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Agreeable Disagreers

“If you have learned how to disagree without being disagreeable, then you have discovered the secret of getting along – whether it be business, family relations, or life itself.”
– Bernard Meltzer

Last week, I was a mess.

In case you missed it, I wrote a blog late one night called In Hate I Trust. That night was a rough one. After participating in a peaceful protest against a waste of taxpayer funds in our small mountain community in North Carolina (read the local newspaper article here), I became the target of much vitriol from many locals who disagreed with my stance. Because our protest was tied into religion, the “you’re going to hell” folks came out in full force. One of whom even targeted my child with her “God-fearing” bitterness and hatred.

and

Photo by Cassondra Greer

The night I wrote that blog, I thought I was done. I thought I would never speak out about anything ever again because I would only be misunderstood and condemned, and my children would be the ones to suffer the consequences.

But. As it always does, morning came.

And in the days to come, for a multitude of reasons, my heart was healed.

First, after a teary apology to my daughter the next morning for what had happened, I was greeted with a blank stare and a simple, “Why are you sorry? You didn’t do it.” Oh, the simplicity of a child. She saw right through my misplaced self-contempt and redirected it to where it belonged – onto the person who had wronged her. “What did I ever do to her?” was her question. And what a good one it was.

With my daughter’s blessing, and a newfound determination, I got back up on that horse and continued fighting.

And thus, Agreeable Disagreers was born. Let me explain.

igwt going up

Letters going up – April 19, 2016

A few days before the peaceful photography protest mentioned above, a conversation was started on my Facebook account over the $2500 in taxpayer funds used to place “In God We Trust” in big golden letters on our local courthouse. When I posted a picture of the letters going up and expressed my controversial disagreement with such, a multitude of viewpoints started rolling in. One of which came from Teresa Kimberlin Martin, a faith-filled Christian who grew up in Ashe County with my husband. Teresa’s comment was, “Private contributions paid for this. No public funds were used. Why is it an issue?.”

And there was the crux of the problem.

Private contributions did not, in fact, pay for these letters. Without a vote or say from the county’s citizens (many of whom are not of the Christian faith, as shocking as that may be), the five county commissioners decided to allow taxpayer funds to cover this expense. (Read this story in more full detail here.) Once the Facebook conversation led to this fact, after snippy comments back and forth, suddenly Teresa had a thought:

Ok. So I have an idea. Melissa, you and I differ on most things political. Well, all things political and religious. Since…the county has decided to pay for the letters, why don’t we have a fundraiser and split the funds to homeless shelters, food banks and any other program that needs funding?…We may not share the same views on all things, but we DO share the same views on helping others. Your thoughts?? And I am serious about this. Why not use our differences to solve some really serious issues??”

And with that, an idea was born.

What could have continued like any other Facebook argument between people who don’t see eye-to-eye, suddenly, with one change of attitude and heart, blossomed into a compromise. And not only a compromise, but a mission.

No, I do not think “In God We Trust” needs to be on a courthouse building that serves a Christian and non-Christian public. Yes, Teresa, thinks those letters do belong on that building. We disagree, that much is obvious. But what we both do agree on is this: in a poor county like ours, a county that has captured both of our hearts for different reasons (hers because it was where she came from, mine because it’s where I finally found a place to call home), $2500 could have very well been spent in a more logical manner.

After a few conversations back and forth between the two of us, we decided to put this idea in motion. I suggested the name Agreeable Disagreers. Teresa contacted the local bank to get our account set up. I went by and signed for it, ordered checks, etc.

And a fundraiser was born.

AD logoAt first, I was skeptical. I knew that others would see this as an “anti-religion” fundraiser.  In fact, I’ve heard those very words. But that’s not what we are at all. Actually, we’re quite the opposite. We’re pro-religion: all of them, including the lack thereof. Our foundation is based on inclusiveness. Our co-founder is a faith-filled Christian in every sense of the word. We are anything but anti-religion. Our goal is to help others, without any prerequisite of a particular political or religious affiliation. In other words, we don’t care. We welcome all, and we want to help all.

Because of our controversial start, and this misconception associated with our mission, I wondered if we’d receive any donations at all. Our goal was originally just to raise the $2500 in funds and distribute them back into our community. We didn’t know how long that would take (still don’t) and hadn’t give much thought to what would come after that.

My, how much can change in just a few weeks.

AD shirtsAs of today, May 6, 2016, Agreeable Disagreers has taken in $1,520.  We are only $980 short of our original goal. One member, Kizil McCay, volunteered her services to create our fabulous logo. Another member, Loni Miller, offered her screen-printing services and set us up a website, offering t-shirts and bumper stickers supporting the cause (all profits going directly into the fundraiser – click on the photo to the left be taken directly to her site). One member donated a whopping $300, and another offered a donation match of $500, which was met within three days! People are hearing us. They know what we stand for, and they believe in us.

Six donations have been distributed from the fund so far. Two to local charities (the homeless coalition and the food bank), one to a local fundraiser celebrating diversity among our county’s middleschoolers (click here to read about that and support them if you can!), and three to local individuals suggested to us who had fallen on temporary hard times and needed a helping hand.

We have started something beautiful, and we are not ready to quit anytime soon.

We have developed a board of four members who meet periodically to discuss distributions and future plans. Some of these future plans include volunteer work. (AD member Cassondra Greer has submitted an application for an Adopt-a-Highway in our name and the local food bank has provided us with a list of times and locations for opportunities for group volunteer efforts). We are all agreed that this fundraiser will not stop once that $2500 has been met. We are going to keep going.  We are going to keep funds and helping hands available to spread into our community when needs arise.

If you’d like to learn more about Agreeable Disagreers, visit our Facebook page by clicking here. Donation information is found there if you’d like to donate, and volunteer opportunities will be posted as they become available. Also, most importantly, if you know someone in our local area who needs our help, whether it be monetarily or through volunteer services, please let us know!  Just post in the group that you’d like to be contacted by a member and we’ll gladly get in touch with you asap.

