My Big, Fat Homeschooling Post- Revised

This original post was written almost 3 years ago, in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, when several of my friends were asking questions about homeschooling. I’ve had a couple of people ask me again recently, so I decided to repost it.

In the past 3 years, I have very little to change from my original post except to say that at 19 and 20, while my little bugsies are now growed up……. they still live at home. So, take any advice I give with a grain of salt :)

They’ve been homeschooled pretty much from day one.  I think Jake made it to the middle of first grade.  Andrew never made it past preschool.  His preschool teacher took it upon herself to diagnosis a 4-year-old little boy with ADHD because he liked sticking his fingers in the fan and wouldn’t sit still for story time.  That just happened to coincide with Sarge getting orders to South Korea.  I took them out of school, we moved across the world.  We actually did have every intention of putting them back in school when we got back to the States.  Then we got back.  And I really cannot explain what Sarge and I saw in our boys that made us change our minds.  There was something about them that was just different.  We never put them back in school.

I spent the next several years patchworking every kind of curriculum I could think of.  Everything from the little workbooks at Wal-Mart, all the way to full-on school-at-home with Calvert School.  I read an article on the Department of State website geared toward foreign ambassadors and Calvert School was one of the distance education options they suggested.  Good enough for ambassadors, good enough for my kids, right!

I beat myself up.  A LOT.  If I regret anything, it would be that.  Beating myself up for not being organized.  For not sticking to a schedule.  For not sticking with a curriculum.  For not forcing them to do schoolwork.

I beat myself up because I thought I was ruining them.  I would never be good enough.  They would never be good enough.  They would grow up and hate me.  On and on it goes.

Honestly, it wasn’t until about 3 or 4 years ago when I quit beating myself up and made a decision.  Although, I never really told anyone that decision except my mother.  That decision was to officially become an unschooling parent.  You can read all you ever wanted to know about unschooling here.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unschooling I read a lot about John Holt’s philosophy, read Sandra Dodd’s blog.  I had really been doing it all along, I just kept trying to be something I wasn’t and would never be.  But it was at this point when I just let go.  I completely let go.

I didn’t tell anyone because I knew the whole thing had the potential to be a gigantic clusterfuck freight train headed for disaster.  I knew that would be the thought process of everyone who knew, and they’d all be looking at me out of the corners of their eyes just to see the train wreck.  Perhaps, I thought, if I don’t tell anyone and this all goes horribly wrong, maybe I’ll still have time to fix it?  I don’t know.

So, I am telling you now.  And anyone who wants to know.  My kids were unschooled.  We don’t have textbooks.  Or desks.  Or school hours.  Or any kind of studious discipline.

They take standardized tests every year, as per North Carolina homeschooling law, but they just fill in the little bubbles randomly, I send it off to be machine graded, and stick them in a folder.  I have never even looked at the stanines, or whatever the fuck it’s called.  Nor do I care.

My kids have taught me more than school ever did.  I truly believe this experience has turned me into a different person entirely.  Watching my kids discover their world.  Teaching them how to learn, fostering in them a passionate desire to want to learn.  Do you know what is more amazing than your child running through the front door waving an immaculate report card at you?  Watching your kid teach himself a musical instrument, and actually wind up being ridiculously talented enough to stand up next to professionals.   Watching that child you thought would never learn to read…. teach himself how to read.  And not with books or worksheets.  But just during the normal course of his life.

I stopped pretentiously dogging on formal schooling long ago.  It’s a bullshit attitude to have.  A lot of kids thrive in school.  They have wonderful experiences.  So, I am only going to say this once.  The other thing you learn the most when you have unschooled your children is…. okay…. this stings… but…. how little formal secondary education matters.   And how quickly an enterprising child who loves to learn is able to teach himself the few useful things he needs to know to move into adulthood.  I listen to both of them talk.  I have conversations with them.  In the course of those conversations, I tell them things.  Things I knew they probably did not know because they never went to school.  And I will tell them these things, and then they say, “Duh, Mom… everyone knows that.”  You know, obvious shit like how the axial tilt of Uranus makes it look like it’s tipped over on its side.  Sorta like, everyone knows Mickey Mouse, and everyone knows Uranus has an axial tilt of 97.77 degrees.  Duh.  Idiot.

Andrew does that all the time.  And I think he surprises me most because he’s not nearly as…. uuuhhh… vocal as Jake is.  Jake will just verbally slap me in the face and say, “Shit, I didn’t even go to school and I know more than you.” And I smile.  And nod my head.  Because he’s right.

But this blog post really isn’t supposed to compare my own way of teaching my children to any other mode of education.  This is not intended to convince anyone of anything.  Or to spit hatred toward formal education.  Or any of that.  Because I don’t hate formal education.  I just chose not to pursue that for my children.  The purpose of this blog post is simply advice.  I have had a lot of people over the years, and even more lately, ask me about homeschooling.  They ask for advice, where to look for curriculum, how to start, all of those things.  So here goes.

First, check out HSLDA.  The Homeschooling Legal Defense Association.  There, you will find the homeschooling laws and governing bodies for your state.

For North Carolina, it is The Department of Nonpublic Education.

Go to those websites.  Read, read, and read.  Follow the law.  Do the things you are supposed to do.  Some states have more lenient laws than other states.  But know that no matter where you live, you aren’t just going to fall off the grid.  You are answerable to someone.  Like it or not.

Second thing.  And this paragraph is most important.  Decide on how you want to teach, or not teach, your children.  Decide on a curriculum.  And then….. realize that this will change with the wind.  At any given moment.  Anytime.  All the time.  You are going to start homeschooling just like a kid on the first day of school.  Brand new backpack, brand new Lisa Frank pencils and pencil box.  Brand new Trapper Keeper.  Brand new clothes and shoes.  Everything smells new and exciting.  And by the time Christmas break comes around, you’re ready to stick an ice pick in your ear.  Homeschooling is no different.

Some homeschooling moms have the perfect personality for this.  They love charts.  They love being organized.  They love playing school.  They make a goal and keep it.  They dig in with both feet and barrel through it with guns blazing.

And then, there is you.  You are going to hate yourself.  Your charts will get lost beneath the electric bill and accidentally thrown in the trash.  You will have conversations with other parents about what their kids are learning in school, and will immediately be absolutely certain that your children are mentally retarded and it’s all your fault.  You will assume all of this means you were not cut out to be a homeschooling parent.  And you will assume that your only choice is to relent and run to your nearest principal’s office.  At this point, many parents quit.  Those are the parents who say, “Yeah, we tried it for a while, but it just wasn’t for us.”  If you choose to do that, there is no shame in it.  You do what you think is right for your child.  Full stop.

If you choose to stick with it, I will say this.  Don’t do what I did.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Have faith.  And that is coming from someone who barely believes in oxygen because she can’t see it.  Have faith.  Have faith in yourself.  But more than that, have faith in your child.  If you believe in him or her, they will feel it.  If you truly believe they are smart, it will rub off on them.  If you value your child as a human being, if you ask their opinions and mean it, if you have conversations with them about real-world topics, you are telling them that you believe they are smart enough to keep up, and then, they will go make themselves smart enough to keep up.  See how that works?

