Typically, when I write my memories, I try to write them in a novelistic fashion. It’s more a question of style than content. However, I want to write because I’m feeling a little emotional turmoil tonight and I think writing might do me some good, so I’m not going to pay as much mind to craft.

Middle school was rough, which might be the most common thought in the world. Back in the seventies, there wasn’t any concept such as “bullying.” Some kids were picked on in school. There was an awareness that picking on kids could be physical, yet somehow it always seemed to be something that happened in another town, in another state, with other kids. After all, many kids’ parents had consciously moved away from big bad cities to our tidy little suburban enclave in order to protect their children from the chaos there.

I had a little clique of friends in eighth grade. They were the not quite fast girls. In our school, for reasons I never understood, the girls were generally tougher than the boys, so we had more than our fair share of tough girls. My friends weren’t tough, but they were a little bit fast.

We had a falling out, which I began to document in another post and I’ll have to finish at another time. Just let it be said that I found myself socially isolated. I’ve heard people debate the circumstances that might contribute to bullying. From my own experience, social isolation is a very large contributing factor. I still had some friendly acquaintances, but suddenly finding myself without any close friends meant that there was no one that would take my side. I was the weak gazelle separated from the herd and it was only a matter of time before the girls who were beyond tough, the ones who were vicious, would take note.

If I understood then what I understand now about group dynamics, I would have tried harder to embed myself into another clique, or at least appear to. As I said, I still had friendly acquaintances, so it wouldn’t have been hard to put up a believable charade, especially since I was still on good terms with the late bloomers who didn’t associate with any of the tough girls. But I’m naturally independent and don’t mind eating alone sometimes or sitting in a corner reading.

Eventually, eighth grade turned into ninth.

The first time it happened, it was after science class. Everyday, I would exit the room and turn left. I don’t recall what my next class was, but since the science class was towards one end of the hall, almost all the rooms were to the left. A girl I didn’t know, and whose name I still don’t know until this day, bumped into me. It was a surprisingly forceful bump and I went flying into the lockers which lined both sides of the corridor. She didn’t say excuse me. In fact she didn’t even pause.

The next day, the exact same thing occurred. At this point it occurred to me that it might be intentional.

I’m not sure how many times in a row this happened, but I started leaving the classroom as early as possible and turning to the right, where there was a stairwell. I went up the stairs, taking a slightly longer route to my next class.

The tough girl had three friends, each one tougher than the next. The toughest was the shortest, and the meanest. She’s the only one whose name I remember. All the others joined in, but it was the short one who was always rougher than the others. Soon, whenever one of them would see me in the hallway, she would shove me up against the locker. As the shoving got harder, it went from jarring to painful. Then the short one started kicking me. In the hallway, as I passed by, she would kick at my shins as hard as she could. This was all done surreptitiously, when no one was looking. Since I was alone a lot of the time, this wasn’t that hard. I started feeling very afraid and leaving the school property as quickly as possible when the day ended.

I can’t remember if I told any adults, but I imagine I must have. I was the sort of kid who would. All I can imagine is that they gave me the sort of useless advice adults usually tell kids. Looking up some self-help psychology stuff online, I just read some tonight: “Ignore. Like dealing with a bully, if you ignore the harshness, it gives them no satisfaction and they will find someone else to pick on.”

(I followed the link in that and found this: “Bullies couldn’t exist without victims, and they don’t pick on just anyone; those singled out lack assertiveness and radiate fear long before they ever encounter a bully. No one likes a bully, but no one likes a victim either.” That’s from Psychology Today, believe it or not.)

Well, let’s just say that’s bullshit. I wasn’t “radiating fear” until I met up with the little sadist and her three side kicks. I tried ignoring them and the physical abuse only got worse. Bullying, I believe, comes out of complicated social dynamics. If I had to point to a proximate cause, although it is immodest to say, I was prettier than any of those four and boys liked me and ignored them.

I should probably add that they didn’t make fun of me, just physically abuse me. They themselves were not well liked in school and had no friends besides each other, so their behavior didn’t result in any kind of ostracism. I did, however, start to feel very powerless. I had no idea how to physically defend myself against four girls all of whom wanted to cause me physical pain.

Then the short one started threatening to “beat me up.” That’s what they said would happen one day soon.

It came to a head just before lunch one day. Lunches were arranged according to grade, so everyone in the same grade had lunch at the same time.