I am proud of what we’re doing here. I’m proud of the helping hands that have stepped up, and the hearts that see beyond the differences that could divide us. It’s such a tough time in our country right now. Differences are glaring more than ever. We are all screaming to be heard. I’m not preaching here, I’m guilty of it too. It’s the climate that this country is in right now, and it’s sad. It’s truly sad.

But maybe there’s a little hope.  Right here, in little bitty Ashe County, North Carolina – there are a group of disagreers who are putting their differences to work.

It’s amazing what happens when we take the time to actually hear one another.

peace

***

“There are those in need who really don’t care which side of the aisle you sit on,
they would just like a seat at the table.”
– Agreeable Disagreers co-founder, Teresa Kimberlin Martin

 

 

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An Apology Letter to the LGBT Community

 

Dear LGBT Community:

My name is Melissa Edmondson.

Last week, I was invited to speak at a GOP meeting in my small area to give an opposing opinion on North Carolina’s controversial HB2 law. Why me? Good question. I have no idea.

speech

Photo by Jesse Campbell of The Jefferson Post

I am a progressive independent who tends to lean pretty far to the left – the last person you’d expect to be a keynote speaker at a GOP meeting. But there I was, nonetheless. The Republican party chairman, in what I think was a brilliant, heartfelt move, decided that we are a better community when we hear what one another has to say. And he chose me to deliver that message.

Does he regret his decision? I wonder.

I’ve gotten many responses since the meeting, both good and bad.  (If you’d like to read the news articles about how it went, you can click here and here.  And then a later report about the republican party itself and their standing after the meeting: here.)

The “bad” responses I’ve received generally involve the possibility that I might lose my job or lose business for my employer. He and I have both received those comments from people in our community. Yes, I know this sound ludicrous to some of you who may be reading this while in other areas. But trust me, this is Ashe County, North Carolina, and this is a very real thing here. If you do not fall in the majority with your beliefs, you are practically nonexistent (or some will try to see to it that you are). So far, however, I’m still at my job. Even a heathen like me can still whip up a few real estate closings here and there.

But, honestly, I want to tell you about the other responses. It’s the “good” ones that have bothered me most.

I keep getting told what a “hero” I am. How “brave” I am. How much courage it took to get up in front of all of those people to speak like I did. And every time I hear those words, I feel a sadness that I have had trouble explaining.

At first, I told myself I was just being silly. Maybe I’m just one of those people who gets embarrassed by compliments. Maybe I need to learn to accept them more graciously and have a little more faith in myself. Maybe it was just a self-esteem thing – maybe I needed to be proud of myself.

But no. That’s not it. Not at all.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize what’s wrong. I am accepting misplaced credit.

I am not the brave one. You are.

I am a writer; a talker. Speaking my mind is something that comes naturally to me. Sure, it’s a bit easier to speak to people who share my beliefs, but the fact that the room was full of people who didn’t share those beliefs didn’t bother me. When you truly believe that what you are saying is the truth, you don’t care who you are speaking to. You are speaking because you know it needs to be heard. Yes, public speaking is hard. Terrifying even. And if you want to pat me on the back for speaking in front of people, okay. I’ll take that. Because I was scared out of my mind. (I just recently read a James Patterson book entitled “I Funny” which was aimed at middle-schoolers. One of the chapters was entitled “Public Speaking: Or As It Should Be Called – Public Execution).  Yes, I was terrified. But not because of what I was saying. I had absolute faith in what I was saying. It was just your normal run-of-the-mill fear of public speaking. Most of us have it.

So, yes. Yay me. I overcame a public speaking fear. Big whoop.

But bravery? HA! No, that is not bravery. What you do everyday is bravery.  Especially if you live here.

Although the world is slowly adapting to one that accepts you as you are, change is very slowly arriving to our little area. In some places, change hasn’t arrived at all. You have to live your life as a lie. You have to pretend to be someone you’re not.

Me? Brave? Any time a major event happens between my husband and me, I share it all over Facebook. Pictures of us holding hands. Snuggling. I get to hear the ooohs and ahhhs and bask in the lovey-doveyness of it all. What do you get to do? Hide. You can’t post pictures like that or even hold your loved one’s hand in public. You have to hide behind the veneer of what is ‘allowed.’

You are the brave ones.

Me? Brave? I can walk into any restaurant or store and know that I can shop and dine and not have to wonder if I’m going to be asked (or told) to leave. I don’t have to wonder if this is a safe spot for me to be in and wonder if the person behind the counter is going to treat me the same as others. There is no reason they shouldn’t. I’m just standing here being heterosexual, why should they treat me any different? You, on the other hand?  I can’t imagine what must go through your mind every time you walk into an establishment in this narrow-minded area that time has forgotten to visit.

You are the brave ones.

Me? Brave? I can go to the bathroom, for God’s sake. If I need to pee in public, I go to the friggin bathroom. There’s no question. There’s no hesitation. There’s no looking behind me to see if I’m going to be arrested. There’s no feeling I’m doing anything “wrong.” I go pee and I leave. I don’t give it a second thought. Some of you? I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how hard this must be for you.

You are the brave ones.

Please accept my apology. Please accept my apology for taking the compliments and the praise that should be directed at you. You are the brave ones. You are the heroes. You are the courageous.

Yes, I spoke on your behalf. But I am not you. I don’t understand, and can’t begin to fully understand no matter how hard I try. I am sorry that it was me up there speaking on your behalf, and not you able to tell your story. I was the one that was welcomed into the “lion’s den” as one reporter referred to it.

Would you have been?

Somehow I don’t think so.

Did those people hear me? Was it worth it?  I don’t want to be pessimistic here, but honestly I don’t think so. But to tell you the truth, I don’t really care.

