Long before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 made Memorial Day an official federal holiday, and even before the first federal observation of a day to decorate Union Soldier’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, and even before the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia suggested a day to honor those who died in the civil war there was another holiday observed in many parts of the country—long before the Civil War—called Decoration Day, which was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members. It was usually observed on a Sunday in the spring, and frequently involved picnics in the cemeteries or potlucks at church. And my Grandmother was someone who observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day.
Eleven years ago this week my nice Grandma died literally while in the middle of putting silk flowers on the grave of one of my great aunts—which has contributed to my determination that the original holiday not be forgotten. In memory of Grandma, I’m reposting this (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):
Memorial, part 2Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.
I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.
Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.
She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) seven years ago on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.
One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t grandpa’s grave nearby?”
Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.
Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.
Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.
The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.
Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.
We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.
I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.
Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter
And if you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that my Grandpa mentioned above served in WWII in Italy. Grandpa drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. And this post is also dedicated to his memory.
When I got to here, she stepped up and said, “Excuse me, sir, may we ask you a few questions?”
The camera was now pointed at me. I said, “Sure.”
“Did you know there was a primary election today?”
“Yes, of c–” I answered.
She interrupted me. “And did you vote this morning?”
I grinned. “Yes, as a matter of fact, I did.”
“I’m sure you know that many people don’t vote in the primary, sir. Why did you vote? Was there a particular issue on the ballot that drove you to vote today?”
I know that I blinked dumbly at her for a moment before I said. “Um, I always vote. I have never missed a primary, general election, or special election since I was old enough to register. Voting every time is what you’re supposed to do…”
But before I had finished that answer, she had dropped the microphone, turned to the cameraman and made a slashing motion across her throat. “Thank you, sir” she said perfunctorily, and turned her attention to someone else walking down the sidewalk.
Apparently that wasn’t he answer she was looking for.
I was reminded of this story because a lot of people I know are re-tweeting and re-blogging a comment from a blogger who I have frequently quoted before about how important it is to show up and vote. Except he doesn’t quite say it that way. In an earlier draft of this post I quoted him and then picked apart his arguments, but that isn’t really useful.
While it’s true that some demographics show up less consistently to vote, that isn’t the only problem. There are a lot of people pointing fingers at the voters for not showing up, but doing so ignores at least two other major issues:
- Voters who do show up, but cast their votes for third-party candidates who can’t wint
- Voters who look at the choices and are appalled that they get to choose between an ultra-conservative and a moderate conservative, so they don’t show up.
Both of these are different aspects of a big blind spot that most people suffer from and that the major media outlets completely ignore: The center is not where anyone pretends it is. The Democratic party is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a liberal party. The two major parties in this country are not sitting at opposite ends of a spectrum. The Republicans, yes, are super, neanderthal-ishly conservative, but the Democrats, are also conservative. Going by voting records, 90-some percent of the elected democrats in congress are more conservative than the majority of the U.S. population on topics of: gun control, health care for all, gay rights, women’s rights, tax policy, Social Security funding, and allowing businesses to discriminate against people for religious reasons.
And the establishment Democratic operation keeps endorsing candidates in that right-of-center realm. Which makes a lot of the natural Democratic base roll their eyes and either not show up, or come to the polls and throw away their votes by voting for third-party candidates.
There have been a number of primaries in various states in the last month or so where unprecedented numbers of Democratic voters are showing up. Some precincts ran out of ballots, so many more people than ever have before showed up! And in a number of these races the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending money endorsing a candidate who they think will appeal to the Trump voters. And in a lot of those races, all those extra democratic voters showing up are voting for candidates that actually espouse a few liberal policies. And they’re winning.
I don’t buy the line from the DCCC that those extra voters are picking losers. I think it’s the DCCC that keeps picking losers. Of the excuses I hear from people who either don’t vote and throw their votes away other ways is that they don’t feel they have a real choice. Even in races where the Republicans are fielding a foaming-at-the-mouth racist, and the Democrats are putting up someone who looks middle of the road. And that’s because the middle-of-the-road guy keeps making conciliatory remarks about the blatant racism, et al, of his opponent. And while there actually is a difference between the two, to a lot of folks looking on, it just doesn’t seem that way.