Along with faith, be real.  Be real in front of your children.  Have faults, and talk about them.  Fuck up, and apologize.  Relate to them with real-life stories.  And listen to theirs.  What does any of that have to do with homeschooling?  Because you are making yourself more than a parent.  You are making yourself a human being they respect.  If they respect you- not as an authority figure, but as a human being- they will listen to you.  They will hear you.  They will consider your words, allow your words space in their brains.  They will know that you might not always have an answer, and if you don’t, you’ll find one, and then you’ll show them where you found it, and now they magically know how to find answers for themselves.

After a while, once you’re done with the initial freak-out, once you’ve spent gads of money on all sorts of curricula only to toss it all out the window in the second month, and then spend the next 10 months blaming yourself for it.  Once you’ve gotten over that, school becomes a non-issue.  Totally a non-issue.  That might happen sooner for some of you, much later for others.  It was much, much later for me.  Like, 2-3 years ago.  I did not belong to any parenting or homeschooling support groups.  I knew a few homeschooling parents, but they were nothing like me.  Even the unschooling ones.  I just never fit in.  Hell, the boys’ cub scout pack was almost entirely made up of homeschoolers, and that was a fucking joke.  That shit had to be the most pretentious and self-important bunch of human beings I had ever met.  And my kids never liked their kids, either.   So, whenever I had a “Oh my god, my kids are going to be on welfare and they will hate me forever” moment, I had no one else who could relate to me and tell me what to do, or how to feel.  I learned on my own.

A lot of unschooling parents do subscribe to the theory of doing a bit of actual textbook work in the older high school years, and in hindsight, I think I’d be an advocate for that. However, you may find that once your kids are that age, they will want to learn it on their own. They will find their own websites and information.  Because you taught them that.  You taught them to love learning.  You taught them how to find answers.  So when the idea of going to college becomes a little seedling in their mind, and you show them the kinds of things most high school seniors need to know (meaning, really, honestly need to know.  Meaning, seriously.  Considering most college freshman years are spent reviewing everything you just learned in high school), they will sit down and learn it.  More than likely, it will take them a month or so.  Maybe shorter.  Maybe longer.  But you won’t have to do anything.  You’ve already done your job.  Going over and nudging shoulders with your kid and trying to “teach” just annoys the hell of out them… because they’re busy learning shit.  And you’re in the way.   See how that works?

This is the point where I am going to give you some more links.  I’m going to look in my school folder in my bookmarks and pick out the ones I think are most helpful.  These should get you started pretty quickly on the road to that emotional breakdown that will cause you to either 1) Give up and enroll them in school tomorrow, or 2) Feel absolutely right in your element, your kids are thriving, you’re proud of them, and all is right with the world.  Or, 3) Lie to yourself with daily Stewart Smalley-esque affirmations until, 10 years later, it finally becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you go online to your blog and admit to the world that you don’t teach your children dick or squat.  And they are still fucking brilliant.

Homeschool Supercenter

Core Curriculum of America

University of Texas High School

Indiana University High School

Texas Tech University Elementary School

Texas Tech University Middle School

Texas Tech University High School

Calvert School 

Keystone School (Middle and High)

Time4Writing (online writing courses, elementary thru high)

Time4Learning (One of my kids’ faves)

Seton Testing (standardized tests)

Merit Software

Purple Math

Family Learning Organization (more standardized testing)

Mari, Inc. (reading, lit guides, etc)

eNasco

Delta Education (science and math)

E-Tutor

GeoMatters (geography)

LearnPlus (German and Spanish courses)

Neave Planetarium

Stellarium

Celestia

WikiSky.org

Your Amazing Brain

AncientWeb  (civilizations)

ReadWriteThink (K-12 activities)

Smithsonian Education

Instant Anatomy

Ascend Math

K12.com (free online public school in some states)

 

I have tons more links.  TONS. MORE.  And giving you my opinion on any of them wouldn’t matter.  First, because I really don’t have a lot of experience with most of them.  Second, and this is the most important thing, every child learns differently.  That is the beauty of being human.  We are all different.  The way we experience the world is as different as the number of humans that walk upon it.  I do not know any parent who wants their child to become another brick in the wall.   We are not a cookie cutter species.  That is why we are humans.  And not ants.  Or bees.  Or a herd of antelope.  We have self-awareness.  We are curious about our world and our place in it.  What works for my kids might not work for yours.

And lastly, if I had to sum it all up, and give you the absolute best advice I have, it would be these few things.

1)  Be the parent your child needs, instead of molding your child into the kid you want.

2)  Have faith.  In yourself and your kid.  What you don’t understand is that even though you have lost faith in yourself, your kid will think you’ve lost faith in him.

3)  When given the choice between worksheets or fingerpaint, always choose fingerpaint.

Vagabondage

It’s been a while, no? I think my last post was some philosophical Nietzsche-esque thing about how little our individual lives matter and the legacy you leave behind. Clearly, looking back on my thoughts I’ve scribbled over the past 7 or 8 years, my inherent self has always remained the same. Ever the skeptic, ever the searcher, the wanderer, disillusioned with humanity as it is yet fascinated by what it could be. Looking here and there, under the rug, over the fence. Deciding and undeciding. Overthinking the worthiness of a person, an event, the entire human species. Regardless of any simmering potential, frozen within the doubt that anything I do will make a difference. The way I choose to, or think I should, express that inherent self, however, has always been a labyrinthine evolutionary journey. So much so that, at times, it’s rather funny.

I take myself too seriously.

So I quit my job.

And despite never having drawn anything more than a stick figure prior to September of last year, I quit my job….. to become an artist. Well, to be more specific, a pyrographer.

Ha!

Really.

Because. Well. Why the fuck not? Tomorrow, I might be a philosopher again. Next week, I may finish my novel. Sometime this year, I may find myself pinned beneath an ATV in the mountains of New Hampshire and wonder why the hell I never allowed myself the latitude to say……

Whatever, man. I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow. I don’t know what time I’m going to bed. I don’t know what time I’ll wake up. And frankly, I don’t care.

Whatever, man.

All the experiences that have created the life that is me are a fantastic mosaic of stained glass and iron twisted, molded, and colored into this body and this mind and this soul, each of which I only have one.

I can’t do this over again. So. I suppose. For as long my body will allow me. I’ll try to do as much of everything as I can.

I wanted to be a writer. So I will write.

Once, I wanted to be a financial counselor, so I will advise.

I wanted to be a philosopher, so I will seek the irrational and illogical and wonder more about those who embrace them rather than refute them. Because.

Whatever, man.

And I guess, for now at least, I’ll wake up at some point every day and laugh at myself for never having known, or wondered, or cared that I had any artistic talent whatsoever.

Somehow, I’ve accumulated a ridiculous amount of wood and power tools, an incredibly expensive woodburning unit, and after four months, have somehow created things on wood that people are willing to pay me a few hundred dollars for.

Four months ago, if anyone asked me what ability I did not have, have never had, and would be the least likely to develop, “art” would not even have been on my radar.

But, today it is. Tomorrow, it may not be.

Whatever, man.