They weren’t the ones I was targeting. You were.

Please know that you have friends. Please know that there are more out here than just me. Please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot. You are fighting one of the bravest fights there is to fight – the fight for equality. You are the heroes, friends. Not me.

They may not have heard me, but I hope you did.

Love,
Melissa

 

Wisdom from Elain

“Nature chooses who will be transgender; individuals don’t choose this.”
– Mercedes Ruehl

Yesterday, I wrote a blog called The Guise of Love.

Today, I read another blog post similar to mine by a man named John. While going through the comments on John’s post, I saw one comment that deserved a blog post of its own.

Today’s blog is dedicated to Elain. These are her words.

They need to be heard.

Open your mind and your heart and listen.

 I’m transgender. Do you know what I think about when I go into the bathroom? Going to the bathroom. Washing my hands. Checking my hair and makeup. Full Stop. I and every other transgender person I know (and I know about 600 transgender people personally) feel exactly the same way. We just want to pee.

“Use the men’s room then” people say.

I have rather pronounced breasts (Yes, real, physical breasts, natural and made by my body). I wear a dress. Heals, Blouses. My hair and makeup is not even close to being masculine.

Do you know what happens to me when I go to the men’s restroom looking like this? 4 times I have been assaulted. Once that put me in a hospital for a week. I have been spit on at least 30 times. I’ve had more disgusting things said to me than I can count. I’ve had urine thrown on me twice, feces once. I’ve had to pull my pistol out on men 5 times. I started carrying a firearm after I was hospitalized by a right wing Christian hater in Florida, who nearly beat me to death and would have, had he not been pulled off me and restrained btw. One of these days I am going to be forced to shoot someone who thinks it is perfectly fine to assault the transgender person for no other reason than I am transgender. And it will be because of right wing pretend ‘Christians’ and their ramped up hate towards transgender people, since they can no longer legally hate on gay people.

We are the next target for their disgusting, un-Christ like hate.

I got so tired of the hate I was facing, on a daily basis. EVERYWHERE I went, that I chose to relocate to a state with transgender protections because I REALLY don’t want to have to shoot some hate driven so-called ‘Christian’ for trying to assault me because they have been taught by their church that I am an easy target for their hate and fear.

‘Christians’ are always screaming about people who are LGBT being so militant.. you know why we are that way? Because YOU do everything you can to cause us harm, to revile us, to hate us, to treat us as less than human. So.. we got active. We defended ourselves from YOU. Now many of you are crying we have an agenda.. that we are trying to take away your rights. NO.. WE RE NOT! We are just trying to be allowed to live, love and be happy, like everyone else. BUT YOU WON’T LET US. So we have to activate, protest, be militant. We’d rather not have to do that. We just want to live, like everyone else, without being afraid we will be fired for who we love, evicted for who we are, not for anything we did wrong. Be able to walk down the road without pretend ‘Christians’ spewing their idiocy and hate at us. Be able to marry the person we love. JUST LIKE YOU!

And then we have people like John here, who actually gets it. Who understands that humanity isn’t black and white. One way or the other, that we are in fact an amazingly diverse and variable species. People like John give me hope that someday, I will be able to walk down the street without fearing I will be attacked, and possibly murdered, just for existing. Right now, that is a very real fear for me EVERY TIME I STEP OUTSIDE OF MY HOME. And I blame that 100% on ‘Christians’.

If any of you walked a day in my footsteps. Lived a day in my shoes. Had the faintest glimmering of what goes on in my mind, how I feel, how I think… you would know that being transgender isn’t a choice, it’s a matter of living or ending your life. It almost ended my life. I fought who I was as hard as I could. I created a façade. Male. Tried to live so society would leave me alone. Buried myself so deep, that nobody even knew I was there. And I hated myself and life so thoroughly, just hated everything and everybody but mostly I hated myself. I was so deeply, miserably unhappy that death seemed a viable and much better alternative. Every day of 50 years of life, I was miserable. Unhappy. Hated myself. Hated everyone else. It came to a head. I almost succeeded in killing myself. My doctors don’t even know how I survived and have told me that I shouldn’t have. That was a year ago. I stopped pretending and playing YOUR game, and finally accepted what I had been forced to deny my entire life. I accepted who I was, something I knew before I even turned 4.

Oh yes. I have memories going back to 4 and earlier. Massive distress at my body, at parts of my body. It was wrong. Broken. Misshapen. I didn’t know what to call it back then, but the one and only time I voiced it… I got beat so badly I had to lay on my stomach for three days. I never mentioned it again until a year ago.

And you know what? I am happier. I no longer hate people. No longer look in the mirror and hate myself. For the first time in my entire 51 years of life… I like who I am. I will kill myself rather than be forced back into that THING I pretended to be for 50 years. You don’t know my pain. None of you except another transgender person can really know it. But you can be empathetic. Understanding. Instead of hating and fearing what you don’t know. You can educate yourself. And if you really are Christian… you can do what Jesus told you to do in the first place. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You can’t love your neighbor when you are trying to criminalize their very existence.

Sorry for the rant John. You strike me as a decent person and one I could respect and admire. But it had to be said. From our view.

~Elain

public-restrooms

Everyday Friends

“The surest sign of age is loneliness.”
– Anne Dillard

Let’s talk about adult friendships, shall we?

I want to show you something that I saw yesterday.

“Wish those people who talk about their recent outings or make plans in my presence realized that they never invite me. Are they insensitive? Do they assume I’m busy or disinterested?
Feeling a little hurt because I’m realizing that I invested over a year trying to build friendships that will never be more than functional, practical acquaintances.
I’ve got people who live too far away for random, everyday interactions. I’ve got people I can call in a crisis but I don’t have that circle of local girlfriends I’ve been hoping for. Guess it’s time to move on. Problem is, surrounded by so many locals, no one has an opening for an ‘everyday friend.’”

friendship blogWhat you just read was an online post from my Facebook friend Tiffany. I saw it yesterday while scrolling through and I haven’t been able to get it off of my mind. I had a passing thought to blog about it, but then decided maybe not. Really, what could I write about? And what could I offer? Advice? Ha. Hardly. Why? Because I’m not qualified, that’s why. I’m just like Tiffany.

