A blog for my writerly ramblings, my rambly writings, and all things in between.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Man She's Never Met

I remember it vividly: it was Christmastime, I was in eighth grade-- twelve, almost thirteen. My parents had dragged invited me to my brother's Freshman Chorus concert at Fairmont Senior High School. We were sitting up in the balcony, and the musty auditorium was dark except for the glowing lights on a black, empty stage. And then I heard it.

It was only singing- men's voices, although it sounded almost like a single voice.

O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel.

The haunting melody resonated in that dark, cavernous room, and I thought, "What a beautiful recording." I thought it was nice to have some recorded music playing while the next choir came onstage. I could see the members of the next choir making their way down the aisles, and I perked up, because it looked like they were wearing costumes. Over the ethereal, melancholy choral music I could also hear a slight tinkling, jingling, a soft rustling as they made their way to the stage, and the dim light of the stage played off the glittering parts of their gowns and tunics.

But then as they made their way onstage-- the rich velvety jewel tones of their stunning attire coming into full view in the light, transforming the space with a magical, royal presence-- I realized that they were the ones making the ethereal music, and my mouth fell open in surprise.

As the performance continued I realized that they were performing with no director in sight. How can you have a choir that sings together without a director? As they sang, they moved easily with the music and they looked at each other, as if the song was a private group conversation, and we were all just listening in.

Even the songs themselves sounded like conversations. They were intricate, with so many moving pieces-- as soon as I fell in love with a particular chord it was gone, as if it had been carried off on a breeze, but it was always replaced by another chord, or another moving part that tickled my ears and made me hold my breath again. They seemed to just know when to crescendo, and when to clip a word, and when to take a breath, all without the guiding hand of a conductor- and without the aid of any accompaniment. They were in themselves like a perfectly tuned instrument; their tone was pure, their pronunciation impeccable. It was like nothing I'd ever heard.

In short, I was fascinated. They were amazing.

And that was the first time I ever heard the Fairmont Senior High School Madrigal Chamber Singers.

Obviously, I knew what choir I wanted to join when I reached high school, and I couldn't wait. I suffered through a year of Freshman Chorus, then lined up with my friends to audition for the prestigious madrigal choir (my brother had done the same and had gotten in the year before). I knew my voice wasn't very strong, and I didn't have that neat vibrato that so many of the other girls had. I was still young. But I could hold a tune. And I hoped that would be enough.

To make a long story short, it was enough, and the following year I joined the ranks of the alto section of the Fairmont Senior High School Madrigal Chamber Choir.

And that's when I got to know Mr. Bunner.

I think my first indication that he was different from your average teacher was when we got a student teacher in his class. When our student teacher arrived, she looked as nervous as if she were arriving for an audience with the Queen of England. She stammered something about what an honor it was to work with Mr. Bunner, and how thrilled she was to work with a choir of our caliber, and how she couldn't believe that of all the student teacher placements SHE got this one. She said everyone she knew in the WVU music program was green with envy. She was practically giddy.

I remember most of us just kind of laughing about it, but she was right. Our group was special, a fact that I think I took for granted during most of my time in it.

We never lost a competition we entered. Never. Never anything less than first place in all categories, and Grand Champion of the entire thing. We competed with magnet schools, schools for the arts, with intensive specialty choir programs. And we-- a group of high school kids from a little town in West Virginia-- beat them, handily, every time.

Usually during a choir competition, judges use a voice recorder and speak into it during your performance to give you notes. We rarely ended up listening to those tapes because they usually sounded like this:

"Wow, beautiful costumes. Lovely opening."


"Just beautiful."

"Amazing, wow."

And then a whole lot of silence. One judge even said, "I'm just going to be quiet now because I just want to listen."

We had judges request our CD (it was the nineties, but we were getting asked for CDs so often we finally had one professionally recorded). One judge said, point blank, "You are, hands down, the best high school choir I have ever heard." (Side note: That particular judge was a former member of the Grammy-Award-winning a cappella choir Chanticleer, of which Mr. Bunner was a huge, huge fan.)

We were even invited by the governor of West Virginia to represent the state for a special 50 states musical showcase at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. (I remember it was snowing outside as we sang there in the Grand Hall. Magical.)

I'd like to think that all of this was because we were all unusually talented, but the fact that the Madrigals were so good for years before any of us had joined, and continued to be good for years after all of us were gone, means that the common denominator wasn't us.

It was Mr. Bunner.

