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8005 Days Later January 17, 2014

Posted by craftlass in beliefs, life lessons.
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I think about my mother most, if not all, days. In one month it will be the 22nd anniversary of her death by drunk taxi driver. That’s 8005 days so far. Probably on about 7500-7995 of those days my thoughts of her boil down to, “I wish I could ask Mom what she thinks about x…”

Then there are days like today, when the loss feels even more crushing than it did at the time, because it’s real now. It took about a year for me to process that she was really gone. We didn’t see each other much in those last years, both of us were far too busy, so it wasn’t strange to go for days without really crossing paths with her. It didn’t help that she didn’t look like herself in her coffin, either. Her head had been pretty much shattered or crushed in the accident and, while the mortician did a fantastic job of re-sculpting her face, it was even easier than in most cases to look right at it and be in complete denial. It was very important to some of our family to have an open casket, but that’s one of my few regrets, agreeing to that. I hate remembering that ruined head. It wasn’t hers.

Her head was where she lived. The thing that has always given me some measure of peace is the absolutely sincere conviction that she’d rather be dead than alive with a compromised brain. I would, too, and I will never be anywhere near as brilliant as she was.

Since she was killed in St. Maarten, it took a long time to get details of the accident and there are many I’ll never know, because I couldn’t be an advocate in any way, and advocates are often the only reason anyone tries to get to the truth. The police investigation was terribly bungled. We had to get a lawyer there to try to fight for us, but there was little he could do. The cops had let the driver go home, it took at least 15 minutes for them to test him for drugs and alcohol and, even though his levels of alcohol and cocaine were too high to make his story (the he had them after the accident) plausible, they just couldn’t prove he was drunk and high before they let him leave the scene.

For all I know, he’s still driving drunk and has hurt or killed others. I hope that is not the case. I hope he learned his lesson, that he remembers the day he took the life of a woman in her prime and came close to creating an orphan (my father managed to shock everyone by recovering, but it was touch-and-go for some time) and wants it to never, ever happen again. I don’t know who he is, so I will never know. I’d rather not know. I’d rather have hope.

I don’t understand how anyone can have even a drink and get behind the wheel. Once upon a time, sure, but since the 80s no one can claim ignorance about the effects of alcohol on your reflexes. I have a deep love of whiskey (and whisky), craft beers, good tequila, and fine cocktails. I’ve been tempted to have “just one” when I was the driver many times. But it’s not worth it. Nothing is worth it. Exactly one time I had a little champagne before I drove a very short way, and I still haven’t stopped beating myself up for it, 18 years later.

The way I see it, if one drink makes me feel even slightly more relaxed, then one drink is too many for driving. It’s a good lesson to get pounded in so deeply before getting a driver’s license.

Until the past few years, when my social life expanded globally thanks to social media, I could honestly say that most of the people I love are dead. That’s a strange thing to be true in your 20s and early 30s, at least, according to friends. The concept that anyone can get to adulthood without losing a whole lot of people is foreign to me.

Please don’t feel bad for me about this, it’s not necessarily a bad truth. Death is something we all have to deal with and you need to learn your own best methods for grieving. Experience is the only way to learn. My family didn’t ever spare me from attending wakes and funerals, even as a toddler, and I’m endlessly grateful for that decision. I could never have planned a funeral attended by hundreds at the age of 15 without having attended a few myself in the past. Planning her funeral was the best thing for me at the time, I learned that hard work and strategizing in times of trouble was my best way to cope, lessons that I have used in many situations since, like volunteering at Ground Zero and managing our “refugee” lives during Sandy. I learned that I could stand up to adults who wanted to treat me like a little kid and use their power to influence me or take me out of the equation, a very empowering thing for a teenager.

I think it’s also why I don’t fear death, and has a lot to do with my lack of faith in a higher power or afterlife. I hadn’t had faith in monotheism for a long time before my mother died, but if there was any chance I’d come back to it, it died with her. Immortality has no attraction for me. The brevity of life is exactly what makes it so exciting. Every single day matters. Thinking that you have more waiting for you after death (especially with all sorts of conditions on what that next life could be) can prevent you from living this life to the fullest. Heck, even if I’m wrong, and there is something more, why squander this life on that chance?

The only immortality that matters is the life that you live in the hearts and minds of those who cared about you and your work. I’ve run into some old students of my mother’s who were deeply affected by her, including kids who never expected to go to college before she came into their lives but did because she pushed them and are so glad. About 800 people turned up to her funeral. She was popular and beloved and I had no idea until the crowds packed our church. She earned it. She tirelessly worked to make the lives of everyone around her better. She made a lot of enemies along the way, too, but you have to in order to make a real difference, especially in the nasty field of public education. Even a lot of people who didn’t necessarily like her much showed up to honor her out of respect. It was amazing.

I really wish I could have understood any of this when she was alive. It’s pretty common to take your mother for granted, especially in adolescence. You can’t really know who your parents are until you are an adult, you can’t understand their jobs and lives from the perspective of childhood. Now that I understand my mother better as a whole person, I just wish I could talk to her about it all. I wish I could ask her opinion of current events, especially in education. I really, really wish that I could discuss her scholarly work from her PhD days and hear more about her early travels, and tell her that her dissertation is now considered a serious academic source cited by many scholars in recent years. That would make her so happy!

Ah, well. Nothing that can be done. But this is why I have days where the wounds still feel very fresh, even after 8005 of them.

I’d be a different person if my mother was still around. I would have had far less control of my own decisions through my young adult years, she was pretty controlling in some ways and would be very upset with some aspects of my life. I would have been more protected through those years as well, and that is not an appealing idea at all. Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to my mother being gone.

Other losses are much simpler to process, I just flat-out miss the people and their presence in my life and I grieve for them without holding back. With my mother, it’s very complicated. Most of my life has been pretty amazing, and I’m pretty sure I’d have missed out on most of my best adventures if she had been around. But I would have had other adventures and experiences, and who knows how cool they could have been? Not worth dwelling on. There are no answers. I’m 99.9999% sure that I would never have met the love of my life, which is the ultimate reason to be glad things worked out as they did, no matter how difficult.

Most days, I let these conflicted thoughts help me cope and the happy memories and gratitude over having the mother I did are the raft I float on.

Today is just not one of those days.

But, I’m not sharing this to make anyone sad. I’m sorry if I have. The thing is, you may miss someone forever and there will be rough days, but if you allow yourself to feel all the feelings, it does get better. The days I miss my mother the most are also the days her memory inspires me to fight the good fights, share experiences, and appreciate what little time I have with everyone I care about.

If you find yourself thinking about my mom’s story the next time you have a choice about drinking and driving and let it influence your choice, this is all worth sharing just for that.

If you find yourself taking the people you care about a little less for granted today, even better.

But the best thing of all would be if you take this as a wake-up call to follow your passions, then you really get the point. You could be dead tomorrow. What are you going to do with today?


Just Don’t Go November 27, 2013

Posted by craftlass in home, life lessons.
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I’ve received a few emails over the past month about petitions to stop the big box stores from opening on Thanksgiving. I heartily support these people who created these petitions, workers who are forced to skip what is supposed to be a national holiday, a national day of rest and food and family. THE American holiday. Lots of nations have Independence Days, only one that I know of (Canada) has a Thanksgiving besides us (please correct me in the comments if I have that wrong, I have too much baking to do today to do a bunch of research).

“National holiday” is a phrase that has lost all meaning. Nobody cares about veterans, or laborers, or anyone involved in making this country great anymore. No, people care about how much they can save on a mattress, a new TV, or their holiday gifts. People care more about what makes this country suck – greed. Pure greed and a complete lack of compassion. All to prepare for a holiday that’s supposed to be about celebrating the birth of a man who preached against materialism and taught that compassion for the poor is the highest quality a human being can have.

Employees have no choice. Many would lose their jobs instantly if they refused to work on the holiday. The people who need a day off far more than most of us have to work.

Have you ever worked on your feet? Worked retail on a major shopping day? It’s exhausting. Holidays are often the only days that lower-income workers even get off, in this world of working 2 or 3 jobs and still making so little that food stamps are the only way to make ends meet.

