Friday, September 18, 2020

Memories of 1979: The concerned racist...

Left to right: Debra Propst, Me, and Alice McManus
1979

I was a dancerette in high school. Do they still have those? They're performers--all girls back in my day--who do routines at halftime with the marching band. I didn't know such a thing existed before the Titusville High School T-ettes came to my middle school to perform and hand out applications to try out for the group. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! This was my thing!


This was one of the two theaters in town. Two screens! 
1979

Titusville, Florida, was a tiny little city back in the late 70s, mostly known for the fabulous view of NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building sitting across the Indian River Lagoon from US 1, where people gathered to watch the rockets launch. 

For the longest time Titusville High School was the only high school in town...for the white kids. And Gibson was for Black students. After THS was fully integrated in 1967, the Andrew J. Gibson High School building eventually became a community center. When I was with the marching band, the field on which the band practiced, located behind the high school--close enough to walk, but most of us drove over--was behind the old Gibson School.


One of the anchors at Miracle City Mall
1979


I really enjoyed it being a dancerette; it was one of the few things that brought me joy at that time in my life. But by my senior year, I was tired of it and ready to quit. I went through the first half of the year, with the football games, because that was the best part of the gig; but I quit in the last semester. Throughout my time with the T-ettes, my sixth period class was devoted to the group. We met in the band room and started our daily practice before school ended. 


Apparently, at some point, we were renamed the Highsteppers. I have no recollections of it.
 I imagine it was an attempt to be inclusive.
1979

So, when I quit, I needed a half-semester sixth period class to replace practice. I went with an easy A--Music Appreciation.

It wasn't that bad of a class. It was taught next door to the band room, in the chorus room, and by the chorus teacher. We listened to music and talked about music and learned a little bit about music. 

There were only about a dozen students and they were the typical type you'd expect in a throw-away class. You know who I mean--we hated school and were only there because we had to be, so why not take Home Ec and Music Appreciation?

We sat in padded chairs on what was something like a band stage, if I recall--raised platforms, each a few inches higher than the one in front of it. There was one guy in class, cute and funny, who used to sit beside me a lot and we'd talk and joke around whenever we could. Sometimes, he'd put his arm along the back of my chair, not on my shoulders, just the chair. 


Searstown Mall was the competing mall to Miracle City, and always the lesser of the two.
1979

One day, we had a substitute teacher, an older woman who might remind you of Sally Field in Forrest Gump. She sat in front of us and talked with us for a while, not about music, I don't think, just chatting. At some point, she asked to talk with me privately in the chorus director's office. I was more curious than worried. I couldn't imagine I'd done anything wrong.

The director's office had a low wall and the rest was windows so that while he was in there, he could still see anyone in the main room. So the class could see me there, in the chair facing the desk behind which this substitute teacher sat. I thought it was presumptuous of her at the time. She'd closed the door behind us.


Titusville was a depressing place, probably still is.
1979

I don't recall the exact conversation, of course; this was forty years ago. But I do remember how I felt sitting there, listening to her. 

She was "concerned" about me, she said, and I asked, why? What was wrong?

"I don't think you should let that boy put his arm around you," she said. 

I can't remember if I made it clear that his arm wasn't touching me, it was just on the chair, but if I did, it didn't matter. She was "worried" about me. Why? I kept asking. Why?

I knew exactly why, of course. And I remember feeling angry, not just at her intrusion into my business, or her racism, but especially that she wouldn't come right out and say it. I knew why she didn't think the guy should have his arm around me. And she knew why. But she wouldn't admit it.

When I left the office and sat back down beside my friend, he asked me, "What was that all about?" I said, "Nothing."

I never told him. But I think he knew.

I don't remember that guy's name. But I'm pretty sure he was the same one who saw me five years out of high school, in a convenience store, and said, first thing, "You got fat."

Thanks, dude. Thanks a whole hell of a lot. 


Marching Band 1979
I'm the first T-ette there on the right side of the group.

Anyway, that substitute teacher is just the sort of person who, today, would claim to not be racist. She wasn't racist, she was just concerned about my reputation...because of what other people would think. She wasn't racist, she just thought that a black boy shouldn't put his arm around a white girl. 

She would likely say, "Some of my friends are Black! See? I'm not racist."


What a horrid, small-minded place it was back in 1979.
And I suppose you wouldn't be surprised that I am no longer friends with most of those people I went to school with. 

And I just wish I'd have said something. I wish I'd have forced her to explain herself. Instead I just remember sitting there, playing dumb, saying, "But, why?"

I shouldn't have let her get away with it. I think I must have considered it a moral failing and that's why I've never forgotten it. 

Racism is stupid.


And so was Titusville back in the 70s.




Wednesday, August 26, 2020

As my mother lay dying...

 

My mother at about age ten


When I entered her hospital room in Cape Canaveral that day in mid July of 2020, I hadn’t seen my mother in over a year, and before that, rarely. I was going for estrangement; she was clawing for reconciliation. But reconciliation for my mother meant bringing me back under her folded wing where she could peck at me with abandon without any complaint from me.

For most of my life, I didn't consider my mother an abuser. Child abuse, so many assume, involves violent beatings or sexual exploitation. Medical and psychological professionals, naturally, recognize emotional and psychological abuse as destructive, but even then, the general public imagines such abuse must be vicious and obvious to any observer.

Even after I understood that my mother didn’t love me, that she was incapable of love, it took quite some time for me to understand that what she’d done to me was actually abuse. No one outside, looking in, would think it. My mother didn't break any bones. She didn't scream obscenities at me. She never came right out and told me she hated me, or that I was worthless. What my mother did to me was much more cunning.




Watch me slip away...


Inevitably, when you talk about childhood abuse, someone will point to others who suffered as well, but who grew into self-actualized, healthy adults. They use these examples as evidence that if you are suffering, it's because you aren't trying hard enough to heal. This is survivors' bias. People who descend into drug abuse, criminality, anti-social behaviors, or extreme depression are sometimes accused of wanting to remain mentally unstable. I've heard people actually say that some victims enjoy wallowing in their misery. The "happiness is a choice" mantra is destructive (and bullshit).