And we’ve been bitten before. The Democrats had solid majorities in both houses of Congress during the first two years of Obama’s presidency, and they didn’t enact any liberal policies. They spent two years begging and pleading with a few slightly less rightwing than Attila the Hun Republicans to get them to support a half-assed watered-down version of a couple of their promised initiatives. Even with more than 70% of the voters approving it, they didn’t even try to repeal Don’t-Ask- Don’t-Tell (allowing queer people to serve openly in the military) until the lame duck session after they lost their majority in the first midterm.
Yes, I agree with the blogger I alluded to above that it is on us to show up and vote. It’s on us to encourage others to show up and vote. But one of the ways we can encourage them to do that, is to give them candidates they actually believe in.
I’m looking at races this week where the milquetoast right-of-center candidate backed by the establishment Dems lost to a left-of-center candidate who enunciated some progressive ideas. I’m noticing that those are the races where people are turning out. I’m noticing that turn out is typical or less than typical in races where the only choices progressive voters are getting is several right-of-center safe bets.
That’s why, after a rather long discussion with a poor schmuck working the phone bank for the DCCC trying to convince me to increase my monthly donation to the DCCC because taking back the House is important, that I stopped my monthly donation to the DCCC, and increased the amount I’m giving every month to Run For Something and Let America Vote. And I’m going to keep picking actual progressive candidates to donate to directly.
And don’t bark at me about showing up. I’ve been showing up at Primary and General Election since 1978. Every one. I confess that I have missed about three Special Elections that happened way off-cycle in that time.
Now, we just need to get the rest of the liberals to do the same.
Bigot Bulletin: Principal and Police Officer who harassed students at Oregon high school are both fired
For some background: Gay teen says she went to school resource officer after getting bullied — and he told her she’s going to hell. The “resource officer” is a local police officer assigned to the school supposedly for the purpose of protecting the students. But he wasn’t the only problem. The principal of the school punished gay kids who reported incidents of being harassed (including at least one incident where the principal’s son nearly ran two of the other kids down with his car while yelling anti-gay slurs). Teachers who tried to help the kids in varying ways were retaliated against by the Principal and the district Superintendent, and so on.
So the Oregon Department of Education sent in an investigator. The local officials admitted to several issues, including that they had forced the gay kids to read and recite passages from the Bible as part of their punishment. The ODE investigator issued a report finding that the actions of the officials probably constituted illegal discrimination under Oregon law as well as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of church and state. A final finding was pending, but the state ordered to school district to come to a settlement with the kids and their parents by the end of April. They didn’t.
During that time, many more former and current students came forward, with more incidents of anti-LGBT and racial discrimination. Meanwhile, the ACLU was pursuing a lawsuit against the district.
Monday things came to a head: ACLU OF OREGON REACHES SWEEPING SETTLEMENT WITH NORTH BEND SCHOOL DISTRICT OVER LGBTQ DISCRIMINATION AND BIBLE READING.
- Principal fired
- District dismisses Resource Officer and requests local police assign a new officer
- District will create a diversity committee (keep in mind that teachers already tried to set up a Gay-Straight Alliance and were stopped by the principal) which will hold celebrations for Coming Out Day and Ally Week and will issue an annual report on how the school is doing on issues of diversity, inclusion, et cetera
- District will hire an anti-discrimination expert to help them craft policies to appropriately respond to harassment and discrimination
- District will donate $1000 to a local queer support group
Additionally, as a result of the state investigation, the district will be under supervision of the state ODE for at least five years while all of this is monitored. The remaining bit of less than awesome news from my point of view on this is that even though the state’s investigation and the discovery process of the lawsuit found that the district Superintendent knew about all of this and committed some of the retaliation from teachers who tried to help the queer kids, he isn’t being fired. Maybe everyone assumes with the state breathing down his neck he’ll behave?
