your dog, cat, child, spouse, bff, squad, nana, not a single other living creature, not even your houseplant. You cannot properly be pitiful if you’re with someone or something else that is alive. They’ll either try to join you, dividing the pity between you and making you less pitiful, or they’ll comfort you, and you’ll feel less pitiful, which is unacceptable if you’re taking this seriously.

2.Be sure to plan your party food, or lack thereof. Starvation is about as pitiful as you can get, but remember: the angel gave Elijah cake. This is really all about extremes. So if you’re not into that whole starvation chic thing, you’ll need lots of ice cream and chocolate. Cheesecake is also acceptable, but it has to be full-fat. Now is not the time to worry about your health. Healthy people are not pitiful. Also, it needs to be something that might get stuck on your chin or drip onto your shirt. Pitiful people wear stained clothing.

3. Find a pitiful place to be, and go there. (And if you really want Biblical accuracy here, you need to find a pitiful tree to sit under – preferably one that’s well over half dead and makes the Charlie Brown Christmas tree look like a bountiful Douglas Fir.)

4. Bemoan your fate and wallow – deeply – for a while.

5. If you still feel like you could do better, find a darker and more pitiful place. Caves are great for this. No cheating and taking lights. Total darkness is key.

6. Continue to wallow. Even better, claim to be the only person that has ever gone through anything remotely like your situation, and tell God how awful it is. Repeat it to him often until he believes you.

7. Don’t be surprised when he tells you to shut up, suck it up, and get up and get back to work.*

*Now, at this point, you have two choices. You may choose to end the pity party, knowing you have truly given it a valiant effort, and move on with life. On the other hand, you can choose to become offended that God doesn’t believe how pitiful you are, and the downward spiral can continue and/or repeat. You do you. I won’t judge.

(That’s a total lie. I probably will judge. I’m not a saint, after all. But I won’t judge you to your face; I’ll make sure to comfortably judge you behind your back. Cross my heart and hope to spit. I say ‘spit’ because I’m too young to die.)

Good luck!

 

On Horses, Hijinks, and What Happens When I Go Home

So, I was super busy with life and parenting and life and stuff over the weekend, but in case you missed it, here’s what happened:

Saturday: the Kentucky Derby

Sunday: Mother’s Day

Here’s the thing: the Kentucky Derby is one of my favorite days/things (ever) that we do in my home state. We grow up with it; Kentucky children learn “My Old Kentucky Home” when we’re in elementary school.  (Granted, many do forget the words – that song is crazy long – but we all know the tune and they put the words on the TV screens before the derby, so we’re good.) The boutiques on every Main Street in the state carry derby hats almost year-round, but they stock up around Valentine’s Day and keep adding to their stock until the week of the big event. Some women – you know, the ones with lots of local friends – even have “hat parties,” which is really an excuse to drink mint juleps, mimosas, and sangria, buy out the floral/ribbon stock at the local Hobby Lobby, and get crazy with a glue gun for the sake of creating a one-of-a-kind (and usually fallen-apart-in-the-humidity-and-revelry-of-the-actual-day) crowning glory. For three weeks before the race, Louisville is in Kentucky Derby Festival mode, offering more than 70 events that include things like one of the nation’s largest half-marathons, a steamboat race, the Pegasus Parade, a concert series on the waterfront of the Ohio River, and the largest annual fireworks show in North America – Thunder Over Louisville. We bring out the Hot Browns, the burgoo, and Mint Juleps, and we celebrate our heritage and the launch of the US Triple Crown.

All of this is to say that this year, I’ve been reminded of a time a few years ago, around Derby week, when I was visiting my parents’ place with my family and we were out riding the horses. They used to take in retired thoroughbreds and exercise horses alike, and had a couple other quarter horses and one cutting horse (he was my favorite – I won’t lie). Our son was about 5 years old, our daughter was 10, and my 6-year-old niece was there, too. They were all taking turns riding with my mom, my brother, and myself. Everything went well for about an hour, then before we went inside the house, Trenton (our youngest) asked if he could ride by himself.  We negotiated, since that’s his favorite thing to do, and we agreed that he could ride on Classy, our most docile quarter horse, if I had the lead rope and walked him around so the horse wouldn’t go too fast.

