What We Think We Know About Head Lice and Racism

Remember elementary school and all the crazed mania about head lice? I was lucky enough to never have the little buggers. If I ever had a close friend who did, I never knew about it. Like most 80’s kids, everyone knew “only dirty kids got head lice!” You know what? At eight years old in 1987, I was wrong.

There you have it. I was wrong. I knew only the propaganda about head lice that I’d heard from my peers. I knew nothing of the content of this article published August 21 of last year citing a clinical report which found only about 32% of cases “diagnosed” by school nurses, health care workers, teachers, etc. turn out to be actual lice or nits (lice eggs). The remainder were identified as scabs, hairspray, dandruff, sand and other “artifacts.” In this day and age, we also know that personal hygiene has nothing to do with who might contract head lice. Anyway, this post isn’t really about head lice. What I’m trying to convey is that my eight-year-old self thought she knew quite a lot about head lice. She (I) was wrong!

This post is really about racism and what we think we know about that word and what it means. Time and again, I’m hearing my peers make statements like, “I’m not racist!” “(Such and such) is NOT a racist statement.” Clearly, even in 2016, we white folks think we know a lot about racism, but what if we (like that little eight-year-old me in the 80’s) might be wrong?

For one thing, I’ve noticed that just like the kid sent home for having “nits in their hair,” we recoil from any association with the word “racism.” Our gut reads on our faces as we say, “Ew! Gross! So dirty! Not me!” We recoil from the word racism, because we’ve come to associate it with the horrifying stories we read in our social studies books in public school, the disgust we felt for the prosecutor when we read To Kill a Mockingbird and the tears that roll down our faces when we watch videos on television of young black men (and women!) being terrorized by law enforcement and greater society.

We know we would NEVER do those things. We know we would never push someone out of line, because we felt our skin tone makes us superior to them. We know we would never mace someone for bending down to pick up the wallet we just dropped, because he happens to be black. We know we would never raise a gun barrel against our darker brother simply because he’s darker. This might all be true, but it does not mean we’re not racist.

I was wrong about head lice in elementary school in 1987. I was wrong about racism in college in 2001. I was racist. Want to hear something more powerful. I am racist. All I have to do to expose my racist tendencies is to hit up good ol’ Google for a visual association test. I’ll save you the Googling. Go here. I first took a test similar to this one in 2004. I came up racist then. I come up racist now. Disagree with the testing format all you want. If it determines that you may be profiling people, then you are racist. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to go out and shoot the next dark-skinned person you see. It doesn’t even mean that meeting someone with darker skin at a coffee shop or another casual social venue that you’ll treat them any differently. All it means is that your brain works the way it’s been programmed by any number of factors that could include upbringing, our national media, the entertainment industry, your social circles, etc. Sure, it can mean a lot more, up to and including the ugliness we’ve seen throughout human history, which is why we recoil so strongly from it.

You know, maybe if we had a different word for this type of brain programming, it would be a little easier to accept. For example, what if we called these implicit preferences “profiling tendencies” instead of racism? Would you feel quite as judged if the statement were, “Most of white America has profiling tendencies,” rather than “Most of white America is racist?” But I think it’s important that we continue to use the words racism and racist, because the end result is the same whether we’re the person assuming that a black victim was a “thug” or the person actually pulling the trigger against him. It’s the bad jokes, the assumptions, the little everyday devaluations that allow for hundreds of black men and women to have their lives taken from them, and our country to remain complicit with that reality. This is where our higher selves come in. This is where we can work hard to rewire our brain and be better than our “programming.”

This is where you can be “racist” and still work against racism as I am/do. My racist programming runs deep, but so do my convictions to change this country, one person at a time. My college days of denying and lamenting that I was racist, being hurt over it and making it about me are over. It’s NOT about me. It’s about my brothers and sisters who live with more melanin and less trust from society. It doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it might make me that there’s programming in my brain that slants my view of them. Too bad. We really don’t have time for my hurt feelings. We’ve been out of time for that since long before I was born. Because it’s not about me, I need to put my feelings on the subject aside, and ask myself instead what can I do to help?

This is where the news is so good, because when I was in college, the sentiment coming from black activists and writers toward white people wanting to help and asking what they could do was, “Sit down and shut up.” Today, the sentiment has changed. The leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement are giving out encouragement to any and all people who want to help. They’re saying spread the word. They’re even saying that white people are more likely to listen to other white people and that they need our help. It’s so refreshing after 15 years to hear and answer these calls.

And anyone can do it. If you’re like me, it’ll feel uncomfortable at first, because you’ll get push-back from some of your friends. Plenty of people will tell you that you’re wrong, that US society isn’t inherently racist, that institutional racism doesn’t exist, and that there’s no problem with police brutality against people of color in this country. You may lose some friends, and the push-back may never entirely go away, but just like my hurt feelings in college, you have to ask yourself, is your social discomfort now, in this moment, really more important than the rights and safety (the entire future), of millions of people who happen to have darker skin than you?

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How I Know I’m Still Racist

In roughly mid-2015, I started receiving calls on my cell phone for someone by the name of Rita. These calls (sometimes recorded, sometimes from a real live person) came mostly from higher education institutions. I’ve had my cell phone at the same number since 2007 and never received a call for anyone named Rita before. Now, suddenly, eight years later, I found myself answering these odd calls, often several times per day.

After a few days and a few questions I found out that someone by the name of Rita had recently entered my phone number into a web form requesting more information about higher learning opportunities, one of those forms that feeds the leads list for multiple institutions, everything from accredited universities all the way down to the lowest of bogus online scams. My next realization, I could do nothing to rectify the situation (other than asking each individual institution to take me off their contact list), left me thoroughly annoyed.

The calls continued, dying down for a while around the holidays and the early part of 2016, but have cropped up again in the past several months. I have thought of changing my number, but so far the annoyance of that outweighs the annoyance of the calls themselves, which I’ve mostly figured out how to avoid answering.