I get such a bee in my bonnet on these stories because of my own experiences being bullied as a kid. More than one teacher and administrator told my parents that until I acted like “the other boys” or “normal” there was nothing they could do to prevent the bullying incidents. Never mind that some of the worst bullying came from teachers. In middle school I was called “faggot” and “sissy” by four specific teachers far more often than most of the other kids. And then there was the time I was the one threatened with expulsion for being bullied again and again, unless I attending regular counseling sessions where, apparently, the counselor was trying to teach me to act like a normal boy.
A lot of people think that those kinds of days are behind us, but these incidents happening for the last several years at this school are merely one of many such cases. Fortunately, the ACLU keeps coming in to represent the students, and again and again the districts wind up paying big penalties for their discrimination, bigotry, and bullying. As Dan Savage has asked (many times) when will public school administrators get it through their thick heads?
And I agree with Dan on another thing. This story is a good reminder to go make a donation to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon!
He had submitted a set of lyrics to the committee for a song that he hoped the chorus might sing in an upcoming Pride concert. In order for us to have performed the song, the chorus would have had to hire a composer to come up with music to accompany the lyrics, and an arranger to convert that melody into four-part harmony and some sort of accompaniment. As it happened, two years previously when those lyrics had been submitted, I had also been on the committee, serving as the secretary of the committee, and I remembered the meeting where we had evaluated music suggestions that had been submitted for consideration. And I remember reading the lyrics and being underwhelmed—it wasn’t just that it was rather trite poetry of the kind you might expect someone’s grandparent to stick up on the wall somewhere, but it had ended on a defeatist note about staying in the closet rather than being out.
So it had been one of the pieces eliminated early by the committee. We had a very limited budget to hire composers/arrangers, and we all agreed this thing wasn’t worth it.
I was a bit stunned to be sitting there, listening to this guy who had decided to use my recent bereavement as an excuse to bring out this ax to grind, and was trying to figure out how I could possibly respond, when he made the comment that crystalized the real problem. He said, “I don’t know if you know what it’s like when you just really, deeply, sincerely wish to have had your music published, but you never got to go to school to learn music theory or how to arrange music because your family couldn’t afford it. I don’t know if you know how much it hurts that someone who knows how to do that won’t turn the words you’ve written into a song for you.”
He didn’t say that he sincerely wished to make music. No, what he said was that he sincerely wished to have music that someone else made but that he could take credit for produced.
I understand the frustration of not being able to do the whole package. I’m not very good at the art side of things, so if I go the indy publishing route, I’m going to have a difficult (and expensive) time getting good cover art for my books. While arranging is a different skill set than writing music or creating lyrics, it’s something you can learn without having majored in music in university. And particularly when one is in their fifties (as this guy was) and had supposedly been trying to become a songwriter for decades, how can he think it’s okay not to have ever even learned how to read music (yes, he was the kind of chorus member who could only learn the part if someone who could read music sang the melody in his ear).
Some would say I don’t have proper sympathy because I took band and orchestra and various vocal classes in high school, and for one year my major in college was music education (I changed majors a lot: math ed, music ed, communications, journalism, then back to math without the ed part…). But the reason I was in so many different musical groups playing so many different instruments back in the day wasn’t because my family paid for lessons for each of those instruments. Public school teachers taught me to read music and how to almost play the viola and later to play the trumpet. But I taught myself how to play bassoon, ephonium, trombone, french horn, flute, bass clarinet and a bunch of others. And while I’ve only finished full arrangements of a few songs over the years, no one taught me arranging, I taught myself.
I’m not saying that finding teachers isn’t worth it, but I am saying that if you want to be good at something, you have to be willing to work for it. Yes, it is harder for those of us who come from working class families. There are many social, financial, and other systemic barriers to many opportunities in this world.
But there is a point where you need to realize that before you can be a star, you have to learn how to make music (or how to write a story, or how to draw a picture…).
Some people never get that.
