Thursday, May 31, 2007

Human rights? Are they humans? With rights? Or just ex-cons?


Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. --- Thomas Paine, December 1776

I've made very plain my feelings about the injustice inherent in a punitively-oriented society. By merely focusing on the negative and punishing rule/law breakers, we do not offer enough deterrents or incentive for many people to operate within the system. A successful society is a two-party contract that requires total buy-in. Society leaders (by which I mean government) not only must offer a legal means that is reasonable, but also must provide guidance and direction to how to legally work towards the desired end.

This requires two key things: trust and fulfillment of guaranteed rights.

If this sounds vague and confusing it is because I'm trying to apply a general moral/ethical principle to the rule of law.

Bring it down to a specific case: the right to vote.

This right is an evolving one. Here's a brief civics/American history review in case you forgot or never studied civics/American history:

April 1775---Dawes and Revere warn colonists (including, but not limited to Samuel Adams and John Hancock) that Governor Gage is sending troops to destroy the weapons depot at Concord in order to enforce the Coercive Acts. Thus begins the American Revolution.

July 1775
---After the Olive Branch Petition fails, rebels detail in the "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of taking up Arms" that they'd rather live free or die (New Hampshire state motto). One year later, the Continental Congress agrees to Virginia delegate Richard Lee's resolution to declare independence from Great Britain. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Livingston and Roger Sherman are designated as the committee to draft the declaration. Everyone agrees Jefferson ought to do it, which he does---in one day.

July 4, 1776---Jefferson's Declaration is officially endorsed.

August 2, 1776
---the majority of the Continenal Congress (55 members) sign the Declaration.

November 15, 1777
---Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation (which establish Congress as the sole authority of the government), pending ratification by the individual states.

June 11, 1780---Massachusetts endorses a constitution that asserts "all men are born free and equal," which includes black slaves. The Supreme Court there abolishes slavery on July 8, 1783.

February 27, 1782---In England, the House of Commons votes against further war in America. This is no help for many tribes of Native Americans, whom the British have liberally used in their war against the rebels. Reprisals agaisnt the tribes continue.

April 1783---War is over.

And thus began the democratic style of governing in the United States of America.

It all came from one major belief:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That, to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.


Although this provides the justification---the right---to rebel, rather than vote, it proffers the concept behind the right to govern by the will of the people.

Of course, back then, the only people considered were white, male, and wealthy landowners. This was true as late as 1842, when the state of the vote was:

...white (except in a few Northern states), male (except in New Jersey, where women voted until 1807), and a landowner (nearly everywhere). In some places, that left more than 85 percent of the adult population out of the political process. Source: History: The Right to Vote by Tod Olson


In 1841, Thomas Dorr, a wealthy Harvard graduate and state legislator, decided this system of restrictive voting rights equaled tyranny. He claimed that this practice did not uphold the US ideals, and it was wrong to deny the poor the right to vote. Dorr was arrested and imprisoned for treason, but his cause lived on. States began removing the requirement of owning land to vote. Rhode Island---Dorr's home state---was the last hold-out, but did ultimately remove the requirement in 1888.

That was not even half the battle, though. By the time the 20th century dawned, the polls were still only populated by white, male voters over 21 years old.

Women had been trying to get the vote since at least 1848, but unfortunately the majority of their fellow citizens---men and women alike---believed that women were consituitionally (no pun intended) incapable of handling voting and politics. Apparently it would overwhelm our delicate sensibilities. Unlike, you know, the gentle and delicate task of childbirth. Although women were trusted to have sufficient intellect to raise and teach children---including these self-same men who claimed women were unfit---they were largely considered emotional rather than thinking creatures, therefore unable to muster enough neural power to select a candidate. (Yes, that is extreme sarcasm.)

Nevertheless, Washington state gave women the vote in 1910; California followed in 1911; Kansas, Oregon, and Arizona did so in 1912. Progress halted, though.

In 1917, Woodrow Wilson suffered poor public opinion when the press detailed the conditions jailed suffragettes faced. In 1919, with his backing, the suffrage amendment to the Constituition passed the Senate, and passed the House in 1920. The two-thirds majority of states ratified the 19th Amendment in August 1920, giving women the right to vote.

However, voters were still white.

You're confused, I know. 14 comes before 19, thus you are thinking surely the 14th Amendment---which gave black people the right to vote in 1868---was ratified prior to the 19th Amendment. Technical and actual sometimes contain a gulf between them.

Many Southern states were using complicated procedures and loopholes to prevent black people from voting. Requirements for blacks and whites were different, and unequal.

It took President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to open up the vote fairly to all.

Except...it still isn't. Despite two constituitional amendments, multiple court cases, and an Act, the vote is still not open fairly to all.

The rationalization is there: it's open, it's just up to you.

I'm sure this is the same logic Mississippi pollsters applied when justifying literacy tests and complicated constituitional quizzes as a requirement for blacks to vote.

The complication arises when one loses one's legal right to vote, such as when one is convicted of a crime and jailed. In Texas, thanks to George W. Bush, when offenders have completed served time and are released, they regain eligibility to vote. Unfortunately, the vast majority are unaware of this.

During the 80th Legislature, Dutton and Guillen authored and presented HB770, which provided for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide notice to certain persons of the right to vote, upon their release from prison.

Brief overview of HB 770:

HB 770 by Dutton, Relating to requiring the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide notice to certain persons of the right to vote.

In 1997, then-Governor George Bush signed a state bill that restored voter eligibility to offenders immediately upon the completion of their sentence. Despite this act, those who have served their time are often unaware of their eligibility to vote and may be deterred from voting out of fear that violating voting regulations could land them back in prison – as has happened in other states.

Ensuring that individuals who are returning to the community are able and willing to participate in civic life can point them in the right direction by connecting them with society and encouraging law-abiding behavior.

What would HB 770 do?

· Requires the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to distribute to each inmate, parolee, or probationer released from custody or supervision (meaning individuals who no longer have to report to probation or parole and have entirely completed their sentence) a written notice educating that person that if they meet all voting requirements, they can register to vote. This notice is accompanied by an official voter registration application form.

Of course...why not? What a good idea. We have frequently bemoaned the low voter turnout, and tried to think of ways to increase voters and encourage voting. Here we have a captive audience (no pun intended) who may very well have a vested interest in voting.

Ana Yanez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, wrote:

Last year, 53,5777 individuals were discharged from state prison, state jails, and parole, according to statistics from the Department of Criminal Justice. Upon leaving supervision, these individuals regained certain rights, including the right to vote. House Bill 770 would facilitate these individual's reintegration into civil society.

People must fully integrate into society in order to succeed. The tools for success go beyond finding and keeping employment or finding housing. Success also derives from having a healthy mindset, which leads to self-determination and a sense of worth. Civic participation through voting is a crucial foundation for this success.

Ensuring that ex-offenders who return to society are fully equipped to reenter civic life means that we must actively inform them of their right to vote. Voting is a critical tool of successful democracy, and by allowing ex-offenders to participate in government, we can encourage them to live responsible lives and work with the system, not against it.

THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED THEIR TIME AND ARE ELIGIBLE TO VOTE FAIL TO DO SO DUE TO APPREHENSION, FEAR AND MISINFORMATION.

...

Ex-offenders may also fail to vote due to an indifference to civic life which results from systematic social exclusion. Individuals who are labeled as criminals, sequestered from society, and deprived of civil liberties are sent a message that they are not supposed to be part of government and civil society. This can lead to them blaming government or society for their misfortunes instead of taking responsibility for their actions.

H.B. 770 BY CHAIRMAN DUTTON WOULD ENCOURAGE THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED THEIR TIME TO TAKE PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND PARTICIPATE IN CIVIC LIFE. (Read the entire testimony at TCJC.)


Although the Ayes had it, Governor Rick Perry vetoed it.

With no objection, and support for this across parties, one wonders what would prompt Perry to veto such a positive and proactive initiative, that simply supports a bill that already passed a decade ago.

Despite Perry's misinformed and incorrect as well as logically insupportable justification for his veto, the bottom line is that there is no good reason.

Scott Henson writes movingly about the unseemliness of Governor Perry's veto.

Released ex-offenders have served their time. They now have resumed their role as citizens within society. They have regained their freedom and their right to vote.

Let loose of prejudice and the drive to continue and extend punishment through hiding their regained rights and perpetuating bias against their "ability" to vote.

Just as skin color, gender, and socioeconmoic status have been stripped away as reasons to withhold the right to be an active participant in civic life through voting, so has past offense.

Released ex-offenders receive an orientation as they depart the criminal justice system. Add in one more piece of paper and a voter registration card.

Or not...if you are Governor Rick Perry of Texas.

