Thursday, December 27, 2012

When the Media Passes Judgment ...

Part of being human is the capacity for making judgments.  For better or worse, whether it's right or wrong, all human beings judge.  The best among us look at all the facts and don't come to conclusions about other people, social issues, or whatever based solely on emotion.

I am as guilty of making knee-jerk judgments as anybody, and I have a tendency to give more credence to emotion than I perhaps should.  I also have a tendency to never forget a wrong that has been done to those I love.  I can (and do) forgive, but I never forget, and you'd better believe that past history plays a role in how I view a person or a social issue or a given situation.

I think everybody has their own set of rules, their own moral compass, to use a tired old expression.  That's our right and privilege as human beings, and I'd be shocked if any two compasses were 100% synchronized.  I'm good with that.

What bothers me, though, is when we are told what our morals and values should be...and even more so when we, lemming-like, follow those directions without thinking about them for ourselves and applying our own set of beliefs.

And it is especially deplorable when it's the media doing the judging.

This is a picture of Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott, a first-year student at the University of New Hampshire.

When Lizzi Marriott was reported missing on a Tuesday in October, New Hampshire's lone news station went crazy reporting on it.  Lizzi's family was making posters, volunteers were searching, she was a "good kid", a marine biology major, a Harry Potter fan, basically the quintessential "girl next door".  Daily updates of the search for Lizzi focused on what a tragedy it was, how her family was holding out hope, the volunteer turnout to look for her.

On Friday night, police began searching the waters off of Peirce Island in Portsmouth.  The heroics of the rescue team, the fact that evidence had in fact been discovered and was being acted upon, and, yes, the continued tragedy of Lizzi's absence were all over the news.

On Saturday, October 13th, 30-year-old Seth Mazzaglia was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.  New Hampshire news venues once again exploded; after all, now there was a clear-cut "bad guy".  Mazzaglia was described as an odd duck, a loner, a martial arts experts, a man with a college degree in theatre (and the media took pains to find and quote people as saying a pretty crappy actor).

Rumbles of a Fifty Shades of Grey-esque encounter gone terribly wrong began to circulate, although good old WMUR didn't report on this.  Instead, they quickly tapered off coverage of Lizzi Marriott over the course of a few days, briefly mentioning that the search continued for her body but essentially eliminating any coverage of Lizzi as a person.

If you wanted details on the sexual bondage aspects of the case, you could find them on national sites, but New Hampshire's media had pretty much washed its hands of Lizzi Marriott...and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that someone made a decision that her participation in what many would consider a deviant sex act placed some of the blame for her death on Lizzi's own shoulders.  

Does the fact that Lizzi Marriott was "either strangled or suffocated" by Seth Mazzaglia when S&M sex went too far change the fact that her death was a tragedy?  Does it make her any less dead?  Does her family feel any less pain?

Apparently the "murder victim" line blurs when the saga twists in a direction that will raise the "morals and values" hackles on the necks of some viewers.

Better to just let Lizzi Marriott disappear into the woodwork.

And that is the media passing silent judgment on Lizzi Marriott, which is terribly wrong.

On Christmas Eve, 19-year-old Kat McDonough was arrested on charges connected to Lizzi Marriott's disappearance.  Gone were the personal anecdotes about the young woman who'd volunteered with marine animals and was loved by friends and family in her hometown.

Instead, WMUR's reference to Lizzi Marriott was formal and technical.

A second arrest has been made in the disappearance and death of a University of New Hampshire student.
Michael A. Delaney, New Hampshire attorney general, Dover Police Chief Anthony F. Colarusso Jr., and Col. Robert C. Quinn of the New Hampshire State Police made the announcement on Monday. The officials said that Kathryn McDonough, 19, of Portsmouth, was arrested Monday and charged with two felony counts in connection with the disappearance and death of Elizabeth "Lizzi" Marriott, 19, whose body has not been found.

If you're interested in the basic details, Kat McDonough was evidently dating Seth Mazzaglia.  She and Lizzi Marriott worked together at a nearby Target store and were friends.  Lizzi had plans with McDonough the night she disappeared, and we can infer that those plans involved sexual activity that was more likely than not a bondage-based ménage a trois where something went terribly wrong.

We know that a young woman died when she'd barely had time to experience and enjoy life as an adult.

If you want to judge Lizzi Marriott's sex life, that is your prerogative.  After all, when you put the facts of this sad story into the matrix of your own moral compass, you'll more likely than not feel a little bit differently than if Lizzi had, say, been savagely stabbed by a stranger while walking to class.

What is not okay with me, though, is how the media coverage passed its own judgment.  It is their job to report the news, the facts.  If news outlets had matter-of-factly reported on Lizzi Marriott's disappearance in a hands-off manner from the start and continued in this vein as less-than-savory details emerged, that would be one thing.

What they did, though, is put her into the hearts of viewers initially.  We heard wonderful, personal, touching anecdotes about Lizzi Marriott as a person, as a volunteer, as a hardworking college student.  That angle disappeared as suddenly and shockingly as Lizzi herself, though, when it came to light that she had evidently made a choice to participate in a potentially deadly activity.

And that is just wrong.

Passing judgment is something human beings will always do, no matter what.  However, in the case of Lizzi Marriott, the media took away the rights of viewers to think about what happened and apply it to their own sliding scale of morality.  It skewed our perception of a young woman, first by putting her on a pedestal as "Girl Next Door of the Year, 2012" and then by coldly and callously knocking it away because she let a guy tie her up and choke her during sex.

This post is not about my opinions on Lizzi Marriott and the circumstances leading to her death, although I should probably mention that my older daughter is a college freshman, which makes the young woman more personally accessible to me than she might be to others.      

Instead, it is about the concept of passing judgment.  Do you agree that it's an integral part of being human, or am I way off base there?  What elements should be involved in judgments you make, even if you never say them aloud to anyone?  And does the media have the right to push the morals and values of its parent company when allegedly reporting news?

I'm curious to see what people think about this one ...   

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I Don't Love the Holidays

I used to blog a lot, then I got bogged down with writer's block, life, and foot surgery.  I took a series of "mirror pictures" the other day, and the metaphor of looking at myself in the mirror was not lost on me; it has, if nothing else, made me want to write again, which is a step in the right direction.

So here I am ...

And here goes my latest attempt at musings (I should mention that much of why I've been unable to write lately is because I have so much I want to write about--gun control, the asinine faux celebrations by some groups that are downright insulting when you get right down to it, the use of technology in schools, just to name a few).

Holidays are supposed to be a happy time, right?  I always--always--end up miserable, disillusioned, and feeling downright lonely.

I should make very clear that Christmas was wonderful and incredible for my girls, which is of course the most important thing.

In terms of me personally, though, it boils down to two main things that cause me angst around the holidays.

*  My step-father passed away on December 23 several years ago.  He was one of the best, and I miss him terribly.  My mother has it even worse, and my entire family is honestly pretty down in the dumps at Christmastime.

This year I had a new wrinkle added.

I went to the cemetery on the 23rd, put an ornament on the tree planted there along with a letter I'd written to him, and then I cried a lot.

