Memories: The Case for Art in School

I had amazing choir directors at church and at school growing up.  They forced me to face any fears I had about stage fright very early (there is a picture of me at like 6 on a stage at church doing a solo – I suspect I sounded horrible but he made EVERYONE have a solo).  I don’t have stage fright.

Another thing I know singing taught me is elocution – “the skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation”

When I worked on the phones, I was constantly complimented on how easy I was to understand compared to my peers.  It took me a long time to understand that singing had taught me to literally open my mouth when forming my words.  It wasn’t until I stared at someone who was complaining that they kept getting complaints – I saw it.  I literally saw it and it clicked.  I looked at them and said something like, “You need to practice singing vowels – drop your jaw and sing vowels – then convert that into normal words.”

Breathing, articulation, projection, and a lack of stage fright are all skills which were honed by having amazing art programs while I was growing up.

I took a semester of “art” in high school.  I learned some of the basic terminology and concepts of art so when I got to see the Norman Rockwell collection at the Atlanta High Museum – I appreciated his technique and skill as well as his content.  And then when I went back on my own and saw some other artists, I understood some of the theme they explored – from one semester’s learning I gathered an appreciation for art that has carried me through my life.  I look at graffiti and murals with an eye towards the skill – and don’t kid yourself, good graffiti ( IS impressive and I have a tiny-tiny clue of the level of the skill of those artists.

I hated band, but I hated my flute – I know many of my friends learned skills like buckling down and practicing from their years in band.  Many of them were able to build life-long friendships from marching band.  Many of them understand football because they had to attend all the games.  I can’t claim those, but I can see them.

Every time I see someone say we should cut art spending in schools I see a little bit of red.  I probably have a dozen “dimes” because my schools while I was growing up had great art programs.  I was exposed to different ideas, themes, and cultures through their art.  I was exposed to history by singing great works from the high chants.  I learned through art and I learned to express myself because of art.  I am a writer because I had teachers who encouraged me to explore this art.

When I hear a cashier or co-worker or …. well anyone – mumbling and fumbling I grieve that their education failed them. I grieve that they didn’t have churches and schools where they learned these skills.

Throwback Thurs: Cinnamon

I found some old notebooks at the bottom of the box last weekend – including one my first ever journals.  The first three entries frankly brought me to tears. They are all about my first cat Cinnamon.

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Thurs, Feb. 18, 1997

Today I haven’t been feeling well so I called Mom and came home sick. I’ve slept most of the afternoon and I am about to go to bed.

Vic, a kid in my class, asked me on the 4 if I would go out with him. It was the morning after Cinnamen [sic] had been put down so I was still upset. He kept on pressuring me until Brittney started to beat him up. [I feel like I need to define “beat up” was usually with a piece of PAPER]

I am having a rough year so far. Vic is only making it worse. [God, I feel so sorry for him.  His timing was TERRIBLE – but it doesn’t excuse his behavior] I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. I am terribly confused and frightening. [over 20 years later – I don’t remember why I used the word “frightened” but it makes me ANGRY.  Fear is not one of the steps of grief.]

I don’t want to go out with anybody right now because of Cinnamen, [sic] but if I don’t go out with Vic he will act like an idiot. [and this is MY problem?]

I DON’T KNOW WHAT I SHOULD DO!! [all caps doesn’t do justice to the middle-schooler’s ability to express herself… :)]

I wish someone could help me understand my problems and work through them. [Nope. Pretty sure that’s called “growing up” honey.]


Firstly, writing really helps me cement a memory.  That is almost EXACTLY how I remember that month.  I put down Cinnamon on the 3rd, Vic tried to ask me out THE NEXT MORNING, I told him “no, I just lost my cat” and he spent MONTHS harassing me (literally, in my diary the entry is in MAY when Mom and I got the Vice Principal involved and this is AFTER the entry “I talked to the school councilor ’cause he threatened suicide if I wouldn’t date him.”) I am so glad I don’t have that kind of drama now. I didn’t realize I was such a dramatic little brat then. But reading those entries now… wow.

And almost every entry “I don’t feel good” just reminds me that I don’t feel that way anymore ever since I (essentially) stopped eating peppers.  I was a little icky over the weekend but that was my own fault (I went to a Mexican restaurant) and it still wasn’t THAT bad.   It was 12-18 hrs of “meh” attitude towards most foods.