Unfortunately, all we had was a training lead rather than a standard lead (training leads are much longer to allow the horse more movement), so we had to wrap it into a coil a bit to shorten its length.  Also unfortunately, when I handed the coiled lead to my brother while I was dealing with the saddle, he set said lead on the ground as I was adjusting the stirrups and getting Trenton settled. Classy was moving only slightly as she grazed and waited for me to finish, but when she moved her front right foot, she got it tangled in the lead rope.

(Note: we probably should have done better at adulting and made better decisions. It happens.)

I don’t know how much you know about horses, but they can shy away from things and panic if they can’t see what’s happening. They’re tall, and it’s not easy for them to just look down at their feet, so when something gets wrapped around their foot – say, a lead rope – they don’t know if it’s a harmless rope or if it’s a copperhead (both wildly prevalent in these here parts). Needless to say, Classy was not pleased.  She did okay, though, just prancing a little bit, chestnut flanks twitching and gleaming in the sun but otherwise calm, and I told Trenton to hold onto his reins and pommel while I took care of her for a minute and talked to her. I had soothed her pretty well after a second or two, but my idiot brother then broke rule number one when working with horses: he rushed up to her in a panic of his own because he wanted to unwrap the rope and keep Trenton safe. (This is still a bit frustrating for me, of course, for two reasons: one, we were raised with horses basically from birth and both of us know better than to do that, and two, my son was on that horse.)

Feeding off his panic, the horse bolted, Trenton seated firmly atop her. My mother and I still had hold of the lead rope and were trying to pull her head down to calm her, but Mom lost her grip and stumbled right as I dug in my heels, and Classy, rearing and screaming, pulled the rope out of my fingers (leaving 2nd degree rope burns in its wake, because I despite multiple college degrees I was not smart enough to wear gloves).

Then everyone else panicked. My brother started running after Classy (idiot, like he could catch her), my sister-in-law grabbed her daughter and mine and pulled them out of harm’s way (obviously smarter than her husband), and I started yelling for Trenton to hang on and not let go no matter what…

…until the remainder of the lead rope that had gotten wrapped around my leg during the struggle pulled taught and dropped me onto my face into the field, cutting off all my air and sound. Classy then proceeded to drag me over a hundred yards across the paddock (think about that for a moment…yeah, it was as gross as you imagine).

I managed to flip onto my back and remove my shoe, on which the rope was stuck, so I got free as the horse continued to gallop across the field. I started sprinting (rapidly hobbling) for the barn that bisects the center of the field while Trenton and the still-panicked Classy took a sharp turn at the far corner of the fence and came barreling across the ground toward the opposite side of the barn. By the time they were halfway across the field, I noticed our other quarter horse, Sage, galloping toward Classy. He’s the Alpha in the group, so my wonderful and clearly-more-intelligent-than-her-eldest-son mother had released him from his stall and slapped his flank to send him running to Classy. He corralled her back to the barn and escorted the panicked mare to her stall, Trenton still hanging onto the reins, his knuckles as white as his sun-bleached blond hair.

I was taking stock of possible injury, gauging everyone else’s reaction so we didn’t scare any of the other horses, and soothing my crying daughter – who couldn’t tell me why she was crying since everyone was fine – when I saw and heard what followed.

Once Classy was settled in her stall and sniffing through the feed in her bucket, Trenton, oblivious to the chaos behind him when his mighty steed (okay, mare) bolted, had thrown his leg over the saddle, slid down to the ground gracefully, and had run out of the stall with bright eyes and a huge grin. He went straight to the barn door to my sweet, calm mother, reaching up to her to be picked up and saying with all the excitement in his little heart, “Mimi! Mimi! Did you see that?! I was on that horse on that saddle and I had the reins and she went so fast and I rode her fast as fast as she could go all the way around without letting go and I did it all by myself!”

To which Mimi (she’s too southern and too young to be called Grandma, she says) replied, “You sure did,” and patted him on the head.  She is and always has been eternally graceful, calm, and collected. (I do not take after her, in case you’re wondering.)

Then Trenton, without bothering to notice anyone else, asked Mimi if he could have a cookie, switching topics as children do, and she walked him and the girls to the house.