I learned recently that my stepdad loathed Pythagorus (the blog pseudonym I use for my alcoholic, emotionally abusive ex-husband), felt from the moment he met him that he was weak and unstable.  He found Pythagorus to be completely pathetic, predicting long ago that Pythagorus would self-destruct because ... well, that's what mentally ill people unable to face their problems do when life doesn't go their own way.

I realized that I am angry with him for not telling me that his take on Pythagorus was that he was pretty much a sociopath, a person that sees life only in terms of himself (which is not to say that he didn't do good things but rather that he did them so that people would say, "Wow, what a good person he is!").

In other words, my stepdad had Pythagorus pegged perfectly, knew that he would cause me tremendous pain, yet let it happen anyway.

A sense came to me at the cemetery, a feeling that seemed like a message: "You have Belle, and you wouldn't otherwise."

That is true, and my magical Fairy girl is worth every broken glass and scream and lie and cruelty and bruise and humiliation he put me through.

Coming to terms with my stepdad--who was the best judge of character I've ever met--making a conscious choice to let life happen and the knowledge that it was the right thing to do even though it would epitomize the word "bittersweet" was exhausting, and it made me miss him even more this year.

I would have loved to have a conversation with my stepdad.  I kind of did at the cemetery (I always feel like I've spent time with him after going to his grave), but I wanted more, which made me miss him even more, and ... yeah, it snowballed.

*  I love to give.  The concept of doing things for other people--specifically taking the time to find a way to show the people I love that I care about them--is a beautiful thing to me.

I don't want anything in return.  Honestly, I don't.  And people don't understand when I tell them that.

What ends up happening is that people give me things that show that they don't understand me as well as I'd expected or know how to make me happy in a simple way, which is my preference.  With God as my witness, I'd rather get a piece of maple sugar candy than a diamond necklace.

So I get depressed on that level, which of course leads me to the obvious extension ... am I doing the same thing for other people?  Do I think that I am making them happy by spending time with them or having a lively conversation or giving a gift, and it's truly just depressing the hell out of them because it's all just showing how little I know them?

*  Something really amazing was supposed to be happening right around now.  It's not.  I'm sad.  

I'm realizing writing this post how selfish I sound (I am really and truly not selfish), but I guess I'm wondering if anyone else feels worse during the holiday season than any other time of year.

Here's a specific question for anyone reading this ... feel free to respond in the comments.  What are your thoughts on Yankee Swaps?

Me, I think they're fine for work parties and large social gatherings, but not for family.  The idea of taking the time, energy, and thought out of picking out a gift for someone (which could include a homemade coupon for a backrub or an afternoon of sledding, for example, or something like what Addie did for her grandmother, taking her to see Les Miserables the afternoon of Christmas day) in lieu of spending a little bit of money on something generic that involves absolutely no thought is just distasteful to me.  I realize that this is not a popular view; I almost caused a scene at Thanksgiving when I said I would refuse to participate in a family Yankee Swap (I did try to make clear that if everyone else was good with that, it was fine with me, but I just did not want to participate for reasons that I believe you understand if you're still reading this).

Anyway, I'm rambling ... but at least I'm writing :-)

The next post will be tighter, better organized, and hopefully more thought-provoking instead of me wondering if I'm the only one to wallow in self-pity at Christmastime.     

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Blogging About Life: Hard or Necessary?

One of my students, a gifted young lady with great writing talent and a true passion for picking up on the philosophy in the everyday mundaneness of life, wants to start a blog about the minutiae of what she sees around her every day.

Does anybody have any suggestions for her?  I'm sending her the link to this post, so she will definitely be reading your comments.

Thank you in advance <3 nbsp="nbsp">

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunday Stealing: Have Yous and What Ifs

Rarara, Sunday stealing :-)

1.       Have you anything to confess today?
Actually, yes.  I had foot surgery on Wednesday.  The doctor suggested I take two full weeks off from work, and I was like, “Naaaaaaaah.”  This was especially true because I scheduled the surgery so much of that time was incorporated into Thanksgiving break. 

In other words, I’m going back to work tomorrow and Tuesday, then I am off Wednesday until Sunday.

I have to confess, I wish I’d listened to the doctor.  I am still extremely uncomfortable if I’m not sitting down elevating with a bag of frozen peas on my foot.  Realistically speaking, I am not going to be able to sit, elevate, and ice at work.  This could cause backward progress (which I’d be pretty upset about since I’ve actually been good about sitting and elevating and icing, which is so not my style).

I’m sure I’ll be glad once I get to work (after my clearance appointment tomorrow morning), but I  must confess that I regret my stubborn nature and arrogant tendencies that led me to be confident in returning to work despite the doctor’s recommendation.

It’s going to be a tough couple of days …

2.       Have you ever broken a law? If so, what was it?
I’ve no doubt broken the law before.  It wasn’t anything egregious enough that I was a) caught or b) feel guilty enough to confess it now.  Standard college student stuff.  Maybe taking a road sign or two.  Nothing that sounds remotely significant to who I am today.

3.       Have you ever committed an act of betrayal against a friend or family member? Explain.
Yes, who hasn’t? 

This meme is making me feel really guilty and remorseful of who I used to be.  I’m not that person anymore.  Betrayal—or at least intentional, knowing betrayal, even in the name of “I’m right and s/he is wrong” is a thing of the past for me.

4.       Has someone else done something that, to this day, makes you cringe when you think about them committing the act?
Yes.  I would say that lying to the medical staff at a hospital that just took your blood by swearing on your child’s life that you haven’t had anything to drink and then having your blood alcohol level come up at .39 is pretty pathetic.  The fact that this happened more than once (more than twice, in fact) does indeed make me cringe.  It makes me cry.  It makes me vomit. 

It makes me feel so sorry for you … the truth will set you free, but you will never truly understand that.

5. Have you ever found yourself sexually aroused by someone that you absolutely should not have been?
I think anyone that answers “no” to this question is lying.  Sexual arousal is a visceral thing that you really have no control over.  That being said, I’m not going to start listing midgets and magicians and stuff …

6. Have you ever cheated at school? How so?
I had a friend that went on to major in Latin in college.  I’m sure I utilized her (and her homework) more than was healthy according to the academic honesty charter. 

Otherwise, though, no … I find cheating abhorrent.  The fact that kids today are able to do it frequently and pretty much without consequence has really gotten me rethinking my career, in fact. 

I have serious procrastination issues, so I had to get to the point where I was willing and able to work all night to get work I’d put off done, but I figured it out eventually.  Failing Algebra I and having to go to summer school was also something of a wake-up call.

7. What if you came across a backpack stuffed with one hundred thousand dollars. Would you keep it?
I’m one of those schmucks that would bring it to the police station.  Yes, I’m serious.  No, I wouldn’t take any.  I would hope that the owner was located and would want to give me a reward, but my luck as such that this would probably not happen.

It would make a hell of a story, though ;-)

8. What if you were the most powerful person in the world. How would you use that power?
I would rid the world of assholes.  It would take care of the population problem and make the world a better place.

9. What if you found a magic lamp?
I would be unable to resist the urge to rub it.  I mean, there has to be something to the myth, right?