I tell you my tale of woe, not for sympathy’s sake, but because, through and odd twist of the Universe’s sense of humor and my growing awareness, I’ve learned something very important from it, something that only dawned on me in the last few weeks (something beyond a cautionary warning to be exceptionally careful about entering correct phone numbers into online forms). What I’ve actually discovered, very surprisingly, has nothing to do with Rita herself (whoever she it) and everything to do with the prejudice still lurking in my own subconscious.

You see, over time, I came to have an image of dear Rita in my mind. What did I know factually about her? Rita wanted to know more about higher education opportunities (under-educated, perhaps?) and Rita had screwed up and “fat fingered” the phone number she’d entered into the form requesting that information (careless? sloppy? non-detail-oriented?) And guess what color I imagined Rita’s skin to be? You guessed it. In my imaginings of Rita, she was a black woman.

So what?, you may say. An image in my mind about a woman I don’t know hurts no one, you might think. But actually, it does. In fact, it points to a very troubling tendency within myself of which I’m, now, newly aware. Because on a conscious level, I can be as anti-racist as I want. I can post and repost all the Black Lives Matter material on my Facebook page and advocate for people of color and vote for candidates supporting systemic change in this country to better the lives of diverse communities all freakin’ day long. But apparently, ask my subconscious to serve up an image of a person I’ve deemed under-educated and prone to careless mistakes, and good ol’ subconscious paints a person of color to stand for those characteristics. Wow! Ouch! Scary!

But while I may feel it’s ouchy and scary for me, the people who really stand to suffer from my latent racist tendencies (as well as similar tendencies in other white people) are, of course, the very people targeted by them. How can it actually hurt them? Well, the door to the subconscious swings both ways you see. If I ask my subconscious to serve up an image of “under-educated, careless woman” and it’s most “optimized search result” is the face of a black woman, that means when I see a real, live black woman (especially one I don’t know personally), I’m also subconsciously ascribing those negative characteristics to her. Until now, I didn’t realize I was doing it, but my subconscious has proven this unequivocally true about me.

Have I ever talked over a black woman, because subconsciously I suspected I knew more than she? In the wake of this discovery, I have to guess that I have. What if I’d ever worked for TSA before realizing this? Would I have assumed the bags packed by black women more likely held prohibited items and required more thorough screening? With a subconscious labeling all black women this way, probably so. What if I’d been an insurance agent? Would I have been one of the many taking part in the recently uncovered practice of charging higher car insurance premiums to people of color (considering I was unconsciously labeling them all as careless)? Would I have passed this bias onto my two white sons who may someday hold jobs that affect the futures of black women in their generation? More than likely, yes, and that’s perhaps the scariest of these what-if scenarios.

This is one tiny piece of information about the racism that still lurks in the recesses of my mind. What other falsehoods continue to abide there? This is not a poor me piece, but a piece about empowerment. Beliefs tucked in the subconscious don’t change overnight, but with mindfulness and determination, we can rewrite them over time. I have work to do on myself. Every time I see an African American woman (again, especially one I don’t know), I need to consciously remind myself that I don’t know her aptitudes, that she may be extremely well educated, intelligent and detail-oriented, or some of these things, or not, but that the color of her skin has NOTHING to do with whether she possesses these characteristics.

If you believe, as I do, that these things don’t happen by accident, you’ll see the divine perfection in the circumstances that led me to stumble upon this information. Of all the possibilities, the person who incorrectly entered my number into that online form had the name Rita, a moniker that could have easily belonged to a woman of several different races. It just makes what I’ve learned from all this that much more undeniable.

I’m pretty sure some people in my social circles (especially quite a few acquaintances I don’t often speak with in person) have written me off as a “Black Lives Matter whacko.” Nothing will stop me from promoting awareness about our country’s shortcomings when it comes to caring for people of all races, even if I can do little to change their minds,. But my own mind, that I can continue to change, and I have every intention of doing so.

Girls and Gas-Lighting

Okay, ladies, this one’s for you! (Guys, you get to take a break, so enjoy it, because, for the most part, most of you didn’t pull this kind of crap on me. Oh, there were a few of you, but I’m pretty sure you all told me your mothers took hormones while pregnant with you, so………..) Ladies, I’m calling you out. I’m not angry, but I am done. I’m done pretending that you didn’t pull the crap on me that you did. I’m done letting you get away with all the gas-lighting. No, really, I’m not mad about it anymore. I have meditation these days, and I can pull up those memories and stare at them, emotionless, just observing, just taking in all that it says about humanity.

And I was guilty of it too, eventually. After all, you taught me well! All through the later part of high school… all through college, I put the manipulative techniques you taught me to good use. I thought I had learned “the way” until I got into Corporate America. They weren’t smart enough to pick up on exactly what I was doing, but they sure knew they didn’t like it, just as I had when I was 12 and 13 years old.

I got into trouble again and again for going by the rules you taught me, for letting slip those few little syllables that stealthily and perfectly insinuated that someone was an idiot or too sensitive or expecting too much. You know exactly what I’m talking about, because you did it to me, ruthlessly, for years! And any time I protested, you told me I was being paranoid, you told me I was being too sensitive, you told me I was being “crazy.” Well let me tell you something, especially for those of you who somehow avoided ever jumping into Corporate America. Gas-lighting doesn’t work there. Telling someone they’re paranoid doesn’t work there. Telling someone they’re crazy REALLY doesn’t work there.

In Corporate America, when you voice a veiled insult, you get called on it. When you insinuate that someone is an idiot or that something is unfair or that the company’s policies are stupid, YOU GET CALLED ON IT. You have to sit through closed-door, three-person meetings where people use words like “professional decorum” and “business acumen,” and you leave with a typed-up sheet in your hand with a stupid title like “Personal Success Plan.” It sucks!