I don’t remember why, but I was late getting to lunch. I probably stayed after a class to ask a question. In any case, the hallway was entirely empty. It was straight and you could see from one end to the next and there was not a single person in sight. The hallway ended in a T shape with a shorter corridor. Straight ahead was the assembly room, which was almost never used. To the left was the office. To the right was the cafeteria. At the far and of the hall, from the right, the four girls emerged. They fanned out across the hallway and began walking towards me. My heart was pounding and I was panicking. This was it, I thought. They’re going to kill me. No one was around, no teachers, no students. There was only one thing between me and the gang, an exit. An exit to the outdoors. The biggest infraction any student could do was to leave the building. Nothing was worse than leaving the building. I panicked and ran through that door.

One of the teachers ran out of the door after me. She tackled me. My arms flailed. She would later say that I hit her and make a big deal out of the fact that she was pregnant, but she shouldn’t have tackled me like that.

Other teachers joined her and I was physically subdued and dragged to the office. Asked to explain myself, I told them about the physical abuse. They told me that it was not possible because shorty had never had a disciplinary problem, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t true. I do know that I had never had one. They were going to suspend me from school.

My mother told me that the school nurse told her that when I got “hysterical” she should slap me. That’s when the slapping started. It didn’t happen that often, only when I got very upset. Often, I felt as if I was being punished for things that weren’t my fault. For failing to have a Spock-like detachment no matter what bad things happen. Sometimes, I think it’s led to my Jekyll and Hyde reactions. I’m calm and cerebral until the moment I absolutely can’t take it anymore, then I scream like a maniac. To an observer, there appears to be no transition, although I can feel the transition inside. Moreover, I know people who have known me for years who never saw Mr. Hyde emerge because they had the good fortune to not be around when I was pushed over the brink.

Well, it’s getting late and I could go on about that for a while, but I can’t.

My mother, I should add, would not slap me in a calm and clinical way, although her claim is that she was trying to calm me down following the advice of a nurse. She would slap me multiple times, screaming, “What’s wrong with you. You’re crazy. I’m going to call the cops and they’re going to lock you up.” Rather than calming down, I would get even more hysterical which would result in more slapping and threats.

Frequently, it would end when my father would intervene.

Worst of all, it would always happen when I was most in trouble, when I most needed support and consolation. That was one thing I remember about my adolescence. My mother always says how much she’s done for me, how much she’s helped me, scrimped, saved, sacrificed. It’s all true. But she always gave me the most when I needed it least.

And I feel really guilty even saying this out loud. I’ve talked about it with my sister and she can mostly confirm my perceptions. Sometimes, I say, “Am I crazy?” My sister says she doesn’t think so.

I desperately need to have an exchange with someone who has been hit by a parent. It happened earlier today, many hours ago, but I still feel in turmoil about it. I don’t think I know anyone who has had a similar experience. Strangely, I feel guilty. It’s not that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I don’t feel like I deserved to be hit. However, this is really, really personal and I don’t know if I want to talk about it in public. There’s a contact form on my about page. Oh, right, this is an elderly parent and I’m middle aged.

I don’t make New Year resolutions, but if I did, one of them might be to write more. I spent the first couple of years cultivating this blog. One thing that surprised me was getting friendly with people who responded. I think I originally imagined something more like a message in a bottle. On the other hand, once as a kid, I put a message in a bottle and someone sent me a letter with a drawing.

Then, for a time, I was very active on this blog and commenting on other people’s. That was very good for a time, but since my internal life and emotions tend to be a bit tumultuous, I think I’ve alienated quite a few people over the past couple of years. In some cases, it was probably inevitable, but in other cases I feel bad about it. I’m not an easy person to get along with.

In any case, it’s gone back to feeling like I’m tossing messages in bottles again. I’ve become faster to write something in a personal email than to write it on the blog.

So, the other day, my mother was here and she was helping me organize my apartment. It’s a little strange because I plan on moving as soon as my lease is up. Still, I had become so disorganized it was becoming difficult to function. One problem was that I never completely developed a “place for everything,” so it is impossible to put “everything in its place.” When I try to tidy, the things without places wind up in little piles which are highly subject to being messed up the next time I look for something I need.

There are a few reasons why I have difficulty making a place for everything. Some are practical. I needed to buy some shelves and containers to put things so they can be put on shelves. Others, however, are emotional.