I feel exactly the same way.

And then today, as if the universe knew I was trying to hide from the thought, I received a message from Kim, a mutual friend of mine and Tiffany’s. This is what she had to say:

“I am sadly amazed at the responses to Tiffany’s post. Given the outpouring of understanding she received, I would love to see you blog about this. It is a widespread topic that we are reluctant to put out there. Oh, I’m whining, or pathetic, or some other dreamt up stupid adjective that is not accurate (except in our mind). You write THE best, honest, open and heartfelt pieces. For all of us who feel strangely disenfranchised, please write.”

Could I write about this? Really? What would I have to say?

So, the first thing I did was go back and read Tiffany’s post and peruse the responses. Here’s what I saw:

 “Ditto. Ditto exactly.” – Veronica

“I can relate to this.” – Blakeley

“I feel the same way.” – Heidi

“Thank you for your honesty. More people than you know feel the same way here.” – Becky

“I don’t have this either.” – Cassondra

(And let me just pause here to point out that Cassondra is my next door neighbor and a friend from my community theatre. Geez.)

Now, aside from the many commenters who simply voiced their understanding of Tiffany’s statement, there were also a few who attempted to rationalize it as well.

 “This makes me….wish I was less generally ‘hermity.’” – Season

Looks like Season seems to be blaming herself here. She sees it as a flaw in her own personality or is seeing it as her choice to be alone.

And on that same note:

“I don’t have it either. I think it’s harder to be close to people as I get older. I’m less trusting and more self sufficient.” – Melissa (Oh, wait, that’s me.)

Like Season (gosh I love that name), my comment fell into the same category. Somehow I feel as if I have chosen to feel like Tiffany does.

Some seemed to blame it on the small area we live in:

“Our area is a difficult place to form friendships. I had so many good friends in SC that I went out with on a regular basis. When we moved back home, I had my family but no friends.” – Andrea

“That’s the problem with small towns; they typically aren’t very welcoming to ‘outsiders’ in a deep friendship way. We really haven’t had good friends since we lived in Atlanta.” – Jill

And one mentioned the fact that we don’t make the time for these friendships:

“We are busy and allow the urgent to overtake the important, we don’t take time for girlfriend relationships.” – Cyndi

Then, one that really stood out to me and got me right in the feels:

“I struggle with this same thing. Since I’ve changed my life and try to focus on doing good I don’t have anyone that likes to come around either. It’s funny when you party and act wild you’ll have friends around but as soon as I sober up nobody calls or comes around. So I just hangout with my sweet boys all the time. But it’d def be nice to have a friend too.” – Crystal

(Oh, Crystal. Do you have any idea how strong you are, lady? I sure hope so.)

So, here we have a variety of women with a variety of reasons why they think they have lost this connection with other women. Which one is right?

Are Andrea and Jill onto something? Is it the area we live in? I can certainly relate to that if it is. As a woman who definitely did not grow up in this small town, I often feel left out when I see these female friendships that have been blooming for years.

Or, is it what Cyndi said? Is it the fact that we don’t make time for friendships? As women who are all grown up and now have jobs and kids to take care of and houses to keep clean, is it that we just don’t have the time anymore to pick up the phone and make a plan for a girls’ night? Again, I get it. It seems frivolous in a way. We are women – we take care of things. Who is going to keep things on track around here if we take the night off?

Or is Crystal the one who has it figured out? Have we just outgrown friendships? While we might not have all changed as profoundly as Crystal has (and again – you go girl!), we’ve definitely all changed. There’s no doubt about it. We get older and the things that were once important to us just aren’t anymore.

Or are Season and I the ones that have it figured out. Is it just our choice to not be close to people anymore? Some of us realize it, but maybe some of us don’t?

Sigh. Again, like I said at the beginning of this blog, I don’t really know why I’m writing this. I don’t have the ability to provide answers. Like another commenter, Conor, said, “I can’t offer advice, only empathy.” What is there to say?

Well, other than this:

Tiffany, you are obviously not alone.

“Do you know how many people feel the same way? You have opened up a conversation here that so many are afraid to even contemplate because they don’t want to recognize the hurt and rejection that comes with it. Community is SO needed!!!” – Julie

Julie, my dear, you are on to something. You see all of those suggestions of why up there? They don’t matter. They really don’t. We can sit and try to analyze it all day. Maybe there are a million different reasons it happens, but the fact is that it does happen. It has happened to so many of us.

And now, the question is this – what do we do about it?

I want to go out on a limb and hypothesize about something. I think social media plays a huge role in this conundrum. Now, hear me out here.

I have friends. Really, I do. In fact, I have about 1,045 of them. Don’t believe me? Just ask Facebook. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t cherish those friends on there. I do. In fact, I have a few that I don’t know what I’d do without. When I need a listening ear, I just type away and there they are.

But is that the same thing? Really?

How many times have I said, “I have a problem I need to talk about. Can I come over?” Or how many times have I reached out to someone else? How many times have I said, “I’m sorry you’re hurting, I’ll be right over.” I’ll tell you how many times. Zero. It’s just too easy to have a typed conversation. Or send a funny meme. Or post a facebook status and watch the empathy roll in.

But is that enough?

Tiffany’s status and the overwhelming amount of responses she received tell me that maybe it’s not.

So now what?