Mr. Bunner was quite tall, with a face that might have resembled Santa Claus had he ever grown a beard and had his hair turn white (his hair was brown and he had a mustache). He was generally soft spoken, with a resonant baritone voice, and had a perpetually content expression on his face. It was the expression of a man who loved what he did for a living. He loved music, and it showed.

Mr. Bunner had a mischievous sense of humor. He was always poised and articulate, but sometimes he let his inner high school boy slip out (he loved making us groan with a little teasing innuendo). He was endlessly passionate about music, unfailingly kind, but also firm. He had high expectations of us all. We were his kids, and he was the patriarch of our musical family. None of us were keen to disappoint him.

And we didn't. He was so proud of us, and he loved showing us off whenever he got the chance-- especially if he discovered a spot with great acoustics. As an a cappella choir we could sing anywhere and so we would sing everywhere-- at hotels on trips, on the bus, in a castle in Canada, standing in line waiting outside a restaurant-- even inside the restaurant as we sang a beautifully harmonious and moving blessing on our food.

In short, Mr. Bunner did flash mobs before flash mobs were cool.

And, oddly enough, we were never embarrassed by it. We knew how good we were. We knew that people would stop in their tracks, would gather round, would start snapping photos of us (with actual cameras- this was before cell phone cameras) recording us with their camcorders, and start murmuring appreciatively.

So we'd sing even when Mr. Bunner wasn't around, because he'd taught us to own it, to take pride in it, and to appreciate what a cool skill it was to be able make music wherever we were. And besides, it was FUN! We'd be standing in line for rides at amusement parks and do a quick role call to see if we had at least one of each part and then just start singing while we waited. We'd sing at parties, or while we were just hanging out at each other's homes. Some of my guy friends (and my brother) started arranging pop songs for men's quartets and octets so they could watch the girls swoon as they serenaded them.

And that was another great thing about Mr. Bunner-- he showed guys what a masculine thing it was to be musical. There was no such thing as "choir nerds" at our school. There were the Men's Choir studs-- the guys who took the stage in their khakis, light blue shirts, navy blue sport coats, and red ties, looking preppy and (to every girl in the room including me) pretty hot. And when they opened their mouths and started singing Billy Joel songs? Well...let's just say they broke a lot of hearts.

But he took care of us ladies as well-- I remember my first year of Madrigals having to sit through a required professional makeup artistry class. Mr. Bunner appreciated the beauty of women (in a respectful way, of course), so he made sure that we all learned to do stage makeup properly. He told us that music is expressive, and if no one can see our beautiful features, then they can't get the full effect of the music (don't worry-- on special occasions the guys got to wear makeup too.)

Most girls learn to do makeup from their mothers. I learned to do makeup from my choir director.

He made sure we were taken care of musically as well-- anyone who sings alto knows that it's a part that often gets the short straw when it comes to choral pieces, but I remember one year we sang a piece where the altos got the starring role, with a low, sultry, romantic melody. I still think wistfully of that piece whenever I'm stuck singing an F over and over again on an alto part...

Mr. Bunner was also a man of vision. He had big ideas, and looking back, it astounds me to think of the audacity he had to have to do some of the things he did.

We never just sang. We put on productions. Our concerts and performances had speaking parts with poetry and monologues, dancing (while singing, of course), even a 10-foot may pole one year. A may pole. Complete with a dance that went to a song we sang as we neatly braided the may pole ribbons around the pole.

This was before Google and YouTube existed. How on earth did he figure out how to do that?

One year, he decided to replace the spring concert with a musical. A full-on musical. "Once Upon a Mattress." It was a massive production, but fortunately, thanks to our elaborate Madrigals costumes, we were in pretty good shape as far as wardrobe went. And it was a boost to the Madrigals as well, because Mr. Bunner managed to charm the drama department and several thespians ended up succumbing and turning into Madrigal singers the following year.

Every single year at Christmastime we had the Madrigal Dinners. The dinners took place at a ballroom at WVU's Mountainlair. We performed for around two hundred people a night for four nights, with weeks of rehearsals leading up to the week of the dinners. A $30 ticket got you a fully catered four-course meal, served by professional waitstaff, with approximately two hours of Madrigals entertainment.

And speaking of entertainment- did I mention that Mr. Bunner was also really good about celebrating (exploiting?) all of our many talents? One year he noticed one young man in the group who was particularly witty and liked to ham it up. So Mr. Bunner declared that he would be the court jester, and the tradition continued. Each year the jester would entertain crowds with a funny monologue, and have free rein to goof off at will. One year we had two jesters, a guy and a girl.

