Category Archives: Essays

At least I try to be brief

Same as You Are: Personalities Traits Online

i had myself a bit of a rant

I consider myself a fairly reasonable person. I want to understand both sides; it’s part of how I make sense of the world. If I enter an argument online I do it the same way. I don’t change a fundamental part of my nature because I become anonymous. I am the same.

I often hear, or read, that people online are so awful. I hear that anonymous users online say the worst things. They contribute in the nastiest battles. They terrorize. They group together to yell. They say things they would never say in real life. They’re worse humans. They look at filth; they are filth. But, this, is not so.

People do not suddenly change their compositions, their natures, because they’re in front of a keyboard. The same person who types from behind a wall of identity protection also speaks the same way in a bar. It is not two different people who sit down to type and sit down to eat with their families. Like in all things humans alter their course with circumstance, mood, attitude, and ambiance. But to say you’re not responsible for your actions online, or to say people are worse online, is ridiculous. It dodges the same moral responsibility as saying the drunkard bears no blame for his crimes or the angry for their words.

Those who are rude and belligerent online possess those same attributes offline as well. One might feel freer with one’s speech or actions. For the same reason flings seem easier on vacation. You know these people will disappear, and you don’t have to deal with immediate consequences on your immediate social circle. In the same way a casual comment about the vlog poster’s hideous shirt gets voiced. There can be no personal confrontational repercussions. There are rude people everywhere. The internet just keeps better track of them with the written word. Imagine if every bar fight was transcribed to a chatroom, there might be calls of indecency or rudeness, calls for bannings of bars.

Quit telling me people online are worse because they don’t have accountability, or they think they’re untouchable. If people act socially reprehensible online, it’s because they are acting socially reprehensible. They’re breaking the social guidelines of the website just like they would be breaking cultural norms if they were speaking their minds to their friends. The medium of the internet is their outlet. Those people get banned or called out, and rarely lauded, just like in normal crowd settings. The difference between the internet and face to face interaction is that anyone can see it, so it’s all up for grabs, instead of selective communities only hearing what their friends have to say.

I know this is an immensely complicated issue, because it deals with complex social-cultural interaction. I’m dealing with a small aspect. I’m just tired of hearing, the internet is a horrible place when I’m watching news video footage of bombings from all over the world.

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March Madness

It’s sloppy. It’s personal. It’s march madness college basketball, and I love it. Let me tell you about it.

Basketball isn’t my favorite sport to watch, it’s not even top three. But I’ll put aside anything I’m doing to put on my back-of-the-closet, haven’t worn in months, college t-shirt to yell at the tv so loud I’ll scare my dogs. It’s tradition.

I remember on vacation in Boston, my dad asked me and my sister if it was ok if he left the tv on while we went to sleep. He would try to be quiet; he promised. But his alma mater had made it to the finals and who cared that he was on vacation, those guys, his guys, could win. This place he told us stories about growing up, where he went wild and crazy for a couple years, holds strings on his heart. So in the middle of our vacation, I was awakened by my dad’s calls and muddled screams of – yes, and what are you doing, and no no no, and sighs, and nervous pacing in a hotel room. It meant that much to him. So it means that much to me.

There are some things you pick up from your parents. How loud am I when I watch the NCAA tournament comes straight from my dad. I’ll scream for a team I’ve never heard of before today. I’m rooting for them because they’re the underdogs. You always root for underdogs – the dream. I got that from him too. I root, now, for my alma mater, then my dad’s alma mater, then the teams in my state, then whoever is picked not to win. And I cheer with all my heart. Suddenly, these five boys on the court become my hope at salvation. I take their dreams as my own. I yell things toward opposing players I don’t even yell at cars in two hour stopped traffic. I suddenly become a coach, a lifelong fan with that team’s colors in my blood, and I hope and pray to the basketball gods they pull off a win. I’ve scared next door neighbors with my bellowing and throwing of inanimate objects. Because I care. They make me care. The stories make me care, and I get to do something with that emotion, I get to cheer, and root for the win. I get to root for something with a substantial and definable goal. I get to put my pride into action. I have an opportunity, once a year, to be a fan, undiluted, just like everybody else.

It’s not just tradition though, it’s plain fun. These guys are young, my age, and here they are on my television with people around the country screaming their names, names we learned yesterday. They have this chance at greatness you don’t find anywhere else. It’s a momentary greatness, I have to see what happens.

These players make mistakes, the look unkempt, green, eager, skilled, parts lucky, and parts so damn unlucky. They pass the ball in a way you’ve never seen, they shoot like they’ve got nothing left, and they play with their whole hearts. It’s beautiful too, watching players play their best, hitting shots no one else could make, eying wary seniors try their hardest to make it to the end before their dreams die with graduation. You don’t see that in the clinical, statistical, polished NBA. You don’t get to see players fall on their asses, or shoot hail marys from half court, unless you’re watching the college ball tourney. I get to see seven guys awkwardly going for rebound to try and make another play with the twenty-two seconds they have left in the game. I get to see competition. I get to see good games, because they care, and I care, and this is it for them and for us – one game. One shot. It makes my heart beat faster.

