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Friday, October 26, 2012

Make Grandma Proud (i.e. STFU)

"If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

This is excellent advice. Gentle. Succinct. Meaningful. And everyone has a grandmother who, at one time or another, took their face into her wizened hands, leaned in close enough for the sweet smell of shortbread and Jean Nate to lull them into a stupor, and with kind eyes & a knowing nod, uttered these timeless words.  So you may be surprised to learn what your grandmother was actually telling you.

She was telling you to shut the fuck up.

And you know what? She was right.

We should all just shut the fuck up.

Every day it feels like I wake to a louder cacophony of abusive, condescending blather perpetrated by everyone around me. People I work with, people on social media, people to whom I'm related, people in the comments sections of news articles.  I even find myself getting dragged into it. Every day my brain is adulterated by the ceaseless jockeying for whose fattest mouth can gulp the most air with which to spew the most meaningless, abrasive nonsense for an indeterminate or otherwise pointless purpose, and every day I am struck by the near perfect arrogance we have managed to achieve as a society.

I talk about bullying a lot on this blog, and every week there is a new incident of someone taking a life, either someone else's or their own, because they simply could not see a light at the end of the shit and razor wire lined tunnel of verbal refuse that we all have to trudge through unendingly.

This week claimed the life of Felicia Garcia. A 15-year old girl, mocked and ridiculed and shamed until she did the only thing her adolescent mind could conceive of to stop the pain.

She threw herself in front of an oncoming subway train.

The last thing Felicia heard before her young life was snuffed out forever? The sound of her verbal rapists hurling sexual jeers at her from the subway platform.

Without fail, the noxious banter starts in the comments section of all the articles covering the story.

I'll paraphrase:

Anonymous Idiot 1 - "My heart goes out to this girl's family, but these teenagers don't deserve to have their lives ruined for acting like teenagers. Bullying is part of growing up."
Anonymous Idiot 2 - "Anonymous Idiot 1, people like you are why bullying exists. You were probably a bully yourself. You're apologist attitude toward this situation is disgusting."
Anonymous Idiot 3 - "None of this would be happening if there was still prayer in school. If we didn't have all these libtards worried about gay marriage, and got back to what the founding fathers wanted, we would all be better off and this Mexican girl might still be alive. There's a reason they call it the White House!"
Let me clear this up for everyone. Do you want to know who is to blame for that girl's death?

All of us. Because none of us will ever just shut the fuck up.

Felicia's last tweet. Two days before she took her own life.

It may very well be true that those teenagers were just acting like "any other asshole teenager," as one commenter put it. That may be. And you know what? Who could blame them. Honestly. Who could blame them for labeling and humiliating an easy target when they hear their parents using racial slurs about the president? Or see adults from their church on Facebook spewing their intolerant garbage? Or watch people in power accuse a law student of being a whore because she's advocating for better access to contraception? Or read self righteous rants about a corporation that has literally made a federal case over not wanting to provide health insurance that would pay for a pill which categorically does not do the thing they claim it does? Or watch rape victims being re-traumatized day in and day out for weeks by the insensitive remarks of a bunch of crusty old men trying to win a popularity contest?

Case in point, people are bullying each other over an article about bullying!

And as usual all of the focus is placed on the victim. Why wasn't she stronger? What environment lead her to be so weak? What kind of negligent foster parents were not instilling the necessary self esteem in this girl that would give her the coping skills to withstand this barrage of sexually explicit verbal abuse every day for years?

Perhaps, and I know this is a radical concept, there was nothing wrong with that child. Maybe, just maybe, if the "asshole teenagers" had ever been exposed to a single adult who said, "You know, I'm having a thought about that guy over there, but maybe I should just shut the fuck up?" then they wouldn't have the abhorrent sense of entitlement to just spew banal thoughts that have no other purpose than to humiliate and subjugate and control another human being.