Perry, bad choice. What are you afraid of, that all ex-cons might be democrats?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Don't worry, be happy: It's blog on blog action, with no whining


"Hey! Hey you? Wanna see the wares?" The first image I hawked on the blog.

Joy tagged me with the BlogRhet meme.

I will answer these in the interest of academic advancement. But. With a condition: someone must explain the genesis of the name "BlogRhet."

Okay, per the site, here are the rules for the BlogRhet meme post:

Your mission: Give one or more these questions a stab in a post (or series of posts), and then tag three more writers. If you don't mind, please link back to this original entry—we'd LOVE to track the progress of this meme with trackbacks.

I selected all of the questions because I like a challenge. Also, I believe that quantity equals quality.

Part A---Answers for:
1. Go back to first or early post. How would you describe your voice back in those early days? Who were you writing to? What was your sense of audience (if any) back then?

and

2. Do you remember when you received your first comment? What was it like?

This is good timing. My blog opened for business in May 2005, two years ago.

(Woo hoo Happy Anniversary to me!)

And I do mean business. If you read the first post, you'll see it is a marketing post. It introduces a business, not a person.

The second post features a product. Subsequent posts follow in that vein.

If you read my post about blogging for profit (When the blogosphere turns exclusionary and elitist, will you have a place?), you will distinctly see the irony here. (Pause---wait for guffaws to die down.)

I will be the Lone Ranger and say my blogging purpose and voice has DRAMATICALLY changed.

This is because I had no personal intent to start a blog. I was selling bits and pieces of my art and photography here and there. My husband discovered that the Internet was a fine way to market one's work, thus he set up the blog and wrote the first two posts to show me how to do it. He also handed me reams of paper to read about how to write a blog, and then showed me a special folder of bookmarks with more Internet and blog information. He's the King of Research and Knowledge, that man. (Seriously, he rocks. Sometimes? I feel a little sorry for other people, since I have the one and only Him.)

I tried to follow my husband's blogging rules; I did. But I am both a bad follower and a rule breaker.

Plus, I did not see his plan working. I was not overwhelmed by traffic (yes dear, I get it, I was doing it wrong) and my art and photography was not flying off the shelves.

I found instead that the Internet is a great place for people to steal your images and use them for freaking free (without even any damn credit) when they cost me a lot of money to produce.

My top Google searches remain people searching my art and images.

Do I see my PayPal account plumping? Not a bit.

Okay, so about month into it (I know...look at my impatience. One month! And I'm not in MOMA! It's a failure! Argh! Collapse into a comma, , , ,) I was bored and restless, plus had not had a single comment. I started to have a little bit more of a voice, but slogged on with selling.

Then I slipped in a gratuitous baby shot. Hmm, that was fun.

Two months in, I got a show locally of my art, so went MIA a bit preparing for that. Announcing that show garnered my first real (which is to say not a troll, trawl, or spam comment) comment. It was a fellow artist friend, from my writing group.

Ah yes, my writing group---the real outlet for my writing. Most of the participants created personal blogs. By August of 2005, the group decided to create blog topics. I can't remember who decided to do this. I keep attributing everything to the leaders, the lovely Roz of Fortune and Glory, OmegaMom, and Halushki. Roz was like the best blog project manager ever. She kept my blog rolling, while Jozet encouraged me on and on (especially with awards and stuff, man, that lady knows how to motivate), and Kate kept setting the bar higher and higher, especially figuring out the blogosphere.

I am such an Incidental Blogger, upon reflection.

By September 2005, I started really writing, writing for myself, and started getting regular comments. I was hooked.

I think the biggest topical motivator was hurricane season (Hurricanes Katrina and Rita) and writing about how they affected me personally. Describing our evacuation experience was wonderfully cathartic. I also found how amazing the Internet community can be---the real people behind it---as far as contributing aid to those in need.

It's a powerful medium, indeed.

I hit a sort of stride and voice by early 2006, a little more than six months into blogging. I still don't know that I can apply the term "consistent" to my blog, though.

My first award was for What scares me? Jokes and science experiments which was distinctly a mommyblog post. But I had already ranted about Homeland Security and the immigration issue. I'm sure I scared off some sweet mommyblog readers when after my funny post I segued into trashing passive activists. People must have wondered if my doctor was adjusting my med levels. ;) My husband told me if I wanted to be high traffic I needed to choose a niche and stick to it; my blog was unclassifiable and people didn't know what to make of it. Still, I kept alternating between mommy and social issues.

My mommy posts continued to be the most popular, though, and the penis one spiked traffic in a totally freaky way. It remains one of my most reddit'd, most searched, and so forth posts. I still get multiple hits daily on that one, and the porn star Barbie one.

Unclassifiable my blog may be, but it is consistent with who I am. :)

I believe in late 2006/early 2007 I quit worrying about which niche to put myself in, and just let it rip. I changed my motto, and interestingly, got some really cool readers and commenters then too. My social posts began edging out my mommy posts in popularity.

It's actually pretty interesting to review this.

Part B---Answers for:


3. Can you point to a stage where you began to feel that your blog might be part of a conversation? Where you might be part of a larger community of interacting writers?

and

4. Do you think that this sense of audience or community might have affected the way you began to write?

After I transitioned from bugging (my term for blogging for business) to blogging, I thought of my blog as a place to entertain people who know me. My friends, family, etc. all know about this blog. However, they tend to comment to me in person---if they really loved me they'd comment on my blog, and I know you are reading this! (Just kidding. You guys can keep calling me.)

So the initial community in my mind was...people I knew.

I had no idea about the bigger blogging world, really, until Jozet and Kate introduced me to it. I say this even though I had been reading a couple of what were then called online journals for a while, and even though my sister had been pestering me for years about some ladies named Amalah, Dooce, Melissa, etc., telling me how hilarious these blogs were and I ought to read one, and better yet, write one.

However, one year into blogging, when I got that award, suddenly all these strangers were at my blog. I had been waiting, yearning for them, and suddenly, here they were. I wrote back to them, and they replied! I visited where they came from, and lo and behold they had blogs, good ones! Suddenly I was reading blogs above and beyond my tiny blogroll from my writer's group.

That's about when I discovered the blogosphere community, for real, not just theory.

So I guess this is also my one year anniversary of my relationship with the blogosphere.

I do think it changed how I write. It motivated me to write more, to write bigger, and to keep challenging myself.

Great questions...interesting things to explore. I look forward to reading more, especially from:

OmegaMom*
Kaliroz*
Jozet of Halushki*

since they were so integral to the life of this blog, and all. :)

* Pending approval of said tagging...I will email.

P.S. I am slowly but surely replying to your comments and replies to my Adult Developmental Leap post below. Check in later if I haven't gotten to you yet. I have something to say to each of you beyond thanks. :)

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
BlogRhet: The Blog on Blog Action Survey (And Yes. This is a Meme).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mid-life crisis tears local blogging mom asunder


To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. --- e.e. cummings, 1955


As with any navel gazing, I re-read this about a 1000 times to make sure it wasn't self-pitying, overly negative or presenting a false impression of what is merely one facet of myself, and most of all didn't ring out like some sort of, "Don't hate me because I'm so beautiful...it can be hard, really!" I hope I have presented the following self-indulgence as the productive journey it really has been. If not, please, feel free to edit and correct for me in your mind. :)

Hi.

Don't mind me. I'm just having a developmental spurt aka identity crisis. It makes me a little cranky, and a lot self-involved. Believe it or not, this isn't a mommy identity crisis. This is a personal identity crisis. It might even be a mid-life crisis, which makes me worry for my longevity, but at least takes off the pressure for planning for 50 years of retirement (as if I'm the sort who will ever retire) (or am I) (who knows) (it depends) (on who I am or am not).

What precipitated this?

Well a lot of things. But the straw that broke the camel's back came in the form of a nightmare the other night about Harry.

Who's Harry?

Harry is this guy I knew briefly about a decade ago, and had more or less forgotten until this nightmare. I met Harry when I started a new job in Cambridge at a small technology start-up. Some red flags had gone off more than once before I even took this job. I'd actually turned it down, twice. They talked me in to taking the job anyway.

On my first day, I met Harry, who would be training me. Harry dressed as if ready to bolt out the door and climb a mountain. He had on hiking boots, multi-pocketed REI special shorts, and several layers of shirts under a sweater (it was March, in MA). He was too tan for the region and the season, but he was my age, seemed like an interesting sort, and would be training me. As is typical of me, I thought, let's make friends!

Harry put the kabash on that lickety split.

Harry, you see, was losing his cash cow, thanks to me. Although I had been told that I got the job because Harry was moving to South America, in actuality Harry was a contractor being replaced by an employee (me). I had no clue that the South America jaunt was his annual cycle and prior to me, he'd always had work to come back to.

