Monthly Archives: August 2011

Following the rules is for suckers!: The view from a lifetime of bucking the system

I was the baby in my family, by a lot. I had a brother ( he died two years ago) 9 years older  than me and have  a sister 11 years older. So, everyone in my family was an virtually an adult by the time I went to school. This impacted the family dynamic in lots of different ways. The main way it molded me was that it taught me if you take a position and hold it and do not let go no matter what other people will do one of three things, two of which are good. They will either avoid you–the only negative one and in some cases might be considered a good thing; they will give in to you or they will try to distract you with a treat of some kind to budge you from the position. In the adult world, of course there are more negative options, firing you, not hiring you in the first place, etc. But, they could not fire the six year old me who could get virtually anything she wanted by crying for half an hour or so. Because I learned early that rules are flexible depending on variables, some of which might be in your control I learned early on to get what I wanted, do what I wanted and still appear to be following the rules. There was only one notable exception.

By the time I came along my parents had given up hitting their children. My brother and sister used to regale me with tales of the massive whippings they got for doing things,some of which they obviously deserved. I, on the other hand got one spanking and that was not my fault and my mother still apologizes for it. Forgive me if I have told this tale before, but it was a turning point in my young life.

My mother had declared one August day that it was time for our third safari to Dayton, Ohio 18 miles away to go buy clothes at Rike’s Department Store. We had made the safari in April for Easter clothes and in June for summer/play clothes. This time it was serious business, school clothes! Girls could not wear pants to school so that meant buying a bunch of new dresses, some socks, shoes, underwear and a coat. Because we were church goers there also had to be some dresses and shoes for autumn and early winter ( we would make the last expedition at Christmas time) that were appropriate for church. Church dresses were different from school dresses

My mother was besotted by smocking. I wore dresses with smocking on the bodice well into 6th grade which was truly unfortunate since I was, by the end of 6th grade a 36 B in the boob department. I do not know if she thought smocking was classy or she just liked the way it looked, all I know is my wardrobe usually consisted of dresses in a variety of patterns but with smocking somewhere. If it was not on the bodice it was on the hem, if not on the hem on the sleeve. Maybe she was influenced by the movie Heidi, I do not know.

So, my mother got us all up and ready that August day when I was five and got me dressed first so she could go get dressed. Going to Rike’s was a state occasion, so my mother had put me in a white satin dress, white lace trimmed socks, black patent leather shoes and done my hair in Shirley Temple curls with white ribbons . I was told to go sit on the porch and wait for the rest of the family to get dressed so we could pile in the car and go to Dayton.

I sat on the porch with my dog Duke, a brindle Boston Terrier, and waited, and waited. My sister Barbara took at least an hour to get ready to go anywhere. My street, East Market, in Xenia, Ohio was under construction that summer. It just so happened that there was a large hole, more than 6 feet across, at the corner of Fair and Market. After about twenty minutes I noticed a group of neighborhood kids had gathered beside the large hole in the street. I glanced at the front door, nobody seemed to be stirring, so I inched down off the porch, went out and stood beside the stone hitching post in front of the house and peered down the short distance to the corner.

My neighbor girl, Jimette B, who I had a love/hate relationship with gestured for me to come over to the hole. I glanced at the door again and ran down to see what they were looking at. “What is it?” I asked. “There is a snake down there in the hole, come look.” Jimette answered. When I got closer to the hole  to look the edge, which was not even, gave way, sending me down into the five foot deep, muddy at the bottom hole. All of my “friends” from the neighborhood fled. I was not sure whether to be more scared of the fact I was in a hole with a snake or that I was in the hole with my white silk dress on.

Turns out I never saw the snake, guess I scared him away. Having set up a  caterwaul that  could be heard for blocks I had to be dredged up out of the muddy hole by my big brother Moose. Needless to say my clothes were ruined, my hair was ruined and my shoes were ruined. I received about three smacks on the behind, the first and last ones ever received so far in my life. I was washed, re-dressed and chastised, was installed in the back seat and told not to think about doing anything else off script that day.

