5 Good Things That Happened in 2020

By the time this post goes live, Christmas will be over and we’ll all be muddling through that weird final week of the year where we’re not sure what day it is, we’ve eaten too much rich food, and we’re waiting to ring in 2021.

Like most everybody else, I am sending 2020 into oblivion with hopes that the next twelve months look brighter and happier for everyone. While I know that the change of the calendar isn’t a magic wand that will make everything shitty suddenly go away, I’m trying to stay hopeful that we can put the ugliness of this year behind us and move forward to a more positive, inclusive, and healthier way of life.

That being said, I do want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that there were a few good things that managed to happen in 2020. These are the things that kept me going over the last twelve months, and I invite all readers and bloggers to reply or re-blog with the little things that kept them going in these unprecedented times.

  • I finished my manuscript!
    January of 2020 started with a slap in the face for me, and this was way before the word ‘Coronavirus’ was a thing. I wrote here about losing my (completed) 90,000+ word manuscript that I’d been slaving over for YEARS thanks to a USB crash. Also on that flash drive was the first draft of another novel in progress, as well as countless other short stories and nonfiction articles. I was devastated. I cried for two days and sulked for another week. But then I opened up a blank Word document and started all over again. Admittedly this was infinitely easier thanks to a very early draft that my friend (and lifesaver 10X over) had saved in her email, and I used that to rebuild the entire thing over the next couple of months. Being quarantined for spring and summer definitely helped the progress along, and I spent the second half of the year getting feedback from beta readers and editing. I plan on 2021 being the year of the query and already have my first five perspective agents picked out! Wish me luck!

  • We rescued 2 doggos!
    As if 2020 hadn’t started off crappily enough, and as if the beginning of the ‘rona pandemic weren’t scary enough, J & I lost our fur baby Comet in April. Saying goodbye to our fuzz bug was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and having a house devoid of any paws or barks or clumps of fur was beyond depressing — especially in the middle of quarantine.
    The silver lining to having a fur baby cross the rainbow bridge is, of course, welcoming a new one into your home. J and I happily welcomed Miss Kitty into our home in May, and Ghost joined us in October. It’s been a crazy ride with quite a few struggles, but overall I’m so happy that we have two crazy mutts sharing our home. Kitty is the epitome of a rescue dog — she was found lactating and emaciated on a four lane highway near San Antonio, TX, and clearly had a history of abuse and abandonment. Seven months in, she has made SO MUCH progress and is quite simply the sweetest girl ever. Ghost still has a lot to learn (we have puppy classes scheduled for January!) but he too has made lots of progress, including learning how to ‘give paw.’ Watching these two play and snuggle together absolutely warms my heart and I cannot say enough about how good it feels knowing you saved a life (or two) by adopting rescue dogs.
    If you’re searching for your own companion, may I suggest God’s Dogs in Texas? https://godsdogsrescue.org/
    Both Kitty and Ghost were adopting through this nonprofit and they were awesome every step of the way. If you prefer to meet your 4-legged friend before adopting, I highly encourage you to visit your local shelter or rescue. There are so many animals out there who need homes!

  • I had 2 poems published!
    While I am most certainly a writer, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a poet. I dabble from time to time, and a few years ago wrote a couple of pieces about the Outer Banks. This summer, Capsule Stories published those two poems in their print journal, and I was super excited to be able to share my love of the barrier islands with strangers and other writers.
    Capsule Stories is a refreshing, accessible literary journal that actually publishes in print, so check them out if you’re looking for something new to read: https://capsulestories.com/
  • Joe Biden & Kamala Harris won the election!
    I still get emotional when I think about that day that my husband texted me the news — I was standing in line at the deli at the grocery store when I learned that love, peace, and integrity had triumphed once again and that Joe Biden & Kamala Harris would be the next pair to occupy the White House. While Biden wasn’t my ideal candidate and I know that his presidency won’t solve all the issues in our country, I am beyond relieved that we won’t have to suffer another four years of hate and lies. It is also incredibly refreshing and encouraging to see how much diversity Biden will have in his cabinet, and I look forward to seeing his efforts on bridging the massive divide that currently separates this country.
    Love trumps hate. Love trumped hate. Love is love.
  • We went on vacation!
    When our friends moved to Holland last year, I was hopeful that J & I would get to visit them sometime in 2020. Of course those plans derailed like a train running on moonshine, and god only knows when we’ll ever get to go overseas again.
    However we did manage to make it to the Outer Banks for the first time since 2017, and though this vacation looked different than any other, it was nice to get out of our zip code and feel the sand and sea on our skin, especially when we were so desperate for some type of peace and relaxation.
    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that travel won’t be out of the question for the rest of my life, and in the meantime am having fun living vicariously through books and movies and Facebook posts.

So did anything good happen to you in this mess of a year? Please share, even if it’s something as simple as buying a favorite shirt or learning to cook a delicious batch of cookies. Stay safe, stay healthy, and here’s to a better 2021 — whatever that means!