And honestly? I’ve never laughed so hard, because what looked to us like impending tragedy was the most brilliant and fun day of his life, and he had no idea what was happening just behind him.  You know how I know that? He looked at me this past Saturday – over 6 years later – while we watched Nyquist, his favorite (his school number is 13, like the thoroughbred), win the Run for the Roses and said, “Hey… do you remember that time we went to Mimi’s and I rode that one horse real, real, real fast all by myself?”

I said of course I remembered. Who could forget?

Then he said, “I bet I could ride in the derby with Nyquist and win all by myself, too. I would ride even faster than I did at Mimi’s!”

So of course I said, “You sure would,” and then I patted him on the head.

Real Text Conversations: Hubs Edition

Hubs: What’s for dinner?

Me: Will we have both kids?

Hubs: Yes.

Me: I say we pick a kid and eat them.

Hubs: That’s weird.

Me: I’m just running out of ideas. … We could make Haley cook.

Hubs: I don’t want Hamburger Helper.  I’ll just stop by the grocery store.

Me: I guess we could do nachos or spaghetti.

Hubs: I don’t want spaghetti.

Me, because I’m out of ideas: I just found out I can change my texts to hot-air balloon shapes on a background of green sky with clouds.

Me: It has BALLOONS.

Radio silence from the hubs. I win texting.

Confessions of a College English Teacher, Part the Second

For the past 8 years, when I taught a college level Introduction to Literature class?

I taught Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a soap opera.

The students loved it, possibly because we also had a potluck dinner and watched the movie version of it (the good one with Stanley Tucci, Christian Bale, Michelle Pfeiffer, etc.).  But they still loved it, and I count that as a win.

Funny Daddy-Daughter Conversations at My House

Ah, tis the season of love and peace…

Meanwhile, at my house…

The hubs and I have a 15-year-old. She is hilarious (to the point where I have a #DailyHaley post on twitter when she’s around). Case in point, two nights ago, after both ate WAY too much at dinner, this conversation went down:

Haley: I think I’m gonna to have a food baby.

Hubs: Me, too.

Haley: OMG, together we may end up with, like, 8 food babies!

In mutual epicurean misery, they hug like they’re going down on the Titanic. Haley begins looking at her brother’s baby photos on Facebook – from over 8 years ago. Haley gets teary-eyed.

Hubs: Is your food baby making you emotional?

Haley: I think I might cry! He was so cute! ...*cue sudden switch in topics because that’s what Haley does*… I need a nap, and by nap I mean go to bed now and never wake up.

Hubs (ambiguously sarcastic): I feel like that’s not all you need.

Haley (totally serious): I need a boyfriend, too…well, I want one, anyway.

Hubs: Some people want world peace and clean water, but that $#%&’s not gonna happen, either.

Haley: Well, it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna die from my food baby. All of my wishes will have been fulfilled except the boyfriend one.

Hubs: Well, this ain’t Make-a-Wish, so you might as well let that one go.

Haley (while laugh-crying): Ow! That kinda hurts me in the feels.

Hubs: Well, I don’t like to lie.

 

Feel the love. It’s palpable.

 

 

Wrecked

I am wrecked.

I have been wrecked since this time last week when I found out a man I graduated high school with and then graduated college with, a person whose face I saw almost daily growing up and during my last few years of college, was shot in the head and killed. And that kind of news is devastating, even though we hadn’t seen or communicated with each other in years.

But that is not, exactly, why I am wrecked.

His death was callus and cruel, but I am wrecked for reasons beyond that cruelty, and beyond the knowledge that I clearly wasted the opportunities handed to me to know such a wonderful person better than I did. I am wrecked because, though we were not incredibly close, he was part of my extended family on my sweet brother’s side.

I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking it’s more understandable to be distraught when a tragedy like this touches your family, even if it isn’t a blood connection, especially if you have to watch someone – like a brother – deal with the pain of the forever kind of loss. And you’re right.

But you don’t quite understand.

You see, he died as the result of what I’m starting to consider to be a hate crime. It was premeditated. His shooter had already proclaimed his intention to shoot any member of this family who walked through the door, and it was a crime based on color – one of many acts of violence targeted at this specific group across the nation to date. And it is evil, unfair, and devastating.

But still, you don’t understand.

I went to his funeral, where over 5,000 people, it was reported, attended to pay their respects to a pillar of the community. His visitation drew the governor-elect, who met with the family privately because he didn’t want his visit to become a media stunt but rather he wanted it to be about respecting a well-loved and well-lived life that had been lost.