Once we had a Madrigal Singer who was also an amateur magician, so Mr. Bunner appointed him the court wizard. (Come to think of it, we were kind of like a little kingdom and Mr. Bunner was our king. His wish was our command.) That year the Madrigal Dinners included a magic show portion in which "Merlin" would make solid rings lock and unlock, and even made the "jesteress" float in midair.

As for my band friends and me, Mr. Bunner decided to put our instrumental acumen on display as well, and created a "Madrigal Minstrel Band," complete with flutes (the jester and me), a hammered dulcimer, violin (aka, fiddle), and bodhran drum (which no one actually knew how to play yet, but he taught my brother), and sometimes guitar. We played our own pieces in between the a cappella choral numbers, often as background music to speaking parts, and the final chord of the music would magically be the exact right chord we needed for our starting notes for the next song, eliminating the need for a pitch pipe. It was beautiful-- and it was brilliant.

Students who played the piano were drafted into service as accompanists for pieces like the Hallelujah Chorus (yes, we had students who were talented enough to manage that one, incredibly enough), a piece which we sang faithfully, every single Christmas, with the entire school's choir department, any alumni who wished to join us onstage, and anyone in the audience who wanted to be a part of a massive choir. (Another side note: You've really never lived until you've sung the Hallelujah Chorus along with several hundred other people in a high school auditorium with great acoustics.)

So what did all of this do for us, his students?

Well, it made music cool. It made music enticing. I can't even begin to tell you the number of students who had never sung before, never even considered singing in a choir, who saw Madrigals and wanted to be a part of it. And yes, maybe it was because we got to miss so much school (one of the ways we raised funds for our trips was by doing paid singing gigs for holiday office parties around town- again, one of the perks of being an a cappella choir) but it was also because it looked like so much fun-- because it was fun! One year we had over fifty members (which is an unwieldy number for a madrigal choir) because Mr. Bunner couldn't resist giving all of those musical hopefuls a chance. They may not have been great singers to start with, but he saw their potential and transformed them into a perfect piece in his fine-tuned instrument.

Another effect of Mr. Bunner's influence that I only realized years later was that a surprisingly large number of former Madrigals went into careers involving education, and specifically music education. Three became band directors, another a youth music pastor, another an elementary school teacher, another an elementary school assistant principal-- and those were just from my circle of friends. I think that Mr. Bunner exemplified what it looked like to find joy in music and joy in teaching, and he passed that joy on to his students, inspiring them to want such a career for themselves.

He also taught us all what it meant to have stage presence. He taught us that wherever our focus was, that was where the audience's focus would be, and that while we were onstage it was our responsibility to direct the audience's attention appropriately, and never be a distraction from whomever was performing or speaking. We were to be poised and graceful at all times.

I hadn't even realized the power of this until the reunion concert held recently in Mr. Bunner's honor, when his wife took a few minutes before the final song to speak about him. It occurred to me that in the several minutes while she was speaking, we all remained poised and perfectly silent with our folders open to the next song. No one slouched or shifted their weight or lowered their arms. We all stayed stock still and respectful of the speaker, not because anyone had told us to, but because Mr. Bunner had instilled that stage decorum into us. It had become a shared performance habit learned from years of his careful tutelage.

Probably the most important legacy left by Mr. Bunner was the sheer love of music he passed on to each and every student he taught. He didn't just teach notes and words, he taught feelings and meaning. He brought renaissance chamber music to life for some 20th century teenagers.

I remember having just suffered a bad breakup and hardly being able to make it through "Too Much I Once Lamented" without falling apart. "Weep, O Mine Eyes" wasn't exactly helping matters either. "Il Est Belle Et Bon," on the other hand, was a French song that somehow perfectly described gossiping-- a topic familiar to every high school student-- through music, and thanks to Mr. Bunner it made perfect sense to us even though most of us didn't speak French. Even more entertaining was "Allen a Dale," a slightly inappropriate and humorous tongue-in-cheek song that none of us would have gotten without Mr. Bunner's "helpful" wink-wink, nudge-nudge guidance.

But it wasn't all high school angst and goofiness. Mr. Bunner was also a very spiritual man, and as a result, much of our repertoire was religious. There was no line drawn between the secular and the spiritual in Madrigals. I learned several passages of scripture by heart thanks to the musical selections that wrote them into my soul, and I still draw strength and comfort from songs like, "Lift Thine Eyes" and "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."