So no, the rules you taught me don’t work. It’s not just Corporate America. It’s being an adult. It’s conversing honestly, and it’s what I want to do from here on out. When you say something hurtful as an adult, people call you on it, or if they don’t, they show you in other ways how they don’t appreciate the treatment, like exiting your life. I’ve had adult women gas-light me, but most of them were literally brain-damaged, so I give them a pass too. It doesn’t mean I’m going to let them stay in my life if they’re going to project all over me, gas-light me and call me crazy or selfish or whatever. I’m done with the time in my life where I let people get close to me who do these things.

But a woman who’s sustained actual brain damage is not as guilty as a 12-year-old with a completely sound mind and body who engaged in this kind of behavior for years, not as guilty as a 20-something so, sooooo insecure about voicing her emotional needs that it became standard practice within our social group to assume that she meant the exact opposite of what she said.

All I want is honesty. It would be really nice to hear that, even if you’re not sorry for the back-handed “compliments” and the veiled snide remarks that you’re admitting you made them, you’re admitting that when you mentioned knowing a friend of a friend that you’d met on a trip the two of you took without me, that you were doing it to needle me and remind me that you got invited over me. It would be nice to hear from you that you really did hate my guts on the day of your wedding, because you’d come to think of me as someone looking to steal your spotlight. It would be REALLY nice to hear you admit that you lied about moving to Arizona so that you could cut off relations with me. Really?! I saw you three weeks later. How did you plan to carry that one off?

And now you’re back to thinking I’m still angry about it all. Go ahead if you need to believe that, but you believing it still doesn’t make it true. I’m not saying these things, because I’m angry now. In fact, studying these moments in meditation has given me the insight to see some of the hurts you were bearing at the time that likely led you to act in these ways (and all I feel in those moments is pure compassion for the broken children we all are)!

I’m saying what I’m saying now, because it needed to be said 10, 15, 25 years ago. I’m saying it, because it would be awesome if just one of you would step forward with me (that’s right “with me,” because as I admitted earlier, I did this to people too) and admit to the gas-lighting you did.

To everyone I ever gas-lighted, I’m sorry. To everyone who ever gas-lighted me, the floor is yours.

Why I post about Black Lives Matter – It’s not about me.

I have noticed a disturbing trend recently as I’ve been sharing Black Lives Matter posts on my social media. My friends are commenting in distracting ways that attempt to turn my posts around and make them about me. Black Lives Matter is NOT about me, and I don’t post about it to serve myself in any way.

I post about Black Lives Matter (BLM), because I’m convicted about doing all I can to end racism in this country. By conviction, I mean it’s what I feel called to do. I do it for no other reason than that.

However, there seem to be some pervasive beliefs from some of my friends that I post about BLM from a place of anger, hatred or ignorance. In my little microcosm, these people are doing to me (whether intentionally or not) exactly what’s being done to the movement as a whole on the national level, trying to characterize a campaign, that is actually about extending our arms to lift a group of people up onto a level playing field, instead as a movement fueled by anger, hatred, etc. Neither assertion is true, but if any of us trying to further this campaign allow ourselves to be confused or our voices drowned out or silenced by these attempts, then racism wins. And I’m not prepared to let that happen.

So, I’m going to dispel here, several of the specific accusations I’ve seen over the past weeks. Please remember as you read, BLM is not about me, but if you believe that I’m posting with less than genuine motives, then that becomes a distraction from the real issues at hand, and it’s important that we not continue to be distracted from the real life-and-death issues we’re actually facing, as a nation.

So, if you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because it’s “cool and hip….”

Wow, sorry to burst your bubble, but posting about Black Lives Matter has never felt “cool.” It’s always felt scary, and not only because it hurts to think that these things are happening and real black people are facing a risk three times as great as a white person every time they step out of their door each day, but also because I know not everyone in my social circles believes the statistics or feels as I do. I have loathed the idea of losing friends over my posts. However, I have determined that my being comfortable is not as important as the lives of my brothers and sisters of color.

If you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because I “hate police….”

Again, wow, and not in a good way. Anyone who knows anything about my family and me should really find this one laughable. I stand firmly behind my husband (who works for the City where we live) as he and his cohorts work on the non-profit they’ve established, which seeks to restore funding to the emergency and public safety services in our county here in Oregon.

In case there’s any confusion, “standing behind my husband” often means parenting my children solo. I never wanted to be the wife “counting the hours” that my husband spent away from our family in support of a fantastic cause, because I don’t believe in “score-keeping” like that, but I do wish I had the figure to post here – 52 weeks in a year, all but a handful of Tuesday nights since spring 2012 – you do the math.

The funding he’s pursuing would support our local Sheriff’s Department (among other local public safety infrastructure), all of which I fully support. I’ve met many of the City police officers at City employee events, and while I’m sure they’re human just like me, I support them too. I understand the need for police in this country. Why why why is the work of pointing out dangerous examples of law enforcement officers deemed tantamount to condemning all law enforcement? The thing is, my newsfeed is FULL every day now, of examples of good police officers. If everyone becomes afraid to post about the dangerous ones, then once again, racism wins.

If you believe that I post about Black Lives Matter, because I have some “liberal-media-imposed shame” about my heritage….

This one sort of makes me laugh, but it’s really no laughing matter, because once again, if you believe this about me, it lets you dismiss my message, or worse still, distract from it with comments that once again change the subject away from the real issue, which remains people of color who are losing their lives every day.

I meditate, and that’s an entirely different blog post, but something from which meditation frees those who practice it is shame. Nothing good ever came out of shame. Meditation allows the soul to completely let go of shame and accept and love ourselves unconditionally, flaws and all. It’s one of the many reasons that meditation brings complete and unparalleled peace into the lives of those who follow it. The point is, I don’t experience shame any more. And even if I did, there’s nothing about my heritage or my ancestors that my shame could do anything constructive about.

