Parenting: The Nostalgic Haze of Never-Really-Happened Days

WARNING: Extreme Defensiveness Aheadcanstockphoto2415989

This morning I ran across another article jumping all over parents about over-scheduling, helmeting and seat-buckling their children. Already angered by the repetitious message that parents today suck, I decided to throw gas on the fire and read the comment section. Apparently, the best parents are the ones with the shortest memories and empathy-impairment.

Let me tell you a story about the good ole’ days. Yes, I rode my bike, without a helmet, around town from the break of daylight until dinner time. Our family of 6 lived in a 2 bedroom apartment – converted from a commercial office. My stepfather was in and out of work, drinking heavily and arrested occasionally. My mother was drinking just to survive the close proximity of a baby, a toddler and two older children, the oldest of which was me.

Every week, we’d attend the Seventh Day Adventist church service. Surrounded by vegetarians, fire and brimstone sermons and an odd proclivity for footwashing, we’d pretend that there hadn’t been a drunken, late-night, screaming argument the night before at a barbeque. We’d pretend that my stepfather hadn’t threatened to bash our heads in with a two by four. We’d pretend that we hadn’t lain as still and quietly as we could in our beds, quivering mice, hoping that we wouldn’t be noticed.

In today’s terms, I’d have been classified as a high risk child. A shy, introverted awkward girl in an unstable, abusive home environment who wandered through town at all hours. A Safeway shoplifter of gum and candy. A child who longed for adult kindness, who was the sometime recipient of free food, a ride, clothes, a place to stay.

Like vague criticism waved at large, labeled groups, people need to learn how to qualify their statements. And I call bullshit on most nostalgic ruminations. When I was a kid, life was not homemade cookies and bedtime stories. I was scared, nervous and so angry inside that I nearly self-destructed in my twenties.

As for the flag-waving, suburban nostalgia, I learned to hide under my desk in the case of a nuclear bomb. Johnny Gosch disappeared, as did the idea that any kid was ever safe. Some of us were molested by neighborhood friendlies. And corporal punishment taught me that I had to be stronger and meaner and more physical against those smaller than I.

Just because you survived your childhood unscathed, just because you had loving parents, just because you lived in a safe, cozy neighborhood, many of us didn’t. So we are a little more vigilant and conscientious about the lives that have been entrusted to us. We’re supposed to raise decent humans in a world that caters to the cruel, the hyper-sexualized, the gun-brandishing Wild West of this America.

Parents today are expected to beat out advertising, technology and the sexual marketing of and to children. We’re supposed to be better than sugared cereals, stupefying television, an underfunded, disrespected education system, our own crappy inherited parenting skills. On top of that, we’re bombarded by a media saturation of child kidnapping, rape and murder – even if it’s a lower percentage of crime, a safer American than before, it burns into the psyche.

I am a diligent, conscientious parent. I took parenting classes. Read all the books – there’s an endless supply of information about the many ways you can screw up your child. I talked over issues with other parents. I listen to and talk with my child regularly. And STILL, my daughter might meet the wrong boy in the future or god forbid, sit in her elementary classroom with 19 of her peers when someone with an untreated mental illness gets his hands on weapons.

Parenting is hard and it is hard in a way that I had no idea about – the sleeplessness, gross hygiene issues, constant need – I expected these. But I am baffled by a world that is in the throes of self-destruction, yet takes time out from its downward spiral to deride parents – the individuals who are raising the people who just might pull this planet back from the edge.

The life my daughter has today is wonderful. I have no regrets. I have no problem with putting a helmet on her, making her buckle up, sending her off to try a new sport or hobby or instrument. She is whip-smart, kind and a critical thinker. Her home is stable and our expectations clear. I am not sorry for my parenting and I am happy to be a parent.

So save the anecdotes. If you can’t help me do this job, if you aren’t going to help me protect this child, if you are going to gripe about taxes for education and criticize using the barest safety standards, perhaps you should wonder why your perfect childhood didn’t create a more compassionate adult.

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Spammer Seeks Roommate with Problems

canstockphoto16553471Every once in a while, I scan the spam comments that this blog receives. If anyone can over-think a spam comment, it is yours truly.

With the guess that many of our spammers originate from countries where English is not a primary language, I am baffled by their opinions of Americans. We are apparently a helpful bunch of clods as entreaties for roommates and brothers with problems fill our spam boxes. We are also quite narcissistic and nothing pleases our peacock brains more than compliments about our skillful writing, that can be found nowhere else on the internet.

