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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Real Life Masks

So, I've been trying to think of what I wanted to talk about this week and I have to say that the only thing that really stuck out in my mind was how things have changed.  It's not just that I've grown up or that I've had more "real world" experience.  No, it's about how things have changed as time has gone on.  I grew up mostly in less urban, more rural areas.

I grew up in the '90s.  No, I didn't get into drugs or going to parties all the time where alcohol was a staple.  I also never really worried about being labeled.  I was teased enough by my cousins about my mud-like hair, though my sister's hair was the same and they referred to it as "more chocolatey", my lack of being normal, and my inability to be as they thought I should.

I loved playing basketball and the school I attended at first was very encouraging.  Then we moved.  This new town had basketball teams, but as I aged I learned that it was more a male's sport and the girls were supposed to cheer or play volleyball.  If they wanted to play basketball, they needed the money to be allowed the privilege at a local community center.  At ten years old, I didn't really understand, nor did I want to.  I had moved to Illinois from South Carolina.  In S.C., I had learned to keep my differences hidden as much as possible and that I was likely to be blamed for things that went wrong.

Anything against the rules was my fault, according to my baby-sitter and her son who was my age.  If I tried to tell my mother or dad what happened, they didn't have time to listen.  In fact the only times I really got praised was if I managed to keep quiet and out of the way.  Then as I got older I was expected to anticipate what the adults, whether it was a teacher, relative, or someone else, expected out of me.  At one point I was proud of my school and tried to keep things clean.  My family never realized it, but I despised messes.  Clean was queen.  The problem? I became the scapegoat.

No, seriously.  I was the scapegoat.  Lily* has a tantrum?  Ency caused it.  Janine's* dolls are missing?  Ency hid them.  Michael's* being chased by a hammer-wielding Ency?  She's in a bad mood again.  Sylvia's* hair's been cut?  Ency did it while she was sleeping.  The girls' bedroom is a mess?  Ency trashed it.  The kids were late for school?  Ency took forever to get ready.

They forget about the reason behind the behavior.  Lily didn't get her way, because the toy she wanted was mine and I was playing with it.  Janine misplaced her dolls or hid them so no one else could play with them.  Sylvia cut her own chopped off hair and refused to get in trouble for doing such a bad job.  The really bad thing, in my opinion, is the things that were forgotten even by my siblings.  Michael had chased Sylvia with previously stated hammer, before I could wrench it out of his hands.  I only chased him because he wanted to end it there without apologizing for terrifying Sylvia out of her mind.  I never threw our toys or books around the room.  Cards, sure.  I'd be playing fifty-two card pick-up because neither my siblings nor cousins wanted to play with me.  The reason I took my time?  The one morning after being ready for school I got the nerve to ask my mother if we could go to school early(I really wanted to play on the jungle gym!) she asked if I was ready.  I told her yes because I was.  She told me I was allowed to go early.  I got in trouble upon arriving home because I went without Janine or Lily.  What does that tell a girl?  I was excited, but I wasn't allowed to go to school because my sisters couldn't decide on the outfit they wished to wear.

I could get really good grades on a project, and win the project to take home, but even after promising to showcase it, it always paled to anything my siblings did.  Now things have changed.  I still get treated differently, but it's because I have no children or driver's license.  It's because I don't have a college degree and my dreams that I thought I once had no longer exist.

These changes aren't new.  Things I once loved like family and conservation, became my family members focus when I finally stopped trying.  I took pride in my family, once upon a time.  Now, I distance myself and avoid them because they were never there when I needed them, but expected me to drop everything and do what I could for them.  Sure my husband and I lived with my mother for a few years when we couldn't stand staying with our hypocritical friends any longer.  But she still expected way too much out of us when I barely kept myself sane as it was.