And there are many proud things in my heritage. I have Scotch-Irish lineage, Native American lineage, and I don’t even know what all else. I’m very proud of my ancestors who fought against oppression in ways far more real than the work I do of spreading the word. I’m also proud of its many varied traditions and cultures. I feel these things in my blood when I hear Celtic music, when I attend small town festivals, and when I sit around the dinner table of my Louisiana cousins. I LOVE my heritage! That this should even come up, should be ridiculous.

However, I do have to own part of the fault for this confusion. I made a poorly-worded comment in reply on one of my posts. I said “Black Lives Matter. I can’t say it enough to redeem my roots.” By “roots” in this case, I was actually referring to a single incident that happened at my high school when I was a student there in 1995. I used the word “roots” to describe the incident, because I was present at the school when it happened. I wasn’t involved with it. I didn’t even know about it until a few weeks ago. It was a poor and confusing use of the word “roots,” and I apologize for it. I let sloppy verbiage open a door to distraction and confusion. I suppose I’m glad it happened, so I could learn from it.

Moving on, if you believe I post about Black Lives Matter, because I watch videos of these horrifying incidents against people of color and become crazed or enraged….

You really know nothing of the peace meditation has brought into my life. Just like shame, rage has left my emotional repertoire. Again, really don’t want this to turn into a post about me, but if you believe I’m posting out of rage, that distracts from the reasons I’m really posting which are, simply and in total, to spread awareness about what’s happening to people of color in this country. Until we face it, and admit it’s a tragic part of our reality, nothing’s going to change.

One last thing, and this is a bit different, but, I have also faced the suggestion that my posts, and I’m paraphrasing here, but nevertheless, “perpetuate the image of an evil that doesn’t actually exist.” I’m not 100% sure how to respond to this, because it baffles me that anyone could look at the statistics, read the news stories, even just the facts in them, and not see a problem with the status quo. I suppose, for this reason, I can’t 100% respond to this suggestion. All I can say I guess, is, if you truly believe in your heart of hearts that this is no big deal in this country, then there’s probably nothing I could do or post to make you believe otherwise.

I would ask that anyone okay with the status quo try to stick to their own timelines with this feeling instead of distracting from my message with comments about it. Yes, it’s social media, and yes, you have every right to your opinion, and every freedom to comment with it, and sure, I cannot stop you if you want to come in and type paragraphs-long rebuttals to my posts.

However, it’s kind of unspoken Facebook etiquette. If you have more than a sentence or so to say about something, it’s more appropriate to share it to your own timeline and mount your soapbox there, rather than hijacking someone else’s post. As I begin to close here, let’s remember, I’m not asking for the conversation to cease. Rather, I don’t want the conversation to be turned around and made to look like something it’s not.

I think that’s about it for now. Don’t know how much a difference this post will make, but I had to at least try to dispel some of the confusion that keeps popping up. I hope it can cut down on some of the distractions and background noise, at least within my little microcosm. Every one of us is important to the direction of our future.

Untitled

(written sometime between ’06 and ’07 after a hike to Raine Falls)

With yellow leaf of Aspen
carpeting my path,
I pull my body up
and up the cliff side trail to
hear my heartbeat singing in my ears with
effort.

Here abruptly I am
stopped
instructed by the rising sun and
setting moon to
join as best I can their promenade.

For this surprise audition, I will tune
into the restless rhythm
Nature’s Cadence

With the River Rogue below
my orchestra,
I set my feet to flight!

The ballet turns I give in front
of this full house of ferns and
nettles thrill me!

And the wind’s applause belongs
inside my ears with
my own heartbeat’s songs.

Belle of the Brain

Be less flesh and
more spirit, they say
Seek salvation intentionally,
but we all sin deadly on
at least one count
and mine is vanity.

It’s not that I stare
transfixed by reflection
I like mirrors the way
I like Cajun
with a full-bellied smile for
a delicacy,
but we all sin deadly on
at least one count
and mine is vanity.

It’s for my brain I’m
most vain
so impressed by its notions
my wit, my writing, my…

  • SAT scores
  • my MENSA membership
  • my English Degree,
  • though never a spelling bee

Hey, we all sin deadly on
at least one count
and mine is vanity.

So don’t tell me to check
my ego
My ego’s a big burly guy named Lee
He’ll deck you before I can check him
most especially if I’m waxing
literary.

Those who know me a bit may
furrow their brow
for this is not a side of me
they see
Let me tell you of an epic struggle between
the brain snob and the Southern Belle in me

It’s a story that only makes sense
in places like Georgia
Kentucky and Tennessee
Pride, neatly bridled by sweetness
born and bred, then
beaten in, if need be
the fight of the century every
day of the week
Really, Pacquiao/Mayweather got nothin’
on me,
because we all sin deadly on
at least one count
and b’lieve it or not, Suga!
Mine is VANITY!

Friendship: Buoys & Black Holes

I’ve enjoyed the good fortune recently of being adopted by a group of women, far wiser than I in many ways, who meet for lunch once a month. Along with decadent food and wine, they always bring wit and wisdom, studied perspectives and brilliance to the table. I feel a bit like a mascot in their midst, but so grateful and beloved, I scarcely feel sheepish. And it would be disingenuous to say they have no taste for the youthful and energetic flavors I can stir into the bounty being served.

At the last such gathering, the assigned topic for conversation was friendship, and when my turn came (especially after listening to their nuanced commentary), I had to admit, at 35, I’m still figuring out what it means, and not in the sense of a natural maturation of understanding, but on the most basic level. Playing my life back in sequences, a clear pattern emerges for the viewer. The people I tend to throw the most energy and devotion into have nearly always turned out to be the wrong ones, either in that we were simply unsuited for one another, or more often, that they were social vampires of one kind or another. I’ll give an example of each, one short and one long.