Do Not Open til November 2020

Four years ago, in 2016, I wrote this letter to myself and sealed it in an envelope. I stuck it inside my nightstand drawer and didn’t think about it much until the last couple of weeks. I fully intended to open it this month, but I wondered when it would be appropriate to do so. Election day? Once the results were announced? After the news, whatever it may be, settled in?

Last night J & I had two friends over to celebrate the Biden/Harris win and the inevitable end to trump’s four years of an embarrassing parade of hate and misinformation. It was the first time the four of us had been together since COVID, and it felt good to be in the company of good friends again. It felt good to catch up, eat pizza and wings, drink beer and toast with champagne. It felt amazing to watch Kamala Harris and Joe Biden take the stage and celebrate with crowds of (masked) citizens who had taken to the streets to celebrate the end of a reign of racism and lies.

And this morning when I woke up, it felt appropriate to open that stuffed drawer of my night stand, sift through four years of greeting cards, newspaper and magazine articles, phone chargers, and coupons to recover the letter I’d written four years ago in the wake of an unprecedented election.

I’ll share it with you now —

Hey, you,

Four years ago, you made history by voting for a woman for President of the United States. She didn’t win, and it was heartbreaking and terrifying. (I don’t think you need to be reminded of who did win).

You spent hours crying your eyes out. You got into all sorts of political arguments. You felt angry, hopeless, embarrassed, and sad. But then you felt empowered. You realized you had a job to do and a cause to fight for and people to help. When you read this in 2020, I don’t know where you’ll be in life or where we’ll be as a country or humankind. But I guess the point of doing this is to remind you four years from now of how low and hopeless so many people felt and how somehow we banded together, and hopefully not only made it through but prospered and made some big changes.

So maybe by 2020 we’ll have a new president. Maybe it’ll be a newcomer we haven’t heard of yet or someone like Michelle Obama. Maybe you’ll be a mom, maybe you’ll live in a bigger house, maybe you’ll be really successful with your writing. Or maybe you’ll still live in the same house and work at C and write in your spare time.

But where ever you are in 2020, and whoever is on the ballot this time around, just take a moment to reflect on this simultaneously dark and bright moment of 2016 — and what is hopefully an even brighter moment in 2020.

Friends, I cannot tell you how good it feels knowing that trump will be a one term president. Like most of the world, J & and spent the last four days watching the endless election coverage and riding the emotional roller coaster that came along with it. There were moments of of hope and disbelief — that Biden/Harris had flipped several red states and counties blue, that the margins were so close, and that even after the disaster that has been the last four years, that so many people still support this mockery of office.

I was standing in line at the deli counter at the grocery store when my husband texted me to let me know that Biden won. I quickly logged onto CNN.com to verify the news, and my knees almost gave out. The relief spread quickly through my body, lifting a weight that had been burdening me and so many other Americans for four long years. As the girl behind the counter sliced my Dietz and Watson, I looked around for someone, anyone I could share the news with. The other shoppers all seemed oblivious still, and I knew it was inappropriate to broach the subject with strangers. I accepted my meat and cheese with shaking hands, then rounded the corner with my cart and texted my sister and my friend with tears in my eyes. As I struggled to get a hold of myself next to the baked goods, I was amazed at how suddenly it was so much easier to breathe.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt proud to be an American and hopeful for this country and its people — all of its people. I know that we still have so much work to do and there are so many more things that need to change, but I truly believe that we took the right first step this past week in electing two people that not only represent the diversity and beauty of this nation, but have its best interests at heart.

Did You See That Football Game?

No, I didn’t.

It may come as a shock to most people, especially my fellow Pittsburgers, when I tell them that I almost never watch Steeler games — or football games at all — anymore.

The reasons are varied and complex, and have been brewing in the back of my mind for some time now. And I will be the first to admit, that as someone who has lived in Pittsburgh my whole life, I have mixed feelings about shunning a sport that runs through my veins just like the Three Rivers or Heinz Ketchup.

Despite the fact that I was never interested in watching or playing sports as a child, Steelers football, like Pirates baseball and Penguins hockey, is a part of my identity as a Pittsburgher. For us, they’re not just sports or games. They are part of our history and a huge source of pride for the steel city. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can’t tell you what a first down in football means and I’m not one hundred percent sure where the short stop’s place is on the field. But I get goosebumps hearing about Roberto Clemente’s legacy and Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception, and I know that Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series to defeat the New York Yankees. I barely watched a minute of high school football during my years in marching band, but I was thrilled and honored to have performed at both Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field. I couldn’t list five players on the current Steelers roster, but I know exactly where I was when we finally got “the one for the thumb.” Watching the glow in my dad’s eyes that night as we listened to the echoes of cheers from our neighbors in all directions is a moment I will never forget.

pittsburgh-4426847_960_720

But in recent years, the NFL has been tangled up in so many controversies that I’ve found myself too disgusted to give more than a moment’s attention to the games. Quite possibly the longest-running debacle has been the organization’s refusal to admit that playing football causes CTE, a brain disease that is covered in disturbing detail in both Will Smith’s 2015 movie Concussion, and Frontline’s documentary, League of Denial.