Everyone has masks.  This statement, no matter what anyone says, is true.  Even a baby has a mask.  It's the mask of innocence.  The inability to communicate their needs and wants using the words they will one day learn, unless they happen to be mute.  In my case I have multiple masks that all change as time goes by.  I can guarantee that most adults whom are no longer in the teenage years have at least three masks to cover who they are.  There's the them they present to family.  This one conforms to what is expected by what they have constantly repeated.  These expectations have been reinforced by things family have done or said over the course of the person's life.  In my case, it's to be strong, emotionally, and violent.  I can't be right about anything except spelling and the little nuggets of information I have in my head are inconsequential.  When it comes right down to it, I don't matter as much as others in my family or even my husband.

Then there's friends.  It started with the first impression and rumors, things they knew not to trust but until they could prove that they would be there through thick and thin, they had to expect.  It's also the things you believe they think because of the way they were raised.  For me, it's once again violence and emotionally strong.  There's also a strange humor and a willingness to say whatever I feel though tactfully.  A leader willing to follow until the need for a leader becomes so strong my willingness to be patient runs out.  It's pretending to enjoy something I hate because my friend's friend, whom I have never before met, has just been through a nasty break up.  It's a second mask.

Then there's the mask you use in the face of strangers and for first impressions.  Mine happens to be very friendly.  No violence is required unless in defense.  It's outgoing and all smiles.  Sometimes it's an annoying facade since even a remotely bad mood is noted.  However it can usually also be noticed by the observant that it's a false smile.  There isn't anything wrong with it, after all "smiles go for miles," but sometimes a person just needs to cry.  Sometimes they have a bad day and don't wish to speak of it.  Sometimes a person doesn't wish to deal with strangers.

When I was growing up, each of these masks were started.  They kept getting refined to the point that I no longer knew who I was or what I wanted.  That period of self-discovery most teens go through?  Yeah, I skipped.  In fact, I went from a joking conversationalist in preschool who did everything they could to protect others against cruelty(Think you can tease the black girls?  Ency will scream you out.  Think you can throw ice at Lily?  Ency will get even with you for her, and you'll have the marks to prove it.  I was a big believer in the only do unto others as you would have done to you.) to someone who stopped believing in the good of humanity but managed to pretend and keep herself busy.

Anyway I better stop there as I'm getting tired and need sleep.  My next rant will likely be related to America's Independence Day, the Fourth of July.  Hope everyone has a happy Fourth of July!

*Names are changed to protect the actual people portrayed.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Stereotypes on Father's Day

Last Sunday was Father's Day.  I missed posting my Sunday rant thanks to real life (hereafter in any rant RL,) but there was an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that caught my eye. This was supposed to be last Sunday's rant.  Defying Stereotypes was the headline which I thought was cool then I read the subheading: Study shows black fathers are just as involved as other dads in parenting their children - even when they live apart.

Okay...so I never heard anything about black fathers being less of a dad than mine, nor did I hear derogatory things about other races' male parental figures.  Then I thought what is a stereotype?  According to the Merriam-Webster website a stereotype is "to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same" or "an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic."

So essentially, our nation is based upon stereotypes and trying to outrun them.  We've had the prohibition era which was full of stereotyping.  We learned about the "savage" Native Americans.  We even learned about "evil" Nazis and how their main goal was to rid the world of Jews (which is a religion, not a race) using stereotyping(Jews weren't human, brown hair and eyes was Jew, etc.).  

Even our entertainment includes stereotypes.  In Harry Potter, it's symbolized by the house partitions in Hogwarts.  Tamora Pierce emphasizes it in her Circle of Magic series/set with a noble, thief, tradesman, and nomad.  Then she does so in her Tortall set stories with the men vs. women issues.  And she shows it through both knights-in-training and police force.  She also shows the stereotypes about different areas that they travel amongst.  From the Lower City of Corus to the Scanran raiders to the north.  In Twilight (which honestly I don't like) Stephanie Meyer throws most of what is known about werewolves and vampires out the window.  Perhaps she did her research to find these different kinds of creatures, but hers aren't the stereotypical which had caused arguments to spawn across readers and movie-goers about whether the stories were any good.