The best thing about having been a student of Mr. Bunner's was that he nurtured a musical seed inside of me that blossomed into a flower, which is now nestling new musical seeds inside of each of my children.

When I attended the reunion concert, I brought my daughter along with me. She's twelve now-- the same age as I was when I first heard the Madrigals sing. She and I have always shared in a love of music, especially choral music. After our concert rehearsal, she said, "Mom, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir can't sing at General Conference this weekend. Because apparently they're HERE. WOW."

After the concert she said to me with tears in her eyes, "Mom, I never knew Mr. Bunner, but now I feel like I kind of do. And I'm just so glad you got to have him as a teacher."

What she said struck me as profound, because I know that she felt that way because of her love of music, which I have encouraged and nurtured, because Mr. Bunner nurtured that same love in me. Her gratitude for a man she's never met stems from an appreciation of music that was passed down from that man to her mother, and will continue to be carried on now through her.

And that is Mr. Bunner's enduring legacy.

C. Douglas Bunner

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

To Everyone Still Talking About Guns: Please Just Stop

Once upon a time, there was a big, beautiful forest. It had tens of thousands of trees, and the people of the nearby village loved the trees.

Ceedy Cee was the name of the caretaker of the forest. He kept an eye on the trees and made sure they stayed healthy and safe. As years went by, he noticed that quite a lot of trees were dying. Silently, one by one, tree after tree fell victim, losing their leaves and dying. Thousands and thousands of trees were dying, and Ceedy Cee knew he needed to find out why.

Eventually, he discovered that the village had diverted a much-needed water supply away from the trees in order to make a swimming hole. The villagers enjoyed their swimming hole, but Ceedy Cee knew they loved the forest more, so he told them about the problem and encouraged them to at least divert some of the water back to the forest. It wouldn't be hard and it would save the forest.

Unfortunately, around this same time a logger appeared at the edge of the forest. He started cutting down trees with his sharp, menacing ax, and the people cringed at the sound of their beautiful trees being hacked away. The people began to have meetings about what to do about this evil logger- especially his awful ax! He was killing their trees!

The people met and debated and shouted about what to do about the logger. Meanwhile, Ceedy Cee was continuing his research and saw that the trees were dying from dehydration at an alarming rate. He tried to warn the people, but all they cared about was the logger with the ax. Ceedy Cee couldn't understand how they could be so focused on one logger cutting down two or three trees a day when there were hundreds of trees dying of dehydration every day. But no matter how he tried to warn them, all they cared about was the logger with the ax.

Ceedy Cee then discovered that the reason the logger was cutting down trees was because he used to be a fisherman, but the diversion of the water depleted the fish, so he had to become a logger instead in order to make a living. Ceedy Cee tried to tell the people that by restoring the water supply they could solve both problems, but they were still shouting so loudly about the logger with the ax that no one could even hear him. Despite his best efforts, the trees continued to die, and whenever he tried to talk to them about how to fix it by restoring the water they yelled at him and said that he was just like the logger, an ax-loving tree killer.

Eventually, Ceedy Cee stopped trying, and the forest died off even faster, but there was nothing he could do.

If you understand this parable, you'll understand where I'm going with it.

Let me make it very simple: school shootings are not the leading cause of death among our kids and teens. 

School shootings are not even on the list of top causes.* Not even close. 0.002% of all schools in the U.S. have had gun violence in school.

You know what is on the list?

Suicide. I wonder how many schools in the U.S. have had suicides? I can guarantee you it's more than 0.002%.

You know what suicide and mass shootings have in common?

Mentally unstable, depressed people.

You know what's being ignored why we're sitting here yelling at each other about gun control?

How to do a better job of helping mentally unstable, depressed people.

But there's more: you know what has increased in direct proportion to the number of mass shootings in this country?

Smartphone usage.

Guess what experts are now saying is directly correlated to depression in teens and young adults?

Smartphone usage.

Lately I'm feeling a lot like my friend, Ceedy Cee. I bring up these statistics and correlations in discussions and all I hear is, "Well yeah, but THE GUNS! WE MUST DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE GUNS!"


The only reason you want to do something about the guns is because the media is telling you that's what you want.

Let's take a step back from this tree. Let's look at the forest and see what's really happening here. Our kids are dying, but it's NOT from mass shootings in schools. They are more likely to die from catching the flu at school than from someone shooting them at school. Just look at the statistics!