So yeah, there we go.  21 years ago I wrote through my own personal “horror.” I thought it was then – I have more executive function now to process the choices I was struggling with them.  Literally, look it up!  You don’t finish growing your brain until about 25, so at ~12 I didn’t have as much brain power; and these were HARD things.  Ok, some of them are STILL hard and scary for the post-25 age group.  Relationships (even ones that aren’t romantic) are HARD.

Memories: Ideal Weight

It’s holiday season, which is always a stressful time and made more stressful for people who are trying to lose weight.  With Thanksgiving past, I am seeing the annual parade of posts about “hitting the gym” and “getting back on the horse.”

Picture of my new skirt

This is hard for me.  I am overweight.  Technically, I am “obese” although I don’t feel obese.

I’m not unhappy (per say) with my size.  I would like to lose some weight, but at the same time, I am pretty happy with general shape, etc. Part of my “want to lose weight” is health.  There are some numbers which are less than ideal and I would like to get them idealized again.

What makes this hardest is I know what it takes to get/keep my ideal weight.  I’ve been there.  When I graduated from college, I weighed 142lbs.  This is right about “perfect” (according to the drs) for my height.   I didn’t diet to get there, but I had managed to have a lifestyle that allowed me to exercise a lot.  And by “managed” I mean “forcefully included” exercise.

206612_503273350592_1266_n.jpgYou see, my senior year of college I spent a semester in Japan. When I got home, I weighed the “perfect” weight.  And I won’t lie – I did enjoy that size/ weight.  I felt like I could wear anything, do anything, be anything.

But it was at least partly due to my commute to/from school.  It was 2 miles to and from school – 4 miles a day that I had to walk or bike.  That’s above and beyond any walking AT school or if I wanted to go anywhere else.  I didn’t mind the commute.  It worked and I could do it.

Here’s the problem.  Even when I lived 2 miles from the train station in Atlanta – those weren’t 2 miles I could safely walk.  And it wasn’t pedestrians that terrified me.  It was drivers.  At least 1/3 of the walk to the train station didn’t have sidewalks and that made it unsafe. Beyond unsafe. No sidewalks in Japan? No big deal, cars went slow through there because there was so much foot traffic. Here in Atlanta? Pshaw- good luck sucker!

I have struggled ever since to find as much exercise to fit into my schedule.  In some ways it’s worse being overweight now because I do know what it looks and feels like to be the “right” weight – I just can’t figure out how to get there.  I have a ~30-40 minute commute (~12 miles) to work right now.  That isn’t horrible – it’s pretty much the same time I used to spend walking/biking to/from school in Japan.  So I know I can easily do 30 minutes of exercise twice a day.  But on top of my already 30-40 minutes of commute?  That means I really have to budget an hour “each way.”  And Americans don’t have the same acceptance of “shit, it’s 95 degrees outside, of course you’re sweaty” that Japanese culture had.

As I listen to the complaints, I don’t have answers to my friends who are frustrated with their weight. When I look back at the pictures of my time in Japan, sometimes I am frustrated – how do I make that lifestyle more accessible?  How do I add that into my routine in the states?

Life Memories: Systemic Sexism

So this entire post comes with history. A LOT of history.  There are stories within stories here and I can’t fully explore them in a single post.  So, I’ll skip some bits here and jump straight into the pieces you need (well, I’ll try, it’s hard to unpack all the inter-tangled pieces). All the best stories are complicated.

I started playing tabletop RPGs around end-of-middle-school when my older brother wanted to try this new book GURPS.  Yes, I learned on GURPS.  It has made me a weird gamer ever since because I don’t particularly like D&D or Pathfinder… classes frustrate me.  When I was in high school I started gaming with his guy-friends (most of them in college) with a Wheel of Time game.  When my brother “disappeared” into the military, I kept going.

We met every first Saturday of the month about noon and gamed until 5-7pm, went to dinner and hung out.  So from the time I was 16/17 until about 29, I saw these guys at least once a month for hours. Some of them had known me before gaming. Some of them I ended up working at jobs with. They were family.

Sometime in college we started the weirdest, goofiest, craziest Star Wars campaign (we totally broke West End games yo!).  We probably played that campaign close to 7-8 years.  We had multiple stories and each of us ended up with 2 characters so we could run multiple plots simultaneously (I did use the word broken, right?).  It was so much fun and I was loyal – I made that Saturday my guys’ day.

