ABUSE AND FORGIVENESS – Marilyn Armstrong

All religions have some good points, even ones with which you don’t quite always agree.

Personally, I am very fond of the Christian concept of “forgiveness.” It is not “I forgive you, let’s go hang out.” It is closer to “God forgives you, now please go away and never come back.”

You can forgive someone and not want anything to do with them. It took me the better part of a lifetime to figure out that my version of “forgive” and the Christian concept of “forgiveness” were not the same thing. Actually, they were not even close.

Forgiveness is about handing over your burden of pain and anger to your more powerful entity or whatever you want to call it.

It’s a brilliant concept. Dumping the burden, whether you throw it into the air to be absorbed into the never-ending universe or write it into your computer’s hard drive, it doesn’t matter. Whatever gives you your freedom, do it.

Forgiveness works because it’s a process. When you understand it, it gives you a place to start and a finish that includes freedom from anger and hate. Forgiveness matters. Not just religiously, but personally. If you never let go of the pain, anger or hurt, you can’t grow. You dry up.

After all these years, I wonder how so many smart people do such incredibly stupid things even when we (they) know better. Women marrying vicious men and staying with them long years after anyone — EVERYONE — can see they are in a hopeless, dangerous situation. Ditto men with women who are awful for them and make their lives into a hell. These are choices people make. Voluntarily. It isn’t always oppression or victimization. It can also be bad personal choices. Shame and pride keep people stuck in terrible situations.

Abuse is a huge issue in my world. If I can’t understand the bad choices people make when choosing mates, how can it be that parents abuse their children? Rape them? Beat them? Torment them? And sometimes kill them?

It turns the meaning of life upside down and inside out. Where is faith to be found in this horror? I can’t answer it because faith has always eluded me. The depravity of which people are capable is literally beyond my ability to contemplate. Torture? Intentional slaughter of an entire people? Abusing a child or dog to death?

Where is God in this?

The issue of abuse was important, to me because I was abused. The more I learn about it, the more people I discover who were also abused. It is not all that rare after all. Many people were abused as children and a lifetime later, still can’t talk about it.

I don’t mean can’t talk about it much. Can’t talk about it at all. I was able to get people to talk to me, at least a bit. To the extent, they could admit something happened. The sense of shame, anger, and horror which clings to victims is hard to understand given that victimization was unsought, unwanted, and terrifying.

Yet there it is. We are shamed by the evil others committed on us.

What makes it so much more difficult is that people whose lives were untouched by abuse don’t believe it happened. Their disbelief intensifies the shame. Not only do “regular” people disbelieve us, but judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers and other family members refuse to accept it. Nor has anyone a solution to fix it. Taking kids away and handing them to a stepfamily isn’t an answer. So many of these “temporary placements” are worse than the places from which the kids came.

It’s a problem we spend a lot of time talking about — and little effort solving. It’s a weird world in which we live.

FREE SPEECH ISN’T FREE – BY TOM CURLEY

As I’m writing this, there was a “free speech” rally that went on in Washington DC. It’s was held by a bunch of right-wing white supremacist neo-Nazis. They seem to feel that their civil rights are being violated because a whole bunch of people don’t like them.

Because they’re white, you see. They’re being persecuted because they are a superior race. Oddly enough, many people take umbrage with that claim.

The “rally” ended up consisting of a couple of dozen of these poor downtrodden racists and thousands of counter-protesters who believe that NAZIS ARE BAD!

These white supremacists seem to feel they’re being persecuted because they’re being denied their right to free speech. The super nut-job Alex Jones is crying and moaning because his shows have been taken off almost all the major social media platforms — like Facebook, YouTube, and ITunes.

Why? Because he spouts insane dangerous conspiracy theories. That the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut was a “false flag” operation. It didn’t happen. The kids and parents were actors.

Because of this, those poor parents have been hounded by nut-jobs that believe this crap. They’ve received death threats. Some have had to move more than once to escape the harassment.

