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Foie Gras Children and Slender Men

I have always been an avid reader.

I would lose myself in book after book when I was a child. They fed my soul, took me places even my dreams could not conjure.

I absorbed every word – they painted vivid, breathtaking, amazing and sometimes frightening pictures for me.

I was rewarded with a rich vocabulary and a very intense imagination.

I drew pictures of the characters, dressed up like some of the protagonists, reenacted scenes with my dolls and my stuffed animals …

But never, ever did I confuse them with reality.

Having said that, of course, I learned from Aesop – I knew enough to summarize that his fables were teaching me things that I could and probably should be applying to ‘real life’.

But I didn’t expect that if I happened across a white rabbit and followed him, that I would be transported to another world.

I didn’t believe that there was a porridge pot that would produce endless amounts of the oats.

I knew magic beans, glass slippers and talking toads lived only in the pages of my books.

Even the fictional stories with real people, and real possibilities I knew to be entertainment. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series was among my favorites when I was little.

 

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No adult supervision, friends, lighthouses, ginger beer, cream buns, adventure AND a dog?! I was in!!!

But not really.  I knew how to separate a fictional adventure that a fictional person was having – from reality.

We have that capability to make amazing mud pies – and the sensibility not to eat them.

(Ok, to be fair, I have tried dirt.)

We dressed up like royalty,  but didn’t expect a carriage to pull up and whisk us away to our castle when playtime ended.

We had sword fights with sticks and shot people with our fingers – and not once did it seem like a good idea to take that play to the next level.

So what’s changed?

 

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Not the movies.  We had A Clockwork Orange – Night of The Living Dead.

(And is it just me or does Nosferatu resemble Slender Man?)

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It’s certainly not the bad guys – they’ve always been.  Always will be.

And as for stories and monsters – they’ve always been there too.

The Grimm brothers offered our version of ‘creepy pasta’ type tales.

What’s changed?

In my opinion, copious amounts of unmonitored and uncensored access to it!

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The past couple of days, an internet horror meme named Slender Man has been in the news, blamed for an attempted murder by two 12-year-old girls.

Slender Man is responsible for an untold amount of jump scares – but attempted murder?

 

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Too often the blame falls to video games, horror movies and even music for today’s violence.

I do not agree with this.

I blame instant access to age inappropriate material.

Instant access to graphic images.

I blame the decrease of services for the mentally ill.

I blame the constant barrage of  ‘negative news’ desensitizing those already mentally fragile.  News stations vying for viewers via shock value.

And finally, yes, I blame ‘the parents’.

That’s such a broad accusation isn’t it??

I usually cringe when I hear it – so please know I shuddered when I typed it.

But I do hold parents responsible in general, because the internet is not going away!

If we don’t want our children becoming world-wide webbed foie gras geese – we have to monitor what’s feeding their developing minds!!!

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When I was raising my son, I put limits on what he was exposed to.

By no means was I ever a perfect mother, far from it, but I do think I did a lot of things right.

I knew what he was doing, who he was doing it with and where he was as much as I could.

I was a working mom, I couldn’t possibly know everything or be there every moment.

The computer was in a family area – he did not have one in his room.

I checked the search history and monitored what he was looking at as best I could.

He was read to and encouraged to read.

We talked.  We still do.  No topic was or is off-limits.

He was not allowed to play with toy guns when he was very little – I didn’t think pretending to shoot someone was funny.

Of course, he still pretended with sticks or his fingers – and that was fine, but I was not contributing to it – that was the point I needed to make.

He was taught that guns were to be taken seriously and respected.

Nic was not allowed to play any video games I did not believe he was mentally and emotionally ready for.

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Oh sure, I knew he was playing the games I wouldn’t allow in the house when spending the night at a friends.

Let him have that fleeting feeling he was getting away with something.

Every kid needs that too.

Because the lesson had already sunk in, the games were deemed inappropriate by the person raising him. He knew it.  You certainly don’t think you’re ‘getting away’ with doing the right thing.

Horror movies – nope. Graphic unneccesary violence – nope. Nudity? Sure, in measure.

I have a more European take on that having been raised in the UK.

