Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ain't It Good To Know You've Got A Friend?

Dear Friends on Facebook,

By now I am sure you're aware that we're friends. (If we aren't please go unfriend me. Seriously. I don't like strangers seeing my dash.) As your friend, I feel incumbent to remind you a few things. If you know me at all you know I have no problem planning an intervention. Consider this part intervention, part public service announcement and part gentle, loving talk from someone who cares about you. Minus the gentle- because let's face it, if you've met me you know that isn't really my style.

First, I want to establish that the reason you are on my Facebook at all is because at some point in my life I considered you a friend or part of my family. I care about you. I want to know what you are up to. I want to see pictures of your pets and kids and you feeding giraffes at the local zoo. I want to keep connected with you. I want to learn from you, swap recipes with you and tell you what I am up to. If you sent me a friend request, I assume you know me. If you accepted one from me, I assume you know me. If you aren't sure what I like and don't like, you can always read all that nonsense they make us fill out when we get a profile in the first place. I love you. I do. I wouldn't be friends with you if I didn't. But sometimes I think you might forget....well, I know it sounds selfish....I think you forget what I like.

Don't get me wrong, I don't expect you to think of what I like every time you post. I don't. But if most of your friends are like me (if they have similar personalities) then its likely that you're not just pissing me off. So I want to share with you, if I can, some of the things that really get me going. They are the things that make me hide you from my timeline and contemplate whether or not I actually want to be friends with you in real life:

I won't tolerate blatant misogyny or misandry. Its just not acceptable. Yes, I am a lesbian. Yes, I don't want to sleep with men (okay, maybe Robert Downey Jr...but that's a special case) but that doesn't mean I don't know some absolutely wonderful, awesome, kick-ass guys who are excellent examples of what a man really is. It offends me to know end that you feel like its okay to bash men to me, or post those (ADMIT IT THEY ARE) obnoxious E-cards about how all men are stupid, lazy, smell bad and don't give a damn about the women in their lives. This is not true. If you need examples I can always point to here and here and here to get you started, and then if those shining examples aren't enough you can call me and I'll be happy to introduce you to Flyguy and some of my other very awesome male friends. If you are a misogynist- this goes for you too ladies, I know some of you are out there- you can shove it, then go unfriend me. I have no idea how you ended up in my life if you think women are stupid, flighty or incapable. Also, you have never met me, clearly, or any of the women in my life. It still baffles me that in an age where people consider themselves to be modern and mature and open-minded that its still common for people to actively discriminate against women.

Arm-Chair Activism irritates the crap out of me. I cannot tell you how sick I am of people posting stupid pictures for me to "like" if I am against child abuse, domestic violence, if I hate cancer or want to protect my first, second or whatever amendment rights.  I'll tell you something, I probably don't like it and I definitely won't share it. Because it's lazy. In fact, if you post those things frequently, I've probably hidden your pictures from my news feed. Because, of all the people I know who post those things only one (that's right, one) to my knowledge actually does something about it. He and I share very different political ideas and faiths. But I respect him because he actually does stuff that makes a difference before he takes the time to post the stuff about how he doesn't want gun control, or how everyone should respect armed service members. I don't mind that he and I disagree. Partly because even when we do, he can be a mature adult about it and agree to civil discussion and we don't have to come to terms when its over. In part because he did serve in the military, he is a responsible gun owner and honestly, he's a reasonable person. Also, because he exhorts people to actual action, not just sharing his posts on Facebook. If you're reading here, friend, thank you for doing it right. Also, if I had his blog or whatever, I'd throw him in with the links of decent men I know.

Anyway, the point is most of you post pictures about those causes as a way of patting yourself on the back and feeling like you've done some good. I hate to tell you this- you haven't. Not a bit. Here's why. I hate cancer too. I do. But if I don't share your post, and you have shared it, neither of us has done anything to work towards curing it. If you want to raise money for cancer research and whatever, you should probably get in contact with the American Cancer Society .  See how that works? I just gave you a link to a place where you can actually do something to prove that you hate cancer. Isn't that great? Now you can get a team together for the Relay for Life, or volunteer or work as a counselor or donate money or whatever. If you don't, can I say, maybe you don't hate cancer quite as much as you thought you did? I mean, I know you can't work with every charity...but if you hate cancer enough to repost about it- but you ignore diabetes or MS or  AIDS then maybe, just maybe, you should get off your butt and do something about it. If you really, truly don't have time to volunteer but you've got forty seconds on Facebook, skip the picture and post an actual status update like this: "Hey- I know all of you know how much my grandmother having cancer effected me as a child. Well, this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I'd love it if you would take the time to go to the American Cancer Society web page and see if there's anything you can do to help, or if you have the money, donate. This spring will be the Relay for Life. I haven't had a team before. Message me if you think you'd like to go, or form a team and raise money with me." Its just that easy. And way more personal than a stupid picture of a pink ribbon. You want to post a picture? Share one of you and your grandma. It will mean more to everyone.

