Minding My Own Business. Not.

I had to try.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that, when properly motivated, I can be a buttinsky to a shockingly inappropriate degree. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. Sometimes it causes unintended damage and/or hurt feelings. Sometimes I get it all wrong.

It’s just that I can’t stand to see someone bullied. I can’t sit still when I think I’m witnessing some form of injustice. And false accusations make me want to scream.

I think the reason I am so adamant about standing up for people is that, all too often, no one stood up for me during my weakest, most vulnerable moments. If I can prevent even one person from experiencing that kind of pain, it’s worth it. One second of averting future psychological damage makes up for all the times I’ve stuck my neck out for someone, only to have my head figuratively handed back to me for my trouble.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being attacked, and looking around at all the witnesses, only to find that they are suddenly engrossed in inspecting their shoes. I don’t know how people do that. It’s not in me.

Don’t get me wrong: Standing up for someone does not mean reinforcing their false accusations or beliefs because you usually like that person. It also doesn’t mean propping up someone’s inaccurate conclusions, even if they are dear friends. And that’s where I often get into trouble.

Standing up for others means taking a personal stand about what you feel is right and just and morally and literally true. It’s about having personal integrity everywhere you go. It’s about saying the emperor has no clothes when that’s what you see. Even if someone you love dearly insists that the clothes are indeed there, you stand your ground unless you are provided with evidence that contradicts what you know in the very marrow of your bones.

A friend once accused another friend of mine of being hostile and rude and irrationally cruel to him. It was a he said/she said situation. I wasn’t there. But I’ve known both of these people for well over a decade, and the accusation sounded nothing like the woman I had been talking to on a daily basis for all that time. I doubt this woman even squashes spiders. She has consistently shown herself to be polite, kind, and considerate of others. I have never seen her lose her temper. Not once. Calling her hostile is as improbable as calling Trump intelligent. That, and she had zero motive for being hostile to him, as he was only passing on a message that I wouldn’t be there that evening as planned.

In contrast, my accusing friend, as much as I love him, has demonstrated that he often draws irrational conclusions, especially when under the influence of something. And he’s also stubborn. So even when you confront him with the information once a cooler head should prevail, and even when he is unable to provide a shred of evidence, he tends to double down on his belief, and gets downright hostile about it himself. I’ve seen him lose his temper on multiple occasions.

In fact, he got hostile to the point of saying really cruel things to me, and insisting that I had to choose between the two of them. So who would you choose? It seems rather obvious to me, even though it made me sad. I chose the friend who has always been kind. And she remains kind to this day. On the other hand, the accusing friend occasionally pops up and leaves a nasty message on my blog, to remind me, I suppose, that he’s still feeling hostile. As if that will make him more palatable as a friend. As if his hostility will somehow convince me to see it his way and agree my other friend is hostile. It makes me sad.

Maturity has not tempered my need to take these stands. It has, though, taught me to be a little more subtle about it, when possible. Sometimes people don’t realize that they’re making an a$$ of themselves, and it doesn’t pay to broadcast that, unless doing so will prevent others from acting in kind.

For example, the other day I witnessed something, and I had to speak up. It was at the local YMCA where I swim 4 days a week. After a while, once you’ve established a routine like that, you tend to start recognizing those whose routines intersect with yours. I’m cordial with these people. Some I get to know better, and some are only passing acquaintances that might exchange comments about the weather with me.

I have made several friends at the Y, but I tend to give people their space unless they indicate a desire to go beyond surface pleasantries. After all, they’re not there for me. And that’s fine.

On the day in question, in the swim lane beside mine, there was a man in his early 40’s and a boy who was about 10. I’ve chatted with them before, so I know this is a father and son, and they come to the pool in an effort to lose weight. Good for them. Clearly this is a father who cares about his son’s health.