I plead my case plaintively, there was no way I could ignore the opportunity to see a snake and I had no way of knowing the side of the hole was unstable and it was the neighbor kids’ fault for waving me down! My mother eventually apologized for losing her temper and spanking me, but she did not ever accede to any of my points of defense. Seems she was of the opinion if I had stayed on the porch as requested I would not have had to worry about the stability of the sides of the hole.I saw her point, but still felt that the snake trumped it.

One would think that having gotten in such trouble for breaking a rule I would have taken the lesson to heart and tried to stay out of trouble. Generally speaking I did. I did not talk back to teachers, I did not disrespect adults. My first drink of whiskey was the night before I graduated from college, I did not smoke, have never done drugs. Had sex only after I had an engagement ring on my finger, finished school. But, and here is the big but, I have never been able to do something simply because someone said so and not raise an objection.

If there is a reason to do something it should be possible for the person asking you to do it to explain the reason. That is all I ever asked. You want me to be home by 11? Why is that a magical time? What is wrong with 12? 12:30? You want me not to associate with certain kids? Why? I have been asking people to defend their positions and requests since I was five. It is amazing how many of them have been unable to do so.

Doing what you are told without question is something we were told the soldiers did in Nazi Germany. There is person responsibility and should be personal ethics involved in everything we do. ” I did something wrong because I was ordered to do it” was struck down as a defense in the Nuremberg Trials. I do not think it is unreasonable when asked to do something to ask what is the motivation behind the request and what is the hoped for outcome.

If the motivation is shaky that is one thing, if you cannot support the goal, or the methodology that is another thing entirely. Some ” leaders” think that fear is the way to get people to do what you want them to do. I have news for them, all you do is make people hate you , distrust you , and look for ways to get back at you or do you harm, often behind your back. Since none of us is perfect there are always ways people can hurt you. I prefer the “come here and help me do something because you are wonderful and I need you” approach myself. Not only do people do what you want or help you do what you want, they invite you to parties!

If you cannot convince me of the validity of the rule do not ask me to obey it. I understand stopping at stop lights, I do not understand slowing down for yellow lights. I understand not being a hoarder, I do not understand why having more than 60 pairs of shoes is considered a bad thing. I understand being polite to people, I do not understand standing silent when someone does something wrong to another human being.

Sometimes breaking the rules costs you, no doubt about that, but you know what they say, ” No guts, no glory.” My father was a great one for sayings, I inherited that from him and one of my favorites of his, besides ” what we cannot cure, we must endure”, was ” A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man ( or woman) only one.” I do not want to be lying on my death bed thinking, ” If only….”

So, fellow rule breakers, thumbers-of-noses-at convention and genuine articles, join me as I raise a glass of sweet tea to the gods and goddesses of mischief from Até to Loki  .  Following rules blindly indicates a lack of imagination, death of a sense of self and general failure to understand the overarching absurdity of life.  Try breaking a few rules, you might like it! 🙂


Posted by on August 22, 2011 in Uncategorized


Taking things for granted: How lucky most of us are!


I intended for this first blog back after vacation to be about our family vacation at the Outer Banks. It was great, sun, sand, food, drink, family and silliness. I will write about it in detail later. What greeted me when I came back to work changed my mind and sent my brain in a different direction.

I walked into the office on Monday wearing an orange blouse to show off my fabulous tan–this is a function of living in a highly integrated, mostly white environment, I have developed an appreciation of being temporarily darker.  I was ready to get back to work, charged up for the upcoming new semester. I have always looked forward to the start of a new academic year ever since I started nursery school back when the earth was cooling. The excitement of new opportunities, new experiences, new people, new books, new school supplies, football will begin, cool nights, trees will turn brilliant, energy will ramp up. I love fall and all things about fall.

When I came into the office I noticed that Josmell, my dear friend , colleague, mentee and “adopted” son, was not there. I knew he had been scheduled for some relatively minor surgery on Wednesday last week. I asked where he was and got  blank stares. Evidently none of my colleagues had thought to inquire about him. I immediately went into emergency mode. Josmell is nicknamed ” Inspector Gadget” around the office and is always, always available by text and email. The fact he had not been in touch was alarming.

I found out in short order that he was in the intensive care unit of our hospital, the surgery had gone badly and he had almost died. I dashed to the hospital to see him and was not reassured with what I found. He was still intubated, unable to talk, in and out of consciousness. Fortunately he is making a good recovery and should be out of the ICU today and into a regular room.