And some of them are people who seem to have successful careers in the arena which they aren’t really very good at. These folks have enough privilege to fail their way into middling success. Because of connections and so forth, these guys (it is most often a white guy from an upper middle-class or better background) get jobs where they have some responsibility to create (or direct the creation of) something, and they screw up in various ways, they make promises they can’t keep, but they have an assistant (almost always a woman) who cleans up for them. Anyone who has worked in a large office knows this woman: she may have a title like Executive Assistant or even rarely Office Manager, but the upper management people she reports to clearly think of her as a secretary; but she’s the one that actually makes everything happen. She knows how to work projects through finance. She “cleans up” the boss’s presentations. She smooths things over when morale is down or people are angered by things the boss said or did. She finds solutions to the contradictory instructions.
It doesn’t just happen in boring corporate locations. Lots of people in creative positions are just like those bosses. They make decisions that contradict other things they’ve said. They order people to do things that won’t actually work. They write scripts full of clunky dialog, if that’s part of their project. And other people “clean things up.”
That’s how you get someone who can’t direct an interesting movie to save his life being paid to make one loser after another. It’s how you get best-selling authors who throw temper tantrums when someone writes a critique of their work who are flabbergasted when someone holds the page in front of them and shows them that yes, that passage did come out of their work. That’s how you get senior partners at law firms who had an extensive and impressive record as a prosecutor, when deprived of their phalanx of assistants making blatantly incorrect declarations of the law and actually further incriminating their client in television interviews.
And sometimes, apparently, it’s how you get someone clueless enough to use a supposed condolence call to whine about why other people won’t compose and arrange music to accompany their mediocre poetry.
If you really want to be a rock star, you have to learn to rock and roll. Otherwise, you’re no different than a lip-synching puppet.
Another in my series of posts recommending web comics that I think more people should read:
Madeline McGrane is a cartoonist and illustrator who is from Wisconsin and lives in Minneapolis. She posts vampire-themed comics and other art on her tumblr blog. My favorites are the vampire comics about three child vampires. They’re just silly. Her black and white comics are minimalist and really work well with her style of humor. Her color work is a bit more complex. If you like her work and want to support her, she has a ko-fi.
Some of the comics I’ve previously recommended: Some of these have stopped publishing new episodes. Some have been on hiatus for a while. I’ve culled from the list those that seem to have gone away entirely.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu is the story of Eric “Bitty” Bittle, a former junior figure skating champion from a southern state who is attending fictitious Samwell College in Massachusetts, where he plays on the men’s hockey team. Bitty is the smallest guy on the team, and in the early comics is dealing with a phobia of being body-checked in the games. He’s an enthusiastic baker, and a die hard Beyoncé fan.
“Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls” by Jessica Udischas is a hilarious web comic that tells of the adventures of Jesska Nightmare, a trans woman trying to make her way in our transphobic world. The comics are funny, insightful, and adorably drawn. The sheer cuteness of the drawing style is a rather sharp contrast to the sometimes weighty topics the comic covers, and I think makes it a little easier to keep from getting bummed out to contemplate that the strips aren’t exaggerations. If you like the strip, consider supporting the artist through her patreon.
Life of Bria by Sabrina Symington is a transgender themed comic that ranges from commentary to slice of life jokes and everything in between. Even when commenting on very serious stuff it remains funny—sharp, but funny. It’s one of the comics that I would see being reblogged on tumblr and lot and I’d think, “I ought to track down the artist so I can read more of these.” And I finally did. And they’re great! If you like Symington’s work, you can sponsor her on Patreon and she has a graphic novel for sale.
The Junior Science Power Hour by Abby Howard. is frequently autobiographical take on the artist’s journey to creating the crazy strip about science, science nerds, why girls are just as good at being science nerds as boys, and so much more. It will definitely appeal to dinosaur nerds, anyone who has ever been enthusiastic about any science topic, and especially to people who has ever felt like a square peg being forced into round holes by society.“Stereophonic” by C.J.P. is a “queer historical drama that follows the lives of two young men living in 1960s London.” It’s a very sweet and slow-build story, with good art and an interesting supporting cast. But I want to warn you that the story comes to a hiatus just as a couple of the subplots are getting very interesting. The artist had a serious health issue which was complicated by family problems, but has since started posting updates to his blog and Patreon page, assuring us that the story will resume soon. If you like the 300+ pages published thus far and would like to support the artist, C.J. has a Patreon page, plus t-shirts and other merchandise available at his store.
