100 Word Challenge*: South


South is a direction. For most people. And in most circumstances.

But for me, South has more often than not been a place.

When I lived in Iowa, South was Texas, the Gulf Coast and Florida. Places I regarded as the farthest points from the brighter spots of the universe for reasons that were as stereotypical as often as they were based on fact.

Today, South is the United States of America, a place I consider as uninhabitable as I would swampland, Mars and Saudi Arabia.

It seems the farther north I go, the less South appeals to me. Curious.

*I found this prompt via a Twitter friend, who is a very talented writer and comedian. Not unlike how I found the 30 Day Challenge. It goes like so – Using “south” for inspiration, write 100 Words – no more, no less – then add a link back here from your post. (A pingback is like bread crumbs, it helps your readers find the other 100 Word stories, and it’s nice to share.) – and you can check out the creator here.

And a side note, my 30 days will not include weekends unless I am spectacularly bored or maddened about something to the point of beating my outrage to death with words. I probably should have stated that upfront.

Five Problems with Social Media


There are far more than five problems with social media but five is as good a place to start as any.

I should disclaim that I have technically been “social” on the internet since the late 90’s. Back in the day when message boards and list-serves were the meet up places for those who had decent access to the world-wide web and who realized the potential for using it to find people of like minds on just about any topic you care to imagine.

In many ways, the old days were pretty good. The forums that existed were tailored rather specifically, so the odds of tangling with someone who just happened to stumble across something you’d posted was fairly low.

Not that dust ups didn’t occur. Flaming was rampant and often part of the fun. But the fires were localized rather than raging wildfires that could burn across the planet in a matter of hours.

There was not much fear that anything that happened on a forum wouldn’t stay on that forum. The potential of ruining someone was not as great as it is today.

Which brings me to problem number one.

Social media’s tendency to mob people because it’s terribly easy to gather up a sizable and diverse audience, equip them with virtual torches and pitches and set them loose to vilify, humiliate and destroy anyone within a matter of hours or days.

Long after the initial spark has burned out, a viral posting on the Internet has a half-life that can easily exceed that of the subject. For good sometimes but usually for ill.

The immediacy of social media makes it dangerous in ways we simply haven’t come up with decent ways to counteract.

And some of that stems from problem number two.

Most of us are too exposed to virtual strangers through our social media use and neither appreciate how little we really know many of the people we “friend” or merely “follow” nor are wise enough to wonder or worry about it.

Which leads to the third problem – and I am incredibly guilty of this – a shocking amount of over sharing goes on via social media.

Where in bygone ages, we could only horrify our family, friends and sometimes co-workers with our exploits and opinions. Now our audience is anyone and everyone with the added bonus of reach. We are  also – initially anyway – shielded from reactions of those who have allowed us into their Internet neighborhoods and homes.

While we are all familiar with the Facebook share, rant or errant Twitter post exploding virally, most of us will never experience anything like that personally. This lack of consequence than emboldens us at the expense of our silently suffering social connections. People who surreptitiously mute or politely unfollow our updates to spare themselves rather than risk confrontation, hurt feelings or awkwardness. What people we don’t know don’t know about us is often for the best after all.

So the fourth problem is that in our quest to connect more because it’s so easy to do using social media, we actually become less connected.

There is a reason why you don’t go to your 25th high school reunion, but you forgot it and foolishly reconnected with not just your teenage bff’s but everyone you were ever acquainted with in school and then were eventually forced to unfollow all of their updates. That reason is, of course, you never wanted to maintain those connections. If you had, you’d still be friends with these people in your actual real life.

Social media allows us to feel widely connected or reconnected while at the same time providing convenient barriers to be intimately connected with more people than we can realistically handle or endure. Here is the final problem with social media. We are no more social with it than we were without it.

Problem number five is that we all have a much more finite capacity for connection than social media would have us believe.

Humans are simply incapable of caring much beyond a small circle of people. That’s why we distinguish between acquaintances and friends, and why friends are categorized accordingly to how we met them and closeness to us.

There is a vast difference between work friends, activity buddies and close or best friends, is there not?

Though there are mechanisms for ranking people in social media, the reality is that those who use it more become the people we see the most whether they are all that important to us or not.

All this said, as an introvert, I find social media a great leveler. Take away the physical aspect of being social and I can be as outgoing as anyone, which is why I have always enjoyed it.

But I am less certain that it’s been a boon for human relations. While connectedness has allowed people to more readily see the things we have in common in our various quests, it’s opened the doors to divisiveness on a larger scale too. I am uncertain that the former off-sets the latter. Not enough anyway.

