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Monday, November 15, 2010

After the Fire

Few things surprise me anymore. Fewer things humble me, stop me in my tracks and remind me I’m human, I’m fallible, and above all else, I’m one tiny cog in the mechanism of life.

Today, sitting in a rental house, contemplating the months before I’m able to return to my house, a home that will be vastly different, new, absent of the marks fifteen years of life once put on it, I’ve learned a lot. People who love you don’t see the things; people who care about you sift through ashes, the insulation-covered belongings, and roll up their sleeves to put it all back together. And people you see only occasionally step up and remind you that when you give, it comes back to you. I’ve always been quick to donate to those who’ve suffered loss, who go through trying times, to cook a meal for those who need it. Now, after the fire, to have so many people come help us at the house, others who’ve taught for us, who’ve rallied behind us, who’ve offered a thought, a prayer, a heartfelt ‘we’re there for you if you need us,’ renews my strength to overcome this. My house burned down but I didn’t lose my home. My home is with friends, with colleagues, with all the warm messages on Facebook, by email, and phone. I may not have as much as I did before Nov. 4th, but in many ways, I have so much more, and for that, I’m incredibly grateful…

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bullying – A Problem Screaming To Be Stopped

When I wrote my young adult novel Dregs, I’d witnessed a lot of bullying in my school and in my classroom. Some of it blatant, but much more of it subtle, part of an invisible hierarchy. School violence stormed into our world as a full-blown epidemic in the mid-90s. We were horrified. We were disgusted. We were to blame – no other nation has our issues with bullying, with cliques, with the kind of violence seen on the front page of every paper nearly every day. And now, all of that has changed with the internet. Bullying has morphed; it’s virtual, transported through cyberspace. But it still hurts, and for some, it has a lasting, stinging effect. Sometimes permanent. Being a teenager or young adult is hard, and the light at the end of the tunnel is sometimes too hard to see. Tyler Clementi couldn’t see it. Phoebe Prince couldn’t see it. Alexis Pilkington couldn’t see it. Even with the rallying cries of Ellen, their suicides make us question the system, the neighborhoods that perpetuate it, the sports fields that promote it, the schools that can’t or don’t stop it, the internet that hasn’t figured out how to control the cruelty created there.

But it starts so much sooner – the judgmental entitlement, the superiority mentality. A perfect example is a blog in the Advocate. Parents instill their best values in their children. And their worst. The problem is, these belief systems are so deeply entrenched, many of the parents don’t understand what they’re doing. Don’t play with the child of gay parents. Stay away from that Muslim kid. No, you can’t go to the mall with that girl with all the piercings. Hate begats hate. Prejudice starts young, before they have a chance to develop beliefs of their own. So when kids start taunting kids, parents’ mindsets are screaming accompaniment. The worry is, can we silence them, any of them?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Presidential Support...

A Trib Talk person ranted in our Columbia Tribune that he refused to acknowledge Barack Obama as our president because he couldn’t confirm that Obama wasn’t Muslim or that he’d converted to Christianity…I find myself scratching my head. Fear mongering is not new in America. When John F. Kennedy was elected, anti-Catholicism reared its ugly head all across the country. So here we are again. I don’t know whether President Obama is a Christian or not. But if he’s not, should it matter? We’ve had adulterers for presidents (many of them, as a matter of fact), we’ve had openly racist presidents, ignorant presidents, and we’ve had more than our fair share of elitist, richer-than-God presidents. How many of our past presidents represent me, for who I am, how I live, and what religion I practice? Not very many. I’m a middle-class woman, and to date, there’s not been a female president, so should I say, “Ah, hell no, I’m tired of all these rich, power-hungry men making decisions for me…I’m not going to acknowledge my president until we elect a woman!”

It sounds absurd because it is absurd. No matter who my president is, I back him. Peanut farmers, rich men, Catholics, Baptists, Atheists (and we’ve had several)…white, black, cat lovers, adulterers, liars (and wouldn’t that constitute most of them?)… No matter their flaws, they’re still our president, the president of the most amazing country in the world. So people who denounce Obama and say, “He’s not my president,” I find myself wanting to tell them to go find a country that has a leader satisfactory enough for them. Except I know that fear-mongering is about ignorance and intolerance, and I find it most disturbing that God-loving, God fearing people are often the most judgmental. Those are the people who should take out their mirrors before they get out their magnifying glasses.