The Young Protectors: Engaging the Enemy by Alex Wolfson begins when a young, closeted teen-age superhero who has just snuck into a gay bar for the first time is seen exiting said bar by a not-so-young, very experienced, very powerful, super-villain. Trouble, of course, ensues.
Tripping Over You by Suzana Harcum and Owen White is a strip about a pair of friends in school who just happen to fall in love… which eventually necessitates one of them coming out of the closet. Tripping Over You has several books, comics, and prints available for purchase.
“Deer Me,” by Sheryl Schopfer tells the tales from the lives of three friends (and former roommates) who couldn’t be more dissimilar while being surprisingly compatible. If you enjoy Deer Me, you can support the artist by going to her Patreon Page!
Scurry by Mac Smith is the story of a colony of mice trying to survive a long, strange winter in a world where humans have mysteriously vanished, and food is becoming ever more scarce.
And I love this impish girl thief with a tail and her reluctant undead sorcerer/bodyguard: “Unsounded,” by Ashley Cope.
Muddler’s Beat by Tony Breed is the fun, expanded cast sequel to Finn and Charlie Are Hitched.
Fowl Language by Brian Gordon is a fun strip about parenting, tech, science, and other geeky things. The strips are funny, and he also has a bonus panel link to click on under the day’s strip.
The Last Halloween by Abby Howard is the creepy story of 10-year-old Mona who is reluctantly drafted to save the world on Halloween night. This is by the same artist who does the Junior Science Power Hour. She created this strip as her pitch in the final round of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search, which was a reality game show where web cartoonists competed for a cash prize and other assistance to get their strip launched. Though Abby didn’t win, she started writing the strip anyway. If you like the comic, you can support Abby in a couple of ways: she has some cool stuff related to both of her strips in her store, and she also has a Patreon.
Last Kiss® by John Lustig Mr. Lustig bought the publishing rights to a romance comic book series from the 50’s and 60’s, and started rewriting the stories for fun. The redrawn and re-dialogued panels (which take irreverent shots at gender and sexuality issues, among other things) are syndicated, and available on a bunch of merchandise.
“Champion of Katara” by Chuck Melville tells the tale of a the greatest sorcerer of Katara, Flagstaff (Flagstaff’s foster sister may disagree…), and his adventures in a humorous sword & sorcery world. If you enjoy the adventures of Flagstaff, you might also enjoy another awesome fantasy series set in the same universe (and starring the aforementioned foster sister): and Felicia, Sorceress of Katara, or Chuck’s weekly gag strip, Mr. Cow, which was on a hiatus for a while but is now back. If you like Mr. Cow, Felicia, or Flagstaff (the hero of Champions of Katara) you can support the artist by going to his Patreon Page. Also, can I interest you in a Mr. Cow Mug?
If you want to read a nice, long graphic-novel style story which recently published its conclusion, check-out the not quite accurately named, The Less Than Epic Adventures of T.J. and Amal by E.K. Weaver. I say inaccurate because I found their story quite epic (not to mention engaging, moving, surprising, fulfilling… I could go on). Some sections of the tale are Not Safe For Work, as they say, though she marks them clearly. The complete graphic novels are available for sale in both ebook and paper versions, by the way.
Oglaf, by Trudy Cooper and Doug Bayne is a Not Safe For Work web comic about… well, it’s sort a generic “medieval” high fantasy universe, but with adult themes, often sexual. Jokes are based on fantasy story and movie clichés, gaming tropes, and the like. And let me repeat, since I got a startled message from someone in response to a previous posting of this recommendation: Oglaf is Not Safe For Work (NSFW)!
