An uncomfortable truth is hidden under the national discussion about music being played too loud, and the hoodies that criminals wear. Racism is not going anywhere.

I feel this observation needs to be made especially in light of the recent Academy Award’s presented to Lupita Nyong’o and John Ridley. I don’t wish to minimize their achievements, just to point out that they will eventually be used by someone as an example of our post-racial society.

I’ve written this particular post several times since mid-February when the trial of Jordan Davis’s killer was in the news. I filed rather than published because I’m always weighing the relative merits of my opinions about racial justice issues against the fact that I am white, female, suburban and part of the “chattering class”, which may actually be a generous stretch for this blog.

I hesitated because as good as it feels to vent, or in this case Rant, self-righteousness and hyperbole are rarely positives. I care too much about these issues to be flip or off the cuff.

It is the impact of these “Stand Your Ground” self-defense cases that is haunting my thinking at the moment. Specifically the no duty to retreat provision.

The institutional racism of our judicial system, or any kind of systemic oppression, is a hard sell when people are not willing to acknowledge their own biases. So anyone talking about how the killings of Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin are racially motivated is derailed, shouted down and marginalized.

The national discussion of the Stand Your Ground laws invariably skirts racism by focusing on an individuals right to protect themselves against a perceived threat. Self-defense is at the core. Rarely is the fact established that the act of being a black male in our culture IS automatically a perceived threat.

If you are afraid for your safety, and there is no need to de-escalate, a “reasonable person” would be justified in protecting themselves. Media generally presents black men as dangerous, so a “reasonable person” can be expected to be afraid of black men. Except that second sentence is never stated.

Klappstecker_SicherheitNo duty to retreat is the linchpin to this specific kind of institutional racism. Subjective perceptions of threat trump evidence and facts. My feelings about your potential to hurt me justifies necessary force. It’s quite disheartening.

I have heard some folks saying that the celebrating of 12 Years a Slave by the Academy shows that we as a culture are ready to talk about race and slavery in an honest way. I’m not holding my breath, but maybe its true.

If we are ready to talk about race in the US, let’s start the conversation by believing that racism still exists, there is no such thing as the race card, and actions count more than intentions. My recommended moderators for this national conversation:

Onward and upward.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about poverty in the US both because of the 50th anniversary of LBJ’s War on Poverty, and the proposed extension of federal unemployment benefits. An unfortunate amount of the analysis centers around why LBJ’s war failed, and stresses and how social programs like welfare and unemployment benefits cripple a persons natural drive to succeed.

At the heart of the belief that handouts hurt is the old “bootstrapping” narrative. The rags to riches, work hard and pull yourself up by the bootstraps, anyone can be a Rockefeller stuff of American legend.

This kind of twisted, blame the victim argument really gets under my skin. Not only is it not logical – by the rules of logic not just my opinion – but it is also usually spouted by millionaires. In this case millionaire politicians  – 1% of Americans are millionaires, but more than 50% of Congress are. Go figure.

I find myself irritated by all the talk about poverty and no talk about poor people. I’ve seen working class, lower-middle class and the working poor all used to describe the same income brackets. That would seem to indicate that there is still a stigma to being called poor.  Of course stigma is minimized if you are “hard-working”, “upstanding”, “church-going” , or other kinds of credit-to-your-station adjectives.

Maybe referring to poor people as the Un-Wealthy would be more in line with current attitudes. Or better yet Pre-Wealthy so we can still incorporate the idea that just a little more effort on their part will propel them to the promised land of the middle class.

As the Senate debated the extension of unemployment benefits the people affected become in Janice Yellen’s words “less employable”.  Talk about a downward spiral.

Studies are showing that the longer you are unemployed the less likely you are to actually get a job. Not having a job is being used as criteria to screen applicants. And its legal for hiring managers to do so. If you don’t have a job there must be something wrong with you so why would we hire you? What part of that is being lazy, unmotivated or entitled?

