Category Archives: Freestyle Writings/Musings

Empathetic Acting – Okay or Nay?

“I’m curious about other people. That’s the essence of my acting. I’m interested in what it would be like to be you.”
– Meryl Streep

***

Okay, my dander’s all up.

For those of you that know me well, I’m sure you’re shocked. I mean, me?  Irritated? Feeling passionate about something? Shocking, I know. But alas, ’tis true.

And in this day and age, you’d think it would be about politics or Trump or something. But nope. This time, it’s about theatre.

Theatre?

Yep, theatre. I’ve argued over a lot of things before, but theatre is new to the list.

[Disclaimer: I had originally intended to say that I was arguing with an actor for the first time, but my husband politely reminded me that that is sooo not true. I have a lot of friends who are actors. And I argue with them about everything. So, I scratched that and made it a little more specific – it’s definitely the first time I’ve argued with someone about acting.]

To be even more specific, the argument was over who should and shouldn’t portray certain characters.

Okay, here’s how it started. This was a post I saw on Facebook.  Apparently it’s a new “pledge” that we’re supposed to take, both as actors/directors, but also as theatre and movie-goers (that’s all of you):

“As a cis performer, I will never play a trans character. Should I ever direct or produce, I will never cast a cis actor to play a trans character. As a cis consumer, I will do my best to avoid projects that do the above. In addition, as a white actor, I will never play a non-white character. As an able-bodied actor, I will never play a character with a disability.

I will not occupy space that isn’t mine.”

I write about a lot of things in this blog, so I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m a community theatre actress. I’m also sure I’ve mentioned that I live in tiny little nowhere, right smack in the middle of the bible belt.  And if you didn’t know, now you do. And armed with that knowledge, I’d say you could probably correctly infer that “trans” actors, “non-white” actors, and “disabled” actors are probably a bit few and far between in this area. So, when I saw that “pledge” that all of us actors are supposed to take, I recognized the absurdity – at least for my little neck of the woods.

If we waited for those people to show up – especially ones that had the ability and the desire to tirelessly work, unpaid, for months, to produce a show that would be viewed only three or four times – we’d never get anything done.

So, I said that. I commented on the post.

And it all went downhill from there.

I was accused of not hearing these people’s cry for justice. For not allowing them to tell their own stories.

Okay, stop.  If this were Hollywood, there might be tons of people showing up to claim these roles. But it’s not. It’s a little county in the middle of the North Carolina mountains. We performed The Wiz for goodness sakes. We had approximately one and a half black people in it and we had to beg them to do it.  (And how lucky we were to get them – holy crap, they were phenomenal.) But were they offended that we did the show anyway, even though we were unable to cast the entire thing with people of color as it is intended?

I don’t think so.

Or were they?

We did To Kill a Mockingbird. While we had a few people of color who were able to join us but, again, we were faced with a 99% white cast. But we still did it. And it was phenomenal.

Should we have left that story untold because we didn’t have enough people of color to play the roles?

We performed Wait Until Dark. I portrayed a blind woman, Suzy. Should I not have done that? Should we have not performed that powerful show about a disabled woman who uses her superior intellect to outwit her would-be killer? Should we have not shown that audience that anyone can overcome their disabilities and kick some bad guy booty, simply because we didn’t have a real blind woman to play the role?

And how about when we performed The Dixie Swim Club. My good friend and actress Rebecca portrayed an aged woman with Alzheimer’s disease, who didn’t leave a single audience member dry-eyed for four straight performances. Should she not have done that?  Should she not have given a voice to the millions that suffer from that horrendous disease because she didn’t herself?

What about my sweet friend Cynthia portraying Shelby, the diabetes-ridden daughter in Steel Magnolias? Should she not have done that since she’s not diabetic herself? Should I not have portrayed her distraught mother who loses a child because I’ve never lost one myself?

No.

No, no, no.

Let’s stop this.

Theatre is one of the most beautiful things around. If you haven’t been a part of it, you’re missing out. It accidentally teaches you empathy. You become another person. You literally “walk a mile in their shoes,” so to speak. What better way to understand someone than to tell their story? To actually become them?

Now, I get it. I know where this pledge came from. Apparently Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson was recently cast as a trans man in an upcoming movie and there has been a cry from the trans community about not being represented fully because it is not a trans person playing the role. There’s even a hashtag for it – #supporttranspeopleinentertainment. I get it. I do. But my question is this – was there a more qualified trans candidate?  You have to be more than trans – you also have to be an actor. A damn good one. Acting is a business, like any other. You have to be great at what you do, or you’re going to passed over.  I’m all about fighting for equality – believe me. I run my mouth about it all the time. But there comes a time when you have to really ask yourself what you’re doing. Are you really asking for equality? Or are you asking for special treatment?

Regardless of the big Hollywood story, however, let’s take it back down here to our level. In the community theatres of the world, you are just not going to have the abilities to fill every role with a person who is what they’re portraying. And, frankly, isn’t that what acting is all about?  Isn’t that what we’re doing?  Telling a story for someone else?