Ironically, my short example comes from what had been a life-long friendship for me. “Greta” and I knew each other from babyhood, as we were born the same year and our parents were friends. Two other girls were born into our little circle and we dubbed ourselves the “The Fearless Foursome” as teenagers. By that time, I’d already started to feel hurt and attacked by Greta’s sparse yet blunt communication style, but due to nature, nurture and the inexperience so central to adolescence, I said nothing, allowing anger and bitterness to grow over years, all the way up into my 20’s. It blew out a few times, but was patched over, each time without finding any resolution. Then, in 2011, I finally decided the bad outweighed the good, and it wasn’t really anyone’s fault. I couldn’t take Greta to task for being who she was. I also refused to indict that tender teen I had been for not knowing how to handle it all. We were simply unsuited, our communication styles too different, and several incidents in the years leading up to my decision to break ties, only solidified my resolve. This wasn’t something that was going to get better between us. The important difference, finally, had to do with knowing and respecting myself enough to say goodbye.

And now my long example, again ironic, because “Ashley” streaked through my life in a flash of 14 months. I met her in my creative writing class at the Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) and it was June of our rising senior years of high school. She left for college in another state in August of the following year. Outside of class, I didn’t spend much time with her during the three weeks of GSA, but just after school started back in the fall, we found each other again, living closer to one another than to anyone else who’d shared that life-shaping experience with us.

It didn’t take me long to realize Ashley held many keys, to all the right hangouts in Lexington, Kentucky where we sought our bliss, to many new people who would become my “friends,” to unexplored parts of who I was becoming. She was the one who dragged me into a Cajun restaurant for the first time. Feeling adrift, having been raised on Midwestern meat and potatoes and looking over the “foreign” menu selections, I asked her what she was getting, and she replied, “Oh, I’m not eating.”

“Then why are we here?” I asked incredulously.

“Because you’re going to try this, and you’re going to love it,” she replied, and she was so right. Every time I go back to Lexington, I try to make it into the current incarnation of that restaurant. The Pazole stew, served over penne pasta with a buttery slab of garlic bread is Kentucky’s version of pure Cajun nirvana.

And Ashley was a type of nirvana for me as well. I can’t remember how many months after I met her, I started driving her everywhere. She got into a minor fender bender and said she no longer felt safe driving herself, convenient as well, since she liked to drink at the parties we went to.

For another key Ashley held was an illegal copy of that which unlocked my freedom. If I wanted to return to my parents’ house on a given evening, the best curfew I could hope for was 10:30 or 11 p.m. Ashley, on the other hand could waltz in and out of her mother’s house at any hour of the day or night. I took to crashing at her place whenever I could get permission from my parents to do so which certainly was not every weekend, but I took what I could get.

So addicted to the way she made me feel and the experiences afforded to me through her access to the city I was coming to love, I ignored the signs that Ashley might not be the best friend. Or perhaps “ignored” connotes too much awareness. It’s no stretch to believe that at 17 and 18, I still swam in such naiveté that I wouldn’t have recognized those signs had I run into them headlong. And once again, looking back over the timeline, I spent a good bit of it glancing off one or another.

She once invited me to an event, some of her best friends planning to streak the mall, and then refused to answer my calls or return my messages after she took some heat from another member of her core group for telling me about the plan. I could’ve taken a major hint from the way she talked about her other “friends” as well, people who I knew thought she actually cared about them, and she would call them sluts, or join in with the guys in our circle on mean pranks against them.

I took one of those silly quizzes in a fashion magazine, something about What kind of best friend do you have? and scoffed at the answer I got about Ashley. As ridiculous as those quizzes are, this one pegged her as a selfish party girl, using me for rides and one more buoy for her self esteem, but I completely blew it off. Ashley was my very best friend!

I even went to great ceremonious lengths to introduce her to my “former” best friends. I assembled the Fearless Foursome one evening at a busy restaurant in downtown Lexington. I wanted them to meet Ashley and know that she was going to be right on par with them in terms of the important people in my life. When she arrived with a few of her friends, she rode a weak wave and a lame excuse about being intimidated over into a corner booth halfway across the restaurant from where I sat. I don’t recall how many times I tried to roust her over to meet Greta and the others, but I’m sure it wasn’t as many times as I would make excuses for her throughout the evening.

Why did I cling to her so? How could I be so blind? Well, she wasn’t 100% vampire. I still believe she did care for me in her own way. Perhaps the rotten friendships she’d grown up with attending the small private school she went to crippled her from being a very good friend. I think, on some level, she did her best. She certainly imparted some wisdom to me, and not just in learning to steer clear of people like her. She modeled a quiet confidence, a fearless forward motion I so desired to emulate, and as she was opening doors for me, she was also opening me up to my own rising potential. People, places, experiences. So many I would never have touched without Ashley in my life!

Her going away party for college was devastating for me. She gave me a card in which she wrote that she didn’t think she’d ever met a more genuine person. I mourned her physical departure, but little did I know, I had yet to lose the part of her most important to me.

Weeks later, dealing with the displacement of moving out of my parents’ house and into a college dorm, I ran into one of her friends at our favorite coffee shop, and as I would later write, “desperate to bring Ashley into the room,” I recounted to him some of the inside details from our New Year’s revelry, now months in the past. When he seemed surprised to hear them, particularly the part about Ashley having had a crush on his former roommate, I grew worried. Had I revealed to him something I shouldn’t have?

Ashley was right about me in those days. Extremely genuine, I had to know if I’d accidentally betrayed her, and in what I now realize was a foolish mistake, I emailed her about the conversation I’d had in the coffee shop, saying something at the end of the message to the effect of, “I hope that wasn’t an oops.” Unfortunately my instincts proved correct, and Ashley was livid with me for outing her about her former crush. I called her weeping the same day I received her angry response. She tried to calm me with her words over the phone, but what she’d said in the email was that she could never trust me again. Devastated, heartbroken, already in withdrawal from her and now feeling even more cut off, my obsessive mourning for her began, and wouldn’t end for years.

