Random Memories from Childhood and What They Taught Me

Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.

I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.

We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.

A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.

When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.

My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)

My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)

My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)

A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.

Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.

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Doubt Tempers Truth

I am always surprised when someone gets upset when people ask questions. Doubt seems to make people very uncomfortable. They greatly prefer people who act purely on blind faith. Those people hear the rhetoric and swallow it whole, without an ounce of critical thinking. While that may make life easier for some, it’s why disinformation is on the rise.

Personally, I like it when people employ a bit of scrutiny. I enjoy those who fact check. If you take information seriously enough to determine that it’s accurate, that information increases in value.

As with steel, truth is tempered when it’s pounded on, and plunged into fire and water and then hammered yet again. Doubt tempers truth. That applies to religion, politics, current events, and everything else under the sun. We are all made stronger by this tempering process.

Never hesitate to do your homework. Question. Investigate. Learn. Then share what you’ve learned. We have brains for a reason. Let’s use them.

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The Mystery That Is Kaspar Hauser

During a random surf of YouTube, I came across an intriguing video entitled The Most Mysterious Boy In History. I love a good mystery, so naturally I had to watch. That’s how I first learned of Kaspar Hauser.

Here’s what we know for sure about him. On May 26, 1828, a young teen showed up in Nuremberg, Germany. He walked like a toddler, and could barely speak. He carried with him two notes, supposedly from two different people, but in the same handwriting.

The first note was allegedly from some man who said he’d been raising Kaspar since he was a baby, and never let him leave his house, but that the boy now wanted to be a cavalryman like his father had been. The second note was supposedly from his mother, backing up the story about the kid’s father.

At first the fine folks of Nuremberg threw Kaspar in jail for 2 months for being a vagabond. Then he was adopted by the city, and they paid for his care and upkeep. He then began to be passed from house to house. He had a pattern of being both tantrum-prone and a liar, so he quite often wore out his welcome.

He also had a pattern of getting strange wounds, most likely self-inflicted, when he wanted attention. He always claimed he was attacked by some mystery man, which he was sure was the same guy who supposedly had kept him locked away for his entire childhood.

Once, his caretaker heard a gunshot, and found Kaspar in his bedroom with a head wound. Kaspar claimed he had been standing on a chair to get some books, and he fell, knocking a pistol from the wall and accidentally shooting himself.

Who leaves a loaded pistol on a wall? That’s my first question, with many more to follow.

It was a more trusting time, so people kept taking him in. Most famously, he lived for a time with Lord Stanhope, a British nobleman. But after spending a great deal of time and money trying to figure out who Kaspar was, he soon tired of the boy and his unbelievable stories as well.

At age 21, while staying with a schoolmaster who was also growing impatient with the boy’s lies, Kaspar came home with a stab wound in his chest that would prove to be fatal. He, of course, claimed to be attacked, and there was another note involved, this time, for some odd reason, in mirror writing. But the note included Kaspar’s common spelling and grammatical errors, and was folded in a way that was unique to Kaspar.

I think the reason people kept giving this guy so many second chances was that there was a rumor that he was actually a prince. But historians find this hard to believe. Conspiracy theories are not new.

I think Kaspar Hauser was just a very effective liar and con artist. It’s impressive how he managed to mooch off so many people even though he was clearly quite unpleasant to live with. That’s a psychopathic skill that very few people possess.

His manipulative charisma lives on to this day. Movies have been made about him. Poems have been written. His character pops up in at least a dozen books. A statue of him has been erected in Ansbach, Germany.

We may not know who he was, but he hasn’t been forgotten. I think he’d be thrilled to know that. People just love an unanswered question, and Kaspar Hauser is the epitome of that.

Kaspar_hauser

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Why are Haters Targeting Tilapia?

I’ve been seeing this meme floating around social media quite a bit in the last few weeks. I could tell it was false within seconds. I can’t believe people can be so gullible.

Tilapia False Meme

First red flag: Boneless and Skinless? The picture itself shows the skin and scales. And have you ever filleted a tilapia? It has bones, trust me.