My husband and I watched the former a few years ago, and the latter just recently. We were both floored that not only does the NFL continue to dodge questions about CTE, but that they have the gall to insult esteemed doctors and researchers who have made it their mission to find out as much as they can about this epidemic. The blatant sexism, racism, and greed when it comes to other debacles is just icing on the cake.

It didn’t take long for our conversation to evolve from the issue of CTE to other controversies surrounding the game. Naturally we covered the debate over Colin Kaepernick — a man who was shunned by the nation and lost his career over a peaceful protest that prompted people to burn his jersey and treat him as though he had committed treason. Meanwhile, the same people denouncing Kaepernick had no issues cheering on players who had been arrested for domestic violence, sexual assault, drug possession, or dog fighting. Double-standards like these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the NFL — or football in general.

By now, most everyone in the nation knows who Antonio Brown (“AB”) is. Once a revered star receiver of the Steelers, his explosive, self-absorbed antics both on and off the field earned him a dismissal from the the Steel City, which was just the beginning of a parade of disasters. Over the next several months, “AB” was picked up by the Oakland Raiders, only to be released before signing with the New England Patriots — who ended up cutting him too. Brown’s unstable recent history have prompted many people to suspect that his bizarre behavior may actually be a result of too many blows to the head — a symptom of CTE.

brain-3168269_960_720

I wouldn’t be surprised if CTE was playing a role in AB’s life. But even if it isn’t, I don’t think we should be surprised by his behavior. Football players are treated as gods as soon as they first show any promising talent in Pee Wee. This preferential treatment follows them into middle school, high school, and college, where they are looked upon as untouchable, perfect celebrities because of what they do on the field. So is it any wonder that they have a skewed sense of reality when they get to the NFL?

I’ll pause for a moment and acknowledge that not every single football player has this attitude. There are a few men I can think of — professionals or students — who are as humble as can be. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by suggesting that sports stars — primarily football players — are put on a pedestal from the get go.

When I was in high school, our football team was quite good. They made it to the playoffs every year, and the coach was often the talk of every local news station or newspaper in the area. So it’s no wonder that when class was in session, the players walked through the halls as if they were decorated Olympians. While I understand that a sense of pride isn’t something that should be hidden, I often wondered what caused that pride to tip over into arrogance.

As a member of the marching band, I knew that my favorite extracurricular activity was the butt of many jokes, not just in our school district, but everywhere — books, movies, and TV shows always made fun of the band kids, with their poofy hats, their dorky uniforms, and their questionable talent. But our band was good — we won awards, we got invited to perform for President Bush when he visited Pittsburgh, and we always had top-billing when we traveled to Disney World. But we were never congratulated or respected for anything we did. In school, the battle for recognition and fair treatment was a daily battle.

I remember one day in particular during my junior year — the band was getting ready to make its semi-annual trek to Disney World the following week, and my history teacher, who was also the track and field coach, decided to postpone a scheduled test for the week we’d be gone. Considering that Mr. M’s policy for missing a test was to take an essay makeup, us band kids volunteered to take the test early, but Mr. M. refused.

“I don’t have a problem with the band going to Florida,” he said. “I just don’t understand why they have to do it during the school year.”

“Mr M.,” I said diplomatically, “Your track and field members leave school two or three periods early anytime they have a meet at a far away district. And the football players do the same thing. Why is that okay?”

Before he could answer, a football player whirled around in his seat. “Because we win awards and trophies and stuff!” he blurted arrogantly.

“So do we!” I shot back. “But the school doesn’t feel the need to give us trophy cases to display them. We can take a walk to the music department right now if you want,” I went on. “There are trophies down there taller than me.”

The football player didn’t respond, but Mr. M’s eyes grew round and he looked at me as if he’d never really seen me before. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk so loud,” he said, and although he still forced us to take the essay makeup test weeks later, I truly felt that in that moment, he had a newfound respect for me and the band.

balance-154516_960_720

This is just one example of the unjust treatment the band – and many other artsy extracurricular activities endured during my time in high school, and I know our story is no different than anyone else who sang in a chorus, danced on stage, painted sets, or played chess.

Football players have always been treated as the kings of the universe, while the rest of us — students, band nerds, admin assistants, and in the case of CTE, even doctors — are treated like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe.

While I understand that any sport is a colossal business, as well as a huge opportunity or outlet for young people, I really think we need to examine how much precedence football has over our lives. As students, a player’s ability to play ball is placed above their grades and their humility. And as professionals, it’s now being placed above their health and safety.

I’m not any kind of authority on brain injuries or the human ego. But I’ve been observing this trend for as long as I can remember, and I know I’m not the only one who has so many questions — why does someone’s ability to play a game take priority over their education, their morals, or their need to understand how to conduct themselves professionally or manage the obscene amount of money they may make?

Why are people denying the research when it comes to CTE? And why are they adding insult to injury by telling past and present players that they’re wimps or cry babies if they worry about it or demand compensation?

Why do we value a business’ bottom line over the health and safety of human beings?

Why will we spend $400 on a ticket to a football game but not $75 to go to the symphony?

