This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Growing Up In A Gun Society

In July of 1984, I was 15 years old, getting ready to start my freshman year at the ginormous high school at Homestead Senior High in Florida City, Florida (it appears to have a Homestead city address but if you look on the map, it's really Florida City...but whatever).

I remember clearly this, WARNING - EXTREMELY DISTURBING, photograph on the front page of the newspaper from the San Ysidro McDonald's Massacre. The young boy, lying dead next to his bicycle, the image haunted me for a long time. Even at 15, I was struck with the rumination disorder, along with my empathy and walking in someone's footsteps. How did that boy feel when that was happening? How did those police officers feel when they came to the scene? What was Huberty thinking when he saw that boy and did what he did? Why did he do what he did? How can anyone feel such anger to people he doesn't even know?

It would be one of many mass shootings that unfortunately, I would grow up with. This is an era of mass murder. I'm not sure if I really focused on the fact that Huberty had a 9 mm uzi semi-automatic as one of his weapons during his rampage of killing 21 people, which was the worst massacre in US history until 1991, when George Hennard drove his truck through the front window of Luby's and murdered 23 people.

But Friday's beyond-horrific event reminded me of these other "there-really-is-no-hell-because-we're-living-it" and all these other travesties that I grew up with, and unfortunately, still 'grow' up my children now are.

When I was a teen, I was so gung-ho anti-gun. I didn't grow up in house full of guns, nor did my dad talk about being pro-gun. It wasn't a conversation we had in the house. Ironic because my dad made bombs for a living and I was surrounded by EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) folks, who my dad worked with. My dad would show me various ways I could make explosives, which I ignored because, well, he's my dad and as his daughter, that kind of stuff was boring to me. NOW, I wish I had listened, not because I want to make bombs but because the knowledge is fascinating and interesting to me.

I was also very anti-hunting. Save the animals! Then I moved to Guam in 1985 and, while the island is small, they do hunt on the island and some of my friends did. I didn't agree and I was still somewhat anti-hunting but I didn't think they were bad people for doing it. They seemed to really _like_ their food...I sure the hell wasn't going to eat it but I was slacking on my judgement for people who hunt.

In time, I would meet more family that were hunters, and more friends and I pretty much gave up on the anti-hunting slant. Just don't make me eat it. It's hard enough to accept the fact that I eat Wilbur, Bessie, and Chicken Little but I refuse to eat anything outside of those food groups (in the meat category). I don't give a rat's ass if it tastes like heaven, I do not want to eat it on principle. It's fine for those of you that like lamb, gator, venison, bull nuts, crocodile tears, whatever. I don't judge you for it. Don't judge me because I don't want to taste it. Don't sneak it on my plate and tell me it's something else just so you can get a laugh because I say it's great and go HAHA! It's really squirrel tail!!! I KNEW you'd like it! Because that's not the point. I know I may like some of it. I. Don't. Want. To. Eat. It. Think of me as something like a Muslim that can't eat pork based on religion. I don't want to eat anything like that based on my own fucked up ethical principal. If you sneak it on me. I will not think it's funny. I will be offended.

Okay. Back to this...

So, I was extremely anti-gun. Never heard my dad speak about being pro-gun or anti-gun. But I guess he couldn't be anti-gun because he was a military guy and he fought in the war. But because I'm pretty literal and don't think really about the next pool shot, I never put two-and-two together and just thought about my own little world.

Then I met Tim. When I met Tim (also a military man), he was a security policeman (SP) in the Air Force. While we were dating, guns never came up. And since we dated for two months THEN got married (no, I wasn't pregnant), we really didn't have a lot of time to talk about our philosophies, hopes, ethics, morals, etc.  I don't know when guns came into the conversation but imagine my surprise when he said he WASN'T for gun control. WHAT????

I made my argument. Blue in the face. And back then, Tim was very patient with me. I remember how very calm he was about the whole thing. But essentially, it was "Sweetie. I'm a cop. I use a gun. I have to have a gun. We will have guns in the house." And I then realized, I was defeated.