Then there’s the grammatical errors in the meme. That’s ALWAYS a reason to do some further digging. If the creator can’t even be bothered to properly articulate his or her message, then why do we not question the intelligence thereof?

And come on, don’t you wonder about the source of the information? They sure aren’t sharing it with us. So I went to Snopes.com, and sure enough, the meme is totally bogus. There’s also a lot of stuff going around about bacon being better for you than tilapia, or claiming tilapia causes Alzheimer’s disease or cancer . Also Bulls**t, as this article from Factcheck.org proves.

The reason this fake meme irritates me more than the average fake meme is that it is directing people to avoid healthier food. If you’re not a vegetarian, you should at least reduce the amount of red meat you consume, not just for yourself, but for the planet. Fish is a much healthier protein, and tilapia is one of the more affordable choices out there.

If a meme seems sketchy to you, check the facts. Also, ask yourself who benefits from such a claim, should it turn out to be false. (In this case, the meat industry and probably half the fast food restaurants you drive past, hopefully without stopping, on a daily basis.)

Here’s a great article that cites 6 reliable websites that will help you get to the truth of most matters. Please, please use them. There are enough lies being spread these days without our unwitting help.

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Tall Tale Tellers

I’ve worked with several pathological liars in my lifetime. It’s a mental disorder that I struggle to understand, because there seems to be no emotional payoff. Do these people not realize that for the most part, everyone can see right through them? They’re certainly confronted enough. This causes them not to be trusted, and their social relationships are therefore not particularly stable. Telling whoppers is a self-destructive habit.

The thing I find most interesting about these people is that even when you catch them in their lies, when you hit them with the cold, hard facts, just as with Trump’s political base, they still will not change their stance. For example, one coworker claimed to have several masters degrees from a variety of Ivy League institutions. I looked up a few of the degrees in question, and these particular degree types were not offered by those schools. Ever. Showing him this irrefutable evidence did not even make him blink.

Their lies always seem to fit into several general categories.

  • One-upmanship. If you happen to mention that you’ve been to Spain, the pathological liar will have lived there. For years. During the civil war. And wrote a best-selling novel about his friendship with Franco.

  • Physical Prowess. Pathological liars can beat up every man in the bar and walk away without a scratch. They can also lift cars off of crushed orphans. Don’t even get me started about their sexual conquests.

  • Amazing Possessions. One coworker, who lived in a trailer with his mother, said he had an original Van Gogh hanging in his living room. He could never produce a photograph of it, though. And when in financial dire straits, he couldn’t ever seem to find a buyer for it.

  • Related to Fame. If you admire Barbra Streisand, the pathological liar will be her second cousin. Or he’ll have had dinner at Jacques Cousteau’s house. Or he’ll be in regular e-mail contact with Matthew Broderick.

  • Amazing Survival Skills. A coworker once told me that a tractor once rolled down a hill and crushed him beneath its wheels. He was able to extricate himself, though, and crawl 5 miles to civilization to get help. He then spent 6 months in a coma.

  • Success. It seems that these liars are always recognized by one and all for their superior intelligence, and often receive the highest awards. They also are promoted at young ages, and only make the best investments. And yet they aren’t any further ahead in life than the rest of us.

  • Generosity. “For Valentine’s Day last year, I gave my wife 60 dozen roses.” Yeah. Sure you did. And you support a thousand famine victims, too.

  • Victimhood. Perhaps the most insidious category for the pathological liar is that of placing themselves in the roll of victim. This is when these liars cross over to becoming con artists, because people who don’t know them well are naturally trusting and tempted to help. One coworker said he was living in a trailer in Florida without air conditioning and had no food. A friend drove 25 miles to his house with 6 bags of groceries, only to find that his cupboards were full to overflowing, and his air conditioning was on so high she could practically see her own breath. Another friend gave this same man a car. He was also the healthiest lung cancer sufferer I’ve ever seen. He never went to a doctor. He’s still out there somewhere, conning more people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Barbra Streisand has second cousins. There have to be a few truths mixed in with all those lies. But what are the odds? How many of us can consistently boast of both quality and quantity? Not me. That’s for sure.