Over the years people have reacted with everything from amusement to confusion to disbelief to my references to my Evil Grandmother. I had two grandmothers, a Nice Grandma and an Evil Grandma. Sometimes when I would comment about something going on with one of my grandmothers, a friend who had heard me use the phrase “Evil Grandma” would ask if this grandmother who had done this annoying thing was her, and I would say, “Oh, no! This is my Nice Grandma!” And they would freak out, “What do you mean, this is the Nice Grandma? That doesn’t sound nice at all!” To which I would reply, “Let me tell you about my Evil Grandmother…”
Here is a mild example. My Evil Grandmother (who was my paternal grandma, i.e., my dad’s mother) believed that all mental illness was just the person selfishly vying for attention. There are a surprising number of people out there with a belief very close to this. Any person who responds to someone else struggling with depression or recovering from trauma by telling them to get over it, for instance. They don’t see it as a real illness that requires treatment or recovery, right? But my Evil Grandmother was even worse than that. My Evil Grandmother believed that epilepsy was the same. So when one of my sisters started having seizures, my Evil Grandmother was constantly undermining the doctors. She would scold my sister for having a seizure after the fact, for example.
Oddly enough, she also believed that mental illness was hereditary and a sign of poor moral character. Which she also believed was hereditary. When my parents finally were getting a divorce, after my Evil Grandmother found out I had told the judge that I definitely did not want my (alcoholic, physically abusive) father to have custody, she sat me down and gave me a long litany of all of the mental health issues that plagued many of my mom’s distant relatives. One example was a great-uncle who we would now say was suffering from severe PTSD because of his experiences during World War II.
Now, if I wrote a novel in which a woman who had a college degree and worked as the City Treasurer for many years and was a respected member of her community, who punished her nine-year-old grandchild for having a seizure on a day where said grandmother had prevented the grandchild from taking her prescribed medication, I would get irrate messages from people telling me that this was completely unbelievable.
But I would also get comments from people who would tell even more horrific stories from their own childhood.
This is just one example of why having a bunch of editors tell you a story is too far-fetched is not indicative that the story is, in fact, too far fetched.
The editors or critics may have a valid point that you, as an author, hadn’t done a proper job of laying the groundwork to help the reader suspend their disbelief, but it doesn’t mean the notion is objectively and universally unbelievable. Even if they focus on the groundwork aspect, they still may be letting their personal perspective override things.
For example, there’s the tale of the male writing professor who once gave a woman in his class the advice that merely showing that one character had raped a young woman was not enough to justify the young woman killing him later in the story. “You haven’t convinced me he’s truly evil. Show him being cruel to a dog or something to make this evil real.”
Being cruel to a dog is worse than raping a woman? Irrational disconnect much?
Preception isn’t just a matter of taking in the information offered. It is heavily influenced by our prejudices, past experiences, expectations, fears, and hope. This doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as objective reality, it just means that it takes a lot of work to sort through all that subjectivity…
And it means that there will always be some things no one will agree on. Likewise, there will always be some people who will refuse to see something, no matter how much evidence we provide.
This doesn’t mean they are hopeless, it just may mean that we have to walk away and expend our energy elsewhere.
I have two codas to the saga of my Evil Grandmother. First, 20 years after my parents’ divorce and the subseqeunt exodus of myself, Mom, and one sister to the west coast, Mom, Nice Grandma, and my step-grandpa took a road trip back to the town where my parents met to attend the christening of my oldest sister’s first child. At one point in the visit, Mom found herself alone with my paternal grandparents, her ex-in-laws. Mom told them that she was sorry that my parents’ marriage had ended the way it had. Grandpa admitted that saying goodbye to Mom, myself, and my sister when we left was the hardest and most painful thing he had ever done.
Evil Grandmother muttered something, and she had tears in her eyes. She cleared her throat a couple of times and eventually said something about the time for blame being past. Now, I should mention that long before my parents divorced, Evil Grandma, on two occassions, set up appointments for Dad with a divorce attorney without consulting him first, and tricked Dad into meeting her at the law office on pretexts to do with her business. When I say that Evil Grandma had wanted my parents to split, that’s an understatement. So, Mom took this “time for blame” as a way to change the topic and avoid taking any blame.
