Tarnished for Life: The error in throwing away those who have made mistakes

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[Image: A person walking away from the viewer on some kind of beach, leaving footprints on the wet sand.]

Sometimes human beings do terrible things. They fuck up. They hurt people. They damage things. They do ridiculous, horrible shit. Sometimes they are punished for what they do. Sometimes they aren’t. But no matter what happens to them legally after they do their terrible thing, what do we do with them after they’ve served their time, paid their debt to society, or been declared unable to be criminally pursued?

There’s a polarizing concept in popular culture that once someone has done something terrible, they have no future, but instead should cease to exist. No matter how young they are, how much they could potentially offer the world, no matter how much time they have left on this earth, they don’t deserve to be a part of anything anymore. They should be cut off and excommunicated from the human race. And while this idea might feel justified for those who have suffered and those that know the heinous nature of the crime, this tarnished for life, ceasing to exist idea is not practical and, in the end, not helpful.

While it’s easy and sometimes seems only logical to put people like perpetrators of violence into a box of inhumanity, where they are not one of us decent people but some other category of human, it’s not true. Humans are capable of terrible things. The nightly news tells us this every night. Doing something horrible doesn’t mean you are not a person. It also does not prevent you from existing after this terrible thing has happened.

So what are we to do with people once they have done their horrible deed? Read on any comment thread about any variety of crimes or offenses and there will be someone calling for that person’s murder. But we can’t murder everyone who has done something terrible. Neither can we afford to throw these people away. If you want to honor the humanity of the victims of this terrible act, you have to honor the humanity of the person that also committed it. They are not an other now. They are still people and when their lives are still in front of them, they need something to do with it.

When I was organizer for V-Day 2008 at MBC we screened the documentary Until The Violence Stops. In that movie was a man who was a former abuser. He spoke openly, with tears running down his face, about his shameful past behavior where he beat his wife. He recalled his toddler child once trying to protect his mother from his father. I was stunned. I had never heard an abuser talk about their abuse and the environment they had been raised in that had facilitated this abuse.

While abusers should in no way dominate the conversation about domestic violence, they do need to be included. How are we ever going to stand any kind of crime or form of abuse if all that is examined is one side of the story? This is not to validate the abuse, but to figure out why it happened. What leads to violence? What warning signs are there that someone can become violent? What kind of intervention works to prevent violence? How can someone who has been violent be rehabilitated?

It would be one thing if someone who has committed a crime or wronged someone just ceased to exist after this event happened. But it doesn’t. When someone does something horrible, no matter how horrible it is, they’re still alive. Even if their way of making amends is small, even if all they do is make the world slightly less shitty in tiny portions from behind bars, they deserve that chance. Everyone deserves a chance to improve world and that chance should never be taken away.

My Mad Skillz

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[Image: two hands on a laptop, typing out a document. To the left are pieces of printed paper, a pencil, and several wads of paper in the background.]

Sharyna pointed something out to me the other day. I was already becoming aware of it, but she confirmed it for me in a very clear manner. I often devalue my own skills and abilities and consider lots of other people (particularly men) as smarter than me if they have a skill that I don’t have. I’ve done it with ex-boyfriends, but also with friends and other people in my life.

When it comes to where my skill set lies, it seems really obvious that writing and English are my strong points. But when it comes to math, I’m actually not as bad as I sometimes think I am or say I am. I was able to survive college math through pre-calculus II. Although I struggled with it, I still understood most of it and found some of it kind of fun. I get easily confused with math, but even people that are brilliant with math aren’t born knowing it. They still need to be taught. However, I don’t find math fun or enjoyable, so when it comes to doing math on my own, I choose not to. I would much rather write.

When we did inventory at Tarpley’s, I was paired with a self-proclaimed English nerd who was “not a math person.” Inventory, of course, is counting. I found myself adding up large sums of products in my head and asking her if they were right and she had absolutely no clue. I never thought that addition would be considered something very mathy, but compared to someone else who claimed their talents did not lie with numbers, I was much faster. I also amazed someone who vastly underestimated my math skills by perfectly understanding the properties of infinity, even though I had never been taught them before. I don’t know why, but the right answers made complete sense to me and I stuck with my gut.