Is there really something wrong with that?

If you ask me – NOPE. Not only is there not something wrong with it, but it is exactly what we all should be doing – acting or otherwise. We need to take every opportunity we’re given to try to understand what it’s like to be someone else, and to let their story be heard. For the actors of the world, we do that with our acting talent. For the writers of the world, we try to do that with our writing talents.

I recently read Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. Ms. Picoult wrote a powerful, almost life-changing novel from three perspectives – a privileged white lawyer, a discriminated black nurse, and a male white supremacist. And my, what a story it was. In the end of the book, she wrote an author’s note. In that note, she said that she was well aware of the backlash she’d receive from writing this book. How dare her try to speak as a black woman? And she was right – there was definitely backlash and mixed reviews. But as she described in her note – she has written about many characters in the past – victims of rape, men, abused spouses – all things that she, herself, is not. And how did she do that? By talking to them. By learning about them. By putting herself in their shoes and living their lives through her words.

And why did she do it? Because she could. She was given a gift. She’s a storyteller. And with this gift, she knows that it is her duty to give voice to the voiceless. She is using her talent to change the world, one novel at a time. And, personally, I think she’s doing a damn good job of it.

Stories deserve to be told. Silencing them is never the answer.

Never.

What say you?

***

“Stop explaining yourself. Shut up and act!”
~ Craig MacDonald

***

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Sunday Run: A Heathen’s Story

“It was not enough to come and listen to a great sermon or message every Sunday morning and be confined to those four walls and those four corners. You had to get out and do something.”
– John Lewis

It is Sunday morning, and I am not in church.

Now, this is no different from most Sundays for the past few years, mind you. But as the granddaughter of a devout Southern Baptist Christian, there’s not a Sunday morning that dawns without that old ingrained guilt in my soul for not having my buns firmly planted on a pew where they belong.  However, Guilt and me have gotten a bit used to each other.  I don’t let him talk me into things as often as I did when I was younger.

So, no church for me.

But, why?

Sigh. Honestly, I don’t know.

I have a ton of excuses, but not really any that would impress Grandma. I mean, my life pretty much revolves around ample Sunday morning churchgoing opportunities. The aforesaid Grandma, for instance. I know where she’ll be, without fail, and would love to have me join her. And I do sometimes, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not for the church itself – that’s to see and spend time with her. She lives a good 45 miles away, though, so it’s not the most convenient scenario for every Sunday morning.

You know what’s not 45 miles away though? The church at the end of my driveway. Yes, my house literally sits in the backyard of a small Methodist church that my mother-in-law attends. But have I ever been in there?  Nope.

(Okay, that’s a lie and you’re not supposed to lie on Sundays. One time I went in and peeked around when no one else was there. But I’m thinking that might not count.)

Another nail in my Sunday morning heathen coffin? My husband actually works at a local church on Sunday mornings. Yep.  As he gets up early and heads to town to get the rented venue open and rev up the sound equipment for the upcoming hip, contemporary, and even entertaining church service, I sleepily wave goodbye to him and snuggle deeper into the covers.

I kinda suck.

So, with all these opportunities staring me in the face – why don’t I go?  Oh, I don’t know. I’m not an atheist. (Although some have mistaken me for one lately and that’s okay. I’m not offended.) But I’m also not really a believer either. At least not in that book written by a bunch of men who were as flawed as I am.

But let’s not get into that.  That’s not what this story is about. My faith, or lack thereof, could fill a novel and you don’t want to read that and I don’t want to spend time talking about it either. So to save us both a word-induced nap, we’re going to skip that subject and I’m going to try to get to my point.

Alright. As we’ve established, I was, again, practicing my newfound heathenism this morning and not attending church.  What was I doing instead? Running.  I find myself doing that a lot on Sunday mornings lately. Whether there’s some deep sense of spiritual guilt that drives me out the door on these mornings in order to more quickly pass those previous pew-allotted hours, or I’m just making use of the rare few moments of alone time with no responsibilities, I’m not sure. Either way though, my running shoes see a lot of Sunday morning asphalt.

Today being no exception, I laced up my shoes and headed out the door to beat the forecasted midday heat. And what do I run into?

Churchgoers.

Yes, seeing as how I’m in their backyard, it’s inevitable to go for a run and not pass the church. But I usually try to time these Sunday morning excursions so that I don’t have to face the good people of the world as they exit their cars and head into the sanctuary where my darkened heart “belongs.” My mind supplies enough ingrained guilt without those angelic pairs of eyes adding to the heap. But alas, this morning something went wrong and I blew it. I wasn’t watching the clock and I messed up.

So, I steeled myself. I put on my “armor” (aka headphones) and prepared to rush right by them without a glance in their direction. They were not going to make me feel guilty on this particular morning, no sir. I’m a grown up and I can do what I want. I can certainly run fast enough in my running shoes to get away from them in their Sunday best if they try to catch me, right?