I would see her a small handful of times after that. She came back that Christmas and so many of us gathered at the airport to welcome her home for winter break. I still felt the distance between us, perhaps even more profoundly as she stood right in front of me, her heart now closed to me, at least in my perception. I dreamed about being reunited with her and finally receiving her forgiveness (or not) countless times. When I think now about the exhaustive amounts of energy I poured into mourning our relationship, stretching months and years beyond the number we had spent together in the first place, it’s hard not to chalk it all up to adolescent angst, but in the end, it was real energy, real feelings, at least for my part.

Falling for, fumbling and emotionally flailing after Ashley would prove a singularly unique experience. Subsequent social bloodsuckers I would befriend over the years wouldn’t be after my chauffer services or my undying devotion per se. Some would be after my sympathetic ear, others my unsinkable willingness to lend my sanity to their dysfunction, and still others my uncanny ability to mistake a bad business proposition for something worthy of support and pour hours of my time and talents into it. Most recently, the bloodsuckers have been in search of a mother figure, which I’ve only recently become.

All of this is not to say I haven’t had great friends too, but I tend to neglect the real good ones, instead pouring my time, energy and heart into black hole personalities. I don’t think I have any vampires in my life right now, but how would I know, I suppose?

And this is what I meant when I told the wise ladies at the table a few months ago that I was still learning about friendship. I am still learning, and I believe I’m blessed with several wonderful friends in my life right now. As is my habit, I tend to neglect them. Being a mom to young toddlers gives me a “good excuse,” but how terrible to lean on excuses not to spend time with the people who genuinely love me!

I need to be a better friend, myself. I need to start right now, and maybe then, by practicing it, I’ll learn what friendship really means.

IdeaLexington

LexingtonIn the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, the city of Lexington thrives in its bounty of resources. How many towns, after all, have so many claims to fame? The “Horse Capital of the World” and the second largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Lexington boasts the University of Kentucky and its nationally acclaimed basketball program, world class horse racing, 1,000’s of acres of beautifully manicured horse farms, some of the best hospitals (for humans) in the state and one of the best hospitals for horses in the entire world. Founded in 1775, before Kentucky even became a state, the city prides itself on a rich history including everything from Indian attacks to NCAA Basketball National Championships and so very much in between.

cgI came of age in this city in the mid to late 90’s. As a teenager, I “bummed around” its many coffee shops including the still-brewing Common Grounds on High Street. I spent hours in Joseph Beth Booksellers in the Lexington Green Shopping Center, watching it grow from a single unit nook into the behemoth bookstore it’s become today. During my college years at Transylvania University on North Broadway, I frequented the Kentucky Theatre, High on Rose and Sudsies Laundromat / Bar & Grill. That’s right! Order some buffalo wings during the spin cycle!

Growing up in Lexington, for me, meant eating a full hot breakfast including a tall glass of orange juice for under $2.00 at Tolly Ho. It meant loitering for hours in South Hill Station, once a working rail yard, renovated in the 90’s to function as a retail and restaurant destination, and since, razed to make room for more condominiums. In the 90’s though, it housed The Coffee Stop where I pined over many a college student and drop-out, Yats (my favorite Cajun restaurant) and Laser Quest, the giant laser tag maze where my friends and I tried again and again to beat each other’s top scores, and I had one of my first really exciting kisses with one of the “Marshalls” who worked there.

It also meant learning that Versailles Road turned into Maxwell which turned into Tates Creek Road, and Waller Avenue turned into Mason Headley which turned into Cooper Drive, and perhaps most importantly, Upper turned into Limestone, which turned into Nicholasville Road which you ALWAYS wanted to avoid if you possibly could, though that was a tough since seemingly everything cool was located on that strip.

I could always tell when Sheikh Maktoum was in town inspecting his thoroughbred operations, because his oversize jet sporting the brown and tan stripes on the tail would be parked at the edge of the airport just off Versailles Road. I could always tell when the Lexington Opera opened a new show, because the parking lot next to my college apartment would be full and, sitting on my roof (accessible from my loft window) I could watch the dressed-to-the-nines people getting out of their cars and walking across the street. On sunny summer days, Woodland Park was the place to go and sit under a tree reading my favorite book and sweating in the humidity.

I can’t “sum up” Lexington, because the experiences there resist categorization. The “big little city” tastes like a spice mix beyond sweet or savory. Just listing everything memorable would take more words than I’ve already used. I can say, growing up in Kentucky, places like Hollywood, California and even New York City seemed as far away as Never Never Land. By the time I made it to Hollywood, I realized Lexington was “more Hollywood-like” to me than the actual city. In the real Hollywood, cynicism all but seeped out of the cracks, not at all like the dreamy and idealistic place it advertised itself to be, not at all like Lexington where even cynicism had a certain idealistic ring to it.

Probably most of this makes no sense unless you’ve lived in my “sweet baby city.” Lexington was and is my mother, lover and friend as I wrote in my poem titled after the city, and I miss her. I’ve spent significant time in Hampton Roads, Virginia and now live just over an hour from the Pacific Ocean in Grants Pass, Oregon, and I’ve visited New York City; Hollywood, CA; Chicago, IL; New Orleans, LA; Sewanee, TN; Moab, Utah; Austin, TX; Bellingham, WA; Jackson Hole, WY and dozens of other cities where I found this or that to love about them, but never have I found the equal of Lexington for its resources, for its opportunities, for its various diversions for the sheer idealism it bestows upon those who walk its streets. So now, no matter what cities I may walk through around the world, I carry with me a piece of that Lexingtonian idealism bred into me and trained into my soul.

Your Savior Complex is Showing

no-candyIn her October 24th post “Why I’m boycotting Halloween” BabyCenter guest blogger Erica Etelson explains why she won’t be giving candy (or anything at all!) to trick-or-treaters coming to her door this year. When it comes to philosophical reasons to boycott this holiday, Etelson’s is likely not the first that comes to mind. For it is not the “worship of satan,” but rather sugar with which she’s taking issue. And while, especially in the U.S., decreasing sugar worship could certainly be deemed virtuous, at what point does spreading the word (especially in the approach Etelson takes to it) peel off the shiny festive wrapper of virtue and expose the overly sugary confection of personal pathology underneath?

