Archive for October, 2010

Welcome back

Thanks, it’s been awhile.  I keep inventing blog posts in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep, and then forgetting them in the morning.  So, until I can think of something (at least semi) worthwhile to chat about, I’d like to present you with two videos with messages very dear to my heart.  The first makes the case that women’s obsession with thin-ness and beauty is a public health problem, something I’ve felt is true for a very long time.  People pay lip service to this notion all the time, but it never gets the attention that this so-called obesity epidemic does.  The second, relatedly, is not in my favorite art form — slam poetry — but resonates with me and is something that I imagine trying as hard as I possibly can to impress upon my imaginary daughter. 

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Of miners and mistresses

I’m so relieved that the Chilean miners are on their way out!  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be trapped underground for an hour, much less almost 70 days or whatever it’s been.  I can barely tolerate that I don’t have a window in my office (though I was promised nearly six years ago that it wouldn’t be “long” before I got one) — no natural light for months!  Egads.

What do you talk about with the same 32 other people for that long?  I suppose that’s kind of a lot of people, but still.  How many arguments were there?  Did they keep regular sleeping hours?  Eating hours?  Quiet time?  I heard something about one guy was going on up to six mile runs.  How does that work? 

I can’t imagine having someone I love underground for all that time, either.  And I really never imagined that this would be a problem.  Hmm.

And thanks to Aaron for this op-ed on the frustrating Senate race.

It gets better

That’s the phrase circulating around facebook, television and other media outlets right now.  It’s a nice, calming slogan attempting to abate what feels like a crisis.  The recent suicides of Hope Witsell, Asher Brown, Phoebe Prince, Raymond Chase, Seth Walsh and Tyler Clementi, all teenagers, have us reeling.  Bullying, and specifically cyberbulling, are all over the news right now.  You can’t turn on a news program or go online to a news site without seeing at least one story about this horrible problem.

But it’s not new.  Of course, the cyber aspect is relatively new, and there are probably more ways to bully now than ever before, but bullying has been around forever.  And ever.  And ever.

I was bullied in middle school.  I wasn’t bullied for being gay or for being sexually active.  All the same, though, I was bullied for being what, ultimately, all kids are bullied for: for being me.  Girls that had been my friends decided — at some secret recess meeting, I’d always imagined — that I was not good enough to hang out with them anymore and that I should be shunned.  Of course, no one told me this directly, but their indirect manner of communication could not have been more clear or hurtful. 

I remember, one incident in particular: it was seventh grade and I had approached our science teacher, who was also in charge of the bowling team, to sign up for the bowling team that I had been on the year before with friends I’d known for years.  She looked at me with sympathy bordering on — and maybe it was — pity.  She told me my former teammates had already formed the team without me and there was no more room on it.  I’m pretty sure I was about to walk away from her without dropping a tear, but I know the tears were just moments from letting loose.  I think the only thing that stopped the flood was my shock.  It was really happening.  I couldn’t pretend anymore.  My friends had left me.  And they hadn’t even left a note.

These former friends TP-d my house several times, keyed my parents’ car, left nasty notes for me and generally made me feel scared, confused and completely alone.  I wasn’t sure what I had done.  I didn’t know what had changed.  I didn’t know how to fix it.  I didn’t know that it would ever be fixed.

I made new friends, but the sting still stung.  And I felt insecure in a way that I had never felt before.  I felt like the ground had given out beneath me and that I would never be on stable soil with sure-footing again.  My parents discussed sending me to a different school.  My teachers looked at me with sympathy and tried to tell me things like, “Buck up.”  I made vain efforts to connect with my old chums, but I was rebuffed and excluded.  Seventh and eighth grades were the two worst years of my life.

I felt so alone and so scared.  It felt like things would never change, that I would always be outcast and never feel safe.  Even my new friends felt temporary, like they were just sheltering me for a short time.  I ate alone at lunch and I stopped participating in class.  I remember with such particularity the shift in me with regard to participation.  In our eighth grade French class, we were already asked to speak only in French.  My first semester I really tried to do just that.  I think I must have been one of the only ones who tried because I remember our teacher singling me out as a good example, “Class, essaye d’etre plus comme Kate, parle seulement en francais.”  By second semester, though, my name was on the board week after week, indicating someone who was being reprimanded for lack of participation.

I remember mumbling answers in social studies, since I hadn’t yet stopped wanting to talk in class, and having other students hear me, raise their hands and repeat what I had said.  And get acclaim, of course, for doing so.  It was at this time that I also started twisting and, eventually, pulling out my hair.

And then high school came.  And it got better.  I made new friends and made amends with some of my old friends.  And it got better.  It was still hard sometimes, but the bullying stopped, the pranks stopped, the indirect cruelty just stopped.  And it got better.  I didn’t know what I had done.   I didn’t know why things had changed.  I  knew only that, slowly,  things had changed and things were better.  Much better.

If I could talk to any kid that is suffering at the hands of other kids, I would tell her, “It really does get better.  I promise.”  I know these kids feel so awful and so scared and cannot see a better future, but it is out there.  But if they can make it through the horrible storm of being a teenager, they will grow into an adult who is stronger than they ever thought was possible.

As much as this part of my childhood still has the power to make me sad, I am grateful for it.  I think that it has made me a more empathetic, kinder person than I would have been otherwise.  I think I am more sensitive and perceptive than I would have been without the pain.  And I know that I am stronger for it. 

I learned that worrying about what others think of me does me no good.  Because that opinion can change with the wind.  Whether I change or not, others’ perceptions of me may and I cannot control that.  So I do not worry about them and, instead, worry about how I am living my life.  Am I being kind?  Am I giving?  Am I strong?  When I can answer yes to those questions is when I feel at peace.  And no bullying or ridicule will change that.


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