In England, growing up, I would turn the dial past some boring old sex scene to find a show that interested me. Nudity and sex was natural – violence was edited.

Every child is curious of course, and it breaks my heart that probably my sons first sighting of a naked woman was on some porn site and not a boob shot in a movie or the full Monty in the center of a secreted Playboy.

It’s the total opposite here in the States.

God forbid you see a nipple, but a beheading? A fatal car crash? A slaughtered village full of people? “Put that on a loop!!”

If my son committed a horrific crime, would I hold a single genre responsible it?

No.

I would know that something was broken inside of him, or hadn’t grown properly to begin with.

I would know that he was not possessing that ability to filter fantasy or intense information in a healthy way.

And I would know that I, as his parent, obviously did not provide him with the adequate amount of discipline or tools he needed.

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The House Next Door

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It was windy today.

I leave the front door ajar for Butters so that she can exit and enter when she needs to.  It opened and closed with each gust  and outdoor furniture slapped and thudded against the porch.

Butters is not brave, but what she lacks in courage she makes up for with volume.  Startled barks peppered the morning and when startled turned to alarmed, I would go to the door and check that it was in fact just the wind.

I don’t always assume she’s barking at nothing – and try not to get frustrated at the nine out of ten times that she is.

After all, she’s guarding her territory.  And, in turn, us.

No one needs to know she’s all bark and no bite.  It’s comforting that she is on duty, albeit, over zealously most of the time.

One such zealous bark had me looking out the front door and that’s when I noticed the man in the road.

He sat past the nearest cross street – his legs out in front of him, in the dirt.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this at first glance.  A jogger resting?  No.

He looked like he was injured – perhaps wincing.  His hand on one leg, his head moving back and forth.

Then I noticed a pattern to his movements and the repetitive motions made it clear he was having some sort of a seizure.

I called out to Nic – to come with me to see what was the matter. Then decided the man needed help quickly – threw my flip-flops on and headed out the door.

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I went through my gate, shut it and started toward the man.

As I passed by my neighbor’s house, I noticed that two men were outside working on their cars.

How are they not seeing this?

I continued past them and called out “Are you okay?”

As I got closer – a voice from behind me “Be careful.”

I turned to see one of the men looking toward me.

“He needs help …”  I kept moving forward.

“That’s his brother.”  The speaker thumbed in the direction of the other man.

Why are they not helping him??

I came closer to the man in the road.  Noticed the spittle and drool on his chin, his denim shorts caked in dust, a sheen of sweat on his contorted face.

“Are you alright?”

I saw his eyes – wild and unfocused.

“He’s got mental issues.”  A different voice.

“Well, he seems to be having medical ones right now – is he having a seizure?  What can I do??”

The first speaker suggested ice water, and both men now had phones in their hands.

I assumed one of the men was my neighbor, but didn’t know which.  I really only hear him, when he’s yelling at the children.

I don’t see much of the people living next to me.

(See HERE then HERE)

Regardless of who was who, it appeared they were calling for help, so I turned to head back to my house for ice water.

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I found a cup I didn’t mind not getting back, filled Nic in on what was happening and headed back out the door.

I saw now that the man was no longer in the road and felt a little better.

Until I reached my neighbor’s house and saw what must have been the brother (my neighbor – the puzzle pieces were fitting now) yelling at him.

The man who was no longer in the road, still looked awful.  Shaky on his feet and eyes still wild.

I didn’t understand why this was a good time to yell at him.

I held out the water and it was taken.  I can’t recall who reached for it, but it ended up in the right hands.

“He needs help, not reprimanding!”

“He has mental problems.”

Again with this!

“Regardless of any mental problems, he clearly needs help!”

“Go back inside your house lady.”

It wasn’t said with any room for debate.  My racing heart and hot body suddenly felt chilled.  I had been dismissed and I was not to continue questioning or inserting my opinion.

Having had a past with these particular neighbors, and knowing what they’re capable of, I once more headed back to my house.

As I walked away, the man who was in the road said to me “I’m sorry … I’m sorry.”

The walk back was uncomfortable, surreal and daunting.

I felt like a child who had awoken to fighting in the house – seen someone they cared for being hurt, only to be commanded back to bed by the aggressor.