While the unemployment extension bill is not 100% dead yet it is certainly on life support. Maybe 6 or 7 of those wealthy GOP senators will be persuaded over the weekend to stand up for the un-wealthy. It’s not too late for me to suck up to Rob Portman is it?

A logic refresher since I promised myself I wasn’t going to rant about bad reasoning. Today.

Aristotle-logic-figure-1

Writing about violence is much like writing about rape.

As a culture we understand the definitions but it gets fuzzy when we move from the general to the specific, or from the specific to the general. However, this post is not intended to be a lesson on the merits or flaws of using deductive versus inductive logic. Rather I am thinking of all the ways “running” is part of the act of terrorism in Boston.

  • People targeted while they were running.
  • The average runner finishes the Boston Marathon in four hours, the time the bombs exploded.
  • People running away, in fear and confusion.
  • People running to, to help and save lives.
  • Thoughts running to fear for our loved ones, friends and acquaintances who might be in Boston.
  • Thoughts running to fear for ourselves and our loved ones at similar large events that might be targeted.
  • Thoughts running to understand, blame, accuse, and ultimately – not today of course – leverage for whatever agenda or prejudice it can be attached to.

The word running is losing meaning as I read it now. Which is part of my point as meaning, or sense-making, will be a Swiss cheese affair no matter what evidence is eventually produced. It seems to me that it’s always the holes in the cheese, the negative space, that is used to support the “leveraged agenda”. The arguments that this proves that “Obama is a bad president”, or “we need more guns” or “stronger immigration laws” or “stronger policy on North Korea” (saw this one already) whether it has anything to do with the Boston event or not.

I watched the violence in Chardon and Sandy Hook get tied to agendas outside those stories, so I’m pretty sure it will happen about Boston soon enough. There’s a whole category of religious, political and news commentators (and I use that term very loosely) “running their mouths”, offering answers that makes national tragedies even worse. For me at least.

The only answer I’m looking for is how to adequately explain to my daughter that we can each decide how world events shape us. We’re not clay, we can choose. And the choices for processing and reacting to world events are endlessly complex – fear, courage, love, hate, action, destruction, paralysis, and on and on and on. Deciding rather than hiding is my policy because ultimately we can never run away from ourselves.

My deepest sympathies are extended to those affected by the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Wishing all those injured or responding a speedy reunion with loved ones.

Of all the things going on in the world I don’t know why this one thing made me so sad. Our local paper today picked up a story about Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) being attacked for their Mix it up Day program.  The American Family Association (AMF) is saying that mix it up day, programming to prevent bullying, promotes a homosexual agenda to elementary school children. And 200 schools cancelled their participation based on this.

Teaching Tolerance being demonized seems to be a new low. AMF has notified parents that their children’s schools are involved in subversive behavior and they have listed Southern Poverty Law as a hate group. That’s a petty retaliation for being listed themselves because of these kinds of campaigns, but it still gets reported. And repeated. All this when the SPLC is an organization founded to fight hate and bigotry.

I’m not even sure about the efficacy of Mix it Up Day – my daughter has a hysterical story about her experience of it last year – but I know it’s not evil to promote breaking down social and racial barriers at school lunch. There are many layers to cliques and popular groups that we all remember no matter how far removed from our K-12 years – looks, money, brains, sporting skill, sexual skill (or the promise therein) with other variables thrown in like class, race, gender, religion and sexual orientation. You get locked into who you are pretty quickly.

There is probably no more dangerous or difficult time in your life to attempt to change groups than school years. Teenagers are incredibly rigid in terms of what they believe is right/wrong, acceptable/unacceptable, cool or uncool. This goes for people, places, and consumables (music, clothes, movies etc.), no matter how much they insist on their individuality. I speak from experience. Even rebellion is rigidly sanctioned.

I think I’m feeling this attack so personally because I benefited, in a very convoluted way, from an enforced Mix It Up Day. During my middle and high school years there was a court ordered desegregation plan for my school district, which meant that black kids were bused to white schools and white kids were bused to black schools. I’m old so the Hispanic population was relatively small at that point and didn’t come up much.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” meant that for the first time there was more than one black kid in my school. That kid moved by the way because as the notices were getting mailed to everyone about what school they would go to a small cross was burned on his front lawn. His name was Frank and he was the only black person I knew up to that point.