Same goes with the political posts. First- if you didn't vote- I don't want to hear it. I don't. You don't get a say. Second, before you start posting more obnoxious pictures of our president or of guns or whatever- before you really, truly complain, please do me a solid and write to these fine folks (if you live in my state anyway)

Senator Claire McCaskill
Senator Roy Blunt

Or, if you need help, we'll look up your congressional district and you can write to them, or email them or whatever. But I do, as both your friend and a citizen of this country, ask you to please go speak to your representatives about your concerns. Democracy doesn't work when we don't communicate. Also, you look like way less of an asshat if you start complaining about minimum wage going up if you've taken the time to do your homework, write your representatives and maybe volunteer time passing out flyers or heading to make calls for your party office.

As for those pictures you keep posting of children and women with bruises all over their faces and bodies or (worse) the ones with a man actually hitting the woman or the child, I want to be really clear about these. STOP. JUST. FUCKING. STOP. As a person who was a victim of domestic violence, I can tell you that you are being insensitive, rude and horrible by posting a picture like that. I'm sure that you never thought that posting a picture of graphic violence might serve as a trigger to me, reminding me of the horrible things that happened to me. It does. It did. You suck. Seriously. If you were a victim of abuse and you're stronger than me, kudos. But you should know, better than anyone, that that sort of thing sticks with you. If you want to stop abuse or help those who do, post links, or go volunteer. But can those photos. Also, you should know, men can be abused too, but we never see that. I think that's sad. (By the way, if you want to head over there now, I've linked to a site that has all the US states individual child abuse prevention hotlines.)

Finally, my last really big complaint (because let's face it, I've covered E-cards in other posts) is about your religion. Now, I don't have a problem with you having one. In fact, if it makes you happy and gives you comfort, I'm super glad you have it. I don't care if its not mine. That's cool too. Here's what I have a problem with:

I have a problem with these. Not because I don't love Jesus and you do. That's fine. The problem is that you look like a self-righteous prig. I love you, but its true. Let me tell you why. If most of your friends are more like me, you're being an annoying ass by not respecting my religious choices. For example, most of my friends are either pagans, neopagans, agnostics or atheists. Me posting a bunch of stuff that says "Come to Jesus"  would not be me ministering to them. Its me being a pain in the ass. They aren't interested in it, and I know it.  Its plain rude. Not to mention if you actually want to convert them, you should probably do it in person. Now, say most of your friends are Christians. I hope they love Jesus. Maybe you can start a group on Facebook all about it. Get a Bible Study together. I don't care. But they should know  you love Jesus. If they don't either you or they are doing it wrong. So, assuming that everyone knows you love Jesus, and you know you love Jesus, what's the point of these pictures? To me, they annoy your non-Christian friends, they shame your church going ones for not being as religious as you (wow, you're posting about God on Facebook- how daring!)  and give yourself a good solid pat on the back about how many stars you're getting in your crown. I'll say it again you look like a self-righteous prig.

Now before you go getting all bent out of shape I want to point out two things. First, I have another friend on Facebook who is a very devout Christian. (actually, I find it ironic since when we were kids she didn't like church and I did and now I'm a lesbian witch and she's a church going soccer mom...its like fate in reverse. I digress) and sometimes she will post about her Bible study in the morning. She'll give the verse and how she feels it applies to her life. You know what? I like it. I like to see her god working in her life. It inspires me. It makes me happy that she finds comfort. And sometimes (its true!) those verses give me inspiration too. And that's okay. So you know, I single out Christians for a reason. No one else I know tries to convert me. None of my Jewish friends. None of my pagan ones (you heard it here- no one converted me. I came to being a witch all on my own!) None of my atheist ones try to tell me there is no god- though we can sometimes enjoy a lively debate about it without hurting anyone's feelings. None of my agnostic friends try to bring me round to them. I've never been approached by a Muslim looking to convert me (and yes, I do know some). Christians are the only ones I know who make such a huge ass fuss about gaining converts, putting their religion in your face and making a huge butt-hurt deal about you not wanting to go to church with them or listen to how Jesus can set you free or whatever.  Friends, family, I love you. You're welcome to your religion. But I'm not lost, I'm not wandering. This isn't a phase. I've been practicing witchcraft for 15 years now. That's right, since I started high school. No one convinced me. I did it on my own. So I'm pretty sure, now, you see, that its the right path for me. And you trying to convince me otherwise is rather irritating. If you want to know more about my faith, I'll be happy to talk to you about it. But the minute you start telling me how I'm wrong, I'll walk away. Because I've been your religion, but you've never been mine. I made my choice, thanks so much, and I'd appreciate you not posting those "Like if you love Jesus  share if you whatever, keep scrolling if you love the devil" because frankly, Satan is your creation, not mine, I don't believe in him or love him or worship him. Just because I'm not a Christian doesn't lump me into the the pack of devil-worshiping psychos your posts seem to imply we non-believers are.