We exchanged smiles and nothing more. But as I was exercising, I overheard the father calling his son a loser. He was using a teasing tone of voice. (I think they had been racing, and the kid, of course, lost.) But the father kept saying, loudly, and with a smile on his face, “Loser. Looooooser!”

I understand that this is the teasing dynamic that many guys use with one another, but that doesn’t make it right. It got to me. Not that I was ever called a loser by a family member. But there were other names and criticisms which stuck. Sometimes people don’t realize how much words can hurt. They don’t realize how labels stick to you. They think that as long as their intentions are good, and their love is there, unspoken, then they can say anything they want to say and that will be okay.

But it’s not. It’s not. Why are we so willing to say cruel things to the people we love when we’d never say those things to a stranger? It makes me sad.

I swam a few laps, trying to figure out what to do or say, because I knew I was going to say something. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the kid. Hadn’t he been humiliated enough for one day? What to do. What to do…

And that’s when another guy came along who looked identical to the father, and he jumped in their swim lane. The three of them sort of played in the pool for a while, and I could tell that there was affection all around. That’s good.

At one point, the father and son were down in the deep end, and the other guy was in the shallow, so I quietly said to him, “Is that your nephew? He’s an awesome kid.”

He smiled and said, “Yes he is. And yes, he is.”

I said, “I heard his dad call him a loser earlier. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it, but words can hurt. I hope he’ll rethink that, because, speaking from experience, the therapy later in life can get pretty darned expensive.”

He said that he found that concerning, and thanked me.

I went about my day, knowing the situation could play out in several ways. 1) The uncle might decide that it’s too awkward to say anything, but perhaps he’ll be even kinder to the nephew to make up for his brother’s name calling. 2) The uncle might speak up to his brother and he’ll either take it well and maybe try to stop with the name calling, or he’ll get defensive and think less of his brother or of me, but will at least have heightened awareness of what he’s doing. Or, finally , and most likely, 3)The second I turned away the uncle shook his head and blew me off.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people are, if anything, too good at minding their own business. I knew if I didn’t speak up, no one else would. But at the same time, it’s truly not my business, and I don’t know how this family behaves under any other circumstances. Maybe I made too much of it, and caused an awkward situation for no good reason. Or maybe it was something that needed to be said.

Did I do harm or good? I’ll never know. But I had to try.


A Little Love Story. Maybe.

I stomped my foot.

Have you ever known someone who’s first and last name flowed so well together that you always used both names? I knew someone like that when I was 9 years old. His name was so cool that I wish I could share it with you, but given the story I’m about to tell, I’ll allow him a little bit of dignity through anonymity. You just never know who will read these silly posts of mine.

Robert R—- was a boy who lived in my neighborhood. I’m not even sure where, to be honest. I just know that I would run into him on my block. Come to think of it, I never even saw him at my school, so that’s a bit of a mystery in and of itself. I will concede that at that age my head was in the clouds most of the time.

I think Robert R—- was 10 or 11, and a lot bigger than I was. He was what I most likely would have described at that time as a royal pain in the butt. He was the kind of boy (like pretty much all boys that age per my experience) who liked to tease and pick on people and play tricks and all that foolishness that I just wasn’t into. (Come to think of it, I’m still not into it to this day.) Anyway, I used to cringe when I saw him coming, because I knew every encounter with him was going to be mortifying or irritating.

One summer day, I was walking down the street by myself, probably on my way to climb up a tree and read in peace as per usual, and he walked up to me and told me he loved me.

I wasn’t even thinking of boys at that age. I really wasn’t. I kind of thought of them as tiny humans like me, only more aggressive and rather clueless about the things that I viewed as important, like books. So this declaration of love had me in shock. The very idea of somebody even thinking about me in that way was as so out of left field that I’d have probably been less flabbergasted if my mother had informed me that I was a clone.

But I knew Robert R—-. Surely this was some kind of cruel and potentially humiliating joke. My response was, therefore, immediate.”No you don’t.”

So he said he loved me even louder. (Heaven knows why. There was nobody else around.) So I denied it again.