Looking back over my life, I can see where I have idolized certain people as intellectual giants, just because they knew something that I didn’t. My ex-fiance knew computers. I didn’t. So I told him how smart he was and acted like he was more intelligent than I was. Which, let me assure you, he did not need me to openly state that. He was already convinced of it. But my feeding into his ego only assisted him in devaluing my skills even more. He didn’t think that writing was such an interesting hobby and certainly not that much of a skill. So when all I had to offer was writing and he could build computers, who was the smart one in this equation?

And, of course, I would be remiss without mentioning the zombie apocalypse. It really bothers me that I have no real survival skills. If the world goes to shit, no one is going to really need a writer. They’re going to need zombie killers, survivalists, sharpshooters, and preppers. Where do I fit in with all of this? Who is going to be willing to help keep me alive when my skills all involve a pen and not a pistol?

Naturally, this is a ridiculous way to judge my own skills. There is nothing out there to make anyone think that there will one day be real zombies. Judging the worth of my entire life on the basis of a horror movie scenario is pretty ridiculous. But still, I do it.

Partly I think this is just part of my low self-esteem talking. I can’t take my skills seriously because that would mean that I value myself and I never let myself do that. I act like everything I don’t know is far more important than everything I do know so that I can continue moving the goalposts and make sure that I can never catch up to whatever mythical line of competency I’m trying to force myself to catch up with.

In the end, I need to take a step back and stop being so hard on myself. I do have skills and I can be a competent person. Also, there was room for Milton Mammet in the zombie apocalypse, so why not me? Why can’t I be a writer that keeps a detailed account of life in the world of zombies that will become part of the culture milieu that exists during this time? Why can’t that be me?

Love or nothing else

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[Image: A pink background with Dear Daniel kissing Hello Kitty, surrounded by strawberries. A heart with the word “Love” in it floats above them. A small poodle looks on, quizzically.]

I have been very honest about the fact that I have struggled with understanding romantic love. I think everyone does to a certain extent, but my journey with it has been particularly difficult. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that I have a brain disease that can mimic the symptoms of love to the point where I can’t tell the difference. But beyond that, romantic love is complicated, complex and entirely too powerful to be contained in Disney movies.

I think society in general has this way of using love as filler word for all kinds of attachments that aren’t love, but still deserve to be recognized as strong emotions. I have gone through so much of my life thinking that it’s love or nothing and really, that’s just bullshit. Humans are capable of experiencing all kinds of emotions and attachments and while it might not be love, it’s still something and deserves to be recognized as such.

In the past, I’ve told people that I loved them because I was young and inexperienced, because I was hypomanic and because I was experiencing new feelings and emotions that I couldn’t name. But none of those were love. I now realize that none of them were love because I actually fell in love and, wow, it was nothing like any of that.

Love, I came to learn, is not about you or what it can do for you. Love is about the other person. Love is wanting what’s best for them no matter how it turns out for you. Love is letting someone go, no matter how much it hurts, because that’s what they need and that will lead to their ultimate happiness.

But while I realize that this was the first time I had really been in love, I don’t think that this discounts the other emotions and feelings that I have experienced in my romantic life. I definitely felt something and it was definitely strong, even though it wasn’t love. I think the problem is that there is a limited vocabulary for love in the English language and so we all try to shove everything into the love box, no matter how much it doesn’t fit.

We put so much emphasis on the word love that we misuse it in an attempt to validate our feelings. But we don’t need to. We don’t need to think of romantic attachment in terms of ultimate affection or GTFO. Not every relationship that we have in our lives is going to wind up being true love. But that doesn’t mean that our time with that partner was wasted or what we felt for them didn’t matter.

Even when I wasn’t in love before, I learned very valuable lessons from each of my exes. Sometimes that lesson was not to trust people and that people can be real assholes. But I learned something. I learned a lot from falling in love as well. All of my collective experiences make up the powerful story of my romantic history and is preparing me for my romantic future.

The Art of Giving Up

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[Image: The words “I give up!” written on a white piece of paper. A hand is visible with a marker dotting the exclamation point.]

Right from the time that we can comprehend it, we’re feed this idea of never giving up. Ever. No matter what happens, no matter how long our struggle, all we have to do is keep pushing and keep believing and we will be rewarded for it in the end. Our society loves movies about people who overcome great odds to be successful. It shows them listening to those around them saying that whatever they want is too difficult, too impossible, too something, and they say, no, it’s not. I’m going to do it and it will happen. And then we cheer for them when they do.