Then there are the stereotypes about items.  One that I personally tend to agree with is when a book is made into a movie, the book is always better.  That however isn't always true.  Sometimes they are just as good, my biggest book to movie adaptation let-down?  The Harry Potter series.  The disappointment began all the way back with movie number one.  I was looking forward to the logic problem scene.  That and Hermione's impassioned speech about how there is more to life than books and cleverness.  The third movie in my opinion was the largest let-down, of course my expectations weren't nearly as high after that for the rest of the movies, so for me the disappointments weren't nearly as devastating.

Although Ella Enchanted, I thought, was well done.  There are likely others that don't fit the proverbial mold.  The fact that we still allow ourselves to follow stereotypes managed to upset me.  I fit numerous stereotypes without actually fitting them.

Yes, I game, but I'm not a hardcore gamer.  Yes, I know random trivial facts, but I don't follow any particular trivia type.  Yes, I watch drama and chick flicks.  I have my favored actors and actresses, but unless it relates to what they are doing next in their careers, I don't really care.  The whole Lewinski thing back in the late nineties, why did it matter if it didn't affect his job?  I mean I could understand if Clinton were say a priest or minister or an advocate for monogamous relationships, but why was seemingly everyone so concerned with whether or not he had had sexual relations with Lewinski?  Then again the fact that he lied while under oath?  That was a felony.  We've gotten to a point where if we hear someone is a politician, we automatically don't trust them quite as much.  I can't tell the number of times I've heard the phrase "No such thing as an honest politician."  Isn't this just another stereotype?  

How about the abused will become the abuser?  I know a fair few people who have been either abused or neglected as a child and never had the help we claim they should have had.  They've been doing just fine.  So how is it that when claiming something like defying stereotypes the article only focuses one particular stereotype?  Not just any stereotype either, it's the the stereotype of black fathers being less fatherly than others.  So why is it that stereotypes are so much a part of our lives and society?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Tyranny through Shame for what we Read?

I had a different rant planned for my Sunday regular, but I recently read a certain article that just kind of annoyed me. So I started this rant and by the time I was done typing it up, it was Sunday morning.

Ze Frank's video about yucking one's yum is spot on for more than just a response to Ruth Graham's article telling adults that they should be ashamed of reading Young Adult (YA) fiction.

I am 27 years old and read Agatha Christie back in third grade. I also read Mary Higgins Clark back then, and while they were great to read, I have yet to reread any of them. I love Lillian Jackson Braun's The Cat Who series and pretty much anything by Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, or Tamora Pierce. Now, Tamora Pierce is considered YA. Sherrrilyn Kenyon has a series that is a shoot-off of some of her others and is considered YA. I was 11 when Harry Potter was released in the US where I live. I stuck with it to the end and while the first book or three is geared more towards the younger YA, books 5, 6, and 7 can really pull the feels from you, though 6 was rather slow...

Anyway, to me the gist of Graham's article was that we do not have a thing known as free will (which is something that is actually kind of big in Pierce's Tortall set books). As a child that was kind of known (at least for most kids) to be odd, it was very upsetting. As a child, one's parents tell you what you are allowed and discipline you. However, they also let you know that as an adult, you have control of your life. Perhaps it's society that says that however, seeing as I know some people still live by their parents' edicts.

The biggest thing they warn against is giving in to peer pressure. And isn't that what Graham is saying one should do? "Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children." she claims in her article. It might be taken a little out of context when I ask if parents should be ashamed to read to their kids, as I believe she meant it for their own personal reading, but still it's a form of peer pressure.

I hated Twilight. I read them, found that while it had its moments, I couldn't understand all the changes Meyer made to what essentially made a vampire. I mean it's one thing if she did the actual research about them and found it, or if she, as several authors have done in the past, created her own version of a vampire, but it didn't feel like she had more information about them. It doesn't mean I told people they were stupid for enjoying it, but I did admit that I thought it was a waste of time. And yes I would have loved if Jaden would just destroy them or Simi would barbecue them. Perhaps one of the Carpathians could take them out.