Helpless.

Small.

Submissive.

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Some time later, Butters started barking again.  This time at my back door.

I peered out to see only a hand and the cup I had taken over earlier.

I told Nic to hold Butters and slipped outside.

It was the woman who lives in the house.

The one who yells at her children almost every night:

“GO TO FUCKING SLEEP!!”

The lullaby of dysfunction.

The one who told her children that daddy was trying to kill mommy – and then brought them back in the house.

The one who said she was leaving when she could, and never did.

As time has passed, I notice that she is an instigator in the chaos.

I am not saying she’s ‘asking’ for any of it – I just notice (from my couch, yes, she’s that loud) that she does the majority of the screaming and yelling.

So she’s standing on my back porch with the cup and for some insane reason, explains to me what had happened.

The man in the road had been staying with them for four months while he sobered up.

She explained with feigned ignorance of the topic “He does those rocks, you know, the ones you crush and smoke?”

Just say CRACK woman!  I see your teeth, I know you know what it is!

He relapsed apparently and what I thought was a seizure was – but of a drug induced kind.

“We were trying to get him sober.”

“You know you can’t get someone sober?  He’s going to have to want that for himself.”

I suggested a local mental health location in our town as a possible resource for her.

The whole time I stood there – holding my cup that now had crack saliva on it – and hating her.  Hating her for having that man in an already horrible environment around her children.

“You should be careful – having him around your children.”

Oh God.  I said that out loud.

She nodded at me – much like she did when I offered my home as refuge in the past.  But I knew she wasn’t really listening to me.

I said I hoped things would be okay – and I meant it.  She went down the steps and disappeared.

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I tell you this knowing my house is made of glass.  I share my anger because I can, I have already been in their shoes.

My past is not perfect.

The difference is, I made a choice to change.

Even after I learned that the man in the road was there due to drugs, I hoped he would find help.

Even after I hear the woman screaming at her children, I tell myself “She’s lashing out at them because she is unhappy and feels powerless.”

Even when I hear her partner being violent in the house, I think “What horror must he have come from to end up so angry?”

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Nic and I had to leave the house to visit my parents shortly after the woman left.

I was uncomfortable leaving as there were repercussions the last time I spoke to her.

I decided they wouldn’t try anything in daylight and Butters could be trusted to deter anyone from entering the yard. 

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(I’ll admit, I fear for her too though.  Who knows what they are capable of.)

In the car, we spoke of what happened.

“People like that should be wiped off the planet.”

“Nic, people can change … there’s a reason for their behavior.  They were once children perhaps in that same environment.  Besides, I’ve done drugs. I drank. And I changed.  I chose good. “

I love that he knows this.  I love that we can talk about anything.  No skeletons in our closets.

“But you always had that in you.”

“Are you saying you think they’re inherently bad?  Do you believe there are some people just born evil?”

“Yes.”

I hope not.

But I just don’t know.

My favorite quote by W.H. Auden comes to mind once again:

“Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.”
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Serving Life

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I don’t know if I’m so forgiving because I want to be forgiven.

I don’t know if I’m constantly seeing the good in those deemed ‘bad’ because I’m insightful or because I want to be good.

But I am forgiving and I do see good in bad.

This extends from situations to people.

I watched ‘Serving Life’ on New Years Day and it touched me so deeply – on so many levels.

First I thought about the convicted men.

It breaks my heart when I hear compassionate, intelligent, repentant, very human convicts wishing they could go back and undo their crimes.

That’s someone’s child – who cannot go back and will forever pay for their mistake.

I think about all the people who comment on news stories with such piousness.  I know that I have sinned – odds are they have too and how dare they judge another?

How many of those judging a murderer have been party to an abortion?  How many didn’t get caught the night they drove home drunk?

I think about a person born into an environment of despair, crime and fear – into a broken family devoid of encouragement, hope or love … what chance did they have?

I’m reminded of some lines from Silence of the Lambs.

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Hannibal:  No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.

Clarice: No. We just…

Hannibal: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day …

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We want what we see.  We mirror who we know. 

We can only do better when we know better.  At that point, it’s a choice.