 

 

 

Chastity is Better Off Forgotten


Rod Dreher is the senior editor at The American Conservative. He penned a piece a few days ago about chastity and how it’s been relegated to America’s social trash heap.

The article was in response to Pope Francis’s recent letter, Amoris Laetitia, a rather tortured explanation of the Catholic Church’s continuing lack of comprehension where sex and real people are concerned.

If you are interested at all in what an old celibate man has to say about intimate relationships, you can read his take and others outrage on sex, marriage, divorce and remarriage here, but I am going to focus on the Dreher piece because I find the idea of chastity and the way its been used/continues to be used so repugnant.

Dreher references a young female reader of his blog as the basis of the argument that chastity as an idea has been forgotten by most adults and that this is – in her (and his) view – a huge loss for society.

When you consider chastity as an idea that has always been problematic at best and violently oppressive at worst, I don’t agree at all.

Chastity has been forgotten for a good reason. It only existed is the first place as a way for society and religion to shame and control women and LGBTQs.

It’s a tool of oppression that has – among other things –  allowed sexual abusers to flourish in the priesthood specifically but also in families and society at large. It’s part of what has helped keep females second class and physically vulnerable for thousands of years.

Chastity is the more evil twin of modesty. Both are tools of subjugation, and teaching our children that sex is dirty and their bodies are shameful is one of the deepest roots of the ills of modern society.

Dreher’s young reader bemoans the fact that her friends couple physically without regard to what the church thinks about it.

And not in “scandalous” ways. What she references to is nothing more than dating, consensual sex, and co-habitation. Just the normal stuff of life. Behaviors that humans were engaging in long before religions and governments decided that it was in their best interests to introduce restrictions and instructions. And let’s not kid ourselves that this occurred for any other reason than politics and power.

For some reason though the young woman Dreher quotes, thinks that people don’t value relationships because sex often happens before marriage and sometimes marriage doesn’t happen at all.

I would argue that people don’t value each other because of the screwed up messages they get from religions and pop culture, the latter being a backlash of the first. But the religionists are stuck on the idea that humans are incapable of valuing each other or understanding love and intimacy sans a whooping doses of shame.

Because that’s what chastity is. It’s shame disguised as a virtue.

There’s nothing healthy about teaching young people – females in particular – that their bodies are such a corrosive distraction and temptation that they should not only be well-covered but they should be kept off-limits sexually until  safely housed within the confines a lawful marriage.

There are a lot of good reasons to be choosy about who you form an intimate relationship with but preserving one’s chastity would not top any list I might make.

And I wouldn’t argue at all with the young reader’s idea that intimate committed relationships are something that a some people don’t put much serious thought or effort into. But not because of a lack of chastity. Not because they are knowing or unknowing “sinners”.

People are thoughtless because they are human. They live in the past and the very near future. Seldom in the moment. Rarely thinking far ahead. Mostly self-interested. It’s our humanness that sometimes makes us terrible partners. Chastity and rigid, unrealistic rules about how to date and mate aren’t the fixes for these things.

The Catholic church (much like other faith beliefs) is only interested in sexuality because it allows them a means to exert undue influence and even control over people.

The Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar was among the first to legislate and reward state-approved sexuality. Long before Christianity, Augustus realized that people could be more easily controlled this way. It wasn’t about sin. It was about consolidating power. Regulating women to a more subservient role. Marginalizing LGBTQs. Chastity was a part of that and it’s no small wonder that when the Christians arrived, their religion eventually became the state religion. Roman rule and Catholic aversion to healthy sex were a match made in their particular twisted versions of heaven.

If someone wants to practice chastity as a part of a personal belief system or to be more mindful of themselves and their partners, more power to them. As it stands though, chastity is a blunt tool of suppression with both eyes ever on the prize of control. It tells those it is aimed at that they are shameful, bad, deviant. It teaches people wanting or participating in sex is a personal failing. It springs out of the idea that all sex is sinful – consensual and non-consensual alike.

Chastity is why women are still not equal.

When chastity becomes a choice rather than a coerced obligation, I might be inclined to amend my views, but I don’t see that day on the horizon.

Chastity is best forgotten. And the sooner the better.

Good Day! And Welcome to Day 2 or 3


I’ve already lost count.

Let’s talk about ageism today though.

Age has been on my mind a lot because I am getting old. Actually, I am old. And people are not keen on allowing me to claim my rightful age.

52 is not my favorite age. Currently or ever, I suspect. Not because it’s old, but because I am fully aware of the limitations that time and society have placed upon it and me.