That’s why we need national holidays, for the least of us who have the least to have a day off to rest their weary feet, catch up with family, and maybe have a nice meal with the people they love.

So, what can you do? Don’t go. Don’t support any store that is open on Thursday during this Christmas season and write them to tell them why you won’t be shopping there, maybe even include what your budget would be at that store if you weren’t boycotting. Skip Black Friday at the stores that open at midnight or 6 am or whatever completely ridiculous hour wrecks any Thursday plans for employees. Participate in Small Business Saturday and support your neighbors. Shop online! That will save you money, time, hassle, and maybe even a black eye. If you have geeks on your list, I recommend ThinkGeek because they are good people who run a good business (I do ALL of my Christmas shopping there every year, including for the non-geeks on my list, because they really do have something for everyone and the best customer service in the sector) and I have never seen evidence they treat employees with less than full respect.*

Even if you don’t care at all about the plight of retail workers (and I’m sure some of you don’t), then be selfish. Don’t let Wal-Mart, Target, or any other store ruin YOUR holiday. The sales may be tempting, but is your time really so low in value that you’d rather spend hours of misery shopping than spend a few dollars more? The only thing that will make them change these horrendous practices is a hit to the bottom line.

My Christmas budget this year is non-existent, but even my time is too valuable to justify shopping these sales. The friends-turned-family that I spend my Turkey Day with and our long-held traditions are even more valuable. Priceless, actually. I also know that they would rather that I get them no gifts than leave in the middle of our festivities for something as stupid as waiting in long lines.

I would have to question whether I actually like or respect a person who would leave a holiday to shop, even. It’s a sign that person’s priorities are completely screwed up.

Avoiding these stores is the compassionate thing to do, the humanist thing to do, the Christian thing to do. Whatever your faith or philosophy, unless you are the sort for whom monetary greed IS a religion, there is no way to justify hurting people in the name of saving what amounts to not really that much money.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgivukkah this year! Two fun-as-can-be holidays, come together. This is definitely not the year to skip the holiday! Dreidels and turkey! Gelt and pumpkin pie! Latkes and sweet potato casserole! I hear the next one is in 80,000 years so we better make this one count!

Sing songs, argue about politics and childhood memories, eat until you can’t waddle, and bask in the glow of a precious day off. Bring back the magic of the unofficial start of the holidays and soak every bit of love up while you sop up leftover gravy with a freshly-baked roll. And then get a good night of turkey-induced sleep and enjoy your day off on Friday if you are lucky enough to have it off.

Now, if you will excuse me, it’s time to make the pastry for 3 types of pie… Priorities!

*Full disclosure: I have won a few ThinkGeek items at events, but they have never sent me merchandise to review, paid me in any way other than GeekPoints (which everyone gets), or otherwise asked me to mention them in any way. I’m just a fan and customer.

Bursting Bubbles November 22, 2013

Posted by craftlass in beliefs, education, life lessons.
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“It’s not gonna make a difference. I can’t beat them. All I have on my side is facts and science. And people hate facts and science.” – Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope

There. In one tiny part of a scene, the writers of Parks and Recreation captured the core of my frustration with the world.

I’ve written a lot about the wonders of finding like-minded people to talk to, largely thanks to social media and the breaking of geographic barriers. The internet has brought us together and torn us further apart than ever at the same time. While I marvel at finding out I can chat both about Mars and the Bard with a guy who literally had a job where he “drove a car” on Mars, other people are marveling at how awesome it is that they can share their willful ignorance with like-minded people. If I can name thousands of sites to back up my claims, well, they can too. The problem with the easy sharing of information is that the ease of spreading disinformation grows just as rapidly.

It’s so easy to wrap yourself up in bubbles. While it’s an easy joke to say that Republican politicians are in a bubble, as Bill Maher likes to point out most weeks, the truth is, most people swan dive right into one bubble or another. It’s easy to focus solely on information that backs you up.

It’s also really easy to ignore things you don’t agree with. That’s where things get really dangerous.

Remember “dittoheads” as a term? You don’t hear it as much these days, I’m not sure if it’s because Rush Limbaugh finally annoyed even his listeners to the point where they aren’t proudly calling themselves by a name that essentially means, “I let someone else think for me,” or if he just doesn’t have the juice he once had in general. Again, easy to poke fun at Rush and his fans, but it’s no less scary when someone acts that way towards any other persona. I know a guy who quotes Rachel Maddow so consistently that even when he’s making a good point, it’s lost, because he sounds more like a Myna bird than a person expressing his own ideas.

I’m not saying it’s not okay to quote people to back up your arguments. Heck, I quoted a fictional character here! The problem is when the vast majority of your quotes come from a single source, be it your professor or pastor or Fox News or MSNBC or the Bible or the Constitution of the United States.

There is no such thing as a perfect person, document, group, organization, scientific study, government, or work of art. There is no such thing as perfection. And this is coming from a perfectionist.

If you don’t mind my utilizing a little more wisdom gleaned somehow from the land of sitcoms, an older The Big Bang Theory rerun got me thinking recently. For those who don’t watch the show, Leonard (Johnny Galecki) is an experimental physicist who comes from a whole family of overachievers, where being a physicist at a leading institution doesn’t even rank. When his mother comes to visit he promises to take her to see his lab, but as they walk off for the tour he mentions he’s currently duplicating an experiment done by an Italian team. She remarks that she might as well just read the paper by the Italians while Leonard’s roommate (a theoretical physicist) mocks him for his lack of original research. It’s a funny scene that has made me laugh many times, and a fairly accurate portrayal of intellectual snobbery, but in this last viewing I got a little angry. One of the duties of an experimental physicist is to duplicate results found by others. That’s how science works. Without duplication, the first experiment isn’t worth anything. The results could have been a fluke or the result of uncaught human error or even something as unpredictable as an errant breeze might have upset something (depending on the type of research, of course). There is nothing less than noble about being the person who proves the original results are correct and a scientist should know better. Maybe it’s nobler, as you do get less credit.

One of the reasons the Olympics are exciting is that, quite often, the favorite fails to win the gold. When a huge championship is decided by a single event the underdogs actually have a bit of an advantage, because they are not subjected to as much pressure or bugged as much by distractions like giving interviews. That’s why a lot of sports leagues have multi-game playoffs and championships. It’s very likely that an underdog can win a Super Bowl (a single competition) but less likely for an underdog to win a World Series or Stanley Cup (a series of competitions). A single, very-first-to-be-done, experiment is like the Olympics or the Super Bowl, and the only way to find out if the results are good are to repeat, repeat, repeat.

That’s why science works better than any other system of gaining knowledge. It is absolutely imperfect, because it’s done by humans. Science can contradict itself in the short term, but that’s why scientists keep working the problem until the correct answer is found, even if it takes thousands of years to get there. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Scientific studies can be corrupted by the source of funding. That’s okay because it is inevitable, that’s why you need studies repeated by all the sectors from utterly public government programs to private corporations. More data, always more data. Studies can back up any sort of nonsense, until they are repeated by scientists from other organizations with other funding. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Flawed studies have created all sorts of weirdness from diet crazes to the non/less-religious arm of the anti-vaccination movement. We hear the results of flawed studies all the time, which sometimes leads to hilarious contradictions like hearing, “Don’t ever drink alcohol if you want to be healthy!” on the 6 o’clock news and then, “Drink a glass of red wine every day for heart health!” on the 11 o’clock. The repeat attempts rarely make headlines and often disprove those early studies. Sometimes there are signs pointing in different directions for years before the truth is revealed. Science is not glamorous. It’s not for those who crave instant gratification. The media and science are on completely different time tracks.

Part of me would love to work in some form of “pure” scientific research, because I’d love to be contributing to the body of human knowledge, but part of me realizes that I just don’t have the patience. That’s okay, too, it’s just how I formed and I have different skills.

