What Are You Known For?

Recently I overheard someone proudly say, “My grandma was known for making the best apple cobbler in the county.”

That got me thinking. Is everybody known for something? I believe they are, at least to the people who love them most. I’ve heard people described as the type that would give you the shirt off his back, or the strongest person I’ve ever met, or, on the opposite extreme, a massive jerk.

Do we know how people truly think of us, or how we are described by others? Well, I certainly don’t. So I decided to ask. I reached out to about two dozen friends and loved ones, and posed this question:

If everyone is known for something, what do you think I’m known for?

I decided to keep it that simple, and only elaborate if someone asked for clarification.

Most didn’t bother to respond. That disappointed me greatly, but that’s typical with any type of survey, formal or informal. Even that taught me a little bit about who will actually step up for me, or at the very least, who lacks concentration and/or is epically busy.

Of those that did respond, many came back with the easy, surface stuff. I’m known for being a bridgetender and a writer. Those who aren’t in touch with me as often mentioned that I’m known for being a fractal artist, even though I haven’t made a fractal in years.

Those were legitimate responses, and nothing to be ashamed of. But it made me realize how important it is to properly frame your question. What I was hoping for, really, was not what I’m known for by people in general, but how would you describe me to others? What has been your personal experience with me? What makes me unique in your eyes?

But there were those who delved deeper. One smart aleck said, “Epic farts.” But even he got more serious and went into more detail after a little bit of prompting. Here were some of the responses I received:

  • Supporting someone in need.

  • Makes me laugh.

  • You’re unique. A fair amount of women I just can’t “talk” to.

  • Loving.

  • You mean what you say. You tell it like it is.

  • An advocate for those you feel have no voice.

  • Brave, independent woman who takes no nonsense from nobody and loves her husband and dogs and job.

  • You care about right and wrong so much that your blood boils when you see what you believe is unjust.

  • Perception.

  • Delivering your opinion in a most enlightening way.

  • Integrity.

  • Curiosity.

  • You are adventuristic. A ‘seize the moment’ sort of person.

  • You appreciate the now.

  • Heart to heart sharings of intimate fears.

  • Your ineffable sexiness (this one made me blink, and blush.)

  • Candor.

  • Courage.

  • Compassion for animals.

  • Patience and persistence in pursuit of making a good life for yourself.

  • Reverence for the use of language to convey your insights.

Wow. Just… wow. These were wonderful observations. They certainly made me proud. They humbled me. Some of them were extremely unexpected. But I’ll take it.

This experiment also taught me a lot about how different my inner self is from my outer self. The two ways I’d describe myself were not mentioned by anyone. I would think that I’d be known for my intelligence and the fact that I have no filter whatsoever. But maybe I see myself that way because I use the intelligence as a suit of armor to hide behind, and I spend a great deal of time doing damage control for my lack of filter.

The bottom line is that I’m really glad I asked this question. I would recommend that everyone try this with their loved ones. The education you get from it, in ways both predictable and unexpected, is priceless.

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One of my copyrighted fractals.

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“He’s Always Been Good to Me”

After Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, all these people came out of the woodwork to say how nice Brett Kavanaugh had always been to them. I’m glad to hear it. But what has that got to do with her testimony?

It’s the same after someone becomes a spree killer. “He was always so quiet. He paid his rent on time. He used to hold the door open for me.”

Humans are complex, folks. The fact that Kavanaugh volunteered at a soup kitchen does not absolve him from any crimes he may also have committed. And it certainly does not mean that he couldn’t possibly have committed crimes. Character references only get you so far. Charles Manson got more fan mail than any other prisoner in American history. That doesn’t make him a Boy Scout.

I’m really glad that Brett Kavanaugh isn’t the devil incarnate. I hope he has many opportunities to help little old ladies cross the street. We need that in this world.

But do I believe that at least once in his life, his did a horrible, unforgivable, unacceptable thing, and because of that a woman’s life was changed for the worse? Yes. Yes, I do.

Until we make it crystal clear that such behavior is unacceptable, that all the soup kitchens on earth won’t make up for it, there will be no reducing the amount of sexual assault in this society.

Boys must be taught that no means no. It’s that simple. Even my dog understands it.

And just so we’re clear, a yes that changes into a no is also a no. And an intoxicated yes is a no. It’s about respect. Respect for others and respect for yourself. If you can’t follow those simple rules, you should expect consequences, no matter how nice you are most of the time. Sorry to disappoint you.

I’m reminded of something my late boyfriend used to say. “You can pour all the syrup on it that you want, but that don’t make it a pancake.”

Pancake

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Little Punks All Grown Up

Thirty years ago, a friend said to me, “Every time I meet a German male of a certain age, I wonder what role he played in the Nazi Party.” It kind of made my blood run cold, if I’m honest. But now that generation has, for the most part, died off.