If we're going to help this rising generation survive and thrive, we have to stop letting the media distract us from the real issues so that they can get more clicks and better ratings. As long as they're dangling the carrot and we're blindly going after it, we're ignoring what's really happening. It's not only terribly inefficient, but it's a major disservice to these impressionable kids.

It's time for us to step out of line and start coming up with some real solutions.

*Homicide is a leading cause of death, but not in schools. And again, mentally healthy people don't murder other people. And incidentally, homicide rates have decreased in recent years while suicides have been sharply increasing.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Why This President is Different

I get very agitated when I see people- especially Republicans- saying, "Okay, so you're 'scared' about Donald Trump's presidency. How do you think I felt the whole eight years Obama was in office?"

Let's get one thing straight: this is different. You might have been worried, concerned, maybe even anxious, but don't tell me you were scared.

You want to stop reading now, and I get it. But please don't. Please read this, and please prove me wrong. Please give me some actual evidence that what I'm saying here isn't true. Because, in all honesty, I wish it weren't.

Every single other recent president, including Obama, had some sort of government experience, whether as a senator, lawyer, governor, or in military.

Donald Trump does not.

Every single other recent president was considered to be a fairly likable person, calm under pressure, diplomatic and careful in their dealings.

Donald Trump is not.

Every single other recent president has openly released their tax returns for public review prior to taking office, demonstrating their transparency to the American people.

Donald Trump has not.

Every single other recent president took the time to review potential national security threats with daily intelligence briefings.

Donald Trump has not.

Every single other recent president has drawn clear boundaries between his business dealings and his presidency.

Donald Trump has not.

Every single other recent president was one I would have happily welcomed into my home for dinner, would have been glad to work with professionally, and, in most cases, would have even invited to join me at a church gathering, no matter their political party.

Donald Trump I would not.

This is not about politics. This is about the person, the individual who is representing our country. Up until this point, all U.S. presidents have behaved professionally and courteously, even to their enemies. And every single thing I've mentioned here has just been assumed to be part of the job, and for good reason- they are all very, very important parts to being President of the United States.

But not to Donald Trump.

And that, more than any political agenda, scares me to death.

I did not vote for Obama, but I was not devastated when he took office, because despite his political views, he seemed to be a decent guy. I knew that policies and programs might change, and I prepared myself for that, but I did believe he understood the office well enough to represent all Americans, not just those who voted for him. I knew he would take counsel from intelligent advisors, and again, while he did several things that do not sit well with me, I do believe it was his intent to better our country, and I respect him for doing his job honorably and professionally.

I wish I could say the same will be true for Donald Trump. But if past and current behavior is any predictor of future behavior, (and in my experience it is) I can't.

This is not about people not "getting their way." This is a genuine concern about the fact that our nation will be run by a man who is known to be impulsive and explosive, who has no government experience, who intentionally hides pertinent information from the American people, who refuses security briefings, who is blurring the lines between his profits and his presidency, and whom I would not even feel comfortable meeting, much less working with on anything.

So yes, I am scared.

This is different. This is different, and if you can't see it, then you are intentionally turning a blind eye, and that might scare me even more than Donald Trump as president. Because if anything is going to keep our nation safe, it's having citizens who demand professionalism, accountability, and respect from their president. Unfortunately, right now I'm not seeing that.

I don't expect Donald Trump to agree with me on everything. But at the very least I do expect him to listen- to me and to others who might disagree with him- and I do expect him to respect his office and this country.

I can only hope you would expect the same.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Why I Can't Stand Commercials With LGBTQ Characters

It happens pretty much every other day now it seems: a company puts out a commercial in which there are two dads, or two moms, and then somebody gets offended and complains, and then half the planet loses their minds going up in arms in defense of this company, and it's a social media frenzy, and so on and so forth.

It's all done in the name of acceptance and equality, but there's one problem with that:

It has nothing to do with acceptance and equality.

It has to do with money.

And if you're one of those people who will get all up in arms in defense of these companies "promoting equality and acceptance" then you, my friend, have just been played.

Here's the deal. Do you know how many people in America identify as gay or lesbian?


If you're a big, moneymaking corporation, does it make sense for you to gear all of your advertising dollars toward 3.8% of your consumer pool? To spend the millions that it costs for a 30-second time slot in a commercial break to make sure that 3.8% of your customers feel comfortable shopping at your store?

This is not a hard question. The answer is no. It makes no business sense at all.