In the interest of international relations, I’ve decided to help out these misguided souls by providing a little advice (which I know they will like/bookmark/grab RSS feed in the hopes that I will buy their shoes/handbags/pills or allow them to have all my banking information following several cash wire transfers).

NOTICE: While these are real spam comments, no spammers have been hurt in the writing of this post. Attention is like air to them. Damn me.

Dear Random Blogger Who I have Spammed:

At this moment I am ready to do my breakfast, once having my breakfast coming yet again to read additional news.

Sincerely, Fake Name at gmail.com

Dear Fake Name:

If you are attempting to read the news, make sure your breakfast is comprised of cynicism sunny side up with a dash of disgust and faux outrage.

PS – You might notice that a lot of Americans shoot each other.

The Green Study

Dear Miscellaneous Internet Presence:

Thank you, I’ve recently been searching for information about this subject for a long time and yours is the best I have discovered till now. But, what about the bottom line? Are you certain in regards to the supply?

Toronto Star (aka MuslimRestaurant at zoho.com)

Dear Toronto Star:

While I’m flattered by the unsolicited and false compliment, it is clear that media across the border has taken a cue from its American cohorts. Using Twitter and random bloggers as reporting sources is an unsteady proposition at best.

If you are a Muslim restaurant, you clearly haven’t seen my kitchen, which is often bereft of supplies.

The Green Study

Hi mates,

how is the whole thing, and what you would like to say regarding this post, in my view its genuinely remarkable designed for me.

Papillon on the Park at opentable.com

Dear Papillon,

I also wore this shirt today for you. And I will be naming my second-never-born after you.

The Green Study

Dear Whoever You Are,

Simply want to say your article is as amazing. The clearness on your post is just cool and that i could assume you’re an expert in this subject.
Fine along with your permission let me to seize your RSS feed to keep updated with imminent post.
Thank you 1,000,000 and please continue the rewarding work.

Michael Kors Factory Outlet

Dear Michael Kors Factory Outlet (can I call you Mike?),

I am an expert on exactly nothing. Or everything, if you’re really stupid. By the way, I have no idea what the hell an RSS feed is, but I’m pretty sure it will fight back, should you attempt to seize it. Please thank me in $1 million dollars and no cheap knockoffs.

The Green Study

Dear Potential Smoker,

Its such as you read my thoughts! You seem to understand so much about this, such as you wrote the guide in it or something. I believe that you simply could do with some p.c. to drive the message home a bit, but other than that,
this is excellent blog. A fantastic read. I will definitely be back.

e-cigarette review

Dear e,

I can read your thoughts. Can you read mine? I’m thinking them really loudly right now and I don’t think you’ll be back.

The Green Study

Dear Person on Internet,

I do not even understand how I ended up right here, but I assumed this post used to be great.
I don’t realize who you are however certainly you are going to a well-known blogger for those
who are not already. Cheers!

Roseanna on YouTube

Dear Roseanna,

But used-to-bes don’t count anymore. They just lay on the floor ’til we sweep them away. Channeling my best canstockphoto3460980Neil Diamond for you. It is sweet bon mots like these that will indeed launch me into stardom. Then my publicist will write witty replies to spam. I’ll be too busy punching out paparazzi.

The Green Study

 

Well, this is a silly post that has gone on far too long. Have a great week!

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Intentional Blogging: Committing to Ephemera

canstockphoto4671068

Everything is fleeting, including the summer during which I took a break from blogging at The Green Study. So here I am again. I browsed blogs this summer, but kept my “presence” to a minimum. I wrote casually at another blog TGS Zen Garden to focus on some health and lifestyle changes I’ve made.

Someone read my novel this summer. That was scary. I paced a lot, sometimes peeking in to see if I could tell anything from the expression on my first beta reader’s face. I thought criticism would wound. I thought I’d be more defensive. Instead, I was surprised that it was an easy pill to swallow. I’m unstuck now on what edits to work on and excited again about the story I’m telling.

I changed my diet from being a full-on dairy-addicted omnivore to eating a plant-based diet. I gave up nearly all caffeine, a withdrawal which made me sick for an entire week. I wore a cast boot for three weeks after getting a stress fracture from running. Things are finally starting to balance out and heal. Extra weight is coming off and I’m sleeping better.