Why do students have to take gym class until they graduate but music class stops in elementary or middle school?

Why are you considered cool, tough, and talented for playing football, but told you’re a nerd (or worse) if you play an instrument or sing or dance?

What is it about our society that has morphed something that should be an enjoyable form of recreation into a giant, arrogant monster?

question mark

Fireworks

fw 1

So here’s the thing about the Fourth of July —

Somehow it usually ends up making me feel sad and lonely.

When I was very little, I missed out on a lot of fireworks celebrations because they triggered my anxiety. The booming thuds in my chest, the echo of explosions, and the potentially dangerous scattering of rogue sparks sent me into a tailspin of anxiety. In fact, one of my very first memories of having an panic attack was at a Pittsburgh Pirates game, which are often capped off with a world-famous Zambelli Fireworks show. Instead of enjoying the theatrics, I was puking in a bathroom stall while my aunt held my hair and tried to figure out what the heck was wrong with me.

One I learned to enjoy watching fireworks as a preteen, handling them — even tame sparklers — still made me nervous. But I eventually relaxed enough that I could enjoy a display and even hold a fizzing sparkler as long as a bucket of water was nearby. I have vivid memories of spending summers at the cabin of long-time friends of the family, running around setting off bottle rockets, watching “snakes” curl and twist into the ground, and spelling our names (and the occasional dirty word) with aforementioned sparklers. I loved the feeling of freedom and celebration I felt as we ran around the isolated grounds of the cabin, the thick darkness illuminated only by the flicker of the bonfire and the colorful explosions.

FW 2

Once I reached my teenage years, though, fireworks began having negative connotations again. While my older cousins and friends snuggled with boyfriends and girlfriends and kissed and held hands in the hot summer nights, I stood by alone, wondering if I’d ever get the chance to enjoy a celebration with someone who loved me. There was even a time in Walt Disney World — the happiest place on earth — when I watched the incredible fireworks and laser show with tears in my eyes because the guy I had feelings for was spending all his time with my (then) best friend.

And then there was the summer of 2003, when my extended family took our regular trek to the Outer Banks the week of the Fourth, and we were treated to my pyromaniac cousin’s spectacular fireworks extravaganza on the beach in front of our rental house. This had always been his favorite holiday, and we were all proud of the fact that strangers up and down the beach would stop to admire his display, but that was the year something huge was missing. My Pap had succumbed to cancer less than a month prior, and I still couldn’t fathom the thought that I’d never see him again or hear his laugh. That night, I even missed him warning my cousin to be careful and not do anything stupid. So I also spent some time that night huddled in the bathroom, drying my tears and trying not to throw up on the gleaming porcelain while my family stood on the deck and made the best of our first holiday without Pap.

dark-1845065_960_720

At the beginning of mine and J’s relationship, we had a few nice, romantic nights watching fireworks under the stars. I finally got the opportunity to be one of those couples I had envied in my teens. But in the last couple of years, the Fourth has fallen on a weekday, and J’s former 2nd shift schedule and the need to wake up early for work the next day has put a real damper on the holiday. 

Right now, I’m sitting alone in my backyard, watching the amateurs all around me shoot off dozens of illegal fireworks and cheer into the night while they laugh with family and friends and enjoy a cold beer.

sparkler-801902_960_720

J is upstairs, desperately trying to sleep — 5am comes early, one of the drawbacks of working daylight — and I know the whistles and explosions won’t die down completely until long after I go to join him.

I also can’t help but have mixed feelings about this day and all that it’s supposed to represent. It’s supposed to be about our independence and our freedom, and while I can appreciate the historical aspect and what it is on the surface, I realize now that there are so many layers to our country’s history, and not all of them are pretty. This is especially true for the history happening right now — a giant, ugly smudge mark on our progress as a nation and as a people, as complicated and complex as anything I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me feels so helpless and sad for everything that’s wrong in our world right now, but I also feel a stirring of hope when I think about how strong and progressive we can be if we just work together.

Well, I should head to bed soon. Hopefully getting all these thoughts down will help me sleep, even among the booms and snaps and pops happening outside my window.

It looks like the Fourth will fall on a Saturday in 2020, so hopefully we can spend it doing something a little more festive and a little less lonely.

bright-1869789_960_720

 

 

Room in Our Hearts

art meme

When I saw the devastating news about the fire at Notre Dame on Monday, so many emotions coursed through me — confusion, sadness, anger.  Later that night, when I saw scores of people take to the streets of Paris to hold vigils and sing hymns, I was filled with hope and admiration for the human race. And in the following days, when every day people, billionaires, and French officials vowed to rebuild, I was overwhelmed with a sense of resilience.

But behind all the warm and fuzzy feelings, I couldn’t deny that an ugly, annoying little itch was festering in the back of my mind.

Somehow I knew, as sure as the sun rises in the east, that someone somewhere was going to turn these acts of resilience into petty divisiveness.

 

pointing-1991215_960_720

 

Sure enough, the memes and Tweets started popping up on social media —

“Don’t donate to Notre Dame. Send your money to third world countries. Jesus didn’t care about stained glass, he cared about people.” 