Sadly none of that would happen. While I haven't been able to bring myself to read or watch Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, or even The Fault in Our Stars, I'm not going to say that people should be ashamed to have read them because of their genre. I was reading Harlequin novels in the fifth grade, and wasn't ashamed to admit it. I loved fantasy novels when I found them, and though my mother didn't want it in her house, yes, I played D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). I didn't do it because my friends did, nor because I was a rebel. For as long as I could remember I had been fascinated with mythology and fantasy, magic and folklore. So these were great for me. When I found The Circle of Magic series and Protector of the Small by Tamora Pierce, my mother got me Magic Steps for Christmas. I was ecstatic. That was better than even the suitcase of Harlequin novels that I had previously envied my older sister for getting. It was never really a competition though for which books we liked who would get what.

I mean I read the Couples series as well as the required high school reading (and absolutely hated the ending of Lord of the Flies, but thoroughly enjoyed Great Gatsby) and Isobel Bird's Circle of Three series. It became a joke that I had read our local library and those of the Inter-library loan program's entire stock of books! But I didn't hide what I read. I tried to read various westerns and science fiction and had a hard time with them, but I loved A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
As we grow our likes and dislikes change. I have four siblings and my younger ones always had a hard time meeting the school requirements for reading. I don't think it was because they had a hard time reading the books they found either. It was because the subject matter didn't appeal to them. While I loved reading literally anything I could get my hands on, my other siblings and even most of my friends couldn't. In fact the only books I had to force myself to read or stopped reading because I couldn't get into them were The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Hunchback of Notre by Alexandre Dumas, and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and it wasn't because I wasn't satisfied with their endings.

She even states, "But even the myriad defenders of YA fiction admit that the enjoyment of reading this stuff has to do with escapism, instant gratification, and nostalgia." I can't help but wonder if she's read anything by Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce, Cate Tiernan or Lynne Ewing. Only one of which I have to search the fantasy section for. I know what I want when I find a new book to read or show to watch.

Should I not watch kids and teen movies or TV series because I'm an adult? Should I be ashamed that I enjoyed Frozen when I finally got around to watching it? Should I only listen to the music I grew up hearing? As I previously mentioned, people's tastes change as they age and experience new things.
Of course people use YA for escapism, anything that is read or watched that is fiction has always been an escape from what our lives are like. People read to have adventure, romance, and mystery in their lives that they know will have a fairly happy ending, at least most of the time.

Don't get me wrong, there are some things that probably should not have happened (Titanic the Musicals, for two), but does that really give someone the right to tell someone else that they must be a slave to whatever stereotype or peer pressure thing is being pushed upon them? Should we say that because someone is a brunette and has brown eyes, they should not exist or that those of Oriental decent should not live in a certain country? How about those of a certain color or size or orientation or faith? Because if so, hello, welcome back to some of the worst things in history: WWII, American Concentration Camps, and slavery. It may seem extreme, but that is exactly what it ends up leading to.

No, I don't have a degree from any college or university, yet, but even I can see that as long as we're willing to tell people what they should and shouldn't do when it's harmless and not illegal is in an obscure way a form of bullying. I'm not saying her opinion doesn't matter or that I think she's an idiot. She has some decent points in that "There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader...But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something."

My bookshelf isn't just filled with YA, there's paranormal romance, paranormal mystery, mystery, romance, and even some historical fictions on it as well as numerous pieces of nonfiction. My DVD collection and what I watch on Netflix and Hulu are even more varied. I may not be huge in the things that are mainstream, but I loved Transformers as a kid and superheroes though I never really "geeked out" to them. I can't make myself watch Star Wars or Star Trek unless somebody has already started it. I religiously watched So Weird, Xena, Diagnosis Murder, and Sailor Moon. I tried with Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Captain Planet, Digimon, and Dragonball Z. That was as a child. While my tastes have changed and some of them I now find childish, it doesn't stop me from enjoying the main storylines from them. Even The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne is interesting to me. I even kidnapped my brother's Alex Rider books written by Anthony Horowitz from time to time. I enjoyed them, but they happen to be YA as well. Those of us who were eleven when the Harry Potter books started and stuck with it to the end were in our twenties when the final book was released. Does that mean we should be ashamed?