No one's story is the same. No abused child can be compared to another. Circumstances, abusers, family, schools, resources—there are so many variables in a child's life that come together to determine how she will respond to abuse. Never let anyone else tell you how you should feel, how to heal, or how long it should take. The best you can do for yourself is to find some small number of others who understand you and refrain from trying to explain yourself to anyone outside of that group. 

My mother broke me. She ruined me. Anything good in my life now is despite her, not because of her. I now walk a fine line between longing for what might have been and wanting to retain what joys I currently have.

Imagine if I’d been raised by a loving mother and father (because my father is not blameless here). I might have had self-esteem and a healthy self-image. I might have been as mature as my schoolmates. I might have had healthy friendships and relationships. I might have learned discipline. I might have gone to college out of high school—I don’t doubt I would have. I might have had a career.

But had I done those things I most certainly wouldn’t have met my husband and had the children that I have now. I would not trade my childhood for their existence, but I would have liked to have been a better mother. 

Not wishing for a different life doesn’t mean I owe my mother gratitude or thanks. I don’t.



My mother at age two

My mother was a covert narcissist. This means that to others all around us, she was a sweet, devoted mother and my behavior was out of line. I was bad. I was at fault. There was something wrong with me. There was no adult in my entire life who saw what was being done to me—if they saw they did nothing. My father did nothing. No extended family member, no family friend, no teacher, no school counselor—no one—did anything to help me and in fact, did much to harm me. Eyes rolled. Criticisms were made. Tongues were clucked. No one ever stopped to wonder what was happening in my home that might make a child behave in such a way—inability to speak when spoken to or criticized; uncontrolled weeping; torrents of rage; stealing; lying; compulsive skin picking. Why would a child of six, eight, or ten behave this way? Why do we always look only at the child when no bruises are visible?

Well, how could anyone look at my mother, with her doe-eyed worry, her wringing hands, and her pleas for understanding, and think any of this could be her fault? As far as the world was concerned, I was raised in a loving, healthy, upper middle class, nuclear family. My mother was beautiful and charming. My father, handsome and jovial. My brother was popular, good-looking, athletic, and talented. I was a problem child.


My mother and me


Other daughters of narcissistic mothers will recognize this family dynamic. My mother was the abuser. My father, her enabler. My brother was the Golden Child. And I was the Scapegoat. Lucky me. 

My father, if you asked him now about my childhood, would shrug and say something like, “I thought we were a happy family.” My brother only began to understand what happened after years of struggle between my mother and me that finally ended with me admitting to him some of what I went through. And to his credit, he understood. With the weight of manipulation my mother poured onto him, the Golden Child grew into the dichotomy of a man filled with both empathy and anger. This comes to me as no surprise. 

My brother was ever the only person in the world to care for me. Any self-esteem I have, any positive self-image, any knowledge of what it is to be loved came from him.

My brother took care of my mother his entire adult life. Before she and my father divorced, he unwittingly attended to her self-esteem by loving her unconditionally and feeding her ego. After the divorce, he tended to any needs she might have. At first, my mother managed to live on her own for quite a while, but as she grew older, my brother was at her beck and call—mowing her lawn, seeing to repairs around her house. Your first thought might be, but of course. And you'd be correct. Except that with my mother, she began to refuse to do more and more for herself and expected my brother to do anything she didn't want to do. And she wasn't forthright about it. She played games, acted helpless, and then smiled and bragged about how she'd played him.

My mother, throughout her life, had an enormous sense of entitlement.

As she became more and more feeble, his burden grew until he was picking her up off the soiled carpet in her apartment and calling for an ambulance…more than once. Early on these episodes were driven by alcohol and prescription drugs, later perhaps it was the cancer.

Disentangling myself from my mother's abuse was a gradual process and took decades. But in later years, when I had pulled far enough away from her emotionally, she had no one to abuse, so she turned on my brother. This is not to say she hadn’t been nagging and pecking at him his entire life. But it had always been done under that covert haze of “for your own good” and “I’m only trying to help.” Once she got to a particular age, with a certain level of mental decline, she failed to keep her cruelty in check. The covert in her narcissism fell away and she started abusing him to his face. And he was appalled.


My brother and me


Late last year, after another fall and an inability to get back up, my mother was diagnosed as having a large tumor on one of her ovaries. Medical opinion was that if she was still alive and well three to four months later, it was nothing more than a “complicated cyst.” There would be no biopsy because if it was cancer, a biopsy could make it spread faster. And both my mother and her doctors agreed that she wouldn’t likely survive surgery and chemotherapy, anyway. So my mother waited and prepared to, as she put it, meet her maker.

Six months later she hadn’t changed so my brother believed that she didn’t have cancer and would, as they sometimes say of mean people, outlive us all. But nine months after the diagnosis, the truth started to sink in. He told me she was deteriorating badly and if I wanted to say my good-byes I should visit her. But the COVID-19 pandemic had hit Florida and not only did I not want to die, I didn’t want to risk killing my brother, so I didn’t visit my mother. How much of this was merely an excuse to avoid seeing her, I can't say.

Then, in July, my brother told me she was in the hospital again. She’d do this the whole time, he said. She’d get very weak and sick, go into the hospital, get better, and go back home. This time she was vomiting and couldn’t get out of bed. He assumed she would either get well enough to go home, or end up in a nursing home. But after two days in the hospital, the hospice nurses explained to him that this was it—she had only days left. And my brother was heartbroken.

When he contacted me again, he said he didn’t want to pressure me at all. But it would be helpful to him if I would visit her. Because of the pandemic, only one person was allowed to visit each day, and he was struggling with seeing her there, knowing her end was near. I have to say, I don’t recall ever in my life hearing my brother cry until that week.

So, I visited my mother.


My mother


In the circles of daughters of narcissistic mothers, there are those few who come at the rest of us with a warning about not reconciling with our mothers before they die. “You’ll live the rest of your life with regret if you don’t!” they scold us. But the majority don’t take the bait. There are mothers out there who have done horrible things to their daughters, things that make my mother look like a wonderful person. Narcissistic abuse can be devastating to the human psyche; it takes many forms and is doled out in varying degrees depending on, at the very least, how sick the narcissist is.