Each year, while living in a cardboard box to the side of Boylston or something like that, he'd work until he'd earned enough money to hike his way through South America. He'd come back and work more when he ran out of cash.

I thought that sounded really interesting...what a different life. I had no idea one could do that, but I was immediately smitten with the thought, and figured my husband would not need his arm twisted to agree.

I tried to be nice and inquire about this whole contractor and travel lifestyle but Harry basically told me to mind my own business. Sometimes he forgot to be an asshole, and would wax poetic about traveling hither and yon, share a tale, tell me about a great local restaurant that did that native cuisine well...but then he'd snap back and recall I was Public Enemy Number 1.

During all of this I was baffled by what seemed like a nice enough person treating me with such resentment and impatience. He was doing a dreadful job handing off the job. In fact, sometimes it felt like he was trying to sabotage me. I didn't understand why. I didn't even comprehend the depths of his hatred of me, until he made The Comment.

He was running through a file with me, explaining his logic, showing me his code and where he stored text. It wasn't making sense to me and I must have asked about three times about it. He was getting irritated with me, and I with him. I was thinking that him on a mountain in Ecuador sounded good about then.

Finally he whipped around and snapped, viciously, "I told Boss she made a mistake hiring you. I said you were too high-maintenance, too high-strung!"

Holy crap.

Wow.

I'm not really sure exactly what high-maintenance means---I never have been. It seems to vary by person. However, a statement like that means more about the speaker than the target, in my experience.

I'm not even sure how either trait---did I happen to possess them, which I admit I do to some degree---is necessarily a negative. I had kinks to work out. No doubt.

However, I had always been well-liked at work. My performance reviews were always great, and bosses and co-workers had always said they were glad to have me on their team.

Of course Harry's comment was sour grapes.

But man, it stung. First, because I couldn't believe that he had actually been trying to sabotage me. That's low. Second, because it wasn't the first time I'd heard that dig.

I've lost track of who and when and where and how many times I've heard something similar about me just being "too big" or "too much" or "challenging" or "scary" or "intimidating" or "overwhelming." I was just plain "too."


Nobody puts Gisele in a corner, "...you have to be authentic and very different -- otherwise, you'll be pushed into a corner."


I think it must have been in my early teens when I first started trying to be who people wanted me to be, just enough, so I could be accepted, just enough.

I was still me but I kept it under wraps and developed a public persona. I spent years trying to tone myself down to an acceptable level for public consumption. I realized I needed to get by.

The problem was, my public persona was only good for a limited duration. Sometimes I was so busy sustaining it that I missed some really important things right in front of my face. Sometimes I was so busy focusing on being this persona that I was careless or thoughtless. Sometimes I was so tired of being this persona that I retreated entirely for a while to fluff up my mask. I often had many different types of friends in order to allow different aspects of myself out of the bag every now and again. Because I was frequently spread thin, I rarely formed deep and abiding friendships.

Ultimately, I lost not so much who I was, but got off-track with my goals and priorities about who I should (and needed) to be. Thus, instead of spending my youth maturing, I am spending my adulthood maturing.

I've spent many years working to understand who I am, what is valuable, and how to be okay with who I am, as I am. To stop trying to be who and what other people want me to be, as if there is something wrong with who I am. It's hard, though, because I'm not the easy breezy covergirl sort of girl that people often prefer---which, trust me, I often hear about.

On the whole, I am okay with me. What I am still not okay with is the reaction to me that I sometimes get.


How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone. --- Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel


I've never quite understood why certain personality traits are so preferred.

I suspect---and I do not mean this cruelly because it truly is fair enough to a degree---that in large part it has to do with which type of person makes it easier for me to go along my business with less need and demand, perceived or real.

My next boss was described as "high energy," which, although true, was a euphemism for something negative. She was very busy, very active, did many things, most of them quickly. She moved fast, spoke fast, and expected fast results.

One day, out of the blue, she came to my office, really frustrated, "I used to think David was my favorite employee," she confessed, referring to one of the engineers on our team, "And I like him, I really do. I always thought I preferred laid back employees like him to any other sort, you know, like someone really motivated, like you. But you know, sometimes, okay almost always, these laid back people have no sense of urgency. I just can't seem to light a fire under him!"

"Umm, uh, okay," I stammered, "Uh, did you just need to share, or are you looking for some ideas about how to motivate him to meet our deadlines?"

She just wanted to share. Vent, really.

But there it was again: the backhanded compliment. Over time, smart, motivated, talented, organized, capable, good leader, etc. are words that have been used against me.

Even here in the blogging world, now and again, I've gotten comments such as that I am a scary/intimidating/smart/person/writer, that sometimes I don't leave any space for anyone to say anything because I say it all and so well. Well, color me absolutely and totally bummed from one of the nicest compliments.

I don't want to do anything so well that I don't leave any space for anyone.

And maybe that's the trouble---maybe all too often I do provide just a little too much. And people feel extraneous, thus resentful, or they feel stepped on, thus resentful. That's likely when I get the "positive" turned into a "negative."

The "motivated" and "high-maintenance" traits allow me to be an excellent worker and friend, but also mean that I ask much of those around me.

So why did I have a nightmare about Harry?

I suspect it is because I am once again struggling with the balance between who I am and who others seem to need me to be. I am also trying to receive comments such as "you're too much" as "not my problem."

Sure, sometimes it is, but the bottom line is that my character can't be on a volume control that I dial up or down based on other people's preferences and insecurities. Of course there is a time and place for that---to some degree we all alter ourselves depending on company and situation. And to a degree that's okay.

The part that was not okay in my past was how I changed who I was, tried to act less intelligent, less capable, less something in order to put another person at ease, in order to not intimidate them.


Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be, because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you? --- Fanny Brice


It just so happens that I have recently entered a new arena, a new stage.

Each time I enter a new arena, there is the initial honeymoon period, and then I reach what I call the First Fight stage. (Don't take the fight part literally; I'm merely sticking with the marriage metaphor.)

Suddenly, I have been "too much" for someone and I am back in my epic struggle. Each time, I have to stop and evaluate, "Was I really too much in an out of line way? Is this case of too much about me? or the other person? Is there something different I need to do? Or is this one not on me...not within my control because it asks me to be someone other than who I am?"

I have to tamp down my ingrained response of apologize, placate, and hide my light under a bushel. Or tamp down my hot surge of angry resentment that this might be expected of me, by myself or others.

The nice thing about being older is that I am aware of this continuous journey of self-improvement, and am fortunate enough to know many folks on the same or similar journeys who are pretty understanding. The other nice thing about being older is finding more acceptance, a greater degree of appreciation of different personalities, and a more mature approach to grasping where one person ends and another begins.

All of which leads me to my starting joke about being in a mid-life crisis.

I have always wondered why suddenly becoming introspective about who you are and thoughtful about whether you want to continue on your current path is described as a crisis.

To tell the truth, I think it is called this not as a descriptor for the person undergoing the introspection, but rather as a descriptor of the feelings of those around this person. It's not easy to transition, but I think often it can be harder for those "left behind." I have a new appreciation for this feeling as my own kids often leave me in the dust, gasping for air, "Buuuuttt wait! What about the stroller? Don't you want to ride in the stroller any more? What is with all this walking everywhere all the time?" and "Buuuuttt wait, what is with all this 'you'll read the book' stuff...don't you want me to read the book to you any more?"

We expect children to change, but we expect adults to be grown-up, as in done, finished, formed. So when an adult starts acting off-script, well, it can indeed be someone's crisis, especially because we don't immediately seize on the best new lines. Sometimes we have to write and re-write to get it right.

And that's me right now, flush in the middle of an edit and rewrite of my character and story.

Well you know what I always said to my students and writers: never fall in love with anything you write because it might need to be edited at any time.

I can usually spot a spurt in my kids. It's usually a trying time for everyone, not leastly for that child. I always joke during it that afterwards the kid better be able to spout off string theory and jot out (in crayon, on the walls, of course) how to travel in space at the speed of light. This is my way of setting myself up to expect a change, and my way of making light to deal with some of the challenges of the difficult journey.

I won't have any ideas about how to build a better mousetrap, but maybe I will have an idea about how to be a better me.

Thanks for listening, and even more, thanks to those of you who make the effort to leave comments---and such interesting ones at that---even though sometimes (like maybe now? LOL) I am "too much."

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Cindy Sheehan says goodbye; Republicans, Democrats and more say good riddance

From what I read in a variety of places that support a plethora of different points of view, Cindy Sheehan's 1200-word letter, "Good Riddance Attention Whore," brought a general reaction of, "And don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out."

