Selfies, Likes, Pokes, and Shares

Selfie!

Selfie!

We certainly live in an age of social media glut, don’t we? Personally, I’ve got two Facebook accounts, a Google Plus account, a Twitter account, an account with Kenzer and Company’s website, a Linkedin account, an Instagram account, a Vine account, and a Pinterest account. That’s all that I can remember at the moment.

I think I actually still, technically, have a MySpace account, but I haven’t used it in so long I have no idea. Thing is, there was a time when I really didn’t even want that.

Up until about 10 years ago or longer, I didn’t use the internet for much. I got e-mail and that was about it. I tried “surfing the ‘net” but it sort of intimidated me. My husband tried to help. I asked what I should do and he told me to just look for something I was interested in. I liked the show X-Files, so I found a site where people talked about that show. It was back in the days where there were mostly chat rooms and when I ventured into one, I immediately fled the scene, shocked at what they were talking about. I won’t go into detail, mostly because I can’t remember. But, it was not anything like I thought it would be.

I regularly visited the Kenzer site, but I didn’t interact with anyone. I simply logged on to get content for the magazine. What I saw, and what I heard my husband relate about some of the drama that went on there made me certain I didn’t want to have much to do with it at all.

Then, my husband’s partner Dave sent us all a link, via e-mail, about an online game called Legend of the Green Dragon. I thought it sounded fun and made an account. My first interaction left me wanting to never get on the internet again. My character, whose name I can’t remember now, simply said “Greetings” to the people around her, arriving at an initial point of entry. Immediately, somebody raged “Greetings? What a stupid thing to say. Only a n00b says greetings. You suck.” He added a few swear words for good measure and left me wondering what I had done wrong, and if I would be just as well off if I spent my time watching Jerry Springer re-runs.

Eventually, however, I found that several members of the Kenzer and Company forums played this game and found their “guilds.” I joined one run by a great Rock Dragon Goddess Edgelett. She told me that the guy I met was a “wanker” and welcomed me in. Soon, other people were interacting with me, including a nice woman who proofread for our magazine, under the name Moonshadow. I started to have fun and thought, maybe I should get to know them on the Kenzer boards. I did. I tentatively figured out how to read threads, how to post, and got to know people there. I had a nice time more often than not, although I have since realized, there will always be a few disagreements online. That seems to be the nature of the beast.

I’ve been a part of the Kenzer boards now for many years now and count some of the members among my closest friends, including Moonshadow and Edgelett. I’ve hung out with both in person, though Edgelett lives in Australia so the only time I’ve physically been in proximity to her was when she and her boyfriend Tony flew here, spent some time with us and went to Gen Con with us. That was a great time.

It was on the forum that I found out the Edgelett plays lead guitar in a rock band in her hometown of Adelaide, South Australia. The band’s name is The Irresponsibles and it’s pretty amazing. I was so enthralled with the entire idea of knowing someone in a rock band, one of those childish dreams I had had that I never pursued. She was living it out and working hard to make it a reality. So, to support her, I joined MySpace to get to know her band and its music.

I was very resistant to becoming part of Facebook for a few years because I thought that I didn’t need another site I had to be part of. I made an account, but rarely used it. When MySpace started to get harder to use, however, I started figuring out that with Facebook, I could actually connect with people I loved, but never had much of a chance to talk to, like my cousins, old Army buddies and childhood friends. As my contacts with long-lost friends grew, I started to see the beauty of the site and now, I’m very active and loving it. Of course, I did have to get used to the whole liking and sharing stuff, and the pokes. Poking people on Facebook is a very strange activity, but, it is a nice way to let someone know you’re thinking of them if you don’t have a chance to really talk to them much.

I made a Twitter account later, another thing I resisted, and still don’t use a whole lot. It does let you connect with the world in a strange sort of way, but part of it seems like talking to yourself. You never know if people read what you tweet unless they reply or interact in some way. Still, I’ve had some good connections there. I have even used it to get the attention of companies that have given us faulty service. It’s not something I like to do. I hate complaining online. But, sometimes, it seems the only thing that will work. Fortunately, companies monitor what people say about them online when you use hashtags (stuff with a # in front of it, like #KenzerCo). When they notice that someone is tweeting about bad service, they realize it’s bad publicity for them and they usually work to fix the problem as quickly as they can. I always try to publicly thank them too, because it doesn’t seem right to only use it to complain.

I made a Linkedin account later because people sent me requests. I had no idea what it was about or how to use it until I became unemployed. Then, I used it to sort of promote myself a little. It hasn’t helped much but then I don’t really use it like I should, I’m sure.

I use Google Plus mostly for its Hangout feature so that I can play Hackmaster online with a group of friends and my husband. That is so much fun. I really love it. I do have a Skype account, and it has come in handy for people who want to interview us, but I really find it much more awkward than Hangouts.

I got an Instagram account, mostly to interact with the daughter of a friend who feels safer if her sweet girl doesn’t have a Facebook account. I also interact with my niece and nephew there and it’s fun, doesn’t take much time, and introduced me to the concept of “selfies.”

My husband likes Vine a lot better. He’s always sort of liked making little videos and so he enjoys that site a lot. He isn’t involved in Instagram at all.