I never felt that I would be guilt-ridden if I never saw my mother again. I vowed, after realizing that what I suffered was psychological and emotional abuse from birth by my mother, and at the very least emotional and psychological neglect by my father, that I would do what I felt was best for me. I’d already spent untold hours of self-reflection, attempts at relationships with my parents, counseling, and struggling for mental health. I’d come to terms with the fact—FACT—that my mother did not love me. That she didn’t even like me. And so I was prepared to accept that my parents would die without changing. Because they were incapable of change. And I refused to allow myself to be in a position where they could abuse me further.

With that in mind, I decided that I would visit my mother as she lay dying. Not for her. But for my brother. And for me...because I felt that it was the kind thing to do. And honestly, I trusted that she was in such a weakened state, she could do little to hurt me.

I think the worst thing about being unloved as a child is that most people refuse to believe it’s possible. It’s no wonder our children’s bad behaviors are so often laid at their feet and not the parents’. Parents love their children. Of course they do. It would be unthinkable otherwise. Human beings are, after all, hardwired to love their offspring. 

Well, I and many other unloved children would like a word.


My mother in high school


It’s frustrating to be told by so many people—even after you’ve explained the situation—that your mother loved you. Sometimes they’ll tack an “in her own way,” or “despite it all,” to the end of their ignorant proclamation. They have to believe that mothers love their children. At the same time they know that sociopaths and psychopaths exist. Do they truly believe that psychopaths are capable of love? They’re not.

When I first imagined I’d been unloved as a child, I was in my mid-twenties. While I was relieved to find that the destruction I’d been hurling at myself through my teen years and beyond had a cause, an impetus that I could get to and work out, I also sensed that what I’d been feeling would never really go away. There would always be, I was sure, a pit deep within that was supposed to be filled with love but was left empty. You can’t go back and fill it yourself. By the time your childhood is over…it’s too late.

Still, I held out some hope that maybe I was wrong. Maybe my parents’ love was just not quite enough for me. Existent, but muted. Perhaps I was difficult. They were merely unable to handle me the way I needed handling. 

Then I had children. That was when I knew for sure. There is no way my parents could have loved me and treated me the way they did. I was going to have to learn to live with that blank, gnawing space—the wound that never heals.

People who cannot feel or express empathy cannot love. The ability to feel empathy runs along a scale, of course, and narcissists aren’t all psychopaths. My mother certainly wasn’t. But she lacked enough empathy to really love. For my mother, love was about her fears of being unloved and found out. She expressed love in words only—with perhaps an occasional attempt at actions that she thought suggested it—as attempts to either hear the words directed back at her to chase away her fear that she was unloved and unlovable, or to be seen as a good mother who, of course, loved her children.

My mother desperately needed me to love her. But I realize now what my childhood was all about. I see it so clearly—the fear, the uncertainty, the doubt. I instinctively knew I wasn't loved. Or the love my brother gave me was ample enough to teach me the difference. So I never did love my mother. I went from need, to fear, to hatred, to resentment, to disgust, and finally to pity. But love was never on the table.

My brother loved my mother a great deal. For him, her showers of praise and adoration were enough of a substitute for real love. Coupled with the appreciation of, and kinship with, my father, my brother had a great childhood. When he spoke, he seemed to be understood. His emotions seemed to be respected. He felt as if he was heard.

I hate to tell him that what he experienced was not, in fact, love. Not at all. Coupled with the joy my mother expressed basking in his reflection, was her manipulation of his emotions. She undercut him at every turn toward independence. She worked on him over the years until he felt a deep sense of responsibility for his mother’s happiness, and guilt when he couldn't succeed in making her so. What my brother thought of as love was actually my mother feeding off the illusion that she was a wonderful mother because she had such a wonderful son. And anything he did that might crack that vision was set upon—subtly cruel at first, then through nagging, criticizing, and insults. She used all the tools she had.


My mother: A portrait


For whatever reason, my mother disliked women and girls. And I was, unfortunately, a girl. A rather frumpy, unattractive little girl at that. But had I been born male, it's unlikely it would have made a difference. Someone, daughters of narcissists will tell you, has to be the Scapegoat. Someone has to take on all the ills of the family so that it can maintain its idyllic illusion to outsiders. The family is perfect, you see. Look how charming it is, how loving it is. How happy they all are. Ignore that child in the corner trying to pull her lips off. She is necessary but not important.

I know it doesn’t make sense. Not to people who had actual loving families.

When I walked into her room at Cape Canaveral Hospital, in the hospice unit, the nurse woke her up and when my mother saw me, I knew she was happy and relieved. The Prodigal had returned. To the hospice nurses, I’d granted my mother’s dearest wish—a patching up of our relationship. I didn’t tell them there was no relationship to patch.

I was reminded of a time several years before, as I was pulling away from her, extricating my self-esteem from her abuse. She said to me, "I just don't understand when things got so bad between us." This was my mother's view of love in a nutshell. When I was a child of ten, I was obedient and cowed by her. She thought that was a loving mother/daughter relationship. 

I was shocked at the look of her. Gaunt and gray. Bones and skin. She said she loved me and I told her I loved her too. Why not? I thought. What harm could it do? She tried to talk to me and I told her there was no need. “We’re good,” I said. “No need to say anything.”

I lied. But in that lie I realized that I was there for more than just my brother. And I was there for more than just myself—as a talisman against self recrimination. I was actually there because a woman that I’d known my entire life—one I didn’t really like, who didn’t like me—was dying. And she had no one else to sit with her. So I did.

I read my mother poetry, two poems especially that I thought were her favorites. I read them both several times over the next few days sitting at her side. I read her some of a book by one of her favorite authors. Hell, I even read my Twitter feed after I tired of everything else. I played her music and videos on my phone—The Sound of Music and songs from the film. If I Were a Rich Man and Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof.  I reminded her of our trip to Europe. I talked about her cat. I told her all about my husband and children. She managed to say, “Baby?” when I mentioned my oldest son and I told her, “Not yet, but maybe soon.”