I’ve got my guide, my towel, my babel fish, and- of course- for purely sadomasochistic reasons- my book of Vogon poetry. And I am certainly, most definitely. Not. Going to panic.

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“Pearl” from “Standing Nude” by Bob Seidemann

 

Buzz Kill Baby & A Little Dezz Carts

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Sorry. This is as close to “costuming” as you’ll ever see me.

Chris and I were driving the other day. After passing a “pumpkin patch,” we started talking about all those hackneyed family photos we’ve never really participated in, and how funny it would be if we got everyone to dress up in our goth-y-est getups and go around taking the same pics with our…. special family twist. You know, “pumpkin patch” autumn photos with both the boys in black, glaring out from under shaggy hair, arms crossed, both standing next to Chris and I, who are equally austere and darkly dressed.

Skip to the almighty family Christmas photo. Ha! I think we’ve done that maybe once in 20 years of playing house. But we could certainly pull off the most awesome “Fucked Up Davis Family Christmas” pics, fo sho. There would be a Santa and some bird-flipping involved. No smiles. NO SMILES!

Cut to Halloween. It ruins our plans. We’d simply look normal.

I’ve never been a big celebrator. I was done with Halloween at a fairly young age. Strange fact, especially considering my love for all things horror. I’ve just never been a dresser-upper. I enjoy seeing the pics of all you guys who are my age and still love dressing up for Hollerween, and cosplay equally- all the creative costumes that didn’t come from a store are super cool. But for myself, it just doesn’t rev my engine. Never has.

Same with Christmas, birthdays, (enter the name of any holiday here). I can’t really say why. I don’t know. I’ve just never gotten excited about things like that. Decorating my house, giving/receiving gifts, dressing in costume….. it just all seems like too much trouble for little reward.

In other words, I’m boring.

Or perhaps my dopamine receptors- the pleasure center of my brain- simply require a different kind of fuel to catch fire?

I do enjoy things. Meaning, I am not pathologically wretched. I think it comes down to the bare-bones definition of the phrase “old soul.” I’ve heard it used mostly as a synonym for “deep-thinking” or “profound,” but those are misnomers. When I Googled the phrase “old soul,” however, the first result that popped up was spot on. LonerWolf’s 9 Signs You’re an Old Soul hits it out of the park. I won’t go through all 9, as a couple seem to mirror each other, but I’ll touch on the bigger points-

“You tend to be a solitary loner” Ya think? Yes, I have friends. And yes, I had friends my own age when I was a child, but I always knew there was part of the relationship that was missing. I knew 99% of those friends did not have the same thoughts I had. I knew I had ideas and interests that I would never be able to share with them. Many of my thoughts and ideas as a child would have been perceived by my peers as about as exciting as a hedge maze in the shape of a Mobius strip, and many were far and away outside of the boundaries of “appropriateness.” Even today, my habit of over-thinking drives people nuts. And when I tell people that the first full-length novel I ever read was Stephen King’s Carrie, and I was in the second grade, or that I was (at least in thought) extremely sexually precocious at an even younger age, eyebrows inevitably raise. Yet, I was happy inside my own head. I never feared my thoughts. I was never ashamed. I was curious. Intrigued. Yes, intrigued with myself. And I learned very early on that I was going to have to do a whole lot of pretending in order to survive my childhood. Could that be why I find no enjoyment in dressing in costume for Halloween? Perhaps my human suit I wear every day is my costume. Oh! The profundity! (insert cackling laughter). It’s probably also why Disney, the World, the Land, the corporation, the manufacturer of assembly-line fantasy, has also never done much for me. When I was little, I remember watching the movies and cartoons and feeling insulted. How dare they try to define me with a silly happy ending and talking animals! “MoooOOOooom! Can I read your Stephen King books?” The smartest thing she ever did was tell me “No.”

“You love knowledge, wisdom, and truth” ……. and it’s gotten me in trouble on more occasions than I can count. It sounds like a humble brag, yes? But when you strip away the aura that surrounds those words, what it’s really saying is that an old soul is incapable of believing anything for the sake of conformity. Everything must be questioned. Nothing is accepted at face value. Disbelief until proven otherwise is an old soul’s reflex, not acceptance until proven otherwise. That is a precarious position to be in when you’re a child. A child is expected to take a parent or a teacher’s word at face value. Although a teacher may pay lip service to a desire for their students to be curious, most of my teachers had no idea what they were getting themselves into with me. I was the “Why Kid,” the kid who constantly had my hand up, but mostly to ask a question rather than answer one. Why? How do you know? WHY? WHY? WHY? I learned fairly early to just shut up and regurgitate until I got home. That was after my 6th grade teacher gave me seven detentions in one day because I refused to stop raising my hand. It was a classic Breakfast Club “Bender/Mr. Vernon” standoff. Thankfully, she was 9 months pregnant, went on maternity leave, and forgot to let the substitute know of my wickedness.

“You’re spiritually inclined” Yes, but not religiously so- spiritually insofar as having a fascination with consciousness, and the validity of the consciousness of others around me. I can’t speak for all old souls, but I have always had a solipsistic bent. It goes back to the “disbelief until proven otherwise” concept, even metaphysically so. To be able to believe that all things outside my own consciousness exist mutually exclusive of my own self is a HUGE leap for me. One of my earliest memories is a xerox copy of this concept. I was 4 years old, sitting on the floor at preschool. The wall to my right was all window, floor to ceiling, and I could see the school buses parked in a line just outside. The carpet was a pattern of colored diamonds, very busy, very 70s. As I sat, I traced the outlines of the diamonds. The teacher was speaking, but I wasn’t paying attention. I was watching my finger as I traced, and thought to myself “I wonder if all the other kids can see what I am seeing. Can they see the diamonds? Are the diamonds they see different than the diamonds I see? I probably shouldn’t say that out loud….. someone might think I’m weird…..” Now that I think about it, that last phrase is the motto of my entire life. “I probably shouldn’t say that out loud…. someone might think I’m weird…..”  I learned very early on how to wear my human costume well.

“You understand the transience of life” …… and it’s frighteningly liberating. Life itself- human life- human consciousness- is a fascinating microcosm. Much like the fleeting life of a comet traveling too close to the sun, the microsecond birth of a new star, or the rogue planet on an unintended path of destruction, human life is equally bound by chaos, coming and going from the Earth at the whims of nothing. It’s liberating because I am able to recognize when I become lost in human mundanity- the Game of LIfe- The Machine. I’m not afraid to play my own game, write my own rules, and decide that those things society labels as desirable hold no interest for me. It’s frightening because this line of thought can easily lend itself to sociopathy, or nihilism at its very softest. The questioning of any sociopath will reveal a touch of solipsism, nihilism, narcissism, and the understanding of the transience of life. The one thing that separates the old soul from the sociopath is the spiritual quest for the definition of kindness, the deliberate understanding that its opposite is cruelty, and the desire to display kindness and abhor cruelty. In itself, it would seem that these things stand at odds with the belief that anything outside yourself may not exist. Why bother defining kindness and cruelty within the confines of one’s own fantasy? Reflexive disbelief. The understanding that although the solipsistic law of parsimony would conclude that my own existence is the only provable existence (I think; therefore, I am, and you are, because I am), there also exists the understanding that I may be wrong (I think; therefore, I am, and you are, because you are).