Think about that. Those poor people lost their five or six-year-old child and now they have to deal with this. The only good news is Jones is being sued by a lot of these families.

White supremacist groups and neo-nazis complain when they have a rally or publish hate-filled bullshit on social media platforms, the places at which they work see the posts — and promptly fire their asses.

They claim they’re being punished for exercising their First Amendment rights. This is bullshit. They’re being fired because they’re racist assholes.

Their problem is that they don’t actually understand how the First Amendment works.


Here’s what it says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”


What does this mean?

No law can be passed by the government to prevent you from saying whatever you want in public, no matter how fucking dumb, sick, stupid, or racist it might be.

But here’s the way it actually works.

Just because you can say anything you want, doesn’t mean you should. Nobody has to listen to it or agree with it. I or anyone can say you’re an asshole because of the stupid racist thing you just said.

Social media platforms are not governments. They can deny you access to their service for any reason at all including NO reason. It’s in the service agreements on which you click on but never read.

A business can fire you for any reason they want and which includes no reason except they don’t like you (“You don’t fit into our culture”).

It’s not surprising that businesses, big and small, don’t want racist hate-spewing dick-wads working for them. Who can blame them? It’s bad for business.

Free speech means you can stand on a street corner and spout any kind of bullshit you want. But you need to understand — there may be consequences.

Like getting fired.

Or having thousands of people show up to exercise their First Amendment rights to say you’re an asshole.

Or, to put it in terms white supremacists can understand.


Your kind is not welcome here.

LOVE AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Love

Before I left for Israel at the end of 1978, my best friend for a long time was gay. It started out casually and eventually got to be an intense friendship. He’d never had a straight female friend and I’d never gotten close to a gay man. We both learned a lot about each others’ worlds … and eventually, each other.

He would call me every night. He could tell by the sound of my voice if I needed company or felt bad about something. Even when if I said everything was fine, he knew. We were best friends and spent pretty much all our spare time together.

When I finally decided I needed a divorce, R. asked me to marry him. It took me a while to realize he wasn’t kidding. Married?

I told him I didn’t think it could work. Not only was he gay — and had always been gay — but he was a serious Roman Catholic who wanted to be a priest. If we could leap the sex hurdle (highly unlikely), I was pretty sure we’d never get past religion.

He said he could change.

We can all change … but how much? I asked him if he’d ever had sex with a woman. He admitted he hadn’t. I asked him if he had ever wanted to have sex with a woman and he said “no,” although he thought I might change that.

Then there was his fascination with Catholicism versus my skeptical Jewishness. It wasn’t only that he was “born a Catholic.” He went to Mass several times a week. He was serious about it. Religious differences between friends is not an issue, but between a married couple?

I said I didn’t think he could change that much. I didn’t think anyone could. Religion isn’t like that … and sex isn’t a choice. We are what we are; we need what we need. Despite what some misguided people believe, you don’t get to “pick” the sex you prefer.

He said we could do our own “things” and we’d still live a fantastic life. That was true, but it was not what I wanted from marriage. I wanted a marriage that could be the center of my life and I wanted it to include physical closeness.

I thought about it long and hard for several weeks. I tried to figure out how it could work. Was I ready for a marriage that was, in fact, a close friendship with vows?

For him to ask me to marry him was a giant leap. I was touched, flattered, and a bit haunted by it. It was not a casual suggestion.

In the end, no matter how many ways I looked at it, I was sure it would not be successful. For either of us. It wouldn’t matter how hard we tried. It would not work. So, I said no.

That he had asked had already changed our relationship.

He seemed to take rejection well, but he was hurt and angry. I don’t know if he was angrier with himself for asking or at me for saying no. Probably both. For him to ask me to marry him was remarkable, generous,  and heartfelt. To be refused was more than he could handle.

It’s not like the rest of my life was going to be perfect. I did a lot of things wrong before I finally got it right.