“Don’t donate to Notre Dame. The Catholic Church has enough money.”

“Don’t donate to Notre Dame. The Catholic Church shelters child molesters.”

I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination. I have several issues with organized religion, and by no means do I turn a blind eye to the abomination that’s happening with clergy abuse.

But Notre Dame is not just a place of worship. It doesn’t only represent the Catholic religion. The building has stood for nearly a thousand years. It is a magnificent feat of architecture and human achievement. It has withstood Revolutions and two World Wars. It houses some of the finest examples of art and history on the planet. It draws millions of people from around the world every year. To dismiss its significance on any level only demonstrates the narrow mindedness that separates people for unnecessary reasons.

This is not the first time the argument has been made against donating to one cause or another. Perhaps my favorite example of this is people who constantly slam those who donate time, money, and support to assisting refugees, saying that they ought to funnel those resources to veterans.

What they do not understand is that you can support more than one cause! Just because I donate $5/month to WQED does not mean I don’t care about my local animal shelter. Just because I send $20 to Notre Dame does not mean I didn’t donate money to the victims of the Tree of Life massacre that happened in my hometown this past October.

When 9/11 happened, or when Hurricanes Kartina and Sandy devastated the States, millions of dollars in donations poured in from all over the country and the world. Did anyone condemn or belittle those donors? Did anyone accuse them of not caring about their own neighborhood issues or global warming? No. So don’t dare do it in this instance.

care-20185_960_720

Do not presume that the human race doesn’t have room in their hearts or minds for more than one cause. You can love your country and its people and care about others at the same time.

Supporting each other, especially in light of tragedy, binds the human race on the most basic level. Let’s not turn it into another source or argument and accusation. We are living in a time when we absolutely cannot bear to draw any more lines that separate us.

cathedral-4134205_960_720

paris-4083292_960_720amiens-155031_960_720

Seeing as it’s Women’s History Month…

*** This is NOT a book review ***

I recently finished a novel by Tracy Chevalier called Remarkable Creatures, which tells the story of two real-life women from the 1820’s who had a huge impact on modern science, but sadly not many people know about.

Considering March is Women’s History Month, and I haven’t done much recently to help fight the patriarchy, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the book and its two real-life characters that struck a chord with me.

Remarkable Creatures follows the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, two women who spent their lives combing the beaches of Lyme Regis, England looking for – and discovering – fossils.
This may not seem like such a big deal to us twenty-first century dwellers, but two hundred years ago, it was huge (and sometimes unsettling) news.
In the 1820s, people still weren’t sure how old the earth was. Almost no one believed it could possibly have been around for more than a few thousand years. Charles Darwin wouldn’t publish Origin of the Species for nearly four more decades. And no one dared to suggest that God had created creatures who eventually became extinct.

jurassic-coast-england-footsteps-mary-260nw-1159011979

But when Mary Anning was just twelve years old, she and her brother Joe found one of the first ichthyosaurs on the beach in what is now known as the Jurassic Coast. Along with her friend and companion Elizabeth Philpot, Mary would spend the rest of her life scouring the beaches for ammonites, belemnites, and vertebrae. Selling her discoveries to wealthy men and museums helped pull Mary and her family out of poverty, and she lived quite a unique and remarkable life for a woman of that time period.

While I’m not overly interested in fossils or geology or the like, and I found the novel a bit slow-moving,  I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and sometimes saddened by Mary and Elizabeth’s story.

Some male scientists, geologists, and businessmen doubted the authenticity of her finds, and a few of them took advantage of her seemingly natural ability to discover these thought-provoking fossils. Though she had next to no formal education and zero professional training, Mary discovered, preserved, and documented her fossils with expert precision. But once the wealthy and professional men paid Mary their fees, several of them took credit for the scientific breakthroughs, and hardly anyone knew who was behind all the hard work.
Mary was never permitted to attend meetings of the Geological Society, and neither was her friend Miss Philpot, despite the latter’s higher social status. Despite the fact that these women were the ones with dirt under their fingernails and lines around their eyes from cleaning the intricate details of their discoveries, it was the wealthy men with high social rankings who benefited most from these breakthroughs.

the-museum-at-lyme-regis-dorset-uk-on-the-site-of-the-home-and-fossil-DYPXB2

While there is now a museum dedicated to Mary in Lyme Regis, and she and Miss Philpot have been given credit for their finds in the British Museum and elsewhere, I can’t help but feel frustrated and sad that these women never got to fully enjoy the recognition they so deserved. Aside from making incredible contributions to science and geology, they deviated from the strict rules of society by never marrying and spending their time outside getting dirty instead of sipping tea and sewing. They maintained their independence and focused on what they were passionate about, and in Mary’s case, she may have even saved her family from the workhouse with her discoveries.

fossil

Stories like this are what make Women’s History Month important. And it’s the unjust treatment that makes me realize how far we’ve come as a society — but also how far we have yet to go.