“You aren’t materialistic” …… as opposed to those who crave objects and define themselves by the procurement of them. Bigger. Better. A newer model. I am not a house, nor am I defined by the one I choose to live in. I am not a car or a television or an outfit or a piece of jewelry. I have these things. I desire these things. But I don’t live and die by them. I am not defined by them. I am not defined by how my material world compares to that of someone else, nor do I judge a character by the house it lives in or the car it drives or the money it spends on subjective frivolity. In fact, my reaction to someone else’s perceived importance on the basis of their material world is the exact opposite of the reaction they expect to receive- all I see is complete lack of substance.

“You were a strange, socially maladaptive kid”…… and truer still, when I right-click on the underlined word “maladaptive,” the only option I get is “manipulative.” Yes and yes. It is only natural that one begets the other. Not only was I maladaptive, I was downright dysfunctional. Growing up in the Deep South didn’t help matters much, though I have enjoyed, via Facebook, watching some of my old high school buddies branch out from their deep southern roots a bit and show a little of their own weirdness while still staying true to themselves, amazingly so. I was always weird. Everything I did was weird. At first, I wasn’t trying. In fact, I was trying to pretend to be normal, it just never seemed to work. No matter how hard I tried, something always fell out of my mouth that gave away my true nature. I was fortunate enough to have a small posse of buds to catch me when I fell, but I almost always fell. So, I gave up, and purposefully stopped trying to hide my weirdness. If everyone around me thought I was Satan incarnate, why not prove them right? Why not have a little fun and scare the living shit out of everyone? No reason, just fun. Which again caused me to question where I fell on the scale of sociopathy. Is it a normal thing for a 12-year-old girl to question whether she has a conscience? Is it a normal thing for her to painstakingly pick through every single soul in her world by name to see if any of those names evoked feelings of love or empathy (spoiler: They did). It was only in the last 5 or 6 years that I have been able to put a name to my conscience- “Selective Conscience,” and it was only through finding a true female soulmate in the most unlikely of places that I was able to discover that about myself.

“You just “feel” old”……. “This can often be perceived as being aloof and cold, which is only one of many Old Soul Myths.”…… Yes. I feel old. I have felt old since my earliest memories. I have been ready to move out and “be all growed up” since the day I learned to tie my shoes. Instead of feeling the shock of adulthood, I spent 17 years feeling the torment of a childhood I never belonged in, like a marionette with strings being pulled by adults who (I perceived) loved to lord over children for the sheer fun of wielding unchecked authority. The only thing I could do to feel comfortable in my own skin was to rebel. To question. Constantly. To refuse giving my respect to anyone on the trite notion that children must respect their elders. To scream when I was told to be quiet. To bang, as loudly as I could, on a piano after I was scolded for playing it in church, after which the scolder attempted to “pray with me,” all while I laughed at her attempt to exorcise my demons…. and then I banged some more. To laugh, long and loud, while I was being spanked. To tell a high school teacher  (who shall remain unnamed) to “fuck off” when I was scolded for a pair of shorts that did not pass the archaic dress code. The “side-hug” was my hallmark. I felt, even as a very young girl, that physical affection was forced on children, that all adults assumed children desire it, even need it, and they give it without asking permission to enter a child’s personal space. A child MUST desire her mother’s hugs and kisses, right? A child MUST feel loved when a teacher wraps her arms around them, yes? No. Yet it was even more complicated than that. It wasn’t that I inherently did NOT desire it, it was the assumption that I DID and the failure to ASK that repulsed me. What I sought was autonomy, the cutting of my strings, to be left alone to choose my path and the people I allowed to walk it with me. Aloof and cold? To those who I have not allowed on my path, yes. I have no allegiance to anyone save those to whom I have pledged it. I felt an allegiance to  my mother as a girl because I loved her, not because she was my mother. I feel an allegiance to my husband because I love him and I have pledged it, not because he is my husband.

I feel an allegiance to my children because children are the only humans who are born with a birthright to the allegiance of their parents, unconditional allegiance and love, an allegiance and a love that is not required to be reciprocated unless a parent has proven they deserve it.

I am old. I have been old since the day I was born. The things that excite me today are the things that have excited me since the beginning of my time on this Earth.

  • I am a creator.
  • I am a silent observer.
  • I am a questioner, a disbeliever but an active seeker of truth, even if I stubbornly choose not to believe it.
  • I am a storyteller for the sake of the journey, not the audience.
  • I am selfish with a shallow well of devotion that I must ration carefully, only to those who have earned it.
  • I am a lone runner who cannot understand the concept of a “running buddy.”
  • I am a family girl who has never, ever been able to grasp the concept of extended family vacations. Family reunions. Week-long family trips with aunts and uncles and cousins. Whoa. Personal space, people. Personal space.
  • I am a player on a team of one; I cannot be responsible for anyone else’s destiny.
  • I am an introspective narcissist, made clear by this silly blog of constantly evolving self-definition.
  • I am a writer of magic, yet I don’t believe in it.
  • I am a collector of karma, yet…. I don’t believe in it.
  • I am an anonymous giver; saying “you’re welcome” are two of the hardest words I have ever tried to muster.
  • I am a learner who refuses to be taught.
  • I am a wanderer with clear goals at the end of an unplanned path of which I have no map.
  • I am obnoxious.
  • I am loud and naked when I drink too much.
  • I eat the exact same thing every single day.
  • I am a nonconformist for the sake of nonconformity alone.
  • I am a true rebel without a cause because it has been my milieu for so long that I don’t know any different, and us “old folks” don’t take too kindly to change.

For good or ill, I am an old soul. Terrible at parties, on the off-chance I accept an invitation. My best friend, one of the triad that completes my inherent self, together with my mother and husband, lives 10 minutes down the road, yet we still communicate- 100% of the time- via email, using the same email addresses we used the very first time we ever met, and she is the only person I ever email using that address. And if all that isn’t weird enough, we share the same psychiatrist.

I drive my husband crazy. My kids are used to it. My mother knew it from the time I spoke my first words. I’d have never met my best friend if I were any different. And I still rather doubt that any of you even exist.

Cogito, ergo sum. Cogito, ergo es. Fortasse.

Behind The Face: The Words You Leave Behind

A quick Google search using the words “vague emotional posts on Facebook” adds a brand spankin’ new word to my vocabulary- Vaguebooking. That search came after a good couple of weeks of pondering the practice of- either vaguely or overtly- pouring one’s emotions into such an intangible, transparent, infinitely expansive, and many times quite tenuous, form of relationship.

Yet another Google search using the words “overly emotional posts on Facebook” doesn’t give me any groovy new words, but it does give me a New York times article entitled “Lonely People Share Too Much On Facebook,” an article from The Atlantic titled “People Who Overshare On Facebook Just Want to Belong,” and the coup de grâce- an experiment from the National Academy of Sciences on a fuckawesomely-named phenomenon…. (get this)…. “emotional contagion.” Yes. Your  superfluous expression of emotion on social media is like Facebook bacteria.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Third grade science class teaches us that there are both good and bad bacteria, yet the previous two articles suggest that certain types of people tend to spread the bad kind purposefully, though I doubt many are doing it consciously.