I was determined to tackle some of those difficult piles and chose to either get rid of things or store them in a proper place where they could be found without rifling through a box of unrelated stuff and making a big mess. I had a small plastic container that had once contained some of those moistened cloths for cleaning the floor which had been bouncing around for a few years. It had “table by the door” written on top of it and, it was, indeed, full of small items that had been in a drawer in a table, like a key ring with no keys on it and a business card from an Englishman I dated for six months who turned out to be married. Apparently, when I moved sometime around 2010, I must have thrown everything in that drawer in the box. I went through the box. I ripped up the business card along with a few others from people I’m unlikely to contact again. (Why do men sometimes give you their business card? What do they expect me to do with it?) Then, I found a little business card holder that a friend had given to me. I opened it up and it was filled with my own business cards from a business I tried to start up back in 2008. I had spent a couple of years developing a product, figuring out how to manufacture it, making designs, securing a loan and buying equipment. I put a huge amount of time and effort and hope into it. In the end, I couldn’t sell it and the company, if you could call what was essentially a one person operation a company, went under.

I stared at the business cards, which were printed up with so much hope, and I started sobbing.

I hesitate to say what’s on my mind because I’m afraid I’ll sound like a great big whiner, but I’ve had a lot of failures in my life. When I was young, I was very smart and I did well in school. I was fairly together. I didn’t smoke, drink or take drugs. Adults described me as “unusually poised.” I graduated from high school early and had an academic scholarship to college. I was the kind of kid everyone expected to succeed.

Ever since then, though, things haven’t gone as well. I try to look for a pattern for my failures, but each time the reason seems different. A failed marriage, a failed attempt at graduate school, a failed business. They’re all different.

There are days I want to get rid of all my possessions and start over again because there are so many painful memories attached to things.

It’s hard for me to straighten my apartment and clean without crying.

Well, this isn’t quite where I meant to go when I started writing. Sorry for being such a downer.

squirrel-1

The new year has already started off rather well. In the past, I’ve mentioned wanting to see the no-longer endangered Delmarva Fox Squirrel. Several times, I’ve taken trips to the Eastern Shore of Maryland in hopes of catching sight of the little bugger. We had only just arrived and I got out of the car to take some pictures of some Mallard Ducks when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. What should be running up to me but the biggest squirrel I’ve ever seen. It looks a lot like a heavy-set Gray Squirrel in photos, but I assure you when you see it you know it’s different. It weighs about three pounds, that’s three times heavier than a gray squirrel. After pausing to let me get a better photo than I could have hoped, it darted across the road.

squirrel-2squirrel-3Besides the squirrel, we saw some pelicans.

pelicansWe were driving along and my sister pointed out two lumps in the middle of the water and asked if I thought they were anything. I suggested logs.

eagles-1Her eyes are apparently better than mine.

eagles-2While I was taking picture of some geese and swans, a Great Blue Heron flew into the picture.

heron-1Then a Turkey Vulture nearly flew into me.

vulture-1Really, this thing was close. Or at least if felt as if it was. They are among the largest birds around here with a wingspan that can be up to six feet. Then I looked up.

vulture-2Maybe it’s me, but I think they’re cute.

Then, we saw a bunch of cars pulled over and everyone was taking pictures. It wasn’t too hard to find the locus of their attention.

eagle-3

A big bird in a small tree. As I was taking pictures of this Bald Eagle, another landed on the tree.

eagles-4They are always quite a sight.

eagles-5And just before we left, we saw one more Great Blue Heron.

heron-2Happy New Year!

blackwater

I’ve been very busy making gifts for Christmas.

necklaceSorry for the blurry picture. The light was low. The necklace is made from PMC, precious metal clay. PMC was invented in the 1990s. Silver or gold is combined with a binder and can be worked like clay. Then it is fired in a kiln. The binder burns off and what remains is nearly pure silver.

I keep meaning to get back into writing and I don’t know what is holding me back. It’s not even that I have nothing to say. In fact, the problem may be that I have too much to say. Worse yet, it feels complicated, or at least different. If someone else expresses feelings similar to your own, that makes life easy. You can reference it. Even if it is only part of what you want to say, it cuts down on time. It also makes it less likely that you’ll be misunderstood.

So, I went to a movie tonight and got home feeling very sad and glum. It was strange because I enjoyed the movie, but it left me feeling oddly nostalgic. The movie was Gimme Danger, a documentary about The Stooges. As a film, it’s not good enough to enjoy if you don’t like the band. Last year, I went to go see the movie Amy and although I barely knew Amy Winehouse’s music beyond a handful of songs my mother enjoys, I liked the movie. Gimme Danger is not likely to engage anyone who isn’t already a Stooges or Iggy Pop fan. I’ve always really liked the band, so I enjoyed the movie. Luscious and I always used to argue about Iggy Pop. She always used to insist there was something sexist about him, although I could never get her to articulate exactly what that was. It seemed to blend into a general tirade about men dominating rock and roll, but she liked the Dolls, she like the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Ramones, so I’m not sure what it was about Iggy Pop and the Stooges that bugged her.