But then some more extended family members arrived, and as people were picking places to sit and talk, my Evil Grandma moved from the seat next to Grandpa, to sit next to Mom. And she grabbed Mom’s hand and in Mom’s words, “squeezed it like she was afraid to let go.” She didn’t say anything, and didn’t really join in with the rest of the conversation for the next couple of hours, but she refused to let go of Mom’s hand. And later, when Mom needed to leave, Evil Grandma gave her a hug. Her eyes were full of tears again, and she murmured, “I’ve missed you all.”
Mom said that she decided that that was the closest Evil Grandma could come to saying she was sorry.
Second coda: About ten years after that I was out with friends at a bowling party when my phone rang. It was a call from one of my aunts. She was at a hospital with Evil Grandma. Evil Grandma had had both a stroke and some sort of heart issue. She’d been revived and was on a resporator, but she was alert and had demanded the my aunt call me. I need to add here that when I came out of the closet in 1991, other than one handwritten note that said, “I hope you’re happy now,” Evil Grandmother had stopped talking to me (and I would later learn she had forbidden other family members from mentioning my name in her presence). My aunt handed the phone over Evil Grandma. Because of the resporator, she had to speak in short bursts. She could speak on the exhale then wait for the machine to push in the next breath. She said my name. I replied, “Yes, Grandma it’s me.” She repeated my name on the next two exhales, and each time I told her it was me and I could hear her.
I, meanwhile, was moving to try to find a quiet place thinking the noise of the bowling alley was confusing her.
Finally she said, “I love you.” And I replied that I loved her. She repeated it a couple more times, and each time I replied. I was sobbing at this point. How could I not be? No matter what had happened between us, here she was, possibly on her death bed, using perhaps her dying breaths to reach out?
After about the fourth ‘I love you’ exchange, she said. “I know you…. I know you do… but do you know…. do you know… I love you?”
I said, “Yes.” She repeated my name and said “I love you” again, and then my aunt was back on the phone.
That turned out not to be her deathbed, but she had at least one more stroke before being released from the hospital, and her ability to talk was severely impaired for her remaining years.
But, Christmas cards started arriving every year. The outside of the envelopes were clearly addressed by the aunt who was caring for Grandma by then, but the inside always had very jittery writing that was clearly Grandma’s. Some years Christmas presents (usually ornaments) would also arrive, sometimes with Grandma’s writing on the tag. There was sometimes be a note from my aunt saying that Grandma had seen it in the store and wanted to get it for me because it reminded her of something I had once talked to her about as a child.
One is left wondering, which her was the real her? Is it simply that years of regret and an acute awareness of her mortality caused a change of heart? Is such a deathbed conversion, as it were, believable? Or as much a product of our hopes and wishes?
I know she had always been extremely concerned with keeping up appearances and not doing things that would make the right sort of people look down on you. So had she been suppressing inconvenient feelings for years–feelings that went counter to her hopes and aspirations–and only later in life as neurological changes occurred she started letting them out?
Wrestling with these questions have not led me to stop referring to her as my Evil Grandmother. She just did too much too many times to hurt people–often people she should have been protecting. But I am reminded of an observation which I once put into the mouth of one of the characters in one of my fantasy novels: “Evil isn’t something you are, it’s something you do.”
Yep, it’s a weekend.
Even though I love the show and have watched it faithfully for five years, I wasn’t very surprised when Brooklyn 99 was canceled by Fox. One of the things the show excelled at (besides doing diversity right) was tackling important issues in a thoughtful way that was still funny hell. And let’s face it, diversity, thoughtfulness, and nuance are not exactly in Fox’s wheelhouse. Which isn’t to say the Fox’s entertainment network doesn’t carry diverse show. What I mean is that the people who make the business decisions are less likely to feel sympathy for such shows. No matter how much executives (at any network) may insist that it’s just about numbers and the bottom line, you can point to many examples of shows with worse numbers being kept around. Bias and sympathy do figure into how they see the numbers.
Goodbye, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine.’ And thank you. It is a great show it is funny, and I agree with Mark Hamill who said on twitter that it was one of the great workplace comedies of all time, up there with shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi.
Fortunately, the twitter storm and fan petitions and praise from famous actors and comedians seems to have paid off: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ saved by NBC and Brooklyn Nine-Nine Cast Praises Fans After NBC Saves Canceled Fox Show: ‘You Did This!’.