10. What if you could change one thing about the world. What would that one thing be?
I would make it impossible for assholes to be successful.  Have you ever noticed that, by and large, people in positions of power are complete bullies?  It’s criminal …  My mother always says, “The pendulum swings” and that, in this day and age, nobody with a heart and strong morals would be willing to take on the responsibility of power when everything is so powered by political correctness.  Changing the rules for people based on who they are, however, is wrong.  Period.  This is especially true when you would totally nail someone else to the wall for the same thing.  Hypocrisy, lies, incompetence … the world is permeated with them, and it needs to change.    

I've adopted a "pay it forward" approach.  I'm not sure if I'll reap the benefits personally, but I've certainly benefited from the act of giving :-)

11. What if you could take one thing back. What would that one thing be?
As hard as this is to say, I would take nothing back.  Everything that happens to you—the good, the bad, and the ugly—give you character and shape who you are.  Giving that up would change the essence of who you are…

12. What if you were stuck on an island forever but had all the water, food and shelter you needed. What would you do?
I’d think a lot.  And figure out how to make paper and a writing implement. 

13. What if the internet didn't exist?
I go through phases where I can’t get enough of the internet, and other times when I don’t even use it at all.  A couple of months ago, I would have died without the internet.  This week, I’m seriously contemplating giving my iPhone to my mother and picking up one of the old flip phones circa early 2000s.

14. What if you never started blogging?
I’d have a lot fewer friends on Facebook ;-p

Nah, seriously, I would have missed out on knowing some incredible people.  I would also not be as strong a writer as I am … the practice and the authentic audience and being able to interact with people on their own blogs is just an incredible experience.

I love you all <3 o:p="o:p">

15. What are your November 22 Thanksgiving plans?
I am still going to be recuperating from my foot surgery, so I’ll be sitting on my derriere, elevating, and icing.  I’ve been charged with peeling potatoes. 

We are having approximately twenty people over.  Eating a turkey raised by one of my students.  Having steak on the grill for those of us that don’t like turkey.  Lots of people.  Lots of pie.

We’re playing Apples to Apples.  It should be a blast J

Monday, November 12, 2012

Strange Things Afoot: Freiberg's Infraction

I'm having foot surgery on Wednesday, which has been the cause of a great deal of recent angst.  And pain.  And such.

A lot of people have asked, "What's wrong? What kind of foot surgery? Did you injure it?" and so on, so I figured I'd write an explanation.

My right foot has bothered me off and on since I was in high school.  It had just been a minor annoyance with an occasional flare-up of short-lived agony until fairly recently, so it was just easier to ignore it.  It's gotten progressively worse, though, to the point where I finally went to a podiatrist.

It should be noted at this time that I hate feet.  I. HATE. FEET.

So the first time I went to the podiatrist, I received a phone call from Belle's school saying that the kids were being dismissed immediately because of a sewage issue.  When the doctor walked in for the first time, I said, "I have to go ... sewage emergency."  (I have a bad habit of saying stupid things before thinking of how they'll sound).  The doctor was very nice about it (I did elaborate, by the way, on what I meant), and I got the appointment rescheduled.

Anyway, they did x-rays and stuff at the rescheduled appointment, and I have something called Freiberg's Infraction.

Which, by the way, doesn't show up anywhere--not WebMd, not anywhere!  I didn't pay attention when the doctor was explaining the condition because I figured I'd just Google it, but it was crazy.  The only stuff I could find was written by doctors, and I don't speak science.  My mother, who usually translates medical jargon for me, was in Ireland when I received this news, so I rather hysterically started stalking my sister (she's a microbiologist, which is obviously different from a medical doctor, but she does speak "doctor").  Mary, as always, came through for me, learning more about Freiberg's Infraction than most doctors, I think, and even making a model of where my surgery scar will be and such.

So, basically, I injured my foot when I was a teenager (before the growth plate closed).  The second metatarsal, to be exact.  Over time, the cartilage between my second toe and the metatarsal bone disappeared, then the bone itself started breaking down (the official word is "necrosed", which of course means "dead" ... have I mentioned that I hate feet?).

It's gotten to the point where it is very painful, and the toe will "pop out" (I don't know how to put it better than that) once in awhile, which freaking kills.

So, yeah, surgery on Wednesday to reshape the bone and such.  Gross.  I hate feet ;-p

The pain is such, however, that I can't decide if I'm dreading this surgery or looking forward to it (because I want it to stop hurting).

Yeah, the recovery doesn't sound like much fun either.

For three days, I have to sit on my ass with my foot elevated above my heart.  Ice on for an hour, off for an hour.  Painkillers.  Not able to do anything.

The sitting on my ass/elevating foot is a constant for two weeks.  I can't drive.  I have to wear a sexy surgical shoe.

I don't do well with sitting on my ass.  I am feeling claustrophobic at the very thought of not being able to drive.  I'm glad that I got a few gift certificates to Barnes and Noble for my birthday last month as I'm going to to be racking up the Nook purchases.  There's always TV, I suppose.  A lot of family coming for Thanksgiving.  Missing work (ugh!) and not being able to do jack for a couple of weeks.

I'm just trying to focus on how nice it will be when this is over and my foot doesn't hurt on a regular basis.  It's just going to be a pain--both literal and figurative--getting there.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Stealing: Who Are You? (Part 7)

Late to the party (as usual), but here's my contribution to Sunday Stealing this week.  If you don't do Sunday Stealing, you should.  It's very fun :-)

Who Are you? Part 7 – It is Over!

Part 7: Self Image

84. Describe the routine of a normal day for you:
What is normal?

During the week, I get up at 5:30ish, watch the news, snuggle with Belle while drinking coffee, then go to work.

That's a weekday constant in the morning ... otherwise, my life is chaos.

85. What is your greatest strength as a person?
Not feeling like many exist at the moment ... not exactly loving life these days.

86. What is your greatest weakness?
There is not enough room to list the myriad of flaws I possess

87. Are you going to run for President in 2016?
Nah ... politics are so disingenuous.  I have many, many faults, but I hate doublespeak, lying, distortion, and being forced to see how ignorant many of my fellow Americans are ... and how certain politicians play them like a freaking musical instrument.

As an example, a couple of my FB friends posted a pic lambasting Obama for killing an American citizen.  While technically true, this happened in Yemen, and the guy was a terrorist.  They left that part out ... actually, they clearly didn't know it.  It makes me sad.  It makes me disillusioned.  And it's on both sides of the proverbial aisle, although that's the one that's coming to my mind right now.

However, Belle has decided that she's going to run for president.  She's planning out her platform already.  It's really quite entertaining ...

88. Are you generally self-contained?
No idea, so probably not.

89. Are you generally organized or messy?
I'm messy.  Hygienic, but messy.

90. Name three things you consider yourself to be very good at, and three things you consider yourself to be very bad at:
Good at--reading ... and that's about all I've got right now.
Bad at--everything else.  I'm going through a negative period ... sorry, I know that's no fun for anybody.