Busing “Mix It Up Day” also meant that I now attended High School in a part of town I had only visited once before. Because that’s where all the black people are. It was also where all the museums were but that was beside the point. The majority of white kids I’d been attending school with for my entire life transferred to Catholic Schools, or the bizarrely named and unaccredited “Freedom Academy”, so they didn’t have to go to the black school. They did however have to take a GED to graduate.

I was one of about 20 white kids in my class. This was no hardship. It was interesting. I got a terrific education and took AP classes. I met people I would never, ever have meet. I got to be the guest weirdly patronized by the grandma at my friends wedding (“Isn’t that nice Loretta invited that white girl!”), and had a glimpse of what it means to be a minority. Just a taste.

I know what it is like to experience prejudice because of various parts of my identity but I will never claim, because of this or any other experience, to know what it’s like to be a minority in the US. So if I was walking around in my white skin, looking indeterminately well-off in the way that white people do, and never had my Busing “Mix It Up Day”, how would I get around to expanding my world view? Why would I bother? What would compel me? Where would that information come from?

I don’t have those answers. Lots of folks call themselves life long learners but I wonder if they mean this kind of learning too. It appears that SPLC’s program Teaching Tolerance is one means to present ideas that might not otherwise see the light of day in some schools & households. Alternately, I would bet money on the the fact that limiting experience based on a religious or moral agenda does not reduce prejudice.

Teaching Tolerance offers this definition from UNESCO’s Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance:

“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.”

They go on to say “Tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling — but most importantly, of acting — that gives us peace in our individuality, respect for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.”

Which do you think is more perverted – teaching tolerance to our children, or the AMF’s attack on Mix It Up Day? You know my answer.

teachingtolerancemixitupsticker

I am torn about my blog post today. I am suffering from split focus, attention deficit, mommy syndrome, something.

On the one hand I am busy stimulating the economy for President Obama. Purchasing binders, index cards, graph paper and boxes of Ticonderoga. Trying to figure out when to get the god-awful “spandies” required for volleyball, spending hours at Target watching my daughter try on clothes, and further hours discussing other stores that must be visited and the impending first day of school. This is all fine. Its the process and procedure of back to school.

Just to make things interesting, I’ve added a new complication this year. We gave my daughter a budget for the academic year for clothes, gifts, and extras. We went through, line by line (her father made an excel spreadsheet), and estimated what needs, what she does and how much it all costs and rounded up generously.

We explained the concept of fungible and the fact that a balance in the bank account at the end goes into her savings, we don’t take it back. Incredibly traumatic for all of us. I consider it a pilot year.

On the other hand I keep getting interrupted by news of Todd Akin.

Now he is saying he didn’t mean “legitimate rape”, what he really meant was that women lie about rape. And the GOP, scrambling to make lemonade since the lemon won’t quit, is declaring a no-exceptions abortion plank for their convention. Apparently is it a ‘self-evident truth’ in the Declaration of Independence that we should protect the unborn, and only the unborn, so help us God. If you can’t beat em, join em.

At least until the news cycle is over. Akin could still have a mysterious heart attack in his swimming pool (remember Wag the Dog?), or compromising pictures with his boyfriend could be revealed. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I ask you – don’t these God-fearing, excessively procreating, republicans ever take a break from their generalized assholery so normal people can get their work done?  I know I should look away from the Akin idiocy and focus on the duties of motherhood, but since I’m not pregnant at the moment my child’s needs don’t really matter.

And I feel like if God didn’t want women to have it all he wouldn’t have given us Yahoo, CNN, Huff Post and a Twitter feed. Not to mention all that elitist propaganda at NYT, WashPost & the BBC.

Boy! It feels good to blame God for stuff! I may do it more often.

I have several pages of bulleted notes for blog posts that I couldn’t get to this week for a number of reasons too mundane to share. Anyway. Since I am marinating in my own sweat in my overheated office, today you get what is uppermost in my mind.