Firstly, Etelson quotes the bitter tasting statistics that 26 million Americans have diabetes and shares her personal family history of her father, grandmother, uncle and two cousins’ children becoming diabetic. She goes on to exhort the evils of sugar listing, “obesity, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure and, some believe, cancer,” all as the wages of eating too much of it. Quoting University of California San Francisco endocrinologist Robert Lustig, she asserts, “Sugar [in high doses] is a poison.”

“I’m boycotting Halloween,” she explains, “ because it’s a celebration of something that’s literally killing us.” I would beg to differ with her about what the holiday celebrates, but that’s an entirely different blog post. “Kids need our help avoiding or breaking free from sugar addiction.” Now there’s a point with which I agree, but as we will see, her treatment of this message says more about Etelson’s own possible pathology than it does about the virtue of the message itself.

Etelson proceeds to explain her previous approach to the holiday. “ For the last two years, my three-prong Halloween mitigation strategy has been as follows: (1) Let my son eat a few pieces of candy; (2) buy the rest off him for $20 (and toss it out); and (3) give trick-or-treaters those little boxes of raisins children are so fond of.” Now, I find two word choices particularly interesting, “mitigation” and “prong.” The list of realities needing mitigation in this world could certainly stretch a whole lot farther than the spandex in all the store-bought Halloween costumes this year; however, placing Halloween on par with the rest of the circumstances most often described as needing mitigation (global disasters and epidemics, for example) seems extreme to me. Even more telling, the word prong, the name for an implement, the very purpose of which is to impale, also evidences a plausible underlying emotional imbalance in Etelson’s approach to the holiday.

“This year,” she continues, “we’ll stick with the first two prongs,” and I could further my point with a study of her use of the word “stick,” but in the interest of time… “but, when it comes to my own home, I’m opting out, darkening my doorstep like those Scrooge-like neighbors I so resented when I was a kid…. I’m going to put a note on my front door that says: ‘Sorry, no treats this year. Sugar tastes great but we eat too much of it, and it’s turning us into zombies.’ I may not be the most popular mom on the block, but if I get even one parent to rethink sugar, I’m willing to be the witch who stole Halloween.” And there it is. Whether by intention or simply poor articulation, Etelson’s virtuous message takes a tumble from high intention and begins to look like the savior complex that it has smelled like all along.

Later in the article, Etelson admits that, “When I reveal my plan to friends, they give me that ‘I knew you were a little nuts but now I’m actually worried about you’ look. They say, ‘Come on, it’s just one day a year, don’t be such an extremist.’” I’d be willing to bet that if she expresses her views to these other parents with the same trappings that she inadvertently exposes in her post, they also feel a discomfort about her message on which they can’t quite put their finger, but of which they also can’t shake the feeling. The source of that discomfort, that “icky feeling,” is so hard to pinpoint, we often wrongly assume that it’s our own insecurity manifesting. We assume that since the core of the other person’s message is a virtuous one that any discomfort we feel must originate from our own feelings of inferiority regarding that virtue. However, what we’re really picking up on is a legitimate squeamishness of witnessing what has become a pathological savior complex for the other person.

Her point (prong?) is actually one with which I agree. The average U.S. citizen consumes far too much sugar, but as has been proven time and again through government programs and the diet industry in this country, good health can neither be legislated nor imposed on another person. And this is where Etelson’s strategy begins to more resemble trick than treat. If she truly believes that it is overconsumption at holidays that leads, or largely contributes, to society’s pervasive health crisis, then yes, she has every right to abstain from the holiday. If she, at her core, believes that she’s helping parents and kids come one less KitKat closer to making the right food choices, then, by all means, she should choose to either give a healthy snack as her Halloween treat as she did in years past, or even go as far as to “darken her doorstep,” and completely refuse to participate.

However, the minute she chooses to write and post the sign she describes here, her actions take a turn for the less admirable. Let’s review after all, what this sign really says. Etelson herself points out that it’s up to parents and guardians to regulate how much sugar their children consume. I second that assertion. In fact, I think we could go as far, philosophically, as to call that a fact and no one’s opinion. After all, the choice by a parent to let the child make the wrong decision is still a choice by the parent. Providing guidance to your child in all areas of decision making is arguably the definition of parenting, so let’s go ahead and say that her statement is a fact. Now, let’s read her sign again. “Sorry, no treats this year. Sugar tastes great but we eat too much of it, and it’s turning us into zombies.” Right away, she’s making two damaging assertions by the way she’s phrased this sign.

1. The mere presence of candy means that the child will overconsume. Etelson has no faith in moderation. Again, fine if that’s her opinion, but now she’s imposing it on the children coming to her door. She’s effectively saying, you are not now, and you never will be, capable of making the right choice in the presence of sugar. (While that may be somewhat reading into what she has stated, my next point cannot be refuted if we’re just going by the facts we’ve established.
2. Etelson’s sign now clearly states the message, Your parents (every single one of your parents) are letting you consume too much sugar by participating in this holiday. This is no longer an opinion about the sign. It is not reading into the sign. If we’ve established that it’s up to parents to regulate their children’s sugar intake, and Etelson’s sign states, “we eat too much of it,” then (I believe it’s called the Law of Detachment), Etelson is stating that all parents of children participating in Halloween and thus reading her sign are failing in their duties as parents.

By logical extension, it would seem, Etelson has cast herself as the savior in this circumstance, sparing these errant parents and their misguided children from the option to make a bad choice through any fault of hers. Even if this is not her intention (or perhaps I should say, especially if this is not her intention), she should have taken more care in the way she worded her sign as this logical conclusion is all too easy to reach with the way she’s chosen to share her message.