91. Do you like your neighbors? Do they like you?
No idea, and I don't care.

92. Are you different in public then you act among friends?'
Depends on the day.

93. What goal do you most want to accomplish in your lifetime?
Eh, whatever.

94. Where do you see yourself in 4 years?
Let me get through this week, then I'll get back to you on that.

95. If you could choose, how would you want to leave this world?

96. If you had only one week to live, what three things would be bumped up on the bucket list?
I threw my bucket list out the window because I just don't care anymore.

97. What is one thing about you that really stands out?
No idea.

98. What three words best describe your personality?
Depends. On. Day.

99. What three words would others probably use to describe you? 
No idea.

100. What advice do you have to give?
Be kind to others.  Be aware of the world around you and what goes on in it.  Don't take the word of other people; live and see (and research) for yourself.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Are Heroes Necessary ... Or Not?

I frame the classes I teach in terms of an overarching "essential question" ... in other words, a question with no clear-cut answer intended to get my students thinking.  The literature we read, writing assignments we undertake, and pretty much everything that we explore in class can be tied back to that question, leading to higher order thinking on the part of students that is often just completely mind-blowing.

The essential question for my English 10 class is, "What does it mean to be a hero?" and, while it seems simple on the surface, the kids have already proven that it's possible to take it to intense philosophical depths.

The class had a seminar discussion focused on their initial understandings shortly after school started then had to write a reflection based on our whole-class conversation.

One of my students, an incredibly deep thinker who forces me to think in directions that are way beyond "out of the box" on a regular basis, asked for extended time as he grappled with articulating his thoughts on paper.  I was happy to accommodate his request as his ideas are always so original and thought-provoking.

This paper was no exception.

I was so impressed, in fact, that I talked to him about "publication" so that his contemplation on what it means to be a hero could be shared with a wider audience.  He was very excited about the idea, so I am posting his paper here in its entirety in the hopes that you will comment extensively on his points and an online discussion can transpire.  People from all over the world could potentially read, think about, and respond to his thoughts and reflections ... for this student, this would be unspeakably exciting.

And selfishly, I'm very curious to see what others think about it ... I know that it certainly raised my own concept of heroism to a new plateau.

The following was written by a sophomore in high school; while I've fixed spelling and grammar errors, the content is 100% his.  Please weigh in, as this is a kid who thrives on thinking ... being the impetus for an in-depth conversation beyond the classroom would be exciting and extremely valuable for him.

Thank you in advance :-)
The discussion really opened my eyes up to what the rest of the world sees as heroes.  Some people think of heroes as an idiot who dresses up in tights and flies around the city, other minds go straight to military personnel as well as policemen and firefighters.  Perhaps the most common definition of a hero is someone you look up to.

I used to disagree with the thought of heroes, and this is why.  There are a few things that everyone knows.

1.  As a person, we always want to be better.

2.  No one is perfect.

So it seemed to make sense that heroes are just a way to get let down, and why would I set my sights at anything less than perfect?  If "perfect" is where I wanted to be ...  I figured following a hero is just the blind leading the blind, thinking they're not lost.

As I thought more, I decided I was right, no doubts, but I couldn't leave it at that.  If I wasn't going to look up to a person, what was I going to do?

Some people use religion.  They follow their God, much like a hero (e.g., "What would Jesus do?"), and this can act as their motivation and be used to set goals as a replacement to a hero.

I thought about this, too, and this didn't seem to work, either.  It seems as a way to label the world is out of my control.  Even if this is striving for perfection, I know I can only be as big as I will let myself be.

So still with no ideas what or who to look up to, who I wanted to be like, et cetera, I kept thinking, and I came across a thought.  A BIG thought.  I was looking in the wrong spot.  I shouldn't be looking up, I should be looking in.  

As wrong and unorthodox as it seems, with this idea everything seemed to make sense.  I'll be my own hero.  Instead of looking up to another person, I look up to the person I can (and will) become instead of saying, "I want to grow up and be like him."  I say, when I grow up, I just want to be me, the best me I can be.

This idea just works for me.  It uses no labels and no limits.  It gives room for infinite potential, and I know I won't have to worry about being too like anybody else.

In the end, if you think you need a hero, you're dead wrong, and if you still think heroes fly around in tights, I feel bad for you.

Honestly, I don't care what anybody thinks after reading this because I found my hero, and it's ...
*  my imagination
*  my inner self
*  and my future
rolled into one good thought.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Legitimate Rape" and the Crazy Sheriff Candidate: Oh, What a World

Like most people with an IQ and a heart, I am still reeling from insensitive, untrue, and utterly disgusting comments made by Missouri Senate wannabe Todd Akin.  To wit, Akin basically analogized being raped to stubbing your toe.

And, according to Akin, those extremely rare occasions (sense the sarcasm here) where "legitimate rape" occurs almost never result in unwanted pregnancies because "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Yeah, this ignorant, insensitive buffoon could arguably be elected to the legislative branch of the United States Government ... scary.

Let me tell you about rape.

It's probably the worst crime that can possible be committed.  Let me list the ways ...

1.  It hurts.  Unspeakably.  And, if you're unlucky, you deal with the physical repercussions for many years.
2.  It is arguably the most under-reported crime because, let's face it, how humiliating would it be to go to a police officer and say, "I was raped?"  It shouldn't be, but it is ... 
3.  Even if you do have the guts to go to the police, it's very difficult to "prove" rape.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but how are authorities to put a judgment call on consensual sex vs. rape when there are so many variables?  So even those who do come forward are often told by authorities, "Yeah, too bad, so sad, there's not a lot we can do."
4.  Years later, you still break out in a cold sweat and get nauseous and remember when it happened to you when you hear the word "rape" or read about it in a book or see a news story or whatever.
5.  You feel dirty, ashamed, and as though you did something wrong ... even when you know intellectually that the only mistake you made was getting a drink with a friend of a friend of a friend that you didn't know.
6.  It destroys your trust in everyone and everything, and it permeates its ugliness into all facets of your life.  If I have to deal with a male in a position of authority (a bank manager, a boss, a police officer) and it gets remotely acrimonious, I am back to being intimidated by a man ... and I do not act my best.

Yes, as you've probably figured out, I have some personal experiences with this subject.  I have alluded before, both on this site and on Zelda Lily, to the fact that I was raped when I was twenty-one, but this crap with Todd Akin has made it important to me that I don't just say, "This guy's an idiot" but explain why his words are so painful.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, by the way, have publicly stated that their ticket would not oppose abortion in cases of rape or incest (good for them, I say ... they did not hesitate to come down on what I believe to be the right side--pun not intended--and I commend them for that), and virtually every Republican in the country is calling for Akin to step down.

But this is a little bit more complicated than just some nutjob from Missouri making inflammatory remarks about rape victims and using them as pawns in the abortion debate.

See, New Hampshire has its own nutjob at the moment, and he's running for Sheriff of Hillsborough County.

[Sheriff Candidate Frank] Szabo may have inflamed the issue further when asked if he would use deadly force to prevent an abortion.

"I would respond specifically by saying that if someone is under threat, a full-grown human being, if they're under threat, what should the sheriff do? Everything in their power to prevent them from being harmed," he said.