But when you think about it (even though these things are on a different scale entirely), there are little criminals in every generation. Sometimes I look at the adults I know and I remember that all of us have gone through the stupid adolescent stage, and that means, purely from a statistical standpoint, that a certain percentage used to be dumb-a$$ little punks.

That CEO may have delighted in keying cars when he was 13. Your postman may have thought it was funny to make sexually harassing anonymous phone calls. Your spouse might have been into shoplifting.

Bullies grow up, too. Some of them outgrow that tendency. Others, unfortunately, become your supervisor. I shudder to think what antics Donald Trump got up to when he was 12. It wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled the wings off flies.

And while certain behaviors should be written off as the foibles of youth, and people really can mature and change, a lot of criminal behavior is an innate part of one’s psychological makeup, and the only reason that person is still out amongst us is that he or she just never got caught. You can never be completely sure of the content of someone else’s character.

Something to think about.

Psycho

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White Privilege Run Amok

We all know it happens. Special privileges for the already privileged. Little blonde Barbie dolls getting a pass for their outrageous behavior. But it’s particularly sickening when it’s caught on tape.

Most people, if they’re pulled over for blasting through a stop sign at 60 mph, are reeking with alcohol, have weed in their vehicle, and come up as twice the legal limit on a breathalyzer test, would have at least enough sense to know that they’ve been caught dead to rights, and need to shut up and take their medicine.

But not Lauren Elizabeth Cutshaw. No. She’s a little ol’ South Carolina white girl, and therefore thinks that butter won’t melt in her mouth. She wails drunkenly in the back of the police car that she went to a really good school, graduated with honors, was a cheerleader, and had never been arrested before. She also said that she’s a pretty girl, and therefore shouldn’t go to jail.

Apparently, she also told the cop that she’s a “very clean, thoroughbred, white girl.” And that’s where I started to taste vomit in my mouth. Because I suppose I could say the same thing about myself, if it ever occurred to me, and lord knows it hasn’t gotten me very far. (Although, probably a little farther than I deserve, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The difference between me and Miss Lauren is that it would never occur to me to say such a thing about myself or anyone else. That unwavering sense of entitlement was never bred into me. But then, it would never occur to me to join a sorority, cash in on my looks, drive while wasted out of my ever-loving mind, or wail pathetically in the back of a cop car.

According to Linked In, this deluded woman is a Real Estate Advisor for a high-end real estate agency. I think it would be interesting to check back in about a year to see how well she’s doing now that her white privilege card has been revoked. Poor dear. She’ll only have the content of her character to cash in on at that point, and from what little I’ve seen, I’m not particularly impressed with that.

Lauren-Elizabeth-Cutshaw1
In the flesh.

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Put Up or Shut Up

We are a country divided. We all know that much. Some of us don’t care. Some of us encourage it. Some of us aren’t quite so willing to let go of those who are on “the other side”.

I’d like to think I was in that third group. I really would. But I admit that I struggle. My opinions and beliefs are as strong as the next person’s. I don’t really understand people who don’t think the way I do.

I want to believe that my views could be swayed by hard evidence. But I wonder. Because I don’t think I’ve ever persuaded anyone else by presenting facts.

I don’t usually stop liking or loving people just because we don’t agree. I do my best to judge people on the content of their character. Are they kind? Do they mean well? Are they trying to be their best selves? These things are vitally important.

But every once in a while someone I care about will voice an opinion that horrifies me to the very marrow of my bones. It’s usually related to racism or intolerance or cruelty. And this leaves me in an awkward place.

I hate, hate, hate confrontation. I really do. So in these situations I can either a) ignore the comment and secretly lose respect for that person, b) wash that person right out of my hair, or c) speak up and risk losing that friendship, but maintain my integrity.

Well, I can’t choose option a. I’d develop ulcers. It’s just not in me to pretend something I don’t feel. Option b would certainly be the easiest route. Unfriending a person is so simple now that most of us only interact via social media. God knows people have done it to me. Even relatives. It doesn’t feel right to me. If I ever cared about someone, I kind of feel like I owe them more than just disappearing without explanation, without at least trying to understand why they feel the way they do. So that kind of forces me into option c.

Ugh. I loathe option c. It ties my stomach into knots. It makes me stew over what to say for hours. It makes me feel sick. It’s just so important. It’s a pivotal moment. I don’t want to screw it up. I try to do it in a decent one-on-one kind of way, rather than in a public forum. But it’s still hard.

I’ve had mixed results with option c. Sometimes we agree to disagree. But I feel better, at least, for having spoken up. Sometimes I’ve experienced blowback of epic proportions. That’s never fun. And it tends to result in the severing of the relationship. But as a wise man recently told me, “A true friend should be able to have a respectful conversation.”

As this country becomes ever more divided, those respectful conversations seem to be becoming fewer and farther between. They aren’t easy. But if we ever reach a point when they become impossible, I think we’ll have lost one of our most important qualities. We’ll have taken a really ugly step back from what it means to be human.