Last, but not least, I have a Pinterest account. You know what? I have absolutely no idea how to use it. It is the strangest site to me, and so I almost never use it, and when I try, I always end up confused and exiting the site as quickly as possible.

Over the years, I’ve also participated in some online gaming, mainly with a fun, free zombie game called Urban Dead. That game is really well done, text based, well-organized and complex. I got very much into it until Amber’s death and then I really just couldn’t take it. I had gotten too involved and people were taking it too seriously for my taste anyway. It was time to let go, but I do recommend it if you like that sort of thing.

Of course, there are cries that we have become a very detached and narcissistic society, reflected by the amount of time we spend online and I can’t really disagree. I do have more intense and regular relationships with people online than I do where I live and that can be a problem. I wonder if that is part of the reason it seems that society has lost connection with each other. I mean, why work to create relations with neighbors and co-workers when doing it online is so much easier? For someone like me, who works from home and on the computer, it’s like second nature. That’s why I’m glad I have my church. It’s helped me stay connected to people face to face.

As for narcissistic? I suppose selfies are an indication that we are obsessed with our own faces, but I am not sure that is what it’s all about. I think they are also a way to share ourselves with others. Tweeting about what you had for breakfast may be seen as self-obsessed, or maybe it’s not. Eating breakfast isn’t necessarily arrogant. So, sharing it with OTHERS may also be a way of connecting, especially for people who are interested in food. I generally don’t post about what I eat, but I have before, especially if I’m somewhere fun, or different.

When I’m sharing online about what I think, what I’m reading, or what I’ve been doing, I don’t actually think, “I’m such an awesome person, I think I will tell that to everyone.” I share because I’m thinking about those people and wanting to connect the only way I know how, by sharing something of my day with them. I love reading what they’re doing too.

Facebook has helped us communicate with freelancers, collaborate on projects, and do all sorts of business, all for no cost except for the price of the internet. We even shared with people in our loss, because we’d left our phones at home and it was the only way we could let people know that Amber was in trouble and we would need prayer.

I can’t tell you how much support we got from people at that time and it still means so much to us. It has been a great place to share prayer needs and to offer prayer for others.

Sure, I’ve also used it to play Candy Crush and Words with Friends. Those are connections too. In short, I can think of more good things that have come with my involvement in social media than bad things. Some use it for evil, I admit (bullying and trolling come to mind). I choose to use it for good.

Now, who’s ready for me to share a picture of my dog’s dinner?

Cabin Fever

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This Winter has been serious. Bitter cold, lots of snow, dangerous wind chills — we’ve gotten the works this year, right? Well, at least most of us in the U.S. this year have been hit pretty hard.

So, if you are like me, you’ve been limiting your traveling into the outdoors as much as you can. Not everyone can, of course. But, the way our lives have unfolded, we have been blessed to be able to work from home most of the time.

That’s great, especially when the weather is so rugged. But, it does give us a bit of cabin fever, especially the dog. Her playtime has been drastically curtailed this year. She loves snow, and digging in it, but the cold is something else. She’s gotten to the point where she rushes out to do her business and rushes back in. When the sun is out and it’s above zero, she might make a quick chase of a squirrel or bird, but generally, she’s back inside within a minute. When it’s really cold, she comes in limping once in awhile, and I rub her down and make sure there’s no ice stuck between her toes.

Her biggest thrill this month has been going in with us to the Kenzer offices twice in conjunction with a busted water pipe issue. The offices are one of her favorite places, with lots of room for her to run. We keep her favorite running toy, a blue football, there and she chases it and runs with perfect joy.

Still, I imagine she’s just waiting for the day when she can really give the squirrels a run for their money, when she can go on a nice walk in the park or by Lake Michigan, and go on a nice long road trip. Even our car is sad, covered in Winter road grime, only going out for quick trips for supplies.

As for me? I’ve been dreaming of Hawaii, Australia, and even Arizona. Actually, I think I’d settle for just knowing that we’re going to get above freezing soon. With so many days of just being freaking cold, I am longing for the day when the sun shines on my face again and I don’t wish I had a set of thermal underwear every time I go out.

As it is now, whenever I need to warm up, I hop on Facebook and look at pictures my friends post from warm places, listen to the Beach Boys, cuddle up in my tropical-themed bedroom and dream of the days when I lived in South Carolina and would go to the beach with my friends, stick my toes in warm sand, sip a fruity drink and share a laugh or two.

Still, I snap right back to reality when the dog has to go out and I have to scrape the glass on the back door so I can see out, and shove snow out of the way of her doggy door. I think my most honest prayers this winter have been “thank you, God for our furnace” and “Please, help me hang on until Spring.”

No More Labels

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You know those T-shirts where they print the manufacturers info on the shirt material instead of putting a cloth label on them? They are way more comfortable without that little tag scraping on the back of your neck, right? I think so. It’s amazing how a little piece of soft cloth can become so irritating.

I’m that way about societal labels too. Sure, they are useful in some sense, I suppose. They help us as a society see the racial, ethnic, gender, age, etc. make-up of various cities, towns, states and so forth. They help us spot discrimination and unfair tactics. I mean, it is obvious that some people are dark skinned, some are light. There are various accents used throughout our country, and across the globe, various languages, etc.