My reading list was mostly nonfiction, littered with psychology, nutritional advice and time management practices. My brain is like a huge self-help conference, awash in aphorisms and optimism. Ideas are alighting and then flitting away, their essence filtering into my daily living.

And I made the deliberate decision to continue blogging. One of my priorities this summer and going forward is to live intentionally – to stop doing so many things with so little thought.

It’s noisy out there. There really isn’t a lot of justification for me to add my voice to the crowd. Everything I could say has been said, is being said or will be said. My attendance is not required.

Writing for a blog and interacting with the blogging community (answering comments, reading others’ work and commenting) takes a lot of time and effort if one wants to do it well and consistently. And what would be the point of doing it otherwise, if not to do it well?

Sometimes I can work for hours on a piece only to see little or no response. Other times, I write something off the cuff and it gets Freshly Pressed. Extrinsic reward cannot be the only motivator for this activity, but it sure helps.

I used to bullshit about why I blogged, but in living intentionally, one must be willing to be honest about one’s intentions. I am a writer, but blogging brings an immediate, interactive component that is heady. Yes, I feel that Sally Field rush (you like me!). I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t gratifying.

What has tripped me up is that while I find blogging enjoyable, it is a hobby. It’s unpaid. While a few superstar bloggers have turned it into a paying career, that is not my intent, nor the path I will be taking towards publication. It can’t take the place of writing offline, even though it feels like I’m doing something.

It really comes down to the fact that I like you. I like interacting with other humans. I like reading about experiences that are not my own. I like trying to contribute to the conversation. As a writer, I can become quite enamored of my own words, but when I write them out loud, when I realize that there will be an audience, they are tested. Are they genuine? Does it read well? What is my point?

canstockphoto6135038Thank you to Ruth, Belladonna, Sandy, kirizar and 3kids2cats1divorce – just a few of the friends (on and offline) who took the time to read and comment on my other blog this summer. I will continue to focus on health and lifestyle issues at TGS Zen Garden, posting once a week as I return to more regular blogging at The Green Study.

Thank you to returning readers. I know that there is more than enough to read online, so I greatly appreciate that you take the time to read, like or comment on posts at The Green Study.

It’s good to be here.

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We Interrupt this Program…

The Green Study will be returning on September 1, 2014.

A brief announcement for readers of this blog. As the result of yet another injury (stress fracture from running this time), I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling a tad miserable. Writing is not going well, but that’s the nature of the beast.

I started reading a lot of books on health and nutrition. As a birthday gift to myself, I’m dedicating the month of August to finding my path to better health, consistent fitness and joy. Seriously, I’m a joyless git right now.

Since I was going to journal through the month anyway, I’ll be throwing my entries up on another blog called TGS Zen Garden. As it is health and lifestyle focused, it may not be your cup of green tea, but that’s where I’ll be for the next month.

Let’s hope I don’t turn into a self-righteous bastard, which is an often unreported side effect of good, clean living.

Wishing you a pleasant summer!

MichelleSig copy

 

 

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The Ghosts of Blogging: Past, Present and the Future

The Green Study will be returning on September 1, 2014.canstockphoto3712376

I’ve had a mental block against blog writing for the last few weeks. I’ve been frustrated and uncertain of what the problem is, but it finally occurred to me that it’s simultaneously too much restraint and a reckless use of energy. It is my desire as a human being to be moderate, thoughtful and courteous. However, what works well on a blog or committees or around small children does not work well with creative writing. And I’m spreading my energy thinly about, as if I have unlimited resources.

This blog has become a stale patch of writing ground for me. I’ve been fighting to maintain it, lingering with a whole lot of shoulds about having a social media presence as a writer. At some point though, I became a pretender. I am writing less and less offline, easily distracted and worn out by the bumbling hive of social media. That was not my intent and it is now a constant dark shadow following me.

I read a lot of well-written and issue-oriented blogs, which means that after a session of blog reading, I’m just randomly pissed off at the world. I don’t do anything, but I’m angry. It’s my least favorite use of anger – the holding pattern. The energy-burning, scowl-inducing waste of emotional energy. I’m angry about so many issues that it is like having an overwhelming to do list. I don’t know where to start, so I simmer in a paralytic state until Netflix releases another season of a favorite show.

I’ve read an excessive amount of books lately (as if reading could ever be in excess!). The contrast between online and longer form reading shows me a potential abnegation of critical thinking processes. Online reading makes me feel like I’m constantly in a hurry. My thought loops are shorter and faster and weigh less – becoming more like fumes than substance. Like most people, how I choose to spend my time is how I spend my life. At this point, seeing how far off the path of my personal intention that I’ve strayed, I’m not spending my time wisely.