Game on.

I increase my speed, prepare to zip right by, and then…..one of them speaks to me.

Crap.

Busted.

I mean, come on lady. I’m running here. I have my armor in my ears – can’t you see? I’m dressed in way-too-short-for-my-age running shorts and a tank top; I’m obviously not rushing down here to beat the church bell.  Surely to gosh you’re not going to invite me in there looking like this, are you?

She mumbles something and I reluctantly remove my headphones.

I’m sorry, what?” I call out, slowing my pace but not fully stopping – acting like I want to hear her reply, but making it obvious that I have no time for chitchat and that my hell-bound soul has already made its decision to run this morning and she was absolutely not going to change that.

“Just wanted to make sure you saw this!” she calls out cheerily and points to the wooden box in the corner of the parking lot.  To my surprise, she was showing me a water stand.

Now, I’d seen this water stand before. And I appreciated it for its uniqueness and the kind hearts that must have erected it. We are a beautiful mountain county and many bicyclists make their way through our secluded area on their weekend treks, so a wooden water stand had been built and placed at the corner of the church parking lot with a drawing of a bicycle and the letters “H20” painted on its side to make the bikers aware that there was refreshment waiting for them. So, it wasn’t a surprise to see it – I live here and I’ve seen it many times.

But I sure was surprised to have it offered to me.

If you get thirsty during your run, make sure you get some water!” she called out, and smiled and waved as she made her way into her house of worship.

Well, I’ll be.

I couldn’t help but grin.

What a gesture. Not only was she not there to make me feel guilty about not attending church services, but was actually offering to help me in the activity I chose to do instead of accompanying her into her sanctuary.

Wow.

With a smile plastered on my face, I called out a thank you to her retreating back, and continued on my journey.

So, no. I didn’t go to church today. I didn’t go last Sunday and, frankly, I probably won’t go next Sunday. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t commune with my own personal version of the God that exists in my life.

God was everywhere this Sunday morning.

My lungs breathed her air. My eyes beheld her beauty in the cloudless sky above me and the mountains that surrounded me. My feet caressed her earth as they padded across six miles of terrain.

And then, in the midst of it all, she not only acknowledged my unique form of worship, but she took the time to speak back to me.

She stepped outside and offered me a drink of water.

***

“There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.”
– Dalai Lama

***

A Running Revelation

***

I glance at the clock. Only three minutes left. Three more minutes until I can shove all these files back into their holders and shut down this glaring screen. Three more minutes until I can push the paperwork aside and head home to throw on my running shoes and see the real world–the world that exists outside my window as I sit trapped behind a desk.

I’m a real estate paralegal. If you ever buy, sell, or refinance a house, I’m the face behind the paperwork. Sooo much paperwork. Legal terms, rights of way, percentage rates, amortization schedules, title insurance, property taxes – it all stacks up to the ceiling in my office.  Or at least it seems that way some days.

(Okay, it doesn’t really. I’m neat to a fault when it comes to my office. Things are so organized and put away where they belong that I don’t want to disturb them. Thus feeding my procrastination tendency. But anyway…)

Escape is near. T minus one minute. Organization complete, files and papers where they belong, tabs all closed, computer shut down…5:00 p.m.!  See y’all tomorrow.

My car rushes home to beat the sunset. (There just aren’t enough precious daylight hours this time of year.) A rare, warm late February day is screaming my name.  I’ve grown tired of the treadmill. My running shoes are begging for asphalt, and I plan to oblige.

I race into the driveway, run into the house to throw on my running clothes (a tank top! In February!), grab my headphones and hit the road.

I tune in to an audiobook, my preferred listening material for runs. I’m reading Uncommon Type, a collection of short stories by Tom Hanks. (Yes, that Tom Hanks.) As the crunching sound of my footsteps hitting gravel-filled pavement takes me along the curvy, country highway near my home, I keep Tom Hanks talking in my left ear as my right ear stays tuned to traffic. It’s not the best way to listen to a book, but even divided attention is enough for a book this good. And besides, safety first. I’m sure Tom would understand.

I continue on. Find a good rhythm. Crunch crunch crunch.

I round a corner and notice an old, abandoned home on my right. You see a lot of these out in the country. I always wonder what happened to get them to this point – what is the story that caused everyone in the family to pack up and leave the place that once held all their memories?  And could they (if “they” still exist) possibly know that a lone runner passes their land almost daily making up possible scenarios to explain their forgotten property?  As a writer, these untold stories tumble in my head, yet rarely make their way to the computer screen once my run is complete.  I wish that weren’t the case. I wish I could be like Tom Hanks – I wish I could see mundane things and put them into a collection of brilliant stories for some runner to listen to as she pounds the pavement.

But, alas, I’m just me.  I have great ideas, and then I forget them.

I need to do better.

Crunch crunch.

