Saturday, June 18, 2011

Never live it down

Beth Invisible GlassesWhen my immediate family got together recently on Memorial Day, my sister Diana and I were talking about our glasses. Diana has always had really bad eyes, but recently had cataract surgery and they replaced her lenses with corrective ones, so she no longer has to wear glasses! (I keep saying in a whiny voice, “Awww man, I wanna have cataracts!”)

My eyes aren’t as bad as Diana’s are (or were), but they’re still pretty bad. One doctor said that for all intents and purposes, I’m blind in my left eye. I can still see shapes and light, but when it comes to driving or being, you know, functional, I have to either have my contact lenses in or wear my glasses. On Memorial Day, I happened to be wearing my contact lenses. My last pair of glasses was rather horrendously expensive, something like seven or eight hundred dollars, only partially paid for by insurance. That was our topic.

Me: Yeah, it’s extra for a stronger prescription, plus I had to get bifocals.
Diana: Yep. Then you have to have them beveled, otherwise they’re so thick they look like Coke bottle glasses. And then you really need to get that reflective coating on them.
Me: Yeah. Not cheap.
Mom: Oh my goodness! Well, do you still wear your glasses?
Me: Oh yeah, most of the time, actually.
Mom: Are you wearing them now?
[moment of silence]
Me: Yes. Yes, I am. They’re invisible. That’s why they’re so expensive.

Mom immediately realized what she’d said, and started cracking up, and then we all cracked up. I told her she’s not going to live that one down!

We all make bonehead comments once in a while. One of my more memorable ones was when our friends Kim and Steve were visiting, and we were talking about what to have for dinner. I happened to think of something I had recently tried, and I asked Steve, “Do you like couscous?” He said, “Yeah, it’s okay.” I said, “Well, I’m not making that tonight.” He just lost it. I realized how it had come out, and we still laugh about it. It’s the job of family and friends to keep those little nuggets tucked away for safekeeping, and to occasionally trot them out for fun. For those of us who have uttered such pearls of wisdom, it’s our job to laugh along...and wait patiently for the moment when our tormentors make their own silly remark that we can hide away for later.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A speech I’ll never give

GraduationThis entry is prompted by three things. First, it’s graduation time, and millions of high school and college graduates are moving on to the next phase of their lives. Second, I watched highlights of Conan O’Brien’s commencement speech at Dartmouth, and was very impressed by what he had to say. Finally, I read an article in Time last night about the impact that high school has on us as we continue on with our lives. (I had planned to link to the article here, but it seems that Time is no longer allowing me to do that, despite over ten years of continuous subscription. Perturbed email has been sent.)

The gist of the article was that people are really not defined by the narrow roles assigned to them in high school. Based on a long-term study of more than 10,000 members of the graduating class of 1957 in various Wisconsin high schools, with additional information from shorter-term studies of what happens to high school graduates, it found that we are not bound by the stereotypes we are slapped with in high school. Good news for me, or else I’d still be a dateless, book-reading geek...okay, I’ll cop to the latter two, but at least I’ve got the first one covered! The writer of the article, a woman who achieved success as a journalist and author, was surprised when she received a phone call from her high school asking her to give the commencement address to this year’s graduates.

I’m never going to get that phone call, but as someone who didn’t have an entirely positive high school experience, it made me think about what I would say to high school graduates. (Most college graduates would have figured this out by the time they graduate. I’m thinking of my own high school, and its conservative views and tendency to pigeonhole. I’m sorry to say that I still see those same attitudes thirty years later.) Conan’s speech was funny and irreverent, but with a wonderful nugget of truth about life’s failures and how we deal with them. If I ever got a chance to speak to the graduates of my high school (or any other high school), it would go something like this:

It’s a big world out there. I know that on at least some level, you realize that; you know that there is more to life than what you have experienced here for the past few years. I’m here to tell you that the immensity of the world is beyond your wildest imaginings. Perhaps some of you have traveled to other countries in order to immerse yourself in their language and culture; some of you have done volunteer work right here in our own country that has shown you that many of our own citizens struggle in ways that you can’t imagine. There aren’t just starving children in Africa; there are starving children right here in your own country. You might have an inkling of what is out there, and what is to come.

Perhaps some of you have struggled to make it through your time here. Maybe it was because of academics; maybe it was because you were bullied because of who you are or who you love; maybe it was because you didn’t fit into any particular group, and always felt like an outsider. In all honesty, I can’t tell you that those things won’t happen when you get into the workplace, or that leaving the confines of these walls will somehow grant you immunity to such prejudices and daily trials and tribulations. However, as you meet people in your life, whether it’s in college or the military or if you immediately enter the workforce, you will find that you’re not as alone as you were in the insular world of high school. It’s a strange atmosphere...designed to categorize and label and sort into convenient sections. Life is not that way.