Then we let a new guys join the group.  He wasn’t new-new.  He’d been on the fringes of my awareness for years  -gamers always tend to circle the same people.  We’ll call him “Ted” for this story.  So Ted had met my friends in college, hadn’t ever really gotten into gaming ’cause you know Georgia Tech is hard and family business and he had a life.  But now he wanted in, so we made room at the “table” and he built up a pair of characters (now a requirement).  Now, Ted was vegetarian (by religion) and this made our after-game dinner choices change.  Whereas BBQ and burger joints had been common – they had to get nix’ed pretty much entirely.  Whatever, I am not actually that picky an eater.

I do however have a food sensitivity.  I can’t eat peppers.  They make me rather violently ill.  Anything stronger than a jalepeano generally makes me vomit.  Much like someone lactos intolerant, you don’t want me around when I try to eat even bell peppers. So places like Mexican restaurants are -at best- risky.

Well Ted thought Mexican was the best choice for the group. Constantly. No matter how many months in a row I reminded the group that this would not work for me. And it hurt. At the time I couldn’t explain entirely why it hurt so much.  I mean, obviously Ted is an asshole who can’t think beyond his OWN needs. That was actually a pretty well acknowledged truth. You combine this with a few other sexist remarks and painful moments and this group I loved & cherished was becoming more and more difficult to convince myself to be around every month.

Then came the catalyst weekend.  It had been a fairly emotionally charged game and I had felt like every time I spoke up, my character’s ideas (ie mine) were being shot down.  I was emotionally tired. The dinner conversation came up and immediately Ted suggested Mexican. I brought up my allergy and suggested Olive Garden (pasta is perfectly safe for a vegetarian). He said he didn’t want pasta or salad. And suggested a different Mexican place.

I wish I could say I had tossed out BBQ and when Ted complained I lashed into him (as I fully believe he deserved) that if he couldn’t respect my allergy I didn’t have to respect his choice.  I didn’t.  I was tired and after a little more round-robin I caved.

I ordered as carefully as I could, but it was a Saturday night. I’m sure the restaurant had pans of pepper-dishes next to pans of non-peppery dishes and cross-contamination is a thing.  I spent half the night in my bathroom wishing I had just skipped dinner entirely.  I spent half the night wishing I never would have to see Ted again. I spent days emotionally recovering from…. I couldn’t even say what.

It took me longer than it should have, but I wrote an email to the defacto “leader” (the GM) of the group.  I explained I was frustrated and hurt.  It wasn’t perfect – hell, I was a bit emotional – but I was blunt and said “I won’t put myself into a situation again where I will be sick. ”

I walked away from the game. I walked away feeling like “the bad guy.”  I walked away feeling guilty because I know I hurt my friend’s feelings when I explained this truth: my friends didn’t stand up to Ted and left me to stand against him alone. Over and over. Their silence; their complicity in his sexism…. hurt.

The food thing was actually a pretty minor confrontation between myself and Ted. We had already had one where he literally had told me to sit down, shut up, and let “the men” play their game.  And I mean that literally as literally not figuratively.  And that time one of the guys did stand up to Ted and tell him he was in the wrong. But they never noticed how many times he talked over me. How many times he dismissed my ideas.  The tiny pricks over and over and again and again. Subtle and constant but each one individually small enough to dismiss.

But this is systemic sexism I wanted to get to in this post:

When I (the sole woman of the group) brought up a medical concern it was treated as equally valid as a life choice (of a man) when it came to food decisions.

Say that to yourself three times.  His choice (albeit religious) was given equality with my getting violently ill.  Granted, my illness isn’t something flashy like peanuts or fish cause. Still… mull this over in your mind.

And the guys didn’t fully understand.  More than one used the word “sensitive” when they asked and I explained that it was “him or me” in the group. Not even my brother (who totally supported my decision – had been listening to me for months complain as we carpooled) entirely understood it. Oh, he understood it in theory and he did/does support it – but he didn’t understand why it hurt as much as it did. I doubt he’s ever experienced it, and never over and over and over.

And yet, every woman I’ve told this to nods and shares her “Ted” experience.  That hashtag about women telling their stories…. yeah, this is one of mine.