When Sheehan first caught my---and everyone else's---attention by camping outside Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch, I believe a lot of us didn't know what to think.

I did think Bush looked churlish by not agreeing to meet with her.

Five minutes. Why was that too much to ask? Five minutes for the grieving mother whose son died for this country.

I realize that approximately 3500 families are grieving for the same reason. (If you want to see numbers, go here.)

I realize that if Bush gave five minutes to every grieving family that would mean he'd spend 17,500 minutes (almost 300 hours, probably about 8 straight weeks) offering his condolences and appreciation. (Assuming there were no additional casualties, which is, sadly, unlikely.)

I understand the President has other obligations and responsibilities.

I grasp how easy it is to sit to the side and say people knew what they were getting into, a general message has to suffice, things aren't fair.

But I also can easily comprehend how Sheehan felt and why she did what she did. When something devastating happens to me, it is unlike anything else that has ever happened to anyone else because this time, it is my tragedy. And it feels different. We handle grief differently, and sometimes it spurs people to do extraordinary things...such as camp outside the second white house.

I can comprehend what she did, camping outside that ranch. I can understand her wanting to draw attention to this, to do something worthwhile in her mind, in her son's name---make his death matter, make it bring about some good, such as keep another mother from going through what she was. I have a lot of sympathy, actually.

It could be because I am a mother.

It could be because I, too, have grieved.

It could be because my father was in the military, in the Vietnam era. He was an officer, and as such, he and my mother (and subsequently me, I suppose) were afforded a degree of "cushiness" lower ranking and enlisted families were not. My mother recently talked to me about life as a military wife outside Washington, D.C. (where we lived at the time). Our conversation probably happened because I mentioned how one friend just came home, and another friend's husband just had his tour of duty extended, again. I think the current war brings about some Vietnam flashbacks for a lot of people.

It could be that I remember when my father and his buddies got together, there was sometimes a moment when they paused and remembered the friends who weren't there.

It could be because I have known a lot of people who came home from war, but were never the same, or left a good bit of themselves behind.

The bottom line is, I understood. And I thought the President ought to have given her five minutes, even if it meant life was unfair because 3,499 other families didn't get equal opportunity.

When she morphed---voluntarily and involuntarily---from individual, grieving mother into a tool, a spokesperson, an event, I got a sinking feeling. Figureheads very easily and very often end up guys, especially in the middle of very controversial and emotional issues, such as this one.

And so it came to pass, here, too.

Ms. Sheehan's letter is simply disillusioned and disheartened. It is the letter of a guy. She begins by saying:

I have come to some heartbreaking conclusions this Memorial Day Morning. These are not spur of the moment reflections, but things I have been meditating on for about a year now. The conclusions that I have slowly and very reluctantly come to are very heartbreaking to me.


She goes on to explain how frustrating it was to have this become a two-party political message, when a plea for peace ought to transcend politics:

The first conclusion is that I was the darling of the so-called left as long as I limited my protests to George Bush and the Republican Party. Of course, I was slandered and libeled by the right as a "tool" of the Democratic Party. This label was to marginalize me and my message. How could a woman have an original thought, or be working outside of our "two-party" system?

However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the "left" started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used. I guess no one paid attention to me when I said that the issue of peace and people dying for no reason is not a matter of "right or left", but "right and wrong."


She warns of the inherent danger in ardent allegiance to two political parties, and the even greater danger of adhering to labels for everything and everyone:

Blind party loyalty is dangerous whatever side it occurs on. People of the world look on us Americans as jokes because we allow our political leaders so much murderous latitude and if we don’t find alternatives to this corrupt "two" party system our Representative Republic will die and be replaced with what we are rapidly descending into with nary a check or balance: a fascist corporate wasteland. I am demonized because I don’t see party affiliation or nationality when I look at a person, I see that person’s heart. If someone looks, dresses, acts, talks and votes like a Republican, then why do they deserve support just because he/she calls him/herself a Democrat?


And most sadly of all, she tells of what this has cost her personally:

I have spent every available cent I got from the money a "grateful" country gave me when they killed my son and every penny that I have received in speaking or book fees since then. I have sacrificed a 29 year marriage and have traveled for extended periods of time away from Casey’s brother and sisters and my health has suffered and my hospital bills from last summer (when I almost died) are in collection because I have used all my energy trying to stop this country from slaughtering innocent human beings. I have been called every despicable name that small minds can think of and have had my life threatened many times.

The most devastating conclusion that I reached this morning, however, was that Casey did indeed die for nothing. His precious lifeblood drained out in a country far away from his family who loves him, killed by his own country which is beholden to and run by a war machine that even controls what we think. I have tried ever since he died to make his sacrifice meaningful.


Ms. Sheehan did something extraordinary. She did what she believed in. She tried to turn a personally bad event into something good. I can respect that.

I can also respect her point that when someone really believes in something, they do more than walk in a protest march or sit behind a computer and espouse opinion.

It might not be much, but I can certainly send letters to active military people through a group that sends support, can probably find a nice blanket or quilt for an injured serviceman, and can definitely send coupons for the families. Laugh as you might, but I sent a George Foreman grill. Listen, you never know what you have that someone else needs. (There are a lot of good groups to do this through, if you are interested.)

I know for many, many people Memorial Day isn't one day, but is every day.

I think Ms. Sheehan is one of those. I continue to have sympathy and respect, and am sorry that all she has done has not brought her any personal peace, but has only brought more grief. She started an organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, that admittedly will no longer be working for peace. However, they will continue their humanitarian mission. She may not feel it now, but I don't think her effort was wasted in the broader scheme. She may never feel it---the position of figurehead is a tough one.

Goodbye, Cindy. You've fought your own battle, now. You got people thinking about the war, and its cost to individuals. You got people (not just politicians) talking about this war and what they think. You're wounded, but not a casualty. I appreciate your service and sacrifices as you fought for what you believed in.

It's irrelevent whether one agrees or disagrees with her. She stood up. She spoke out loud. She pursued her beliefs, actively. As an individual (at least initially). It's a great example. That's American. That's what her son---and the other men and women---are fighting to preserve, among other things.

She deserves respect, not good riddance and a door slam.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Friday, May 25, 2007

Unfortunately, Moms, your worst fears are true: they really are thinking judgmental things about you

Yesterday I was perusing my friend OmegaMom's blog. In her post "The divine destructive force" she had what appeared to be a funny link to a kid pulling one of those "OMG my kid did NOT just do THAT!" stunts. You know what I mean. We've all had those moments.

Mine was on Monday.

Now that the kids are out of school, we get to make grocery shopping a Fun Family Outing. <--- Now I am being facetious, ironic, and sarcastic.

My crime: refused to allow Persistence to eat a yogurt with her fingers in the store while shopping

My punishment: Persistence reached back, grabbed the package of yogurt and hurled it mightily to the floor, where it exploded, coating the floor, the basket, my feet, and the bottom shelf and all the products on it

My husband's was on Tuesday.

Remember the Adventures in Dadhood story? Did you catch that my husband sneaked in late and added his comment, as I had hoped? It was pretty funny. If you missed it:

Honestly, the expulsion...or rather projectile pooping, was sweet relief for everybody. I long ago lost my ability to be grossed out by what comes out of a child's arse...I think I've seen it all and then some.

TBH, this experience was so spectacular that Patience and I were watched in awe. She was beside herself with excitement. Just imagine what a child obsessed with poop would think of observing the rockets launch a good 5 feet through the air...landing in the middle of the parking lot...or the one that ricocheted of her dads chest. Not every child gets to live her dream at such an early age.

The bad part was the 15 minutes of standing at the back of the hatch with a naked child writhing around screaming owy...owy...owy as people walked to and fro giving me the "what are you doing to her" looks.

I was waiting for the police to show up any second.

Never a dull moment:)


See? We've all had these moments. If you are a parent or in charge of a child and claim that you haven't, you are oblivious, lying, or both.

And this kid, in Kansas City, had a pretty spectacular moment. It eclipses anything even my kids have done (so far). I first read the article and then watched the video. It struck me as purely one of those things that can happen.

Then I made the mistake of reading the comments.

Go ahead. Go look and read.

I believe you'll find---as I did---that there are a large quantity of lying and oblivious people, as is evidenced by the comments, which are a lovely examples of the leaps of logic, displaced anger, excessive judgmentalism, and lack of compassion we parents sometimes face as we try our best to do our best with our kids.

Apparently, parents do not "whale" on their kids adequately these days, and a single incident such as this is clearly indicative of a mom who overall is unfit to parent (among other prejudiced and pejorative invective) and ought to have her child removed, and placed with people who will beat good behavior into him.