But defeated is not the right word. Living with Tim changed my stance. Not because he brainwashed me but because he helped me evolve. And this is where my stance is now. And I'm here to tell you, surprisingly, we still disagree. He'll have to tell you himself what his stance is but he's certainly not pro-NRA. It's much more sophisticated than that. But I can tell you my little naive way of where I think gun control should go. And let me tell you first, and foremost: I know NOTHING about guns...but a little more than those who have no exposure to guns and I think you need to study up on your guns before you speak about 'em.

It's pretty simple: No one should have assault weapons except the military or police force (or anyone that needs these type of weapons...this is just my CYA on). Assault weapons are meant to kill people. Period. Military (and whoever are meant to kill people) are trained to use these weapons for the sole reason of killing people. These weapons should be reserved only for those trained to use them. I don't think an uzi is necessary to kill deer.

For other types of guns, I don't know much about them. I don't know about semi-automatic pistols like the Glock used by the dude at Luby's. I mean that literally. And as I've said before. I use the word literally in it's literal use.

But what I think gun control cannot do is what very few have spoken to but two very brilliant and brave people have posted. One a very smart dude that barely posts anything on FB and another, one of MiMi's preschool teachers...and that's mental healthcare.

I don't sympathize with Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, or Eric Harris. But I empathize. Could any of this ever be prevented? We will never ever ever know. But I strongly believe our mental healthcare in the U.S. is in strong need of help, especially in our young.

Tim and I met a guy that works as a psychiatrist at the Federal Correctional Facility in Butner, NC. Man, this dude was amazing. I could have talked to him forever. But what he said to us about the people he meets was eye-opening. He meets kids. The people incarcerated there that he sees are mainly late teens and early 20s who are suffering from mental disorders. He went into technical psychology details but essentially, these types of disorders do not get treated and many times, don't really showcase themselves until right at these ages. He was sad for them that they end up in prison.

I know some of you out there that I went to high school know that we knew people like Dylan and Eric. But for whatever reason, these guys stayed on the right side. And I don't mean that they turned out OK but they didn't kill 13 classmates. Did they get help? I don't know because I didn't see that kind of help available when I was a teen. But something 'right' kept them from going ballistic.

So gun control will help. But we need mental help. We need the right tools to help people, not just children, but all people. Huberty called a mental health facility the day before the massacre. But he didn't get help...

I don't have answers. Just observations, as many people do. But I'm not yelling at the killers, the parents, the NRA. Wait, no, I am yelling at the NRA because they won't budge. I can't stand 'folks' that don't budge. They're not taking any stance except 'we won't move'. That's just ignorant.

But there's more than just one thing wrong in this system and it's not just gun control.

And if I hear one more pro-gun person tell me that a psycho can bring another a knife...I'm going to...point them to this story. Any other weapon a psycho can bring to a massacre will be more apt to NOT do as much harm as a gun.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Strange Stories and Amazing Facts

There's nothing more fun than making fun of people. But even more so is making fun of myself. This blog, of course, is to be as narcissistic as possible, which, ironically, makes me cringe in real life. But I can "hide" behind the words and write out all my feelings and be as bold as I want to be. It's my blog and I pay for the domain, dammit.

So, to combine the 'make-fun-of-myself', be narcissistic, and provide some strange stories & amazing facts, here are some more 'things you didn't know about me' items I want to add about myself.

* I ruminate like nobody's business. I have been adding these items to post about in my head for weeks. How I remember them, I have no clue but my brain does not stop thinking and over-thinking. I've mentioned before how I count (there's quite a few posts about my counting). Just for the record, my number of late is "four"...meaning, I count in "fours".  I was recently asked "What is it that you ruminate the most about?" And I couldn't come up with an answer so I just said "me". But that really isn't true because it is all over the map and I think I just think about the most obscure things: what I'm going to blog about next (then I never do), the book I'm reading, what I'm going to make for dinner, what I plan to do at work, how I'm going to handle something at work, when am I going to get my laundry done, what's on my DVR (this makes me excited), my recent conversations, my games, recent emails, time to count my steps, what am I doing over the weekend, what's going on in the news, it. is. endless. My brain does not stop.

I think it calms down when I watch TV, read a book, or when I do yoga. I'm surprised that yoga can actually turn my brain off but it does. Running does not. I am constantly thinking about something while I run, if I'm not counting. I guess sleeping makes me calm down but then I dream...does that count?