That would certainly gibe with the “misery loves company” adage, though I think “anhedonia craves anodynia ” would be a kinder perception. On a second look, however, these surface judgments oversimplify what I have found is a much more esoteric paradox of human behavior.

The actual study of emotion will take you even farther down the rabbit hole. From some of the earliest studies of emotion, philosophers attached moral assessments to emotions which framed judgments on the fundamental flaws or assets of one’s personality. While many of those early claims seem unfair and inaccurate, society still does it today.

Think of those “Facebook friends” (and we all have them) who unabashedly spread their self-pity and victim mentality through their constant streams of “unspirational” memes about broken trust,  hurt feelings, loneliness, or channeling their inner strength. Inevitably, judgments abound.

“Poor me” is met with “Get the fuck over it.”

But, we must take a step back and think to ourselves- What if this person has no one else? What if their triple-digit friend list, true or no, is the entirety of their support system?

Then there are the awkward and seemingly pointless reminders of the anniversary of a loved one’s death. One year. Five years. Twenty years. Huh?!

I don’t even need to mention the passive-aggressive “vaguebooking” posts that are clearly directed at a specific person, unnamed, who crushed souls, ruined families, or broke hearts. Theoretically, such a person would be “unfriended” digitally as well as physically and emotionally, so who, exactly, are these posts targeting?

I’m not quite sure if the unspirational quotes and bible versus about stress and overcoming obstacles and finding happiness (and whatever else people concern themselves with enough to search for or share a meme) applies here, though they do make me wonder about the emotional health of a large majority of the population on social media.

Once again, it is quite possible that either the one who is posting or the one who is reading may need to share or hear the message. While it’s popular for all of us flat-affected emotional pirate chests to be truly curious about the use of social media as a sort of daily therapy, there remains this possibility- What if this is true? What if, for some people, it IS their daily therapy? The way they cope? The way they are reassured that similar souls with similar aches exist? The way they rest assured each evening, when their heads touch their pillows, that they are not alone in the world with their feels?

Without question, I have used Facebook to blow off steam, but looking back on any of my posts that I personally would consider catharsis, others would define at face value as humorous flotsam and jetsam of hashtag-first-world-problems. Touche.

Yet, when reading the posts from others that I would consider emotional bloodletting, or the airing of dirty laundry, or the yanking the skeletons from the closet to dance naked with them in the front yard, in all my pondering and reading, I have yet to determine what kind of response, exactly, these posts are attempting to elicit. A thumbs up? A “like”? An “I’m praying for you”?

And in all my pondering and reading, I have yet to discover why, exactly, these posts are being blasted out to a typical friend list of upward of 500+ people, 90% of whom we would never sit down with over coffee, much less regurgitate all of our woe and catastrophe. The purpose eludes me. Are they waiting with bated breath for the receiving line to form and pass them by, one-by-one, thumbs-upping, smiling, ensuring prayers are sent, begging for details that will never come?

Misery needs validation. A pat on the head. A hug. A squeeze of a hand and the reassurance that everything will work out in the end. In these specific instances, I can make a few hypotheses.  I believe there are some whose ability to self-soothe was either never fully developed in childhood or is so overwhelmed that it is rendered nonfunctional. There are some who truly are pathologically lonely, who believe that unhappiness is a state of being over which they have no control, a circumstance that has been put upon them by a big, bad world in which they have no redeeming qualities, an irreparable soul lost in an intolerable society that has no place for their perceived second-rate existence.

And those who publicly share the annual rite of mourning over the death of a loved one I cannot even begin to unravel. To publicize what I feel is probably the most intense and deeply gut-wrenching event that can befall any human being, on the anniversary of their death, EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR, plastered on the newsfeed of 200, 500, 1000+ individuals, MAYBE 25% of whom you’d share a meal with much less the emotions woven within the rope that ripped a beautiful life from your heart, is nothing more or less than the 21st century equivalent to a gruesome memento mori.

Without question, we all mourn death differently, but to lasso the entirety of your digital social life into your personal wake, whether you use the words “celebration of life” or “mourning of death” is unhealthy to say the least. If this is an emotional process that requires a support group for you to bear, find one.

Yet many of these emotional waterfalls do not want advice. They appreciate the hand you extend to them, the phone call or shoulder you offer on which they can cry, but any advice that alludes to their misconceptions or suppressed ability to grow and nurture themselves from within goes ignored, unheeded, or eschewed outright.

For some reason I will never understand, I believe they just want a stage, a safe stage in front of an audience who, with the exception of the rare brave soul, won’t tell them any of the things they need to hear but are all too eager to tell them all the things they want to hear.

For those who are inherent introverts such as myself, social media provides an outlet with a safety net of sorts- an equally safe stage yet for a different reason. Because I am not a typical introvert, not the kind whose personality adheres to all the “25 Things Introverts Wish You Understood” lists, I am only speaking for myself here. Social media in my eyes is life on my terms. My awkwardness is never denied, but I’m in control of the dumbassery that comes with face-to-face interaction. Anyone who knows me in both the tangible and intangible worlds will immediately recognize the difference in my ability to express myself in spoken words versus written words. Unless I am married to you, gave birth to you, was given birth to by you, or consider your friendship deeper than any DNA, I am actually a terrible conversationalist.

I look for exits in every situation. Afterward, I analyze every moment of a conversation for hours. I cringe at all the words I wanted to say but forgot. I  cringe at all the subjects I have avoided in conversations, subjects most people think I know nothing about because of the frayed and broken wires in my brain-to-mouth construct. I am probably one of the few people who show more of who I truly am online than I do face-to-face, but not because of anxiety or shame or lack of self confidence. Like all the other esoteric paradoxical differences in human behaviors when traveling between the two worlds, it is so much simpler than that. I simply need time.

I need time to organize my thoughts and piece them together. Even my most elementary ideas come in 1000 pieces.

I need time to consider my answers and their delivery. What most people may consider the clearest of answers to me requires the consideration and systematic review of a million different possibilities.

The Atlantic article up there is actually a study of how people use Facebook to express their “true selves,” and “qualities we’d like to be recognized for but that we normally find ourselves unable to express in day-to-day life.”

Hmm.. Ok. Fair enough.

Yet, it also goes on to state “people who felt that they were more truly themselves online were more likely to communicate with others on Facebook, disclose things about themselves, and post emotional updates about frustrations or drama.”

Yeah…. No.

But then I thought of something else. What if I don’t have drama?

I’m also one of those few people who actually know a good percentage of those included as a “friend” on Facebook. I know them in non-digital life. Many I am related to. Many I have known since I was 5 years old, some even younger. A few I am closer to than my own blood. They all know my “true self.” Many have seen it in all its ugly glory. Some have only heard about my ugly glory through stories I frame as a whimsical legacy of a girl who didn’t like herself once upon a time, so she changed her “true self.” But that was so long ago that I have no other frame of reference left to draw on other than whimsy and laughter.

Even though I hated her then, I love her now. All that she was, all that I changed- They are still strands of me, and she is beautiful.