The down feeling was definitely a side effect of nostalgia, although why the movie left me feeling quite so nostalgic is beyond me. The Stooges were before my time, almost, and I actually found out about them a little bit late, after The Stooges were defunct, although Iggy Pop was still very active. Still, there were some shots of New York City in the seventies. Certain types of New York scenes, especially downtown, definitely make me feel the loss of the era.

One odd thing about the movie is that it really doesn’t give you a feel of the time period well. The only sense of danger is in the title. We’re told that they were an influence on other bands that came later, but somehow the movie just doesn’t convey how different this sounded at the time.

Anyway, I paused from writing this to poke around on the internet and I listened to some songs I haven’t heard in a while. I was going to go off on some of those complicated feelings I’ve been unable to express, but I’m looking at the clock and I think I’ll have to skip it tonight. What follows is unrelated to the film I just mentioned. It was just some music I first heard back in the early to mid nineties.

pumpkin-seeds

Last week, I made myself pumpkin stuffed with corn and beans. It was so good, I went out and got myself another pumpkin. This time I stuffed it with rice because I once read a recipe like that. That was good too. I know this isn’t a cooking blog, but if you haven’t tried it, I recommend it.

What I did:

First, I cut up some bacon into little bits and cooked it to render the fat. While the bacon was cooking, I sliced some shallots and put them in with the bacon. Leaving that on the stove to turn golden brown and turning off the heat later, I cut a top in a pumpkin and scooped out the seeds and strings. I used to love doing that as a kid, but now it’s a chore. Where’s a mess loving kid when you need one? Turn on the oven to 350°F (180°C). Chop some cheese into small dice. Drain the excess fat off of the bacon. Since the pan had cooled by this point, I used that instead of dirtying a mixing bowl, but I wasn’t cooking in it. So, if the pan is still warm, use a mixing bowl. (The English teacher’s daughter in me is feeling uncomfortable about mixing tenses here. Sorry, Mom.) Mix together corn kernels, beans, the diced cheese, ground pepper, nutmeg and whatever herbs you have on hand with the bacon and shallots. I used tarragon because it was the only fresh herbs I had on hand. Other choices might be better. I had to eyeball the amounts. I wanted approximately equal amounts of corn and beans and the whole thing should fill the pumpkin. You can pack it in if necessary. Pour about a quarter cup of heavy cream inside. Put the top back on the pumpkin. Bake for about an hour and a half to two hours.

I liked the corn rather than the rice. It seems to me to be a nice variation on succotash. I don’t know if people outside of North America know succotash, but it’s basically corn and beans, usually lima beans. It looks like it can be a nice dish for Thanksgiving. The whole pumpkin can be brought to the table and the food scooped out from inside. You have to scrape the spoon against the pumpkin itself when you serve it. The only downside for Thanksgiving is that I usually try to make all the side dishes on top of the stove because the oven typically has a turkey inside taking up all the space. After all, Thanksgiving dinner is all about coordination. What goes in when, for how long and at what temperature. What’s on which burner. It’s very filling and can be a meal in itself, which is how I ate it.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 small pumpkin
  • 3 or 4 strips of bacon
  • 1 shallot
  • Corn kernels
  • Beans or peas
  • Cheese
  • Heavy cream
  • Pepper
  • Herbs

I would use a milder cheese with the corn, but you could probably go with a stronger taste with the rice. Eliminating the bacon and sautéing the shallot in oil is probably easy.

It was good with the rice, too.

As some people know, I like to pretend to play the piano sometimes. What I don’t think as many people know is that my mother came from a family of musicians. Her grandfather was a violin maker from Poland. Her uncle learned his father’s profession and also played violin in the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. The musical ability in our family is unevenly distributed, but those who have had it have tended towards classical music. My grandfather, however, was always the black sheep of the family. When he was young, he played drums with jazz bands. I’ve been told he was terrible and only performed if someone was sick. Still, his taste was eclectic and when he died I went through his record collection. One of the records was Carney, by Leon Russell.

If you’ve read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, then you have heard of the Musee des Arts et Metiers in Paris. The Museum of Arts et Metiers in Paris “was founded in 1794 as a repository for the preservation of scientific instruments and inventions.” It is housed in the buildings of the former Priory of Saint Martin des Champs. Some dramatic scenes take place in what had been the former church adjacent to the monastery. Here are some pictures I took there a few years ago.

I may have posted some of these before.

 

I hope that gives you a little feel of the building.

That number jumped out at me since it was higher than I would have thought. It’s National Adoption Month. I came across that fact more or less by accident, though in this case the notion of “accident” is relative since, being adopted myself, I have a tendency to click on adoption related headlines. According to the website of National Adoption Month, there are over 400,000 kids in foster care and 100,000 of those kids can be adopted.