That first day, she was alert and listening and responding and held my hand tightly. The second day she was alert only once in a while and barely squeezed my hand a few times. The third day…I don’t think she was there. But I talked and read and played music just the same. The first day, I played Pachelbel’s Canon from my phone and cried. She was watching me and I said, “This song makes me cry every time.” On the third day, I played it from a CD collection I’d brought and I stared out the window at the inlet and a pier with a covered gazebo and I didn’t cry at all.


The view from my mother's hospice room


On Friday, July 17, neither my brother nor I could visit. It upset me that she might spend an entire day without family. But I was relieved that my mother’s sister would do it, though I couldn’t be sure if my mother would have wanted it.

My mother used to complain about her own mother and the way she would play all the family against each other, causing arguments and division. And yet, my mother did the same thing. Immediately after her diagnosis, while the reality was still uncertain, she did all she could to have everyone come to her rescue, to do her bidding. My mother loved nothing more than having everyone “do” for her. Once, before she showed any signs of illness, she called hospice and claimed she’d fallen, but when the nurse showed up, she managed to talk the poor woman into doing the dishes for her.

My mother allowed a former in-law to ingratiate herself into those final months. And she told this person, and her sister and others, that my brother wouldn’t take her to the doctor, didn't want her to get treatment for her possible cancer, and was abusing her. Nothing I could say to these people made any difference. They believed my mother and at one point literally accused my brother of not wanting his mother to live.

My brother, who cared for her throughout his life, who took her abuse as best he could, who continued to care for her daily even while she smeared him to others and he knew it—they accused him of not taking care of her. This caused irreparable damage to family relationships.

I know some would say that my mother was ill—narcissism is a mental illness. And I shouldn’t feel ill will toward those she conned. But it’s not so much that they believed ridiculous and horrible things about my brother—and about me, for that matter. They allowed, however unwittingly, my mother to abuse me, and worse, took part in it. I was teased and scolded, as a child, for things beyond my control. It’s difficult to separate my childhood from my extended family. I didn’t just leave my mother, after all. I left the family. I’m estranged from it all.

But through this experience, I’ve come to realize that you can’t force anyone to see the truth. You can’t make someone believe you. You have to stop caring what others think about you, about your choices, decisions, actions. You have to do whatever is necessary to allow yourself to heal. And those who care about you will understand. Those who don’t, well, you were right to walk away.

There will always be those who think I was a bad daughter because I left my elderly mother in the care of my brother. Because I didn’t visit her, clean her house, cook for her, tend to her. It was my duty, they’d say. They’re wrong. It’s not a child’s job to love her parent. It’s the parent’s job to love her child. And if my mother had loved me, she’d have had me there at the end, loving her.

I did my best as a human being who feels empathy for a dying old woman. That’s all. What I managed to do is enough for me. 

I recently finished reading Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. This haunting story revolves around Lily Bart, a character you very much want to cheer for. You want her to realize her mistakes, come to her senses, make the right choices. But she never does. And in the end you are empty with the thought that she lived her entire life searching and never finding and you feel as if it was a waste. A waste of a life.

That’s what I thought about my mother. In my mind, she was always grasping and clawing for something better. She never seemed to get past the reality that she had to do things for herself—that the world was not put here to serve her needs. She lived her life constantly feeling unjustly treated by anyone who didn't praise and serve her. She was never able to see her own hand in her undoing. She didn’t know. As much as I often think of her as a willfully cruel person, I do understand, at least intellectually, that she was like Lily Bart in one way—she couldn’t see what she was doing to herself and to others.

For whatever reason, my mother was a narcissist. She didn’t know it, couldn’t conceive of it. She was incapable of self-reflection. Anything negative a person might say about her, she turned back onto them. She was a gaping hole that needed constant filling with praise, adoration, and subservience. She didn’t do what she did to me on purpose.

That really changes nothing, however. For me. So I am left only with the consolation that I have managed to be as mentally and emotionally healthy as I can be, and that, when the time came, I was kind to someone who was rarely kind to me.


Dianna Cole
08/23/1938 - 07/17/2020

After my mother died, my brother and I cleaned out her apartment. I gathered up her journals and photographs. And I took a few great books from her shelves. One was the complete poems of Robert Frost with two bookmarks in it. She’d kept the place of those two poems I read to her again and again as she lay dying. The Road Not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

I’d been right. I did good. I hope that gave her some peace.

 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Chocolate ice cream is my drug of choice...

 

This is actually a picture of vegan ice cream. I'd like to go on record as never being a vegan and never considering eating vegan ice cream. I, frankly, don't see the point. Nonetheless, this picture belongs to veganbaking.net and was made available via Flickr


I refuse to get my hopes up (while they are obviously up). This four year national nightmare may very well turn into a prolonged descent into a bizarre 21st Century, newfangled fascism. And I'm flailing around, grasping at sanity, clawing toward productivity, struggling to maintain a semblance of normalcy, and eating a ridiculous amount of ice cream and/or brownies while experimenting with other drugs such as Little Debbie Swiss Rolls (dear god in heaven in whom I don't believe!).

I stole this picture from LittleDebbie.com


I'm fat. Like a toad. Again for Christ's sake. Fuck it. It's not like I have anywhere to go.

First the sewing expo was canceled. Then the family picnic. Next, the Decatur Book Festival. The Florida Writers Conference has gone online only. I haven't heard anything about the Miami Book Fair, but I'm certainly not going to participate in a street fair with COVID-19 particles zipping about in the air. Forget that.

A planned trip to visit the oldest kid and wife in their new home. Canceled.

That's the real Cancel Culture we should be worrying about, folks. All of our hopes and fucking dreams--trips, family get-togethers, and democracy. CANCELED!

I hadn't seen my youngest since February. Do you know how hard it is to not see your child when you're used to seeing him at least once a month? You know. I know you know. Because we're all living this. But he did come to visit us. To pick up an espresso machine he inherited from his grandmother who just died. (That's an upcoming post that requires more thought and care than this one, so later.) I mean--we have our priorities. 

A lot of planning and questioning and confusion went into this visit. Should he just come to the door and we'll hand off the machine? Should we let it sit out on the front porch for two days so any COVIDs attached to it can die before he arrives to carry it back to his place? If he comes into the house, should we all wear masks? Should he stay only a few minutes?