Nice.

Of course not everyone is like this, but I find it an intriguing insight into the minds of people who judge parents harshly. It's unlikely that people would say this aloud, especially with such language, but that they will write it is proof that they are thinking it. I've suspected this on different occasions. I see the looks, the quick slant of eyes to and away, the narrowed gaze, the slight head shake, the whispers to the other person, or the louder more passive-aggressive comment to her own child about the consequences of behaving as my child is. I know it is in their head. I just didn't realize it was this vicious in some heads sometimes.

Of course I don't let it in, not personally. I do feel pressure to have my kids behave respectfully in public. And sometimes I catch myself starting to parent to the public instead of to my kids, but I stop that. I can't help what others think, and I can't let it be the sum course of my parenting.

Nevertheless...some of those comments are, well, far past disturbing. On many levels.

I can't say it any better than OmegaMom did in her follow-up to the story, I am a squishy liberal. Well said, Omegamom! I agree.

As a parent, I don't live in a glass house so I don't throw stones. Besides which, I know I don't know the rest of the story beyond one moment in a mom and child's life.

As more coherent commenters said....it's too bad more people can't show the same level of understanding and compassion that the monks did.

P.S. I did a second post today because I can't help but talk about dance. It's just below.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Mary, has Sex improved for you this year?

Last night was the launch of this season's So You Think You Can Dance. I'm so thrilled. <--- Not being ironic, facetious, or sarcastic; I'm completely sincere.

However, I'm not a big fan of the auditions because---although not to the same degree as American Idol which capitalizes on it disgustingly---it's really a time of humiliation for quite a few people. It would be one thing if the people were simply not good enough, but then we have people like "Sex" seriously thinking his dancing is professional level. For the second time.

And that's when you get Nigel Lythgoe turning to Mary Murphy and asking, "So Mary---and I can't believe I'm asking you this---but has Sex improved for you this year?"

And poor Mary had to say she was afraid not.

Generally, there are plenty of tremendous dancers. I love watching dance. So I eagerly await the season: the dancers and the choreography.

Maybe we will get more moments like these:

One of my favorite dancers from last season, Allison, doing a solo (~minute and half):


She Is Amazing - Watch more funny videos here

One of my favorite routines---Travis and Benji doing a truly entertaining Shane Sparks hip hop routine (long, over four minutes recorded, but you only need about 2 minutes of it):


Travis And Benji SYTYCD - The best bloopers are here

One of the most moving contemporary routines---Heidi and Travis duet to Celine Dion's "Calling You" (~minute and a half)


So You Think You Can Dance - Click here for another funny movie.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hump Day Hmmm: Accepting Forgiveness---The Incredible Participants

Updated, Thursday at noon: Check out the comments. There is some good discussion going! Feel free to use this space, really, truly, to think out loud if you want. :) You know I like that. Do it all the time. Sometimes even in public. ;)

Without any big fanfare---because the awesome posts stand on their own---these are the Hump Day Hmm particiants who answered this question:

What has the experience of being forgiven been like for you?

Take some time and go read every one of these responses. It will be worth every second; trust me.

Kaliroz at Fortune and Glory wrote "Please forgive me, I know not what I do ..."

Gwen at Woman on the Verge wrote To Forgive Divine

Lawyer Mama wrote Those Three Little Words Are Hard to Say

Chani at Thailand Gal (newly remodeled and GORGEOUS!) wrote The Tree of Forgiveness....

I wrote Shove me in the shallow water

Bub and Pie wrote A Few Things I Have to Say

Mary-LUE of Life, the Universe and Everything wrote A Gift Too Lightly Received

And Mary-LUE of Life, the Universe and Everything also had a late entry for the journey discussion (that I hadn't yet linked) with The Evolution of Awareness

This topic was probably the hardest for me. I appreciate the participation, but more than that, I appreciate all of the other pespectives. I can't seem to find a way to explain how awesome it is to have this channel opened up, and so eloquently. Thanks all!

P.S. I keep the host post up so if I (a) missed you, then SORRY!!! let me know and I'll add you in, and (b) if you put tsomething together in the next couple of days let me know and I'll add you in.


copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Dear Charles letter, Living on in Infamy, and Adventures in Dadhood (with Hump Day Hmm call)

This post serves a variety of functions, as you might guess from the title. I have been rather prolific this week (which either means I am Virginia Woolf level angsty or Janet Evanovich level chipper) so if you haven't been here at my blog at least twice every day this week, you better scroll down. I'd hate for you to miss what could be from your POV the Best Post Julie Ever Wrote.

A Dear Charles Letter

Dear Charles Barkley,

I think I love you. Who doesn't love a nice looking man with a big bank account and a hilarious sense of humor? My husband and I would like to know if you are interested in marrying us (he's also a fan of big bank accounts and humor, and he love love loves sports).

Of all the sports out there, I like basketball best (after hockey, that is). And you, of course, were one of the best. I lost track of you because, well, to be honest, I leave the sports station viewing up to my husband, who takes his responsibility there very seriously. He watches your show often. So it was no surprise to him, like it was to me, that you are one hilarious guy. You shone brighter than any Hollywood star on Letterman last night. Thanks for the big laughs.

We have a lot in common.

We're close to the same age, and suffer similar aging issues. My metabolism also has slowed down! So I understand! I've also noticed that working out only makes me tired and that I have to do twice as much of it to get half the results. I also never play basketball these days, and share your blown out knee issue (and can raise you two blown out ankles, too). (But listen, my husband? If he sees a ball and net? It's like a compulsion. So take that under consideration.) If I had to run a race, I also would choose someone over 60 to compete against. Choosing someone almost 70 was brilliant. Just like you, it chaps my hide when people refer to sports as glamour matches. Unless Tyra Banks begins officiating, I think they are tests of skill not glamour matches.

So listen, consider our offer, will you? We're really nice, and we come with two cute kids (accessories included, potty trained), a very handsome labrador (acessories also included, also trained), and two cats.

Sincerely, Julie

P.S. If you heard I sent a similar letter to Adam Oates, well, it's just not true. He left us to go play for the Wrong Team (by which I mean nothing sexual at all, I swear).

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Living On In Infamy


Last night we had a community town hall meeting. It was a near record attendance, all because the board put "sidewalks" on the agenda. As a community "leader" it's sort of my job to always go to these and let me tell you, it was by far The Most Interesting meeting in my experience. The president of the board said, "Wow, how do I keep this level of interest? Maybe next time I can put 'axe murderer' on the agenda." I said, "I suggest putting 'reforestation' on and that will get you attendees." I got a round of applause (in support) for that so he agreed to put "add more trees" on the agenda in case "reforestation" was too big and confusing a word.

This speaking up (and out) was not limited to that one suggestion. It will surprise you to learn I had something to say on just about every topic.

I came home with a bad case of soapbox remorse.

My husband attempted to console me by saying, "It's okay, hon, you just can't help yourself. And at least you're always eloquent and loud."

That's love.

After the meeting the board slipped out the back door as fast as possible to avoid some of the Still Highly Emotional About Sidewalks residents. I scooted to the side to hand off my email to one of my neighbors so we can coalesce into a powerful force that somehow convinces a large and "does not give a shit" power company to bury all the power lines. I mean, Hurricane Alley. Who leaves power lines hanging in the sky in Hurricane Alley?

I then hustled to the back to catch up with a couple of friends I haven't seen in a while (not since the Dog Club Drama, actually). She was talking to The Guy Who Sat In Front of Me and who had some ideas I nodded along with. We introduced ourselves and then his friend keeps saying my name over and over out loud.

"Julie Pippert. Julie Pippert. Hmm, I swear I've seen and heard your name before. Julie Pippert. You don't look familiar but your name..."

I swear to you, I had a mild panic attack. OMG, please don't say you read my blog. OMG please don't go home and Google me. Weird. I've never worried before. I don't know why I did just then!

I laughed it off with a joke to him, "Oh boy I can't imagine I'm that notorious in this town, yet!"

He shook his head and said my name again, adding (warning?) that it would come to him.

We gossiped for a short bit and then all headed home.

So imagine my surprise when I see that Jenny quoted me on her blog---a huge blog hosted by a major newspaper. Of course I am suffering from a bad case of big-headeditis and have a high fever of flattered now. I mean, it's Jenny.

But that is when it hit me: I have a big mouth, and my tongue in hinged in the middle flapping at both ends pretty much all the time. I do not keep a low cyber or real profile. And this isn't the first time a reputation has preceded me.

I just hope it hasn't messed up my friend's BBQ-Beer plans.

******************************************************************************

Adventures in Dadhood

I can ask my husband to write this himself until I am blue in the face, all to no avail, but maybe he'll at least comment, if nothing else, to correct me (he's good that way).