When pressed about what he would do if he learned that a doctor was about to perform an elective abortion, Szabo replied he would do what it took to prevent that from happening.
"Absolutely," he said. "Well, I would hope that it wouldn't come to that, as with any situation where someone is in danger, but again, specifically talking about elective abortions and late-term abortions, that is an act that needs to be stopped."

So an abortion that happens as the result of a rape should lead to prosecution ... of the doctor?  Clearly Frank Szabo, Todd Akin, and their ilk have never been raped.  

I understand that abortion is a high-emotion issue; trust me, I understand that, and I would never judge anybody for their opinions on this.  I know and love people that are vehemently pro-choice, vehemently anti-abortion, and everywhere in between.  

Abortion is not the point of this post.  No, the point is the sick depths to which people will sink in politics ... and I guess the realization that it doesn't matter as much to you if it doesn't hit close to home.  When it does strike you where you live, so to speak, though, it is one thing to internalize it and be angry and bitter and so on.

It is something else entirely to say, "Not only are these men ignorant and dangerous in terms of the policies they would obviously be lobbying for, but they have no concept of the surprisingly large number of people they are hurting with this."

I didn't have the courage to speak out almost fifteen years ago.  It took me over ten years to tell anyone about what happened to me.  

But I cannot keep my mouth (or my laptop) closed on this one ... rape survivors have a voice, and I have kept mine silent for too long.  Out of honor and respect for those who are not able to do so, I say this now: speak out against Frank Szabo and Todd Akin, and certainly do not vote for them.  

Their insensitivity is telling of their leadership skills ... or lack thereof.

I had a pretty rough day yesterday ... with all of this on my mind (and the things it brought back), I guess it's no wonder ... maybe I should stop watching the news ;-).  Writing this has made me feel much better, though, even as I know I'm nearing the end of it and have to debate whether or not to hit the "Publish" button or just keep it to myself.  If you're reading this, I guess you'll know ...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Bittersweet Tale of the Jelly Bean Puzzle

If you are my Facebook friend, you have no doubt heard much about the jelly bean puzzle.  It has sort of consumed my life in a way, and it's brought up a lot of emotions that are ... well, quite frankly, difficult.

A couple of weeks ago, Belle started going through this puzzle phase.  Basically, she did every single puzzle we had in the house (virtually all of them fairly simple ... they're all Disney Princess and Fancy Nancy children's puzzles).

It struck a chord with me, to say the least.  See, I used to love doing puzzles.  It was one of my absolute favorite activities.

The problem is, it was an activity that I shared with my stepfather.  I would start doing a puzzle on the dining room table, and he would grouse at me about it, then the next thing I knew, he would be helping me with it.  We would have epic puzzle events, and on more than one occasion we would glue and frame the end result (we took on some tough ones).

Sometimes it would take us days to get through puzzles.  A lot of the time, we worked on the current puzzle together.  Sometimes, he'd get home from work and I'd have made a ton of progress.  Often, I'd get home from school and find that he'd gotten huge sections done.  If we were stymied, we'd work together.

I haven't done a puzzle since my stepdad's death in 2004.

While I love both my mother and my father very much, there were complexities that did not exactly allow us to have the best of relationships.

My mother suffers from hypothyroidism, and before she was diagnosed and began medication ... well, walking on eggshells is the best way I can think of to describe it.  You never knew what would set her off, and she caused deeper scars with words than I can express.  I also tended to get the brunt of it, for reasons that are skeletons in my family closet.

The same can be said of why my (and my siblings') relationship with my father is so complicated.  It is not my intent to air dirty laundry, particularly laundry that dates back to when I was a sixth grader.  Life goes on.

And I am the first to admit that I was not an easy child, an easy teen, or, for a long time, an easy adult.

Which is why my stepdad was so important to me.  He accepted me the way I was, held me accountable for my actions without being cruel and abusive, and did not allow me to take myself too seriously.  He also buffered my often-acrimonious relationship with my mother and allowed us to appreciate and even come to like each other (you can love without liking, and I think my mother and I had that dynamic for quite a long time).

When he passed, I descended into a depression so deep that I wasn't even aware of it.  I had never been able to depend on anyone or anything until my stepdad came into the picture, and losing him left me so lost and adrift that I couldn't even verbalize it.  Trying to support my mom without letting her know how lost I was also presented a challenge.

My mother and stepfather were truly, madly, and deeply in love, and I cannot imagine the pain she suffered, then and now.  My own loss, deep as it was, pales next to what my mother has gone through since the lung cancer death sentence came down.    

Ironically, it was Pythagorus' fall into mental illness and alcoholism that snapped me out of my own multi-year zombie state of loss and pain.  Someone had to be strong for the kids ... after all, hadn't that been what my stepdad had done for me?  He would have been disgusted, utterly appalled, by Pythagorus' actions, would have felt unspeakable disdain for the man who had shaken to the core the lives of his beloved granddaughters, and I didn't want to be in the category of people who would disappoint my stepdad in any way.  

As I pulled myself out of the mess my life had someone become, it was my stepdad's face that I kept in front of me.  It was his strength that got me through, and I came to terms with his death in the process, strange as that sounds.

I've come quite far away from the who puzzle thing ...

When Belle got on her puzzle kick, I decided that I would get a more challenging puzzle that she and I could do together, that it would be a way for us to bond the way that my stepdad and I had.

However, I clearly got a little overzealous with my choice of puzzle--a 1,000 piece monster made entirely of various colors of jelly beans.

Suffice it to say, I'm out of practice vis a vis the wild world of jigsaw puzzles, and Belle quickly found that this was a different kind of thing altogether and lost interest.

Progress has definitely been made ...

There is lots of work left to do, however, and it is a bittersweet experience for me.

Part of me keeps hoping that my stepdad will show up, because this was our absolutely favorite kind of puzzle--quite a challenge, and one that can be worked on a little bit at a time.

I'm just feeling like I'm not up to the task all by myself, and like I said, Belle bailed.

I'm going to keep on trucking, though.  Even if it takes me a month, I am going to get this stupid puzzle finished.  And then I am going to glue it and frame it and keep it for always, because even though it didn't necessarily allow Belle and I to bond in the way I'd hoped, it's given me back a little bit more of my stepdad ... in a healthy and not-depressed way, if that makes sense.

I am deeply happy working on this puzzle even while I'm incredibly sad.  Does that make any sense?

So anyway, that's the story of why the jelly bean puzzle that I've been bemoaning on Facebook is more than just a puzzle ...


Note: School starts for me on Friday (I know, I can't believe it, either), which is also the day that Addie leaves for college.  I am going to be pretty busy (and strung out) the next week or so, but I have some great guest posts lined up--one from my favorite student of all time, one from my good buddy Martin over at From Sand to Glass, and one from a friend of Henry's who's become my good friend too over Facebook (don't you love technology?).  I hope you'll enjoy all of them (I think they're pretty amazing :-)), and if you're interested in writing a guest post, drop me an e-mail.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Stealing: Our Players' Meme

Ah, Sunday Stealing, it's been awhile ... The bonus of doing a regular weekly meme is that it gives you some really interesting ideas for future blog posts.  Oh, and it's a great way to wake up on a Sunday morning while you drink the requisite coffee :-)  

1. You have been awarded the time off from work and an all-expenses paid week anywhere in the United States. The catch is that it must be somewhere you have not been before. Where do you choose to visit? 
Somewhere in the south, where I've never been in reality (other than driving through on the way to Florida as a kid) but have been extensively through literature.  Is South Carolina what Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons made it for me?  And how about Alabama, where I grew up alongside Scout Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird?  