We finally decided to just fuck it. As long as none of us had a fever, or symptoms, we were going for it. He came over. He was wearing a mask, but we told him to take it off. He spent a few hours with us, we fed him, we acted as if everything was normal. And we sent him back home--no hugs--so that we could all wait a few days to see if any of us gave the others the Trump Virus. (And I told my son in no uncertain terms that if I should get it and die, he was not to blame! Imagine having to tell your child something like that.)

And that night, I ate an inordinate and probably unsafe amount of ice cream after everyone else went to bed. They say that eating ice cream alone is a real sign of trouble.

One of these days, there will be a vaccine and life might get back to some semblance of normal. Sometime after November 3rd, we may have a better future in this country to look forward to, and just a few long, horrific months to slog through until it can get into the White House. One day, I'll see my oldest son and visit my youngest as often as I want. One day, I'll visit North Carolina again. One day. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I have ice cream to comfort me.


Monday, July 27, 2020

The two best quotes in Mary L. Trump's book



If you're looking for a salacious exposé of Donald Trump in Mary L. Trump's Too Much and Never Enough, you'll be very disappointed. The book is part memoir, part history, never really succeeding at either. It does paint something of a portrait of a cold, greedy family and a bratty kid who never learned his lesson.

Donald Trump was that snotty, misbehaving kid we all recognize from our school days--the one who tormented teachers and weaker kids alike. The one who bullied and got away with it because the other kids knew better than to talk and the adults who should have disciplined him refused to do so.

He was kicked out of private school and sent to a military academy, a reform school, something he well knew was meant to be a punishment. And while he was bullied there at first, he soon learned to turn it around and get his own way. After school, his father propped him up as "the image" of Trump Management, never having him actually do any work. Other people always did the work, and Donald Trump took the credit when things went well and placed blame elsewhere when they didn't. Donald Trump, to put it plainly, has never worked a day in his life.

Not only has he been bailed out and propped up financially by his father, but also by banks. Because without the "Trump Brand" there'd be no money repaid at all. And that's all Trump has ever been: a brand.

He's all image. All ego. All surface.

If you read the book, you might at times feel a bit sad for Donald Trump, and you might find yourself feeling perturbed with his niece Mary for her occasional forays into tone-deaf privilege. It paints a picture of ridiculous, arrogant wealth. But it reads more as a defense of Mary, her father, and her side of the family than a portrait of "the world's most dangerous man."

The only two quotes in Too Much and Never Enough that stood out to me came in the last chapter, "A Civil Servant in Public Housing." 

Donald was to my grandfather what the border wall has been for Donald: a vanity project funded at the expense of more worthy pursuits. Fred didn't groom Donald to succeed him; when he was in his right mind, he wouldn't trust Trump Management to anybody. Instead, he used Donald, despite his failures and poor judgment, as the public face of his own thwarted ambition. Fred kept propping up Donald's false sense of accomplishment until the only asset Donald had was the ease with which he could be duped by more powerful men.

And...

In Donald's mind, he has accomplished everything on his own merits, cheating notwithstanding. How many interviews has he given in which he offers the obvious falsehood that his father loaned him a mere million dollars that he had to pay back but he was otherwise solely responsible for his success? It's easy to understand why he would believe this. Nobody has failed upwardly as consistently and spectacularly as the ostensible leader of the shrinking free world.

It's hard to imagine, just from reading Mary L. Trump's book, that a cold, ambitious father who couldn't tolerate weakness and a cold, mostly absent mother could create a monster like Donald Trump. It feels to any emotionally mature person that something worse, something awful, must have happened to Donald Trump at a very young age that ripped empathy from him. And he is who is he now, because his unloving, cruel parents never bothered to help him heal.

But I'm no psychologist. Maybe Donald Trump simply lived the perfect storm of unloving parents, leniency, and wealth and the empty, childish, never-consoled ego is what was wrought.

The fact that he managed to con stupid people so thoroughly, and piqued the interest of powerful people who believed they could gain from his ascendancy to the White House is what psychologists should study...and no doubt will.


Sunday, March 1, 2020

Phlogging our trip to Amelia Island...

It's another photo blog...a phlog!

In mid-February, hubs and I went up to Fernandina Beach for the Amelia Island Book Festival Author Expo. Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island are at the northeastern tip of Florida, practically to Georgia.

On our way up, we stopped in Palm Coast to visit Princess Place Preserve. It's called that because one of the early owners married an exiled Russian prince. So, I guess she was a princess. I'm not a big fan of royalty. I'm even less of a fan of people pretending the United States has its own "royalty."




There was this cute covered bridge, which reminded me of that book and movie, The Bridges of Madison County, neither of which I liked all that much. This bridge isn't as quaint as those bridges, but it has its own appeal.


I got two pics of this fence and I can't decide which one I like best. I'll post the other one at the end.

There were lots of trails at Princess Place and plenty of places to have parties or weddings. You can tour the house in which the so-called princess lived, but it was closed when we went. We much prefer the outside of things anyway, which is actually kind of funny. We're not exactly outdoorsy people. We don't like camping or boating, certainly not water skiing or anything like that.

We just like being outside sometimes.



We startled this great blue heron and I was surprised I got this picture at all. Ever since I got my new camera, most of my pictures suck. But at least I'm able to get off auto and learn (I hope) how to use the various manual options. The Canon I was using before (and still use sometimes) was bonkers when it came to manual mode. I couldn't figure it out at all.

Anyway, as I was saying, we like to be out in nature. One of the things that drives us really nuts is walking in a preserve or park and hearing people tromping along the trail talking really loud...like they think the person with them can't hear them because of the abundance of air...? I don't know. (We make exceptions for small children, of course.)



I love this scene. It's so Florida. And you can see in the distance another great blue heron. Actually, it could be the same one--this from when we first saw it and the pic above as we came to that part of the trail. Who knows?

And litter. I really, really hate litter.


I never pass up the chance to get a picture of a mushroom!

And you know something else we don't like? It's those painted rocks people leave around. I mean, sure, they're cute downtown or maybe in a picnic area. But if you're out in a wildlife preserve, the last thing you want to see is some rock that doesn't belong there, painted, and dropped like another piece of trash. (Okay, lovingly placed...like a precious piece of trash.) I really wish people wouldn't do that.