It may seem like we’re fighting losing battles when it comes to equal pay, toxic masculinity, paid maternity leave, and control over our own reproductive rights. But women like Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot strike inspiration by being quiet pioneers of movements essential to the growth of society.

Even if fossils aren’t your passion — even if they don’t strike your fancy for a hot second — I encourage you to read the novel or do some of your own research on these two amazing women who were far ahead of their time. At first glance, a reader may think that Remarkable Creatures is about the long-extinct and fascinating animals preserved in coastal rock. But upon closer inspection, it’s evident that the Remarkable Creatures in this book are the very real Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot.

** Here are a few websites I found useful and informative when I started researching Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot on my own:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/mary-anning-unsung-hero.html

https://www.famousscientists.org/mary-anning/

https://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/collection/mary-anning/

https://trowelblazers.com/elizabeth-philpot/

 

all photos courtesy of Google images unless otherwise noted

 

 

Lifting Spirits

hearts-2789715_960_720

Another Tuesday or Thursday night, another three hours cleaning empty banks for an extra few bucks a month.

I was feeling bitter and lonely, unsuccessful and unfulfilled, and the bitterness only increased as I dusted, mopped, and emptied garbage.

By the time I made my way into the lobby of the bank where the ATM was situated, I was feeling so deflated I could hardly bring myself to care whether or not I was leaving streaks on the glass as I went over it with my squeegee. How was it possible that I was working two jobs and still feeling like it wasn’t enough? Not only were finances still tight but I felt like nobody — NOBODY — cared about how I toiled away at an 8-5, dragged myself to a second job two nights a week, took care of a husband, dog, and house, and still managed to devote any extra time in my life to writing.

Was a little recognition too much to ask?

As I turned to address the smudges on another pane of glass, an older black woman entered the lobby and made her way to the ATM.

“Hello,” I called halfheartedly. I always made it a point to greet customers so they knew they weren’t disrupting my cleaning.

“You’re doing a good job,” she replied without missing a beat, as if she had read my thoughts from mere seconds before. “We appreciate you.”

I bit my lip and held my breath to stop the tears from flowing. For a few moments the only sound in the lobby was the series of beeps from the ATM. “Thank you,” I eventually managed. “I kinda needed that tonight.”

The woman withdrew her receipt from the machine and shook her head. “Hey — it doesn’t matter if you’re the janitor or the CEO or the President of the United States — we all deserve recognition.”

“You’re right,” I replied, relief and gratitude flowing through me like ocean waves.

She chuckled. “Don’t know why I said ‘President’ though. He ain’t doing a very good job of anything right now.”

I laughed too. “I can’t argue with you there.”

She paused in the tiny lobby and we eyed each other. Me — white skin, dirty-blonde hair, mid-thirties, dressed in an old t-shirt and bleach stained sweatpants, cleaning up other peoples’ messes. Her — black skin, tall, and curvy, wild curls sprouting playfully from her head, a pair of red glasses perched on her nose, clad in heels, dress pants, and a knee-length trench coat lined with faux fur.

“I’m sixty-four year old,” she continued. “And I thought we were making some progress in this country.” she paused and shook her head. “But now we’re literally building walls to separate people.”

I shook my head too. “It’s not right.”

“We gotta look to what brings people together, not what sets us apart,” she went on. “I mean who would have thought you and I had anything in common?”

“I know what you mean,” I replied. “But I’m fighting right along with you.” Somewhere deep inside my dejected heart, I summoned a spark of hope. “We just gotta keep going.”

“Girl, we’re gonna be okay,” she told me confidently, and beckoned me closer with a wave of her hand. “Now come here and gimme a hug, sistah!”

I grinned and stepped into her embrace, taking comfort in the refuge of a perfect stranger and the unfamiliar scent and texture of her skin and clothes.

“You have a good night,” she said, stepping back out onto the dirty sidewalk to face the bitter cold.

“You too,” I called, heaving a shaky sigh as I watched her disappear.

I turned back to my bucket of wipes and sprays, my heart feeling infinitely lighter.

hands

Does Social Media Have to be About Negativity?

social media

With all of the recent Facebook controversies, now seems like the perfect time to address something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year and a half — good versus evil when it comes to the internet and social media.

I’ll start by stating the obvious  — social media can be a bad thing. It can become an addiction, a host for cyber bullies, and a treasure trove of personal information, and, um, fake news.

But while droves of people are swearing off Facebook, Twitter, and the like because of constant political arguments, controversial topics, endless bad news, and alleged violations of privacy, I’ve recently discovered that social media, like many aspects of life, is what you make of it. There are endless ways to use it for good, and I think that if more people concentrated on its positives instead of its negatives, the internet would be a much happier place.

cleaning

The Cleanse

At the beginning of 2017, I was “this close” to deleting my Facebook page. I was being attacked for my personal views and emotions and was getting into arguments almost daily with people who bullied me for my beliefs and compassionate nature. I was also quite literally sick seeing how callous and crude some “friends” and even family were. I took a long hiatus to concentrate on myself, and decided that instead of deleting the damn account, I could use said account to combat the negativity and cruelty that was seemingly everywhere by doing some good in my own corner of the world.