It is worth noting that among the NBC executive comments quoted in the various articles about the show is a reference to the fact the Brooklyn 99 was a show created and produced by a division of NBC-Universal, and sold to Fox originally. Not being a show that Fox made internally means that profits from syndication deals for reruns are not as high as they would be for a show of similar popularity that had been wholly owned by Fox. This also probably figured into NBC’s decision to give the show a 13 episode sixth season. They get a lot of good PR out of the move, will presumably get acceptable ratings for those 13 episodes, and will get just a little bit more out of syndication having these additional episodes int he can.
I fully expect this to be the final season of the show. I suspect the writers and show runners will think of it that way: write a good send-off that leaves a possibility for continuing, but don’t count on it.
Related: I think it was not good that a number of fans who were screaming, before the NBC announcement, about their fave show being removed were doing so by denigrating other shows. First of all, come on, don’t attack things other people like merely because you don’t. It doesn’t matter how much you may dislike another series (whether it be movies, TV shows, books, whatever), that doesn’t mean that there are not people who genuinely like it. It’s okay to critique, especially if a show is overtly racist (I’m looking at you, Roseanne reboot) or gratuitously misogynist (and now looking at you, Supernatural), but dismissal is not the same as critique.
There other thing, it isn’t really relevant. The shows most people were mentioning were not Fox shows. At least if you’re going to make an observation about, “How dare they cancel my fave while keeping X on the air” choose something that involves the same they. Pick something that Fox is keeping on the air to make your comparison to, like the very derivative 9-1-1, for instance.
Anyway, at least those of us who love the show will get some more Brooklyn 99. I can just quietly sob in the corner over hear that we can’t say the same for another of my favorites: Fox Cancels Fan Favorite Lucifer After Three Seasons.
Now let’s have a couple things that are more typical for a weekend update: Anti-Gay Former Michigan Assistant AG Loses Appeal To Keep His Law License. I’ve written before about this self-loathing closet case who target, stalked, harassed, and encouraged others to harass and send death threats to a young gay man who had been elected student body president of the same university the assistant attorney general had graduated from years earlier. Note that the guy used state equipment to do the stalking and to post the online harassment, as well as doing a lot of it when he was supposed to be working. In one incident, when neighbors had called in the suspicious car that had been circling the block where the student lived, the guy lied to police saying that he was staking out someone for a legitimate investigation.
Originally the Michigan Attorney General claimed to have investigated the instances and said the guy was merely expressing opinions. Then, after the parents of the harassed gay student were interviewed on TV about the incident, a prosecutor announced he would run against the AG to clean up the department (and polls showed he might win), then suddenly the AG asked an semi-retired judge to perform an outside investigation. While that judge couldn’t reveal the specifics of the original internal investigation, his own report indicated that all the evidence necessary to justify firing the assistant AG had been contained in the first investigation. Anyway, the anti-gay assistant AG was fired, then disbarred, and now he’s lost his last appeal of the disbarment.
Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
Now, let’s hope that something similar happens to some school officials: Oregon school allegedly forced LGBTQ student to read Bible as punishment. Before anyone points out that there is a hearing coming up, please note that in the initial official report, the administrator who is disputing that these incidents constitute discrimination has admitted that the student was forced to read the Bible as punishment. So there isn’t really an “allegedly” there. The administrator and supervisor are only disputing that this and other incidents don’t count as discrimination. They aren’t denying that the things happened.
This is a public school, therefore a government-run institution, and the Constitution conservatives claim to love prohibits the establishment of religion, which means while acting in your official capacity you can’t use your religion to justify actions, and you sure as hell can’t force people to read your holy book to try to convince them to agree with you. Which, when you make a queer kid read the parts of the Bible you think condemn homosexuality as “punishment” of the crime of complaining about being called a faggot on school grounds, is clearly what the school official was doing.
The Oregon Department of Education has already made the finding that these incidents probably (duh) violate the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Constitution. I sure hope the ACLU is involved and these administrators get sued into oblivion.