Some ethnicities tend to be taller than others. Some tend toward certain diseases, etc. So, it is necessary to keep track. But, what I hate is when we label people to keep people in their place and put them in their little corners where they don’t bother anyone.

If you’ve ever been disregarded, misunderstood, misrepresented, ostracized, threatened, insulted, mocked, hurt, imprisoned, hated, etc. because of your race, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, accent, religion, lack of religion, hobby choices, etc., then you know that labels suck.

I know that I have always hated being told what I am supposed to be like based on the fact I’m female, for instance. As a little girl, I thought that my life was going to be limited because I was born female. I was certain that I could not be a hero, that I was destined to be a housewife and not much more, and it sent me into despair. I prayed to God to make me a boy and was actually angry with him about the entire situation. I was only four years old when I argued with God about being a girl. I remember because I started kindergarten at age 4 and talked with a little boy about how I wished I were a boy so I could be a cowboy and catch bad guys and he shocked me by telling me he wished he were a girl because he liked babies.

I was not a girlie girl by any means. I loved to climb trees, play softball, and play cowboys. I did not own a single Barbie doll, though I did have a baby doll. As I grew up, I did start to embrace my feminine side a bit more, started to like boys as more than just playmates, and made peace with my gender. Things had changed some, and women were afforded more opportunities.

After college, I joined the Army. Being an Army woman also has its certain stereotypes. In the past, when women first started joining the Army, everyone thought that the women who joined were man-crazy and loose, just looking to steal the husbands of the wives left back home. When I went in, men weren’t thrilled about women being in the military, but many were fine with it too. Sexual harassment was fairly common, but I will also admit that many military females tried to use their gender to try to wrangle their ways out of guard duty or to try to get even with a male soldier in authority over them by claiming some sort of abuse. I saw all sorts of things while I was in the service, because in the end, soldiers are individuals. They are not all the same.

Another category I fall into is that of “gamer” or “geek.” I started playing role-playing games, namely Dungeons & Dragons in college. I love Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, toys and silly hats. There are plenty of people who don’t share this same love who look on from the outside and think of gamers and geeks as being all the same – socially inept, unable to get a date, with no fashion sense, weird, strange, and unable to get a job. But, if you are a geek you know that they come in all types. My husband and I put out a geek magazine/comic book and we have all types of readers, from doctors to lawyers to military members to truck drivers. We have NASA engineers as readers, government employees, at least one Hollywood television producer, as well as federal prisoners, housewives, ministers and teachers as readers. And, because of the whole controversy about role-playing games like D&D being “evil” most people don’t think you can be a Christian and be a part of this hobby, but I know many Christians who love it. SO, that leads me to another group I belong to and that I get labeled for.

I was raised a Christian. I was in church from the time I was 11 days old, and my experiences were overall very positive. I was part of a great big family that prayed together, worshiped together and learned together. We also often ate together and got to know each other very well. But, being a Christian wasn’t just about being a part of a church. To me, and to many others, it is a personal relationship with Jesus. This might sound trite to many outside the church, but to me, and many others, it is a very deep, important part of life. In fact, it IS life.

I love God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with all of my heart. I feel God with me all of the time, and I talk with him all throughout my day. I am never alone and feel loved. If I am afraid, I talk to him and find peace. If I need wisdom, I ask for it. If I am having trouble with a relationship, or with my pride, or short temper, etc., I talk to God and get help. It’s how I live and I’m not the only Christian who lives like that.

I have a lot in common with almost every other Christian on the planet. That said, we are not all the same. We are individuals too. We’ve been raised in different places, had different experiences, and have had different teachers.

Then, there is a thing called life. That changes a person. I have grown in my faith and my views of things have changed. This is a complicated life and there are many reasons why I have changed. The main one, however, was Amber’s passing. It was that earth-shattering event that sent me looking for answers about things I had always assumed I knew.

Now, I follow Jesus in a different way, a way I have peace about, and I feel it’s more honest for me. But that is my life. The point is we are not all the same. We are on a journey.

I wish we could all learn to respect the journey other people are on, and stop trying to tell everyone else what they should think or how they should be. For me, it’s all I can do to live my own life. I have no interest or energy to live everyone else’s life for them. So, chuck the labels folks, live free and let other do the same. It’s much more comfy that way.

Somedays

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I’ve written a lot of posts about how I am overcoming the grief of losing my child to death. Even though I believe that overall I am healing and becoming stronger, I don’t want to give the illusion that I am some sort of superwoman who has rebounded from the devastation of having to let go of someone so important to me. I definitely don’t want people who are suffering grief, whether through child loss, marital difficulties, job loss, health issues, etc., to feel they are somehow not handling things as well as I am, that they are doing it wrong. The truth is, that there are things that happen you just never get over. You find a way to go on, but the pain will always be there no matter what you do.

Overall, I am doing better than I ever thought I would. Throughout Amber’s life, I was always afraid of losing her. I’d meet people who talked about losing their disabled children and I didn’t even want to talk to them (to my shame) because it made me so afraid. Many nights, I would have dreams where I was at Amber’s funeral and in those dreams I was completely devastated. Those dreams drained me and disturbed my sleep. Sometimes, in those dreams, my reaction to Amber’s death was to leave everyone behind and travel to some desert island to lose myself. That’s what I felt would happen to me, that I would be completely unable to function without my child.