Having to visit the hospital every day is so depressing. I am pleased that my dear friend is rapidly recovering, he should get to go home early next week, but the visits to the hospital reminded me of things I want to forget, or ignore.

There are a lot of very sick people in this world. There are a lot of people who are permanently disabled. Seeing people whose bodies are so twisted they have to writhe and drag their limbs to walk, seeing children with their shaved heads bandaged, seeing people being pushed from examining room to treatment rooms in beds that you are pretty sure they will never leave alive, seeing people crying in the halls, or sitting holding hands and praying in the waiting rooms.

When I give talks I frequently talk about how we are all able to ignore the truly poor. We know there are people hungry, we know there are people homeless, we know there are people at their wits end because they cannot take care of themselves or their families, but very few of us ever pause even occasionally to think about them. Even fewer of us do anything to change their state of being, I remind people of that. But, I have not been as diligent either in reminding others or reminding myself in remembering the sick, the disabled, the chronically ill, the maimed.The national  discussion of health care has been for me primarily an abstract one. My husband and I have always worked for some government agency, either the state or a local school district. Health care was and is part of our benefits package. Prescription drugs, for example, in our plan cost $10 for three months worth.

I have had one incident that made me realize, very late in life, that everyone did not have the same advantages when it comes to health care. Years ago when our Walmart first opened in Xenia I was waited on at checkout by an older white woman. At the time I was probably in my 40s, so when I say she was older she was probably close to the age I am now, but she had obviously not had an easy life. Her hair was white and her face was very wrinkled. She was friendly, it was around Christmas time and we shared stories while she rang up my purchases.

As I was about to leave she made a comment to me. ” You probably wonder why someone as old as I am is working at Walmart.” I, of course, lied and said I had not thought any such thing, although I had of course wondered why she was still working at her age. She told me her husband was a retired worker from a GM plant in Dayton. He had always made good money she said and so she had stayed home to raise the kids and keep house. After he retired GM informed them that they would no longer cover retiree’s spouses. She had had a heart attack before she lost health coverage. She could not get a new policy because of her pre-existing condition. Her heart medicine, at that time, was more than $250 a month. They could not afford to pay for it on her husband’s retirement. So, she had to go to work for the first time in her life, in her supposed golden years, standing on her feet for hours a day ringing up items from China for people  many of whom did not give health care a thought. It shocked me.

I did not think they could change the rules on you after you retire. Currently we have a movement in this country that is anti-union, anti-health care, anti-poor people, anti-women and anti-racial/ethnic minorities. Their rationale for their actions is couched in fiscal conservatism but is actual Social Darwinism. Scrooge asked if there were no poor houses to house the poor, and implied if they died it would probably improve the gene pool. The right-wingers now trying to come to power are his legatees. I had not thought about the little old lady at Walmart for a long time. But I will from now on.

I hate hospitals, I even hate doctors to an extent. Although, of course, I am grateful for them when I , or one of my family or friends need them. In the final analysis though they both remind me that I am a mortal and relatively fragile being. Lots of things could hurt or kill me; automobile accidents, food contaminated with something, a fall, a crazy person with a machete, tetanus from stepping on a rusty nail. Human beings only have our brains to protect us actually. We do not have body armor like armadillos, we cannot fly like birds, we do not have claws and sharp teeth like wolves and bears. Considering how stupid I think the American public is –Michelle Bachman just won a straw poll if you think I am exaggerating–I am surprised that we survive.

So, you ask what is your point? My point is this. Look at yourself ,your siblings, your parents, your kids, your grandkids and your friends. If you did not have to worry today about whether or not they will survive health wise or economically, be grateful, very grateful. And please join me from time to time in thinking about the poor and the frail and the feeble and the poor and the sick.

I believe in karma. It drives a lot of what I do. I truly believe you get out of life what you put into it, particularly in how you treat other people. I hate hospitals–yeah I have said it before, but it is so true, but I would hate letting down my friend and colleague by not showing up at his bedside to show my concern more.

At least when I leave the hospital each day I do not have to deal with guilt about him, only guilt about my own good fortune and luck and my studied obliviousness of how very lucky and fortunate I am.


Leave a comment

Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Uncategorized