The only theory I have is that these people don’t think they’re special enough without all these outlandish embellishments. They think they will only be liked if they improve upon their boring little lives, when in fact this isolates them even more. It makes them the victim of ridicule and the butt of jokes.

That, or they believe all their own fantasies and are too far gone to get back to the real world.

Either way, how very sad. Sad for them, and even sadder for those who get caught in their web of lies.

liar

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Obfuscation

I am very confused by people who don’t say what they mean and mean what they say. That seems to be the case with a lot of people here in the Pacific Northwest, and it’s why I’ll probably always feel like a stranger in a strange land as long as I live here. I prefer straight shooters.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Seattle area. I just seem to spend a lot of time befuddled by its residents.

But it’s not as if Seattleites have cornered the market on such behavior. As a matter of fact, it should feel quite normal to me. My mother was the poster child for obfuscation. She would do anything, absolutely anything, to avoid confrontation.

For example, when I was about 6 years old, she bought me a pair of Keds tennis shoes. I was a creative and precocious child, so my solution to this boring white expanse of canvas was to take a magic marker and write “dirty” words all over them. (At that age, it was probably words like “poop” or “doofus” or something.)

I was proud of those shoes. By wearing them, I felt like I was pushing the envelope. Living on the edge. I thought I was being rebellious and cool.

Needless to say, my mother was less enthusiastic about them. But rather than say, “Oh, hell no! You are not wearing those shoes in public!” she simply gritted her teeth and let me wear them, rather than enduring the tantrum that most likely would have ensued. (I must admit that I was a brat.)

Then one day, we were leaving a grocery store, and as I got into the back seat, one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Mommy, wait! My shoe fell off!”

She must have thought she had died and gone to heaven. She accelerated. She said, “Sorry, honey. I can’t stop. There are too many cars behind me.”

“Well, then pull over there, and I’ll run back and get it.”

“We’re in a hurry.”

“I’ll run.”

“Too late. We’re on the street now.”

I cried in frustration and confusion as I looked out the rear window, watching my beloved shoe get smaller in the distance.

From an adult perspective, I think my mother was being spineless in this instance. She missed a teaching moment when I first created those awful shoes. She could have talked to me about the use of words, and how they can hurt or offend some people. She could have talked about common courtesy. She could have reinforced some much-needed and ultimately comforting boundaries. We could have sat down together and covered those words over with colorful flowers or something.

Most of all, she could have avoided having me think that the adults in my life are strange, unpredictable, and incomprehensible. Those are scary thoughts when you’re a kid. Instead, she took the easy way out.

Oh, I could tell you a thousand stories about how I came to feel as though the inmates were running the asylum in my household. I spent most of my youth wading through lies and excuses and pure fantasies. The sands were constantly shifting beneath my feet.

This kind of behavior made me prize integrity and honesty and safety and trust above all other things, simply because I didn’t experience those qualities very much. I longed for a world that made sense.

That’s why I say what I mean and I mean what I say. You can count on that. I don’t ever want someone to be confused by me. I hate that feeling of being misunderstood, not only because it hurts on my end, but also because I know how baffling it is for others. I lived it.

So just say I can’t have the damned shoes, already. It will only be awkward for a second. And I’ll respect you a lot more.

Sneakers_over_water

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Justifying Grief

I’ve written a lot of posts about my late boyfriend, Chuck, about how much I miss him, about coping with my grief, about how I think about him all the time, and also about how complicated our relationship was, due to his Traumatic Brain Injury. Well, the other day, I was contacted by one of his former schoolmates, who said, “I have read your articles about Chuck. I also read his posts about living in his pick-up truck in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Which is true?”

I immediately responded, “Both. With his brain injury he’d lose his temper, storm out of the house and stay in his truck for a few days. Then come back. His brain injury had a kind of Jekyll and Hyde effect on him.”

It’s true. He knew when he wasn’t acting right in the head, and he wanted to protect me from that. He was never physically abusive toward me, not once. But he certainly could shout. So his solution was to leave. Quite often while he was gone, we’d be texting back and forth.