My attention returns to the abandoned home on my right. I’ve run by it hundreds of times as I’ve run this route, but today something is different. The bushes are cleared. The lawn has been mowed. A new sign has been added reflecting the home’s address.

Work trucks are sitting nearby.

It is winter. I haven’t run this route in so long that I didn’t notice what was happening. The cold and snow had kept me away but now the sunshine has led me to the change.  Then, as I look more closely, a sun ray lands on the newly-added numbers on the run-down home. An address.  My running route’s abandoned home now has four simple numbers adorned on a post outside. So someone can find it.  The mailman, perhaps?

Well, how about that!?

Crunch crunch.

Then, suddenly, from out of nowhere, those four random numbers strike a chord in my memory. What am I remembering? I know these numbers somehow.  What do they mean?

It hits me!  I did the work for this house.

This house.

I sat there months ago looking at yet another mound of paperwork that resulted in this! I didn’t know that the people buying a house to fix up (yet another house in a string of houses that fill my working days…) were actually buying this house to fix up.

Wow.

Look at what I’ve done. Look how important I am.

Crunch crunch.

As Tom Hanks fill my left ear and my right ear stays on guard for oncoming traffic, my inflated ego surveys the product of my handiwork. My profession has just become three-dimensional. I see the product in real life. It’s no longer just a bunch of words and numbers and plat drawings. It’s a renovation. It’s a renewal. It’s someone’s hopes and dreams.

It’s no longer a house. It’s a home.

With a satisfied smile, I continue running.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

As Tom Hanks proceeds to regale me with everyday life happenings turned into the poetry known as short stories, I feel the inklings of my own story beginning in my mind. The story of a mound of paperwork turning into a home. The story of the real life that lies beyond the papers and the computer screen.

When I get home, I’ll start my story. But where should I begin?  Eh, I’ll figure it out. This story will make it to the computer screen this time.  Not like the others that disappear before I slip my running shoes off inside my front door. This one is good.  Too good to forget.

I run.

I look.

I listen.

Crunch.

Tom Hanks is still talking, his stories are still flowing, and yet. Yet. I feel like my story is just not good enough. Something isn’t right. So I saw a house that I did the paperwork on? Big whoop. Why does this matter?

What am I missing?

In the midst of my conundrum, my right ear detects a truck heading my way.

It’s an old pickup truck–faded red paint and a loud muffler. Typical transportation for this country area. In the distance, I can just make out the area on the front bumper where the license plate should be (a spot that renders itself useless in the state of North Carolina where you only need a back license plate). Squinting in the late evening sunlight, I see what the owners of this truck have done with this rectangle of unused canvas.

They have adorned it with a rebel flag.

A rebel flag.

Thoughts of any ego-filled, renovated house stories take a prompt backseat as my liberal blood boils. No, a rebel flag is nothing unusual to this area. We are in the bible belt. The “south.” Even as a transplant, after more than four years of living in this area I should be used to these sights by now.

But I never get used to it.

Angrily, my feet take me closer to the truck heading my way in the distance.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Who is this person? Has he never picked up a book? Has he never known a person of color? Listened to their stories? Learned about their ancestors and the struggles they had to go through just to survive? The inhumanity, the suffering…has it all fallen on his deaf ears?

The offensive truck comes closer and, as it nears, veers well over the centerline of the road into the oncoming lane to give me a wide berth.

Interesting.

As a runner on narrow country roads, this unfortunately doesn’t happen often. Some drivers seem angry that I’m sharing their space and will refuse to bend the rules of the road to slide over to safely pass me. In fact, some will even angrily stare at me as they glide by, refusing to budge even an inch outside their allotted, rightful lane.

But not rebel flag man.

No, rebel flag man not only surprises me by getting over but, as I start to make out his face behind the passing windshield, also smiles.

And then waves.

Waves.

What do I do? I’m not going to wave at a man sporting a rebel flag on his truck. It represents everything I’m against. It stands for all that I deem wrong with our country.

And then, it hits me.

(No, not the truck. An idea.)

That license plate is two-dimensional.

It’s “paper.”

Much like the things I see on my work computer screen, that little rectangle probably doesn’t tell the whole story. In order to fully see the man behind that wheel, I’d have to know more than just the information presented to me on the “screen” at the front of his truck. I’ve only seen the outside of his “house,” I haven’t seen the “home” that lies underneath the paperwork.

Suddenly, this thought process transcends well beyond a miniscule runner on a country road faced with a rebel flag toting truck driver.  So much of what we see in this current world is two-dimensional. Words seen on a screen; snippets of a remark seen on a news reel; a status posted on Facebook. It’s all “paper.” None of it has depth.

What if we could see it all in 3D? Would it look different?

My mind has considered all this in the few seconds as the truck begins to pass. In a last minute decision, my eyes meet the driver’s and I do what I didn’t think I would do. What I didn’t think I could do.

I smile.

And then I wave.

And then?