While I was off fulfilling my crown duties as Queen Wannabe of the Community, my husband took the kids to gymnastics.

I winced on his behalf because Persistence had a bad case of the Screaming Constipations. This was a chronic issue with Patience, but is rare to never with Persistence. I can only think it's a yogurt overdose. Anyway. Bad case. I had my doubts gymnastics would happen.

Plus, shortly before they left, Patience and Persistence put on socks and did Sock Skating on the marble and wood floor of the entry hall and living room. Persistence skidded, lost control, fell and slammed her face into the doodad table in the entry hall. Always by the eye. Why is it always by the eye? I iced and arnica'd it, but there was still clearly a slam mark.

So he takes a swollen eyed yelling child with the Screaming Constipations to gymnastics. Do you love his optimism or what?

He said she spent the entire time hiding under the stairs screaming. He coaxed her out and took her to the car, where the poo finally made an exit, well 60% of an exit. (Kyla, what's your word for it, when you, the parent, need to intervene?)

So my husband, in the car, helped. What he really did was pull out the cork holding back the flood. What followed (and I hope he chimes in here soon) was a Poop Explosion. All over the car, the parking lot, my husband, Patience, and so forth. Publically. In the parking lot of the gym, as parents streamed by coming and going.

When he related all of this to me, hours later when I got home, I could tell he still had a bit of the skeeves and horrors.

Isn't parenthood fun?

************************************************************************************

Hump Day Hmm

Since I already wrote my piece on Monday, I'm keeping the channel open for the rest of you to post your responses to the Hump Day Hmm question: What has the experience of being forgiven been like for you? I'll create a host post with links.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Monday, May 21, 2007

Myths to live by...or maybe not


"Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people's myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts - but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message. Myth helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive. Myth tells you what the experience is." (from The Power of Myth)

When Bill Moyers released his mind-blowing television series, The Power of Myth, I discovered Joseph Campbell and his amazing theories about myth.

Rites, symbols, rituals and myths are essential tools of mankind to explain life and its events, but more so, to cope with life and its events.

As a child, I had always been fascinated by mythology and fairy tales---the real ones, in hardbound, antique books with beautifully scary illustrations. The concise and consistent structure of each tale was reassuring and enlightening. The rules of both the genre and the repercussions and rewards for characters were solid. In fact, the monomyth remains one of the truest and most compelling forms of storytelling .

Just look at at the success of Star Wars.

Just read any popular, enduring children's book, such as Chronicles of Narnia.

Childhood is full of myths. Children are the best myth-makers I know. They are
also the best myth-recipients I know. I believe this is because they are truly in the position of needing to not only make sense of the world but also feel a sense of power and control, all from the vantage of not quite being able to grasp or understand it all yet. Thus, they rely on myths.

My friend Christina was convinced that if you wished hard enough on the star, it would really come true.

Kim was sure that if she stepped on a crack she'd curse her mother with a broken back.

I lost track of the number of grown-ups who swore thunder was just either (a) Rip Van Winkle bowling or (b) clouds bumping into one another.

As a child, I remember feeling irritated when I'd ask, "What makes thunder?" and get a response I knew was illogical, nonsensical or just plain not accurate such as long-dead Dutch settlers rolling balls at candlepins.

I swore I'd never "lie" to my own children when I grew up. And yet, as an adult, I understand the necessity of protecting children from information and putting things in terms they can grasp. I also understand the fun in believing in myths and symbols, such as the Easter Bunny. Moreover, I continue to believe in certain myths and symbols, and participate in certain rites and rituals. I have always been a sort of scientist---as are my kids---but I also believe in a meaning beyond science many times, or keep an open mind about it at least. Sometimes this leaves me in a personal quandry: how do I reconcile the science with the myth in my own mind, especially if both require a degree of faith?

And then there are my children. I have to find a way to answer their questions, all while juggling beliefs, facts, theories and information (as well as occasional ignorance).

Generally, my kids want a real, scientific, detailed explanation---preferably with a complete bibliography and illustrations. Generally, I give it to them, often in book and media form.

Still, other times, it's an unanswerable question and I find myself resorting to myths:

"Mom, how was the world made?"

"Mom, what happens when you die?"

"Mom, where do you find talking dogs for these TV shows?"

And yet other times...Patience observes and comes to her own conclusions, which she shares:

"The sun is hot like a rocket fire and it makes all the planets spin on strings around it. Like they are running from the heat, but really the heat is moving them. And sometimes a planet gets in front of us and that's why we have night."

She has others, even more interesting ones. For example, there is her absolutely riveting schematic explanation of death and reincarnation. (You can bet she didn't learn that in Catholic school. In fact, I have no idea where it came from.)

Now that Patience is school-aged, she is growing more skeptical of myths, and is more curious than ever.

I face a dilemma: where is the line between productive and okay and unproductive and harmful?

I often wonder when to let the incorrect things go on (such as when Patience generates the explanation---to which she holds fast to the point of really arguing with me about it) and when to open up (with additional information) the myths I've perpetuated, such as God created the world and Santa brings gifts.

At what point do I incorporate fact and share the various theories?

It struck me last night. We've been watching that awesome Planet Earth show, really enjoying it and all the information it teaches. Each night when we put Patience to bed, we have a goodnight tradition to say what we will dream about. So I said I'd dream about the animals in the mountains like in the show. Then I mixed animals from two regions. After I'd done so it struck me, was this an oops, should I have reinforced the facts we just learned and kept the red panda in China and the snow leopard in Pakistan? Or was it no big deal to go magical realism for a dream? I decided to not worry, not on this, but it did open up a broader question in my mind. (Upon checking my facts, it turns out that China hosts both red pandas and snow leopards...so I wasn't too wrong.)

There is no straightforward answer; it's a fly by the seat of my pants, case-by-case basis situation. It doesn't just vary by child, it varies by moment too.

Sometimes a child asks about thunder because he is scared. Other times, it is a genuine curiosity and she wants to know how this phenomenon works. It's essential to get to the heart of the question. As with anything, I often begin with, "Hmm, why do you ask?"

I have a friend who will make up any old thing simply to answer the question. I'm not afraid to have the conversation, and I'm willing to admit I'm fallible and don't know everything. We frequently go look things up. I encourage the children to find the answer themselves.

Today Patience figured out, on her own, how to assemble her rocket launcher. I sat down, and quite honestly, said, "I don't know honey, I'm not sure where all the pieces go, we can ask Dad when he gets home or you can try to figure it out." She chose the latter.

"I didn't know," she told me when I praised her, and asked if she felt proud of herself, "That kids could figure out how to do things Moms don't know how to do!"

I simply said sure, and smiled, but a million things ran through my mind. It's so easy for me to see all the things she can do, will do, that I never could. It's so happily heartbreakingly gratifying to see her trust in herself enough to try to do something she wants to do, without me.

It's not lost on me that some of the Myth of Mom was lost today. But I also think we laid a stone on the path to the mother-daughter friends I hope we'll be when she's an adult.

The myths are breaking down. She's forming her own, and releasing others. She's questioning ones I've told her, and investigating ones she hears from friends. She's also accepting outside myths. And, she's learning to balance which source to believe when myths and information overlap and conflict.

It's a vital step. I think Joseph and Bill would be proud. I am.

What were the myths you lived by as a child? What myths did you enjoy, did you fear? Was it hard to let loose of any myths?

How do you manage myths with your own children?


P.S. If you'd like to participate in the Hump Day Hmm, I hope you will. If you do, send me your link and I'll add you to the host post. This week's topic is:

What has the experience of being forgiven been like for you?

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Shove me in the shallow water

Mary-Lue serves many, many purposes, great and small, on this earth. Right now, for me, I think she serves the purpose of asking the right questions.

(Is this blog post number 4 or 5 courtesy of her? LOL)

During the Hump Day Hmm roundtable, she asked me how I felt about receiving forgiveness, and when I wasn't sure how she meant her question entirely, she explained she was curious about how I allowed myself to receive forgiveness, from others and from myself.

(On a side note, I am sure we all noticed that I skipped the Hump Day Hmm last week. It's not gone. Just on a hiatus to give us a chance to breathe. It's back this week! The question is at the end of this post.)


Before I can tell you why I do not know how to be forgiven, by others or myself, I have to explain where it all began.

Where I am in my life is in exile.

My extended family---mother's and father's alike---is disassociated from me. I suppose you could call me disowned. Or maybe it is that they are disowned. Possibly it is simply that we are estranged. Family made strangers.