The problem was simpler for me. Everything I understood about gay men told me being gay was not a choice. Not optional. There was no way he could decide to not be gay. Moreover, there was only so much Catholicism I could stomach.

I was already in a failing marriage.  I didn’t know I had another one waiting in the wings, too. Even if I’d known what was awaiting me, I could not see the point of starting another impossible relationship. I’m convinced I was right, but he was the closest friend I ever had. I have missed him for all of these years. We loved being together and no one ever took his place.

Sex and religion can really get in the way of life, you know?

WHO DECIDED THAT? – Rich Paschall

The House Rules, by Rich Paschall

A place for everything and everything in its place.  Perhaps you have heard this old proverb or words of advice.  It was often handed out as instructions for life, usually by parents, methinks.  In the 18th century, it may have been a popular topic of preachers and local leaders.  That was an era when you were also told that cleanliness was “next to godliness.”  

The idea of cleanliness may have come out of a 1778 sermon by John Wesley.  If cleanliness will get me next to God, I am all for it.  If I have to be orderly too, this will take a good deal of work.  I wish to be neat, clean and orderly, but I am still looking for a large chunk of time to work on that.  I have been looking for that for years, in fact.

I thought of “house rules” recently while eating at the kitchen table with my young South American roommate.  Yes, he is back for more Culture Shock, but that is another story for another time.  We were feasting on one of his favorite items, chicken wings, and he was putting the bones on a small saucer.

In my head, I could hear my mother scold him, “That’s not for chicken wings, that’s for coffee cups.”  At that, she would have grabbed the saucer and replaced it with a small plate of about the same size.  “What’s the difference?” I wonder now.  Either way, we are going to wash the small plate when we are done.  If you come for coffee at my house, you will never know if that saucer once held spilled coffee (or covfefe) or chicken wing bones, as long as it is clean.

Neat dishes

That particular saucer was from a set of china my mother had for special occasions.  By the way, it was from England, not China.  Anyway, as God is my witness, I do not recall EVER eating off that set until she was gone and I was left with it and a lot of knickknacks I don’t need.  When we were younger, she had another nice set for dinner.  We also had plastic plates or TV dinners in aluminum trays.

As for the knickknacks, two might belong on top of the large stereo, another two in the dining room and one on the dresser.  Random shelves were usually populated with random knickknacks.  If one was out-of-place, there could be hell to pay, as the saying goes.  My mother and my grandmother knew exactly where these items must stand. 

There could be no variations.  It was as if the locations were handed down by God and no other place would do.  Worse yet, if something broke, we would hear about it for at least a year, maybe longer, depending on its worth and sentimental value.

Utensils

I hated to touch these things, particularly in my grandmother’s apartment.  She was a stern old woman who rarely smiled, and she could let you know her displeasure at something being out-of-place with a mean look and a few terse words.  My mother could hand out the same look, but we were lucky if we only got a few words as well.  Silence was not her style.

“Why are those bells in that order?  That is not the correct order! Fix it.”

My humble reply might be, “But I thought that was the order.  I put them right back in place.”  No pleading innocent would change the fact that something was amiss.

Roomie has asked me a number of times if he could put things in a closet.  Apparently, my clutter of coffee table books and table games looks out-of-place to him (not to me) and I should not have this stuff lying around.  I usually give in to these requests because I made the rule where it belongs and it is not important enough to me that it stays there.  My books on baseball, theater, and The Doors (look them up, millennials) have been banished to darker places.

I do not do the dishes often as roomie thinks he is better at it. When they are dry, I might ask why he did not put everything away.  His usual answer is that he does not know where everything belongs.  I tell him to put it somewhere, I will find it or ask if I need it.  Would that work at your house?

You probably have several drawers in the kitchen. Is each designated for certain items? We have one for silverware, one for other kitchen gadgets and larger items (rolling-pin to chase roomie around the house like a cartoon), and one “junk drawer.” Everyone has one of these.  It is for the items not designated for somewhere else. This could be batteries, a tape measure, random tools, a flashlight, scissors, tape, matches, etc. Junk drawer items should be in the junk drawer!