But there’s a dangerous message in these stories that sometimes gets pushed to the point of absurdity. Sometimes we don’t know when to give up. And sometimes, we really need to. When I was reading Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession, I was struck by a particular passage that talked about how women (and men) in the media who fall into unrequited love are often rewarded by finally getting through to the object of their affections and, in the end, earn a relationship through their determination. The book references Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” as well as scores of romantic movies where men suddenly realize just how much they love the women that have been pursuing them, no matter how disinterested they were before.

Life, however, is not this neat. One thing that I found difficult when I fell into unrequited love was realizing that the fact that it wasn’t working was not due in any part to my lack of effort or attention. I wanted to blame myself, but there was nothing for me to blame myself for. There was nothing for me to do differently, there was no way for me to try harder. My goal was contingent on another person and that person did not have the same feelings. No matter how many times I had been told all throughout my life to never give up and stay the course and blah, blah, blah, it turned out that giving up was not only the best thing for me; it was the only thing for me to do in this situation.

But other situations warrant giving up as well. Singing competition shows, particularly American Idol, are focused on producing great vocalists. But not without showcasing the unfortunate people who have all of the confidence of a rock star with none of the vocal ability. There comes a point when, in order to be a singer, you need a certain amount of natural talent and you can hone that talent. You can’t take someone who has never hit an on-key note, even by accident, and turn them into Christina Aguilera. Someone who loves music, but has no ability to sing it could find much more productive ways of using their talents and finding personal fulfillment other than singing. But for someone to waste their time getting nowhere because they lack any semblance of a specific talent is just sad and pointless. Sometimes it’s a good thing to be able to realize that you are better served by doing other things and let something fall by the wayside.

Then there’s the flat out fucking dangerous side of things. When I was researching eating disorders for a health class once, I was stunned by the pro-ana community (sites reinforcing anorexia nervosa and encouraging its readers to starve themselves, among other unhealthy things) turning messages of not giving up into something that would send these people to their deaths. Not giving up on their dreams meant not eating until their bodies stop functioning. They would profess that their dream was thinness, but in reality, there was no goal. They would die thinking that they were too fat. And that was a dream that they definitely needed to give up.

Not to give up when things get difficult is a great message that can be very encouraging, but not to give up, ever, at any time, for any reason, despite the costs, is a toxic one that will only feed into pain and ultimately, defeat. Not all goals are achievable and the sooner we realize this, the better off we should be. All “Don’t give up, keep pushing” memes should come with an asterisk.

*Part of this blog was published in my book, Into Love and Out Again.

Stop stealing my energy!

Sm_villains014Being an introvert is kind of like living in an episode of Sailor Moon. Your life is inundated with people who want to steal your energy. As soon as you get out of bed, it starts. Friends, family, co-workers, strangers, even pets. They want your energy and they will do whatever they can get to get their grubby hands on it.

There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts out there, but the basic idea of introversion is that your brain processes information differently than an extrovert does. So when you draw your energy, you draw it from alone time. Extroverts draw their energy from other people. I am severely introverted. Every test I’ve ever taken, including some taken in school, has shown me very strong on the introversion scale. So I need a lot of alone time. A lot.

I am very social and I happen to love people, so it might seem like I am actually an extrovert, but believe me, I’m not. Being around people takes a lot of my energy and I have to portion it out accordingly. When I was working full-time and being social was part of my job, I found that I didn’t want to spend time with friends or family because I was so burned out from work. I only had so much energy to give and work took it all.

This is not to say that I don’t find happiness and enjoyment in being around others, because I do. But sometimes I need to focus on something that I’m doing and this is not possible when I’m supposed to be giving someone my attention. It’s pretty clear that I write far more than the average person and at this point in my life, I feel compelled to just sit down and write about certain things when I’m inspired. And sometimes I need people to go away and leave me alone so that I can do this. It might come off as rude, but when I need to write, I need to write. And a human being can fucking wait.

When it comes to introversion, all introverts are a little different. If you want to befriend one, marry one, not have one hate you, etc, then learn how to give them space and be understanding of their quirks. Introverts are interesting people that just have their brains wired a different way than extroverts do. When caring and feeding your introvert, make sure that you give them space and time to themselves. When they’re ready to be around people, they will come find you.