I’m a runner. One of the things I always tell people who are just starting out, and the thing that was always told to me when I was first starting out, is this: the first step is always the hardest. Even as an experienced runner, that never fails to be the case. Some days I just don’t feel like running. But as soon as I put forth the effort to just get into my running gear, lace up my shoes, and take those first sluggish steps out the door, it gets easier after that.

Maybe that logic is the same that needs to be applied here.

Kudos to Tiffany. She took that first step. She acknowledged the problem. And not only did she acknowledge it, she put it out there. What courage that took. And because of that courage, she received messages like this one from Christy:

“You, me, coffee? I’d love to spend time with you! I guess I always figure people already have their group of friends since I’m new to town. I always need more girlfriends, though!”

And there you have it. Will Tiffany and Christy become best friends? Who knows? Maybe, maybe not. Friendships are like relationships. Some work, some don’t. But, also like relationships, you have to try. You just have to.

It’s just way too lonely out here alone.

And as for me? Well, I guess it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. I have a neighbor that I’d like to get to know better.  And how ridiculous of me that I haven’t asked sooner.

***

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

That Time I Shut Up

“The world is filled with people who, no matter what you do, will point blank not like you. But it is also filled with those who will love you fiercely. They are your people. You are not for everyone and that’s ok. Talk to the people who can hear you. Don’t waste your precious time and gifts trying to convince them of your value, they won’t ever want what you’re selling. Don’t convince them to walk alongside you. You’ll be wasting both your time and theirs and will likely inflict unnecessary wounds, which will take precious time to heal. You are not for them and they are not for you; politely wave them on, and continue along your way. Sharing your path with someone is a sacred gift; don’t cheapen this gift by rolling yours in the wrong direction. Keep facing your true north.”
– Rebecca Campbell, from her book, Light is the New Black

Make sure you read that quote up there. Read it very carefully.

Did you read it?  Good. Now, go back and read it again. I’ll wait. Really, go on.

There.

[See? Still here. Told you I’d wait.]

I read that quote yesterday for the first time and it really got to me. And I mean really. I went back and read it again. And then again. And then one more time for good measure. Seeing those words, and then committing them to my heart and mind, reminded me of something that I don’t talk about very  much.

And today, I’m going to change that.

I want to tell you about the time I shut up.

I know, I know. Sounds like fiction, right? Me? Shutting up? But nope – this story I’m going to tell you is all true. Every last word of it.

Unfortunately.

Most of you who read this blog either don’t know me at all, or know me through the wonderful world of social media. With that being said, you know the “me” who is a talker. The me who posts a Facebook status or a blog post every time a thought enters my mind. The me who is a performer, a writer, an extrovert in every sense of the word.

But there was a time before all of this. A time before Facebook. A time before the writing and the sharing and the openness.

A time between performances. An intermission, so to speak.

I was involved in a bad relationship. Now, don’t take that as my saying I was in a relationship with a bad man. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying I was in a bad relationship. A really bad one. And what made it so bad was this: I was with someone who didn’t like me.

It’s true. I spent almost five years involved with a man who didn’t like me. Oh, he loved me, I suppose. But he didn’t like me. There’s a difference, ya know. He didn’t like who I was.

For example, he didn’t like when I told people things. Anything. Because, of course, I could have been telling them our problems and those things needed to remain private. So, I stopped telling people anything, good or bad, in person or on social media. I just stopped reaching out; kept to myself.

He didn’t like my writing because I might make him the subject of it and, again, that needed to remain private. My views were so outlandish anyway, no one would ever possibly identify with anything I had to say. I should just be quiet and save myself the embarrassment.

So I stopped writing.

intermissionHe didn’t like my acting. After being involved with community theatres for as long as I could remember, I let the curtain fall on those aspirations. Theatre took time and time was something I didn’t have. I needed to be with him, not out doing God knows what with God knows who for all of those hours. A woman belonged with her family, not on a stage. What was wrong with me?

So I stopped acting.

For someone as bold and blunt and hardheaded as I am, I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe this when I tell you. How could this have happened? How could someone like me become someone like that? But folks, I’m here to tell you – it happened. I wore my hair the way he required. (He once refused to look at me for an entire day because I straightened it and he wanted the natural curls.) I dressed the way he required. I obeyed the way he required.  (Until the time I didn’t – but that’s a story for another day.)

I became so entranced with trying to please him and be what he wanted that I lost me. I had no idea who I was anymore. I became depressed. I slept for hours at a time. I gained weight. In short, I was miserable.

Why does this matter now? Why am I writing about it all these years later?

A few reasons.

First, I posted a blog earlier this week that wasn’t popular with a few people. (Okay, a lot of people.) My viewpoint didn’t jive with some others…including that of my own brother. I don’t like disagreeing with people I love, and for a moment, I did what I used to do. I stopped talking. I got off of the internet for a few hours and didn’t say a word. I didn’t stand my ground, I didn’t argue my point. I ran.

In other words, I shut up.

But then a few hours later, with a sudden jolt, I immediately realized what I was doing. I was once again allowing the sound of me to disappear because someone didn’t like what they heard.

Second reason I’m telling this story: I saw something a week or so ago that I can’t seem to shake from my mind. There was a news story going around about a woman whose husband was being prosecuted because of forcing her to have sex with many men over a period of years. While the story itself was atrocious, the comments that followed the posting of the story were almost worse. I saw so many people saying, “she obviously wanted it or she wouldn’t have participated” and “why doesn’t she go to jail too? She is the one who did it.” Etc. etc. I saw the woman called every unsavory name under the sun, followed ironically by the question of, “Why didn’t she leave?”

Ah, yes. The “why didn’t she leave?” stance. My favorite.

Sigh. What is wrong with us? What is wrong with people today? Why are we so full of ourselves that we think we know everything? Why do we feel like we know the true story of something that happens behind closed doors that we’ve never even peeked around? Why do we feel that we know the obvious answer when this poor victim didn’t? Do we think we are that much better than her? That much smarter? That much wiser?