I wonder what those people would’ve done had they known all the other indiscretions of past presidents. Thomas Jefferson, for starters… Then again, at least he was a Christian, right? But can we prove it?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cop-Out Defenses

German Poet Christian Friedrich Hebbel coined it best when he said, "Whoever wants to be a judge of human nature should study people's excuses." Those have reached bizarre heights in the courtroom. The most ludicrous could very well be the Twinkie defense. It helped Dan White get an involuntary manslaughter verdict instead of first degree murder for killing San Francisco mayor George Moscone and the openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk (who had been friends with White). But now that list of excuses is laughable: Adopted Child Syndrome, Road Rage, ’Roid Rage, Black Rage, Computer Addiction, even the Everybody Does It Syndrome. Criminals are no longer responsible for anything they do – there is always an addiction or affliction that excuses it.

Is this a by-product of our society, of newer generations who’ve figured out how to plea their case? Or is this human nature, the natural need to hide behind some disorder or syndrome that could dispel responsibility? Even when being caught with a hand in the proverbial cookie jar, attorneys would just claim a Cookie Defense or The Cookie Monster Made Me Do It Syndrome. Where will the line be drawn? At what point will the justice system say enough?

Probably never… And why should they? It’s become a thread of humor that’s central to our nation’s entertainment. Because in America, our trials show up in the entertainment column as often as in political mags. We’re no longer about “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free”…the saying should be adapted: “Give us your fallen stars, your adulterers, your limelight mongering masses longing to be on the front page…”

But then again, O.J. didn’t like his front page phase in the 90s, even with his Super Jock Syndrome defense. Personally, I’m vying for the Sybil Syndrome – I’ll let the other me stand trial…if they ever catch me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Show Some Respect

I have quite a few metaphorical hats I put on every day… Wife, writer, mom to my puppies, teacher, student, feminist, Cards fan (that one depends on the season), but one of the first I don each day is “American.” I’m proud of where I live, of my culture, of what it really means to be an American. I support my country no matter who’s in office (I don’t jump off that bandwagon even whether I voted for him or not), but I also wholeheartedly support my first amendment rights and was infuriated when people sent the Dixie Chicks hate mail over what Natalie said. Death threats? You’re preaching being a good person and being patriotic by sending death threats? Really?

I believe people should hover more toward the middle on all topics; it’s hard to maintain harmony with so many extremist attitudes. That being said, there’s a situation in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona that should rile Democrats and Republicans alike. It’s an American issue. The pictures speak for themselves, but the message they’re sending is clear: we want to come to your land for its benefits, but we’re not honoring her in our quest for freedom.

I’m empathetic to the plight that drives people to the U.S. I’m also aware that we don’t make it easy to become an American anymore. We no longer embody the Ellis Island mantra: "Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses longing to be free..." However, if you want to come to America, to truly BE an American, you must first possess the respect to treat her with dignity. This is the only planet we have, and this biohazard in the Sonoran Desert is yet another obstacle we must face in order to prevent our own demise.

We, as a human race, are short-sighted, self-serving, and ignorant, and it’s ultimately going to be the death of us.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Step Forward

The anniversary of the Columbine tragedy reminded me how far we’ve come in education and in life. School violence hasn’t been a focus in the media; instead, it’s been Tiger, Big Ben, and other role models who’ve lost their way. But today…today was denim day. If you’re not familiar with it, you should be.

In the 1990s, a woman in Italy went out with a driving instructor and by the end of the day, he raped her by the side of the road. She was vindicated when he was convicted of the rape. But in 1999, the Italian High Court overturned the conviction, stating that the woman was in tight jeans, so there was no way the man was able to get them off by himself. In other words, she had to have helped him, and therefore been a willing participant. Have these people ever worn jeans? Women of the Italian Legislature protested the decision by wearing jeans to work, and as news of their decision spread around the country, so did the protest. So universities, colleges, junior high and high schools, and various other organizations around the world selected to join the campaign to step forward and take a stand against rape and sexual violence against all people, not just women. So April 22nd is now Denim Day, and hopefully you’ll step forward next year! If we don’t speak up for ourselves and others, there’s no point in having a voice.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Baggy Pants Begone

I find it so interesting that guys are still wearing baggy pants they have to hold on to. Did “Pants on the Ground” not show them how ridiculous this fashion is? Not to mention, it proved to me that guys absolutely dress for other guys, not for girls. How many girls see a boy with his jeans belted below his butt, having to hold onto them as he walks, and thinks, “Oooh, hot boxers.” Gone are the days of these guys having their butts admired by girls. Not to mention, there is nothing appealing about watching a guy walk bowlegged, holding his crotch or waist, to keep his jeans from falling. I mean really, guys, this isn’t a fashion girls like, so why are you dressing to fit in or please other guys? We girls have done that for years, dressing for other girls, whether competitively or for the sheer appreciation factor, but it doesn’t work for guys when that fashion doesn’t flatter you in any way. Will this fad ever end?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of the People, For the People, Buy the People…

I saw a video today about toxins, poisons even, in imported seafood. It’s in a huge percentage of all seafood in your local grocery store. Worse, less than 1% of all foreign seafood , especially fish, get tested, and Far East countries knowingly send us tainted food. They even raise some of their fish in sewage, in packed channels that allow them to charge less than local, U.S. fish farmers. We’re all about cheap, about saving money, but at what expense? I own a Toyota, but a percentage of Toyotas are built in Detroit (you can check your VIN number to determine where your car was built)…that’s where mine was built. I’m an American snob. I buy American when I can: food, products, services. Do you?