Where do we get that sense of entitlement? That almost compulsive need to comment and weigh-in and preach to people who never asked for our opinion and who we don't know all that well?

It comes from a dramatic miscalculation of our right to tell other people our truth.  Because I hate to break it to you, that's all you own.

Not the truth.

Your truth.

The older most people get the more wisdom they think they have. They start to say things like, "If I only knew then what I know now" like they have somehow achieved unique enlightenment just by virtue of having existed for a couple of decades doing the same bullshit minutiae that everyone else around them is doing.

Not me. The older I get the more I realize how little I know of other people's experiences and I have a humbling perspective on how little I will ever know in the ridiculously small blip my life is on the infinite spectrum of time.

I don't have all the truth. I will never have all the truth. So sometimes, I should just shut the fuck up.

And don't think I don't already sense the condescending chiding of my religious friends who will be the first to say, "We do have the Truth. Scripture. I know what's true, because the Bible tells me so."

While the Bible could indeed hold all the truth of human existence and how we should live our lives, you have not and will not decode that meaning with 100% accuracy ever in your lifetime no matter what your preacher tells you. If you don't believe that, then I invite you to pick up a history book and read all the abominable human treacheries that have been heaped on man in the name of "knowing the Truth". You are not better than those people, and frankly you are operating under the exact same dangerous delusions that allowed them to do what they did.

Furthermore, if you believe that God is "how marvelous" and "how wonderful" as the old hymn says, then you should accept that by virtue of something being wonderful YOU HAVE TO WONDER. To believe something is marvelous YOU HAVE TO MARVEL AT IT. You have to have humility and the decency of doubt. You have to try to live by broad principals, but not cleave to man-made dogma, ESPECIALLY when it injures other people.

A comment I got a couple of days ago on a blog I wrote over a year ago.

Also, if you disagree with me on a political issue or a lifestyle choice or my favorite color, and you have the audacity to tell me (or anyone else) that "come judgment day" I'm going to regret holding the beliefs I hold, let me explain the difference between you and me.

The absolute worst I will think about you is that you're wrong, that you are probably a miserable person, and that I feel sorry for you.

What you think about me is that I am going to burn in sulfuric fire for all eternity. My tortured screams piercing the acidic darkness, finding no hope, no sympathy, no mercy, and no comfort.


Really?!  What kind of a person is ok with the fact that they have the capacity to imagine that about another person, let alone SAY that to someone? I didn't rape your dog or kill your children or key your car, Guy. I had a thought you didn't like. Calm down.

It cannot be stressed enough how narrow your perspective is even if you live to be 110. Your life experience that shapes your world view is but an infinitesimal milispec in the unending sea of time that has made up existence thus far.

So that is exactly how much right you have to judge how people you have never met live their lives. And if you could even comprehend less than a milispec, THAT is how much right you have to abuse people around you in defense of your woefully uninformed opinion of a world you have experienced less than a fraction of.

So shut. The fuck. Up.

You saved yourself for marriage and then committed yourself to a member of the opposite sex? Great! Embrace your choice.

You think that republicans are bourgeois automatons that don't care about people who make less than Donald Trump? Brilliant. Vote Democrat.

You think that girl in the cubicle next to you has probably banged so many guys that her mother has terminal shame cancer? Ok. Keep concerning yourself with the genitals of strangers to distract you from your slow march towards inevitable death.

You read half of one news article on a publication's website that either 100% validates what you already believed or that you were 100% already against before you ever fired up your browser? Congratulations. You have mastered 4th grade reading comprehension.

I'm not saying don't have an opinion or express yourself. Far from it! I'm not even saying don't judge people. Think whatever you gotta think to sleep well at night. I certainly do both with relative frequency.

But if you get the feeling that you need to open your mouth and let loose a runny dump of your presumptions about a person or an issue or an event, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is there any hope, whatsoever, that by heaping your opinion on the person/people in question you may actually change their manner of thinking?