It was very confusing, because he was a tease, but he had this really sincere look on his face at that moment. It was the only time I ever encountered him when he wasn’t performing for an audience. It was almost as if he were someone else entirely, and I just couldn’t trust him.

I didn’t know what love even looked like at the time. Frankly, I’m still sometimes unable to place it. Maybe he was serious. Maybe I was his first crush or something.

Either way, I was horrified. He’d say it louder and then I’d deny it louder, and the situation kept escalating. Finally, I put my hands on my hips, stomped my foot, and bellowed, “You’re a liar, Robert R—-!”

Then I ran away.

Shortly after that, we moved from Connecticut to Florida, and I never saw him again. But I can still hear his voice in my head from that summer day long ago. “Barbara, I love you!”

I can also hear my own bellowing, freaked-out voice. If he truly was being sincere, I hope I didn’t emotionally damage him for life. Don’t you just hate unfinished stories? Me too.

Me too.

Nope. This isn’t really him.

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The Mere Existence of This Makes My Life Complete

Three Cheers for Drag Queen Story Hour!

Every once in a while, I stumble upon a story that makes me feel better about humanity. Such gifts may be few and far between these days, but they still fill me with joy. It’s good to know that there are decent, intelligent, caring people on this planet who are doing their best to make the world a better place. I particularly enjoy these people when they come up with creative, innovative, and even controversial ways to have a positive impact.

An interview I heard recently on CBC Radio (listen for yourself here) had me grinning from ear to ear on my long commute home the other night. Tom Power interviewed Lil Miss Hot Mess, a fabulously charismatic drag queen, about her latest children’s book, If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It.

That alone would have been enough to make me happy, but during her interview, she also mentioned an organization that she is a part of called Drag Queen Story Hour. It’s a nonprofit organization that is, as their website explains, “drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores. DQSH captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models. In spaces like this, kids are able to see people who defy rigid gender restrictions and imagine a world where people can present as they wish, where dress up is real.”

I was surprised there was not a chapter of this organization here in Seattle. Seattle is usually on the cutting edge when it comes to being inclusive. And I for one would move heaven and earth to attend a Drag Queen Story Hour. I think it would be a delight.

Of course there has been pushback from conservatives who can’t get past the stupid notion that the entire LGBTQ community was put on this earth solely to prey on children and create more “members”. Ignorance like that is the very reason we need such story hours. If your children are so easily influenced that they spend the rest of their lives acting contrary to their natural tendencies, whatever those may be, then those kids have much worse problems than those that even the most evil Drag Queen Story Hour from hell could bring out.

These events are not about grooming. They’re about teaching children that there are all kinds of people in this world, as will always be the case, and it’s better to approach those who differ from us with kindness and love rather than hostility and hate if we are to have a happy, healthy society. It’s about teaching them that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to like pink or enjoy sequins or be interested in things that other kids might not be interested in. If you want to be a rocket scientist, go for it! If you want to see what it’s like to paint your toenails, go for it! If your creativity is unlike that of your siblings, that’s fine, too. And, above all else, being mean to someone who is different means that you’re a bully, and that’s not good. Own your hair! Love your freckles! Be who you are! If you like wearing knee socks with sandals and shorts… Well, okay, that’s a bridge too far, but you get the idea.

In this turbulent, hate-filled age that we find ourselves in, it’s important that we teach our children to be comfortable in their own skin and remind them that they should allow other people to be comfortable in theirs as well. I’m here to tell you, every child feels, on some level, that they don’t fit in. Too short, too tall, too thin, too fat, too queer, too straight, too nerdy, and never, ever cool enough. That’s heartbreaking.

I, for one, long for the day when there is no “in” in which we are all expected to “fit”. Wouldn’t that be a freakin’ relief? Imagine a world where everybody minded their own business and didn’t judge or bully others. I’d love to no longer have to put up with the constant pressure to change who I am. We should all feel like we’re enough. None of us should have to walk around feeling flawed or broken. We should be loved for who we are.