I recently ran across a couple of writers whose work I’ve enjoyed reading. Their blogs bear testament to all the hard work they’ve had to do to get recognition and readership. I felt a great deal of envy – not for the accolades they receive, but for the drive and time they were willing to invest in their “presence”. I don’t have that and sometimes I wish I did. But they have street cred. They’re published authors. They did all the foundational work before becoming bloggers. First, they were writers. Not that one necessarily precludes the other, but human time is finite. It’s time for me to earn cred as a writer beyond this blog.

I have a friend who recently started her blogging journey. It reminded me of the cyclical nature of blogging. I’m sure that she will enjoy it, maybe get excited by the likes and the comments, maybe hit the Freshly Pressed lottery. It’s exciting as a writer to get immediate feedback and it can prevent the journey to authorship from seeming like such a lonely one. It got me moving, writing regularly and “meeting” so many lovely people. It made me say “yes” to writing when it seemed like a someday dream. I hope that she enjoys herself.

I’m taking the summer off from blogging and forcing myself through novel edits, as well as doing some short story writing. My intent is to hire an editor I’m not related to or have had drinks with, as well as submitting some shorter work to publications. My hope is to return in the fall with stronger skills, a sense of purpose and a little more joie de vivre than I’ve been feeling lately. No pressure or anything, right?

I have regularly taken burnout breaks from blogging over the last couple of years, but things have evolved in a way that I need to take a break for writing. That seems like progress somehow.

I wish you a wonderful summer!

MichelleSig copy

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Reading the Classics (or How I Might Be a Totally Stupid Reader)

canstockphoto8858462Okay, I did it. I finally read all the way through Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice And I don’t understand all the sound and fury. I know that some people are nearly rabid about Austen. I was amazed that the writing did keep me engaged, despite the fact that the story and the characters made me want to smash a pianoforte to a million bits and then set it afire. I am a flawed reader who often fails to appreciate nuance in the absence of action, I suppose.

Reading is such a subjective activity and I can be a contrary person. If something is all the rage, I’m likely to read it several decades down the road, when people finally shut up about it. I wait until bestsellers show up in secondhand bookstores, when they’ve already been turned into crappy movies and mouse pads. If it’s a classic, I’m likely never to read it at all, unless a grade is involved.

I force marched myself through Tolstoy’s War and Peace as some sort of masochistic challenge. I’m sure it was a fine novel. I forgot the whole damned thing while I was reading it, because I had to spend too much time looking at the cast of characters in the front of the book. I have a background in Russian language, yet I could not keep the  -ovs, -ichs and -skis straight.

I’m an eclectic reader and I don’t pretend to have good taste. I like a good story, direct language and a sense at the end of the book that the writer pulled a hat trick. He or she drew me into a world, into emotions that were not my own. Toni Morrison breaks my heart. Wally Lamb makes me sigh. Voltaire makes me giggle at absurdity. Flannery O’Connor gives me the chills.

It hit me over the last couple of weeks that I may have gotten myself completely wrong as a writer. I wrote a contemporary novel, but got bored part way in and just started turning my characters into complete freaks. When I look at what I like to read, it is apparent that longer works of fiction are rarely in my book stack. This gives me pause, due to that old truism about writing what you want to read. Apparently there is more than one reason why I’d prefer not to read what I’ve written.

As I’ve gotten older, I read more nonfiction and random one-off books, as well as short story collections. I try to read from a variety of genres, genders, geographical and ethnic backgrounds, but I wonder if this dilutes my ability to truly appreciate any one particular form. I don’t have the chance to develop a keen sense of “good” writing because my leap from one form to the other prevents comparison.

I am often grateful that I did not pursue a degree in literature, though. The lit classes I took throughout high school and college ruined whatever piece of work we were reading. I learned to loathe Joseph Conrad and Jonathan Swift in this manner. And I was disappointed after reading The Great Gatsby that any single character was left standing. I felt a pianoforte inferno was due there as well.

The books that I hold dear are great stories, but maybe not great literature. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a cherished book on my shelf, as is Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Everything by Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams and Anne Tyler has a home on the shelf, as do my Mark Twain and Arthur Conan Doyle collections (gifts from my grandfather). My shelf of light reading contains a lot of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, J.K. Rowling, Patricia Cornwell and short story collections – paperbacks well worn from airports and beaches. I might never read them again, but they are what I imagine luxury to look like.