First I unfriended and unfollowed people who brought negativity to my newsfeed. It didn’t matter if they were blood relatives or friends I’d laughed with and shared food with. If their online presence was a threat to my state of mind, they had to go. This was not about being thin-skinned or too sensitive. This was about taking control over certain aspects of my life. Negativity is everywhere every day. If I could eliminate some of that negativity by weeding out my Facebook feed, why the hell wouldn’t I?

Next I unfollowed any page that was not a reliable news source. I also forced myself to scroll by controversial memes or pictures without looking at the comments. Arguing with a stranger on social media was not going to make me any happier, and it wasn’t going to solve any problems in the world. The energy I used to expel replying to ignorant comments with facts was now concentrated on my writing, my quest to find an organization to volunteer with, and my personal wellbeing.

I also sought out sites to help with my new goals – I “liked” and became a member of several writer-themed Facebook pages. I discovered several fan pages devoted to cute dogs and inspiring stories, and also began to gravitate towards Facebook pages for organizations that help spread love and equality to all human beings.

After taking these steps, it didn’t take long for me to realize that there actually is a TON of positive, uplifting, and helpful information on social media!

Which leads me to my next point . . .

Personally . . .

My own best example of the potential “goodness” of the internet is from way back in 2008, when the short-lived predecessor to Facebook, MySpace, was all the rage. A friend messaged me one day to ask if I was interested in meeting one of her guy friends for a blind date. The guy ended up becoming my husband. If it weren’t for MySpace, I might still be single!

A few years later, while planning a wedding on a budget, I was having trouble finding a non-denominational officiant who wasn’t going to charge us $400 for a fifteen minute ceremony. Then an acquaintance commented that the mayor of a neighboring town had married her and her husband a few years previous, and all she asked for in return was a donation to the animal shelter she founded. Done!

My most recent debt of gratitude towards social media is, of course, on the subject of writing. I started a “writer” page after self-publishing two novels in 2016, and through dozens of online Facebook groups that support writers, I’ve accumulated over 500 followers. Though most of these people are strangers who live in other states and other countries, I can easily share with them my blog posts, promotional prices for my novels, and helpful writing tips. Since I’ve been networking, I’ve “met” other writers from as far away as Australia. It was through Facebook that I found a few very important beta-readers and made a connection with a woman who became the first stranger to buy my book and give it a review that brought tears of happiness to my eyes. If I’d let the negative aspects of Facebook limit me, I may never have “met” any of these other writers or taken advantage of the many contests and submissions posted on a daily basis.

Help, Not Hurt

Social media also has ways of helping and connecting people on a more personal level.

When Hurricane Irma pounded our coastline last fall, destroying phone lines and making roads impassable, many people let friends and family know they were safe by marking themselves so on Facebook. And when yet another school shooting erupted in February, students and teachers used Twitter to keep each other updated and feel united even though walls may have been separating them.

These outlets are also fabulous ways of bringing people together for fundraisers, surprise parties, even jobs. It’s also been incredibly helpful to those who have lost a pet or a precious piece of jewelry. It’s even helped law enforcement catch criminals and reunite long lost family members. By sharing posts and tagging relevant people, we are uniting our communities far and wide and bridging gaps that desperately need to be closed.

These days, both good and bad news spread faster than wildfire. Tweets, pictures, and posts go viral in a matter of hours, and many times the subject matter is focused on something negative. And even though Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram aren’t “the real world,” we all know that the stories and pictures shared this way find a way of effecting our actual lives. Whether their impact is big or small, temporary or permanent, there is no denying that social media has changed the way we live and interact with one another.

So the next time you feel like spending your lunch hour gossiping about how some woman who lives two thousand miles away from you disciplines her kid, try talking about the funny video of the dog who keeps submerging himself in a mud puddle or the kid who received an organ transplant after posting a plea online.

Isn’t it worth the extra effort to spread love as quickly as we spread hate?

bad good

Obligatory Christmas Post

xmas tree

Agnostic /aɡˈnästik/ (noun): one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god (from Merriam-Webster.com).

I’m agnostic. And yes, I celebrate Christmas.

I was baptized in the Catholic Church, made my first Holy Communion, and attended Sunday school until I was about eleven. I was taught the Ten Commandments, bible passages, and the like. But it wasn’t shoved down my throat and I never lived in fear of any god or God. My family, as a whole, generally only attended church for holidays, wedding, or funerals, and even that slowly tapered off over the years.

In my teens and early twenties, I became rather spiritual, but over the last decade or so, even that has fallen by the wayside. It wasn’t really a choice, just more of a realization that the older I get, I actually understand less and less about religion and the world instead of more. So for the last few years, I’ve considered myself agnostic. And holy shit, the string of questions and accusations that comes with that, especially at Christmas time.

coexist-1211709_960_720

IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)

I’ve been accused of taking advantage of Christmas – using it for presents and trees and other fun stuff, without the “sacrifice” of being a true believer. Dramatic, much?