But just because I’m not a scientist and never will be in any academic/professional sense doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t approach everything with a scientific mindset. I need to read, listen to, and watch things I disagree with as well as those I am inclined to agree with. I need to talk to people who challenge my thoughts as they grow into beliefs. I have deep cravings for raw data that I can interpret myself, not just other people’s interpretations (although I’d like to have at least 3 contradictory interpretations by experts, please). I even have sort of a strange(?) habit of coming up with specific questions that I ask everyone I wind up talking to over a period of a few months, just to get the widest possible range of spontaneous conversational answers as I can as someone without a research grant or access to a call center and phone lists, like mini-polling with room for additional comments. Most importantly, I must change my mind when all of the information I’ve collected, from anecdotes to proper scientific data (if available, depending on topic), shows me a different answer than expected. The process never ends. I will most certainly die with more questions than answers in my head, no matter how much I learn or develop deeply-held beliefs across the span of my lifetime. That’s a good thing.

I don’t care what any individual believes, I care how a person approaches knowledge. It’s entirely possible to look at the same data and interpret it differently, because we are always informed by our past experiences. That’s just being human. Refusing to look at data (and the methodologies behind that data), both for and against your position, is choosing to not exercise your greatest strength as the most successful animal on Planet Earth.

We’re all born as scientists in a sense, curious about our bodies, the people we see, and the world around us. We explore and interact and experiment and try the same thing a few times before we learn what hurts and what feels good and what makes our parents angry or makes them laugh. Trial-and-error, the basic principle behind the grander scientific method, is our default in those early years. It’s why babyproofing is a thing. What makes some people lose that sense of wonder and curiosity? What makes some people become followers? Why do some people flatly deny facts that are backed up by the vast majority of research? And why do some people retain all of that curiosity to the point where they’re willing to go deep into jungles or the Arctic or space to look for answers?

If we can find the answers to those particular questions, maybe we’ll care less about what other people think or pushing our own beliefs on others because we’ll all be too busy trying to learn what we ourselves think. That’s my idea of utopia. Not a place where we all believe exactly the same things, but a place where we are open to one simple statement… I may be wrong, but I’m going to do everything I can to find out. A place where people don’t hate facts and science.

Imagine what we could learn…

I May Be Broken, But That’s Why Troubleshooting Exists November 13, 2013

Posted by craftlass in life lessons.

My life changed again yesterday. When I wrote “Broken” I was at the highest stress level I’ve felt in years. Wit’s end, really. I hadn’t been online in weeks (well, the interactive sort of online, I’ll never stop reading certain blogs), I had been trying to hide my emotions from the few people I have been in contact with (especially the one I live with), and I couldn’t see any hint of light in either direction from the tunnel I’d dug.

Within minutes of posting I got a whole slew of leads, great advice, the sympathy that I didn’t want but actually felt like support instead of pity, sold some music, found out that some people really dug my Christmas concert last year, and was reminded of how quickly confusion can lead to clarity if you just talk to people who care and really listen to their responses. I even managed to pay my rent for this month!

The thing is, since I joined Twitter and started making friends through it, this has been a repeated experience in many ways. When I thought I couldn’t make it to the STS-133 NASA Tweetup people rallied to get me there, for example. I wound up helping other people get there, too, and without a hint of reservation or feeling put-out. Why do I struggle accept this new paradigm?

When I was a child and a friend hurt me, the first time I was outright stabbed in the back by someone I trusted, my dad sat me down and explained that you have to be careful with your trust and choose friends wisely. He said that if you have a single true friend in life you are exceptionally lucky. He’s right. That is generally the case. I was an oddball kid and there were people who took advantage of my generous nature and desperate need to find connections. I stayed in relationships that were not healthy because I didn’t want to hurt people in the way I had been hurt. I became an even more oddball adult. I learned a lot of strategies to try to protect myself, from healthy wariness to outright behaving as poorly as those around me. I hate to admit it, but I didn’t really understand friendship back then and I acted in ways that the society I was raised in taught me – attack before you get attacked. Not that I didn’t have any good people in my life, I always have, but they’ve been outliers rather than the majority. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out who is good for you and who is not. Most of us have to learn this the hard way, right?

There was one person in particular who seemed like a very good friend. We’ve known each other for almost 20 years, have experienced a lot of the Big Life Moments together, and had a lot of fun back in the day. We had a lot in common. We also had a lot of issues and, over the years, I’ve realized that she was not very good for me (to put it mildly) multiple times and sought to end the relationship. Yet I always went back. After one of our most recent phone calls I realized that it was at least the 3rd time in a row that I cried after we had been talking. I thought over everything she said and it all fell into two basic categories: 1) All about her, even if the subject had nothing to do with her personal life (brilliantly demonstrated by Howard Wolowitz managing to turn every conversation into one about his trip to space, even when the subject was lemons, on The Big Bang Theory); 2) Telling me how much everyone but her thinks I suck in every way, but how wrong all of them are and how wonderful she thinks I am. Even worse, I realized it had been this way the whole time we’d known each other. Still worse, I realized that this was exactly the same sort of psychological abuse that I rail against when it’s men hurting their female partners. Every time I hung up the phone or came home from seeing her I felt worthless, utterly worthless. She was clearly trying to isolate me, make my orbit revolve around her. I’m pretty sure she didn’t do this on purpose, I think she has her own serious problems and I became the person who bore the brunt of her problems. I stayed on her team because I was worried about her problems. I didn’t want to give up, because one of my goals in life is to be a very good, compassionate person. I don’t always succeed, but I will never stop trying. At some point, though, the benefit of the doubt has to run out when someone is actively attacking you, whether they mean to or not.

Last year, when I was lamenting not being able to volunteer to help other victims of Sandy because I had to meet with FEMA and insurance folks, figure out where we were going to live until our home was livable again (not to mention organize multiple moves), and basically spend hours just getting our most basic needs taken care of, someone reminded me that I was a victim needing help, and only when my own needs were met could I be of useful aid to anyone else. It was funny, because I’ve given that same advice hundreds of times and yet, here I was, needing to hear it from someone else. We’re strange creatures that way. Sometimes the most obvious things DO need to be pointed out. I hung up the phone on my old friend one day and used the term “victim” in my head for the first time.

People often think that looking at yourself as a victim is bad. I see it all the time. “Don’t be a victim, be a survivor.” “Stop playing the victim card.” “Your victim mentality is hurting you more than the crime.” Sure, if you blame anyone/everyone else for all of your problems, it can get unhealthy quickly. But, and this is a huge BUT, until you recognize that you are a victim of a specific situation, you can’t take the actions that might fix the problem at hand and prevent a repeat occurrence. I stayed in unhealthy friendships for years, simply by refusing to acknowledge my victimhood, and it distorted my view of people in general. That acknowledgment gave me the tools to extract myself from a bad situation, and empowered me to take a hard look at all of my relationships and see which were fulfilling and which were damaging. You have to be a victim before you can grow into a survivor and there is nothing wrong or embarrassing about that.

So, when I got such an overwhelmingly positive response to my post yesterday, it caught me off-guard. I haven’t posted here in so long I figured maybe 10 people would even read the piece. Within an hour or so 6 times that many people had read it and it was still spreading. It was retweeted like crazy, by smart people who are influencers in the worlds I like to live in. I haven’t been on Facebook yet (it really takes all of my patience and positivity to survive looking at Facebook) but I did get notifications that it was shared there as well. I got messages from people I haven’t communicated with in years. I got messages from people in the same situation, grateful that someone expressed the frustrations they haven’t been able to share. Most of all, I got messages that cut to the heart of my problems and gave me the perspectives I needed from people who clearly know me a whole lot better than I had realized.

One of my favorite people on (and frequently above) this planet, Tim Bailey (go follow him if you use Twitter and don’t have him in your stream yet, he tweets mainly about space but also about living a positive life in such a refreshing way), told me a long time ago that my biggest problem is that I stubbornly refuse to ask for help. He’s right. He figured it out when he barely knew me. Come to think of it, the first time we met he did me a giant favor that I was reluctant to ask for. That’s the thing about real friends, they tell it like it is and make you a better person through such honesty. They don’t degrade you to manipulate, but they don’t sugar-coat things that are true. They give you perspective. None of us is perfect but a true friend will help you reach for your goals or just figure out what those goals should be.

Note to self: I really should call Tim. Why does my brain keep me from picking up a phone?