If I can give you any advice, it would be two things. First: learn as much as you can about the world around you. Search beyond what you know, what you take for granted as truth. Seek out other opinions, make an effort to find and engage people who are beyond the sphere of what you’ve learned up to this point. Learn about other cultures, other ethnicities, other religions, those with NO religion, those who hold differing opinions from yours or those of your parents.

Second: QUESTION. Question everything. Question why things are done a certain way. Question why YOU are expected to do things a certain way. Question your politicians, question your religious leaders, and yes, question your parents. If any of them are worth their salt, they will honestly answer your questions rather than ignore them or brush them off as the ramblings of foolish youth. Question authority. Don’t ignore authority, but question it. There will always be those who abuse their power, and it is up to each of us as citizens to keep them in check and make them answer to those of us who question them. [Note: if you subscribe to this philosophy and method, the military probably isn’t for you. Such an attitude will not go over very well. I would also advise you to question why you want to join the military, and to answer honestly.]

When someone is questioned about why they feel or think or believe a certain thing, the worst thing to hear is that it’s always been done that way, or that that is what they were taught to believe. This is a copout. Stop and think, examine your reasons for feeling that way, and if someone questions you on it, be prepared to give a reasoned and logical answer; anything less is simply following that same drummer, the same party line, the same old song and dance that has been done so many times before.

Learn, discuss, question. Be a force for good, and understand your reasons for doing so.

Find your voice. Use it, and use it wisely.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A loyal pain in the ass

Karate WomanI had a dream last night about defending someone. I don’t recall all the details, but I seem to recall that it took place in school, and someone was picking on a friend.

In typical dream form, I was much more than I could probably be in real life (although I’m not so sure...I’ll get to that in a moment). This bully was a big guy, and all five-foot-nothing of me got in his face, pushed him up against a locker, and made him whimper and cower with my verbal tongue-lashing. I also recall some sort of exhibition at the school in which I demonstrated my Ka-rah-tay woman skills (I have no idea how to do karate or any other martial art), so perhaps that was part of my intimidation abilities with this bully.

A couple of things may have generated this dream. I was recently talking with Cousin Shane, and for whatever reason, I mentioned an incident that occurred when we were in school. We were sitting on the bus, ready to head home, and some younger kid behind us started picking on Shane. I can’t even remember what he said, but it was just stupid stuff. I was probably a junior or senior at this point (Shane was two classes behind me), so although I didn’t have a lot of clout with people in my own class, I had some with the younger kids. I recall getting fed up with this little twit, and whipped around and said, “Why don’t you just SHUT UP?” He did.

I recently posted a very good Huffington Post article, concerning the Anthony Weiner debacle, written by my friend Mark. A Facebook friend commented something about regardless of the sentiments expressed in the article, Mark is a bad writer.

What. The. Fuck? I said whoa, not cool. I said that I think he’s a great writer (check out The Trash Whisperer, dear blog reader, and decide for yourself), and did you miss that part where I said he’s a friend?

I don’t care what you think...if someone specifically mentions that a friend has written something (and they say they think it’s a great piece), you are being very rude to make such a disparaging remark about the friend’s writing abilities. I would call that a serious breach in Netiquette, and it’s also a really bush league thing to do. I’m all for the free exchange of ideas, but in that instance, just keep your mouth shut and go about your business, okay? Was there perhaps an element of jealousy there? Because Mark writes for Huffington Post and this person doesn’t? If so, maybe it’s time they quit acting like a junior high school girl.

Well, it was no big deal. Mark said that he didn’t take it personally, and if he knows anything, he knows that he’s a good writer (and perhaps the commenter saw himself implicated in Mark’s words), but he appreciated my willingness to defend him.

I’m far from a perfect person, but just as Mark is confident in his writing abilities, I am confident in my ability and willingness to defend friends or loved ones who are picked on, attacked, bullied, or even merely disparaged. I usually try to do it in a low-key way, and often a simple statement of disagreement and defense of my friend suffices to let the person know that they were out of line. I often get an apology. However, I don’t doubt that if I had to, I could push someone around a bit before they realized that I’m not a real big person. That’s the advantage of surprise. Dad told me he learned that lesson a long time ago. He wasn’t a big guy, so he learned how to surprise them and hit hard enough that they didn’t get back up right away...and that gave him time to run like hell. Haha!

I’m not a violent person, but if you’re my friend, I’ve got your back.