Well then, life goes on.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

There it is. That’s it. Simple as that. This is my story.

Both my feet and heart quicken their pace. We have things to do.

I rush home, throw off my shoes, and open my laptop.

***

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Another shooting.

More senseless deaths.

More Facebook warriors demanding justice. “More mental health awareness!” “More gun laws!” “Less gun laws! Second Amendment, by Gawd!” “Get God back in the schools!” “Get God out of schools!”

Lather, rinse, repeat.

We all get so desensitized to what is happening because it happens SO OFTEN. We are a country where a mass shooting headline on the news is just another mass shooting headline on the news.  “Oh man, another school shooting. That’s so sad. Thoughts and prayers. Let’s see what’s on the game show network…”

Look at who we are. Look at what we’ve done.

And note that I say “we.”  Not “you.” I’m including myself in this. I’m just as guilty.

I sat and argued on Facebook this morning. I think that no one – a person with mental health issues, a criminal background, or none of the above – should have access to automatic killing machines. I’m a big ole liberal. Guilty as charged. And if you are hugging your guns and spouting the 2nd amendment after something like this happens, I truly think you suck.

But after a few pointless comments here and there pointing all that out, I stopped.

It doesn’t work.

NOTHING CHANGES.

Instead, I changed gears.

I started reading about the victims.

As I started scrolling through the names that have been released so far, I, for once in my life, didn’t just skim them. I really read them.  I read the names. I looked the pictures. And I saw their stories.

I saw beautiful, 15-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff. Her long dark hair reminded me of my long, dark-haired 15-year-old step-daughter Lauren.

I read about Nicholas Dworet. I saw that he was a swimmer and that his swimming had improved dramatically over the past few years.  He even got a swimming scholarship and was headed to the University of Indianapolis after graduation. My thoughts immediately went to my 17-year-old step-son Riley. I thought about the awards ceremony we attended last year where he was chosen as the representative for the “Best of the Best” swimming candidate for our county.

Then I saw little Cara Loughran with her red hair and freckles. And suddenly I was looking at my own little redheaded, freckled 18-year-old daughter Kelly.

And then?

Then I looked at the 19-year-old perpetrator. 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. A 19-year-old boy who will now be charged as a man who committed at least 17 murders.  And as angry as I am at him…as absolutely furious as I am that this man took the lives of all those poor innocent people…I can’t help but see something else.

I have a 19-year-old son too.

And while my 19-year-old son Jeff is very mature and a great kid, he’s still just that. A kid. This was not a man that committed this act. This was a child.

A messed up child just grabbed an automatic killing machine and took out 17 people while we were sitting here wondering what our significant other was going to get us for Valentine’s Day. Or while we were sitting here moaning because we were single on Valentine’s Day. Or while we were sitting here groaning at all the lovey dovey couple stuff posted on social media and raising hell about this Hallmark holiday that is just a money racket.

While we were living our every day, mundane lives that we take for granted, hundreds of lives were just completely changed forever.

So.

What is the answer?

What will stop this?

I don’t know.  I have theories, but what the hell do I know?  What do you know?  Yes, you, Facebook warrior. What do you know? What is the answer?

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?

Dear God, I don’t know.

But here’s something I do know.  And that is that there are parents sitting somewhere today who don’t need the “what ifs.” They aren’t comparing these children to the ages of their children like I am. Why?

Because these were their children.

This isn’t a what if. This isn’t a it could have happened to us. This is the real deal for them. Their babies are gone.

THEY ARE GONE.

And we’re not doing a damn thing about it except fighting on Facebook.

We are a bunch of friggin morons.

Sorry, nothing Earth-shattering in this blog. No answers to be found here.

Just one mother who knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that I am the luckiest woman on the planet to be able to go home and hug my babies today after work.

And who also knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that this could have been my family on the news today.

And until each and every one of you out there, greedy NRA ass-kissing politicians included, realize that fact too, nothing is going to happen.

Nothing.

***

‘We can say, yes, we’re going to do all of these things…thoughts and prayers, but what we really need is action. PLEASE. This is the 18th [shooting] this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, get over your politics and get something done.”
– David Hogg,
student survivor of the Margory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
February 14, 2018

***

 

Text sent during a 2014 shooting at Florida State University

Untold Tales

“There’s tales I’ll tell and tales I won’t.”
– Lee Smith

Lee Smith, a local North Carolina author, visited our little mountain town a few months ago for a literary festival. Although I missed getting to see her and  hear her speak, there were some bookmarks left behind in her wake. When I saw them at our local arts council, I immediately grabbed one and have been using it as my bookmark ever since. On it was the above quote – “There’s tales I’ll tell and tales I won’t.” There was just something about that simple little quote that spoke to me. I thought it was because I’m a writer myself and I understand the decision process that goes into what you’re going to put on paper and what you’re not. But lately I’ve been thinking it hit a little close to home for a different reason.

I too have tales I won’t tell.