Its not that I don't want you to post. I don't even want you to agree with me all the time. But there was a time when I would get upset because all anyone ever did was take pictures of their dinner or post pictures of their kids. I'd welcome that now. I realized recently, I follow you on Facebook because I care about your life. I want to know how your vacation went or when you're having a bad day. I'm interested when you go to a new restaurant. I like it when you tell me all about how you beat whatever new video game you bought three days ago.

I like you for you. I like your ideas and opinions. I like your smile and how think and speak. I want you to express yourself in your own words. If that's a clever quip- go for it. But let it be yours. I don't care what other people say. I'm not interested in their pictures. I want to see you, speak to you and hear your voice in your posts. Otherwise, there's no reason for me to want to be connected to you.

Let me be honest. Sometimes I don't mind your pictures and E-cards. Sometimes I don't mind your political posts. Sometimes I actually laugh at the things you post. But go look at your wall. Seriously, open a new browser. I'll wait. When was the last time you posted something that had to do with your actual life that had nothing to do with sharing or liking someone else's idea or picture? When was the last time you posted about what you were up to that didn't involve shameless self-promotion of your new book/album/artwork/gallery show? When did you actually share a little bit of who you are? If I suddenly disappear from your dash, maybe its not because I don't love you, or I don't think of you. Maybe its because its you only think of you, or you never think of me, or (sadly) I want to preserve what relationship we have and I won't be able to respect you if I watch you consistently do the things I've mentioned above.

I love you. I hope I see you soon.


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Make A Wish For Better Days, The End Of Hard Times

When I sat down to dinner tonight I actually took a moment to look around my kitchen, which has a lot of open air shelves around it, and take stock of all the food we have hanging around our house. When I added it up in my head, along with all of the other food we have in the cabinets that do have doors I did a quick estimation and discovered that if I still had running water I could feed our family for almost three months on what I have in our cabinets right at this moment. Then I recalled how when Kitten asked me what I wanted for dinner I thought to myself, "do we even have anything in the house to eat?" and I felt a terrible sense of shame wash over me.

I don't make much a secret of the fact that when I was young and still living in my parents home, we didn't have a whole lot. For whatever reason (and I honestly don't know what it is) we never seemed to have enough to make ends meet. We were certainly lower middle class at best. I remember clothes, until I was in high school, came from my great aunt, my grandmother and at Christmas and Easter. When I was older and I had a job, I bought from thrift stores. We received Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter baskets from churches and charities and I remember them as being a big part of the excitement of the holidays for me, outside of our family gatherings. I don't know exactly to what extent my extended family helped to support us. I have a heavy suspicion that most of my activity fees were paid for by my grandparents.

Whatever the reason, whatever the circumstance, we didn't have a lot. Now, I think about how much I do have and how often I truly take it for granted. I know I do. I mean, I thank Kitten frequently for the hard work she does, and Oscelot too, to make sure that we have food and shelter. We have a decent vehicle. We are all well clothed and well cared for. We get to take trips to fun places on occasion, when we save for it, and they are always special times for us. But on a day to day basis I think sometimes I forget how well off I really am.

Its easy, I suppose. We don't live on an upscale side of town. Our house is probably (okay, is) a little cramped. Its not new, in fact, its about a hundred years old. Our truck isn't fancy, its got a lot of mileage on it. We don't eat out all the time. Whenever its time to get new clothes, we still hit the thrift stores first. Of course, we like the thrift stores...it might be ingrained in all of us by now. Whenever our computer broke down earlier this year and we had to buy a new one, Kitten was genuinely distressed and when the coffee pot (a nice one, one of our few true indulgences) followed shortly after, I remember how upset Kitten was that we were going to drop another 100 bucks for a pot that would probably only last another five years or so.

Still, we don't live paycheck to paycheck. We have a savings account. A couple of them, actually, and we are planning to have more set by in the future. We never want for food. We always have clothes. Our bills are paid on time and we never have to worry about having a roof over our heads or utilities or any other the other things that plagued me when I was younger. In fact, beautiful blessing that it is, for the first time since I was 15 I am voluntarily unemployed and we are still doing okay. We cut back here and there, but we still make it fine.