Unless that 3.8% is getting a lot of controversial attention. Unless that 3.8% has a big fan club. When that happens, it makes a lot of sense to gear an ad toward that group, because it means that ad is going to become a flag that will be raised on the moral battleground. And that means people are going to start waving that flag by sharing that ad on social media! And talking about it, and talking about your business and, if you handle it correctly (which you are obviously planning on doing, because you're not stupid- it's all part of the marketing plan) and you reply to the "haters" with some sort of fantastic "drop the mic" response, then your company comes out as the hero and everyone loves you and comes and shops at your store!

Oh, and you just got a ton of free publicity thanks to all those LGBTQ supporters and that handy little "share" button.

Seriously. Anyone who thinks a big company puts an ad featuring two moms out there and that the company expects it to be received just like any other ad is simply naive. These companies aren't "brave." They aren't doing this to promote equality and acceptance. They're doing it to drive sales! They know exactly what will happen when that ad hits the airwaves- and not only that, but they're banking on it! 

So this holiday season, if you want to promote acceptance and equality for your LGBTQ friends, then stop sharing these ads and the stories about who said what about them and how the company handled the haters. Instead, then invite your gay friends to dinner. Treat them like the nice people they are. But please, please don't get sucked into a corporate marketing scheme that uses them as bait to make their business more money. 

Because, hopefully, you're smarter than that.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Let's Pretend

Okay, so it's the night before Election Day. The country is divided. Few people actually like their options, but they claim there are no other options.

I feel like a lone voice in the wilderness saying, "What about Evan McMullin? He's the conservative we've all been looking for- one who is actually honest and honorable and humble and respectful, who will represent our country with dignity and integrity. What about him?"

"No!" everyone yells. "No! There's no way he's gonna win! We have to pick someone who at least has a chance. If he had a chance then maybe, but he doesn't."

 Okay. Let's pretend.

Let's pretend that suddenly, a new poll emerges that shows Evan McMullin making a massive surge in popularity. Suddenly, people ARE voting for him, suddenly he's actually a real threat to Trump and Clinton. What then? Would you change your mind then, once you saw he actually had a chance?

If you say "Yes, if I saw that he had a chance, then I would," then I need you to recognize something:

You have just told me that you are the kind of person who can't make a good decision unless you see others doing it first. You are a follower. You are a sheep. You want to do the right thing, but you don't- not unless others are doing it too. You wait until you see what everyone else is doing and then you act.

You are the one who waits for someone else to raise their hand and say, "Um, excuse me, I don't think this is right." Then you look around and wait to see what everyone else does. Then, if you can rest assured you will be nicely hidden among the masses, only then, do you raise your hand and add your voice to theirs.

That might be a hard truth for you to hear, but it's the truth.

In this pretend poll-flipping scenario, Evan McMullin is still Evan McMullin. Donald Trump is still Donald Trump. The only thing that has changed is what everybody else is doing. 

Do you really want to be that person who only acts after they wait to see what everybody else is doing? Because right now, if everyone who says they would vote for Evan McMullin if he only had a chance to win would actually vote for Evan McMullin, you know what? He might actually have a chance to win, or at least throw a big enough wrench in the system to make a significant statement to the nation about what we as Americans expect from our leaders.

But they won't vote for him. Because they're scared. Because they're looking around at everyone else and seeing which way the crowd is going and quietly sliding in amongst the masses where it's safe and comfortable. They won't move away from the crowd unless someone else- a LOT of someone elses- do it first. And that's just sad.

If this is you, and you are just going along with the crowd, I urge you to think about who you are and who you want to be.

I can tell you that I won't be that person waiting for everyone else to make my choice for me. I will stand with Evan McMullin, even if it means I'm standing alone. I refuse to hide in the crowd and wait to be told what to do.

I hope you'll do the same.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

I Don't Stand In Line.

With the total train wreck that this presidential election has been, I can at least say that it has taught me something about myself, something that I don't think I really knew in a concrete way before. And that is this:

I don't stand in line.

Something that drives me crazy about politics is the number of people who blindly follow. They swallow whatever narrative their party is giving them, or whatever narrative the media is giving them, and they just obediently follow along, trumpeting the merits of their candidate and vehemently denouncing the other. If you were to ask these people why they were doing what they're doing, why their candidate is good and the other is bad, I can guarantee you that only a small percentage would be able to do anything more than parrot whatever it is they've heard people say on TV or social media. The majority flood social media and their friends' (and enemies') ears with emotionally-charged rhetoric that they cannot back up with facts:

"Hillary is a criminal!"

"Trump is sexist!"