We have been having some extreme weather over in my corner of the world. Record setting highs and lows, drought followed by torrential rain that’s over so quick it runs into the sewer rather than soak into the ground, and its the same all over. Its kind of tough to talk about the poor polar bears when people are dying because they are afraid to open their windows, so the news of the record loss of ice in Greenland comes and goes.

And being that this is America, the country that invented credit cards, we can put off thinking about global warming and climate change till a little bit later. Whenever that is. The problem with long-term impacts never being a priority is that it becomes the present in no time at all. Discussions about environmental concerns are getting to be like talk about guns control – all-or-nothing dug in positions, specious arguments and open disregard for facts. Its maddening.

In the midst of this awful drought more and more fracking permits are being issued. Permission to take millions of gallons of ground water, combine it with chemicals like arsenic and pump it into the ground to extract shale gas. Using diesel to fuel the extraction equipment and contaminating the drinking water with, among other things, methane and radioactive materials.

If you dismiss all the (present and future) environmental impacts, electricity from natural gas fracking is even cheaper than wind power. Why is that equation OK? It makes it hard to be sympathetic about out of control wild fires in Texas when you find out their water cant be used to fight the fire because it is full of fracking chemicals that will feed the fire.

We all make choices everyday that could chip away at some of the underlying causes of climate change – even as we wait for politicians to legislate sensible behavior around emissions and other sexy policies. Part of the problem is that even our individual choices are complex. Paper or plastic being one of them. The plastic bag uses petroleum, the paper bag is a (potentially) renewable resource, so which one is better? Why your own reusable cloth bag of course.

Its hard to find a balance between doing what you can and not being judgemental about what other people do or don’t do. Another skirmish in the mommy wars, akin to how long you nurse and using day care, is the kind of diaper you choose.

When I was pregnant I got into the whole cloth diaper debate.  My mother used cloth diapers with six children and I had little desire to repeat the experience, but I was trying to make a responsible choice. What I discovered was that a bigger problem than the half-life of used Huggies was all the paper & cardboard in landfills. Something like 40% of the garbage pile is recyclable paper and cardboard. Done. I pledged myself paper product recycling to offset my (grateful) use of disposable diapers.

I have been recycling since the days when you had to drive to a drop off your newspapers and cans. Now we have curb pick up and still not everyone recycles. Even the easy stuff like newspapers and aluminum cans. It doesn’t seem like environmental issues are a right now kind of problem yet. By the time they are a priority we will already be in the midst of disaster. Sort of like the whole drought thing with the crops burning up and food prices projected to be even higher this winter.

At least the short-sighted choices with dire future outcomes makes for good science fiction. And a lot of that science fiction starts with severe class divisions. What happened to the Occupy folks again?

I was reading an article the other day on the “new trend” of dads being primary caregivers which is trotted out as a new trend in the news cycle every couple years. I have yet to figured out why this happens. Someday I will do a longitudinal study of the timing of the articles and see if it correlates to season (its slow around here so lets throw in more human interest stories) or national events like a woman getting a glass-ceiling breaking job (see Yahoo, pregnant CEO.)

The story kept referring to the dads as “at home dads” which struck me as wrong somehow. It took reading it twice, and asking my husband to remind me whats the term for women who don’t work, to figure it out.  Women who’s sole job is to care for the children are called “stay-at-home moms” but in this article about the dads they had dropped the “stay”.

Is this a signal that its only a temporary choice for these dads to do the child care? Is this the lens that is necessary so as to view the 5 – 7 year career break (until the last kid is in all-day kindergarten) as neutral or positive? Maybe dropping the “stay” will create the halo effect necessary to make daddy child care a feasible choice for more men. But they still have to explain the gap in work record – will that be perceived as a positive or negative?

Usually men get bonus points for things that ding women. A married man gets a career bump as a “breadwinner” and will be offered a higher salary than a single woman, a married woman and even a single mother. (And I am sick of having to prove this junk over and over so kindly look up the articles & studies yourself if you don’t believe me.)