2. Is there anyway that the manner of delivery or vocabulary that you use will be injurious to another human being?

3. If so, has the person who could be injured done anything actually damaging to you or your family? Not hypothetically or philosophically, because that's bullshit. Actually robbed you or a loved one of something?

4. Are you comfortable being a person who injures other people for the sake of being right or exerting power over someone with whom you don't agree?

5. Are you comfortable with your children knowing you are that kind of person, and potentially probably acting just like you someday?

Answer Key

1. Yes = 0 No = 1
2. Yes = 1 No = 0
3. Yes = 0 No = 1
4. Yes = 0 No = 1
5. Yes = 0 No = 1

Check the answer key. If your score was greater than zero, then do yourself and all of us a favor.


There is a reason that learning to gracefully, hell MERCIFULLY, just shut the fuck up sometimes is the takeaway of most elderly folk's reflection on a long life of dealing with a lot of different people.

In the pursuit of being right, of telling others how they are wrong, of beating people down until they know their role, of giving a commencement speech every time something that makes you even the least bit uncomfortable hoves into your field of vision, we are literally killing children.

Maybe. Just maybe. It would be better if we all just took a deep breath every now and then, picked our battles with some humility, and for the love of a peaceful Facebook feed and no more dead teenagers...


Monday, October 15, 2012

Take Your Bow

Number 12. I worshipped Deron Feldhaus.

It was Halloween. I sat at my desk in my gold and black basketball uniform, feeling a nauseating combination of sick and scared. The air was thick with the smell of floor polish and burnt heating coils from the recently ignited heating system. All around kids were either in dress down day clothes or in uniforms from sports teams or the cheerleading squad. There were only two sounds that could be heard.

The popular kids discussing the "cheer scale system" and the nervous shuffling feet of those who knew they would be its victim.

That afternoon there was going to be a pep rally. Every athlete for every sports team was going to be individually announced. It had even been rehearsed. There was an element to the festivities that hadn't been rehearsed, though, but was being widely discussed in every corner of Lexington Traditional Magnet School.

The popular students were going to institute a "cheer scale system", whereby everyone would grade how cool a student was by how loudly they applauded for them at the pep rally later. There were even lists filtering around and unspoken warnings about what would happen to those who did not comply.  Being one of the most bullied kids in the school, I wasn't privy to the discussions or the lists.

Only the dread.

Oblivious or otherwise indifferent teachers led their classes into the massive gymnasium that afternoon. Lexington Traditional Magnet School used to be a high school in Lexington, so the gym was particularly cavernous and looming compared to other middle schools.

As the festivities got underway, the "system" began to grind its cruel gears with even more brutality than I'm sure the elite kids could have hoped for. Up first, the cheerleading squad. Thunderous ovation for each bouncing girl, until a chubbier member walked up to take her bow.

A slow, smattering of patronizing golf claps echoed through the gym.

I broke out in a cold sweat.

"Please, God. Please just let this be over fast. Just let a few people clap for me."

The football team. The soccer team. The baseball team. Cross country.

Over and over, kid by kid, the merciless vetting continued.  In hindsight, one of the more disturbing aspects of this day was how painfully obvious it was what was going on, but not one adult tried to put an end to it.

By the time it was the girls basketball team's turn, the only thing keeping me in that gym was the weight in my stomach and being paralyzed with apprehension.

A tall popular set of twins' names were read.

Thunderous applause.

A blonde girl who was cousins with some of the more popular kids went up.

Polite applause.

A husky center walked up.

Golf claps.

My heart was racing. My palms were sweating.  I just wanted it to end.

"Ann Bransom. B-Team. Forward."

No one clapped.

I hung my head down and concentrated on the floor. Tears welled up in my eyes and fell no matter how hard I tried to will them back. The silence seemed to stretch on for hours, even though it was only a minute. I don't remember how long I had to stand there or even what happened the rest of the day.

I just remember the silence. And the shame.

That night, I told my mom I wasn't going trick or treating.