"If I vote for anyone else it's a total waste! The bad party will win!"

And if you dare to question them, if you dare to ask them to back up their statements with something so outrageous as facts and reason, you will be kicked to the curb and labeled an enemy.

A friend posted this in response to something I wrote on Facebook, and it is so appropriate to how I feel:

I don't stand in line.

Recently, I saw a video of an experiment that was performed to see how people behave under peer pressure. Watch it below.

When I watched this video, I tried to put myself in that position and I asked myself, "Would I do the same? Would I just go along with everyone else?" My honest answer was a resounding no. And not just because I don't want to be labeled as a "sheep". It's because I am well aware that there are pointless things that go on around us every day and one of my personal principles is to not get sucked into those pointless things. I want to be in control of myself and what I do, not hand over my will to someone else to decide for me.

If I were in the situation in the video, I would be the one asking, "Why are we standing up?" And if no one had a good answer, I would ask the receptionist. And if she didn't have a good answer, I would be perfectly happy being the only one sitting down, knowing that everyone else was making a fool out of themselves. I would have no qualms with being stared at, or even harassed, because I would know that I could defend my position and they could not defend theirs.

Just to give another example, I was recently at a Back-to-School night for my middle-schooler. We were following our children's schedule between classes, and at one point we ended up outside the gym. I had been talking to another mom when I noticed we seemed to be in a line of people waiting to get into the gym, which was our children's next class. I peered up ahead, wondering what the hold-up was. I couldn't see anything, so I said to my friend, "Wait here, I'm going to check and see if this is actually a line or not."

I stepped out of line and walked up to the front where I saw indeed, there was no reason for the line, and so I went back and got my friend and we walked around the rest of the people and headed inside the gym.

I don't stand in line- literally.

One more example: my husband and I decided a few years ago that we didn't want to spend 30 years paying off our mortgage. We knew how much interest we would be paying on it and it simply didn't make sense for us to pay for our home twice if we didn't have to. So we cut back our expenses and started throwing money at it. Which means that usually we are driving the oldest car in the parking lot (but we own it outright) our clothes are all secondhand (and cost a tenth of what they'd cost new) and we don't eat out. Pretty much ever. When we've shared our pay-off-the-mortgage plan with others their response has been, "But you get a huge tax break with a mortgage!"

Er...so you're telling me that I should hand over $100 in interest to the mortgage company so the government can give me $20 back? When I could be keeping all $100?

This is the narrative they've been fed by the mortgage companies and the government, so this is what they parrot. Which is fine. They are welcome to stand in a 30-year-long line handing over thousands of dollars, smiling about how much they're saving. I'm 34, and in less than a year I'll be walking over to the bank to deposit my thousands of dollars into my own account.

I don't stand in line.

I will not make blanket statements about a political candidate without being able to back them up with fact, as near as I can get it. I need to know for myself.

I will not vote in the same way as people who are culturally and spiritually and intellectually similar to me just because they say I should. I need to know for myself.

I will not blindly follow a media-written narrative about a "crisis" that our country is facing without checking the statistics to see whether or not it actually is a real problem, no matter how many people are holding protests in the streets and no matter how much airtime the media devotes to it. I need to know for myself.

We are such a media-driven society, and it's become such a part of our daily lives, I don't think many of us stop to think about how much it influences us, how much power the media has in deciding what to make us care about.

To be honest, though, I am horribly saddened and disappointed in the vast hordes of people I see standing in line as I'm figuratively walking past it. Because you know what happens when you stand in line?

You are stuck.

You must wait for someone else to move before you do.

You hand over your control to some unknown entity, someone who does not care about you, someone who has an agenda that has nothing to do with you and your values, morals, and ideas, and everything to do with theirs.

Why? Why is so much of America still standing in line?

I am not writing this post to say, "Hey, look at me! I'm better than everyone else!" I'm not. There is a ton that I don't know, but I'm willing to learn. But if you want me to take you seriously, to understand your beliefs and to respect your position, then you have to earn it. You have to be able to give me facts. And if you don't have facts, if you're just going with your gut, then that's fine. I can respect that, as long as you're honest about it. But don't act like you know what you're talking about when you don't. Because that I can't respect.

America, please. It's time to get out of line.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Whose Problem Is It Really?

We’ve all seen the ranting posts on facebook- things like:

“Certain people just need to keep their noses out of other people’s business!”

“If people say they’re going to do something, they need to step up and do it and stop hiding behind stupid excuses.”