Men get gold stars for leaving work to attend a child’s performance or sport event, women sneak out or use personal/sick time because they will be perceived as “less committed to their jobs”. Its not fair, or 100% universal behavior, or even visible, which is why there are always backlash reactions (from women and men) about how ‘my work place is not like that’, but it probably is. These are cultural and institutional biases and attitudes not policy in an HR handbook.

Will men using FMLA start to shift the “mommy biases” that work against career women? Or will stay-at-home dad be frowned upon once the economy picks up again. I don’t think there are enough of them to start making a difference yet. The article I read quoted increases based on census numbers. When you say “32% of men with working wives took care of a child at least one day a week in 2010” its sounds impressive.  When you say “3.4% of all stay-at-home parents nationwide are dads”, it puts it more in perspective.

The reason the article about dads got me thinking was I had just read a Forbes piece about how 65% of the women in a new study rejected the idea of being a Supermom. Sounds like good news if you forget about that 35% of Enjoli women still out there. The article, “Forget Supermoms – Its All About Smart Moms”, says todays moms are smart, comfortable, confident, in control, empowered and are not “overwhelmed victims”. Problem solved.

But then I got to the last paragraph that showcased and reinforced the cultural bias and expectations:

“That’s not to say there still isn’t tremendous pressure on both working and nonworking moms to do right by their children; navigate a deluge of information, advice and opinion spawned by the social web; and simultaneously keep their households, relationships, and work lives intact. They just have more resources now to tap to ultimately make decisions that are right for them and for their families”

So its still your fault if you feel overwhelmed – We gave you all the resources dammit!

No matter how much I dug I could not come up with the methods of the “study”. It was done by McCann Truth Central, an arm of the McCann worldwide advertising agency.  They have a facebook page, a blog, a website and a tumblr but no additional information about their “global thought leadership” methods or purpose. Seems to me that a “truth study” about Moms generated by an ad agency is probably to help clients market products to moms.

That’s fine, market away. But being in Forbes makes it news, which means it will get repeated, like the telephone game, and no longer be attributed to an ad agency. And we wonder where the pressure and mommy myths come from.

I continue to be fascinated by how society shapes the narrative about the roles of men and women. What is acceptable, what is an anomaly, what is the gold standard at this very moment. Because you know it will change. These two stories – “at home dads” and smart & competent moms who are so beyond the “Super” label – are the latest threads I am following.

Someday (in 2042?) I will read a paragraph like this in Forbes

“That’s not to say there still isn’t tremendous pressure on both working and nonworking dads to do right by their children; navigate a deluge of information, advice and opinion spawned by the social web; and simultaneously keep their households, relationships, and work lives intact.”

As much as I would like to be talking about music, I am instead compelled to write about the 33rd house vote to repeal health care reform (that’s ACA to liberals and Obamacare to conservatives). I thought it was the 31st, but I stand corrected. This kind of political theater makes my head hurt.

We are asked to believe that the vote demonstrates Republican commitment to principles (e.g. opposing “government takeover”) rather than just reminding their constituents that they are against all things Obama. Empty symbolism, a try for the Guinness Book of World Records, how ever you look at it its a time waster. Which is a less elitist word for obstructionist.

I would love to see that hard line, unified style come back to bite when folks realize that standing in the way of something is not the same as doing something. Maybe Trent Lott is right and there should be events like Seersucker Thursday in the House for team building and civility. Oh wait, the Senate just discontinued that tradition because it’s “frivolous”. I guess rope courses and communication seminars won’t make it to Boehner’s “Ways to Get to Compromise” list.

I am now seeing and hearing stories about how much it costs to stage one of these symbolic votes, which used to be occasional before they became regular, and $2 mil is a pretty symbolic number. Thats what it costs to run Congress every day. And there are no refunds, just voting day.