So, compared to that, I am doing very well. I want to share a poem now, that expresses what my life is like now, and hope that others who suffer will relate and know they are not alone.

SOMEDAYS

Somedays the sun shines and I am strong,
Somedays it seems like nothing’s wrong.
Somedays I feel at peace and free.
Somedays I conquer all I see.

But…

Somedays the sky is dark and cold,
Somedays I feel so tired and old.
Somedays my heart is just in pain
Somedays I feel I’ll never be whole again.

Yes…

Somedays I walk past the empty room
Somedays it’s like I’m living in a tomb.
Somedays I feel so all alone,
Somedays I’m shaken to the bone.

And, yet…

Somedays I know we’ll be together,
Somedays those days will be forever.
But, oh, how I wish those somedays were now.

It’s not much of a poem, perhaps. I’m in one of those somedays today, just missing my child and feeling weighed down by sadness. It’s hard to want to do anything at all. Yet, I will cheer myself with the knowledge that I am better, and even when I don’t feel like I am loved, I know that I am. I still choose to walk by faith, rather than by how I feel. So, I know this someday will pass and I will be in a better someday soon.

Here’s hoping your somedays are beautiful and that whenever the somedays get hard, you remember that you’re not the only one. Remember, you are loved more than you feel, and more than you know.

Good News, Bad News

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You know those old jokes, I’ve Got Good News, and I’ve Got Bad News… They’re pretty funny usually. There’s the old one that goes – Doctor: I have some good news and some bad news. Patient: What’s the good news? Doctor: The tests have come back and show you have 24 hours to live. Patient: That’s the good news? What’s the bad news? Doctor: The bad news is I forgot to call you yesterday.

A funnier one, I think, is the one that goes: Lawyer: I have some good news and some bad news. Client: Well, give me the bad news first. Lawyer: The bad news is that the DNA tests prove it was your blood all over the crime scene. Client: Oh no, I’m ruined! Tell me, what’s the good news? Lawyer: The good news is that your cholesterol is down to 130.

Why am I writing about these silly jokes? Because, I’ve been thinking about life again, and resigning myself to the fact that sometimes things that happen in life are good, and sometimes they’re bad. The difference between real life and those jokes is, however, that I believe even the bad news can be made into something good.

I’ve had plenty of bad news in my life. If I were to think about every hard, terrible thing that has happened in my life for too long, I could get quite depressed. If I kept focusing on those things, I would end up a bitter, angry person who was no good to anyone, including myself.

I’ve lived through domestic violence, my child’s premature birth and brain damage, my parent’s traumatic divorce, my child’s multiple, serious disabilities, surgeries and hospitalizations, the murder of a friend by her husband and my co-worker, my own marital problems, the suicide of a friend and mentor, the death of my child and the suicide of my friend’s son, among other things. I’ve been hit by a car as a kid, been in car accidents, had blood poisoning, given birth in a foreign country with serious complications, and gotten death threats over the phone for things I wrote in a newspaper. I can hardly believe I’ve lived through all of that just writing it. Seems like the story of someone else — a person who might just not be all that truthful at that. But, these things have happened to me, and that is okay. That’s because I survived, and they didn’t happen all at once, other good things happened too, and they are in the past. Also, from each of these experiences, I have learned a great deal, and have taken away things like strength, wisdom, compassion, openness, humility, mercy, faith and more.

Through the bad times, I’ve made some of the closest friends,discovered wonderful truths about life, and learned that I’m stronger than I think I am. I’ve also learned that I’m never alone, no matter how deep in the pits I am. I have learned that God is more real and more gracious than I ever imagined. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff (sort of – I still have a tendency to worry sometimes), and I’ve learned that relationships are way more important than gadgets or possessions. I’ve learned that love overcomes hate, that people can start again, and that death does not have the final word.

Thankfully, I have also had many good times. I have the best mom, sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and in-laws in the entire universe. I was able to go to college and get degree and get relatively good grades, so that I could graduate with honors. I somehow joined the Army and learned how to be a journalist and soldier. I became part of the really awesome military family and sometimes, I even still miss it. I got to see some of the world as a soldier, got to see Paris and Salzburg and Berlin and Venice, among other places. How cool is that? And, I was able to interview and meet some wonderful people, some famous, some not, many who made a mark in history, though their contributions are not widely known, and others whose contributions are very well known. Not only that, but I had the privilege of becoming a mother to the most beautiful, amazing daughter and I still feel that being her mother is the most significant thing I have ever done. I have also had the blessing of being Jolly Blackburn’s wife, of meeting him in high school algebra, of sweet times of dating and being kids together, of growing up together, overcoming some very, very rough things together, and becoming (if I do say so myself) a pretty awesome team. I’ve been a member of many wonderful churches, all who have been family to me — all who have helped me learn and grow in my spirit and relationship with God, my awareness of the needs of people in the world, and in the assurance and hope that I can make a difference. I’ve been able to volunteer with the Red Cross, Head Start, Vacation Bible School, Ministry of Hope’s homeless ministry and Kids’ Hope mentorship program. I’ve seen my mom meet a wonderful, wonderful man after years of being single, and re-marry. She’s happier than I have ever seen her, and nothing gives me greater joy.