2. Name three of your guilty pleasures.
Coffee, cheeseburgers, and reading.

3. The best kind of Girl Scout Cookie is:
Tagalongs.  Oh my gosh, I can put those things away by the box ... I am not buying ANY Girl Scout cookies this year.  It never ends well ...

4. What do you value most in other people? 
Humor.  Even if you're an asshole, I'll find some sort of redeeming value if you can make me laugh.

5. Be honest. Do you sneak some raw cookie dough when you’re baking cookies?
I don't cook, but what I have been known to do is worse.  Yeah, you know the pre-made cookie dough they sell at the grocery store?  I've been known to buy that for the sole purpose of ... well, not baking it. Haha, I don't think I've ever admitted that before ;-)

6. Have you ever looked back at your life and realized that something you thought was a bad thing was actually a blessing in disguise?!

7. What is the most beautiful place you’ve ever visited? 
I think it would have to be Bar Harbor in Maine.  I love my little tiny slice of New Hampshire ocean, but seeing the ocean in Maine surrounded by mountains and forests, and the water is this unbelievable shade of blue, and it is just the most beautiful place ever.  

8. Are you more of a thinker or a feeler? 
I feel first and think later.  I do both equally, but it's more of a sequential thing with me than with many people, I think.  It's something I'm working on ... not a great way to be.

9. Name three things you are thankful for right now.
My family, having a job I love, and coffee.

10. Have you ever participated in a three-legged race? 
Haha, yes.  It was a drunken college thing.  It did not end well.  (I seem to say that a lot...)

11. When you are at an event that plays the National Anthem, do you place your hand over your heart?
This is going to sound really stupid, but I didn't know you were supposed to.  The Pledge of Allegiance, yes.  "The Star Spangled Banner"?  I thought standing and removing your hat were sufficient to show respect.  Since I've started attending more events where this comes up, I've started placing my hand over my heart because half the audience does, and I don't want to look disrespectful.  However, I'm still not sure if this is right or not ...
Second meme: 

12. What kind of work do you do?
I am a high school English teacher.  That means I'm a psychologist, a psychic, a clown, a philosopher, a referee, a coach, a technology expert, a cheerleader, a warden, a facilitator, and about a hundred other hats.   

13. During the course of your lifetime, which job or career has been your favorite or most fulfilling?
Teaching, no question.  Of course, the other options include things like wearing the rat costume at Chuck E. Cheese's and working third shift at Cumby's, so it's kind of a no-brainer ;-)

14. Do you think it’s necessary in your life to have a day-to-day “career” that is meaningful and service-oriented or do you function better in “just a job” with a steady paycheck?
Absolutely.  If I didn't love my job, I would certainly find something that paid better.  I discovered last year that I made more money bartending than I do teaching, which is scary.  Teaching is far more than a job to me, and the stories you collect are just amazing ... even better than the ones you get while bartending.  

15. Was there ever a time in your life when you wanted to stay home with your children instead of working, even if it meant less money in the household?
Of course ... although I still think I am a much better mother because I work.  It makes the time I have with my girls a hundred times more valuable, plus dealing with kids all day makes me appreciate them more.  I have really enjoyed this summer, actually, since I've gotten to spend a lot of time home with my kids ... where Addie basically asks for money to go out with her friends and Belle's incessant chattering begins to wear thin after awhile to the point where I direct her to the television (I'm exaggerating, of course, but I've found that it's not exactly all it's cracked up to be)

16. Tell us your worst boss story.
I have to plead the fifth on this one.  Make sure to read my memoir when it comes out, though ...

17. Have your ever been the boss?
Not the BIG boss, no way.  My skill set is not exactly suited for being a boss.  I'm great at being a high school English teacher, so why would I want more than that?  Some of my colleagues are all about going back to school to get certified as administrators, and I am honestly puzzled by that.

18. What is your dream occupation?
A published author.  But "high school English teacher" is the ultimate fallback :-)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rereading Books--Do You or Don't You?

I am an avid rereader of books, and I find myself having to explain why on a fairly regular basis in a variety of settings and situations.

I don't know why the concept of rereading is so foreign to some people.  I can't imagine just reading a book once, and saying, "That was cool" or, "That really got me thinking" or, "I am so appalled at this piece of garbage I can't understand how it's on the freaking best-seller list when I can't get my book published", or whatever.

The only argument I can think of against rereading a book, in fact, is the reality that there are so many books out there and only a limited amount of time.

But I am a dork.  I don't just read books, I live them.  I allow them to change my life, my philosophies, my beliefs, and my outlook on things.  Many of my books are in execrable condition, in fact, because I fall asleep on them, write in them, and occasionally throw them against the wall (yes, Stephen King, it's true ... I should have heeded your advice toward the end of the final Dark Tower book and just stopped when you warned me to).

I also learned how to read at a freakishly young age.  I read Cujo as a first grader, and as you can imagine, the book is rather different as a teen or an adult.  I can remember picking up a copy of The Thorn Birds at my family's beach house when summer when I was eight or nine (I'd read pretty much every other book there by then) and loving the writing, the history, the characters, but knowing somehow that I was missing the point.  There are some points you just can't get when you haven't reached puberty.

I've also found that books are very different to me based on where I am at in my own life.

I have read this book over 200 times.  I also teach it.
I was a child when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, and so I identified with Scout.  I was a tomboy.  My father was a lawyer, and not just a lawyer but one that was occasionally involved in cases that touched him on a moral basis.  I was a tomboy with an older brother.  And so on.

As I grew older, though, I read Harper Lee's masterpiece through many, many lenses.  When I became a teacher and realized the cruelty that some kids are raised with, my heart ached for Boo Radley and the Ewell children.  Coming to the whole "the universe works" conclusion about life, dealing with rape on a personal level, recognizing that there are truly evil people in the world, understanding that change comes through a lot of hard work and bitterness over the course of time ... TKAM was always there for me.

And then there's the enrichment that TKAM gave me in terms of other works of literature.  I loved Joe R. Lansdale's The Bottoms (and strongly recommend it if you haven't read it), but I would not have appreciated it the same way if not for Lee's work.  My Truman Capote phase was far cooler because I just thought of him as Dill.

It's not just Harper Lee and, of course, Stephen King (whose Dark Tower series completely altered my belief system).

Simply put, there are almost no books I've only read once ... and I've read an awful lot of books.

So how about you?  Do you reread?  Are you a selective rereader (in other words, are there some books you'll tackle more than once, but it's not the norm)?  Or are you of the ilk that reads a book once and calls it good?

I don't judge any approaches, by the way ... I'm just curious about where the wider world stands on the issue (I know my family, friends, and students think I'm kind of bizarre regarding books).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grocery Store Routines

I seem to go to the grocery store at least once a day.