I have no need or desire to post and tag anyone in misquoted inspirational, unspirational, despirational, or vaguespirational memes about relationships or politics or friendship or poverty or the million different right and wrong ways to raise our children. The fact that so few people have any idea that the attributes are either incorrect or completely out of context borders on hilarity.

I have no need or desire to emote on a global stage while, in face-to-face interaction, I’d only open that door to the Winchester Mystery House that is the umbra of me to less than a handful of people. That would mean that I am everything BUT real in any of the lives I live.

So, the question remains. What if I have no drama?

I’m either one incredibly lucky bitch, or my definition of drama extends as far as the pair of flip-flops my tiny little dog attempted to chew but just… couldn’t…. quite…. make it happen.

Or the two men-children that refuse to move out of my house.

Or the Social Security Disability office with whom we just won our fight.

Or the fact that we still have two mortgages.

Or…. or…. or…. ummm….. yeah.  I can’t think of anything else.

I’ve been told that I have rather thick skin. Perhaps those things that other women refer to as “drama” never even dawns on me as such? I give as much as I get, and usually wind up laughing at most of it and ignoring the rest.

Does that mean my id is a dispassionate tabula rasa whose tear ducts are suffering a drought on an apocalyptic scale?

No.  It simply means my tabula is none of Facebook’s business, and my rasa is buried far deeper than most people are willing to dig, which is exactly where I like it.

What if my true self prefers not to mourn publicly? Although I would never want to begrudge anyone the way they mourn best, I can see within myself that constant public displays of loss and grief, same words, same pictures, same person, year after year, would render my soul a bit stagnant. The broadcast itself is a bit unfair, as well. My first thought was an “unmediated dispersal” of pathos among a crowd of people who did not ask for it, but on second thought, it’s obvious. It’s “emotional contagion.” Although for most people it is done on a subconscious level and without malice, they are still inviting, without giving an opportunity to RSVP, everyone in their digital world to their pity party. Who are they targeting? Is it a cry for sympathy? Perhaps people feel the need to remind the world that this person existed, which I can conceptualize, but can also argue against. The world does not want or need to be reminded. The world carries on. It always will. But I will never forget my loss, and I certainly don’t need to remind anyone who I know will also never forget.

Perhaps people feel the need to use social media to nurture the legacy of their loved one. The concept of a legacy itself is quite interesting when you think about it. The minute a life ends, a legacy is born. While its definition lends itself more to the idea of an inheritance, in use, it is actually all the things, tangible and intangible, a person leaves behind. A legacy continues in perpetuity, as long as people remain who remember. Yet, when we invite strangers into a legacy in the hope of keeping it alive, people who may have never known those we lost, we’re creating a false legacy.  We are sensationalizing this person over and over again with little quips and remembrances that show up in newsfeeds in between pictures of people guzzling a pint of their home-brewed beer and someone’s kid’s high school graduation.

I prefer to preserve the sanctity of a life lived, the sanctity of my grief for the loss of that life, and the sanctity of a true legacy by keeping my remembrances on a pedestal far above anything as banal as Facebook.

Is it morally responsible to judge one’s character by the way they grieve? Although it is commonly heard that grief has no rules, I cannot help but disagree. There are healthy and quite unhealthy ways to grieve. There comes a point where, though you never forget, you do move on- or you should. There must also be a bridge one crosses in the grief process. On the other end of it exists a place where stories can be told with laughter, and the lives of those we lost can be remembered with a lighter heart and in the company of those with whom we’d rather smile than cry.

Of course I have emotions. I have all of them. If you can define an emotion, I have felt it. I’ve written about sadness, stress, and frustration on my blog in years past, though most of it was buried in fictional narrative, poetry, or metaphors. I posted on Facebook, complete with pictures from the hospital, when my son was shot on November 18,  2013 at 5: 13 in the afternoon, as well as his healing in the days afterward, though until just now, I’ve never spoken about it on my blog or social media since then. I’ve had no reason to. It happened. He healed. I healed.

Over.

Done with.

Gone.

The author Primo Levi illustrates this point in his attempt to recount and understand his experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz in his book If This is A Man/The Truce. It is his belief that true understanding is only attained by stripping his tale of emotion and presenting the facts as they are. “The living are more demanding,” he says. “The dead can wait.” I have a very hard time imagining Levi’s Facebook page, were he alive today, with a daily chronicle of holocaust memes and a constant flood of reminders of those he lost and how he suffered.

On the flip side, the fact remains that Facebook is the only emotional outlet available to some people. Although I find that sad, I cannot belie their choice to use it.

Some people feel the need to fill the world with uplifting and soulful insights into the larger picture. I can only assume these insights are targeted toward those with little emotional support and tend to be lost in the belief that they have no one else in the world. Perhaps they believe these insights (however misattributed) will impact at least one person’s day, one who needs to hear it the most. That I also cannot belie, though I personally do not feel qualified to be the therapist to the lost souls of Facebook.

Some tend to thrive on drama, perpetuating it, inflating it, perceiving it as a wrong afflicted upon them without the ability to embrace the larger picture, that the orbit of the sun travels around the center of our galaxy and not around themselves, that it has done so for 4.5 billion years and will continue to do so long after they leave this world. To them I would suggest a self-assessment of their own legacy.

Today, in this life, those who choose to fly their histrionic flag on social media are creating a legacy of truth that cannot be camouflaged or adorned once they are gone. This truth is permanent, in their own words, impressed upon the inexpungible world of digital media for all to remember. Is the verbal picture of you squeezing your daily misery between Ermahgerd memes and Pinterest fails the legacy you want everyone to remember you by, or would you rather your inerasable words be those of a single awkward human among an equally awkward species, laughing at the rocks upon which we all stumble, silly selfies of your screw-ups with captions that allude to the blissful embodiment of the chaos life throws at us, and the pride you have for the mosaic of beautiful bruises that make up the canvas that is you?

That would be my preference. So that when my children, my husband, my friends, or my older self looks back on the words I wrote, the pictures I posted, and the stories I told, they will be looking at the living memory of a woman who wrangled- but celebrated- her chaos, no matter how determined that chaos was to define her, a woman who rejected the languor of her injuries, choosing to shine a light on her mosaic of spiritual bruises because she knew they made her that much more beautiful.

That would be my preference were I to have perfect control over the scattered flotsam and jetsam that validates my betrothal to my own humanity. Yet I do not. None of us do. And in that vein, I will leave you with a fitting and accurately attributed bit of unspiration, purely for your enjoyment, of course.

the-earth-from-space-70253

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Myth of Raising Body-Positive Girls

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So, you have daughters, eh? You’ve embraced at least some semblance of a feminist viewpoint. You’re hellbent on raising confident girls who are proud of their bodies, happy in the skin they’re in, resilient and at least somewhat immune to the constant barrage of negative body messages bombarding them at every turn. You’ve become enlightened to the notion of praising their inward beauty instead of focusing on their outward appearance. Perhaps you’ve adopted a bit of gender-neutrality in your parenting techniques, equipping your brilliant future female engineers with Legos and indulging your future soldiers with Nerf guns and Star Wars memorabilia, eschewing the assumption that they will naturally want to play Barbies and dress as princesses for Halloween.