33 was my favorite age physically. I was peak me from a purely superficial standpoint and from a strength, agility and endurance one as well.

And though 52 is long past peak body, it’s just coming into peak me in terms of awareness, knowledge, ability to leverage my experiences and education. It’s emotionally my steadiest era to date.

I’d be thrilled to have my 33-year-old knees back, but little else about that year or that decade entice me to wistful nostalgia. It’s only in recent years that I’ve truly come into my own.

That’s why ageist attitudes and the idea that youth should be an ideal worthy of a pedestal irks me.

While I wouldn’t argue that some of us don’t age like fine wine, never lose the training wheels or come to a greater understanding of what life is really about – our place and purpose, I think there is more to be said for old age than youth. IF you can let go of the idea that you are not your body.

What freaks people out about aging boils down to a weird attachments to and hang-ups about our physical selves that leads us to believe that is all that we are. Just a meat sack to be maintained according to societies ever-changing requirements.

If we didn’t have such a damaged relationship with our bodies, we’d probably feel better, or at least be neutral, about the fact that it changes over time. We are not children forever. We are not teens forever (though it feels like it at the time). We are not young adults or middle-aged adults for very long.

But we are old – most of us – for nearly, as or longer than we are all of the aforementioned.

At some point as we approach 50, it’s like a switch is flipped, and we are no longer young or youngish. No one mistakes us for a demographic we’ve clearly passed through. We are told we “look good for our age”, which may or may not be true, but  it’s not something young or middle-aged people are told. It’s reserved for the old.

At 52, I am old.

And I have earned it, dammit!

I will not be patronized by people who can’t or won’t come to terms with their own aged selves.

I will not long for anything in the past (except my knees – really miss the happy days of bouncy knees).

I will not be told I am “only as old as I feel” or “just a baby”.

I am not interested in propping up other people’s denial when they wail “but if you are old, what does that make me?”

Older. That’s what it makes you. Older. Deal with it.

Or better yet. Revel in it! Celebrate it! Be fucking amazed at what a warrior you are. How wise. How experienced. How zen.

Oh, I am aware that in a world where supple, tight and smooth is idealized that soft as leather and lined skin draped over bumps and bruises is not celebrated. That’s evident every time an actor “of a certain age” appears on a screen sporting an iron pressed look. One that is frozen in a parody of the young person they no longer are.

It’s hard to reconcile for many.

It just makes me sigh and worry for humanity’s future.

I resent that I am forced to deal with ageism. That there is maintenance beyond just what is sensible and healthy. And that somehow my aging without regard to arbitrary rules concerning appropriate dress, hairstyle and habits is somehow impacting negatively on anyone. Whether I know them or just happen to pass through the same space here or there, my existence is not harming anyone’s life. It’s just their unrealistic body ideals that are offended and frankly, that’s not my problem.

Ageism is as made up as any other ism. Invented only for nefarious or selfish reasons. To oppress, suppress, discriminate and divide. And like all other isms, we can choose to participate or not.

I choose not to.

 

30 Days of Writing


30 Day writing challengeIn no particular order, and completely subject to whim and whimsy, I am going to take up this challenge to blog for 30 grueling days in a row.

Or maybe just 30 days.

No fewer than 10 though, fer sure.

As I go over the topics, I am reminded that I have been blogging for over a decade and have covered many of these topics – in one way or another – already.

For example, I am fairly certain I have written about my first kiss.

I know I have (more than one probably) “interesting facts” about me posts.

I pet peeve all over the place. Twitter. Facebook. Here. Ad nauseum.

I’ve debated tattoos. Whether to get one or not. And I know I’ve written about memorial tattoos, and yes, I still think they are a bad idea.

My family, immediate, extended and in-law have all been covered. Sometimes so thoroughly that I’ve gotten myself into trouble.

For example, I blogged my father’s death. I don’t think I spared anyone really. And this was back in the day when quite a few people, my family included, were reading this blog on a regular basis.

I consider my family and my feelings about them well-trodden ground.

The only member of my family who is fine with me writing about them anymore is my husband. This owes partly to my incredible fondness for him as a topic, and the fact that my characterization of him makes him chuckle and openly wonder whether readers even believe he is a real person based on the stories I share.

Not sure that my daily agenda would be worth writing about. I am such a housewife and mom these days. A privileged one. But still. Does anyone really want to know about the yoga classes I attend? My media habits? How much I hate Costco?

I was a mommy blogger with a “syndicate” of mommies back in my early blogging days and I am really done with that kind of navel gazing.