After the funeral service, where his brothers sang and quoted scripture – the Beatitudes – in his honor, where his cousin raised her own voice in a song of worship, and where the head of our family looked at us all at the opening of his remarks and simply said, voice laced with disbelief and heartache and tears, “We have lost our Daniel,” a procession of hundreds of cars that stretched almost 20 miles bumper-to-bumper lined the parking lot. As the thousands of us in attendance stood in the parking lot waiting for the rest of the family to make their way to their cars, I watched as they brought out Daniel’s casket. I watched his young wife as she stood just behind it, and I watched her cover her mouth with her hand in grief and with the hope of trying to hold back the sobs that were surely coming forth as they walked the casket away from her and down the stairs to load it into the hearse. She was watching her husband get farther and farther away from her, truly separated now.

And I was wrecked. But still, you have yet to understand.

I rode in one of the cars toward the front of the procession – after all, he was part of my family, too – and I will never forget the awe I felt as we exited the parking lot.

You see, not all those who loved him and appreciated him for who he was were able to attend the funeral, so they lined the streets to pay their respects. Thousands upon thousands of people from the community were there in a show of love and support. They stretched for miles down both sides of the street on what is normally the busiest thoroughfare in town, but there was no traffic that day other than the procession. They were silent, some of the people openly weeping at the loss of such a great young man. Some held balloons, some held banners, and some wore shirts that were made in support of his family. He was only 33, and he was well-liked even by his enemies.

But our procession didn’t end in that town. We traveled over 100 miles and through five counties to his burial site, down the interstate and through several towns. There wasn’t a street that wasn’t lined with people and stopped cars. There wasn’t a town where they weren’t holding signs of support or where they weren’t crying – even perfect strangers he’d never met – over the loss of our Daniel.

And I was wrecked. But you still don’t get it.

He wasn’t famous, our Daniel. In fact, before this past week I don’t even know if he ever made the news aside from the usual hometown newspaper articles about high school clubs and engagement announcements, the things only mothers pay close attention to. He left behind a legacy of kindness, though, unlike many who have come and gone before him. He helped stranded motorists, bought brand new car seats out of his pocket for a family who’d had a collision and had two young children and no seats for them or way to purchase seats, gave regular rides home to an elderly woman who was too afraid to walk from work after dark, helped a man pay for a hotel bed one night when he found out the man was going to sleep in a tent outside a business in order to make it to a job interview there in the morning, and even followed one of my own good friends out of a bar one night – even though they didn’t really know each other – and convinced him not to drive drunk because it wasn’t worth the risk. I never even knew that until after his death.

And I am wrecked. How could someone wish to hurt such a good man? How could anyone hate a whole group of people so much that they could pull that trigger?

Here’s what you don’t understand: Daniel, our Daniel, was a police officer.  The family he and I shared is a family of law enforcement officers in his community and their loved ones. He and my sweet brother stood together in what has become known as the Thin Blue Line, which is the only official line of protection civilians have against criminals.

In a nation where hate and fear is more prevalent than ever, and where people have the right by law to spew it in a steady stream at anyone who might disagree – even when it’s at a person they don’t know and have never met or seen or heard of, and where in many cases it is directed at law enforcement and the media helps to fuel and propagate it, being a police officer – a good one – is not an easy thing to be. It would be far easier to be something else, like a doctor or professor or banker (and I should know, because I took one of those easier roads), where if a mistake is made by one person in the field, it might never be commented upon by the public, the media, the politicians, or even by that other doctor/professor/banker around the corner who always seems to have had it out for you.  It will never be assumed that because there are a few bad eggs, all people who hold the same title should be condemned to perdition. It would never occur to a nation of people to think that, in those cases.

So why do we, as a country, assume it is that way in other cases? Are people really that stupid?

And it isn’t just law enforcement who are targeted. There are other groups who are targeted as well. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted to the point of illness by this hatred. In a country purported to be a melting pot, a land of tomorrow and of the great dreams of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, and of Opportunity, we are woefully dividing ourselves by color, and class, and gender, and religion, and now occupation. We are creating a tomorrow of darkness and decay, a nightmare of Death, Oppression, and Devastating Grief, and we are stealing opportunity from ourselves the longer it goes on.

And this is one of the reasons why I am wrecked.