I know that as far as Christianity is concerned, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior. I know the stories about him being born of a virgin in a manger and the wise men following a star and all that. I don’t know if it’s true. I don’t know if it’s false either. I really don’t have time to speculate or live my life based on either opinion.

I think Jesus probably existed. Modern science suggests that he was probably born in the spring, though. This apparently enrages and offends many devout believers, but I don’t see why.

As far as Jesus being a savior, I’m still struggling to understand how that was supposed to work – but that’s a whole other post that I don’t have time or patience to write or debate. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. Arguing about it isn’t going to change anything for either side. If you believe it, great. If not, great too! And here is where my agnosticism is frowned upon – “How can you celebrate Christmas if you don’t believe in God/Jesus/him being a savior/being born on December 25th?”

My Agnostic Christmas

Well, I’ll tell you.  As previously stated, it’s not that I don’t believe. I have ideas, not beliefs. Like Chris Rock said in 1999’s Dogma, “I think it’s better to have ideas. You can change an idea.  Changing a belief is trickier.  Life should be malleable and progressive, working from idea to idea permits that.  Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth.  New ideas can’t generate. Life becomes stagnant.”

I, like millions of other people, grew up celebrating Christmas with a tree, gifts, a manger scene, an occasional church appearance, religion and non-religious carols, etc. It was a time for family and friends to get together, eat rich food, catch up on what’s been going on in their lives, and exchange gifts to show their love and appreciation. Even if you’re not a strict believer and don’t align yourself with any particular religion, how can gathering together to show love be wrong?

I do also happen to believe that the holiday season is about hope and forgiveness and love all that happy stuff. Logistically, it’s the end of a calendar year. It’s a great time to reflect on the last twelve months. If those months were positive, it’s an opportune time to be thankful and feel accomplished. If those months were negative, it’s a great time to look to the future with hope for new beginnings.

When I started writing this post, I thought it would be a lot longer, a bit more complicated, and more philosophical. I thought that it might be controversial and more eloquent and involve a lot more research. But that was because when I started writing, I thought that explaining the fact that I celebrate Christmas as an agnostic person would be difficult. But it turns out, it’s really quite simple. This year, like every Christmas, I’ll hope for peace, donate to a cause, sing carols, and enjoy the day off work. I’ll admire my (real) Christmas tree, exchange presents with loved ones, eat too much food, and (hopefully) watch it snow.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays to E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E, regardless of your skin color, country of origin, faith (or lack thereof).

Peace on earth, goodwill towards (wo)men

 

peace

It Just So Happens to be Human Rights Day

About a year ago I made the decision to stop re-posting or responding to political posts on Facebook because most of the time it was a fruitless waste of energy. After spending hours tapping out responses and crying over hurtful words, I realized that my energy could be used towards actually doing something about all of the hate in the world, so I made some personal changes in lieu of getting into arguments with strangers on the Internet.
But sometimes, a whopper comes along that blows my mind and hits me in the gut and I cannot stop thinking about the blatant ignorance behind a statement like the one I found on my news feed last week,

“Wow I can’t believe people are so disrespectful about our president of the United States. When is it ever ok to disrespect the president whether u like him or not … I know people wouldn’t have done when Obama was president.”

The first and most obvious thing I have to address here is that yes, actually, my dear, people did worse than disrespect Obama when he won the presidency in 2008. The opposition lynched black mannequins and burned crosses a la the KKK. A stark contrast to the peaceful and empowering women’s march that took place on inauguration day 2017. This is one of the glaring examples that racism is still alive and well in America.
The other thing about this post that gets to me is the fact that people still aren’t “getting it.” Someone responded with, “That’s what political people do.”
No, this isn’t what “political” people do. Politics always has been and probably always will be ugly business. But when it comes to the current administration, our lack of respect isn’t because of his politics. It’s because he is a deplorable human being. His antics would have gotten him fired from a job at Wal-Mart, yet somehow he’s managed to rise to the highest and most powerful position on the planet. Which is another example proving that racism still runs rampant. If Obama (or any black or brown man) did the things that trump did before, during, and after his campaign, people would be demanding his head on a stake. And this is what prompted me to write the following response to aforementioned post,

“Most people did not like Obama because he’s black, he has a “funny sounding” name, and he may or may not be Muslim. None of these things have anything to do with his character or his ability to run a country.
I did not like George W. Bush’s politics, but I respected him as a man and as a president because he had experience, a sense of decorum, and, in general, our country’s best interest at heart.
When it comes to trump, I cannot and will not respect someone who sexually assaults women, mocks the disabled, regularly uses racial slurs, and puts our country in danger by bullying other countries like the biggest kid on the playground.
The differences here are profound. This is no longer about politics. It’s about basic human decency.”

And to anyone who still cannot see this – please, I beg you – open your eyes. Open your mind. Open your heart.

Author’s note: My failure to capitalize the “T” in trump is not an error. As a writer, I sometimes take artistic liberties to reflect my feelings or make a point. Typically a letter is capitalized to denote a proper name. And since there is nothing proper about 45, the first letter of his name deserves no capitalization in my book.

resist blue