* I alphabetize my spices. I recently learned that this is not normal. I truly thought everyone did this and am still reeling from the fact that the person who asked me this is not psychic.  My friends say they actually sort theirs by frequently used and have offered me to sort theirs alphabetically. They laughed but I am literally excited about the prospect. I had my books in our family room sorted alphabetically by author until MiMi decided to resort them alphabetically by title. Interesting...I'm not sure if she has my same alphabetical disorder.

* I chew my jello, milkshake, smoothie, ice cream, and mashed potatoes.  I never noticed this until my Uncle Don (which he will never remember) pointed it out years ago, when I was a teen. I was staying over at his house with my cousin, and at the dinner table, he asked me: are you chewing your jello (or whatever it was)? And I remember being stunned by his comment...and I was like Yeah? But internally, I thought "I am...why am i?  But I can't help it and I still do it to this day.

* Not only do I literally cross at crosswalks, I walk almost in right angles. Sometimes I wonder if I am on the asperger's spectrum. I say that not to be funny but because I think I have some tendencies, emotionally and because I am such a literal person. But I do have _some_ emotions :) and I also realize what I am doing, so that's why I think I'm on it just an iota. But I have to cross on the crosswalk...although if I'm with a group, I can jaywalk but, as mentioned in the first bullet, I'll ruminate about how wrong it is and are they doing this because they think *I* don't want to cross on the crosswalk? Anyway, if alone, I will walk on the sidewalk, whether they are in straight lines or not. But if crossing roads, I cross almost as close to 90 degrees as possible. BTW, I drive that way too. I cannot stand people who turn at 45-65 degrees because, you know, you're actually turning into *my* lane. But they do it all the time.

(And yes, I loved trigonometry.)

* I am an introvert by nature. Most people would not believe me but this is true. At work, I am very gregarious. In high school, I was described as a wallflower, which really upset me because, in high school, that's the last thing a girl wants to be called. Of course NOW, I could care less, but as a teen, I was trying to find my way to social butterfly.

Last week, I read this article about the Nine Signs of Being an Introvert. I don't even have to have validation because I know I am but I read it anyway just to see if *they* were right. And for the most part, they are. Let's see: I go to parties/socials and once I get there, I want to leave. TRUE. Fortunately, Tim feels the same way. :) But there are just a select few friends that I am comfortable with where this does not apply. But for the most part, I'm ready to flee. I like to be with my family, at home.

I can be very social, at work, or at parties, anywhere. This is the only child in me, the ruminator, the empathizer/sympathizer, the nomad.  I was always the new person at the school, or the runt of the litter. And since I am the crusader, no matter if I was the runt, I stood by the person that no one cared to stand by. So I look around a crowd and make sure to make someone feel at home. I have no problem sitting down with someone and striking up a conversation, when what I prefer to do is sit at home, or in a corner, or if at a conference, be at my hotel room by myself, just reading.  But I feel a sense of duty to make others feel welcomed, not alone, at peace, wanted. It's all that ruminating...

And for introverts, it's exhausting. So I end up being more tired from being social and that takes away from my favorite release, blogging. In a way, blogging is 'socializing' and by the time I get home, I just don't want to do anymore.

In that list from the Huffington Post, the phone is one of the items that is the bane of an introvert. I already mentioned in my Twelve Things post how much I hated the phone.

* I do at least one crossword puzzle a day. I have a very specific brand I like to do, which is by Kappa puzzles. Dell is too easy. And no, I'm no brainiac because I don't like them too hard. But they have to be hard enough for me to figure out and learn. I need a challenge and I need them to be something that I can figure out. But there's an art to crossword puzzles and they have clues that are common to all of them. I have had a blog post on my crossword puzzle obsession stewing in my brain *for years* because, well, I've been doing a puzzle a day for many, many years.

I enjoy other puzzles. An occasional sudoku is enjoyable but once in a blue moon. They tend to drive me bonkers because they make me think *a lot*. I enjoy cryptopuzzles immensely but they are hard to find and usually, you have to buy a dell puzzle book and I generally don't want to invest in an entire puzzle book just to get to my cryptopuzzles. But I feel like I missed my calling when I do I could have worked for the government as a cryptographer. Logic puzzles are also fun. When I was a kid, I used to laminate logic problems (with scotch tape) so that I could do them over and over.