I know some people plan ahead, shop for the week, even clip coupons.

Me, despite my best efforts, I always forget something. Usually the list.

So, yeah, that's my confession--daily (at least) trips to the store. I can blame my spaciness. The fact that my kids often have special requests (and how do you say no to Cranapple juice and blueberries?)

Just wondering of anyone else has this odd life eccentricity...

Guest Post: Modern-Day Alice in Wonderland?

This guest post was written by my friend and colleague Denise Mason.  In another life, Denise would have been a scientist because she is brilliant and insightful and remarkable; instead, Denise was, like me, a victim of the period of time when smart kids with learning disabilities weren't exactly encouraged to excel.  As a result (and fortunately for the kids in my school), Denise became a teacher--and if you ever want to know how to be a rigorous, "fun" teacher who blows things up (in a safe and controlled manner) and somehow gets students to think for themselves, figuring out their own solutions to student-generated problems, talk to Denise--she's one of the best.  

Incidentally, I had to force Denise to write this.  She has writing phobia because her writing got slammed her entire life.  I've told her repeatedly that her spelling and grammar is pretty rough but her ideas are wonderful and her voice is strong.  It's confidence she lacks.

As K-Lo knows, I am a science geek to the core. I am fascinated by science and how we can use our reasoning to understand the world. I also have a slight philosophical leaning and always wonder about our higher purpose and how we as individuals fit into any master plan for the universe.

I’ve been home sick, so I was watching the documentary "What the #$"! Do we Know!?" I decided to watch it because I had been pondering a recent post by Katie on artistic genius. The purpose of the documentary was to bring science, spirituality, and philosophy together to understand how we influence our world rather than a higher being controlling us, so it fight right in with what was already on my mind.

The documentary started off by delving into recent theories in quantum physics. The premise is mind blowing! It suggests that our perceptions of reality might not be real. What we perceive to be solid is mostly empty and what we see as being in one place may be in fact in two. They compare our perceptions to holograms. It then went on to discuss how this is then supported by how our brains actually work, which leads to the ultimate idea that our very thoughts could create our reality.

An especially mind-blowing scene was a discussion about the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto and his research on water molecules. His well known books, Messages from Water -Vols. I, II, and III, demonstrate that by humans thinking positive thoughts, water would form beautiful snowflake pattern crystals when frozen but, when thoughts turned negative, it formed a sloppy, indistinct mess.

Just imagine the impact of our thoughts on humans (which are 90% water) and on the earth (which is made up of 70% water)!. So if our thoughts can determine water patterns, imagine the power of humanities' thoughts on the world!

In other words, how we think about our world ultimately determines our reality. If you wake up thinking it will be a bad day, it will. If you consciously plan to have a great day and fulfill your hopes and dreams, you will. Visualize the collective power of human consciousness.

The movie as a whole was incredibly thought-provoking! It challenges our perceptions about the universe and our role in it. I can’t say I agree with everything it said; what I can say, though, is that it makes me want to be more mindful of my thoughts and actions to lead a more positive life.

The documentary ends with the thought provoking question “So, Alice, how far do you want to go down the rabbit hole?”

Speaking for myself, I find that I'm already at the bottom wondering, "Do I drink the potion or not?"

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's Easier to Complain Than to Say, "Good Job!" ... and How Sad is That?

I had an interesting epiphany about human nature yesterday ... and it wasn't exactly one that speaks well to us, at least when you make a basic generalization that's unfortunately all too easy to make.

Why is it that, if something goes wrong in a restaurant or grocery store or autobody shop or whatever, people are very quick to complain, but it's fairly rare for customers to go out of their way to point out exceptional work?

I've worked many a customer service job over the years--Chuck E. Cheese's, Water Country, Cumberland Farms, and so on.  If the pizza had a bubble on it or an item was accidentally priced wrong, many people had a knee jerk reaction to go utterly nuclear.

I was fifteen when I started working at Water Country, a local water amusement park, and one of my first jobs was "bag checker".  There were signs all over the place outside the admissions area stating that no glass is allowed inside.  I mean, picture a bunch of little kids in bathing suits running around with bare feet and you can probably imagine why this policy existed.  And, I repeat, there were signs before you even walked into the park clearly stating this.

On my first day at work, a woman came up to my checking station, and her cooler was full of glass.  It was almost like she'd gone out of her way to locate glass containers of everything.  When I told her that she couldn't bring it into the park, she hit the roof.  I suggested that we had paper cups with lids that she could transfer her mayonnaise and stuff into, and then ...

Well, she hit me.  Yup, she grabbed a bag of hamburger buns out of her bag and threw it in my face.  She had excellent aim, and I suspect she could throw a decent fastball.  

She also had a pretty good selection of wine coolers that she'd hidden under her baby in the poor kid's stroller (security picked up on this when they were removing her from the park ... I hadn't gotten a chance to look at the stroller for contraband, and I wasn't getting any closer to her after the hamburger bun incident).

And yet, as she was forcibly removed from the park, she was screaming about what a horrible place Water Country was, how shabbily she'd been treated, and so forth.  It was just crazy--she didn't get what she wanted, so she was going to complain (and loudly--I'm pretty sure she'd already dipped into the wine coolers).

Remember the woman who sued McDonald's for quite a chunk of change after getting burned from coffee purchased at a drive up window?  God forgive me, all I could think about was that she sounded like the kind of customer that would have been freaking out, demanding her money back, and possibly throwing any available bags of hamburger buns if her coffee had come out cold.  And while I feel badly for her (third-degree burns in the vaginal region ... *shiver*), she ordered hot coffee ... what the heck did she expect?  And this woman was pulled over adding cream and sugar when she spilled the coffee ... it's not like the Mickey D's employee dumped it in her lap.

But I'm veering quite far afield of my point.

There is nothing wrong with an expectation of competency by employees in any field.  In fact, customers should be treated with respect and given what they are paying for.  

But why is it so less common for exceptionally good work to be lauded than for exceptionally poor work to be noted?

I got a flat tire yesterday, and it was a bad scene.  My car has all wheel drive, so the traction control went kerflooey once the spare tire was on ... the speedometer didn't move, emergency lights telling me that the brake system failed flashing, just a horrible experience.

Anyway, I called the VIP store I do business with (VIP is an auto parts, tires, and service chain, based primarily in the northeastern United States, I believe).  The experience I had was so exceptional that I sent the following e-mail to John Quirk, the company's president and CEO.

Dear Mr. Quirk,

I am writing to commend three of the employees at your Stratham, NH VIP store.  While I have always had positive experiences at this location, I felt strongly enough about my recent incident to let you know about the outstanding customer service I received from these three gentlemen.

I got a flat tire in Manchester and, while I was able to get the spare tire on, the traction control on my vehicle caused the speedometer to stop working and for emergency brake lights to flash repeatedly.  Needless to say, I was petrified.  I called the Stratham VIP store in a fairly distressed state.  I spoke to an employee named Chris on the phone, who calmed me down and reassured me about the situation.  