Locked Horns

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Contaminated Connections

I remember sitting on my couch with an old friend in Florida. We were having a pleasant chat, just as we had done dozens of times before. Then he looked out the screen door toward the park across the street and said something disgusting and hateful and racist about the guys who were playing basketball therein. I refuse to taint my blog by repeating it.

I could tell he meant what he said to the very marrow of his bones, and I was horrified. In that instant, reality shifted for me. I had never heard this man talk like that before. It wasn’t part of my truth about him. And yet, I could tell that in that instant his mask had fallen away, and I was seeing the real ugliness inside him.

And the weird thing was, he knew I’d seen it. As I sat there with my jaw hanging open, he got up, walked out of my house, and I never saw or heard from him again. I was relieved.

Normally, if I think someone is acting out of character, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I try to get at the root of the aberrant behavior. I try to explain why I am feeling the way I feel about it. I try to salvage the relationship. But some things are just a bit too revealing about a person’s basic values. Some things cannot be undone.

It’s not as if we were expressing opposing views about Brussels sprouts. This was major. Some things you can’t simply agree to disagree about. Not if you value your own integrity.

It’s hard to maintain a friendship with someone when you lose respect for that person. It alters the context of every interaction you’ve ever had or ever will have. The foundation crumbles, and the whole structure collapses like a house of cards.

I had a similar reaction when a female coworker, upon discovering that an 11 year old girl had been sexually abused, said, “Well, she must have wanted it.”

After my head exploded, we did our best to avoid each other from then on. There’s no recovering from that. It just says too much about the person that you are, deep, deep down, where it matters most. It says too much about the way you view the world and the people in it.

It’s sad to lose a friend. But it’s heartbreaking to discover that the friend you thought you had never really existed in the first place. Fortunately, these situations are rare. I’m glad to say that I haven’t had an experience like this in years. Maybe I’m becoming a better judge of character with time. But unfortunately, to have a healthy home, sometimes you have to take out the garbage.

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Take Your Marbles and Go Home

Dear President Trump:

Are you having fun yet? Are you getting tired of winning? Because you seem to be spending a lot of time in a rage or attempting to defend yourself.

And not a day goes by when someone isn’t either criticizing you or making fun of you in some way or another. Whether that’s “fake news” or not, it can’t be pleasant. I certainly wouldn’t bear up under that much character assassination, and I’m not even a classic narcissist.

I would think (because I’ll never know) that the whole reason for being rich is to be able to enjoy oneself. Otherwise, what’s the point? You should be able to golf on the weekdays as well as the weekends! Why haven’t you built a putting green on the White House lawn, at least?

Have you figured out what all of us already know? You’re being used. You’re the goat. The republicans can do their absolute worst without fear of retribution, because you will be there to take the blame. They’re laughing at you, Donald. And if you do get impeached in the end, they won’t care, because they’ll still be there. Nothing will have changed for them.

Why don’t you do yourself (and the rest of us) a favor: take your marbles and go home. (But wait. You lost them long ago, didn’t you?)

Surely this game has lost its appeal for you. Aren’t you bored? I suspect so.

But hey, if you do stick around, I’m looking forward to watching you defeat ISIS. Okay, I know you promised you’d do that in the first 30 days, but you’ve been busy, right? So anytime in the next month will do nicely. Seriously. Have at it.

Sincerely,

The Voice of Reason

marbles

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On Collecting Misfits

All my life I have surrounded myself with people who don’t quite fit in. My best friend calls it my propensity for adopting three-legged dogs. I suspect that it started out because of my low self-esteem in childhood. I didn’t think I could possibly be liked by the popular crowd, whom I perceived to be vastly superior to me. But over time I learned that the truly quality people, the interesting ones, the ones with back stories to overcome, were the misfits. Adversity builds character, after all.

images

If I noticed someone being picked on by the in-crowd simply for being different, or because, like the sharks that they were, they smelled blood in the water, I was drawn to that person. The socially awkward, the physically deformed, the out of style, the desperately poor, or the just plain odd…those were my kind of people.

Those of us who zig when we should be zagging, I suspect, value friendship most of all. We know that making the extra effort reaps great rewards. Misfits don’t pressure you to be anything other than who you are. They aren’t judging you, or expecting you to fit into some rigidly defined box. It must be exhausting to be popular and spend so much of your time and energy trying to remain so. I’ve come to realize that it’s the popular people who are really the ones who are desperate to fit in. By not fitting in, I’ve made some friends for life, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

Conformity is the worst kind of insult to one’s spirit. I learned that the hard way. Someone whose opinion I valued greatly once told me I was going to go to hell because my religious beliefs were not identical to hers. That really devastated me for a while. But then one day I finally grasped the fact that I wouldn’t want to go to her version of heaven. Any place where none of my friends would be welcome, and where everyone has to be exactly the same, would be a boring place indeed, and no place I would want to be.

So let your freak flag fly. Bask in your bizarreness. No doubt I’ll like you all the more for it. And so will all the best people.