It's not just the books that it seems to me we are supposed to be ashamed of. To me it feels as though Graham is saying that whatever you are labeled is the stereotype you should stick with and you should be ashamed of yourself if you break it. I might be reading too much into what she wrote, but as I said if we start to let others dictate to us with the simple things like what we personally should enjoy, then where are we going to draw the line in what we allow them to tell us.

I didn't fit into a stereotype, and luckily, I didn't care if I did. I was in band, loved basketball (and until I broke my ankle tried to play every chance I got!) was in various debate clubs, was a co-founder of our school's debate club(which after about five years was removed because the president of the time felt she couldn't handle the duties and didn't even try to find a replacement before telling the sponsoring teacher) in the recycling club and Planeteers, was a member of JILG (Jobs for Illinois Graduates) and much more. I had also been in FFA, French and Spanish Clubs/classes, and Chorus. I know it's not really a lot of clubs to spend any combination of time of my high school years in, but for me, I felt I shouldn't apply for jobs and then I couldn't get my license (which I still don't have!), and in general couldn't do much outside of them. I kind of gave up on sports after I couldn't get on my middle school volleyball team after my ankle healed, in part because I'm too lazy to force myself to do proper work-outs. I never had to before. I wasn't a straight A student or teacher's pet, but neither was I the class rebel or clown. Trust me, our class knew the majority of our classmates and with a class of over two hundred that's pretty good when you don't see the majority of them daily and you know the names of several other schoolmates (band and choir, only about sixty or seventy grade mates and about seventy-five total in both, and this is over the course of four years.) So I never really could be stereotyped. I wasn't gorgeous or rich or popular in the normal senses of the words, but sometimes I think I did it on purpose.

I could put make-up on properly if I tried, I just didn't care. If I had applied myself to my classes I could have been valedictorian, possibly, at least I'd have been high honor roll, but I didn't really have a place I felt comfortable doing schoolwork and I preferred reading to doing that work. I'd already become an expert at sitting right in front of the teachers and reading a random other novel, working on another classes work or writing something other than my notes. I managed to stay just under that radar of stereotype, yet most of my classmates likely remember who I was.

Not because I gave in to them saying I shouldn't read the books I wanted or calling me names to make me ashamed ( I hated my hair back then, this curly, knotty mass of brown, much like Hermione's and one of my friends even gave it a name, which we sometimes refer to it as.) that never really worked.  I chose the things I liked and stuck with them, at least until my tastes had changed.  I had already tried to conform once and found reading to be my escape and as I read, I learned conforming just wasn't right.  School talked to us about peer pressure and I learned about slavery and eventually I understood.

I didn't figure it out overnight though.  It took me a few years before I realized that I should just do as I wished, everyone else be damned.  So as I finished school I realized I had become rather proficient at hiding what I really felt.  No one, absolutely no one had ever realized about several of my darker feelings and days.  If I had done as Graham claims and been ashamed for reading things that were interesting to me, I never would have picked up Tamora Pierce's novels or Harry Potter.  I don't want to live in a world that tells me I should be ashamed because I have free will.  I sure as hell don't want any of my nieces, nephews, or future children (if I ever have any) to have to feel ashamed because of who they are, what they like, or what they do.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Poor Service at a Buffet?

I went to one of two local Chinese buffets for lunch today, and I, for one, don't care for Chinese.  However this one time I really just wanted some decent Chinese.  Hell, I would have settled for slightly better than mediocre!  The place I went to though, let's just say they used to be a lot betterand I'd have been better off making it at home.

First, I should say this rant isn't a review about the place though it was a barely mediocre meal.  No, the fact that it's a buffet means that one would except less than stellar service, however when the place is dead, the tea tastes weeks old, and you have to stare at a random server for several minutes before getting service, I doubt you can really say that it was the best experience.