This still hurts.  It’s been more than 2 years and I have teared up writing about this.  I have stopped twice, walked away, and came back to writing; because it still is painful to remember this decision to walk away from a group of 15 years.  Friends who I might talk to at a Christmas party or the like now, but I don’t get to see every month.

I have tried to hang out with them once; they planned a random board-game day.  And after about 2 hours of dealing with underhanded barbs from Ted (seriously, the man does not even realize how much he (A) interrupts me and (B) constantly puts down women in general) I was sick of it. Ted makes my skin crawl with the heeby-jeebies and I barely trust him not to cross the line when other men are around to hold him in check. It’s exhausting (and far from “fun”) to be in that kind of tension for very long.

Now, when they plan board game days I just ignore the email chain. Well, I just don’t respond. I always read them.

Life Memories: Hunting Season

When I was kid (like eight maybe nine) my best friend came over and we watched Bambi.  She had never seen it and I was shocked.  How did someone make it to this age without seeing this Disney classic.  So I fixed this oversight in her upbringing like a good friend should and would (and did!).

Her dad tried to say we could never see each other ever again.

The problem was this: her dad worked for the GA parks and hunted. He had never wanted her to see Bambi and was (apparently) furious at my intrusion on this choice. I never thought of Bambi as an actively anti-hunting movie, but I get it – it does make it seem like the hunters are evil.  I mean – they are evil “from a certain point of view” (5 points to whoever can place that quote!).

A deal was struck between the mothers (I assume it was the mothers, my mother broke the “price” to me) for us to keep being friends I had to understand hunting.

Ok, so I’m making it sound like this guy was terrifying and I was terrified.  This was my best friend and in case you couldn’t tell (here, just… here) I don’t use that term lightly.  My friendship had been in jeopardy. I had never been treated as the bad guy before. I was a good girl and a good friend and… so yeah, I was upset and almost 30 years later I still remember the shock of thinking something I thought was innocent could be seen as wrong. Like wrongly wrong-wrong.

So he made us both sit down in his den and he explained hunting from his perspective. This was an awesome lesson in perspective.

Anyway, so we had to sit on the carpet in there while he explained why hunting isn’t evil.  I don’t remember the details, but I remember walking away with a few impressions.  The first was that my friend’s father could get really intense about this. The second was that hunting is not only not-evil but can be highly beneficial.

Here is something of how I remember this conversation going:

You see, when people move into an area they tend to chase out predators like wolves, bears, even coyotes.  We don’t like those around because they threaten our pets and even our children – much less when we kept chickens or goats or the like.  So we chase out these big predators. We try to chase out foxes, but they’re a different problem.  Foxes don’t hunt deer.

You see, we just chased out everything that will hunt deer. You see this in Bambi actually. You don’t see bears or wolves, just people threaten deer. So the deer can have all their babies safely.  About the only thing that threatens them is cars.  We’ve all seen a pack of deer run out across the road.

So what happens when all the deer grow up and they begin to have their own babies?  Well, eventually there just isn’t enough food.  So then the deer start starving. Or they start spreading diseases – some of which can just species like rabies. Deer with rabies can do a lot of damage too – they aren’t small animals and if they get into someone’s yard… pets, children, houses – yeah, it’s a scary picture.

It’s part of the job of park rangers to monitor the population of deer – and decide how many can be hunted or should be hunted every year.  Controlling that population – keeping it to the same levels predators would is very important [aside: this conversation was pre-reintroducing wolves to yellowstone. Since then some fascinating research imparts how important apex predators are across the flora & fauna of an area: video here].

Without hunters we’d have a lot more deer getting hit by cars. We’d see a lot more rabies (more pets being infected). We’d have more issues with ticks and fleas and diseases they can pass between humans and deer…

Overall, hunting for trophies might not be good – and hunting already endangered species can be evil – but deer hunting itself can be a positive thing. It helps both the people in the area and the animals. They don’t starve or die of terrible diseases.


I’m sure he told us more. I have certainly carried this conversation/lesson throughout my life.  Hell, I probably tell this story every year as deer hunting season opens. Someone will talk about the “evils” of hunting and I’ll explain this information to them. Usually very similarly to how it’s explained here.