If you don’t, you should. Our country is outsourcing at an alarming rate. Eventually, we will have outsourced ourselves to death – the death of American commerce, of American farmers, of American productivity. We are doing it to ourselves. From toys made in China, jobs from cheap labor overseas, to clothes sewn in India; so much of what we buy isn’t made in America (check labels next time you’re shopping at Wal-Mart). One perfect example is that we buy gas at Citgo, whose corporate office is in Texas, but the true “owner” is the PetrĂ³leos de Venezuela. They have been outspoken against the U.S. government, resulting in 7-Eleven terminating a contract with them. At one point, the Venezuelan president even stated on his TV show, “Enough of imperialist aggression; we must tell the world: down with the U.S. empire. We have to bury imperialism this century.” And we help Chavez fulfill his dream by buying Citgo gas. As soon as he became president in 1998, he created immediate ties with Cuba and Fidel Castro, and has openly denounced the American way. So what the heck is wrong with us? We buy gas from a company that denounces our country, our way of life?

The best advice we can take to improving U.S. economy is to truly buy American. Ask your grocer where the shrimp was raised, where the fish came from, read your labels on everything. If you aren’t inspired yet, watch the video. We really can make a difference. YOU can make a difference…

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I Read the News Today...

I stumbled across a news story today, while reading about the highlighted events of the week. A freshman in a middle school in Alabama shot a classmate in the back of the head and killed him. A middle schooler. The news report stated that it was an isolated incident, inferring that there was just no need to worry. There were no breaking news reports on CNN, no interrupting stories on network news, and no continual, round-the-clock coverage on MSNBC. While Marilyn Manson once reported of Columbine coverage, “You should’ve seen the ratings that day…” it’s become evident that in America, one 9th grader killing a classmate shouldn’t disturb us.

But I am disturbed. As a teacher, it haunts me. As a human being, it terrifies me, and as an American, it shames me. No matter what this young man was thinking, this isn’t just a parental problem. It’s not a trend that could/should panic teachers nationwide. There’s nothing education systems can do to prevent random acts of violence (though I do believe bullying can be stopped, and thus a large percentage of hardcore retaliatory acts of violence).This is not an issue a Democratic or a Republican government can set straight for future students, schools, and administrations. This is a societal issue that epitomizes what we’re all about – violence, immediacy, revenge. The fact that a child has killed another child in a public school and that isn’t headline news says so much about us as a country, as a people, as human beings.

In the wake of mudslides in California, hundreds of thousands dead in one of the worst earthquakes in history, snow storms referred to as snowmageddon, and ice caps melting at an alarming rate in the Arctic, it sort of makes you wonder what God is trying to tell us…. And are we listening?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Stepping In

Hey, it’s Benson here, stepping in for Barri…Remember me? The dreg? Well, I was, but now, I'm sorta not.

NEway, God, what a lame ass holiday Barri’s had. Hysterectomy, infection, emergency 2nd surgery… It sucks, but she’s also fallen off the grid. Percocet fog, she calls it. Lazy, I say. Try being a freshman juggling soccer, geometry, physics, peer pressure, Tim Silvey’s daily put-downs, a coach’s unspoken comparison to a perfect brother’s memory, hovering under that God-like brother’s eternal shadow, parental ghosts, ex-girlfriends you want in the current category, and the wrath of the Barbie Brigade and all their worshippers. That doesn’t even include coming up with the perfect project for Publications or writing a column for the paper this week… I think I have what big-time writers call The Block. But no biggie. I’m considering exposing Silvey. Him and his dweebs are all caught up in a new scam – he’s figured out that skimming bottom feeders’ Ritalin is big business. Did you know that the elite take Ritalin to focus and speed up so they can study for tests and SATs? How dumb is that? Teenagers will pop almost anything in their mouths, and for what? A better college? An A on a paper? Yep, life as a teenager these days is a piece o’ cake…who wouldn’t want to do it?

Well, I’ve gotta get ready for practice… Big game Friday. Maybe Mallorie will be there. You can bet Silvey will be – ready to wheel and deal his magic pills. I wonder if they can make your parents wake up and notice you? Or the fact that all this crap might just be as hard for you as it is for them?

Westwood’s motto might be that we all fly with the same wings, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that not everybody takes off from the same point. And not everybody has somewhere to go…