* I hate diamonds and the way women have pissing contests over who has the biggest diamond engagement ring. Seriously, I don't have the gene in my genetic makeup so I literally (and when I use the word literally, I literally mean literally...I don't use the word as slang) do not understand the hoopla over these jewels and why anyone has a fascination over them. When my friends get engaged and show me their ring, I am very happy for their engagement and I feign appreciation for their bauble but inside I am thinking "great, another one who likes these things". I would really love to find a kindred spirit. No, it's not the blood diamond but I tell you what, when I heard this in Bill Maher's routine, it made me happy because I could have another more legitimate reason to hate these stupid, superficial things more.

I can't help but think that women don't really like these but society makes them believe they are supposed to like these. So it's all very stepford-wives-like. But then again, it may just be me thinking that because I'm missing the genetic material that all other women have that diamonds are a girls best friend. But I cringe when I hear about hollywood's next movie star getting engaged and having an 8 karat diamond on her finger because, not only do I hate them, but I think the bigger they are, the gaudier.

Oh there's so much more weirdness for me to discuss but I'll stop here and let you all enjoy these for now.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

My first introduction to Quindlen was a book club read called Good Dog. Stay. What a great club choice because the book was like a picture book, with a total of 95 pages. I saw this new one from her, added it to my queue on goodreads and then my BFF AudreyPodrey sent me a note on goodreads and said 'we should get together and read this one'. So I did. Ann - you have to read it before you read the spoiler so we can get together and discuss. :)

***Spoiler Alert***

Just a note about spoiler alerts on - I always check the checkbox for my reviews so that it hides it. Apparently, if you get the newsletter and I'm your friend, it doesn't hide the review. Someone was going to unfriend me (which is fine; I don't get offended by that) because my entire review, with spoilers, would show up on her email. Why you just don't read it, I don't understand, but maybe some folks can't avoid it.

But the other part is this: when I read comments and see the link to read the comment WITH the spoiler, I am expecting to see, um, SPOILERS. But more often than not, I read this: "I don't want to give away the plot but it's shocking..." or "it was just tragic..." or something to that effect.

In the instance of this book, I get it: one would have to do that. There is something tragic. But if you continue to read THIS post, I'm giving away the whole fricking plot. I don't actually call these "reviews" fact, I'm going to rename the ones I've been doing in the latter years to "book post-mortem", since it's more of my own analysis of the book, sometimes in great detail, sometimes not.

So now, on to the book...

As I read from many others, the book starts off very mundane. I really wasn't sure where Quindlen was going with it. I wasn't completely turned off but it was very Seinfeld-like: a book about nothing.

The "nothing" being a description about her life: Mary Beth Latham is a mother of three children: Ruby, a beautiful, perfect -- and secretly the favorite - daughter, who is about to graduate high school; Max, a brooding, possibly depressed, introverted middle-schooler, who is one half of a fraternal twin; and Alex, another perfect child, who is the star athlete in every sport (basketball, lacrosse, soccer), out-going, and the other half of the fraternal twin.

Her husband, Glen, is an ophthalmologist. She owns her own landscaping business and we read about how she worries about the Mexican workers she hires (illegally) and doesn't pay them well, but doesn't pay them extra or advances them because she doesn't want to be taken advantage of. It's a strange dialogue - a supposedly good-hearted woman who is supposed to be a strong business woman too? These pieces in the book seem oddly placed and make no sense but there are tidbits like this throughout.

Things that bother me with a lot of novels are the "perfect"ness. In this case, the perfect children. Ruby is the most perfect girl. She writes poetry and novels perfectly. Her teachers love her. Her friends adore her. She dotes, cares deeply in an extraordinary way for any teenager, for a friend Rachel, who seems to be described as a teen on her way to an eating disorder and a life with bad men (according to Mary Beth).

Ruby is just so in touch with herself that it's just unreal and, while I liked her fine, it's just a ridiculous, stereotypical notion that I've seen too many times in novels.