I’m tired of those who cry out for justice by way of violence. I completely agree that all lives matter – all of them, not just a few, whether black, white, yellow, red, or even blue.  It doesn’t make a difference to me what color a person’s skin is, or what color uniform they have to put on in the morning when they go to work, or even which bathroom they’re required by law to use.  It is not my right to judge. Discrimination and oppression are still alive and well in this country, and almost every person who breathes can find some way some other person is aiming one or the other at them. I have eyes, and ears, and a functioning brain, and I can see it when it really is happening, because it does happen, and I can also see it when it isn’t happening but someone just wants something to be offended about because they have too much time to contemplate their own lack of contribution to the world and they feel the need to be a part of a movement without actually having to do anything. These things are obvious.

But, lives matter.

I agree that there are some who have been placed in positions of authority who are unquestionably corrupt, and that they should be held to the same standards of any other citizens who are not in positions of authority, and that must start with our highest political leaders and with the elite and wealthy who control much of this nation’s government and economy. They need to be leaders by example, and we should demand integrity from them and they in turn should demand integrity from those they lead. And if we don’t, and if they don’t, then we all have failed. And this extends to law enforcement.

But I refuse to believe that all police officers are corrupt, or, as one citizen expressed directly to me in my time of grief recently, that all police officers should die. I had never even met or seen or heard of this person before, and when I posted on social media quite simply that “All lives matter,”  I didn’t direct my statement at any one person or any group. I was tired (am tired) of hate and violence, and I posted my thoughts in three words, and within 15 seconds I received a profane, direct message from this stranger, who had no context of the situation, telling me our Daniel deserved to die, and that all the rest of the law enforcement officers in this country deserved the same treatment – including my own brother, who is a school resource officer as well as a hostage negotiator, and whose job it is to protect children and adults alike, from all walks of life.

Daniel’s life mattered. My brother’s life matters.

What kind of people, collectively, are we that it’s okay to wish violent deaths upon people we’ve never heard of or met based on assumptions we make when we have no facts about a situation? How have we managed to sink to this low level of selfishness and brutality?

For those who have decided to hate an entire group of people, hundreds of thousands of them, based on the terrible actions of what amounts to only a handful of the entire group, I can only say may they never be the victims of armed robbery. May they never be beaten to within an inch of death by a person who has promised to love and cherish them. May their children never be at school when a crazed gunman shows up to carry out a massacre. May they never need someone to pull their loved one from the twisted and mangled wreckage of a collision, or to let tractor-trailers traveling over 80 miles per hour know that they’re stranded in the dark with a flat tire so they don’t get run over while they wait for it to be changed. May they never know someone who is assaulted, molested, raped, kidnapped, or who has a heart attack or stroke in a public place, may it never happen to them, and may they never live near a house or car that has been turned into a meth lab, and if they do may it never explode.

May they never be called upon to notify the loved ones of a friend or stranger that tragedy has befallen them through no fault of their own. May they never have that kind of grief directed at them.

Those are the types of situations law enforcement officers willingly sign up to help prevent and/or deal with every single day, often with very little thanks. A few of them may think they’re above the law they’ve sworn to protect and uphold, and those who do think that should absolutely be dealt with the same way any other citizen would be. But the majority do not feel that way. They respect that law, and the citizens it protects, and that’s why they go to work each day.  That’s why Daniel got up to go to work each day, and he was protecting a citizen and her right to be safe when he was murdered in front of his fellow officers (who, by the way, did not kill his shooter but who instead showed great restraint by subduing him and arresting him – and I can’t honestly say I could have shown the same restraint and professionalism).

So I am wrecked.