One thing that might be worth clarifying is the phrase “special needs.” Many of the children available for adoption are listed as “special needs” and I would have assumed that that meant children with severe emotional, intellectual or physical handicaps. Although the term does encompass those children, it also means kids that are older, from “a particular racial or ethnic background” or who are part of a group of siblings who need to be placed. They prefer to keep siblings together.

There’s a lot of useful information on the Adopt US Kids website.

Some studies have shown that LGBT youth are over represented in foster care. Furthermore, once in foster care, they are sometimes poorly serve. In an article in USA Today, Eric Charles-Gallo writes,

The reality faced by LGBT youth— fewer accepting, inclusive foster homes than are available to their non-LGBT peers, and the heartbreaking consequences — is revealed in two important studies.

In New York City,78% of LGBTQ youth were removed from their foster homes or ran away because of hostility toward their sexual orientation or gender identity, and 70% reported experiencing physical violence in group homes. And a 2014 study by the Williams Institute shows that nearly 1 out of 5 youth in the Los Angeles foster care system is LGBTQ. That same study found that LGBT youth in Los Angeles foster care, like Darnell, were bounced around much more than non-LGBTQ youth, were more than twice as likely to be placed in group homes, and experienced homelessness and hospitalization for emotional reasons at far higher rates.

Further down he adds:

In fact, the federal government believes that the issue of LGBTQ youth in foster care is so critical that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a historic call to child welfare agencies to guarantee that every child has access to a “safe, loving and affirming foster care placement, irrespective of the young person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”

Since I know a disproportionate number of my readers are atheists, agnostics or otherwise not orthodox members of an established religion, I thought about covering that subject when I saw on article about National Adoption Month use words like “God,” “miracle” and “blessings.” On the other hand, since National Adoption Month is intended to raise awareness of kids in the foster care system in the U.S., it would seem to be less relevant. Since I was adopted by non-religious parents, through a secular agency and my biological mother requested that I not be placed with a highly religious family, the religion-adoption connection some people seem to have, especially since prominent pastors like Rick Warren started promoting adoption around the year 2007, really is not established in my subconscious. There was an article on the subject of adopting as an atheist in Salon a couple of years ago by Veronica Chenik Gilmore. Unfortunately, her description is unclear in places. She seems to indicate that she felt some discrimination as an atheist when she was fostering children, but I wasn’t clear what group she felt was discriminating. Was it a state agency or a private group? However, she does mention finding Adopt US Kids to be a useful resource.

Slightly OT: At one point Gilmore says:

People celebrate adoption and many celebrate their own atheism, but the two worlds rarely intertwine. Both worlds are filled with rejection, intolerance and misunderstanding. There are angry atheists and there are angry adoptees. We are, however, on the happy end of both spectrums.

I felt this was very dismissive of the feelings of adoptees, especially since a common complaint adoptees have is that no one wants to hear their side of the story. I find the “angry adoptee” categorization to be especially annoying. First of all, anger may very well depend on context. Normally, I have a very positive attitude about adoption. On a couple of occasions friends who were thinking of adopting wanted to talk to me about the subject, I found myself being very encouraging and even getting choked up while proclaiming what wonderful parents they would be. On the other hand, just the other day I found myself getting quite annoyed at some highly religious people who were busy applauding themselves over what wonderful people they were because they adopted kids from overseas. Emotions are changeable and are often in response to a stimulus. One complaint adoptees have is the expectation that we display permanent gratitude, well beyond the degree expected of biological children. That is simply not a realistic expectation. Feeling like you were a pathetic thing that needed to be rescued is not healthy. Anger is a normal human feeling and feeling angry occasionally doesn’t make you an “angry adoptee,” but the fear of being an “angry” or “poorly adjusted” adoptee sometimes causes adoptees to avoid being forthright about their feelings. I’m sure Gilbert didn’t mean it that way, still, I felt the need to add that.

Oddly, I only went a few pages down on the search results, but I haven’t been able to find any information about atheist kids in foster care. Logically, they must exist. However the search only turned up atheists who are foster parents. I also found a couple of posts in forums from atheist birth mothers.

Well, I got a bit off-track there. The upshot is that if you’re looking to adopt and you’re considering adopting an older kid there are probably more children out there available for adoption than you think. If you’re adopting from the foster care system, it probably costs less money than you think (described on the website as minimal or free), and they are willing to consider non-traditional families.

I wasn’t sure whether or not to post one of the videos on the subject, but here is one.