There are times when I read what I think I should, but maybe it’s that sense of obligation that turns things for me. There’s never as much pleasure as when I “discover” a book on my own. This latest turn about the garden with Austen reminds me that it is unlikely I’ll ever enjoy something that is described as a “novel of manners”, because I apparently don’t have any when it comes to literary appreciation. But in the words of Elizabeth Bennett: you must give me leave to judge for myself. 

I usually have several books in play at any given time. I’m currently reading:

The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

Sustainable [R]evolution: Permaculture in Ecovillages, Urban Farms and Communities Worldwide by Juliana Birnbaum and Louis Fox

Every War Has Two Losers by William Stafford

We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider

What’s in your reading stack?

 

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A Walk on the Ired Side: Gender Rhetoric

canstockphoto7503414It’s been hard to read the news and blogs this week. I’ve been sucked into reading comment sections full of vitriol and spite and rage – not far removed from the emotions that drove a man to kill 4 men and 2 women in California this week. It is only through blogging that I’ve become aware of all the hatred that thrives on this medium of spurious anonymity. I’ve seen the hashtag campaigns, I’ve read a lot of feminist and men’s rights blogs. The tactics, name-calling and dogma are right out of a bipartisan political playbook. We are our own worst enemies.

I don’t talk much about feminism, because there are plenty of people who have taken and twisted it into whatever suits their purpose in the moment. People write blog post after blog post telling us what it is and isn’t. Some men’s blogs have entire forums dedicated to insulting anyone who calls themselves a feminist. The latest backlash includes women proudly proclaiming that they are not feminists. That’s a whole lot of insecurity on parade.

Having been very young and very stupid once, I remember when I thought gender didn’t matter. I blundered through life like that. I thought periods sucked. I didn’t want to get married or have kids. I dated a lot of men people. But I am not beautiful by society’s standards (although I’ll be excited when knock knees and having no chin comes into fashion) and someone once told me that I walked like I was getting ready to kick someone’s ass. Apparently these things in combination insulated me against much of the everyday misbehavior about which many women have posted.

That being said, I’ve been called a whore in the middle of a party. I’ve been called a bitch by male coworkers. I discovered disparate pay situations for equal work. I worked harder than most of my fellow soldiers only to be looked askew at by military wives. Believe me, your husband smelled like dirty sweat socks in the field and so did I – Barry White doesn’t have a song that covers that sweet, sweet romance.

I resist calling myself a feminist, because I hate labels of any kind. I don’t want to belong to any group. I don’t do religion or follow pop stars. I avoid gatherings and groupings of more than two. I don’t want to join a fan base or grocery discount club. I’m not going to follow rules, guidelines or policy if it curtails thinking for myself and making whatever choices are right for me. If somebody is going to keep redefining the labels, I’m always going to be a failure and I don’t see the point.

As a spouse and a parent now, I see things from multiple perspectives. I think it must suck for my husband, a perfectly decent human being, to see all the anger directed at white men. Sure, he might assume some things, but that’s why we have conversations. We also have a daughter – an amazing, confident kid who is entering a world that seems fraught with bias and violence. And it’s time for our talks to go beyond that false “stranger danger” scenario. I am afraid for her and am trying to not let that fear permeate our discussions. No matter how much I teach her, someone, somewhere, will make a judgment about her based on her gender. I hope she kicks their ass, figuratively or otherwise.

I’m trying to teach her to see every individual as an individual and avoid relying on stereotypes to inform her decisions. I am teaching her how to do things the hard way – that is the path of critical thinking. I am teaching her to question everything, including assumptions she might already be carrying with her. I have taught her to lead by example and that no matter what you say, it’s what you do that is important. Kindness is not weakness. Saying no is not cruelty. Above all, I want her to know that she can trust herself, her intuition and her boundaries.

The reading of the last week and my own offline experiences have really made me think about how conversation regarding gender can engage, rather than repel and what does dialogue, instead of competing monologues, look like? We are capable of great imagination and creative solutions, but most of the public forums I’ve seen have been absent of reason, respect and common sense. Just a lot of the same cookie cutter sentiments bouncing around an empty room. It makes one hungry for real conversation and engagement.

 

Useful reading regarding semantics and rhetoric:

Taking the War Out of Our Words:The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication by Sharon Ellison

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs

 

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