“I can NOT handle this crap anymore! I am not your verbal punching bag!"

What do these kinds of posts have in common?

Typically the author knows the accused will not see it (or if they do, it is vague enough to allow for deniability) and they take pleasure in venting to the world in a way that does not rock the boat with the accused, but may elicit sympathy from others.

Why is this a concern?

1. This does not solve the problem. So often, people get angry about others’ behavior, but rather than actually talk to them about the way their behavior is negatively affecting them, they choose to rant and rave about it to everyone EXCEPT the person causing the frustration. How is this person supposed to know that you’re upset? (Hint: subtle, nonverbal cues like aloofness or sarcasm do not count.) How is this person supposed to fix the problem if they don’t even know that there is a problem? (Despite your narcissistic beliefs, they are probably not out to get you. Just sayin’.)

2. You teach people how to treat you. Any time you have an issue with someone but you choose to grumble about it to others while keeping the perpetrator in the dark, you are teaching them that their behavior is okay. Because as far as they know what they’re doing isn’t affecting you at all. And then, when the same behavior continues from them, you are surprised and angry and the rants intensify.

Really? And this makes sense because...?

3. The ones causing your wrath are not the ones experiencing it. You save that for the people you actually like. You feel comfortable with the ones you love the most. You know you can rant and rave and they’ll still love you. You can be vulnerable with them, so you take advantage of it, and they get to hear all about how ticked off you are as you make snide comments at texts coming on your phone, or go off about how dumb your boss is.

Newsflash: This is not fun for them. And it’s not fair to them either.

Here’s the long and the short of it: Because you are afraid to be vulnerable, you let people get away with treating you like crud, then you abuse the ones who love you the most (and would never treat you like crud) by treating them like crud because of the person who did it to you. The more you get treated like crud, the more you spew the effects of it all over the special people in your life, while continuing to let the original crud-creator go on his or her happy-go-lucky way.

In the words of Dr. Phil: So, how’s that working for ya?

Chances are, IT DOESN’T.

So what do you do?

1. Pick your battles. Ask yourself, is this worth fighting for? Can I brush this off, or am I willing to do what it takes to stand up for myself? Often at this juncture, you may realize that, for the sake of your sanity and your love of those around you, you can simply let it go. But if not...

2. Be honest. Boil down the problem: why is it a problem? Is it a matter of respect? Is it possible the person simply doesn’t realize what they’re doing? Is someone taking advantage of you? Get down to the heart of the problem and really think it through. You need to have confidence that you have a case before you go any further.

3. Make a plan. Personally, if I have a big issue with someone that I know needs attention but I’m afraid I’ll screw it up if I try to talk to them, I will put it in writing. That gives me time to organize, to edit, and to decide if it’s really something I can take ownership of. Also, most people are happy to accept a well-written letter, as most people like to avoid confrontation. (Sometimes I write the letter, realize I’m being an idiot, then crumple it up and throw it away and move on with my life.)

4. Just do it and leave your loved ones out of it (mostly). Now it’s time to confront the offending party. You can do this in person, on the phone, or in writing.

To prepare, you can ask someone close to you if they would mind hearing your thoughts on the matter. But- THIS IS NOT A GRIPE SESSION. This is a practice to see how your concerns might be received by the offending party, and your loved one will probably be happy to help you out. Then just do it. Send the letter, arrange the meeting, make the call: whatever you have to do to start communicating like a grown-up.

**Emotional Troll Disclaimer** There are some people in this world who, for whatever reason, feel it is their purpose in life to make others’ lives miserable with the things they say and do. I like to call these people Emotional Trolls. I would like to think that some of them are just oblivious. And that maybe some of them have deeper issues that have nothing at all to do with the people they hurt. Others could be vengeful for whatever reason. But no matter why they act the way they do, they exist, and usually- here is the important part- they do not change. They will continue to trample you under their angry feet for as long as you let them.

If these trolls are people that you don’t know (many of them lurk online and leave nasty comments and snarky reviews) then simply ignore them. If, however, they are people in your life (*cough*extendedfamilymembers*cough*) your best bet is to simply love them from afar. Accept that they are who they are, and avoid them if you can, but if not, just try to roll with the punches. Don’t let them be the ones causing you to grumble at the ones who are actually good to you. Remember that their behavior has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them and their own issues. Be thankful that you and the ones you hold dear would never treat people that way.

You can do it. You can ditch the cryptic Facebook posts and gripe sessions and start being a grown-up. I know you can.