These shells had attached themselves to a bridge support post. I thought they were oysters, but they could be barnacles...assuming barnacles aren't just those funny cone-like creatures. I Googled it for a bit, but realized I wasn't quite that invested in knowing the facts in this instance. Enlighten me if you can.

The Author Expo is held in the gym of Fernandina Beach Middle School every year. There are rows and rows of authors selling their books. It's always a lot of fun to participate. The next day, before heading home, we stopped at Ft. Clinch State Park right down the road from our hotel.




One side of the park is woods with hiking and bike trails, inlets and streams.



And the other side is the beach. Just over that sea wall there, you can look out northward and see the Georgia State line. Virtually.

We didn't tour the actual fort this year; maybe next year.



I don't understand the lighthouse. It's not on the beach. It's not even at the tip end of the park. It's across Egans Creek...in a westerly direction from the trail. Right here:



Yet another thing I'm not much in the mood to learn about right now: Why is the Amelia Island lighthouse so far from the coastline? Curious.



This is a little yellow-rumped warbler. I love the fogginess of the photo. I wish I could say I did that on purpose with my extended photography knowledge and experience. But alas, all my good photos are happy accidents.



This is a wood stork. I love wood storks. Their faces look like wood and I bet that's where they get their name. We used to have a mated pair living in the ditch at our local Walmart. Then, one day, there was only one and he seemed to mourn for quite some time. Eventually, he was gone too.



Here's one of those happy accidents I was telling you about. In most respects this is a really bad photo. But I do love the wing spread and I think it's kind of cool how the twig is curved in front of it in that way. This is a warbler, I'm sure; but I'm not sure which kind.



Here's a group of ruddy turnstones at the sea wall. They're cute little birds.

Okay, here's the other picture of the fence at Princess Place Preserve:



This one's got a curvy thing going on that the other one lacks...at the top and bottom.

That's it for that trip.

You ever think it's strange how we keep doing these calming things...we hike or go to parties. We watch television and go out to dinner. Like nothing horrifying is happening in the world at all?

We just keep on living...



Maybe there's nothing else we can do.








Friday, February 21, 2020

Trump supporters...you are dead to me

Picture by IoSonoUnaFotoCamera via Flickr

First, let me tell you a little story--a true story--the relevance of which will be lost on you until much later. Those are the best kinds of stories, if you ask me.

In his confession, the murderer said he approached the victim in the parking lot of my local Publix and helped her put her groceries in her car. He then asked her for a ride home. When she balked, he played to her humanity, saying that after he helped her out, it was the least she could do. So she agreed and let him get in her car. Some time later, he murdered her.

And now, the business at hand:

Picture by IoSonoUnaFotoCamera via Flickr

I was raised in a Republican household. I first registered as a Republican and remained Republican until just about the time George W. came onto the scene. It wasn't conservatism that concerned me when I left the party, it was religion. I was suddenly keenly aware of the Religious Right's takeover of the party and wanted no part of it, anymore. I have since had no party affiliation.

Even while I was a registered Republican, I never voted a straight ticket. I always chose the candidate whom I thought would do the best job and, until the election of 2016, felt free to exercise my conscience in voting, sometimes voting third party. (If you voted third party in 2016, you either didn't realize the danger we were in, despite warnings, or you were too selfish to put your country's needs before your own. If you vote third party in 2020, you will be, forthwith, dead to me.)

I am not a Democrat. I don't think I will ever join the Democratic Party. I have always considered myself a fiscally conservative social liberal. (An extreme social liberal.) But I certainly side with Democrats on a lot of issues. Again...I have no party affiliation.

But what's going on right now really doesn't have anything to do with Republicans or Democrats or conservative vs. liberal issues.

For one thing, the Republican Party is dead. Whatever it is calling itself the Republican Party bears no resemblance to Republican ideals, standards, or values.




If you're still a Republican...why? Are you stupid? Are you illiterate? Or do you really support a party that, realizing it can't win honestly, has persistently chipped away at voting rights, has suppressed votes to the extreme through gerrymandering, has, through nothing more than strongman control of Congress, kept a sitting president from nominating a Supreme Court justice just so they could stack that court for their side? You support minority rule? If you can't win honestly, you think cheating is okay?

So, someone being a Republican up until 2016 was a bit of a problem for me. But I didn't let it get in the way of family or friendship bonds.

Some say the Republican Party is now Trump's party...the party of Trumpism. I don't even think that's true. I think it's a nationalist, fascist, authoritarian party seeking to overthrow our democracy and set up an authoritarian regime with all the trappings of said democracy. Because people, in general, are too stupid to realize that they've been duped.

We got to vote, Johnny!
Weren't it fun?
Funny, though, ain't it,
how Republicans always win?

The Untied States will still look like a democracy or a constitutional republic. But it's not real democracy. The Constitution, so beloved by Real Americans© is in tatters.

The sad truth of it is that a lot of conservatives have, from the founding of our nation, fought for autocratic, minority rule.

If you have wondered about and puzzled over the GOP's complicity in the Trump administration's destruction of our government, its norms, its customs, its balance, this is why:

The GOP loves Trump because he's doing exactly what they've been working hard to do for decades. They don't like the man. Perhaps they don't like his methods. His King Kong smashing of our democracy frightens them. But the results have them peeing their fat, white, geriatric pants with glee.

What's happening now is that we are slipping into the monstrous, rotting corpse of the Republican Party's wet dream. Checks and balances are dead. The rule of law is dead. An impartial judiciary is dying. And the band plays on. Send in the clowns.


Pic by Lws & Clrk via Flickr


So here is where I stand...as a former Republican...as a person who has always tried to be objective...as a person who has favored neither party over the other, or a third, throughout her adult life:

Anyone who still supports Donald Trump and this so-called Republican Party is at best willfully ignorant and at worst morally bankrupt.

I want nothing to do with anyone like that. I want no part of anyone like that in my family, in my circle of friends, or on social media.

As far as I'm concerned, anyone still supporting what is now the Trump Regime is no better than a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. A morally corrupt, vile fascist.