I’m wrecked because this hate and fear that has caused the loss of our Daniel has created within his immediate family, within a department, within a community, an open wound that will never completely heal. I’m wrecked because the day after Danial was mortally wounded, my brother got up and wept as he put on his uniform, clipped on his badge, and went to work. I’m wrecked because he had to do that less than 24 hours after he watched his friend and brother bleed out as he rode in the ambulance with him to the hospital, where he sat and waited into the small hours of the night for the family he had to contact and to whom he had to deliver such devastating news.  I’m wrecked because Daniel’s wife has become his widow after only a short time, and because his son has lost a father and has no idea why, and no one can explain it to him, because we don’t know why, either. I’m wrecked because she has stood strong, but when he was carried away from her, she covered her face in pain because he will never come back.  I’m wrecked because hundreds of fellow officers – most of whom had never met him – showed up from across the country to mourn Daniel’s death and to salute him as he was laid to rest, and because those same officers stood at attention the entire time, even as tears streamed down their faces. It is heartrending to see such strong men and women brought to such weakness unashamedly. I am wrecked because other officers in five counties manned intersections and maintained a salute or a bowed head as a 20-mile procession of cruisers and family vehicles slowly filed by, and because for over 100 miles of travel, every overpass bridge was filled to the barriers with first responders who stood atop their trucks and saluted the fallen. I am wrecked because on Veteran’s Day, I saw countless veterans from World War II, Vietnam, and Desert Storm forego celebrations of their own valor in favor of honoring a fallen police officer, whom they’d never met, in full salute.  I am wrecked because even strangers wept at his passing.

I am wrecked because there is nothing so heartbreaking as watching a wife, son, mother, father, and sisters and brothers say goodbye forever when they don’t understand why. There is nothing so heartbreaking as watching an entire department of men and women sworn to protect say goodbye to one of their own, whom they could not protect through no fault of their own.  It is unimaginable how difficult it must be to know there was nothing anyone could do.

There is no sound on this earth as tormenting as hearing the final roll call over the radio, when his badge number is called just like all of his fellow officers have heard it called every day before, and when that call is met not once, and not even twice, but thrice with silence. And those of us with loved ones in that department, and those all over the country with loved ones who go through roll call every day, who’ve heard their own badge numbers called over the radio and who’ve heard them respond immediately? We are wrecked when we hear that radio silence, because until there’s no answer, our hearts want to hope that this isn’t real, and that we’ll hear his voice answer the call in the affirmative. We want to believe this can’t happen, not really, not to our Daniel and not to any of our other sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, or friends. When we stood at the burial site at the twilight hour, it was not the 21-gun salute or the lone trumpet playing “Taps” that pushed us over the edge of grief.  It was that radio silence, and the only sound to be heard over it was the sobbing of friends and family members who know the daily worry that their officer won’t answer, who can too easily imagine the emptiness and the debilitating hurt of it, me included.

We are wrecked because as overwhelming and amazing as a traditional law enforcement funeral is for a fallen officer, we must go home and know that tomorrow, we could be those loved ones getting notification that something has gone terribly, irrevocably wrong. We live daily with the knowledge that the growing hostilities of a people who are quick to accuse and judge all because of the actions of few are becoming more and more prevalent, and we live daily with the knowledge that our loved ones – the men and women who really are in it to protect and serve – have become living targets.

So don’t tell me I don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of so much hate and fear and violence. Don’t tell me none of us on this side of the line know the loss that is felt when someone we love is targeted and profiled even when they’ve done nothing wrong. And don’t you dare tell me that Daniel’s life and my brother’s life and my friends’ lives don’t matter as much as other lives.

Because I do know.

And I am wrecked.

Confessions of a College English Teacher, Part the First

I have a confession to make: I don’t know how to diagram a sentence.

Oh, sure, I used to know how to do it, and in fact spent most of my 8th grade career diagramming sentences.  But I don’t remember how to do it now, and honestly couldn’t have confirmed that I knew how to do it by the time I hit the 9th grade, and I feel like I should be ashamed.  I’m not ashamed of it, but I feel as if I should be.

I do teach introductory writing to college students, after all. 

And there are so many other things about which I know I should feel ashamed but don’t, like the fact that I just started this sentence with ‘and’ and a previous sentence with ‘but,’ which would have thrown my 8th grade English teacher into conniptions only a southern American woman could truly understand and appreciate. (We do things differently in The South, y’all. Everything is bigger, from hissy fits to hair.) I should also be ashamed about not caring if my students can tell a past participle from a present participle, or whether they know more than five or six different transitional words as long as they never use ‘firstly,’ ‘secondly,’ (etc.), and ‘lastly,’ which makes me want to shave my eyeballs with a rusted straight razor. I sometimes, sometimes mind you, not all the time, just almost always, don’t even care if they end a sentence with a preposition.  Most of the time I’m elated if they can tell me what the prepositions in the sentence are.  And did I mention use of second-person pronouns at the same time first- and third-person pronouns are being used? (Pay no attention to that ‘you’ in the above paragraphs! Do as I say, not as I do!)