And then we see it again in Alex. An eighth-grader who is just the star athlete in every sport he is in. He makes the athlete of the week in the town (?) paper nearly every week. And, at least according to Mary Beth, no one seems to envy him. We do not meet a single person who hates Alex. And he's great with kids too, as we find when he becomes a camp counselor to 9 year old boys. Just perfection.

The one character with interest is Max. He mumbles. His hair is long. His teachers complain about how he isn't engaged in school, in life. She worries about him but then moves on to the next obscure thought in her head. Finally, Max sees a counselor (who is also the perfect counselor because he breaks through to Max, and eventually, to Alex) and the counselor decides to meet with Glen and Mary Beth about Max's concerns. I love this part of the book, which is one of very few parts.

The doctor tells them that Max feels overshadowed by his twin (perfect) brother Alex. Glen argues that they do not ever try to make Max feel any inferior than Alex. And Mary Beth finally breaks down all the ruminations that goes on and on and on in the first 100 pages of this book:
"I think he feels like he doesn't belong anywhere anymore," I say, and shocked and dismayed at my own words, I begin to cry. [Side note, so do I.] "I love him so much. I don't want him to feel bad about who he is."
I love these words because I can't tell you how many times in my life I have felt like this. Being an only child, having to move so many times...forget the context of this novel, these words spoke to me. It's this family I have now that I feel I belong.

The doctor goes on about how Max says he knows his parents value him (deep for an 8th grader, don't you think? Again, stereotypical writing in novels...but whatever. Despite the storyline, this woman writes well.) but how the world values him is different and _that's_ what matters.

Mary Beth asks the doctor: did he tell you he plays the drums?
"Yes, he did. "And that he's an ace computer programmer. But you should know that at some level he doesn't feel that his gifts are important. And he doesn't feel he's entitled to his negative feelings. That's another reason he doesn't feel comfortable discussing them with you. He says that he has a great home, great parents, great siblings, and that he should be happy because of all that. In some ways, he's as distressed by what he sees as the wrongness of his emotions as by anything else. I think one of the phrases he kept repeating was 'I just can't help it.'"
Wow. Now we are getting somewhere. I loved this. I could relate. I thought of my own kids - remind myself to think of this as a mother.

But unfortunately, this is not where the book would go. And it really wasn't a surprise. There was a build up of something bad that would happen, even though it didn't seem appropriate, the way this novel was going.

Ruby, the perfectly confident-in-her-ways Ruby, had been dating Kiernan, who was a lifelong friend of the family. Kiernan practically lived with the Lathams. Ruby and Kiernan dated for most of their tween-to-teen years and Kiernan appeared to be obsessively in love with Ruby. But now, Ruby was ready to let Kiernan go. And she did. And Kiernan was beyond broken-hearted.

It was pretty obvious that Kiernan came from a broken home with a crazy mom. And about midway through the book, Kiernan murdered not just Ruby (this seemed somewhat obvious but again, I didn't really want to see this happen), but Max, Glen and attempted to kill Mary Beth. Alex was on a skiing trip in Colorado when all of this took place.

So the second half of the book becomes ruminations of Mary Beth's mind over the deaths of her family, except Alex, and how they would've been the people they could've been, had they lived.  There is virtually no relationship with Alex. She's like a zombie and it reads this way too.

Alex spends more time with his best friend's family. She inherits a butt load of money from life insurance. She lets her business go. She does nothing. She ends a friendship with a woman who was her best friend through the first half of the book but inexplicably, we have an accusation of an affair with Kiernan's father (Mary Beth) from long ago...and now, Mary Beth thinks: three sexual encounters causes my perfect life to become this tragic?

It's just a lost cause...what was the point of the book? Not that I think there should be a point to any novel. I'm just looking for a story to be told. But this story was bizarre to me.

Don't get me wrong. I cried a lot throughout. I couldn't help it. This woman writes well. But I just didn't understand what the story was supposed to be. A build up of a perfect, mundane life that kills the family off almost entirely, then a mundane recount of a life that could've been?  It didn't work for me.

What I found disturbing of it all was, as the police comb through the house, looking for survivors, Mary Beth, who is on the bedroom floor -- Kiernan had stabbed her in the shoulder, she fell to the floor and was stuck between the side of her bed and a wall -- overhears two of them  as one says 'are they all dead?' and the other replies 'every last one.' And hence, the title of the book.