None of this is meant as a boast about how awesome my life is, or what a great person I am. In spite of all of these things that have happened in my life, I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy and self doubt. I have a lot of weaknesses and faults. I worry too much, I can be selfish, I can be lazy and unmotivated, and I can even be angry and intolerant. I am human, and I make mistakes.

I also know that many of my friends and family members have similar, or even more fantastic life stories. Life is an amazing thing. We all have our good news times and our bad news times. I suppose for me, I never thought I’d have a good news time again after Amber died. Part of me feels guilty that I can see that possibility now, and have had many good news times since her passing. Part of me thinks I should just stop living if she can’t live. But, I know that isn’t what Amber would want. The good news is that she loves me still and always will. The good news is I feel her with me every single day. The good news is that I have grown. Where once I felt her absence more than anything else, now I feel her presence. I feel her life is with me and I am full of pride in who she is. So, the good news is that I can still go on living and look forward to many more good news days before I join her in Heaven. The bad news is, I have to get up off the couch in order to do so. No. Really. That is bad news because I’m comfortable.

Life More Beautiful

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They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think beauty is more than what can be seen. I think that beauty is recognized in the heart more quickly than anywhere else. At least that is the way it seems to me.

I just got through watching the Christmas Special of a wonderful BBC show Call the Midwife, season 2. All I can say is “marvelous, beautiful, heartwarming.” I don’t think they make many shows like it anymore. It’s a special gem I recommend to people who like a really good story, wonderful characters and watching people rise above their circumstances. Kindness is a very persistent theme and that is oh, so rare these days and very much needed. So, I would call this television show “beautiful.” It is nice to look at, surely, with its quaint historic atmosphere, but it isn’t as visually pleasing as it is spiritually mesmerizing. It speaks to me deep down and uplifts me.

My daughter was a beautiful spirit, a beautiful person in every way. Physically, I thought she was a gorgeous princess in spite of her challenges. But she was so much more than that. She was a life that made other lives better. That made her beautiful beyond words. I still feel her with me, so speaking of her in past tense is possibly not accurate, but I will leave it for now. I do think her beautiful spirit lives on, and I count on being with her again.

Some beauty is physical. I’ve got friends and family members who are stunning to look at. Thankfully, they are also beautiful in spirit and personality as well. I have actually seen and met people who were gorgeous to look at, but they possessed very ugly, selfish, even cruel spirits. Their personalities actually seemed to change even their appearance, so that it wasn’t long before they began to look as ugly as their natures. Thankfully, people like that have been few in my life, and I hope they will find whatever help they need to change, but, the point is that who a person is, on the inside, is more important than what they look like.

Sure, I won’t deny that a handsome movie star like Hugh Jackman will make me smile and think, “wow, what a hunk!” I’m human and there isn’t anything at all wrong with recognizing physical beauty. what I’m saying is, I guess, that inner beauty often affects even a person’s appearance.

There are so many people who may not be society’s idea of glamorous, perfect or beautiful, but their kindness, grace and positive spirits seem to transform their appearance, or maybe transcend it. Unfortunately, too many people focus on superficial things and miss some truly amazing people.

I think that the best part of creating is making life more beautiful. Again, I’m not talking simply visually here. A beautiful painting is one thing, but the great works of art are more than pretty, they are moving. And, things don’t necessarily have to be all sun and roses to be beautiful either. I’ve read and watched many stories of pain, suffering, loss and sorrow that were beautiful in the way they awakened awareness, evoked compassion, and stirred empathy. Sometimes, I will read someone who is very brave sharing a painful experience that I relate to, and it will mend my heart, showing me I’m not alone, and that there are those who have overcome. Patrick Stewart touched many people with his honest accounts of how devastating it was to grow up experiencing his mother being abused by his father. His story resonated with many people, and in its honesty, became beautiful.

It brings to mind a quote from the wonderful poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats that says, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” That pretty much sums of my thoughts. I only hope I can help create beauty and truth in my small corner of the world.

Revenge is a Dish Best Not Served

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I am a Star Trek fan, and I loved The Wrath of Khan. It had the tagline ‘Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold.’ It pretty much summed up Khan’s personality, and it was cool. Ricardo Montalban played the villain with amazing style and in my opinion, pretty much stole the film.

Our society seems to love movies and television shows about getting even. I can’t even think of a movie or show that is all about forgiveness. If there is one, it certainly isn’t a blockbuster. But, revenge? There are too many films with that as a theme to even count.

Why do we love that theme so much? Why are we so angry?

Could it be that we feel like life is unfair? Could it be that we feel frustrated by our lives and these types of entertainment feel like safe ways to vent? Perhaps that’s it.

Personally, I’ve seen way to many revenge movies and I am not interested in seeing any more of them. Don’t get me wrong. I love movies that depict people overcoming injustice and oppression. But, I find nothing satisfying in watching a man with huge muscles annihilating body after body of people who really deserve it.

I know that as soon as I post this, however, some smart aleck is going to throw up at me, “Well, what about Hackmaster? It’s all about combat and hacking up opponents.” Yes, that is true, in a way. Let me just say that my favorite character is a dwarf fighting the institution of slavery. Our last session was incredibly fun, and there was no combat involved. Next session, we might go and rescue some people kidnapped by bugbears and that will involve us whacking them with our imaginary weapons, but, still, it won’t be about revenge.