Michele Bachman on Fox News said the repeal vote was a “foretaste of what’s going to come this fall” which I mistakenly read as “foreskin”.  Freudian slip as I contemplate a Romney presidency I guess. Bachman also noted that house republicans have “so many positive plans to bring down the price of health care. We can’t wait to do it! I think all of us have plans up on our Web site. We have so much that we can do. That’s what we can’t wait to do is just unleash it all after this fall’s election.”

Since neither Bachman nor Boehner has proposed a bill to replace ACA, we will be in for more “showcase” votes to quote Bachman again.

A musical interlude as they (and we) gird loins for vote number 34. How can they resist? They’re really good at it now.

I need a plan for dealing with passive-aggressive people. Or an inoculation. If I do some research I bet the Internet will yield herbal supplements, self-help books and scads of “Tip Sheets” for managing these relationships.

Maybe I can start a 12 step program for Managing Passive-Aggressive People (and Yourself!) MPAPy:

Step 1 -We admit we are powerless over their behavior, and that our blood pressure has become unmanageable

Step 2 -We believe that a Power greater than ourselves will SMITE them and restore our workplace to reality

Step 3 -We decided to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Dr. Phil as we understand he hates that s**t as much as we do

Step 4 -We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of every passive-aggressive person we have ever worked with, worked for, lived with or just had to put up with because our idiot brother married her

Step 5 – We have admitted to the blog-o-sphere, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of the wrongs visited upon us by passive-aggressive people and those times we did not verbally clean their clock

Step 6 – We are entirely ready to have Dr. Phil remove all those defects from their character

Step 7 – We humbly ask Dr. Phil to remove our guilt at confronting those among us who are afflicted with this terrible disease, for yea though they seem weak, they are vicious and sneaky

Step 8 – We have made a list of all passive-aggressive people we did not confront and are now willing to step to them all

Step 9 – We will make direct comments to passive-aggressive people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause us to throw a chair at them

Step 10 – We continue to take personal inventory of the buttons we allow to be pushed and promptly admit this in a factual way that will not increase their martyrdom quotient

Step 11 – We have sought through reflection and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our “inner Dr. Phil”, as we understand Dr. Phil, praying for the power to override guilt and self-blame to carry out the necessary direct confrontations

Step 12 – Having had a slap-upside-the-head awakening as the result of these steps, we will carry this message to others afflicted with these people, and practice these principles in all our affairs

Amen.

M-PAPy has a nice ring to it. Pass the coffee and donuts.

I could have just as easily called this post “Doublespeak” or “Having your cake and eating it too”, but I am too irritated to be literary or historical right now.

I was listening a report on the Massey Big Branch mine settlement and a US Attorney said “Its a corporation. It’s not a life, it’s not a being. It can’t go to jail”.

I beg to differ. Corporations are just people you can’t touch.

Corporate Personhood has been a legal status for a long time in the US and the definition was stretched last year by the Supreme Court to show that corporate political donations are protected free speech (see First Amendment, Bill of Rights). The same free speech the West Virgina miners had access to before they died.

So which is it? Is the corporation a person with rights and protections, or an amorphous “thing” that can’t be punished. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but I can appreciate Justice Stevens dissent on the ruling that fertilized the seed that turned into the Occupy Movement. Thats campaign finance reform in case the last sentence was too obtuse.

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.” (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558)

There is no amount of money that will satisfy the families of the dead miners. Corporations think in dollars, so Massey skimped on safety, people died and they pay a fine. That’s no kind of justice.

It is a strange time indeed.

People in the media (and in general conversation) keep yapping that they don’t know what the Occupy Wall Street folks want, ‘their demands are not clear’, ‘they have no agenda’, blah, blah and blah. I think their central premise is pretty clear and getting clearer every day.

Through social media, among other sources, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware that big business in the USA is more like the Russian oligarchy than anything that Carnegie or Rockefeller would even recognize. Maybe the OWS folks should resurrect the term “Robber baron” to make their point easier.

Because of the OWS protests people are paying attention to income disparity (even if they think its your own damn fault) and learning about the monumental influence of business on our government.

And because almost anyone can afford a phone with a text plan, information is harder to suppress and manipulate. Be a rebel – get a Twitter account.