So I say, three cheers for Drag Queen Story Hour! I’m going to try to get the Drag Queens in our area to start a chapter! I’d be their biggest fan.


In other news:

On this day in 1969, the police once again raided New York’s Stonewall Inn, and its patrons had finally had enough. On this day in 1970, the first Pride Parade was held in that same city. Today, take a moment to remember how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. Happy Pride!

Incidentally, I’m adding Lil Miss Hot Mess’ books to my Amazon wish list called Children’s Books for Clark Lake Park Little Free Library, so if the spirit moves you, review that diverse list and purchase one or more of the books that you’ll find there for the library! Thank you!

I wrote an actual book, too, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Bully Busters

They decided to be part of the solution.

I stumbled upon a Washington Post article entitled, “Classmates wouldn’t sign his yearbook. So older students stepped in.” And it brought me right back to my public school nightmare of being bullied and ignored and made to feel inadequate. Pressure to be popular permeated the very walls of my schools, and I never made it to that summit. Instead, I collected all the misfits, and we meshed and occasionally glanced upward to a place where we knew we’d never be.

As much as I loved reading and learning and getting straight A’s on my report card, I viewed school as something that must be endured for 12 years until I could break free of all the judgment and hostility. Mostly, I kept my head down and tried not to be noticed/beat up/humiliated. And when you add braces, glasses, severe acne, poverty, a complex home life, a heaping helping of pompous intelligence combined with an extreme deficit of self-esteem, and clothes that were way out of style, and you stir all of that up into an already toxic social stew, is it any wonder that I was chronically depressed?

I did get to confront my worst bully decades later, and wrote about it here. She didn’t remember any of it. Even so, rereading that post is cleansing for me. I’m proud of everything I said to her, and I feel like I got it out of my system. It kind of felt like bursting an abscess: briefly painful and unpleasant, but oh, the blessed release of pressure, and the knowledge that healing can begin!

So reading that article about a 12-year-old boy who had been constantly bulled and felt so alone that everyone refused to sign his yearbook, I wanted to hug him and cry, and tell him that things will get better, even if that’s hard to believe at the moment.

But what I love most about this story is the older students who stepped in. Apparently the kid’s mother was talking about the situation in a closed Facebook group for parents of children at that school, and those parents then told their kids, and several different sets of kids independently decided to be part of the solution. They gathered a bunch of friends, and they all went and introduced themselves and signed his yearbook and talked about bullies, and sent a message that bullying isn’t to be tolerated. Many of these students remain his friends and keep in touch with him.

I’m sure that did wonders for that young man’s self-esteem. And maybe, just maybe, it made it possible for him to someday become an 18-year-old boy who is comfortable in his own skin, and who isn’t bitter, impulsive, and potentially a harm to himself or someone else. Just like that, some teens became aware of an injustice, and came together to make the world a better place. Bravo!

I wish all public schools would create a Bully Busters Club. These kids could do talks about bullying, and they could form an alliance of children that vowed not to be bullies, but instead be caring, compassionate and civic-minded. They could spread the word that if you don’t feel like you fit in, come join this group! Everyone is welcome. Strength in numbers. This group would need constant promoting and support so as to avoid becoming the club that no one wants to be a part of, but I think it could be done.

It would have been so nice to have a safe place to land when I was in school. If done right, a group like that would quickly outpace the popular clique and the sports clique, and pretty much every other grouping, and make it clear that inclusivity and kindness are the real things to care about, not popularity.

We need more of this, please.

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The Un-Bullies of Social Media

Words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a teen or preteen these days. School drama must take on a whole new dimension when it follows you home on your smart phone. Nowadays the haters have a cyber loudspeaker.