It would be possible to go on about the house rules, particularly the strict ones from my mother or grandmother, but you get the point by now, or you are a hopeless case like I am.  I could not understand why my grandmother would have a certain doily to go under a lamp, and another to go under a Hummel.  (OK, go look up doily and Hummel. We’ll wait).  These doilies were not interchangeable.

Unlike the previous generations, I can not stress out about silly house rules that I made up in the first place.  With the return of roomie, even if for a brief period, there is no reason not to alter my life so we both feel comfortable.  Everything may have a place in our home, but that place can be changed tomorrow and that is OK with me.

See also: “CULTURE SHOCK, Travelling to America”

AMERICA’S OBSESSION WITH SEXUALITY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There is a vocal segment in America that seems to spend most of their time and energy preoccupied with other people’s sex lives and reproductive practices. The issues that make their blood boil have to do with sex education in schools (a no-no except for abstinence), contraceptives and abortion, gay rights and now transgender bathroom use. This last one is a horrifying mixture of anatomical, sexual and scatological prurience!

I’m not the first to find this disturbing. Sex and reproduction (and going to the bathroom) should be the most private parts of our lives. My question is why is this a predominantly American obsession?

Western Europe (and Japan ) seem to have a much more relaxed approach to all things sexual. I remember my shock at watching TV in England and Europe for the first time, as long as 30 years ago. Nudity is common in prime time and on mainstream networks. Graphic depictions of sex (with the concomitant nudity) are also common. So are open discussions of sex, sex toys, sexual preferences, etc. on talk shows and news shows.

Sex is considered a normal part of everyday life and sexual preferences are considered to be varied and generally acceptable. In Poland, all public bathrooms are unisex, shared comfortably by men and women, just like bathrooms in private homes.

So what separates us from the rest of the civilized world on this issue? I believe it’s the Puritans. England considered the strict anti-sex and anti-pleasure platform of the Puritans to be totally whackadoodle! They were marginalized and discriminated against, even by English Catholics. (Remember from the series “The Borgias”, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, even Popes were married, had mistresses and openly had children out-of-wedlock).

The discrimination of the Puritans in England caused them to leave in droves and start a new society in a new world, in their image. I don’t think America has ever shaken these rigid and repressive beginnings.

Maybe after another generation or two of naked selfies and crotch shots, Americans will stop preaching repression, shame, and judgment regarding any form of sexual expression. Or are we heading way too far into the TMI zone? Time will tell.

SEX, LIFE, MARRIAGE, AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong

Before I left for Israel at the end of 1978, my best friend for a long time was gay. It started out casually and eventually got to be an intense friendship. He’d never had a straight female friend and I’d never gotten close to a gay man. We both learned a lot about each others’ worlds … and eventually, each other.

He would call me every night. He could tell by the sound of my voice if I needed company or felt bad about something. Even when if I said everything was fine, he knew. We were best friends and spent pretty much all our spare time together.

When I finally decided I needed a divorce, R. asked me to marry him. It took me a while to realize he wasn’t kidding. Married?

I told him I didn’t think it could work. Not only was he gay — and had always been gay — but he was a serious Roman Catholic who wanted to be a priest. If we could leap the sex hurdle (highly unlikely), I was pretty sure we’d never get past religion.

He said he could change.

We can all change … but how much? I asked him if he’d ever had sex with a woman. He admitted he hadn’t. I asked him if he had ever wanted to have sex with a woman and he said “no,” although he thought I might change that.

Then there was his fascination with Catholicism versus my skeptical Jewishness. It wasn’t only that he was “born a Catholic.” He went to Mass several times a week. He was serious about it. Religious differences between friends is not an issue, but between a married couple?

I said I didn’t think he could change that much. I didn’t think anyone could. Religion isn’t like that … and sex isn’t a choice. We are what we are; we need what we need. Despite what some misguided people believe, you don’t get to “pick” the sex you prefer.