Earliest memory? I was lost at the circus. Literally lost. Forgotten by my father who was getting drunk with his friends. I have written about it. It’s not a feel good story.

Can’t think of a single phrase or certain word that make me laugh, but in my family, anything to do with poop or farting is the starting point for hilarity.

Yes, we are that kind of family.

I have nothing to say to anyone who might be considered an “ex”. Anything I had to say, I said. To them.

One guy I called immediately following our last encounter and railed at his answering machine until it cut me off. I had to call back twice more to get out all I needed to say. After that, I was good and ignored him. Often to his face. Much to his displeasure. He never did get to rebut a word.

And I could never write an entire post about what I wear because I am a uniform type of girl. I blame it on 12 years of Catholic school. Totally ruined my sense of fashion or more accurately, crushed any interest I might have developed had I been forced to put outfits together from a variety of clothing choices from an early age.

I have had several uniforms over the years. As a high school teacher, it was jeans or khakis and a polo shirt. Every day. All year-long.

Currently, it is yoga pants, a sleeveless tunic top and some sort of sweater.

Fashion is for people who space in their brains for a closet. I don’t.

My morning routine is relentlessly focused on getting the child to school on time and ahead of the cluster-fuck of other people trying to do the same. The end.

Hmmm, I may have to supplement this challenge list.

No matter. Day 1 of this challenge has been met on the page of battle, and I emerge the victor.

On to day 2!

 

Writing Challenges


The biggest challenge I face when writing is getting out of my head and doing it.

It would be easy to assume that when I am not physically engaged in the act of writing that I must not be writing, but the truth is that I am writing nearly all the time. Dozens of stories – many that will never manifest on a page – are in play at any given time.

And when I am not “writing”, I am thinking about writing.

It’s a wonder that anything else in my life gets done.

I’m sure you might wonder how a writer writes in their head and if I could explain it properly, I would. However, it’s not a straight forward thing and the best example would be daydreaming though instead of wishful thinking about my own life, I dream up lives for people who don’t technically exist.

To me, it’s a natural extension of the “fan fiction” I would daydream about characters in the books I read when I was young. In my experience, books never ended. I simply moved the settings and characters into my mind and continued on as I thought the narrative should travel.

As I got older and mastered – after a fashion – the art of writing, I borrowed ideas from books and television and began inventing characters, settings and narratives of my own.

But then, as now, I think a lot more than I write. A lot more.

When I sit down to write then, words come out in a hurry and because I have spent so much time with characters and ideas in my head, it might seem to anyone watching me that I am channeling stories. Plucking them out of the air even.

The only problem with my method of “writing” is that I sometimes get stuck in my head.

And let’s be honest, it’s easier to write when it doesn’t require you to actually write.

With writing comes revising, editing and that can sometimes be tedious work. Though I will admit that I love editing. It’s my inner English teacher’s only outing anymore and she relishes it.

So, when I am in one of my stuck in the labyrinth of my mind periods, I sometimes turn to writing prompts. Think of it as following a trail of twine to the exit. Like Theseus only I didn’t have to slay anything. Much.

I’ve run across two fairly decent prompts in the past couple of days.

First one is a computer game actually called Elegy for a Dead World.

Based on the poetry of Shelley, Keats and Byron, you explore dead civilizations and write their history from the point of view of an archeologist.

The second is a 30 Day blogging challenge. I haven’t done one of those in forever, and though I don’t find all of the daily prompts intriguing, I am going to give it a go in my own fashion.

It’s this or write about Canadian/Albertan politics and truthfully, I am full up with impatience with both right now.

Mostly because there is next to nothing of great importance going on although one would not know that given the volume level of the dialogue on current topics.

Let’s just sum up briefly by saying that some people’s perspectives are in sore need of grounding reality checks. In the young I can write if off to youthful idealism, but there are plenty who are old enough to know better that should simply find new hobbies because they seem to have lost their way.

So! Writing Challenge it is.

At least until I get bored or the temperatures rise to such a level that I will need to be outside as often as possible. Warmth is not a lengthy visitor on my little patch of the western Canadian prairie, and I find, as I age, that I need to physically bask in it as much as possible so when winter comes – and it always does – I don’t lose my will to live.

 

Hillary Clinton is Still My Hero


As much as it’s possible for me to have heroes, I still consider Hillary to be one.

Not only a hero, but a feminist one. And if you knew me at all, you’d know that I cringe a lot at the thought of openly declaring for a personal feminist icon.

Feminism is such a charged term. I’ve been on the pro and con side of the use of it over the course of my adult live, but in recent years, I’ve decided that it’s the best term to describe my feelings on equality.