Yes, even me. The girl who vomits her life out onto a blog or status message each chance she gets. Even a big mouth like me has untold tales.

You know how people portray themselves in the best light on social media? Ever find yourself looking at other people’s lives or relationships and comparing them to your own?  Wondering why you don’t quite “stack up?”

Well, guess what? I’m one of those happy posters.

Guilty as charged.

But here is my confession: life isn’t always great.

I wouldn’t call myself a “liar” per se. The things I post are true. Good things do happen to me. They happen to all of us. I do have great kids and a marriage that has its great moments. And I have amazing friends. When good moments happen, I post them. I’m happy to share them because it makes me proud and I want to look back and remember this some day.

But sometimes there are things that happen in between those moments that just aren’t Facebook or Instagram worthy. You know?

Facebook is kind of our modern-day photo album. Think about it – if you go visit granny and look through her old albums, what are you going to see? You’re going to see the happy times. You’re going to see smiling faces looking at the camera. You’re going to see family with their arms around each other.  You’re going to see happy wedding photos.  You’re going to see laughing kids with ice cream and church Easter egg hunts.

Now, how do you think granny would feel if you said, “Hey – wait. Where’s the picture of that time you had me go outside and get a switch so you could beat my a**?” Or, “Hey, Granny, I’ve looked all through this thing and I can’t find a picture of the night Uncle Bob spent locked up in the local jail for that DUI…”

Um, yeah. That’s not gonna happen.

There are some memories that you just don’t want to preserve for posterity.

And is that granny’s fault?  I mean, are we seriously going to fault granny for not snapping photos during those moments? Of course not. Granny wants to forget that blot in Uncle Bob’s life. She’s not going to brag about it. She’s not gonna frame it and set it on the mantle.

So many times, we fault people for “pretending” their life is great on social media. But that’s not fair. They’re not pretending. Those things are true.

At the moment.

I think if there’s any blame to be placed, it should be on the perceiver. That’s us. We’re the ones looking at that life and thinking it’s perfect. We’re the ones looking at their happy moments and comparing them to ours. We’re the ones thinking that only bad things happen to us and they never happen to those perfect lives we see on Facebook. But that’s not their fault.

It’s ours.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I guess I’m just going through a down time and I want to talk about it. But then again, I don’t really. I don’t want to take a picture of what’s wrong right now and put it on Facebook. I just don’t. And I’m not gonna. Uncle Bob’s night in jail is just gonna have to stay in the family this time, you know what I mean?  But I also don’t want you to look at my happy pictures and think my life is perfect and yours should be too.

It’s not.

But those happy times? They’re real. I’m not pretending. Most people aren’t. We’re just choosing what we want to remember.

But this down time? I’m just hoping this one will fade into the recesses of my mind and never be brought up again.

Give each other a break, ok? Share in the happy times and be glad they exist for one another.

Okay, that’s all the rambling I have for today. This tale is as told as it’s gonna get.

***

“Sometimes you go through things that seem huge at the time, like a mysterious glowing cloud devouring your entire community. While they’re happening, they feel like the only thing that matters and you can hardly imagine that there’s a world out there that might have anything else going on. And then the glow cloud moves on. And you move on. And the event is behind you. And you may find, as time passes, that you remember it less and less. Or absolutely not at all…”
– Cecil Baldwin

 

 

 

 

I’m a Vigilante. And Here’s Why.

“Sometimes justice is better served by those who have experienced the pain.”
― Mark W. Boyer

October 1. We all remember it, and will for years to come. The day that a lone madman decided to rain down bullets on an unsuspecting crowd of country music fans at a concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more. Our hearts broke for our brothers and sisters as we could only imagine what they must have been going through.

And then, as some idiots among us never fail to do these days, some decided to turn this horrid, random incident into a political one. No, not just to discuss gun rights (which is a worthy discussion that needs to be had) – but to place the blame on one “side” or the other.

Cue a local preacher rant.

I live in a small, highly conservative town in North Carolina and one man – a man of “God” – decided to post on Facebook about what happened. He posted a news link to the shooting and used the following words as his caption:

“Welcome to multiculturalism. Thank you Democrats, the media, and liberal education.”

Okay, let me give you a minute to let that sink in.

Take all the time you need.

Yes, my friends, you read that right. This PREACHER – a man of “God,” – decided to place the blame for this lone, white, unaffiliated, non-religious madman’s actions on multiculturalism (different races and religions living amongst one another), democrats (you know – most of whom want to tighten gun safety laws), the media (because um…yeah…I got nothing), and liberal education (whatever the hell he wants to claim that is – acceptance of LGBTQ? Beats me.)

So, needless to say…this pissed me right the hell off.

I screenshotted this atrocity and shared it on social media. I posted it to the church’s website (to no avail because it didn’t seem to bother them).  I contacted the preacher directly who told me, and I quote, that this was “none of my business” and that he would not “stand by and watch liberals destroy his county.”