I say this because I notice lately (and this was brought to my attention by a dear friend of mine) that an alarming amount of the people I know seem really unaware of how lucky they truly are. They are almost always complaining about money and it seems to me that they don't know how good they have it. It frustrates me. I'm not saying I could step into their circumstances and do any better...but I think sometimes they could do better for themselves. I grow tired of people I know complaining they don't have enough money to pay bills when they've just bought a house, or a brand new car (when they could have gotten two decent used ones for the price). I get angry when I have friends bemoaning the fact they can't go do such and such or join in a big vacation because they just spent a ton of money on some other frivolous thing and now they have to buckle down and take care of necessity. To me, you take care of the needs first, and the wants second.

The sheer extravagance of some people I know blows my mind. They complain when they don't get to eat name brands from the store, or when they have to order less than they might want when they go out to dinner because filet mignon is getting pricey. People who eat out every day for lunch and complain when they have to cut back on other things. I think to myself, "pack a lunch."

I know it sounds judgmental  But you're talking to a person who grew up thinking desert (which we have about once a week in my home now, because we're spoiled) was for holidays, birthdays and special occasions. When I was a child The Olive Garden was a seriously fancy place to eat- you dressed up. I learned, both from my mom and my grandparents, how to feed a family a decent meal for next to nothing. Take Lunchables- those decadent schoolday lunch treats- for what one of those costs, to this day I can feed my family a good dinner. And a healthy one. Dinner at McDonalds? I can feed my family for that too. In fact, most coven nights, my goal is to feed my entire coven and well for about $2 a person. Most the time, I come in well under the count. So to me, when someone I know is complaining they don't have any money for food, I think "let me show you how much you can really get for that twenty bucks."

I'm not saying I don't have friends who are in real need. I do. I admire them all the time, because they are making the best of their circumstances and working hard to better their lives. They (as a general rule) don't complain and don't fuss. They do the best with what they have and they never ask for help. But a lot of the time, I think of all the days I spent as a child and in my first year on my own. I think of how I could make $5 turn into dinner for a week (no matter how boring it might get!) and how I knew the feeling, all that time ago, of being hungry, or of worrying there wouldn't be a roof over my head. I remember not having a roof over my head and wondering how the hell I was going to make it better for me. I remember wearing clothes that didn't fit or that were threadbare. I remember making do when there was nothing to be done about it. I think of all the times I passed up things I wanted because I knew I was choosing between that fun thing and helping my family put food on the table. And I think to myself that maybe some of the people I know would have benefited from that experience. The knowing what it is like to really, truly want. To be without.

I would never wish it on anyone I know, don't get me wrong. But sometimes I want to scream when I have a friend who says "Oh yeah, Twinkies were a real treat in my house too. We weren't all that well off growing up either. We were poor too," as we drive away from the quarter million dollar home they grew up in. I hate when someone I know complains about how old their car is when it was manufactured within the last five years. The truck we drive was made when I was a sophomore in high school. The car we have (currently waiting for permanently warm weather so we can fix an oil leak) was made the year I was born. People who tell me they never went anywhere fun, but then tell me all about their childhood trips to New York and Hawaii and Europe, irritate the hell out of me.

Maybe I need to work more on my sense of compassion. Maybe if I grew up with more I would feel deprived too. But I don't. I can't. There's some part of me, always, thinking of the thrill I felt when I got my very own brand new Barbie doll from a Christmas basket and I didn't even have time to be upset about the fact she was a brunette and not a blonde because I was already plotting in my head how I could get scrap fabric from my grandma to make her a nice new dress. There's some part of me that remembers the terror of high school when the groups I was involved in (paid for, by the way, by my nearly full time after school job) would adopt a family from a charity around town and I was just praying to God it wasn't mine, because I knew I wouldn't want to face the pity and scorn of my classmates. There's a part of me that remembers that I would save my lunch money or my clothes money when they did this, and I would go without because I wanted to contribute too, and there was something inside me that had to believe that there was someone out there I could help- even if it wasn't myself. It is this person, the one who knew hungry and homeless and hopeless, that the people I knew wakes up inside me. There is a part of her that screams aloud when I hear them speak, and I listen to her as she tells me all she could be doing with the money they are wasting, to keep her family fed and sheltered.

Hearing her, remembering my own shame and fear, makes me angry. It makes me angry with them. And it makes me angry with myself, because I experience every day a life I didn't have when I was growing up. I wake up, every day, knowing I will be able to eat. That I will be warm. That I will be safe and comfortable. I wake up to love and hope and a future that, while was not what I dreamed of then, is far more than I could ever have hoped for or deserved, had I known what to ask for in my ignorance.

Tonight I am aware of my own hope that I never allow myself to fall into that complacency again. To forget those things is a step to losing what I have- not just the physical, but the emotional fortitude and strength that it took to bring me to this place where I can look back and say, Thank God, I will never feel that way again.