If all you are exposed to is hunger, anger and helplessness – how do you know there is a ‘better’?

Are those seeking an escape from their reality with what they know, crack, heroin … less than those sipping too many martinis after a long day at the office – or abusing their Xanax prescription?

Does the tool for escape define the person?

There are so many crimes committed by people who are under the influence of drugs.

Drug addiction changes a person – takes hold and inserts its barbs into the flesh of the addicted.  But these are people who can be helped!

Why are we taking up so much prison space with people who were convicted for drug possession instead of treating them?

Then there are the mentally ill, who are certainly not served as they need to be in our country.

Why are we surprised when an untreated mentally ill person colors outside of society’s acceptable lines?

I think the outrage should be directed more toward the system that is neglecting those who need it.

I’ll now qualify all of the above with – there should be punishment for crime.  And murder, theft, assault is not acceptable.

I just know there’s a person under that orange jumpsuit – and reasons behind the crime.

I’m not offering excuses for them – I’m offering the idea that there is more than meets the eye.

Having said all of that – I’ll be honest when I tell you that I found it very difficult to find compassion for one man who had a terminal brain tumor.

His crime was that of sexually assaulting a minor.

He would fall into the mentally ill category I suppose – as in my opinion, a mentally healthy person wouldn’t have committed such a heinous crime.

I still wasn’t able to find my compassion for him even after acknowledging this.

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The inmates that decided to take part in the hospice program were surprisingly affected by the environment.

I say surprisingly because some had been exposed to death before, in violent and personal ways.

Men who had taken a life, sat scared and uncomfortable as they sat vigil with a man breathing his last breath.

The film makers did not spare the audience the final moments of the dying.  This was a raw and very real look into a hospice situation.

One man in particular became ill suddenly – unable to keep weight on his bones and coughing up blood.  The x-rays the prison had taken showed signs of cancer – but until a biopsy was done, they couldn’t diagnose the man.  He came several times to the ward only to return to his cell without having the tests done.

The fear in his eyes was my undoing.

The nurse asked him if he wanted to be admitted to the ward – no … he didn’t want to give up.

She explained that it wouldn’t be giving up.  That no matter where he was, if he had hope, he was not giving up.  But that he would be needing care should medical intervention be needed and that they could give that to him there.

Two things struck me at this point.  That this man, who was in prison, wanted to live – and even within the walls of that penitentiary, he still had hope.

To me though, that hospice must have smelled to him like the euthanasia room at a dog pound.

It was where people went to die – not to get well.

Here he was showing up to find out what was wrong with him, and the tests being delayed – and returning to his cell in fear and sickness.  I wanted to cradle him.  I wanted to shout for a doctor on his behalf.

He was sentenced to life after all – not death.

He finally did get his results – and they were worse than anyone expected.  He was given only weeks to live.

In his final weeks, he was afforded a visit from his brother, who was also imprisoned.  I was moved to tears as he implored his brother to change … to do better.

They prayed together and again, I wanted to hold that man.

The filmmakers followed him from couch to crematorium.

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The men that stayed by his side – who washed him and changed him – were getting perhaps a first lesson in humility, selflessness and compassion.

I say perhaps, because I don’t know that to be true.

But if it wasn’t their first lesson – it was definitely a powerful  experience that would leave a profound impression.

Even the warden admitted during his interview that he couldn’t do it.  That he had admiration for the men who could.

Those men got past their fears and became angels.

There was change.

There was deep regret for the lives they had taken.

There was respect for the process of dying.

Had these men been part of such a program prior to their crimes – would they have committed them?

I wondered with heavy heart about that too.

How does someone value life when they themselves are born into a world that does not value them?

When you’re raised to feel as if you are a statistic, a stereotype, a burden – where do you find worth within that gives you the strength to want to accomplish good things for yourself, let alone others?

There are those that do find it.  People who beat the odds.

I find that to be amazing and inspiring.

I have always been incredibly in awe of those who overcome adversity because they made a choice to do so.

I also think that by choosing to be part of the hospice program and being of service to the dying – the men documented in this film have done the same thing.

Some will have a chance to live that change in the outside world – some will not.