He said we could do our own “things” and we’d still live a fantastic life. That was true, but it was not what I wanted from marriage. I wanted a marriage that could be the center of my life and I wanted it to include physical closeness.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Faded dreams, Douglas

I thought about it long and hard for several weeks. I tried to figure out how it could work. Was I ready for a marriage that was, in fact, a close friendship with vows?

For him to ask me to marry him was a giant leap. I was touched, flattered, and a bit haunted by it. It was not a casual suggestion.

In the end, no matter how many ways I looked at it, I was sure it would not be successful. For either of us. It wouldn’t matter how hard we tried. It would not work. So, I said no.

That he had asked had already changed our relationship.

He seemed to take rejection well, but he was hurt and angry. I don’t know if he was angrier with himself for asking or at me for saying no. Probably both. For him to ask me to marry him was remarkable, generous,  and heartfelt. To be refused was more than he could handle.

It’s not like the rest of my life was going to be perfect. I did a lot of things wrong before I finally got it right.

The problem was simpler for me. Everything I understood about gay men told me being gay was not a choice. Not optional. There was no way he could decide to not be gay. Moreover, there was only so much Catholicism I could stomach.

I was already in a failing marriage.  I didn’t know I had another one waiting in the wings, too. Even if I’d known what was awaiting me, I could not see the point of starting another impossible relationship. I’m convinced I was right, but he was the closest friend I ever had. I have missed him for all of these years. We loved being together and no one ever took his place.

Sex and religion can really get in the way of life, you know?

ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE IN RELATIONSHIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post on June 3, 2018, written by John Gottman and Christopher Dollard. It’s called “Five Myths About Marriage.” It confirms something I’ve always believed – that it’s not really common interests that keep couples together. It’s common decency and courtesy in relating to each other.

“Our research has shown that criticism … is one of the four destructive behaviors that indicate a couple will eventually divorce. A stronger predictor of compatibility than shared interests is the ratio of positive to negative interactions, which should be about 20-1 in everyday situations.”

The only thing that surprised me was the ratio they promulgated. 20-1 is a huge differential. That means that relationships can only survive one negative comment out of 20 positive ones.

I’ve always known that negative interactions have a far greater impact and carry far more weight than positive ones. Put another way, one negative comment can erase 20 positive ones! This was definitely true for me and my kids. Their father, my ex-husband, was bipolar. When he was in a manic phase, he said some pretty hurtful and destructive things. But when he was not manic, he said many positive things as well.

My kids and I always seemed to take the negative comments to heart way more than the positive ones. My ex could be very loving and affectionate. But when he was bad, he was very, very bad. And that left a mark on all of us. I used to say that one criticism or slight would wipe out a dozen compliments. I was close, according to the Post article.

I think this is true because most people have many insecurities. No matter how much we try to build up our kids’ egos, there are always big holes we can’t seem to plug. Therefore, it’s easier for us, on an unconscious level, to believe bad things about ourselves than good. So we need a lot of positive reinforcement to feel good about ourselves. On the other hand, it only takes one diss to deflate us completely. This is especially true when the negative comments come from parents or spouses.

It turns out that the old cliché is true. Mutual respect is the most important thing in a relationship. Treating each other with consideration is the true secret to most successful relationships.

A corollary to this is letting go of the small stuff. Procrastinating about taking out the garbage is annoying. But it’s not critical. And above all, it’s NOT ABOUT ME! My husband is not purposely ignoring me when I ask him to take the garbage out and he doesn’t. He’s also not slighting me. He’s just lazy and he hates garbage! If I make it about him not caring about my feelings, we’re both screwed.

Some people hang onto negative feelings about the small stuff and let them blow up into a big deal. That is counterproductive. You’re definitely not going to get garbage taken out faster if you’re harboring anger and resentment about the garbage. You’re also going to sour the rest of your relationship.

So, the take away from this article/study is to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, just like the old song says!