Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks

I have a friend who starts her day by writing down what she is grateful for. Every morning over a cup of coffee, she thinks and writes.
Right now it is hunting season in NY. Thanksgiving dinner was always a random large gathering of deer hunters and family. In college, a Romanian friend wanted to avoid the cold arguments of his family's traditional gathering so he joined me.
We walked in to about ten guys, some family, drunk asking him explicitly about how sex was and teasing him despite his protestations of platonic friendship. The more he protested, the more explicit their jibes. I tried not to be mortified. There were seventeen for dinner, when the meal was set out. Everyone strategized seats for control and access to coveted dishes. The deviled eggs were under armed guard (a scowl and a rolling pin) to keep my brother and I from a repeat of our quick devouring of all of them. The year before we had eaten a whole plate of them on principal before anyone else got any. I found a seat and nudged Chris toward the one by my side. The minute the food was on, war broke out. People reached to snatch dishes ladden with home cooked deliciousness as if it was in limited supply even though there was enough food to feed an army. My Uncle on the other side of Chris realized he was watching and not getting food as negotiations were flying. If you pass the potatoes, I will pass the stuffing- if not, ha! No stuffing for you! Chris laughed as his plate had food thrown on it, from me on one side and my uncle on the other. At one point Chris noticed the dill dip and rye bread I had on a side table lower than table height. I gestured for secrecy. If we wanted the best pie, we had to have a bargaining chip.
He laughed out loud when thirteen pies were revealed as dessert for seventeen people. He almost cried when he found out it was really fourteen but I gad already hidden the cherry pie so my allies and I would definitely get the whole thing.
This is one of the few holidays my terrible family didn't ruin. This memory, of a guy who struggled with depression and distant anguished family relations laughing as he found himself in a real life Benny Hill sketch parading as a holiday dinner.
Today, we're making macaroni and cheese and going to a community potluck.
I am doubting that food will be thrown onto plates from across tables. I doubt we will gave to negotiate for access to the stuffed celery or deviled eggs, but I am guessing it will still be a lot of fun with wonderful friends.
I am grateful for the healthy friends and family I love. I am grateful for life.
I am grateful for great weather. I am grateful I can pay my bills. I am grateful for good memories.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Unspoken, Hate and Healing