A lot of people tell me I’m brave because I share some of my darkest thoughts here. It would be far braver to pick up a phone and tell any of my friends, “I need you right now.” It would be far braver to admit that my life has changed, that the people who were aiming to hurt me are out of my little corner of the universe, that I know how to read warning signs better, that I don’t have to face life alone, that I have deep and meaningful relationships outside of my family, that the love I feel for people and that I feel is returned is not just a construct of my overactive imagination.

Making myself publicly vulnerable is the reason that I need to stop writing this and finish an estimate for a project I am beyond excited to work on as well as polish up the new resume and portfolios I’m creating with the great advice from people who know a whole lot more than I do about finding work, for the people who requested them. Confidence should ideally come from inside, but I defy anyone who claims that their confidence is not at all affected by outside reactions, especially anyone creative. When the same people who are willing to point out your flaws in a constructive way also point out your neglected talents, it’s a lot easier to believe those talents are real and deserve renewed attention. Isolation is a great environment for questioning everything and finding uncertainty all around you.

In a couple of weeks it will be the 4th anniversary of the release of “Bake Sale for NASA“, another life-changing moment for me and the catalyst that led to most of the positive elements of my life today. I never really wanted to be a musician as a vocation and I never tried the way I probably should have. Most of my life can be summed up that way, I let life happen to me. That was fine when I was younger, it led me down paths I would never have sought and taught me lessons I would never want to give up. I think I’m finally ready to pursue life with full vigor.

All because of a little help from my friends.

Drat, now I’m going to have The Beatles in my head for the rest of the day…

Broken November 12, 2013

Posted by craftlass in life lessons.
Tags: , ,

I kind of want to die. Don’t worry, I’m not suicidal or planning to take any risks (above the risks that we all take by eating and walking around and using the bathroom and such). I just can’t see a way out of being such a burden to people right now and be alive. I know, rationally, this is incredibly stupid, and these same people would be miserable if I was gone. I despise this feeling that I’m a vortex that sucks everything good out of the people around me.

I’ve been job hunting for a few years now and it’s the most demoralizing experience. Worse, it’s my fault that I’m difficult to hire. I have a very weird work history, not the kind that screams “reliable!” It’s probably hard for anyone in HR to parse out what my skills really are, especially as a lot of my skills are difficult to get into a resume and absolutely impossible to get onto a job application. I don’t have good excuses for gaps, I’m not a mother who took time off to raise kids (and we all know that returning to the workforce after that break is difficult at best) or someone who took time off to go to school. I prefer working for small businesses and that leads to a lot of instability. I took opportunities to travel when I could instead of getting some crappy job just to make sure these gaps didn’t occur. I don’t regret those choices at all, my life has been extraordinarily full of wonder and love and excitement. Unfortunately, it left me in a really bad place financially. I took things a little too far. I can’t change that.

People don’t understand broke. College kids always talk about being broke, but it’s a sort of broke that usually includes a roof over your head and access to cafeterias and no worries about how you will survive the next month (I said “usually”, there are certainly truly struggling students as well). That’s not broke. That’s not having enough fun money. Broke is worrying about being evicted and homeless, 24/7. Broke is realizing you can’t renew your driver’s license because of the fees, which then cuts down on the jobs you can apply for. Broke is your clothes falling apart yet still being worn because holey clothes are better than no clothes. For many people, broke is starvation. I’m lucky on that last part, my partner keeps us stocked with food, but then I feel terribly guilty eating it except for the one meal we share each day. This is bad, because on my best days I’m incapable of consuming the amount of calories I should to maintain my weight. Guilt is an appetite-killer for me as well.

I know why people don’t understand, because I really didn’t either. I remember friends telling me they were too broke to grab a pint and thinking, “That’s just $5 or so… Anyone can afford $5.” I can’t. I get it now and I apologize for dismissing anyone’s reality so cavalierly, I truly did not understand. I also spent years offering to pay for friends to come out and do things with me, and genuinely did not consider taking a friend out for a night a burden at all. So why do I feel so rotten every time a friend takes me out? Or buys me a gift? Actually, I didn’t feel bad until recently because I was sure that something would work out and I could reciprocate soon. That last bit of hope is long gone.

I haven’t even tried to do anything on the music front because I can’t support other musicians, the bars that still have original music, or the community as a whole right now. I believe in supporting those who support you and don’t like one-way streets at all. Between some serious personal problems and Sandy I lost my way in music and I don’t know how to find a new path at this moment.

The insane thing is that my preferred jobs right now would be the crap that most people supposedly don’t want. Well, ideally I’d work from home, but that’s an insanely high goal right now. I’d rather work nights if possible, and that means things like waitressing, bartending, and even retail are fine by me. I’m applying for lots of day jobs, too, but it’s very strange to now live in a world where the “crappy” jobs are extremely competitive. I don’t have 2 years’ experience waitressing, I just don’t, and I can’t magically have that. I haven’t worked in a retail store since I was in high school and that was only a temporary holiday job. It’s one thing to hear about how bad the job market is, it’s another thing to live it.

I’d be an awesome bartender. I know how to make a slew of tasty cocktails, pour a perfect pint of Guinness (a skill that very few in America have), and I’m basically an amateur psychologist anyway to both friends and strangers. I’m good-looking, too, not beautiful but charmingly petite in a way that disarms people and gets them to open up their wallets. That shouldn’t be a consideration, but I know that there aren’t too many bartenders around here who aren’t fairly good-looking, so it’s a bonus trait at the very least. I just don’t have professional experience. How the hell does someone start bartending? I haven’t a clue. Oddly, neither do the bartenders I’ve gone to for advice, except one said the path is though bar back. No one is going to hire a 5′ tall woman who weighs under 100 pounds as a bar back anyway.

If I was alone I could bear even the worst consequences, but I don’t live in a vacuum. I live with a man who deserves someone way better than me in every way. I’m terrified that I’m ruining his life and he’d be better off without me in the long run. He has never given me a reason to feel this way, this is all my take on things. He’s amazing and I’m ridiculously lucky in this area.

I’m definitely ruining friendships. The rare instances when I’ve made it out I’ve become this shrill person that I can’t stand to be around, let alone expose others to. Stress is changing my external personality. So, as I do, I retreat into my hole, turn off my notifications on social media and “fun” email, and just escape the world. Again, I know this is really freaking stupid but I’m just not pleasant to be around or talk to right now. I don’t want to catch anyone else in my web of misery and fear and trying to act like things are okay is exhausting.

The worst thing of all is that I’m not living up to any of my ideals. My life plan never included marriage because I didn’t want to be dependent on anyone. Turns out that you don’t need that piece of paper to feel dependent. Who knew? I never really had a specific career in mind but I sure thought that I’d have one by now. I did have one, once. I don’t miss that career but I miss the drive that created. I don’t do well without a goal to strive for, it’s just the way I’m wired.

The irony is that I work very hard, I’ve been designing web sites that I’m exceptionally proud of, especially the Danger Comics site. I tend to work better to deadline than I do to hours and I’ve fallen madly in love with working on these sites. My clients are an absolute delight to work with, creative geniuses who also happen to be the truest of friends. They just don’t pay enough to make a dent in my expenses. It’s okay, I offered to do these sites for low-cost because I hadn’t designed a site in years and I know what my clients can afford. I’d rather have some work than none, and I’d rather support people I admire than let their work suffer due to a lack of a good tech person. I stand by those choices and really have learned a lot that I didn’t know a year ago in the process. I’ve gained confidence as a designer and that’s priceless. I’m just not sure how I can expand on this in a way that will get me cold, hard cash in the quantities that life in the NYC metro area requires.

I’ve taken some advantage of this time in super-positive ways, too. I’ve finally started learning to play guitar, really play, not just strum some basic chords as I’ve been doing for the past 22 years. I’ve almost doubled my singing range in the past year. I’ve developed a great workout routine that has me feeling (and looking) great. I’ve been sort of giving myself a full makeover, inside and out, trying to stave off overwhelming depression and create something good out of adversity. My face (which has been covered in acne and psoriasis for the past couple of years, plus the beginnings of lines and wrinkling) is starting to clear up because I’ve made a point of taking better care of it. I’ve learned to apply makeup well and play the feminine game better (I may hate the game, but I still have to live with it and want any advantage I can get). The last two will fall apart if I can’t replace my dwindling products soon, but I’m really glad I’ve gotten this far. I taught myself to sew to finish off my Halloween costume and hope to learn more so I can eventually make my own clothing. I’ve been doing exercises to improve my brain as well and can feel them making a real difference. I’m working on my first novel and writing songs that I’m exceptionally proud of. In many ways, I am at my peak right now.