I hate the entire idea behind revenge, mostly because it encourages people to hold onto bitterness and resentment. It glorifies the destruction of people in fits of rage. I lived with enough rage in my life growing up. I do not feel comfortable watching it for entertainment. I think it’s unhealthy, and not helpful to our society in general. I mean, look how many angry people we have on the internet? If that is any indication, I think there just might be an epidemic of resentment in our society and revenge movies do not help the situation.

I suppose that if a film was about finding justice, that would be one thing. I think there have been too many injustices perpetuated in the world today and many continue to this day. The world is filled with horrible things like child sex trafficking, modern day slavery, senseless shooting deaths, and tyrants running roughshod over citizens. I want those things to stop. I think the only thing that would have stopped Hitler, at least in the world we live in, was violence, unfortunately. So, there is a time and place for fighting. I was in the Army, so I am no pacifist, though I wish I could be.

One of the biggest reasons I hate revenge movies, and the lack of encouragement for people to forgive wrongs done, is due to my experiences with a former co-worker killing his wife. I’ve written about it before, but it made such a huge impact on me. It was such an earth-shattering event, and some of us who worked in that office were deeply affected by it. For me, it was (among other things) a stark reminder of the horrors and destruction caused when a person chooses to never forgive.

My co-worker, Jeremy, was just such a guy. Oh, he could be charming, very much so. One of the reasons this crime shattered us so much is that we loved that guy. I have good memories of our working together. We often went to lunch together with others from the office, we covered stories together for the Army paper, he brought my work to me when my daughter was sick and I was stuck at home, and when I was upset, he took me out to Sonic and got me a milkshake to cheer me up. He seemed to really care about me, and I think it was genuine. But, there were things about his attitude that disturbed me. I remember him being very angry about someone getting a promotion that he wanted, and him saying something like, “he’ll be sorry. He’ll get his someday. He’ll get his.”

He would often talk about the hatred he felt for his father, who he called a “sick bastard.” We were close enough that I had talked to him about my own father’s problems with rage. When my dad, who was working maintenance for a school in Arizona, fell off a roof and suffered catastrophic injuries, I remember him saying that he thought my dad deserved it. That upset me, because as much wrong as my dad did, I loved him and what happened was very devastating. His head injury was so severe they had to do emergency surgery to stop the bleeding, and ended up having to remove half of his brain.

Jeremy also complained about his wife, pretty much non-stop. I would plead a case for her, for she was a friend too. She and my friend Tess and I attended the very cool Dracula ballet in Columbia, South Carolina together, in costume, hoping to win a prize. One year, I was a pirate, and she was a vampire. Another year, we were all The Fates. We never won a prize but we had fun. Jeremy’s wife Sissy and I also went to see one of the Jurassic Park movies together at the post theater. When Jeremy and I were assigned to cover the post’s Fourth of July celebration, called Torchlight Tattoo, he invited me to dinner at his on-post home. I loved him, his wife, and his cute, red-headed little girl.

When trouble hit, and the couple split, Sissy took her baby back to their home in Knoxville, Tennessee and tried to make a better life. Jeremy had not only been mistreating Sissy, he had been cheating on her, and that was enough for Sissy. We really should have realized that Jeremy would not let something like that go. But, we had our own lives to deal with and he seemed fine.

When he got a new assignment to go to Korea, we bid him farewell with a going-away luncheon. I hugged him goodbye. He drove from there to Knoxville, and used a shotgun to kill his wife in front of his daughter. Because of what had happened with my dad not long before, my colleagues didn’t want to tell me about what had happened until they had a chance to break it to me gently. But, they hadn’t told one of my bosses about their plan, and I got a call from her one evening asking me what I thought about it. I was devastated, understandably. I just couldn’t believe he did it, but the hard thing about it is that I really could believe it. After it happened, we all looked back and saw the signs. Unfortunately, none of us spotted them beforehand, at least not strongly enough for us to be able to stop what happened.

One of the things I’ve thought about a lot since that day is why. It seemed clear to me that he was a man who never let anyone get the better of him. Nobody was ever going to get one over on him, no sir. He was going to demand respect, and anyone who didn’t give it to him was going to pay for it. Eventually, that attitude got him serving life in prison with no possibility of parole, cost a young woman her life, and robbed a little girl of a mom and dad.

So, forgive me if I don’t get very thrilled about revenge movies. I’ve seen the real cost of revenge too close and personal to ever find it entertaining. How I long for a day when a movie about forgiveness would rake in the box office receipts. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

If You Were…

Amber pretending to be a bride.

Amber pretending to be a bride.

These sorts of questions have been around since I was in junior high school at least, and very probably longer. I remember the question that one of our teachers asked us in class one day. If you could be anything besides a human being, what would you be? I immediately said horse. I was a pre-teen, and my answer went something like this, “because they’re so beautiful and so free.” Yep. Pretty typical. One of the other kids, a friend of mine, a guy I had a crush on said, and I quote (because I never will forget his silly answer), “I would be perfume so I could lie around on girls’ necks.” Yeah. He was a pre-teen boy. So, perhaps that was typical but it seemed altogether creative and subversive to me and I sort of liked it.