In my opinion, if  a person believes that men and women are equals in the eyes of the law – civil and human rights – that person is a feminist. Whether they call themselves a feminist or not is up to them, but that’s how I view them.

Back in 2008, I supported Clinton in the Democratic primary race over Obama.

Not because she was a woman.

It is my believe that when all things are equal, people who support feminism should support women in political races because that’s the road to parity in terms of legislative representation, which is crucial in moving females forward on all fronts rights. And equality is a good thing for everyone.

However, I supported her because I thought she was the most qualified and that he wasn’t quite yet. Nothing has happened over the past eight years to convince me that I was terribly wrong in my assessment at the time.

As the 2008 race heated up, I remember telling my husband that the primary was shaping up to be a sexism versus racism contest. Were Americans more racist or more sexist. I felt that latter and though disappointed that I was correct, I wasn’t surprised.

Like many Hillary supporters, I felt she sold out at the convention, but the reality was always that she was being a good politician. She saw the writing on the wall, took one for the team and was rewarded with Secretary of State.

That’s how politics works.

And while how politics works makes me roll my eyes hard – because it’s a game invented by men that doesn’t work as well as it should or could, and we all suffer for the pig-headed, power-hungry idiocy of it all – I admire the way that Clinton has learned the game and bests her male colleagues at it more often than not.

It is not easy to succeed in a world that still mostly belongs to men and operates according to the rules of privilege that have changed little over the millennia.

It takes brains, determination and a whole lot of what is commonly referred to as “the right stuff” to ascend the ladder in a profession that not only has little use for women but is inherently hostile to them.

Hillary Clinton has done what few women have done, and she’s arrived not once but twice at the doors to the pinnacle of American politics – vying with not just some success for a nomination to run for President.

At this point, I can hear the anguished cries of Millennials and Gen-Xers exhorting me to look at her “lies, shifty ways and innumerable crimes against (insert name of your favorite horror here)”.

And it’s at this point, I sigh heavily.

I don’t have heroes. Not in the pristine sense of the word. Even when calling Hillary one of my heroes, I am not using the word the way others do.

I don’t expect perfection. I don’t even believe that it’s possible.

I am especially skeptical that anyone could reach the upper echelons of political power could be anything other than a flawed and compromised human being because to be a good elected representative of people anywhere means have made tougher calls than most could fathom even contemplating.

I don’t admire Hillary Clinton because she hasn’t made mistakes. Really bad ones sometimes even. I admire her because she hasn’t quit.

Even with a past that arguably isn’t always stellar, she still appears to believe that the system can be used for good. That it’s possible to achieve change even though it’s more evident than ever that change isn’t always great and that great change is often achieved at a heart-wrenchingly slow pace and is not universally wished for or welcome.

She believes in team, equality and the hard work both take.

When I look at Hillary Clinton, I see someone who has spent her life evolving. It doesn’t seem that she ever arrived anywhere and said, “Well, I’m here, it’s all good, and I’m done.”

She pays attention, sees when tides are turning and isn’t afraid to follow them if needs be. Even in the face of derisive scolds and harsh personal attacks. And frankly, it’s her ability to adapt and change that strikes me as being the most realistic approach to life because life isn’t set in stone. Shit happens. You roll with it or you get buried under a stinking mess.

I understand Democrats and Independents who see Clinton as part of a problem that plagues American politics these days. I get that she’s not change the way they’d like it to be.

I wouldn’t argue that she understands the system and knows how to work it. But in that sense, she’s no different than Bernie Sanders, whose been a politician much longer than she has and is just as adept.

But I see Hillary Clinton as a smart, shrewd, strong woman who’s succeeded in ways no other woman has before. She’s followed trails blazed by others and pushed those boundaries farther than any woman has before. How is that not change? She could be the President of the United States of America. A capable woman leading the most powerful nation in the world.  How can that not make a difference?

When I listen to all the reasons that people won’t support her. Won’t vote for her. All I hear are excuses, rationalizing away a leap forward for women – for the world really – that simply don’t add up to more than material self-interest or a lack of life experience or both.

Because, in my opinion, real change is something that shakes the pillars of a foundation and rattles the teeth of those inside.

At the end of the primary, if Clinton is the nominee, she will be reaching out and building consensus. Count on that. If not she will be the team player backing Sanders, the same way she backed Obama – something that can be counted on too should it play out that way – mark my words. Which is just about sums up why she’s achieved the success she has. She understands that sometimes you lead and sometimes you give support. That real change is a group effort.