Some peak.

I keep having to remind myself that I have things to offer the world. I know how to do many, many things and they were almost all self-taught. I’m great with lots of pro-level software, from ProTools to almost everything Adobe makes with many stops in-between. I taught myself web design 3 times over at different points in tech history, using various technologies and languages from hand-coded HTML back in the day to fully-customized WordPress sites now. I’ve played both team and solo sports, which taught me how to be very competitive myself without forgetting to play nice with and support others. I’ve organized great events of various kinds from tiny to huge. I’ve made mistakes (who hasn’t?), but I’m a very determined person, and I will work on something until it is as flawless as the time frame allows, even if that means learning something entirely new to me to accomplish. At my one big corporate job I regularly fixed the tech issues that our IT department couldn’t or wouldn’t fix at the request of superiors, even though it was not even vaguely in my job description. I hate down time at work and will always try to find something productive to do before I’d consider, say, watching YouTube videos or browsing social media unless I’m seriously overworked and tired. I’m at my happiest when embroiled in a project. I live by Tim Gunn’s motto, “Make it work!” These are special qualities, in my humble opinion. I’ve seen how many people who make good money spend the whole workday posting to Facebook and Twitter…

But how do you get any of that in a resume or application? And if you could, it kind of looks like something trite you’d say to get the job, not the truth that it is. Remember in the 80s when the big buzz phrase was, “I’m a people person!”? It became a joke even though being a “people person” is key to succeeding in many arenas.

I’ve never been invited for an in-person interview without getting the job offer. I just can’t get in the door anymore. I’m willing to do anything but take my clothes off (which I’m kind of old for anyway, no matter how young I look), as long as it won’t kill my back (basically, as long as I don’t spend all of the day lifting very heavy boxes, but I can do some with no problem. UPS is out but retail stocking would be okay, for example). Friends who have offered to hook me up with jobs live at least 3 hours away, and I can’t relocate. I live right next door to one of the greatest cities in the world, a city known for being full of opportunity, and it just seems to have no place for a clever, creative, hard-working, unusual gal like me. Granted, I would much rather work on this side of the river, but I’m not silly enough to hold out for that possibility.

I have a few really good business ideas as well, but after trying to be a solo entrepreneur I’m aware that I need a partner, not just to complement my skill set (which does have gaps, as everyone’s does) but because collaboration is the only way to stave off tunnel vision and have a good sounding board. I don’t know how to find one on purpose, my former partners were all involved from conception. Also, you do need a little seed money and credit for any new business, even if it is a very little bit, and I’m tapped out in every way. I’m not embarrassed to say that I would need help to get something new off the ground, it’s actually a mark of how much I have grown since my early endeavors. Life is a marvelous teacher if you listen to the clues it provides!

I don’t want to be a part of this world if I can’t contribute to it. I don’t want to drag down the people I love. I don’t want charity or a handout. I just want to work. I just want to pay my damn rent on time again. I think that’s how the vast majority of people feel and right now there are millions of people in my country alone who probably could write large parts of this piece. I wish that was comforting knowledge but it just makes me sad and angry.

As I prepare to sell everything that means anything to me in an attempt to keep our home, things that are utterly irreplaceable, I am astounded at how little it all amounts to. What’s priceless to me is cheap to the rest of the world, even things that cost a lot when they were new. It feels like a metaphor for my own value.

I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I need to get this stuff off my chest for myself, but I also find that people really need education on what it is like to be unemployed. It’s so easy to claim that those without jobs are lazy, but that is the rare exception. The more I talk to people in similar situations the more I see how innate our desire to contribute is. The entire reason the human race has succeeded is our social predilection, it allowed us to develop these big brains instead of, say, getting faster or physically stronger than all the other animals. We get satisfaction from participating in our tribe, and the modern form of that is being part of the active workforce, our equivalent of being a hunter and/or gatherer. It’s the most natural thing in the world to value yourself by your contributions to society.

There are far worse fates than death.

Dear Charity August 23, 2013

Posted by craftlass in life lessons.
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Dear charity,

I believe in your cause. I really do. That is why I gave you money. I understood at the time that this would open me up to receiving requests for more money, after all, I did willingly give you my contact information. I am proud to have given you money. I don’t have a lot, but when I have a little something to give, I give. I’m very interested in what you are doing and appreciate the occasional update or news alert. It makes me feel like that bit of money is getting together with everyone else’s to do something positive and sometimes the news you send me might not reach my eyes otherwise. Being informed is a good thing.

The problem is, nothing with you is occasional.

At least you’ve given up on the snail mail. Not too long ago you provided my shredder with a whole lot of munchies. Snail mail costs and I have had experience at bulk mailing, it takes a lot of work to properly prepare everything and that takes manpower. To add to the insanity, you sent every piece of mail to both me and my partner, which means that I had to spend a bunch of time shredding two pieces of mail (if you add it up over the years, of course) that someone in your office spent a lot of time creating. You’ve probably spent at least as much money mailing me requests for more money as I spent giving to you. The fact that you came to your senses and dropped the mailings is a very good thing.

Unfortunately, this leaves email. Email is good, it costs nothing to send and takes less work than any bulk mailing ever has. The problem is, this ease and convenience means that you seem to think that flooding my inbox is a good idea that might convince me to give you more money. I don’t think there has ever been a whole week where you have not sent me an email. In fact, I’d be shocked if there’s ever been a week with as few as one. Morning after morning, I see your name there. I’d like to open them, since they might contain some piece of information I’d like to have. The trouble is, if I do open it, the most likely content is a rehash of things you have already told me followed by all the reasons I need to give more now, RIGHT NOW, because, you know, it is a CRUCIAL MOMENT and that means MORE MONEY is needed for the FINAL PUSH. Those phrases lose their EMPHASIS when you REPEAT them MULTIPLE TIMES per WEEK. It becomes less and less likely that any individual piece of mail will have new information. Since I have nothing to give right now, I just wind up annoyed and guilty. And guilty about feeling annoyed. Because I really do believe in your cause and want to support it. I really do.

What happens the next time I have a little money to give? It goes to someone else. Just because I believe in your cause doesn’t mean that there aren’t others that deserve my time, money, and attention just as much as yours, if not more.

I haven’t given you money in years. I’m exhausted. I feel harassed. Why would I pay you to harass me?

A lot of people are hurting financially these days and can’t give like they used to. In turn, this means charitable donations are down across the board. Even major institutions that have never had trouble raising funds are struggling. This naturally leads to increasingly shrill requests to those who have given before to give and give and give some more. This makes sense, from a standpoint of pure logic. Really, though, how often are humans dictated by logic? We’re more complicated than that. We value our money but we value our time even more since we know we can’t make more of that no matter how hard we work or even how lucky we might be. To really screw with an old phrase, no one ever looks back on their deathbed and says, “I wish I spent more time reading emails from charities.”

Once upon a time there was a guy who wanted to date me. He was a good guy, sweet and funny and cute and kind. I might have been very interested in him if his technique for wooing didn’t come in the form of at least 2 phone calls per day, notes and cards left in my door regularly, and even sometimes mysteriously appearing while I was hanging out with other people and hadn’t mentioned my plans to him. He wasn’t quite stalking me, he was just making a big effort in his stumbling adolescent way, but that was enough. I knew he wasn’t boyfriend material because he was already making me feel trapped without consenting to even a single date. He was eating away at my precious time and energy.

This is how you are making me feel now, dear charity.

I know I can opt-out of emails, but the thing is, I really do appreciate knowing what you are working on. If there were some form of compromise in place, like an email list that only receives breaking news with a reminder that donations would help, I would be okay with that. I would probably even give you money again as soon as I can. Heck, I’d happily volunteer to help set it up and give you some of that time I value more than money.