*Ahhem.*

And then, as some would enjoy telling me over the next few weeks, I became a “vigilante.” I continued to post about it – to remind people of who this man was and what he was teaching his congregation. I continued to post on the church’s website, even though they continued to delete my posts. I even thought about posting a sign on their church to show them who their preacher was. (I decided against that one because it was blatantly obvious that the powers that be didn’t care who he was – they apparently agree with him. Or at least they don’t disagree with him enough to do anything about it.)

Eventually, I was told even by people who agree with my stance on this that “vigilante justice” was not the way to go.

Now, before we go any further, I have to just go ahead and admit that I’ve never been one to listen to anyone else when they try to tell me what to do. Whether they’re on my “side” or not, and whether they’re even “right” or not. Is it healthy for me to continue to feel this anger towards this preacher? Maybe not. Is it productive? Maybe not.

But am I going to stop? Nope. And here’s why.

You know what “vigilante justice” is? I looked it up. While it’s often accompanied by ‘destruction’ (I haven’t torn anything up…yet…) it’s basically just simply taking “justice” into your own hands….whatever that justice may be. It’s also defined as being rationalized by: “the concept that proper legal forms of criminal punishment are either nonexistent, insufficient, or inefficient.”

Okay. I can dig it.

So, basically, what everyone is saying is that since there is no “law” against what this man has done – then I’m taking the nonexistent law into my own hands and seeking some other form of “punishment.” Some other rectification.

Well, hell yeah!

That’s exactly what I’m doing.

This man is leading a congregation. He is shaping minds. Some minds are already formed and agree with what he has to say, but the ones I’m concerned with are the ones that aren’t shaped yet. The young minds. The children.

Let me tell you my story.

I have two children. I have a 19-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. For a large part of their childhood, I was a single mom. I was tough and I did what had to be done, but I’ll admit it: I was lonely. I was lost. I had a very religious grandmother who had a large hand in my raising who had instilled in me that it would be wrong of me not to raise my children up in a church. So, for the most part, I did just that. Now, granted, I skipped around to different churches and never really found one that suited me or my beliefs so I didn’t stay in any for very long. But I did go. And I drug my kids along with me.

My daughter? Let’s just say the church thing never really stuck with her. She has always been wise beyond her years and was always a ‘questioner.’ She was a bit like her mom – just didn’t quite “fit it” anywhere. I’m not saying she doesn’t believe in a higher power – that’s between her and her god if she chooses to believe in one. I’m just saying that she was always a questioner of the “rules,” – especially the ones that didn’t make any sense.

But my son? Now that was another story. I honestly thought (and still do sometimes) that he’d end up becoming a preacher. He has such a deep sense of belief and a black and white sense of “right” and “wrong” that leaves no room whatsoever for questioning. He knows what “is” and “isn’t” and that’s just all there is to it. Period.

So here I have two very different children, now almost grown adults.  One who’d end up leaning towards the conservative, Christian way of life, and the other who’d lean toward the progressive, open-minded way of life. One strict rule follower and one champion of the underdog. Very different people, to put it mildly.

And then…bam. A few years ago, my daughter announces that she’s gay.

Suddenly, momma has to put her money where her mouth is. I’d spent my life running from this religious teaching that being gay was a “sin” because I just didn’t believe it. And now, I had the chance to look all that indoctrination right in the face and decide, once and for all, what I was going to do with those heaps of spoon-fed “knowledge” I’d been given all my life.  What did I choose?

To hell with it.

This was a turning point for me. No longer would I drag my children into a place that was going to tell one of them that she was “dirty.” No longer was I going to open up a dusty old book written by men a couple thousand years ago and that told me that my child was going to burn in hell. Screw that noise.

I’m out.

But that posed a problem. I still had a son.

As of this writing, I have not seen my son in a month. We have not spoken – in person or by text – in over two weeks. He has decided (after a multitude of disagreements – not just his sister’s sexuality) to “cut ties with his liberal family.”

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I don’t care. Because I do. When I allow myself to think about it, I can’t stop the tears. But here’s the thing. I’ve spent my entire life overcoming men who have told me who and what to be and think. It has taken me years to discover who I really am and to teach my children to be who they really are. Am I going to undo all of that so my son will love me?

I can’t.

I just can’t.

So, why am I so angry at this preacher?  Why can I not leave well enough alone and let it go?

Because I’m angry at myself. I want to prevent other mothers from making the same mistake I did. I want the scared, lonely single mothers of the world who are looking for a place of refuge to know that places like the one where that man spouts off his vile hatred have the capacity to turn your children against you. I want to give them the knowledge that I didn’t have. I want to stop them from leading their child by the hand into a place that tells them that their cult-like beliefs are worth more than their own family.

I want to stop them from doing what I did.