Hate. A strong ugly word. I remember being on an ambulance call in a small town in western NY. The individual we went to transport to the hospital was one of two black people who lived in our town. I went to school with him. He was nice. He was smart. He was muddled sitting in a kitchen, in a dingy small town slum house. The rest of the squad had the look of impatience and unspoken distaste. The words they used to justify encouraging him to deny transport "drugs." No evidence of drugs there but that's what they wanted to believe. I tried to do vitals and help him, the others stood back. The unspoken body language he read motivated him to decline transport.
I was shocked. There was awkwardness after we left. This was a truly skilled squad, I was friends with everyone on that call. My brother was on that call.
That silent, unspoken consent to view a situation in a way that didn't rock the boat and bowed to outdated values was eye opening.
I started really looking at how I was raised. At my community. Why did my half black aunt tell most people she was northern Italian?
When I was young, I tried to do things for social approval in the hopes I could win the love of my parents. I wanted friends.
I was rewarded for cruelty and ridiculed for compassion. Tricked my brother into drinking toilet water, get to sit on my dad's lap. Trick the neighbor into shooting a dog in the face with a squirt gun, so she got nipped- Mom chastised me but Dad took me out to point out animals so he could shoot them. Intimidate someone, Mom might brag to all her friends.
It didn't feel right. I was small, smart and female in a small minded town. If I'd been a boy, I would have been popular. I wasn't, so I made people nervous. Other kids didn't like me. I was teased, locked in lockers, bullied and got attacked by other kids. I spent a lot of time at the nurses office. After a while, I stopped seeking approval. I watched. I observed. I stopped wanting approval from peers. Over time, watching how my parents manipulated and mistreated nice people I became embarrassed and started learning from those nice people how to be less of a monster and more of a human being.
I chose to grow.
With the election and the behavior of a portion of people who seem determined to say and do terrible things- in part for approval from people they look up to and in part due to their desire to do something or say something to hurt those they choose to hate or antagonize.
Confronting them only gives them reinforcement and resolve- locking them against letting go of hate, asking them questions and getting them to see where their hate logic fails is the key to unlocking that door.
It's easy to hate a group of people. It's easy to judge. It's easy to dismiss, justify, turn a blind eye and immerse in the shallow socially acceptable waters of those who are like minded.
It's harder to accept responsibility for mistakes and hate or fear driven words and deeds. It is harder to change and accept that the views you were raised with might not be right or respectful.
What causes hate? Judgement. Teachings. Past experiences which might have been with an individual but have been generalized. "You people," "they," "all," "always," and "never" are dangerous words.
Hate is not something you fight, fighting hate is like arguing with a fool. You come out exhausted, drained, frustrated- and the fool still never changes.
Hate is something you change through your own choices and behavior. Questions. Information. Helping others realize they are hurting other wonderful people who did nothing to warrant such treatment or judgement. Imagine hate as a pus filled wound someone is proud of, to reduce it the person with the wound has to realize they have a wound and they have to want to address it. If you chase them around throwing bottles of antiseptic and squirting antibiotic ointment in their direction- its going to make a mess and its going to utterly fail.
To change hate and reduce bigotry, we as a people need to come together and communicate. We need to build support networks. We need more education and critical thinking, less emotional responding.
We need to find a way to remind people that we are all human, we all deserve to be respected.
Bashing someone because of their gender, religion, ethnicity- these things need to become a thing of the past. This will only happen by coming together, demonstrating over and over that the justifications people hide behind to do horrible things are bullshit and that our society will not tolerate it- regardless of who leads the country.
Folks, this is on us. We've got to go beyond our echo chambers and face the hate with truth. "You got beat by a girl." "What does gender have to do with it?" Is my new response. Actions speak louder than words. Demonstrate reality, and the house of cards collapses. Create connections. Remind people of connections they have. Real people making real strides forward despite the biases they face.
Some day perhaps the unspoken will not be prejudice, some day I hope to see the unspoken to be inclusion and empathy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Where Would I Go: Cocoa Beach

You're thinking Disney, Universal Studios. Those are the no brainers. But there is far more in the area worth visiting just north of Orlando. Cocoa Beach! We camped at Jetty Park for a week, it's the off season this time of year or they would have already been booked up and packed. It is a campground at the beach. Beautiful park with nice spaces, laundry, clean showers, and free wifi! We walked the beach day and night, enjoying the many birds that frequent the area, and watched cruise ships dock and load passengers for their adventures at sea. There were many Geocaches in the area and a lot of great options for food.
We visited the Enchanted Forest and explored the hiking trails there, learning about the canal they attempted to make across the state.
We went to Kennedy Space Center, found that a single day is not long enough to appreciate all the displays and experiences they offer. We enjoyed the bus tour, the Atlantis Experience, Rocket Garden and the food. It was worth the admission price. There was even a bald eagle watching us on the tour!
We walked the boardwalk in Cocoa Beach one night and laughed at the raccoon we startled there, as a single saxophone player crooned on a lonely street.
We visited a fun hookahbar in Cocoa, painted with a stunning black light reactive mural that adorned every wall- making me wish I could walk in the men's room to see the designs there after seeing the flowers on the walls of the women's room.
Rusty's Seafood, Bizzaros Pizza, Portside Diner were definitely meals we appreciated in quality and price. At Rusty's a musician played Sex and Candy acoustically while I smirked at the older diners not catching the song. The ocean was right next to our table. It was a memory to savor.
We still plan to go back to visit the national seashore this winter.
Great options for the East Coast of Florida, north of Orlando.