As it stands, you are always in my mind when I am choosing who to give to. I don’t really need the reminders. You are the top charity in your cause and get tons of publicity. I doubt anyone who gives to you needs reminders more than, say, once a year or so. I’d probably be okay with a request per month, even. That seems reasonable. I know you need more money and need to ask everyone for it.

Still, I long for a day when your requests are a little less hyperbolic and a whole lot less frequent. If that day ever comes I will support you with everything I have.

The line between helpful and harassing is a very fine one. Find it and then stay on the good side of it.

Keep up the good work you do and I hope you find these suggestions helpful.



P.S. Yes, this was inspired by one specific charity. No, I’m not going to name it. The thing is, while one has truly infuriated me, everything I wrote can be applied to many. You, dear reader, and I may not agree on a single cause but I bet we’ve both experienced this!

Daughter of a Bitch (A Mission Statement) July 19, 2013

Posted by craftlass in education, life lessons, people.
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My mother was an educator. I don’t mean that was her job or even career, though it was how she always earned her money. She was one of those amazing people who lived to teach instead of teaching to live.

That was about all I knew when she was still alive. I knew her resume, knew she was a high school salutatorian who never got over losing valedictorian by a tiny fraction of a point, that she had gotten her PhD with a dissertation on something to do with Chaucer, that she had once taught college but had moved on to high school by the time I came along. I knew that her days were filled with students and her evenings were, well, often filled with students, parents, and other teachers. If she was home, she was grading, writing lesson plans, or, when she’d finished her necessary work, she was plotting how to make education better for every student in her school, state, nation, and perhaps even world.

That’s not to say she wasn’t an active parent to me. Oh, no. My dad was the quantity time parent, a “Mr. Mom” before that movie existed (even with his full-time high-pressure job, which blows my mind), but my mother swooped in with quality time in regular intervals. Her intimidating intellect and passion for great thought translated into some pretty cool mother-daughter activities, at least now that I look back with the realization that most moms don’t actually speak Old English, let alone think Beowulf is a bedtime story a small child might enjoy hearing (since I couldn’t understand, it wasn’t scary, but I loved the weird sounds she made and the poetry of it all). She took me to visit places of great history, here and abroad, and usually taught me far more about them than the poor tour guides who got stuck with us. Almost no vacation was allowed without an educational component, even our winter trips to thaw on Caribbean beaches always included visiting the markets to meet locals and learn their oral traditions of story and song. When I discovered Shakespeare on my own due at the age of 7 to the 27 copies (yes, I counted) of his Complete Works she had on a shelf and childhood boredom, she didn’t swoop in to teach me about what I was reading, but let me form my own questions first and then answered them without an ounce of patronization. I didn’t often have her attention, but when I did, it was her full attention.

Did I resent that she would often have to miss my activities due to work? Sure. I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and saw many of my friends had moms who were always around and unfailingly cheered them on. I had yet to learn that quality time is superior to quantity time, too. Looking back, though, I don’t just understand, I am so grateful that I had a mom who forced me to learn independence from the beginning and mixed it up by building great memories when we were together. Don’t get me wrong, if I needed her, she was there in a heartbeat, but my first thought in a crisis has never been, “Help me, Mommy!” She was my last resort, the great weapon I’d unleash on a world that I thought had done me wrong.

She was far from perfect. Her temper was epic and, as I grew older and became more and more like her (read: stubborn), we clashed even more than most mothers and daughters. She pushed me just as hard as she pushed herself and I often cracked under the relentless pressure. I sometimes felt like I was one of her trophies, but one that could never be polished enough. That I definitely resented full-time.

So, when she was hit by a drunk driver and died in a foreign land that prevented not only a goodbye but kept me from the knowledge that she was dead until almost two days later, it was a very confusing experience. The grief of losing her so unexpectedly mingled with a sense of being free for the first time in my life to just be myself. I was 15 and in full rebellion mode. I worried that it was possible that I had wished her dead, even. Stupid thoughts, yes, but natural in the midst of crisis. I used that new-found freedom, though, even reveled in it. I spent a long time barely thinking about her outside of those random moments where it would hit me that she really was gone and I’d allow myself to feel the loss for just a little while.

Cut to 2013: She’s been gone for well over half of my life, a life that I have built into one I never would have expected to have back when she was around. Along the way I have become friends with many educators, even a few with PhDs of their own. I, a high school and college dropout, seem to regularly wind up in long conversations about education and how to improve it, conversations that echo my childhood dinner table. While talking to a professor friend about how I had found my mother mentioned in some recent scholarly works as an expert in the field of Chaucer (a huge surprise for me), my mother’s choice to switch to teaching high school came up and my friend pointed out that my mom got to leave the competitive world of high academia when she did made that move. I immediately replied that my mom would have relished the competition, then realized I wasn’t qualified to answer for her. I had no idea who she was, really. I only knew her as my mother and as a resume. That’s the worst part of losing a parent before you are an adult yourself.

So, I called the person who stood right next to her through all of her choices, my father, and asked, “How did Mom feel about academia, was the competitive atmosphere any part of her decision to leave, and did she struggle with that choice?” It led to a lot of discussion. He revealed that she was pretty sure she would succeed in academia and she knew she’d miss the opportunity to spend a lot of time in research, but that she felt a calling and saw teaching high school as far more challenging than publishing. She did once tell me directly, when I first realized she had been a professor, that, “In college, minds are already set in their ways, and many students can no longer be reached. I wanted to change that, and that meant getting to kids when they were younger.” Still, finding out that her life-changing choice had been easy was revealing. She could have been a star, with piles of scholarly works bearing her name. Instead, she toiled away endlessly in the dark caves of public education, trying to convince the kids she encountered who had never tasted opportunity that education and hard work was the path to a better life and pissing off parents, teachers, administrators, school boards, and the teacher’s union along the way because, to her, all that mattered was the kids. She thought tenure was a travesty, that teachers should always be available to any student who wanted to learn more regardless of what time it was, and that education was the only way to make a better world for everyone. She climbed her way into being a principal so she could create change for even more students and I remember clearly her pride in finding ways to get lazy teachers out of the classroom despite not being able to fire them due to the system she had to operate within. She missed teaching, but the kids needed more from her. She got a lot of threats from every direction, to the point where I was only allowed two years in public school due to fears that I would experience retaliation on her behalf, despite her love of and deep belief in public education. She never wavered on her mission and it truly was a mission.

For the first time in my life, I feel like I understand a good part of who my mother was as a person and what drove her to be that way. More importantly, I feel like we could be friends now, something that even two days ago I never would have thought. She’s been gone for over 20 years, but she’s not gone at all. Not in the “she’s in heaven looking after me” or “her spirit will always be with me” ways, but through imparting those values in her only child. I suddenly understand why I always choose the most difficult path open to me. I’ve often wished that I could be a “normal” person who can focus on things like having security, who didn’t prefer stress and struggle to ease, and who doesn’t feel the pain of those with less privilege with such acuity. Today, I’m letting all of that go, not in my old apathetic this-is-just-who-I-am way, but with purpose and as a choice.

I’ve always been my mother’s daughter, but now I’m determined to BE MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER.

No, this doesn’t mean I’m going back to college anytime soon or aiming to work in the school system, that would not be true to who I am or the talents I possess. Nor does it mean that I’m going to start screaming the moment someone angers me (that part of her was a big lesson in how not to live). I’m just going to make an active choice to embrace the uncomfortable parts of being me and use them as fuel instead of fighting or bemoaning them.

I’m going to stop rebelling against the imaginary mother I’d concocted out of the haphazard memories that are all you have when you lose a parent during that time when you’re not really supposed to get along with your parents and do my best to live up to the woman who actually was my mother instead.

I’m going to use the same issues that have held me back to drive myself forward.

I’m going to recognize that her less savory behavior towards me was not due to disappointment but rather the potential she saw in me and desire to see it fulfilled. Even with expert educators, their own children don’t come with a manual. She did the best she could and that’s a whole lot better than a lot of children get.

I’m going to do what I can to become someone my mother would be truly proud to call her daughter, because there could be no higher honor in all the land.

Despite the amount of effort I know this will take, I feel a sense of peace within me for the very first time, all because a friend made a comment that sparked a question I couldn’t honestly answer.

Life may be too short, but it never stops bringing surprises.