A piece of news I hope goes viral is information about the banks – Wall Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis – that I consider scandalous in the full 19th century sense of the word.

We use words like outrage and disgrace all the time so even though they are exact descriptors of the reaction the bank scandal should evoke, I suspect we need something stronger.

Revolution

I am officially down to my last dysfunctional relationship.

After years of slowly weaning myself from the needy, the dependent, the lonely and the walking disasters, I think I might be through. I have one friendship of twenty years that has been limping along in a very unsatisfying way for about four years now. I kept waiting for my friend to get back to herself, back to who she was for all those other years. Thats not to say she was ever an easy person to be around. She was always demanding and self-involved, but despite the effort, she could be a lot of fun. Her life dial was always set on “high drama”, but her fun capacity could be just as high. Now, unfortunately, it’s all drama all the time.

Her dissatisfaction with her life means that everything that happens becomes a problem and every problem becomes a war. And I don’t get combat pay for listening. The more unhappy she becomes the more self-involved she is, which then drives people away, because really what fun is that? I have stood by her as she ruptured one relationship after another – friends, family, lovers, colleagues. There is always someone else to blame and she is only standing up for herself.

She may have learned nothing about herself from this endless repetition, but I am learning something. Her blindness makes me examine those failed relationships that I still clutch in righteous anger. Slowly, slowly I am peeling back the layers to try and own the part I played in those failures. I know intellectually that the world operates in shades of gray, even though my emotions are used to a purely black and white system. I make small progress, and often backslide, but I think this is why I am ready to walk away from this last unhealthy relationship. I no longer want the burden of absolute certainty about what is right, how something should be done or acceptable behavior. I am tired of that lens and want to trade it in for something more elastic and fluid.

I don’t think my friend can change. I don’t think she believes she needs to. She has become a bundle of unshakable convictions, righteous anger and offended sensibilities. Even her current anger at me is my fault. I did not give her my undivided attention when she wanted to tell me what to do with my life. The nerve.

I think we will end up going our separate ways. The question is whether or not she will feel compelled to take a stance, have a fight and cause a rupture so she can put me in the box with all the other people who have treated her badly over the years. Remains to be seen and, if it happens, it will not be initiated by me. I don’t need that “closure” I can change without burning up everything around me.

My parents had a unique sense of justice.

Pain, humiliation, defeat, failure – these were all gifts from God that were bestowed on you because of something that you did in violation of parental wishes. Fall off your bike and get bloody knees? – God getting you back for being a smartass to your mother. Lose at cribbage against an adult? – proof that you shouldn’t act like a know-it-all. Stood-up for your senior prom? – God is telling you that I was right that he’s a loser. (This one happened to my sister.)

No one should wonder why my “personal relationship with God” devolved into “there isn’t one.” Faeries are easier to believe in than a God who spends time smiting kids to help parents with child-rearing.

On the other hand, success, accomplishment, winning – were all flukes according to my parents. Accidents that would be righted in your next attempt at whatever. Got an A on the test? – you’ll just flunk the next one. Etc., etc., etc. My father had a more delicate touch when deflating a puffed-up kid. He specialized in subtle attacks on the value of the award, hints that the skills were so minimal it barely measured anything. Now I think he was jealous. Each success of his children shined a light on what he failed to attain, the accomplishments he lacked. He was probably a bitter man but it was hard tell because he was always so stewed.

My mother was cruder in her attempts to “rightsize” your pride. She went for the quick, pull-the-rug-out comment so you went down fast. I guess I preferred her style over my Dad’s. With Big Alice her comment smacked you and that was that. You get knocked down, you get back up and thumb your nose. My Dad’s comments infected, made you feel sick and lingered in the back of your mind.

Tricky stuff parenting.

I used to feel sad that my parents are both dead, and wonder if we would not have reached some better relationship as we all aged. But now, as I figure out how their warped ideas have influenced my choices ever since, I’m not so sad. At least with them dead there is a finite end to their nutty behavior.

How I choose to let the past push me now, that’s all my doing. That’s my justice.