All Trump supporters will be blocked, expunged, shunned, considered dead to me.*

Anyone not a Trump supporter, but still a Republican will be handled on an individual basis. Your (obviously low) IQ, your mental health, and your decency or lack thereof will be taken into consideration.

Seriously. This is Banana Republic, fascist regime, jack-booted authoritarianism. It's here. And if you're going to be one of the dictator's minions, one of the Party's eyes and ears, or even just one of those who looks the other way--fuck off.

FUCK. OFF.


Pic by FolsomNatural via Flickr


And now, to that little story I told you at the beginning.

Bad people know how good people act; they know what drives us: a sense of kindness, empathy, and fairness. And they exploit it to their advantage.

I can already hear them, readying their defenses:
You're being intolerant!
How can you be so closed minded?
How dare you tell others who to support! Do you believe in democracy or not?

And to all of that, I say: FUCK OFF.

There is a paradox of tolerance that too few people understand. The fact is IF YOU TOLERATE INTOLERANT PEOPLE, YOU ARE FURTHERING THE DESTRUCTION OF SOCIETY.

I shit you not.

Bigots and homophobes will stand before cameras without a hint of irony and whine over not being allowed to speak at some college campus or cry about being silenced by some group of protesters. We have rights, too! they squeal.

FUCK THEM.

I will not tolerate bigotry, racism, homophobia, misogyny, tirades against diversity, or screeds against liberals. And your ridiculous, pitiful claims that you are the ones being victimized will be met with a great big FUCK YOU.

I will not tolerate your acceptance of fascism, authoritarianism, nationalism, or theocracy. And your ass-hatted claims that you support this vile anti-democratic oppression of those you vilify for democracy's sake will be met with a great big SHUT THE FUCK UP.

I'm done.



For further reading see:

Adam Serwers, "The Fist Days of the Trump Regime" in The Atlantic.

John Dean and Bob Altemeyer's "Why do so Many Americans Continue to Support Donald Trump? In a Word: Authoritarianism," at Verdict.



*Except as necessary to call them out on social media.





Monday, January 27, 2020

Oops, I read it again! GWTW in 2020...

Gone With the Wind, the Confederacy, and why we are in the mess we're in now...



Well, I did it again. I read Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. This was my 21st reading of this book. You might wonder how a person could possibly read such a book twenty-one times. It's easy when you're old.

I first read GWTW at fifteen after I saw the film in the theater. No, I wasn't fifteen in 1939...duh. I guess it was a special showing. And what do you know, GWTW is showing at a theater near me next week! Hmmm... I see more reminiscing in my future.

I was smitten. The dresses. The mansions. The dashing heroes. There was a time when I thought the ultimate delight would be to be rich enough to have a theater in my home where I could screen Gone With the Wind anytime I wanted. When VCRs were a thing, my dream pretty much came true. And of course, I own the film on VHS and DVD.

Anyway, I got the book for my birthday in December of my fifteenth year and had it read by year's end. How is that possible, you ask? Simple, I skimmed that 1024-page novel like a hungry raccoon digging through the neighbor's trash looking for the romantic bits from the film. I skipped all the boring parts!

Then I read the book again every summer for sixteen more years, continuing no doubt to skip boring parts until I was well into adult-hood. After that, I read it a few more times when I had the chance. And here we are. The twenty-first reading of Gone With the Wind.


My original copy, now battered and delicate. Printed in 1973.


The last time I read it, I told my husband that I was surprised at the freethought contained in it. He accused me of reading into the story what I wanted to find. How insulting! So, this time I read the book on my Kindle and highlighted every instance of freethought I found. I think there was one. It's clear that Rhett Butler is an atheist and I suppose I was surprised that his lack of belief in a deity was so casually handled in a book written in the Thirties. Scarlett O'Hara is less of an atheist than she is a convenient believer. So, maybe we'll let my husband have this one.

I wanted to write about the book because a lot changes when you age from fifteen to fifty-eight. So, here we go. I'm going to get into the racism and ignorance of the South in a minute, but first...

Characters.

The characters are no longer who I thought they were.

Scarlett O'Hara is an anti-hero throughout the book. I've always recognized that. She's a shallow, selfish, emotionally stunted girl who grows slowly, unwillingly, into an adult. Well, maybe slowly isn't right. She rejects thoughts and emotions that threaten her stubborn hold on a false reality until the very end when, in one fell swoop, she finally sees reality and grows up.

Up until that moment, however, she's infuriating.

It's hard to fault Scarlett. The war broke out when she was a mere sixteen--a belle of the county--and her world was turned upside down. She clung to some selfish traits for survival's sake.

Scarlett isn't all bad. She's the strongest and smartest person in the entire novel. She refuses to buckle under and starve while the rest of the South clings to honor and decorum. She doesn't shy from hard, dirty labor and insists others in her family work too. They fail and Scarlett takes up the slack...all the time. It's because of Scarlett O'Hara that Tara survives the war and becomes a profitable farm by the end of the story. True, there was some luck in that the plantation house wasn't burned (though it was set on fire at one point). But you come away from a reading of Scarlett feeling the she'd have rebuilt the damn thing if the Yankees had demolished it, so forceful was her will.

Scarlett O'Hara also has a strong moral code, though she herself doesn't recognize it. She believes that she stays with Melanie Wilkes in Atlanta during the siege, and then carts her and her baby, half dead, all the way to Tara before Sherman takes the city, because she promised her beloved Ashley that she'd take care of his wife.

But that's bullshit. Anyone who reads the entire novel can see that Scarlett has an idea of who her people are and she fights for them, works her fingers raw for them, and takes care of them...even when she doesn't like them much. Scarlett doesn't like her sisters and with good reason. Suellen is spoiled, refusing to pick cotton because it's beneath her, caring nothing for Tara. And Careen is a girl with her head in the clouds who will never come down to earth and ends up in a convent.

Scarlett thinks she hates Melanie Wilkes and at every point in the book where she has an inkling that she doesn't hate the woman, she stifles the thought because she believes she loves Ashley Wilkes and therefore, she must despise Melanie. In the end, she knows she always admired Melanie Wilkes, but was too stubborn to let herself admit it. Melanie is her family--her sister-in-law--and therefore, Scarlett takes care of her.