I don’t know, guys. I really don’t know.

But I do know this.

I am now someone who tries to recognize the ones who are between performances. I know too well what that feels like. I try hard not to judge. I try hard to remember that I don’t know what happened that put them where they are today. Until you’ve been there, you don’t know how easy it is to slip down that slippery slope of people pleasing. You want so badly to be loved…to be liked…that you find the pieces of you that they don’t like slipping away a little at a time until you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know. But trust me, it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens in fits and starts and the further you go down the rabbit hole, the harder it is to turn around and crawl your way out.

Back to that quote at the beginning.

Are you someone who’s between performances? Is it intermission time in your life? I’m here to tell you that I understand. I truly do. But I also want to tell you that I finally…finally…also understand what it feels like on the other side.

“Talk to the people who can hear you.”

Find your song again, friends. Find it and sing it loud. Sing your heart out. For the ones who like you, your song will be music to their ears. Your song will be the best one they’ve ever heard. To them, all other music stops when you start singing. Your voice is beautiful.

And for the ones who don’t like you? They won’t be able to hear you at all. They just won’t. And you can’t make them. It’s such a hard lesson to learn, but it is a necessary one.

Never, ever, let yourself believe what I did. Never tell yourself that the answer is to stop singing. Believe me, dear ones. There is a place for your song. A place that would be empty without it.

Find it. Okay? Promise me. Find it.

And don’t let anyone, or anything, ever shut you up again.

Intermission is over, my friends. It’s time for the second act.

BR9KJP Empty movie theater

***

Where is the Love?

“People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek
Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love?”
– lyrics from Where Is The Love? by The Black Eyed Peas

Lord have mercy, I’m tired.

Let me tell ya what I’m tired of. People. Yep, that’s it. People.

I have this bad habit of commenting on controversial issues on Facebook. I know, I know. Generally, I’m quiet as a church mouse and keep my opinions to myself [Disclaimer: This is a total lie.], but occasionally I’m known to spout off my opinion here and there. And when I do that, there seems to always be someone somewhere who has the exact opposite opinion from me who comments soon thereafter. And no matter how hard I to try to make this happen:

mutebutton

…most of the time (okay, every time) it just doesn’t work.

Current case in point: Shakara in South Carolina.

I’m sure most of you have seen or heard something about what happened with this girl in South Carolina this week. (Click here if you haven’t.) Now, I’m well aware that the media can skew stories, and none of us really know what happened that led up to this incident unless we were actually there, but there is a VIDEO (see link above) that we can watch showing what happened during the incident. Now, regardless of the surrounding story, I’d say that without any knowledge of what happened prior to or after this event, we should all be able to watch this video and see that what happened to this student was wrong.

Right?

Ha. Obviously not.

Once again, I expect the world to see things the way I do, and once again I’m surprised when they don’t. (In fact, my own husband disagrees with me on this one…which I’m not sure has ever happened with us before regarding a current events issue.) How two people can look at an incident and see completely different things still never ceases to amaze me.

Here’s what I saw.  “Officer Slam” (hey, I’m not calling him that to skew this story to my line of thinking – that’s what the guy is known as around the school) is called in to a classroom to remove a girl who refused to leave the classroom when told to. Why was she told to leave the classroom?  Well, the media says she was asked to leave because she refused to put her cellphone away. But really, does it matter? The teacher decided she did something that was so wrong that it warranted her removal from the classroom.  The student disagreed and remained in her seat, refusing to leave.

Now, let’s stop here for a second. Was she wrong not to get up and leave?  Sure she was. She was told to do something and she didn’t do it. A teenage girl refusing to do what she was told?  WOW!  Now, there’s a news story. That never happens. Those South Carolina teen girls must be different than the teen girls everywhere else because the others are never belligerent. Never refuse authority. Never think they are being treated unfairly or feel like they know better than the adults around them. Am I right?

The little heathen.

So, okay, back to the story. This crazy alien teenage creature who refuses to do what she is told to do is now subject to the teacher having called in the school resource officer. School resource officer tells her to leave the classroom.

Let’s break here again. Okay, now we have an officer telling her to leave. Again, this teenager does something that’s absolutely unheard of – she remains stubborn. She stands her ground and refuses to budge. Was she right to do that? Nope. Was she defying authority? Yep.

Back to the story.

Here’s where the resource officer has to make a choice. And here’s where the division line is drawn between how people see the incident. What should he have done in this situation? There are many theories on that. But here’s what he did do.

He put the child – the CHILD – in a choke hold and slammed her to the ground.  He then threw her body forward to the front of the classroom (breaking her arm in the process, for the record) and pinned her to the ground and put her in handcuffs.

W. T. F., man?

And here’s the kicker – it looks like our country is divided on whether or not he did the right thing here.  Did the right thing?  Again, W. T. F., man?  How on Earth is what this officer did, the right thing?

See, here’s what some will tell you.  “By Gawd, if I’d have behaved like that with my teacher or any adult for that matter, my teacher and parents woulda whooped my ass.”

Ahhhhh. The “I’d have gotten my ass whooped for that” defense. That’s my favorite. You know why it’s my favorite?  A few reasons actually.  Number one – it’s a downright lie. Nobody got their “asses whooped” nearly as much as they claimed to. But number two? It falls right there in the category of that other defense I love – “We’ve always done it this way.” Yep, kids used to get paddled in school (hey, I was one of them). And yep, kids used to get the hell beat out of them at home on occasion.  I get it. But you know what? That was then. People were IDIOTS.

You don’t fight fire with fire.

See, there’s this thing called evolution. Whoa now. Simmer down there, right wing Christians, I’m not talking about that evolution. I’m talking about humans evolving. Learning. Growing. Moving forward. Lots of things have changed. We don’t have slavery anymore. Women can vote. You know? Change? Evolvement? Thankfully, that’s what is happening in our world. And this whole beating the hell out of a child when they do wrong is one of those things that we used to do that was WRONG.