You’re doing everything right. Your chunky little monkey will grow up happy, strong, confident, with an inward beauty that radiates at max frequency, enveloping everyone within a 10-mile radius of them. Your strong-boned athlete will grow up with a brick shithouse of self-respect surrounding them, their turrets armed with soul-crushing comebacks  for every man who heckles them on the street and every dainty Cinderella who whispers vulgar slurs about their Venus Williams ass.

She’s a devil in leather. A warrior in lace. A princess who never needs a prince to save her. A hardcore heart that can sense and crush misogyny with her midichlorians.  A fearless flower with a Nascar-esque focus  of control over the love-fall she allows to happen when she meets the #HeForShe man who will be allowed to walk beside her til death do them part, infiltrate her uterus with his spawn when she chooses, praise her strength and intelligence as she soars through glass ceilings, and wipe the drool off his chin as she rocks a post-C-section bikini body adorned with her battle-scar stretch marks any woman would be proud to flaunt.

Oh, yes. You’re doing everything right. The Royalty of 21st Century daughter-parenting! What can possibly go wrong?

Well.

Frankly.

Everything.

Because although you may teach her, guide her, surround her with positivity, teach her to be a ninja of negativity, to love her body, to love her mind even more, to respect herself, to vaccinate herself against anything less than what she deserves, it is the things you have no control over that will snatch you back into a reality that you cannot mold for her. This reality is a sneaky little insect that multiplies upon itself, quickly- surprisingly so- drowning out the parental voice you convinced yourself was loud enough to silence the fusillade of humanity.

And it can be as simple and innocent as a pair of Calvins.

I was in the 7th grade when it happened. My mother was overflowing with all of those wonderful girl-warrior-raising traits in a time when there was no internet. There were no body-positivity movements or activists. No hashtags, no self-help parenting blogs, no one to guide her. It just came naturally.

And so did her body.

We were all small. My mother, me, both my sisters. None of the four of us ever breached 5′ tall. Matter of fact, I was the oldest AND the runt of the litter, topping out at 4’6″. My mother only beat me by a couple inches and my younger sister by an inch.

But my mother. Well. She was TINY.

She wore a size 0 back when size 0 actually meant something.

She wore a size 0 after 3 pregnancies and 2 C-sections.

She wore a size 0 without dieting, obsessive exercising, or even thinking about her body at all. Weight was never a topic of discussion, not mine, not my mother’s, and not my sister’s. It was never something I was taught to be proud or ashamed of. Food was never used as a reward, nor was “healthy” or “clean eating” a focus of discussion. We had normal family meals at normal family mealtime. In my mother’s eyes, mine and my sister’s appearances were nothing short of perfection.

In my mother’s eyes, all of her children were nothing short of perfection.

Never did she suggest that any of us were anything less than fearless female warriors armed to the teeth with self-confidence and nothing about our bodies or minds to bring us down.

But as I grew from a child to a middle-schooler, it started to become obvious to me that my body was very, very different than my mother’s.

I wasn’t fat. But I wasn’t tiny. I was athletic. I was fiercely involved in things like softball, Tae Kwon Do, all-day summer swims at the rec center pool. Long hikes alone through the woods behind my grandmother’s house when she’d lock us out until lunch time.

But I couldn’t blame it on that, either. My mother had a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

And my mother was tiny.

It wasn’t my mother who brought this to my attention. It wasn’t classmates who brought this to my attention. As a matter of fact, it was nobody.

It was a pair of size 0 Calvin Klein blue jeans I pulled out of my mother’s drawer in 7th grade.

It was my futile attempts at trying to pull them over my thick thighs.

It was the realization that even if I succeeded, I’d never get them buttoned over my shapeless midsection.

It was the realization that the size 0 Calvins that belonged to a grown woman who had given birth to three children and stood at least 2 inches taller than me were not going to fit my 12-year-old body.

I never told my Mom about that moment, nor the decades of quiet shame that followed. I relentlessly bullied my sister, pushing all of the things I hated about myself onto her, pasting my face onto hers, and beating the shit out of it with my words.

It wasn’t until a few months ago that I finally told my Mom the story about her Calvins. Not to hurt her; she did everything right. But because I needed to tell someone. Until the day I told her, I had never told anyone. Not even my husband. I heard a faint gasp through the telephone. A small sigh. I reassured her that it wasn’t her fault. She may have let a few tears flow that I could not see through the telephone, but I didn’t.

I wasn’t sad anymore.. I didn’t hate my body anymore. I just hated those goddamned Calvins.

I’ve spent those couple of decades coming to terms with the fact that I was never born to be tiny. There was no eating disorder, just a bit of quiet self-discovery.

Truth.

On my 4’6″ frame, my highest weight was not when I was 9 months pregnant. It was during the months of postpartum depression that followed. I topped out at 166 pounds. And because my mother DID do everything right, I can thank her for the fearless and determined sense of control I reclaimed the day I stepped on that scale. I can thank her that I never starved myself. I can thank her that I never forced myself to vomit. I can thank her that, many years later, when I stepped on a scale again and saw that I weighed 98 pounds and my rib cage was showing, I knew I’d gone too far.

I’ll never be able to give my sister the apology she deserves for the brutal lashing she suffered from me as a child. I’ll never be able to give myself the apology I deserve for allowing those Calvins to dictate all the years I wasted believing that I was defective.

What I  can say is that I sure as shit didn’t need body-positivity or fat-acceptance activism, hashtags, fad diets, or self-help to come to terms with the simplicity of following the natural course of a beautiful life, just an eternal reflective gratitude that none of these things were part of my mother’s parenting. Gratitude that she never held a magnifying glass over feminism, eating habits, food ingredients, body image, or any of the other well-intentioned messages parents of girls try to convey without realizing that their intense focus on them does nothing but tell our girls that those things are the important issues that need to be the center of their world, rather than simply BEING ALIVE.

What I can do is spend the rest of the decades I have left smiling into the camera, smiling at the mirror, valuing who I am for more than what I see staring back at me, rocking a tiny tank top and my SIZE ELEVEN JEANS, and telling Calvin Klein to go fuck himself.

Thought Math

9820That is what philosophy is. Fucking thought math. 

Why am I majoring in philosophy, you ask? Certainly not to get any sort of job. Philosophy is a major for jerks who simply want to be smarter jerks. And make no mistake. I AM a jerk.

Or maybe it’s because I’m a Know-It-All who actually wants to figure out why people want to know it all.

Or maybe it’s because philosophers tend to think with their mouths (or words) and I have a mouth that won’t shut and words that never end.

Someone in my ethics class told me I was a Know-It-All who thought that if I talked long enough, it would give me a better grade.

Actually, what he said was “Every response I’ve read from you since this class began, you come off as a “Know It All”. I also like how you have this notion where the more you type, the better chance your grade will be good. Since you’re taking this class, I’d suggest you look into netiquette. But I’ll end this here, because it’s turning into something more than it really should be.”

Yes, that’s right. “The better chance my grade will be good.” I’d post the entire discussion here if I felt like it, but it’s really not worth it. It was like arguing with a third grader.