And let's talk about Melanie. The woman is stupid. She's portrayed in the novel as a great lady--kind, moral, honorable. But she's not. She's kind, yes. And admirable in many ways. But let's take a look at her morality.

Melanie argues strenuously, threatening her position in Atlanta society after the war, for weeding and caring for the graves of Yankee soldiers alongside those of Confederates. But, why? Is it because she sees worth in all lives? Nope. She does it because there are Confederate dead in the North, too, and she hopes that some kind Yankee woman ("There must be one kind Yankee woman!") is caring for those graves. She has to care for Yankee graves to keep her hope alive that a Yankee is caring for Confederate graves.

Later in the book, Melanie makes it very clear that she hates Yankees. Literally. Hates them.

So, sure, I suppose in the Southern, Confederate, slave-holding mindset, she was a great and honorable lady. She was kind. And sweet. I'll give her that. She was also strong and fierce and Scarlett comes to recognize that by the end.

The problem is that Melanie can't see that Scarlett does what she does, not because she loves Melanie, but because her moral code dictates it. Yes, yes, Scarlett comes to realize she loves the woman in the end, but she spends the entire novel in love with Melanie's husband. Melanie is blind to it all.

And about that husband!

Ashley Wilkes is given to us--and I mean as society and the film industry has decided, not by Mitchell--as a paragon of honor and virtue. But the man is a cad! He lusts after Scarlett even while married to Melanie. He strings her along, courting her as a young girl, telling her he loves her several times--even when married--kisses her, tells her he wouldn't be able to control himself if he were alone with her again, on and on. The man's a complete douche. Scarlett finally recognizes that he's worthless and she was in love with a fantasy all along.


Just some of my GWTW collection of stuff.


And she loves Rhett Butler, after all.

We like to think of Rhett as the scoundrel who turns out to be lovable and honorable. Bullshit. Utter bullshit. The problem with Rhett Butler is this: He marries Scarlett knowing she's emotionally stunted, knowing that she thinks she's in love with another man. Then he belittles her, mocks her, sets her up time and time again knowing what she'll do only to take great pleasure in knocking her down. Worse, he betrays her. When he decides to reform his image in Southern society, he pretends to be ashamed of Scarlett's business sense and success, even to her family, further lowering Scarlett's reputation among the old guard.

But the worst thing that man does is in the end. He has the gall to put the blame for the end of their marriage on her and only her. She killed his love for her and now he's leaving. He's awful.

It's probable, however, that now that Scarlett has finally matured, he'll be back. And maybe those two--both petulant children throughout the book--will work it out.

Now, about the racism.

Oh, my god!

Some might claim that Margaret Mitchell was only showing racism through the eyes of her characters, but it's not true. In one instance--and that's all it takes--she speaks not in any character's viewpoint, but as an omniscient narrator, about Mammy, comparing her to an ape. Blacks are compared to apes in at least one other instance, and they are characterized as childlike and stupid. Here is one part that is particularly damning:

Sam galloped over to the buggy, his eyes rolling with joy and his white teeth flashing, and clutched her outstretched hand with two black hands as big as hams. His watermelon-pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gamboling of a mastiff.

This is straight out of blackface and minstrel shows. Cringe-inducing.

Unfortunately, there's more. In GWTW, the ridiculous Southern Confederate trope of the benevolent slave owner is king. Even the slaves parrot this notion. Big Sam begs Scarlett to send him back to Tara. He wants no more of freedom. He wants to be told what to do and when to do it. And he wants to be cared for when he's sick. He says that the Yankees he met when he traveled north were always asking him about beatings and torture. But he knew that "Mr. Gerald" would never hurt an expensive--and here he uses the N-word in reference to himself--like him.

But we expect racism when we read Gone With the Wind. It's set in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. There's going to be racism in it. If that racism was explored only through the characters it could be argued it was acceptable. But it's not. And there's no counterbalance at all--nothing about the book looks into the subject of slavery and rebellion in anything but blissfully ignorant terms.

I should mention here that there is also a slur against Jews in Chapter Forty-one. But of course. Am I right?

There were attempts at kindness in the way in which Scarlett treats some of her servants. She does seem to love them. And if we were merely looking at a character raised to look at blacks this way, we might be able to stomach it. But nowhere in the book, not in any character, not in any scene, is there any hint that slaves and former slaves were thought worthy of freedom. Nothing about their humanity, their value as individuals. Never a mention as to the vile inequality and exploitation of the institution of slavery.

There were a few instances in which Southerners were apparently not entirely pro slavery. There is a mention that Frank Kennedy, Scarlett's second husband, and many of his friends didn't "believe in slavery." But they believed that the hiring of convicts--because the Freedman's Bureau wouldn't be monitoring how you treat them as they would with freed slaves--was somehow "far worse" than slavery...than the literal owning of another human being.

At one point, Ashley Wilkes claims he would have freed all the slaves at Twelve Oaks when his father died, if the war hadn't freed them. It was pretty easy for him to say that now that the war was over, but was it even true? Possibly. But Ashley Wilkes was a man of books and leisure. He had no head for business. The idea that he'd put the plantation in peril by freeing the slaves is doubtful.

But the most infuriating thing about reading GWTW this year was the constant whining by the Southerners about how mean the Yankees were treating them. They weren't allowed to vote unless they signed a pledge! They couldn't run for any government offices!

At no point does any character consider that they just got finished mounting an insurrection against the United States of America. They were traitors to the country that defeated them. And yet they truly believed they should have the right to run their states the way they pleased and be left alone.

The South has never gotten over losing the Civil War and they were allowed to slither back into the Union without truly being defeated. Their racism, misogyny, and ignorance has continued to infect a large portion of our population to this day.

It's not an easy book to read and I came away from it saddened by the way in which Margaret Mitchell and others like her created the sacred myths of the South and the Confederacy.

The way of life that was mourned throughout the book was grand only for white, wealthy men, and their brainwashed women. It shouldn't have gone with the wind, it should have been razed and burned out of the American psyche.

Maybe one day.

Will I read it again? Probably. I like the way the book changes as I get older. I like noticing things about it that I hadn't before or that I'd forgotten. And despite its racism, it's still a good read.