When I arrived at the store, Chris assisted me with identifying the tire as a complete loss and explained how I would be able to get some of the warranty I had on the tire based on the tire tread.  The tire was not in stock, but he ordered it immediately and gave me an estimate and a timeline.

I then mentioned a sway bar that had been mentioned as a future concern the last time I'd had my car in for work, and he asked the mechanic looking at the tire situation to look into that.  He then prepared another estimate based on the sway bar.

At this point, the mechanic, a gentleman named Mike came out front quickly to make sure I knew that the tie rod was also a serious concern.  Mike explained that the tie rod was actually a higher priority than the sway bar.

Your employee Robie oversaw the entire lengthy exchange and got right on the phone to parts stores to locate a tie rod for my car (it's evidently a part they had to order from another company because my car has very specific dimensions), and Robie went out of his way to call around and get the best price available.  The initial estimate ("worst case financial scenario") was changed by a fairly significant amount of money because he took the time to make those phone calls.

Robie, Mike, and Chris all told me repeatedly that they were "just doing their job", but the effort they put into creating multiple estimates in my best interest while focusing on other customers was exemplary.  It was a time-consuming process that they apologized for while making it very clear that they were doing everything possible to take care of my car as quickly and financially-friendly as possible.

I am a single mother working two jobs, so I appreciated the lengths they went to in order to keep the necessary work done at the best possible price.  I am also a high school teacher, and these three gentlemen exemplified the morals, values, respect, politeness, and work ethic that I strive to bring out in my students and in my own children.

Customer service is an area that is often overlooked in this day and age, and I wanted to make sure you were aware of the outstanding combination of customer service and obvious knowledge about their work demonstrated by Robie, Mike, and Chris.

I felt so strongly about my positive experience that I asked for a contact person that I could express this to. The gentlemen assured me that I didn't have to let anyone know just how pleased I was by their outstanding work, that they were "just doing their jobs". However, people always seem to want to complain when something isn't done well; it saddens me that it's much rarer for people to take the time to express positive experiences.

Therefore, I wanted to make sure you were aware of the outstanding employees you have in Robie, Mike, and Chris. 

Katie Loud
(an extremely satisfied VIP customer)

A bit long-winded, I know, but you cannot imagine how grateful I was.

Even more, though, I think I went a little bit overboard because I spent a lot of time yesterday afternoon and this morning wondering why it is so rare for someone to recognize and commend in some way when service goes above and beyond. 

Why is it so much easier to complain (and often in nit-picky ways) than to take the time to acknowledge the other extreme--which, when you stop and think about it, is a lot more common than we perhaps realize on the surface? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Facing My Greatest Fear: Flying in an Airplane (Yes, I Did :-))

I've been afraid of airplanes ever since I can remember.  I flew to Florida once when I was a little kid, and the trip back to Boston was rough--turbulence-ridden, and the pilot thought he was being funny by referring to himself as "Bud Weiser" as he pretended to crash into Boston Harbor.

Yeah, my parents decided that it was easier to load three children into a station wagon and drive three days for subsequent trips to the Sunshine State.  It was easier than trying to force me onto an airplane.

Just to give you some idea ...

So I have flatly refused to fly throughout my life.  I missed out on a high school exchange program in Australia, spring break in Mexico, lots of visits, not seeing family members that I should have seen, one of Belle's modeling events (thank you, Mom and Addie, for bringing her), and so on and so forth.

I've gotten close a couple of times.  My mother bought me a ticket to go to Florida with her, but I'd had recent surgery and was concerned about that (the details would probably make it clearer as to why it was an area of concern, but I'm not going there).  I called the doctor about anxiety medication for flying, and he happily gave me some ... but I was so anxious about flying in the days leading up to flying that I took all of the anxiety medication before it was the day we were supposed to leave.

And then last weekend my sister needed me.

Evidently, being a big sister trumps lifelong fears.  Who knew?

I think part of why I was finally able to pull it off was because it came up so quickly.  I only had a day to be anxious, nauseous, petrified, and so on.  Mainly, though, my sister's need was significantly more ... well, significant than my being a baby over something people do every single day.

Addie (who has been to Europe twice, never mind all the flying she's done in the U.S.) walked me through the entire process step by step, telling me what I had to take out of my bags during the security check, comparing landing to being in a car that slams on its brakes, and so on.  It was a huge help :-)

Addie opined that the security check is the worst part of flying, my mother felt that when they drop the wheels just before landing is (yeah, I was sort of polling people), but the worst part for me is sitting on the airplane waiting for it to take off.

Thank God for Valium and Stephen King books you've read so many times they're like old friends ...

Anyway, the flight down was fine.  A single mother and her 18-month-old asked if they could sit with me (Southwest Airlines has kind of a "cattle call" seating deal ... it's unofficial tagline is "When you can't afford anything else ..."), and that turned out to be a good thing.  I was pretty sure I would not totally lose it in front of a little kid, and I was right.

So I spent the weekend in Baltimore (lowlighted by the fact that I put my wallet on the back of a car then drove off with it), and that was all good.

The flight home, though ...

I should probably mention at this point that I have three serious fears--flying, thunderstorms, and snakes.

Well, there was a thunderstorm shaking its fist at Baltimore as my sister drove me to the airport.  In fact, there were severe thunderstorms up and down the entire eastern seaboard, to the degree that my flight was delayed.

So, yeah, the flight home was more like I'd pictured flying to be in my nightmares.  It was dark outside, you could see lightning all around, and it was bumpy and scary and not fun.  I took extra Valium.

And then, when I finally landed, Henry was late picking me up so I was very grouchy to him.

It's a male/female thing, I think.

He knew what time I left at since I texted him just before we took off, and he's also one of those ridiculous techies that has an app for everything.  I figured he'd be flight tracking me and would be waiting when I deplaned.  Probably with flowers.  At the very least, he'd be at the cell phone lot, reading a book.

Nope, he hadn't left his house yet.  So I had to wait for him to get there after being on the flight from hell, then lightning started flashing in the sky, and ...

Well, he spent this past weekend on a mini-vacation to Bangor, Maine with me, so I assume he's forgiven me, but I was pretty unpleasant.

Anyway, people keep asking me if I'd fly again.  The answer, by the way, is yes.  I'd still dope myself up pretty well and probably be on a hair trigger, but I would.  There is just so much to see and do, and I could Gibbs-smack myself for missing out on so much.

I've also learned from numerous unimpeachable sources that the flight home is by far the exception rather than the rule.

So, yeah, I faced my greatest fear, and the irony is that it took my sister being in distress to make me do it, which makes me feel like kind of a jerk.

But then I got thinking about it ... two years ago, I think I would have taken a train or driven to Baltimore.  I would be there if she needed me, but it would be on my terms because flying was just ... well, just too much.

And I've gotten a lot better about thunderstorms, too, in large part because my golden retriever is even more scared than I am, so trying to comfort her makes me less afraid.

Snakes?  Dear God!  I don't think I'll ever get over that one ;-)

So what are you most afraid of?  Have you ever overcome major fears?  How did you accomplish that?  

And here is a pic of Mary and my nephew Eddie, just so you can see how amazing my family is and why I had to go <3 nbsp="nbsp" p="p">

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