It was wrong. It didn’t work.

Let me tell you what happened to me when I was a teenager. I ran my mouth like nobody’s business. I know that’s probably hard to believe, but alas – ’tis true. I gave my mom a run for her money, that’s the truth. And did she beat the hell out of me?  No. Sure, I got spanked when I was little – I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about when I was a full-grown (physically, that is) teenager standing in front of her running my smart mouth. What did she do? She took things away from me. She grounded me. She took away my privileges. I wasn’t allowed to go places, wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone, etc.

Did it work?

Sometimes. Sometimes not.

But you know what happened? I GREW UP. I became a functional, successful adult. I still run my mouth, but she’s proud of me for it now because I’m usually saying something that others may not have the courage to say. I run my mouth on this blog. I run my mouth in short stories that have been published with Chicken Soup for the Soul. I run my mouth in my own self-published book of essays. I’m currently running my mouth in a novel that I will have published next year.

I run my mouth.

And that’s a good thing.

Because my mom raised me the way she did, I don’t fear running my mouth. Yes, I suffered slight consequences for it at times when I was being disobedient. But she didn’t completely kill my desire to stand up for myself and speak my mind. And now? Now, I’m an adult who is proud to stand up for what she believes is right.

Did my mom do the world a disservice?  Hmmm….I guess that depends on who you ask. But if you’re asking me? Hell no, she didn’t. She made me who I am and I am proud of it. I’m not afraid to be me.

Back to Shakara in South Carolina.

Something the world didn’t know at the time of this incident…something that resource officer probably didn’t know…is this. Shakara just lost her mother and grandmother. No, this doesn’t excuse her actions as some might be quick to point out. But you know what? It explains them.  And see, that’s what happens when you actually take the time to know someone’s story before you immediately jump in there and try to take control.

You can’t fight fire with fire.

Fire needs water. Fire needs soothing. It needs the opposite of what it is to put it out. Adding fire to a flame makes it burn brighter. Makes it do more damage. This young girl in South Carolina was damaged. And now? Now she’s damaged in a much more profound way.

Where is the love, people? Seriously. Where is it?

Where is the empathy? Where is the tenderness? Where is the understanding? What are we turning our children into by throwing them across a room when they test their bounds? I’ll tell you what we’re turning them into. We’re turning them into the cold, heartless creatures that are treating them that way. So many will say that “this is what is wrong with the world today” – that children are not “punished” for their actions. But I’m going to disagree.

This is what is wrong with the world today – a lack of empathy. This whole “shoot first, ask questions later” wave that seems to be sweeping the nation these days….that is what is wrong with this world.

But hey – what do I know, right? I’m just a loudmouth redhead who didn’t get the hell beat out of her for speaking her mind. So, here I am. Just another opinion among the crowd. But I can tell you one thing – I’m proud of the person my mother raised. And I’m proud of the people I’m raising.

No child of mine is going to be afraid to speak their mind. And I wish I could say the same for all of the children out there. This situation is a shame. A crying shame. Not just what happened – but the fact that so many out there agree with it.

I’m so sorry that Shakara will not know the world that my children know.

***

“If we desire a society of peace, then we cannot achieve such a society through violence.”
– Bayard Rustin

shakara

***

The Great Divider

“Yes! Truth, truth! What’s so awful about it? I like it.”
– Maggie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

I haven’t been writing for a while. Why? Well, that’s a good question. I’m a very opinioned person so current events are usually the fodder for many of my blog entries…and there has definitely been no shortage of those these days. The Kentucky court clerk, the upcoming presidential election, the transgender boy who wanted to use the girls’ bathroom at his school – I’m telling ya, it’s a blogger’s smorgasbord out there.

But yet, there I sat. Silent.

Until now.

Now, maybe “silent” isn’t exactly the right word. (I mean, silence is not exactly something I ‘do.’) I’ve had a few things to say here and there…shared some articles and memes on Facebook…that kind of thing. But when it came to sitting down and writing my thoughts out in a blog, there just seemed to be too many. There’s just so much going on out there, where would I start? Should I blog about each issue individually? No, somehow that just didn’t seem to be the right answer. Deep down, I knew that there was an underlying theme to all that was going on in the world…all that was going on in my head and in my heart…and I couldn’t sit down and write about it until I figured out what that theme was.

And now, here it is.

Two specific events happened this week that put all of this into perspective for me.

As I said, I’ve been sharing a few memes and articles on Facebook with regard to current events. I’ve also ventured to comment on others’ posts as well. One such post was one about the Missouri teen Lila Perry, a transgender teen who, though born with male genitalia, fundamentally feels female and lives his life as such. But when he attempted to use the girls’ locker room at school, that didn’t go over so well. Cue the media.

lila perry

Lila Perry

Now, although I do feel strongly about certain aspects of this whole situation, I do completely see both sides of the coin. So, rather than venture into sharing or posting about this particular situation, I opted to just keep quiet and observe. Until one commenter really pissed me off. He referred to this child as “it.” Not “he,” not “she.” IT. That really got my blood boiling.

Like homosexuality, being transgender is something you’re born with. Argue with me all you want to, you’re not going to change my mind. It’s not a choice…it’s a truth. So, when this man called this child an “it,” it suddenly became clear to me what monsters some of us can be. Okay, let’s jump on the “choice” bandwagon for a second. Let’s assume that the kid was not born with a scientific disposition that made him feel female. Let’s assume that he is, in fact, choosing to live his life wearing a wig and dresses and that he actually ‘enjoys’ the ridicule and the, I’d venture to guess, thrashings he has received because of it. Ask yourself this, if you were truly in your right mind, could you choose a life like that?  I’m thinking not. So, if It Man is right and this child did actually choose this, then I guess it would be safe to say that he’s not in his right mind, right? That he is a “freak” and that he is “mental” as some of the other commenters have called him. Okay, so we’re agreed?  So, with that being the case…are you now going to call mentally retarded children “it”?  How about kids with down syndrome? How about anyone with clinical depression? Hey, those are all mental impairments, right? Are we all “its”?