He once told me that I was the only person he could rely on to tell him when he wasn’t acting rational. It wasn’t the easiest relationship in the world to have, but when it was good, it was phenomenal. Chuck was the most generous, decent, intelligent, passionate and funny man I have ever known in my life. I therefore have no regrets.

But here’s what’s interesting. When his friend asked me that question, I didn’t hesitate to respond. Basically, I was being asked to justify my grief and prove I wasn’t lying. My first response should have been to be offended. I could have simply said eff you and been done with it. That would have been a reasonable reaction to have. But that didn’t even cross my mind. And I find that kind of sad. I’m glad I didn’t do it, but I think it should have crossed my mind, at the very least. What does that say about me?

The fact is, I’ve been expected to justify my grief for Chuck from the very start. After 4 years together, some of his family members still view me as less legitimate than his ex-wife. Those who had the pleasure of only seeing his good side are uncomfortable hearing about the bad. Those who witnessed the bad cannot understand why I grieve for him at all.

Our relationship wasn’t cut and dried. It was complicated. But it was still priceless to me. No one should have to justify their grief. You don’t have to agree with it. It does not require your seal of approval. In fact, I think under the circumstances you might want to cut me a tiny bit of slack.

But as it turns out, I was glad I responded to his friend. I genuinely think she meant well. It turns out that she had been nursing a lot of guilt, because she lived near that Wal-Mart parking lot, and was unable to help him. So I learned how much she cared. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who worried about him. And she learned that Chuck was never completely alone. So we both, I think, got some comfort from the conversation. It all turned out for the best.

Life certainly can be complex. But what I took away from this experience is that it’s better to talk things out than to go on the defensive. You might learn something.

clouds and sun
It’s possible to have clouds and sunshine in the very same sky.

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A Message to the World

Hello. I’m an American. Never in my life did I imagine that I would say this, but I am ashamed of the state of my country. I am embarrassed at the face we are currently showing to the world. This is not who we are.

Never again will I look at another country and assume that all its people agree with its government. Because I don’t. Never again will I think of the resident of another country as possessing a stereotypical characteristic based on that person’s place of birth. Because clearly, I no longer fit in here.

In recent months I’ve been seeing a great deal of ugliness. I’ve seen Americans spewing hate. I’ve seen selfishness and greed and intolerance. I’ve seen ignorance deified and intelligence vilified. I’ve seen science discounted and fantasy encouraged. I’ve seen violence. I’ve seen misogyny. I’ve seen fraud. I see more and more lies every day.

I am so sorry that things have gotten this way. I didn’t vote for Trump. I wouldn’t have approved any of his cabinet members or his choices for the Supreme Court. There is not a single thing that this man has done that I agree with. Not one.

I’m particularly mortified that his immigration policies are making so many people live in fear. This is not acceptable to me. I am a second generation American, and the vast majority of the people who live here are descended from immigrants. We have absolutely no right to do what we are currently doing.

We also have no right to treat the Native Americans the way that we do. If anyone should have moral currency with regard to how we treat the land here, it should be them. They should not be beaten down for wanting water that is safe to drink. Shame on us.

We, of all people, should not have the right to negatively impact women’s health at home or abroad. We should also appreciate the good work that other members of the United Nations do every single day. We should be good stewards of our environment, because what we do affects the entire planet.

I just want you to know that many Americans still believe in human rights, freedom, justice, the environment, freedom of speech, science, peace, and respect for all people who do good in this world. I want you to know that those of us who feel this way will not remain silent. We will speak out for the values that we all strive to maintain. Our voices might get drowned out by those in power, but please don’t stop listening for us. We are here.

Because what you’re seeing now is not who we are.

il_fullxfull-770961203_a0fy

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Honesty Takes Less Energy

Here’s a bit of honesty: I’m an inherently lazy person. I avoid wearing clothes that need ironing. I take great pains to dirty as few dishes as I can. I am an expert at consolidating all my errands into one trip. My energy is limited, so I try to use it wisely. It’s just how I roll.

The same goes for my mental energy. I don’t know where people find the strength to be disingenuous or manipulative. I’d find it entirely too stressful, and I’d have to spend a great deal of time trying to remember which lies I had told to whom.