I could have responded with “Yeah, every one of my teachers since kindergarten would agree with you.”

Or, I could have responded with, “Well, I do have a 3.8 GPA and happen to be majoring in philosophy…. sooo…. there’s that.”

But then I would have to say that I am majoring in philosophy because I want to be a better writer. Why do I have to go to college and major in anything in order to be a better writer? What’s worse, why can’t I just shut up and write? Do I really need all this schoolin’?

Obviously, I do or I would have a book published by now. Which means I AM a know-it-all who talks too much because I have nothing to back it up.

Philosophizing is rough business. First, you’re questioned at every turn. Why major in philosophy? Why not something like English or political science? You can still be a writer with those degrees! Plus you can do lots of other things!

I don’t need to do lots of other things. I don’t need to major in English. I’ve read all that shit, and will spend the next two years correcting the grammar and punctuation in all my textbooks. No, thank you.

Are you going pre-law? Pre-med?

No and no.

Then, why…….?

Don’t ask.

Philosophizing is rough business. First, you must realize that you cannot argue any claims or make any claims for or against anything, or even understand those made by other famous philosophizers without meticulously reading the biographies of every mind behind every theory. If you simply lay on the foundation of textbooks, you’ll look like a fool and feel like you’ve been tricked.

Sure, they’ll quote Mill or Hume or Hobbes and ask you to understand and respond. But do you know Mill, Hume, and Hobbes? No, not what your textbook says. Have you actually read the book from which the quote/argument/claim was pulled? Have you read any of their biographies?

Textbooks and professors love to take words out of context. I have come to believe that professors especially love it because it makes them feel as if they know something you don’t. Because they do. So, when a student responds to an assignment without properly arming themselves with information, but by simply replying to a statement made by one of them thar famous philosophizers, they actually might be taking an idea or quote completely out of context. It’s great fun for the professors because they get to sit back and read a student’s assignent as said student shreds Mill to pieces for being a chauvanist bigot. Or blasts Hobbes for being nothing more or less than a communist, knowing nothing more or less and studying nothing more or less than what was in their text.

And a professor can go either way on students properly armed. Many of them appreciate the fact that a student can argue with knowledge. Others are taken aback when challenged and demand your sources. Others simply stare at you and ask why you’re bothering with college at all.

I’m bothering with college because (here’s a shocker) I need self-confidence. That’s right. I need the confidence, and the knowledge that forms the foundation of it, just to be able to step outside my comfort zone and allow someone besides my husband to read my work. I need the self-confidence to continue my work.

But more than that, I need to understand people. That is the most confounding issue I have with writing. People. I can spin a beautiful sentence. I can unwind a gorgeous poem. I can create all sorts of wicked sci-fi gidgets and gadgets. I can turn spacetime itself into my own ball of Play-Doh and make the ekpyrotic universe theory seem totally plausible. But people? Oh! Races? Species? Foreign and domestic? Alien and Earthling?

I need help.

If I can’t understand the path to knowledge of our own species, how can I even begin to create another? I don’t need psychology or psychiatry. I am fully aware of our defects and the way we interpret the human tendency to stray from the status quo.

I simply need to understand the biological machine that is the human brain, when and why its desire for understanding begins, what shapes its interpretation of the data it’s fed, how it uses that data to form a claim, why it chooses to defend the undefendable or- more importantly- why it chooses to fold in upon itself the face of data it cannot compute and, in the end, why and how it yields to the entropy that ultimately renders it obsolete.

If I can uncover the secrets of the Earthling, then there is no alien I cannot set against him, set beside him, discover him, or be discovered. There is no mind that is off limits to me. There is no cognitive chaos I cannot unwind or set loose. Reasoning, rationality, purpose, and emotion- their function and dysfunction- will be mine to create and destroy as I create and destroy the worlds from which they came.

I must learn people before I can create not-people. People have been the thorn in my ass since the day I was born.

What do you imagine when I say “yellow pencil?” I imagine a yellow pencil. But is my yellow pencil yours?

I shall college myself until I find out. In the meantime…..

Yellow. Fucking. Pencil.

Return

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No. I’ve not deleted everything I’ve written on Pleasantly Demented since 2008, simply unpublished. It’s safe. Just waiting for relevancy, perspective, or deletion. I’ve not written anything in blog form in almost a year, and I’m not the same person I was then. Very much a different person. I’d like to think I’m smarter. Less trivial. Less pretentious. Far more humble.

My soapboxes have all rotted away, having been left out in the rain for far too long. I probably should have thrown them away, but watching them rot was therapeutic.

I’m a 38-year-old woman with two adult children, one of whom will turn 20 years old next month. I’ve spent a great deal of time truly dissecting Invictus. Not just the words that captured me when I was a child, not just how to say them with the florid grit they deserve, but how to live them.

I had a moment a few days ago. In the middle of finishing some assignment in one of my classes, I felt jittery. I paced back and forth in my living room. Sat on my couch rocking back and forth. And finally wound up lying on my back on my living room floor. Talking aloud. To my husband or myself. I”m not quite sure. But it was a moment of a very real, very physical, very emotional catharsis.

I was actually able to say aloud, yell, pound my fists and my feet on the floor, laugh hysterically at the sudden realization that the net utility of my existence is directly related to the negative number of fucks I have left to give.

The end of this summer marks the completion of a sad little associate’s degree it has taken me 15 years to finish. It’s only use is for transfer to university. I will graduate magna and transfer with a major in philosophy with a minor in creative writing.

I am surrounded by those who’ve taken the practical route. Accounting, business, engineering, etc. All those things that result in a stable job, a decent income, benefits, paid time off, 401(k). Quite smart. Quite practical.

I was never meant to be practical. My happiness has never run parallel to it, but always perpendicular. My dreams have always been those that others would call….. dreams.

No matter what I’ve tried to convince myself is the socially acceptable course of action, I have grown immeasurably exhausted by reigning in the animal instincts that control my frontal lobe. And so, I have set them free.

And for the first time in my life, despite the masks I’ve worn in the past that imply it, I am finally able to know what it feels like to truly mean it when I say I DON’T GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK.

The sense of practicality that is ingrained in us since childhood means entirely nothing to me. And anyone who doesn’t have an impractical dream that has nothing to do with their children, their spouse, or the messages with which we are bombarded since preschool is useless. And anyone who does have such a dream and chooses not to follow it is equally useless.

Unless we are Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Hitler, Mother Teresa, or a serial killer, each and every one of us has one, maybe two, generations we leave behind who will remember our names, much less any mark we have made upon this earth. Your grandchildren will know you while they are children. If you are lucky, they will love you. Your great-grandchildren will look upon you with pity and engage in conversation, if they care, so that you don’t feel lonely. After that, you are nothing but an entry on Ancestry.com.

You only have the years ahead of you to make anything count. And it is only going to count for you.

If the zeitgeist is the master of your fate, and practicality is the captain of your soul, then the disutility of your existence is fucking up the entire human race.

So, I shall return. Hopefully a bit bolder, a bit smarter, far less ambiguous, humbled, yet strong, with nothing to prove, mostly harmless, and miles to go before I sleep.