"I'm in seventh grade," I told her. "Trick or treating is for little kids."

That day, I gave up being a kid. I gave up athletics, which I had loved since first grade.

Worst of all?

I gave up taking a bow.

When I started running last year, it was 100% for myself.  With two kids, I desperately needed the me time. It was also nice to not have anyone depend on me.

If I flaked on a run?
Oh well. It's just me.
If I got injured?
No biggie. Just me.
Can't hit a distance milestone?
Who cares? No one. It's just me.

And if there's no one in the bleachers...there's no one to not clap.

It's a hard line to tow. On the one hand, if you're running to please other people, you'll never really enjoy it. Believe me, I've spent hundreds of hours in therapy trying to overcome my people pleasing tendencies.

On the other hand, if you have never fallen into the arms of the run community, you are missing out on some of the most healthy, positive, compassionate, nonjudgmental, healing folks I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

Friends, I have a confession. I have been sick with dread over this half marathon. Not for the reasons that most people are. I was not afraid of falling and breaking a leg. I was not afraid of getting explosive runners trots and spray painting the Midway scenery. I was not even afraid of coming in dead last.

I was afraid I wouldn't finish, and then nobody would clap for me.

In the days and weeks leading up to yesterday's half, I have found myself right back in seventh grade, hearing the phantom whispers of people who not only didn't want to see me succeed. They were actually looking forward to seeing me fail.  Those voices have been battling with all the voices belonging to my new run friends, who have gotten me to this point over the last year.

I am so glad that the latter won out.

A gift from my sister when I started training. Worn during the race.

I have had so many texts and posts cheering me on leading up to yesterday morning. The folks who gave me my race packet even recognized me from LexRunLadies and offered their encouragement. The day of the race was even better. First I saw D.J. in the mile long porta-john line. I immediately felt better seeing a familiar face. Then I saw Krissie's sparkling face & giant shiny hand, and I knew that whatever was going to happen, I would be supported.

Katie caught me goofing off around Mile 11.

One of the benefits of being one of the slowest people out there is that you get to see all your favorite people jogging toward you after the turnabout. Nathan hollered out at me and gave me a thumbs up. Then I heard, "TEAM SHARK!!!" and saw Kelly and Brooke's excited faces. April gave me a clap as she passed, and I was able to pay it forward to LaTonya and Katie after I made the turn around. I passed Eric and the look I got told me he was proud, which meant a lot coming from him.  The LexRunLadies water station looked like they were about to burst into song, they were so happy to be out there cheering for everyone.  Our times spanned the gamut of under 2 to over 3 hours, but we were all out there together.

Team Shark sprinting it in with me.

Then there were the people who weren't even there, but were talking in my ear through RunMeter. Erin has no idea how much it helped knowing she was following my little dot and telling me how close I was to each mile marker. Glenn, Kristina, Alan, Stacy, and Jimmy made me feel like I had people carrying me mile after mile.

Then I got to the finish area. And there were my babies and my parents and my husband.

"Mommy! Mommy! Go Mommy!"

Then I see Brooke and Kelly. Team Shark. They came back to run it in with me.

Then all the LexRunLadies and LexRunDudes were at the finish line for big hugs.

Team Shark!

Then holy crap. The phone.

Bing. Bing. Bing.

I had over 100 tweets, FB likes, comments, and text messages yesterday from people congratulating me.

What my mom posted on my Facebook wall.

I've spent 18 years believing I'm not worthy of praise. Of affirmation. Of friendship.

I've got 99 problems, but a half marathon ain't one.

Not worthy of taking a bow.

Yesterday I got a standing ovation.

I'm not sure I'll ever be good at taking a compliment. Or taking credit for my accomplishments. And I'll probably never not be devastated by being told I've failed at something. Or being snubbed by people who just don't get me.

But I ran a half marathon.

Dammit, I ran a half marathon.

I'm going to take my bow.

"It" doesn't get better. YOU get better.