With the advent of Facebook and other social media, however, the question has become so pervasive it’s practically a plague. What Hobbit character would you be? What Star Wars character would you be? What Downton Abbey character would you be? What City Should You Actually Live In? What Golden Girls’ character should you be? I’ve taken them all, and for the record I am a Boring Human in the Hobbit, I’m Chewbacca in Star Wars, I’m Edith in Downton Abbey, I should live in either Cape Town or Paris (two different quizzes) and I am Stan from the Golden Girls. Stan? Really?

Those quizzes are a lot of fun, especially if you are like me, sitting on your couch with your laptop watching something stupid on TV and in the mood for a little diversion. Some people make snide remarks about how much they hate such quizzes, and I can understand that too, especially if you log on to your Facebook News Feed and you see three Darth Vaders, two Hans Solos and about 15 Obi Wan Kenobes all at once.

It’s all about our imaginations. Some of us enjoy using them quite a bit, some are addicted to them and escape everyday life on a regular basis, and others have little time or inclination to take flights of fancy. Some people are much too busy for that. Others have very difficult lives, scraping by and scrabbling for every meal. I doubt people in war-torn countries daydream very much, but then, maybe they do. Maybe they imagine what it might be like to be free from fear and the sight of death.

Amber used her imagination every day, almost all day long. For someone who is confined to a wheelchair or to bed for their entire lives, imagination is a valuable tool, to transport them even when their own bodies won’t. The mind is a powerful thing. I remember fondly her pretending to be strong, fun female characters she had read about in books like Anne of Green Gables or Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time, seen in movies like Mulan or Lara Croft, or watched on television, like Lois Lane from Lois & Clark or Alex Cahill from Walker, Texas Ranger. She preferred women who had strong, handsome men in their lives. She was Lois Lane for at least two years when she was little. Lois & Clark was her graduation from Barney, actually, and I was pretty thankful for that. For two years in a row, at least, she was Lois at Halloween and she every day she’d require people to call her Lois. Later, she went through her Amanda King phase (from Scarecrow and Mrs. King). She was everyone from Captain Janeway to Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman to the Pink Power Ranger, and she was a lot of fun.

I am certain that many sports’ fans, especially young ones, picture themselves making the touchdowns, slam dunks and home runs they watch regularly. They wear the jerseys when they play with their friends and play their favorite quarterbacks, forwards or third basemen on video games.

Roleplaying games are ALL about pretend and the use of imagination. They let you become, along with your friends, heroes — warriors with big swords, magic users with powerful spells, thieves who can open any lock, or clerics with mysterious godly powers. There are so many genres as well. I have personally played a paladin who wanted to kill Satan (AD&D), a former IRA member turned agent (James Bond), a plucky reporter investigating the paranormal (Call of Cthulhu), a girl posing as a boy in the Wild West to escape bounty hunters (Aces & Eights) and a dwarven cleric fighting against slavery (Hackmaster). Every character has their own fond memories.

In a few hours, I will be playing my fighter in Hackmaster, part of a group that has commandeered a pirate ship and escaped a desert island. I’m looking forward to the adventure and laughs.

But, one question still haunts me as my imagination lurches into gear — if I were a superhero what power would I want? I can’t decide if I would rather be able to fly so I could go anywhere and not have to worry about traffic or be able to turn invisible so I could avoid some of the people who corner me at conventions and want to talk about their character stories for hours upon end. What would you choose?

Healing Spirits and Wounding Spirits

Lake Michigan

There are people who heal you just by their presence. They don’t have to say anything. They just have to be there. I am blessed to have many of those in my circle of family and friends. Many of these people are children or youth. Take my nephew Joe. Just thinking of him brings me joy. He has such a pure, sweet spirit. He’s kind, really kind. He is a gentleman, always plays fair, and really doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He has an amazing spirit. We chatted on Facebook just a few minutes ago, and having a simple interchange, with not that many words exchanged, touched my spirit and gave me peace. Amber was like that too. She had this magical way of making each person she was with feel so special. She had a way of making a person feel important. You could feel that she actually treasured you — as if you were some sort of rare jewel that she prized above all others.

Unfortunately, there are people who, I would suppose, are so wounded by life, perhaps mental illness, or just plain selfishness, that they taint every interaction they’re involved with. These people tend to be attracted to the internet for some reason, where they can spread their unhappiness to as many people as possible. Lately, I feel like I’ve been running into a whole lot of these folks, and it leaves me feeling unsettled, angry and baffled. I have a hard time understanding them. You know the ones, don’t you? They’re the ones who insert themselves into any positive conversations on the web as if they have some sort of civic duty to ruin everyone’s good time. They are the ones who spatter cynical attitudes all over cute pictures of kittens, spew hostility all over your celebratory status updates, and seem to follow you around with a black cloud.

For too long, I have let the wounding spirits drag me down and pull me into drama that I didn’t need to be involved with. I would find myself losing sleep over negative conversations, fretting that I let my temper get the better of me at times, and losing my focus on the positive way I want to live. Just today, I was pulled into a conversation with someone whose ideas were so reprehensible to me that I thought maybe I had been transported into a bizarre world where wrong is right and right is wrong.

So, as I put down my advice here for how to deal with wounding spirits, be aware that this advice is also for me. I often teach myself by writing, as I write. It helps me process my thoughts and pull out wisdom that I hadn’t known was there before.