At least when people bullied me and treated me horribly back in the 70’s, I could leave school and get a break from it. I could bury myself in a book or a TV show. While the pain was still there, and the damage to my self-esteem was still being done, at least I could come up for air. Not so in the present day. These kids are in it every single waking moment.

Fortunately, through it all, I see a constant, if faint, drumbeat of what I call Un-Bullies. For example, there was a young man being bullied in his school for his love of books. His mother helped him create a Little Free Library, and put it out on a LFL Stewards forum that she wanted us to send postcards of encouragement to her son, and dozens of us did. I don’t know what other people said, but I told that amazing young man that I thought he was the coolest kid ever! I wish someone had told me that when I was his age.

I’ve also noticed that for every troll that says something cruel on a public forum, there seem to be ten people who step up and say, “No, you’re wrong.” They are the ones who reassure people that they’re beautiful, strong, outstanding, amazing, talented.

It takes courage to stand up to bullies. I admire anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to do so. And every person who takes that step empowers others to follow suit.

It may not seem like much, but words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.


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A Wicked Sense

Now I can’t abide bullies in any form. But it took me a minute.

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.


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Raising Bullies and Bigots

There are basic lessons that schools no longer seem to be teaching.

By now, everyone knows about the actions of the ignorant little punks from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky. That these privileged little private school boys had the nerve to wear their Make America Great Again hats and get into the face of a Native American elder who was simply trying to diffuse a situation, and who had proudly served this country before their repugnant butts were even born is beyond outrageous.

One of the boys in question is saying that he didn’t do anything but stand his ground and the gentleman approached him first. No, you stood your ground with a MAGA hat on, which is a symbol for hate, and you had a smug smile on your face, and an unblinking stare, a sign of aggression, while your friends continued to taunt and ridicule. There’s a distinction. It wasn’t as though you were putting your arm around the guy and asking for a selfie.

In fairness, the high school does not condone the actions of these kids, and has an apology prominently placed on its website. That’s further proof that the actions were inappropriate. But one wonders what kind of tolerance they teach at a school with this as the mascot:

covington catholic's mascot

Here are some lessons neither they nor these kids’ parents seem to be teaching:

  • Respect your elders. All of them. Even if you don’t agree with them.

  • Walk through the world with dignity, and don’t deprive others of theirs.

  • Be polite. Especially when you are a visitor.

  • Aggression is intolerable.

  • Hate is the most blatant form of ignorance.

  • You have no right to invade someone else’s space.

  • Kindness and decency is the only true currency you have.

  • NO ONE has the right to be a bully.

If I could speak to those boys I would say, “This video will follow you for the rest of your life. Hopefully you’re capable of shame and remorse and this will build your character. If not, you are psychopaths, and you are in serious need of intervention. Seriously. You should be worried. Get help.”


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Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

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Strong Personalities

Just the other day I got told I have a strong personality. I get that a lot. The observation usually comes from a man, and it’s not intended as a compliment. I’m also often told that I “speak my mind” or am “opinionated”. (Uh, isn’t that an opinion?)

I can’t deny any of those descriptions. I’ll often speak up when others are afraid to. And if you ask me my opinion, I assume you want to know what it is, so I oblige you. I’m baffled as to why these qualities are supposed to be negative.

Yes. I have opinions. Everyone does. Never once have I insisted that anyone agree with mine. I’m not a bully. I never have been.

I also refuse to be bullied anymore. I was bullied half my life, and I’ve had it up to here. I stand up for others just as often as I stand up for myself. Again, tell me why that’s a bad thing?

Recently I’ve started considering the source of these criticisms. These people never make the same observations about men. Or if they do, they’re transformed into compliments. That’s interesting. And they are usually people who are, or would like to be, in positions of power over me. I’m quite sure that they’d prefer that I simply shut up and do as I’m told. They don’t want me to think, or have an opinion, or be strong, or even have a mind to speak. I’d be so much easier to deal with if I were soft and compliant.

Sorry to disappoint. Not gonna happen.


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