I’m going somewhere with this, I promise. Bear with me.

Moving on to Incident #2 of the week.

Now, anyone who knows me know that I am not a fan of The Donald. It’s pretty safe to say that I despise Donald Trump. I hate everything that comes out of that billionaire bully’s mouth. So, being the outspoken liberal that I am, I occasionally share these thoughts in the form of memes or articles on Facebook. In the process of doing so, I have had the unfortunate occasion to find out that many of my friends and family are actually supporters of that blowhard. How do I feel about that?

Eh.

I mean, I wish they weren’t, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not going to change their minds anymore than they’re going to change mine. Is knowing that people I love disagree with me going to stop me from speaking my mind? Heck no. Who I am says nothing against who they are. I’m just me and this is how I feel. My own father and I have the most varying political stand points you’ve ever seen in two people. He’s Republican all the way, I’m Democrat all the way. How do we handle that? We mostly avoid the topic and when it does come up, we just condescendingly grin at each other’s ignorance and end the day with an “I love you” and move on with our lives. That’s how it should work. To quote my Aunt Rebecca’s Facebook status the other day:

A very wise woman once passed on a quote, from another wise woman, that stuck with me. “If two people agree on everything all the time, then one of them is not necessary.” Sometimes, we need the “sandpaper” of other’s opinions to “smooth out” our own perspectives.

We disagree and life goes on.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 28: Chairman and President of the Trump Organization Donald Trump yells 'you're fired' after speaking to several GOP women's group at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino April 28, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump has been testing the waters with stops across the nation in recent weeks and has created media waves by questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

But this week, that philosophy didn’t apply to a few of my family members. Because of my standpoint on certain things, and one of my family member’s disagreeing with those standpoints, she “blocked” me on Facebook. Now, I know that sounds silly. (The “I unfriend you” commercial comes to mind…) But silly as it may be, it’s actually pretty hurtful. In this day and age, social media like Facebook is a way that we keep in touch with people we don’t see every day. So someone “blocking” you is a way of saying “I no longer want you in my life.” And to have that coming from a respected, beloved aunt that you’ve adored all your life?  Well, let’s just say it doesn’t feel too swell.

Now, as things like this tend to do, this family division spread like wildfire. Sides were taken – I was accused of disrespecting my aunt. (I still for the life of me can’t figure out what I supposedly did – I haven’t had one direct conversation with the woman about anything, political or otherwise, in months.) I can only assume that my outspoken political and social opinions went against hers and that she took them as a personal attack on her character. I hate that. I truly do. In fact, I spent a good part of that evening crying my eyes out. Knowing that this woman I have always adored and that half of my cousins (though not as a big of a loss, truthfully) all decided that I’m some kind of monster and ganged up against me over some mysterious offense is a pretty tough blow to take. I wanted to defend myself…and I did for a while. As is always the case, I covered up my hurt with anger and responded accordingly which, as is also always the case, got me nowhere. I considered deleting my entire Facebook account (the typical cowardly way out). I considered contacting the family individually and begging them to show me my transgressions so I’d at least know what it was I was supposed to be defending. I considered so many things but what I finally settled on was this: sleep.

That’s right. I went to bed. I stopped crying, got a good night’s sleep, and then woke up with a clearer mind and vision. And I also woke up with the answer to my non-writing conundrum. Just like that, the tie that binds all of these events together was staring me right in the face.

TRUTH.

That’s what is happening here. Truth. You had the middle ages, the ice age, etc. And here is what we’re in now. The Truth Age.

Suddenly, people are no longer afraid to be who they are. Somewhere, somehow a switch has been flipped. Be it political progress (or regress, depending which side you’re on), or be it the social media craze that has swept our nation…people are now speaking up and letting the world know who they really are. Lila Perry is no longer living as a girl trapped inside a boy’s skin. She is now a girl. Gay couples are no longer living their lives behind closed doors as if they are some kind of dirty secret. Non-Christians are no long adhering to laws and customs that go against what they don’t believe. And I, little nobody Melissa in Nowheresville, am no longer afraid to publicly state my opinion on all of the above. And not only am I not afraid to do it, I now have a platform to use for it – Facebook. A blog site. Social media.

Remember that famous movie line from A Few Good Men? “You can’t handle the truth!” Well, there you have it. Some of us can’t handle the truth. We just can’t. Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending it doesn’t exist has just been so easy for so long. And now, suddenly, truth has descended upon us like a hawk who has finally located its prey. Truth is EVERYWHERE. It’s in the eyes of Lila Perry. It’s in the two men’s hands that are clasped in matrimony. It’s in the stubborn refusal to change that exists behind Kim Davis’ words and actions. It’s in the picture of a three-year old Syrian refugee boy’s body washed up on shore. It’s in the hatred behind the word “it” as some random man typed it onto a social media site as the description of a child.

It’s truth. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes it’s beautiful. And sometimes it’s all of those things all at once.

But it’s real. And it’s here. We can cast blame all we want to. Blame our President. Blame the Christians. Blame the media. Blame out-spoken redheads like me who won’t shut up. Blame, blame, blame. That’s what we do. But the only thing we have to blame is the fact that truth always rises to the surface.

“Three things shine before the world and cannot be hidden. They are the moon, the sun, and the truth…”
– Buddha

The truth is here, folks. What are you going to do with it? Hide from it? Let it divide your friends and family? Try to stop it?

Accept it?

The choice is yours.

But as for me? I welcome it with open arms. And I am more than willing to accept the consequences.

***

truth