I’m not very good at following the syllabus, either, to be honest. I hate it, in fact. No one reads it, no one honestly cares that it exists except the corporate academics who spend more time trying to figure out metrics and percentages than they do worrying about whether our students sound stupid in their writing. After all, that’s supposed to be my job, not their job.  I’m the one charged with making writers out of apathetics, whom I would love to call ‘apathletes’ instead, but they tell me that’s not a word, even though ‘mathletes’ seem to have adapted just fine, but I digress.  I digress often, really, and that’s the problem here–not the fact that I don’t remember how to diagram a sentence, or even the fact that I use ‘that’ too often to make the other English teachers in residence comfortable with my abilities as an educator. The problem is really my pedagogical methodology, or the lack thereof, since my pedagogical methodology doesn’t exist. I’m also no good at lying, so my students can tell when I don’t care if they use a passive academic voice or a more personal, first-person narrative approach to a research essay. I prefer the personal approach over the passive, truth be told, and that makes me dangerous, because that isn’t what the academy prefers, and I’ve resigned myself to it. I’m not exactly what the academy prefers, either, with my skinny jeans and hot pink toenail polish, not to mention my lack of give-a-damn regarding whether my students are aware there’s a thing called ‘literary criticism and theory’ beyond the reviews planted on the hallowed websites of Barnes & Noble or Amazon.com.  I showed a class my copy of the Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, once, and all they said was how pretty the title was in multicolored font. They also thought Foucault looked a bit like Gandhi, and I had to agree.  I once had another student ask if it was alright to have one-word sentences.  Because of the expectations of the other instructors in my department, I had to answer his question in a way not at all conducive to my personal belief system.

No.

And so the saga continues.  The other teachers hand out rules like, “Every paragraph must have at least five but no more than eight sentences,” and, “Essays may not be written about any political or religious subject,” which is baloney, because if you take away faith and politics there’s nothing much left to write about in a compelling way, because at the heart of it we’re politically religious beings.  Even the atheists are politically religious; they recently formed their own church on principle.  This is a country all about equality, after all, and if the Christians and Muslims can gather in the name of their belief system, who are we to exclude the atheists who choose to believe in nothing at all?

Back to the syllabus thing, though… I reiterate that no one cares about its existence, nor do they read it, nor do they listen to me reading it if I sit/stand up front on the first day of class and read it to them word for word. It’s like trying to read War and Peace to an elementary school class in the original Russian.  I could put it to song and do a jig at the refrain and they still wouldn’t care.  And that syllabus makes me the worst kind of hypocrite, because even though it’s basically a form I have to fill out, I wrote it, and it’s boring.  I tell them my number one rule is to never write anything boring, but that’s how we begin–not as we mean to go on, but as we mean to avoid going on. We begin bored.

Another mark against me is my aversion to quizzes and tests.  I hate using tests to measure writing skills, as if fill-in-the-blank and matching, multiple choice and short answer combinations can make the difference between an articulate sentence and a fused sentence. It can’t.  It can tell me if a student knows (or can at least guess accurately) the difference between an articulate and a fused sentence, but just because a student knows the difference between the two doesn’t mean they can write well, nor does it mean said student will remember in two weeks what the difference is.  I like to think of myself as fairly articulate, at least upon occasion, but I didn’t get that way by taking tests and quizzes.  I became articulate because of two things: (1) I read a lot growing up, I read a lot now, and I plan to continue reading, and (2) I had English teachers who made me write almost as much as I read, I still write quite a bit, and I plan to continue writing.  It’s a simple formula, and it seems to be working so far. Teach writing by having students read different types of writing, and then having them write. Other instructors in my department talk about the quizzes they give every week, saying, “We cover so much material, I have to give them a quiz to make sure they’re getting the important information.” I say, if it isn’t all important, stop teaching it to them.  Teach them only the important information to begin with, and then teach them practical application to make sure it sticks.   

Welcome to The Persnickety Pen…

…where I used to put helpful things like writing tips for people who found themselves at the impossible crossroads of writing something and writing something well.  I have since decided there are enough of those sites, and I’d rather write about something far more interesting to me: namely, me.

So, for better or for blah, this is now where my thoughts and feelings and confusion and randomness all collide.

I’m almost sorry.

But not quite.