The Best and the Worst May 22, 2013

Posted by craftlass in education, life lessons, women's rights.
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I don’t scare very easily. I have walked the streets of many a city alone, feeling perfectly comfortable just about anywhere. I’m cautious, always aware of everyone around me, as anyone who has spent a lot of time in urban environments learns to do, but it’s been a long time since I felt a true threat.

I’m disgusted by many actions aimed towards women, but I’m also used to a lot of offensive behavior, have become inured to it (sadly). I rail against it more for other women’s sake than my own.

Then I got on the “other” PATH train last night, meaning the connecting route from the World Trade Center to Hoboken, with a change at Grove Street. I take the 33rd Street line at all sorts of hours somewhat regularly, it’s always crowded late at night and, while sometimes annoying, it always feels safe. One of the myriad reasons I chose to move to the Mile Square City was I have never felt truly threatened on the train or the streets at any hour, even before I lived here or it was known as a safe place. I was tired of the extra precautions required in some not-so-great neighborhoods I’d lived in and paying for cabs in the wee hours. Anecdotally, most of the women I know who have been attacked at night in the city were attacked on the subway (I have no statistics, and most seem to go unreported anyway, so I’m a little suspicious of data on this topic). Being brave does not mean taking stupid risks, so getting to avoid the MTA system without spending a fortune is one of the many great perks of living Jersey-side.

I had been hanging out downtown with two male friends, who were gracious enough to walk me to two blocks away from the station before we said our goodbyes. I paused for a moment to admire the St. Paul’s Church graveyard, as I always do when I walk by, thinking about the rich history it contains. Walking on, I stared up at World Trade Center 1, finally nearing completion and beautiful enough to win over this hard heart of mine (I wanted them to just rebuild the old buildings, show everyone we don’t give in, but I accept what we’ve been given to ogle). I was in a fantastic mood, having had a wonderful night with people I love, and skipped my way down the escalators and stairs to the platform. There was a decent amount of people, less than I’m used to at that time, but there were enough that when we got to Grove Street, quite a few people got out. Most went up the stairs and out of the station, leaving only two men and me on the platform. I sat down and noticed I had 1x data, so I checked the schedule and saw the train should arrive at 1:55. It was 1:47. Okay, that’s not long. 1:55 rolled around…1:56…1:57…2:00…

Suddenly I heard a voice call out, “Look at me!” Reflexively looking towards the voice I saw a man standing by a column with his pants down. I took a deep breath and looked pointedly down at my phone, trying to just not give him any satisfaction, and tweeted:

I tried to shrug it off as I just really wanted to the train to come. Right then. But then I looked up again and the guy was walking towards me, with his hips thrust forward and pants around his knees. My Spidey-sense was screaming and I could hear the sounds of construction above me. Before I even knew what I was doing I was racing up the stairs, with the guy in full pursuit. Yellow tape and a barrier were blocking off a stairway to the street. I flat-out hurdled them and ran up to a construction worker in a mask and rapidly told him what had happened. One of his co-workers came over, and upon hearing the very brief version, went running down the stairs to find the guy just as the train finally came it. I don’t know if Mr. Creepy jumped on the train or ran out of the station via the open stairs somehow, but he was gone. The first construction worker went over to the help phone and contacted the police while the other asked me for more details. We all went up to the street to wait for the police, who arrived a few minutes later and took my statement and description of the man. One of the workers went back to his job while the other made sure I was getting into a cab home. With no cash on hand. I called and woke my partner, gushing out a non-detailed explanation, fearful that my drained battery would run out on me before I got through. The phone stayed alive. I was going to make it home okay and the tension started to ease a little.

Note: I meant the PATH train specifically there.

Getting home, seeing my partner waiting on the stoop for me, was the best feeling I’ve had in ages. I told him the story and he gave me a huge hug, then went back to bed. Well, when I checked Twitter again… The response was incredible, full of support from all sorts of people, and even thanks for sharing the experience. That’s what made me decide to post about this here, if this helps even one woman feel a little less alone or a bit more empowered to get out of a bad situation, then it’s worth writing.

Instinct is an incredibly powerful thing. I have no idea what might have happened if I hadn’t listened to mine. When a man groped me long-ago on a rush-hour subway I kicked him in the most effective place and he crumpled. That was the right thing in that trapped situation. Last night, I probably could have fought but knowing there were people nearby enabled me to listen to my flight instinct instead. It was the right move and reinforced my belief that most people are good, despite seeing a bit of the low side of humanity.

Still, I’m angry. The knowledge that my little incident last night was far less scary than most women in the world face regularly, many even in their own homes, gives me the chills. I woke today feeling mentally empowered but with muscle exhaustion from the tension, the thought of that being a somewhat normal state to anyone is unacceptable. I’m very lucky, I was raised to be prepared and strong, and have a wonderful support system. What about the women who have no such good fortune?

We can only do so much to directly change or even punish the bad people of the world, like this man who will haunt me forever. We need to make sure that every girl gets an education in how valuable she is and reacting to dangers with all her strength, which goes hand-in-hand with access to academic education, according to pretty much every woman who has escaped bad situations from poverty to abuse to systemic misogyny. This is not to say that men are never victims, it’s just that their access to all kinds of education and even help from others is much more common on the global scale. We need to make sure that every woman on this planet can feel she is not alone and simultaneously learn how to take care of herself, without dependency on anyone. It will be a long road, but it’s the only way to improve circumstances for the majority of people.

This morning one of my companions from last night texted, “Do I need to be your subway escort going forward?” It’s a sweet sentiment with the best of intentions, but actually completely contrary to what anyone needs. If we can’t take care of ourselves we can’t be either safe or free. I would never want to exist in a world where I feel the need to have a man to protect me everywhere I go, that would be a mental prison. True, I turned to men last night, but I would have run up to whoever was there. Asking for help is not the same as dependency, it’s just good sense sometimes, especially when it allows you to avoid being a victim or getting violent yourself (which should always be the very last resort). Conversely, if another person came to me for help under similar circumstances, I’d have reacted just like those two wonderful workers. Humans are simply stronger when we stand together against those who want to use power against us, individually or as a group. Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson in all of this.

We CAN All Just Get Along, We Just Have to Try July 12, 2012

Posted by craftlass in beliefs, life lessons, people, relationship.
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Being who I am, if I restricted myself to socializing with people who agree with me on most things, I wouldn’t have a social life. Even worse, I would be stuck, like so many people are, in a bubble. Still worse, I would spend my life being so much angrier than I am. Oh, I’m angry about a lot of things and find plenty more to be angry about every day, but for the most part my anger is directed at media, politicians, religious leaders, group-think, and generally people who use their power to harm or oppress.

I cherish my friends who might seem on paper like people I could never get along with. For example, two women who I absolutely adore are Catholic. One is more in-line with the Church’s positions on things, one is a bit of a maverick, but they both know my opinions on their religion, that I was raised in it, and left the second I could for very good reasons. I have the utmost respect for both women and value their opinions on many subjects, even ones we will never see eye-to-eye on. We also have a lot in common, that’s how we found each other online and bonded. I met both in-person at different NASA Tweetups (now called Socials) at Kennedy Space Center and we just clicked like we had online, which deepened our relationships immensely. With one of them I’ve had many long debates on the things we disagree about and enjoyed every bit of them.

The thing is, if you don’t have calm, rational debates with people you disagree with, how can you truly hold a position? If how you feel about something can be broken down just by hearing the other side then maybe you didn’t believe it in the first place. If someone simply disagreeing with you makes you want to lash out, that’s your problem and you need to work on your own issues. You can’t educate anyone if you attack, either. Once a person is in a defensive position it’s very hard to learn anything or even fully comprehend the attack.

The wisest, kindest, and most thoughtful priest I ever knew took me aside when I was in 2nd grade and getting into major trouble in my Catholic school for deeply questioning the faith I’d been born into. He listened to my concerns and answered with, “Unquestioned faith is no faith at all. Keep questioning everything.” While I have wound up without a faith, his wisdom still resonates in me. I apply it to many aspects of my life and it gets me through moments of indecision and second-guessing.