One thing that helped was the reassurance of friends, the ones with healing spirits, who reminded me that sometimes people on the internet just like to push peoples’ buttons and get a reaction. They like to play with peoples’ emotions. It gives them a feeling of power and superiority, as if they are cyber puppet masters who can manipulate others who just aren’t as savvy as they are.

What I have been learning, painfully, over the last year or so, is that I don’t have to let wounding spirits take up space in my head. I have a right to keep them out. I can choose to ignore them and not give them the attention they crave so desperately. Nothing shuts down a internet troll as fast as being ignored. I hope that I can move past the point of being a patsy for these folks and remember the things I’ve been learning along the way.

The Bible says, in Philippians, that we should focus and think about things that are good, right, noble, praiseworthy, admirable, lovely. I think it’s great advice. I can crowd out the negativity of wounding spirits by thinking of the people who are genuine and healing.

But, it’s more than just thinking. It’s doing things too. Working to keep positive is a full-time job, especially for someone like me, who tends to fall prey to fear, but, I’ve been working at re-inventing my life since my daughter’s passing. So, I’ve been doing freelance writing and getting published in a few different publications, working on my blog to put it out regularly, getting involved in my church as part of the choir, a committee member and director of a great mentoring program, Kids’ Hope for at-risk elementary kids. Giving back, doing good, is a great way of shielding yourself from the world’s mess.

Another great way of avoiding being the victim of wounding spirits is making sure that YOU are a healing spirit yourself. I really try, when I’m online, to stay positive. I try to make sure I encourage people. When someone’s celebrating something good in their lives, I try to join in and congratulate them. When someone is expressing sorrow over a rough circumstance in life, I try to let them know they are cared about. When someone is expressing outrage, bitterness and offensive thoughts? I tend to avoid those, to be honest.

Yes, I still get sucked in once in awhile. I always think that I can just say something calm and reasonable that might help a person think of things in a different way, but that rarely works out well. I’ve learned that the hard way and so now I just try to move on and let them live their lives their way. I’m not in charge of the entire world, after all, thank God.

The Tale of Helga Van Oost

barbhv

Hallo! My name is Helga Van Oost and I was a regular patron of the Elmore Tavern. It was a lovely little Inn where a hard-working villager woman such as myself could get sloshed after a hard day churning butter or gathering wood. That is, until the orcs took over.

What a vile, stinking, good-for-nothing waste of green flesh! I would not have minded half so much if they had not barred us from the premises. What give them the right to keep people from getting a drink when they want it? Before they came, the place was quaint.

Some of its regular patrons were the Old Gray Wizard, Art and Russ, a couple of barbarians who can really swing a sword, and other villagers with parched pallets. I believe I remember seeing an adventuring party or two come through from time to time on various quests and high-minded adventures. I’m not quite sure. It’s all falderal to me anyway. But, those were the days. Ah, I remember them well — the sloshing golden liquid in my favorite tankard, the plates of grub that may not have been fresh, but were certainly edible, and not an ugly orc face to be seen. How many pleasant conversations I had around those rustic wooden tables (most of which I do not remember, alas.) Oh, how I miss waking up with my face in a plate of stew!

Last time my companions and I tried to get a mug of ale, we were desperate. We never would have gone there if we weren’t. Orcs may be ugly, but they’re also mean. They’ll snap your neck soon as look at ya, they will. And, as stupid as they are, they do know a thing or two about using a sword, which I have never cared to try. I am not a fighter, after all.

We had all suffered too many nights without a drink, however. Being sober in the wretched place where we live is no bed of roses. It’s not just tedious, it’s tortuous. So, after some discussion, we had decided to try our luck at the tavern. A group of us, the most desperate, decided to go beg the orcs for some ale. We figured they might take pity on us.

To our dismay, they did not understand our pleas. One big fella, who villagers say is a cross between a troll and an orc, tried to translate for us. I am not sure his words were accurate, or perhaps orcs really are just heartless monsters, because our request for ale was denied… with a vengeance.

One minute, I was listening to this fella Marnack babble to the green faced monsters for us and the next minute the orcs in the inn were closing in on us, looking angry. They pummeled us senseless and tossed us out of the door. I woke up staring at blades of grass and hearing the sound of a woman telling us that the bar was open.

In spite of my bruises I remember feeling such joy, as we scrambled to go back inside. When we went in, what greeted our ale-starved eyes was complete mayhem. Dead orcs littered the floor, and there was “ooh, orc blood everywhere!” It was disgusting.

Still, we were finally able to drink, and that was something at least, though the atmosphere was pretty bad. As we gathered around the bar and drank, discussing how we were going to clean the place up, something stirred amidst the pile of bodies. Fear gripped my mind as I surmised one of the nasty orcs had survived.

It turns out that big, ugly Marnack was the sole survivor. Apparently, while we were unconscious out on the lawn, a beautiful woman had come into the tavern and slain them all, cutting Marnack’s hand off in the process. He awoke and his hand had already started to grow back. You see, the strange creature’s troll blood gave him the power to regenerate. I’m told he has died numerous times in fact. He awoke moaning and groaning about his hand and his wife, but all I knew is that I had finally tasted the sweet nectar I had longed for. The only problem is it tasted a bit like orc spit. I don’t think I had a clean glass.