But I don’t think it came too late – it’s wonderful that it came at all – they learned the value of life through comforting the dying.

Tangled, tongue-tied. And how friends are like combs …

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Well, well, well.

Once again, the universe responded to my venting with a loving, ‘why do you keep forgetting that you are not forgotten?!’ moment.

I don’t know how many more of them I get – so I should probably fix whatever it is that needs fixing before I use them all up.

After the dam broke, I flailed a little in the deluge of feelings until I came up for air gasping.

Having purged onto my blog – I found the motivation to check on dinner.  I was plating when my dog started barking – unable to ‘nose’ her way out, I left the kitchen to open the front door for her.

She startled as a friend of mine came walking in.

(This gives me pause for thought by the way – Butters the Brave is never going to be inscribed on her collar.  Any serial killers out there should probably know that they have safe passage into my house simply by stepping around the barking manatee – could you just not wake me up to kill me?  Thanks.)

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I didn’t startle.

This is the sort of friend that does just walk in.  And I like it.

I compared her after our chat to Batman.   (okay, mostly I was chatting and she was listening – which was just what I needed)

Only better – because I never have to put a signal up into the sky – she just seems to know when I need her.  She’s like a Jedi friend.  She senses a disturbance in the force and just shows up.

“I came to check on you – you didn’t look good Monday.”

Did I mention she also doesn’t pull any punches?

She had come into the office on business, shortly after I had been on the curb trying to steady my heart and my breathing and regain the vision in my right eye.

We had stood around the candy bowl in the reception area and chatted for a little while.

Last night we reenacted that scene – only on my couches with my little candy bowl between us.

It was sweet.

(Sorry – couldn’t resist)

After I purged and she listened – occasionally offering insight – I felt so much better.

But what I noticed was that I have the hardest time orally.  I can never adequately sum up what is running through my odd little head when it comes to speaking.

My mind is trying to process what it is I’m thinking and feeling and why, the whole time I’m trying to form a sentence!

And I just can’t ever find the right words.

I’m analyzing everything that I know I want to say, before I say it.

This results in me being 10 thoughts ahead of the one that I started to convey when I opened my mouth.  It’s bonkers.  I get tongue-tied.

I was reminded of my poem Mute.

So true.

The most wonderful thing about thinking out loud to a friend is that the problems start to loosen and all the confusing knots start to get worked out.  Friends are like combs.

I couldn’t put my finger on exactly WHAT was the source of my sadness – but we got closer.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating:  Unless I acknowledge  what’s bothering me – examine it and find a solution – it’s not going to go away.  And I don’t grow.

Constantly stuffing my feelings and ignoring problems with a fake smile – doesn’t get me anywhere and only results in more tangles.

Another friend, who just returned from Germany (God I missed her!) sent me a quote today that I loved.

“To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee” – William H. Walton.

So true.

And not just for grudges.  To carry a fear or any unresolved issue will eventually diminish your capacity to live your life to the fullest and eat away at your serenity.

So what have I learned this time?

  • I don’t have to be alone.  I choose it – I need to choose to let people in
  • Butters is a useless guard dog
  • Candy bowls make for great conversation  center pieces
  • I need to work on my verbal communication skills
  • No more stuffing my feelings

And most importantly, I have the most amazing friends.

Now, if I had antibiotics for my ears, I’d be golden.

Pitypause

I’m going through a mild case of ‘pitypause’ again.

Not to be confused with menopause – there are no night sweats, but mood swings are similar.

Pitypause comes and goes – symptoms include sadness, insomnia, unusual desire for cake and decreased desire for conversation.  Which, for this Chatty Cathy is quite eerie to those around me.

Yes, pitypause affects others.

There is a cure.

It’s called ‘Count-Your-Blessings’.  It’s effective 99.9% of the time.

I was in danger once more of losing my last marble this weekend.  So I took action!

The marbles I bought a while ago,  to replace the ones I lost during my last bout of pitypause, have been safely placed in a happy looking bottle.

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I’m keeping a close eye on them .  I think it apropos to place them next to light.  My marbles need all the positive energy they can get.

If  someone you know is going through pitypause – be patient, offer an ear, a hug and push cake at them … from a safe distance.