No, the fact of the matter is that it was a horrible experience that I would fear repeating.  I don't care that the employees were obviously more comfortable in a language other than English.The fact that my husband had to wait for several minutes before getting his drink refilled is wrong.  This isn't the first time either and I've worked in a luncheon place before.  Yes keeping up on refills can be hard if it's busy and they are doing more than just clearing tables, doing busywork, seating people and taking their drink orders.

Apparently when a person has their kids with them at work in this place it's perfectly okay to ignore the customers, you know who those are don't you?  Customers are the people who make up the whole reason you have a job that lets you pay the bills.  The tips they leave are based upon the service they received.  It's not a definite thing, but when those whose pay is supplemented by tips which are based upon performance, it usually leads to a better experience overall.

If the service or fare is bad why should a person leave any kind of tip much less return for a repeat performance?  I can't tell the number of times that I've needed a refill and not gotten one at buffets!  And it's not like they happen to be swarmed at that moment either.  In fact every time I've been to Golden Corral, things have been busy and I've only ever had to track down someone for a drink refill once.  I'm twenty-seven years old and have four siblings, most younger.  I don't remember ever having issues when we'd go to Ponderosa either.  In fact, it's been rare, but when it happens and starts to seem a regular thing it gets annoying.  Then a couple came in after us and when we were beyond ready to go, they get their check, but we were still waiting for ours!

Is the really good service reserved for families and those who look they'll tip extremely well?  If so, maybe it's a good thing we rarely go out, because we usually give a decent tip.  Always a minimum of ten percent unless the service and fare are so bad as to upset us terribly.  I've been on both sides and yes I look at just how busy the place is before giving them the benefit of a doubt.  If it's extremely busy, then yes, I give quite a bit of slack, but when there's a total of five tables at a buffet and the servers are staring right at you and even ignore when you ask for something specific (like no ice in soda or extra sugar packets), well in that case you really don't deserve my repeat business.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Zoo in the Summer

So, I love going to the zoo.  As a kid, my grandparents used to take us every summer to the St. Louis Zoo and it was totally AWESOME!  Even if we didn't see all the exhibits we at least walked over the entire zoo before eating lunch at Forest Park and then going to Carlyle Lake where we would eat dinner or returning to the zoo before going home.

Last year, in an attempt to get some animal pictures for My Project Noah(which I have yet to post!) my other half and I tried to spend the morning in the zoo.  I say try because while we got there just as they opened, it was mid-July and we had gone on a Friday morning.  It was a stop on our way to Chicago for our first ever trip to Medieval Times.  We had a pretty decent parking spot, within sight of the entrance.

I had forgotten about how busy and loud it can be, though!  Not only that but I'm no longer a child more intrigued by what's going on around me than annoyed so when children are blocking my view of the perfect picture of a random reptile or fish I would get aggravated.  That's nothing though when combined with the screams of babies, parents calling for their kids, and the most annoying: children making demands of not only their friends, siblings or cousins, but their parents.

Now don't get me wrong, I love kids, most of the time.  I have approximately ten nieces and nephews and don't get to see them nearly often enough.  I also know that the zoo is a great cheap if not completely free (you have to find a way to get there when you don't live within walking distance.) all day activity for kids.  I loved learning about wildlife of all kinds growing up though I am horrible at knowing what is what specifically.  I even rewrote informational texts from encyclopedias and had those wildlife cards (though I do believe I stole most of them from my older sister's collection.  She only kept the ones she didn't already have a copy of or that she liked.) when I was young.  Wish I still had those wildlife cards!

Anyway, I found that even though they've done some awesome things, like the underground section(which reminded both of us of Willy Wonka) on the train and the Sea Lion Sound Cove, it's a horrible idea to go there during the summer because the crowds are enormous, the noise level is as bad as any concert and trying to see the exhibits?  Well, let's leave that to the children!