Notice, I stop just shy of pronouncing that Etelson definitely suffers from a savior complex. I avoid staking such a claim as I don’t know Etelson personally and I possess only the most rudimentary knowledge of psychology and sociology. And, unlike Etelson, I refuse to cast myself as the judge, savior or both for anyone else besides myself and my own children. However, if her core motivation for authoring this post is not a savior complex, then she might want to rethink boycotting Halloween as she did a very good job of dressing it up as one.

Facebook & HootSuite Basics

Here are some basics for professional Facebook pages as well as using the social media dashboard HootSuite. I developed this content while serving as the Social Media Director for an ad agency. As social media changes constantly, some of the information below may quickly become out of date.

Facebook & HootSuite Basics
Facebook
• Posting:
Content should be posted at least once a day on week days. Scheduling posts to show up over the weekend is good practice too (see HootSuite section)

Types of Posts:
o Status: Default, typed message – simple, quick, but may not get the level of response that multi-media post will.
o Links: Use “status” tool and copy and paste your link (URL) into the update box. A preview should pop up and you may be able to select your thumbnail that will show up with the post as a preview of the content at the website you’re promoting in the post.
o Photo/Video: Requires Upload – always include as much who/what/when/where in the description of the photo or video as is socially relevant, tag partner entities in photos (see tagging)
o Event: Won’t show on your timeline, but a small mention will show up in your fans’ newsfeeds. You’ll choose date, time, place, description. ALWAYS add a photo to an event.
o Milestone: This is a special update that denotes a major event in the progression of your business, such as opening, changing or adding locations, major staffing changes, etc. Can be a current event or in the past (see Dating a Post for the Past or Future)
o Question: Allows for posting of open-ended or poll-style questions. You may choose whether you want to add your own answer options or let your fans enter their own. If you enter your own answers for fans to choose from, you can decide if you want fans to be able to add answers or just vote for the options you’ve provided. Fans can answer, vote, comment and share a question. These do not do well as posts (low reach/virality), but exceed as page post adds drawing performing well for both interaction and page likes.

• Dating a Post for the Past or Future
o You can choose to date your post for a previous or future date in which case it will show up on your timeline for the date/time specified. Posts dated for the future won’t show up or be broadcast until the specified date. Just click on the clock icon on the bottom left of the update box and choose the year and month/day (optional).
o If you choose to assign a prior date to a post or milestone, you can choose whether you would like to have the post broadcast to your fans’ newsfeeds or not. This is useful if you’re filling in several milestones one after the other or if you’re purposefully hiding a post for use as an ad later.

• Liking/Tagging Strategic Partners
As much as possible, you want to take advantage of the social aspect of Facebook. This means inviting interaction not just form fans, but strategic partners as well.
o Liking: To like a partner’s page, make sure you’re using Facebook as your page and find their business page. Click “like” to add them to your business page’s list of likes. This will also make them easier to tag in posts. Once your page has liked their page the like button will read “liked.”
o Tagging in posts: To tag any person or entity on Facebook in a post, use the “@” symbol and begin typing their name the way it is formulated on their Facebook page. Options should pop up as you begin to do this from which you can select the person / entity you wish to tag.
o Tagging in photos/videos: The easiest way to tag a person or entity in a photo or video is to finish the upload process and then select the photo or video you’d like to tag from its place in the Facebook album. This brings up a screen containing only the video and information about it. From here, you will see an option to tag the photo or video right underneath the name you’ve chosen for it. Click the link and begin typing the name of the person / entity you want to tag.

• Responding to Feedback
The public will interact with your page by leaving you recommendations, posting on your timeline, sending you messages and tagging you in their own posts. For the most part, you always want to respond in some fashion when someone else interacts with your page.
o Positive Feedback: Depending on the type of feedback, positive feedback should receive a “like” and/or a thank you comment when appropriate
o Negative Feedback: Unless the poster is using foul language or becoming overly abusive, a negative post or review should not be removed, but responded to in a constructive way that shows the rest of your fan base that you can handle negative feedback and you’re earnest about correcting the problem. If a claim made by a poster is inaccurate, it’s okay to state the correction in the most respectful manner possible, but do try to address additional points if any with your constructive response.
o Messages: Sending messages to business pages is a newer feature. You can find messages sent to your page under the Admin Panel / Messages section.

 

HootSuite
HootSuite is used primarily for scheduling posts in the future, but is also a useful tool for quick viewing of the content currently posted on your page including posts on your timeline and events scheduled by your page.

As you look at HootSuite, all the current information listed above is displayed in “streams” that take up the majority of your page. The most useful streams are “Wall Posts,” “Scheduled Stream Posts,” and “Events.”

To schedule a post…
• First make sure you are identified in HootSuite as your business page
• Click on the calendar icon in the update box at the top left of the page. This will expand the update box to include a calendar you can use for scheduling. Once you’ve created your post, you can toggle back and forth in this area between scheduling and a preview of any multimedia aspects of your post.
• Links work exactly the same way in HootSuite that they do on Facebook, though HootSuite offers the additional benefit of offering to shrink the link for you if you choose. Shortened links are called Owly’s due to the letters used to recreate the link.
• If you wish to add a photo or video, click on the paperclip icon just to the left of the calendar icon in the update box. You will need a Twitter account to be associated with your HootSuite account in order to be able to attach content to a post.
• If you use HootSuite to add a photo to a post, it will generate and Owly to go with that photo. If the Owly is the only link showing in the post, simply check the box that will keep it from being displayed. If it is not the only link, use your back button or highlight and delete it before scheduling the post.
• The location icon to the right of the calendar icon can be used to add a location to your post.
• The lock icon can be used to restrict access to your post (very rarely used for a business page).
• Once you are satisfied with the post and scheduling, click the “schedule” button at the bottom right of the update box. Your scheduled post will now show up in the stream titled “Scheduled Stream Posts.”

To edit a scheduled post…
Hover over the post you’d like to view or edit and an “edit” link will appear in the upper right of the post. Click this link to review or change anything about the post including the message, attached content and the scheduling. From this link, you can also cancel a scheduled post.