Vigilante justice, huh? When you have a personal connection to something, you are more passionate about it. I am a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. When I hear of a fundraiser to raise money to help fight this disease, I’m more apt to donate to it because of my personal history with the disease. Am a “vigilante” against lymphoma? Sure. There’s no “law” against lymphoma, but you can bet your tushy that I’m going to fight it when and how I can, even if it’s just with a small donation when I can afford it.

The same goes for bigotry.

If you’re an individual who believes in everything the Bible says – if you believe that homosexuals are going to hell and “liberals” are evil – then here’s the thing: I’m just not going to like you. That’s all there is to it.  I don’t think you’re a good person and I don’t want to be your friend. Sure, you’re allowed to be who you are. Go ahead. But I don’t want to be around you and I don’t want you to be around my children. However, my children aren’t children anymore.  They are grown and they can make their own choices. My son can make his own choices and he might very well chose to have people like you as his best friend. And he can choose to shut out the people like myself and his sister.

But would he have made these choices if I hadn’t exposed him to this line of thinking?

I don’t owe anyone an explanation. But here it is nonetheless. I just can’t stand down. I can’t watch this man slowly inch his way in between more mothers and sons of the world. I can’t watch him welcome more innocent minds into his cult and not at least warn them about it before they step into his fold.

I just can’t.

Call me a vigilante if you must. But I want to stop this from happening anymore than it has to.  If I prevent just one child from being indoctrinated into that madness, then I will have done what I set out to do.

I miss my son.  And this is all I know to do.

***

Me too?

“Me too.”

Oh, you know what I mean. From just those two little words, I’m sure you know what this blog is about. You’ve seen the Facebook statuses. You’ve seen the responses. You’ve liked and commented.

And just in case you’re not a social media junkie like myself?  Here you go:

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Copy and paste.”

My Facebook feed is filled with women putting “me too” as their status in response to the above statement that is quickly making its rounds on the internet today.  Am I surprised at the large response? Nope. Should I be? I guess so. But I’m not.

And yet, amid all the women posting these two little words (or some elaboration thereof) I found myself not being one of them.

Why not?

Sure, I’ve been sexually harassed. Honestly, is there any woman in this country who hasn’t been? How many of us can honestly say that no one has ever – ever – commented on our appearance or on our “womanhood” in a sexual way? As women, we get it. We know it happens all the friggin time.

And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to put that as my status.

I couldn’t figure out why it was bothering me so much at first.  And then it dawned on me. It wasn’t the word “harassed” that was the issue.

It was the word “assaulted.”

Somehow, I think that simple copy and paste status covers much too broad a spectrum. There’s a bit of a distance between harassment and assault.

How can we lump a catcall and rape in the same category?

Okay, okay, don’t start screaming. I hear you. “Don’t negate catcalling – it’s offensive. It’s disgusting. It’s unwanted.” I know, I know. I hear you. It sucks.

But you know what catcalling is not?

It’s not a physical assault on your person. It’s not ripping something away from you that you’ll never get back. It’s not something that will harm your psyche for the rest of your days and interfere with the normal and enjoyable act of sex for the rest of your natural life, no matter how hard you try to get it not to.

If you get catcalled, it pisses you off. It may even embarrass you. Hell, you may even like it, I don’t know.

But if you get raped?

Trust me, that’s something different altogether. That’s not something you “get over.” That’s not something that you’re proud to put up as your status for all the world to discuss.

Okay, again, time out. Don’t scream at me. I know the people putting “me too” aren’t “proud” of the fact that they were harassed or assaulted or anything in between. I know that.  I get it. They’re just trying to let other women know that they’re not alone out here in the world and that they aren’t the only person this crap happens to. I know you mean well. And there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing.  I’m not here to fuss at you so put down your battle weapons.

I just want you to know why it bothers me. I want you to know why I am not participating.

And I want you – yes, you – the woman who was on the far end of that harassment/assault spectrum who couldn’t bring your fingers to type those five little letters that would let the world know that you were a victim of something so heinous and sad and life-altering that not an hour goes by that you don’t remember it? I want you to know that it’s okay that you didn’t type those words on your Facebook. You’re not letting the rest of us down. You’re not failing to stand in solidarity with women around the world who are looking this ugly thing in the face and recognizing it for what it is. You’re not a failure. You are strong and beautiful and worthy.  And every single day that you get up, put your feet on the ground, and face another day with your head held high as you continue with your life even with that gut-wrenching, painful memory gnawing at the corners of your every move?  THAT is your victory. That is your voice. That is your status.

I stand here beside you, because I know.

I may not have put it on Facebook. I may not have played the copy and paste game. Hell, I may have even chickened out if that’s what you want to call it.

But believe me, I know.

I know.

Me too, my sisters.

Me too.

***

“Even in times of trauma, we try to maintain a sense of normality until we no longer can. That, my friends, is called surviving. Not healing. We never become whole again … we are survivors. If you are here today… you are a survivor. But those of us who have made it thru hell and are still standing? We bare a different name: warriors.”
―Lori Goodwin

***

womanshadow