So throughout high school during the winter when I’d go over to her house, I’d get served venison on a semi-regular basis.  I never went hunting, but I also never held hunting against my friend or her family (I even support their choice to bring delicious venison home!).  I am, at the end of the day, grateful that I was exposed to this young enough that I didn’t ever become self-righteous or judgmental about hunting deer.  Now, you hunt elephants or something like that and only keep some kind of trophy I’ll help come up with the creative and nasty punishments….. but that’s a different post.  Today’s post is about supporting the people who are braving the cold and ticks to hunt for their supper.


Politics: “Top Talent” Scarcity

In my corporate 9-5 job there is a lot of discussion about finding & retaining “top talent” and how “skilled professionals” are scarce. These are sometimes extremely difficult conversations for me to engage in.  Sometimes, after one of these I have to go to the bathroom and sit in a stall for a few minutes (ok, that was only once when the leaders talked about how “people without college degrees” aren’t worth looking at….)

It’s hard because it breaks my heart.

But, I also know that what was 150 years ago “skilled” (i.e. a machinist) was 50 years ago “unskilled” (i.e. factory workers).  We are in that painful point of a technical revolution that we saw in the mid fifteenth/sixteenth centuries (1600s/1700s) and the late 1800s.

Right now our “unskilled” workers are fighting over EVERY job-  and those jobs are being decimated.  There are almost 2 million jobs that the BLS lists for truck drivers. If those are replaced by autonomous driving vehicles – what happens to those drivers?  The retail industry IS collapsing (#thanksOBAMA) and malls are closing right and left (left and right?)   There are (per the BLS again) almost 5 million jobs in retail.  If that’s even cut by 1/3-1/2… ouch!  That’s 2-2.5 million people who may or may not have other marketable skills.

I just talked about 7 million jobs, about 2% of the total US population, but this automation is happening all over the place.  Skills that 20 years ago were standard aren’t any more and skills that people needed 50 years ago…. well they are totally gone (phone operators anyone?)

I have hope because this isn’t the first technological revolution and the definition of “unskilled” has changed before.  What was “skilled” became commonplace and became “unskilled” – but we don’t know what those skills are. 150 years ago you’d be fine even if you couldn’t read and write.  50 years ago that was considered a minimum & “unskilled” still meant “literate.” But what are the skills today? Writing Java? Typing? Trig? Electrical systems something-something?

As difficult as I think the next 20-50 years will be, if we can avoid killing ourselves I think we can redefine “skilled” and “unskilled” labor again so that the people that are struggling now (or at least their kids/grandkids) find their spot(s) in society.  They might become what plumbers are today (100 years ago THEY were the expert/specialists!) – yes, licensed & learned but NOT “specialists” anymore. Not like we treat programmers. Now we consider the learning required for a plumber to be accessible – whereas programmers we’re still figuring out how it even really works.

I hope that makes sense.  100 years ago you had to spend 10 years just figuring out how to plumb. Now it’s like 2 years of school & 2 years of “apprenticeship” (if they even call it that).  Whereas a programmer…. well a lot of them aren’t trusted to lead a new dev team for 10 years…. sound familiar yet?  We haven’t gotten programming down to 2 years – and even worse there is like a bajillion differences without standards. We’re in the Wild, Wild West of computing.  So it’s “skilled” labor right now.

There are roles that WERE skilled and are STILL skilled: surgeons, architects, engineers. I suspect we’ll continue to add to that list as we develop, but it’s hard for jobs to stay on that list forever.  I kind of hope mine does….

Life Memories: Paper Anniversary

Last spring I ran away with the man I’m in love with and got married.

God that is still a lot of a fun to say.  This year, I took the week of our anniversary as vacation. It was very good, especially because I can’t remember the last time I took a full week of just vacation.  Not moving or packing or because I was sick….

It was kind of glorious.  And spending about $200 on books was pretty awesome too.  My list of books getting recovered from the storage-unit-mold-disaster is slowly coming around.  The books that are left were always going to be the hardest ones to find: out of print or role-playing books (which even if not “hard to find” are “damn expensive”)

He also took my calligraphy exam paper from my semester in Japan to get it framed in a gorgeous black-bamboo frame. He managed to filch it during our move last fall and I just haven’t known where it is for the past four months or so (we still have a lot of boxes).  Sneaky man. Fortunately, year 2 will be the “cotton” anniversary and I already have an idea of what I can get for him next year (or make if I can be sneaky enough).