Fake people really amaze me. It’s been my experience that one’s chickens always come home to roost sooner or later. At the end of the day, I want my chickens to be nice to me. There’s nothing worse than a pissed off chicken.

Reality shows fascinate me as well. Even with a camera present and thousands of people watching, some people just can’t seem to resist taking their moral compass and jumping up and down on it while wearing cleats. That seems a bit self-destructive to me. Just sayin’.

The sad thing about people like that is they assume that everyone else in the world is the same way. If you know someone who believes that everyone lies all the time, I’ll bet you my next paycheck that that person lies all the time. It must be exhausting to live in a world where you think everyone around you is as horrible as you are.

I can’t imagine that the average parent teaches his or her child to go to the dark side like that. Where does it come from? What’s the long term payoff? I don’t get it.

Pinocchio

Urban Legends, Falsehoods, Satire and Lies

Now that we’re all happily speeding along the cyber highway, word spreads more quickly than it ever has before. For the most part, that’s a plus. Unfortunately, just because it comes at you at a furious pace, that doesn’t guarantee that the quality of the information is high. It takes even more effort to wade through the B.S. than it used to. Sadly, not everyone makes that effort.

Here are some basic ways to weed out the stupidity before you post it on your Facebook page and look like a dope.

Consider the source. Ask yourself where this information originally came from. There are several humorous satire pages out there that report things with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks for the laugh factor. The Onion, which calls itself “America’s Finest News Source” is one of these. I actually love reading the Onion, but it’s not meant to be taken seriously. This article called Faux News will direct you to many other satire sites. Know them. Enjoy them. But don’t take them as fact.

Then there are other news sources that claim to be true and want desperately to be believed, but cannot be trusted because they’re pushing a warped agenda. If Fox News is the only one who is reporting on an issue, it’s most definitely suspect. CNN is getting to be just as bad. And I have absolutely nothing against religion, but I tend to seek outside verification for any news item from any religious news network source. There is a difference between fact and faith, and when a reporter does not know or refuses to acknowledge that difference, I find it rather scary.

Also, at the risk of incriminating myself, don’t quote blogs as fact without verification. Any fool can have a blog. I could tell you the moon is covered in a thick layer of cocaine, but I don’t recommend that you send your favorite drug mule there. He’d be pretty pissed off at you by the time he got back. (But then, he’d also have plenty of time to detox, which is a good thing.)

Another thing that should have you bobbing in a sea of red flags is any news that implies a major conspiracy. It’s human nature that a secret can’t be kept by more than two people. If a story is going around that an entire agency or organization or country has been sitting on a secret for decades, the odds are that this story is extremely exaggerated at best. For example, I used to know someone who genuinely believed that there are secret concentration camps all over America and that US Citizens are disappearing at an alarming rate. My response to that is, if so, why are no one’s friends, relatives and Facebook followers screaming bloody murder? Do you think in this day and age, when we are linked together in so many complex ways, a large number of adults could simply go poof and no one would be the wiser? Poppycock.

Also, it’s very irresponsible to pass on a product warning without being sure that it’s true. Before you go boycotting Brand XYZ, make sure it really deserves such treatment. While I’m not wild about corporate America, you have to remember that many people just like you and me depend on these companies for their livelihood, and if too many people mistakenly think there’s nuclear waste in their pie filling, it’s those everyday pie fillers who will be laid off. The corporation itself will grind happily on.

One excellent source for verification is Snopes.com. They often track down the sources of misinformation like no one else can. When all else fails, check Snopes.

Also, if you receive an e-mail full of capitalizations and spelling errors and exclamation points, warning you to do, or not do, something, such as “IF YOU GET A E-MAIL FROM XYZ, DONT OEPN IT!!!!” Don’t panic. Use your common sense. It’s stupid to open an e-mail from an unknown source under any circumstances.

If a story begins, “This is a true story,” it most likely isn’t a true story. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Listen to your inner voice. Be skeptical. Don’t pass things on without verifying them.

I just love The Onion!
I just love The Onion!