One grandmother liked to punish me publically. It was almost like an Agatha Christie novel, times our family gathered. This grandmother solved the mystery of the villain (me) and proclaimed the how and why to the circled relatives in the parlor. She has stated she will resume a relationship with me if I apologize. I've never known for what. The unbearableness of my being, I suppose. The only people surprised I haven't taken her up on this are my family.

My crimes to her are numerous. For example, my thank you cards were not thankful enough. And if I made a real, honest mistake, or actually did a bad thing, a hurtful thing, even unintentionally...my apologies were weapons against me. I was never worth forgiving in her eyes. The other side to this is that from her point of view, she meant well, she always did what she thought would make me a better person. And probably, in a roundabout way, in a "despite" way, or in a "nevertheless, because of" way, she has.

I was my other grandmother's golden child. Nothing can disappoint like learning your favorite is not on a pedestal but instead has feet of clay. The other side to this is that once upon a time, someone thought I was the greatest thing ever...for no other reason than I was me. You can't buy that. She taught me the very things that ultimately made me unforgivable in her eyes: to value myself, to pursue happiness.

I mourn having a family sometimes, but I don't necessarily mourn them specifically...it's more like I mourn who I wish they were, who they could be, the good times we had, the good things about them. I mourn not having People like other people have.

My life is not empty, nor is it sad or lonely. I have excellent friends, the wonderful people I choose to love. I have my mother, my father, his wife, and my siblings as well as lots of nieces and nephews. I have my husband's family, large and extended.

Still, it's both relieving and distressing how easily families can fall apart.

My stepmother---who lost her entire family in a short time period, very suddenly and tragically---has encouraged me to forgive and forget, by which she means reconcile.

I find that this is what forgiveness usually means to people: exonerate and reconcile.

That's not what it means to me.

But it does mean that to most, including my stepmother, who has pleaded with me to resume relationships with my relatives. Other relatives warn me that someday these people will be gone and I will have Regrets. My younger sister tells me they have mellowed out and aren't that bad.

It seems very important to everyone that I reconcile---with peace, forgiveness and mercy---and in so doing, all will be well. Like a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie ending.

I am not so convinced.

If an eye offends you, do you not pluck it out?

I do not feel personal, internal pressure to reconcile. I feel only other people's desire, and I don't really understand why. Why is it so important to them that I reconcile? Why is that the only signal of forgiveness?

I feel a complex veil of emotions for them: love, disappointment, pity, angery, understanding, judgment. I understand they traveled a road that made them who they are. I know enough of my great-grandparents to know the story goes back a long, long way. I know they are not just products of their upbringing, but are also products of their time. I know they all experienced difficulties, and tragedies. In my time, in my life, I can't imagine how they dealt with it, and to tell the truth, I don't think they did. That's something from now, not then.

It's tragic sometimes how life conspires to create circumstances that allow our inner monsters to take hold, and very little obvious opportunity to find the tools we need to defeat them.

Because my heart can ache for them, have I forgiven them?

Despite our estrangement, issues new and old surface. I have to explore forgiveness over and over again when one of those hotspots flares. Exploring forgiveness when it comes to my family---knowing that I am typically held solely at fault---is a difficult measure.

I have spent most of my life very self-centeredly thinking that the world does revolve around me, in a blame-issuing, judgment-finding, I'm always at fault sort of way. Like my family taught me.

I have been designed to take the blame, designed to put myself second, designed to twist to ensure that others around me aren't upset with me. I walk around, assuming I am to blame and that people are angry with me. It's the pattern I grew in.

I say, "I'm sorry," all the time.

I do not do this gracefully, although I do it by habit. I fight it frequently, often through resentment of people and the demands I perceive them making of me. I get angry when some do let me take the blame, unfairly, happy and eager to slough the monkey off their own backs. I am emotionally tired often, struggling between where I came from and who I want to be.

In short, Mary, I'm not very good at really accepting forgiveness, because I am not good at forgiving myself.

But I am hopeful.

I have learned to gracefully accept compliments. One day I turned from denying the compliment to simply saying thank you. Next, I began to believe in the sincerity of the compliment. I began to feel happy from a compliment, let it sink in, grow and expand. Finally, I no longer seek compliments but happily take them when found, believing in them and deeply appreciating a person who extends one. It is something wonderful to give something good.

So to each of you who are interested in another Hump Day Hmmmm..for Wednesday:

What has the experience of being forgiven been like for you?


And if you are interested in a book that has a story of estrangement, read my review of Jill A. Davis' new novel, Ask Again Later.

P.S. I do have some bloggy business in a post below so scroll down a bit further if you missed it.

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Just shooting the blog...telling you about linky love and communities

Welcome to the meeting. Feel free to get coffee and bagel from the coffee bar over there. The fresh fruit...well, I trashed it. Didn't look too fresh. My assistant, Patience, is handing out agendas. Excuse the crumpling and chewed corners, some might still be damp. Sorry, Persistence wanted to help.

Agenda:

* Would you like to join my Good Blogs Book, Music, and Art review community?
* Are you in my favorites?
* Bloggy identity crisis

I got an email the other day from The GoodBlogs. "Hi, it said, uhhh, are you okay? Your inbox is stacking up with messages. Why don't you go read your mail and save our server some space, eh?"

What?

People sent me messages at The Good Blogs???

I quickly clicked over to check. Holy mercy: messages! One from the famous The Lovely Mrs. Davis herself.

"Hi," all the messages said, "You have a community...about reviewing books, music and art? We'd like to join."

Great scott. So I do. It sort of fell off my radar along with my own review blog---neglected geez louise how embarassing---back in January. I have been thinking I need to get back on the wagon with that and now I am motivated. I think.

So listen, if you'd like more link referrals to your blog (in which you regularly discuss and review the arts) or a review blog you have (not to be snobbish, but it needs to review books, music, art, that sort of thing) let me know. I'll add your URL in.

Also, after a dinosaur's age, I finally set up Technorati Favorites (thanks to J at Oh, The Joys who lit a fire under my rear). Okay, I am in the process of adding blogs. I also started using BlogRoll so my blogroll on the sidebar has changed, and is dynamic---will show Fresh! when one of you updates.

How cool is that! And I can go scan my favorite blogs in this main window. Quit laughing. I know you all knew this and set it up about 100 years ago. Some of us get electricity a little later out here in the boonies, okay!

So slowly but surely I am adding in people to my favorites---you comment and make sure I've got you on, okay? It requires a lot of concentration. LOL

I've also been sort of jonesing for a blog name change. When my husband created this blog he called it the artful flower. I know why he did that but boy did I not like that name. So I just changed it fast, having no idea the implications. Now that I feel more established, I'm thinking of changing to something more appropriate. Would you all hate me and unlink me?

I think people use my name more than the blog name, though. So I don't think a blog name change will make me too much of a stranger.

No, I don't have anything in mind. Yet.

Okay, I'm opening the floor to questions, discussion, and comments...

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Joy of Cats...a long post about pets, so read if you love animal love stories...take a hike if you don't


I'm in UR dining room shittin' on UR rug.


When my husband and I began dating in 1991---versus when we met (1988), the time apart (1989-1990), the time of "friendship" (1990), the time of "confusion" (late 1990-early 1991), Mardi Gras (1991), and actual "Love it or leave it dude," (1991)---we were single adults with our own apartments, very independent. I had acquired two cats.

Cat 1, CiCi, adopted me by "Get the eff away from me crazy lady, no seriously do not touch me bitch!" default. She was a scrawny half-dead slightly past kittenhood cat that the vet encouraged me to Do the Humane Thing for. But I believed in fate. I got off the bus that day at that stop at that time, and looked to the right, instead of to the usual left. I saw her chasing a butterfly and something spoke to my soul. I walked over, looked her in the eye, said, "Do you want the Sweet Life? If yes, let me me pick you up." And she did. But not too easily. She had pride.

She also had rickets, bugs and parasites galore, pneumonia (or some such) and a Death Sentence from the vet, who decided to tell the Crazy Idealistic Young Lady a few things to do and prescibe a few medications well beyond my means (that I got anyway) to get me out of his office. I did them and she flourished. I fought her to save her, but I did it, and she was my most loyal and faithful companion in return.

My roomate hated cats. When it came time to renew our lease---with our very animal-friendly landlords who I adored---she said no way, no cat, get rid of that skanky rat-eater. I got rid of her instead. It was a wise choice.

How can you trust an animal hater?

Some might call me dysfunctional for choosing an animal over a human. But you didn't know this cat. People who normally hated cats---my ex-roomate excluded---loved this cat. If you had half a soul, you knew she was of the race who knew Joseph.


My cat, CiCi, aka kindred spirit, or, if you don't like me, my familiar.


I moved into my own apartment---solo---and discovered One is not the loneliest number that you ever knew. I liked being on my own. I liked being alone. Besides which, I had CiCi.