Why, yes, I did say that one of the best lessons this atheist learned in life came from a priest. See? Even people you disagree with can add a lot of value to your life if you just give them the chance to speak their minds. They challenge you, give you perspective, and keep you out of that damn bubble.

The only things I require of any friend or potential friend are an open mind, respect for both our similarities and differences, tolerance for each other’s flaws, and a sense of humor. Okay, the last part is actually the most important. Laughter can get you through just about anything!

In the end, not only do I celebrate the differences between many people and me, but I keep coming to the same conclusion: We have more in common than not. All people, no matter their affiliation or background, have more in common than not, when you get down to the real person hiding behind whatever labels society may affix to them. Travel is the greatest teacher of this, but just getting to know your neighbors can give you a great lesson in it.

Of course there are people I like more than others and people who I will never get along with. That’s the nature of life and being human. That doesn’t mean I or anyone should ever be purposefully rude or unkind to any of them and it’s not that hard to be tactful and polite while staying true to yourself.

I’ve never been a big joiner, I prefer solo sports and video games, working for myself or a small business, and keeping my options open in every way. I’m sort of a loner with a talent for socializing that hides my anxieties about it. Still, I believe in inclusion and never taking gossip to heart, I’d rather try to get to know someone before making up my mind about him or her. Gossip is poison in the form of a giant game of Operator, only it’s not a game at all, and we can all get sucked into that trap far too easily.

Maybe that’s why I don’t like joining groups much. From what I can tell, most operate with a social structure that breeds gossip, divisiveness, and hurt feelings when someone is left out or the group forms a hierarchy. It’s a shame, as people can do more good when joined together by a common cause, but then all of these things start flourishing and can turn even the most noble group into a monster that resembles a high school cafeteria more than an adult venture.

On the other hand, I do love being surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, and interesting people of all kinds and working together to make good things happen. It’s the only way to effect real change. All of my music, at it’s essence, is based on that. I might be writing about space or science or religion or politics, but at the core of every song is a human story inspired by the people I’m so lucky to have in my life. This very blog post was inspired by a multitude of individual conversations with a few different people.

I love people. All people. We’re amazing. We have thoughts and feelings and the capability to explore everything from ourselves to the universe surrounding us. We’ve come a long way in just a few million years! We also have a long way to go as long as we don’t blow everyone up. You can choose to be part of the effort of advancement or you can stay mired in where we are now, because you have a human brain that can make decisions.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” – Bob Marley

So, my advice to everyone everywhere (including myself) is to be a little less quick to judge, a little more open to listening to anyone, a bit more polite to all, and to learn about a topic from all angles before deciding on your own opinion. Getting to know who people really are is the most effective way to reduce the amount of anger and hatred in this world, and doesn’t that benefit us all?

How to Love a Space Geek – A Guide for Family and Friends May 19, 2011

Posted by craftlass in life lessons, marriage, NASA, space, travel.

I’ve written before about the challenges of being addicted to rocket launches but the people who have it worse, far worse, are those who love us. It’s not just shuttle addicts this applies to, either. For example, astronomers (amateur or pro) come with a lot of baggage, including the need to stay up all night or close to it, planning around events like meteor showers, and either spending insane amounts of money on gear or making far less than they should if professional. However, since the last shuttle launch is rapidly approaching, I am going to focus on the non-space-worker launch freaks here or else I could wind up writing a whole book.

The first thing you need to understand is that seeing a launch, to us, is not just a cool thing to do. It’s a compulsion and, frankly, one of the healthiest ones around. A launch gives us a high greater than any drug and it lasts forever. I repeat, forever! This does not mean that one is enough, however. Oh, no, not at all. Each launch is unique, from the countdown events to the way it rises to the sound to the trail it leaves in the sky. I’ve only seen three and could espouse endlessly on the characteristics of each. The first one changed the way I look at the world entirely and the successive ones have reinforced that and brought me closer to being who I aim to be. I have seen the power of the human brain and great teamwork and my faith in humanity has been restored. This makes me a better person on every level.

Dragon in the sky after STS-131

This was created by the trail of STS-131, a unique formation lit up from beneath by the rising sun just after the launch.

The second thing is that a launch is more important than almost anything else could be. Each launch happens exactly once and it’s on its own schedule that individuals can not control. Birthdays come every year on a fixed schedule, as do anniversaries, and they really don’t have to be celebrated on the date itself. Things that might be extremely important to you do matter to us, but we have to balance their significance against a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which each launch is, no matter how many we may see. This is especially true now, with all the lasts for the shuttle program happening. Let’s put it this way: I would miss my own wedding for a launch if I was getting married. Seriously. It has nothing to do with how much I care about my significant other, it’s just that it’s possible to move even the fanciest wedding and not at all possible for me to change a launch date. I missed STS-132 for a friend’s graduation party and I will regret it until the day I die, even though I love this friend with all my heart and have a no-regrets policy in general.

Third, going to a launch is expensive and we don’t care. As long as we’re not on the verge of losing our homes or internet connection, no debt is too great. We look for ways to make it more affordable, like sharing houses or driving with people, even if they are total strangers. However, some expenses just can’t be avoided, like changing plane tickets or losing deposits due to a date change. I didn’t eat an actual meal for an entire day at this past launch and I didn’t care at all, the launch fed me more than food possibly could. Great things require sacrifice at times and there are few sacrifices too great.

The author poses with the trail from STS-134

Me with the trail of STS-134 from the privileged vantage point of Turn Basin. Notice the extreme joy on my face, which barely represents how I felt in that moment.

Fourth, launch dates are flexible and we need to roll with the changes, not just financially. STS-134 got pushed back about by two weeks and, for me, it made more sense to stay for the duration than to fly home and back. Adding to the confusion, it took days after the scrub of the first attempt to find out what the new date would be, so many people stuck around until it was clear the delay would be more than a week. Choosing to stay longer is not an indicator that we don’t care about you or that we’re behaving badly while away, it’s just the way things have to be. After all, once we’ve gone to so much trouble to attend the greatest shame is to miss the actual event just because someone wanted us to come home.

Fifth, we are a community. The friends I have made through interest in space and attending launches are my family just as surely as anyone actually related to me. We support each other when life gets difficult and celebrate together when good things happen. This does not diminish our love for anyone else, but we have an understanding that is deep and eternal and shared only with those like us. We’re of all races, religions (or lack of such), national origins, economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and vocations, yet we have a common bond that makes none of that matter except as something more to talk about. Oh, how we talk! Endlessly and enthusiastically, over beer and food and the smell of rocket fuel. We teach each other, learn from each other, grow together, and are always better for it. It’s like attending years of college in just a few days, the bonds are that powerful and the learning is that broad if you want it to be. What could be better?

The Big House at the Countdown Clock

Members of my first household for the STS-133 NASA Tweetup (the Big House) pose with the famous countdown clock at the KSC press site. Mostly strangers a couple of days before this was taken, now people I would do almost anything for.

To put all of this another way, do you really want to be resented for the rest of your life/relationship/friendship because you got in between someone you love and their passion? Is it worth a few extra days together or a few dollars?

I’m lucky, I have the most wonderful partner in the world, who lives by these values, even to the point where he supported me basically missing his birthday two years in a row for space events that weren’t even launches but deeply mattered to me. By the same token, if he had to miss mine for a chance to dive the Great Barrier Reef or live out another dream of his I would give him my blessing in a heartbeat, even if it hurt on some level. That’s what partnership is, encouraging the person or people you love to take life by the horns and explore everything they feel a need to any chance they get even if it’s inconvenient or painful.

I’ve watched a friend argue terribly with his wife over staying in town a bit longer during a launch, another miss a launch due to a family birthday (and he will now never see one), and even had one who spent a lot of money to get tickets for him and his son (it would have been the son’s first launch and a wonderful educational opportunity) only to have his wife put down her foot and prevent them from going. This breaks my heart and are hardly the only examples of similar issues. Once these chances are gone, they are gone forever. Sondheim got it right when he had Cinderella state, “Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor.”

So, if you truly value your relationship with a space geek, don’t stand in the way or give a guilt-trip. Clear the path or even join the fray and who knows? Maybe you’ll find that it will affect you in a positive way, too, even if you couldn’t care less about space yourself.