I also had a boyfriend. This one had lasted a year so far, a new record in my serial monogomy list. He loved animals (a requirement) and was seriously dedicated to the future (another requirement). He acquired a cat, a Bombay Black. I named her Amber, for her eyes. She was seriously sweet, and outrageously neurotic.

His roomate couldn't stand her.

So Amber moved in with me and CiCi.

CiCi wasn't sure what to make of this encroacher, but as Amber proved Not a Threat, she subsided her resistance. They became a team, and Amber slowly shed her neuroses and matured into simply sweet. We were a happy family.

That boyfriend and I eventually split. He let me keep Amber, since she had become more mine than his. At first, he wanted to visit her. I know, a custody agreement for a cat. If you don't understand, you don't love animals as much as we do. But then things got complicated---the girl he had cheated on me with introduced him to the Love of his Life and my now husband re-entered my life. I guess we were each other's 4 out of 5. The ex-boyfriend gave up his visitation requests, and ultimately vanished.

Life goes on.

My husband adores animals, maybe more than I do. For me, they are companions. For him, they are a passion. He considered being a vet.

My cats rejected him.

He was beyond distraught. Animals always loved him, gravitated right to him. he'd never had to exert effort, or win (or earn) love.

He even wondered if this was some sort of statement about our relationship.

I thought he was silly.

I knew my girls; they were exclusive, protective. They didn't care if he was Jesus H. Christ on a golden platter. They'd been betrayed by a man once before. Their love didn't come lightly, or easily.

I told him to be patient.

He decided he wanted to succeed, even if it meant getting his own cats.

I have always suspected this was a ruse; I suspected he had always wanted a catalyst to launch him into pet parenthood.

But he dragged me to a place where he heard they had kittens. A guy had found a bag of kittens thrown into the dumpster. He was adopting them out, for a small convenience fee (for the good of animals of course).

I saw the look in my boyfriend's (now husband's) eye, and I knew what it meant. "No more than one female," I told him, "No males. No orange cats."

So what did he do? Found a tabby female and...her orange brother. Even I capitulated. As we left with the girl, the boy hurled himself against the window, screaming, sobbing. You split that up.

Then came the time to introduce his cats---still young, still mostly kittens---to my cats.

That went over like a lead zeppelin.

His two were like Siamese twins, attached at the hip. Francie, the girl, was in charge. No questions. Bubba, the boy, was just happy to be with her and do as she said. Mine were seasoned Cats. Used to their own dynamic: CiCi was in charge, Amber did not give a shit about anything other than food and sunny spots to nap in.

When we decided to get married, it was permanent, and relationships had to be fixed.

A feline truce was declared: CiCi, in charge; Francie, official hunter and bodyguard; Amber and Bubba, ate food last and got sunny spots for napping while pretending to give a shit. Every now and again, Francie fought CiCi for alpha position and always lost, despite easily being twice as big as CiCi.

The Oak Convention of 1994 established terms of peace: CiCi reigned supreme for life, Francie was second in command, and got Queen upon CiCi's demise.

The battles ended.

When Patience was born, Amber had been battling diabetes for years. The day we came home from the hospital with our newborn Patience, Amber collapsed into a coma. It wasn't the first time. Her diabetes were so hard to manage. We were constantly trying new foods and diets, changing insulin doses, frequently trying new types of insulin and new regimens. That time, the day we walked in from the hospital, the day she collapsed, when I was home alone, for the first time, with a newborn---a crying newborn---I called the vet and he said, "Are you sure you want to intervene?" I had to try. I couldn't be the person who gave up just because she had a human child. We revived her, but the next day she collapsed again. Her organs were failing, a side-effect of the diabetes. I cried all the way to the vet, clutched my newborn while the vet gave his prognosis and recommendation, and sobbed when I lost my first baby.

The vet told me, "She waited until you came home from the hospital. She waited until she could say goodbye. She waited to meet your new baby."

It only added to the guilt instead of providing the comfort he intended.

You see, Amber was so high-maintenance; I had been worrying about how I would juggle her complex and expensive health care demands with the needs of a newborn. I had been hoping she could be no problem until I got the mom thing down. And I had been suppressing a Very Bad Feeling. Amber wasn't well, I knew that. But it didn't make her loss any easier, nor did the fact that we didn't have to worry about her or caring for her any longer.

Time marched on. Patience grew into a little girl, the cats grew elderly, and we added in Persistence.

One sunny day when CiCi was 15, she went out for her usual morning walk. She staggered home and collapsed. We rushed to the vet, who said it was finished, beyond him.

She was elderly, for a cat, especially a cat who had been diagnosed as a short timer 15 years previously, a cat who had long-term health issues from her youthful diseases. She had a good life. Better, I think, than she expected, and she never took it for granted, I think.

That didn't make her loss any easier.

The vet gave her painkillers, and sent us home for her to die with her family. I sat by her, under her favorite tree, and stroked her as she passed away. I sang her songs to her. I talked to her of our life together, recalled our many hilarious roadtrip adventures, our time together as single girls, our time together as a bigger family. I talked to her about how much she meant to me, things I liked about her. I told her we would be okay, she'd done all she could for us. I cried, but I told her I understood she needed to go. I said thank you and I released her.

Dying isn't pretty.

Breathing doesn't slowly ease and end.

The body fights on long past the mind and spirit. Her breathing grew labored, agonal breathing it's called. It's horrible to watch. But eventually, it stopped. She was gone.

In the last task I owed her, I failed. I couldn't bring myself to take her body to the vet for cremation. I couldn't stand to touch or be near the lifeless shell. That body, it wasn't my CiCi. My husband did it for me. That's true love: the guy who will tenderly wrap your cat---our cat, for she loved him as much as me by then---in a blanket and take her body away, despite his own grief.

Patience cried, Persistence was too young to know. I held them close and prayed that I would never, ever find out what it felt like to lose either of them. I prayed I'd never know the grief of a parent who loses a child, or the guilt, especially when I felt like a less than perfect parent, and had regrets.

You see, in the end, I had less time and attention for CiCi. I flayed myself inside as a result, and felt angry that I felt a need to be spread so thin. I hated the guilt I felt, hated how torn I felt trying to be there for everyone, keep up the relationship everyone wanted from me. I hated how I didn't give as much as I wanted to, couldn't give.

Losing CiCi meant losing a side of my heart. She was my entire adulthood. She'd been with me through everything. She'd stood by me, sat on my chest, purred when I needed her most.

And then, there were two.

Francie continues on as she always has. I don't think she takes joy in Queen as she once thought she would. She has always had domain over Bubba, her slavishly devoted brother. But his health has been failing for a long time: hyperthyroidism. The hard to manage kind, the sort that the thyroid clicks on and off at random.

A month ago, he quit grooming himself. We've given him a couple of baths, but he's so frail, and he is so traumatized by the baths, we haven't done it enough. His fur has dreadlocked. He seems energetic, but that's just the disease making him hyper. His body is failing. You can see it. His breathing is off, as is his heartrate. He eats and drinks too much and is too thin now, another sign that the disease is winning.

Now we are all just waiting. We haven't involved the vet. We know what he will say. We just want this...among us.

We are grief weary. The last few years have included a lot of loss, more than just pets. We are tired of outsiders telling us what they think of our grief, advising us on what to do, what to think, what to feel.

Aside from Bubba and his impending loss, too many days my husband and I walk around sort of anxious---what will we lose next? What will happen next? What next?

I don't think we've recovered from all of our trauma.

I don't think we're ready for another loss.

I don't think we want to hear a doctor make it official.

I do think, though, that in another sense, we are ready for it to be finished, if it is time.

It's hard to wait, hard wondering.

And, in the last couple of weeks, Bubba has begun voiding inappropriately, begun being a little bit of a pain in the ass.

We've had to close off the dining room, the room where the carpet is beyond repair now. The room that will be costing us money we weren't ready to spend. All because Bubba is old, sick, and pooping on carpet instead of outside or in his litterbox.

We feel annoyed, frustrated, angry. All while grieving.

We've begun preparing Patience. One day, we thought that was it, the end. So we prepared her. But Bubba surprised us, and rallied. Now she's forgotten. Now she thinks he's well, and all is well.

Some days though she says when we lose Bubba and he goes to Heaven we can get a new kitten.

My husband and I think back, recall when CiCi, Amber, Francie, and Bubba were young, when we were young, recall the fun of kittens...how cute they are. Then, we think of now, how busy we are, how pressed for time, how divided our attention is, and we say, "No, sweetheart, sorry, no new cats, no new pets. Let's just love the ones we have."

copyright 2007 Julie Pippert