I get to watch greatness being made, I get to watch stories that will get recited next year with a revert hush of – can you believe it. It’s beautiful. It’s fast, uncoordinated, risky, uncouth, and exciting. It’s a story, it’s heartbreak, it’s emotion, beautiful, uninhibited, emotion from grown men playing ball. I get to hear the unabashed favoritism from announcers rooting for that last minute upset. I’ll have something to talk about after this. I watch every year. And for about a month I have something to talk to my Dad about. I know exactly what I can say to start a conversation with him without any reservations or restrictions that we usually struggle with.

We talk about the teams we like. Which teams have a chance, the same chance as everyone else. And it feels like I have a chance again. They’re stuck in the tournament and the best they can hope for is to get through. We get a chance to pick our favorites. We get to stare at names and numbers of printed off ESPN brackets with the bottom half of the last team name cut off from our stupid printers. We get a chance to pick who we think will win, just like those guys in suits on tv who played on these teams before their knees went out. We all have the same chances. That little school, that’s only a thirty minute drive from the house has just as much chance at winning as the big school with the twenty-year, stuff-of-legend, dynasty. We get to live the stories.

I remember my senior year of high school I had my friends over because I said we’d have the game on after school. We waited up till almost midnight screaming at the tv over the little school just down the road that became the nation’s cinderella team. My friend’s boyfriend was on the team. We saw him on national television adjust his shorts after a big play. His team made a deep run, they played in the national championship and suddenly everyone knew their glory. They couldn’t find the net, but they held on close. Here we were seven teenage girls in my parent’s living room, not yet adults, not yet graduated, our hometown ties still strung strong. Here we were, cheering for just one more shot, two more points. We had the same hopes, the same dreams, and for just a minute, we were united with the same feelings as half of the country. Living out our pride through them. We watched as the last second shot from half court bounced off the rim twice, only to fall by the side at the buzzer. We agonized, we cried out abut justice and fate, together.

You don’t have to know all the exact and picky rules. All the analysis in the world can’t predict this. Dreams spread and engulf. Emotions, buzzer-beaters, iffy calls, break out stars, long-shot hopes, grown men crying, history, rivalries, pride, year-long anger, upsets, runs, frustrations, disappointments, legend. This is where legend lives and grows, breathes and adapts. And I get to watch it all. We get to watch it all. Together. A bit like a community, for just a little while.

The One After Me

I will pass it onto another generation. My daughter will have an eating disorder in her teens, because of something I said. Then she contemplate suicide, and have to see a counselor, and I’ll be helpless. I was so close. She’ll be closer. Her avalanche is worse. Her building is taller. Her car won’t hesitate to swerve. Her knives a bit less scary. Her bathtub waters a bit safer. Her pill bottles on a lower shelf. I can’t do that to another human being. I can’t create something knowing the pain I’ll pass down. I can’t.
I can try. But it won’t do any good. I’ll have to watch all my mistakes go down a line, in order, knowing it’s my fault. I could have prevented it. I can’t. “Oh you could try.” He’ll say. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad.” What are the odds I’ll have a daughter stronger than me? I can’t create something to die. I don’t love me enough to duplicate what I’ve been through. I’ve seen it pass already, grandma, to mom, to me. I can stop it with me. That’s my choice. Not yours.

The Dog Who Watched the House

Another story for you, written in 20 minutes:
7:15 p.m.

We lived in a manse. The house is square, red brick, and old. One side faces the road. It’s called County Road on our address. One side faces the graveyard then the Church. The fence pens in cows behind our property. And then it’s corn in all directions.
It was my Dad’s house to me. Mom’s was far away. Dad’s house was quiet. Dad took a walk down the road for miles every morning. Alone. He came back to the quiet house when we were at our Mom’s.
Dad didn’t like pets. He didn’t understand them. I think he sees why people like pets, as companions, things to be proud of. But, they’re a waste of money, time and energy. What good do they do? They take up space. They eat things. They have to be provided for, and looked after. Oh, the vet bills alone! Why would you pay for a leech?
Dad warned us one night coming home. “Girls, be careful, there’s a dog outside the house. I don’t want you to be scared.” He told us he’d call animal control, and the second they showed up, the dog would vanish. “He won’t bother you, just leave him be.”
I watched with big open eyes out the window of the car as I spotted this great big dog. He looked like a German Shepherd, but bigger. Great big pointy ears stood on top of his head with little hairs coming out the sides. He had black-brown fur, thin fur, with lots of speckles of gray. His belly was almost all silver.
He didn’t look mean to me. But this was Dad’s house; Dad didn’t want him here. He didn’t belong here. Dad couldn’t get rid of him. The dog seemed happy to be there. I liked that he didn’t listen when he got yelled at. And Dad would yell at him. The dog sat and watched and smiled.
He followed Dad on walks. He guarded the house. Dad tried his best to chase him off. “He has no collar. He won’t leave.” I wanted to invite him in the house. I knew what Dad would say, I didn’t ask.
Every weekend I saw him. I didn’t pet him. He didn’t hurt us. He’d follow the car to the end of the driveway. He seemed happy to be alive. He sat next to the tree that bloomed pink little petal leaves. He sat there for months. I thought Dad might secretly like him.
I asked what happened to the dog. Dad said he finally left. He said it with a smile. We took a walk along the road that weekend. There was a skeleton on the riverbed. Maybe it was a deer.
The dog loved my Dad. Whether he lost his mind or not. Even if he had another master and got confused. He protected. Dad left him to stay outside. We never touched him. That great big dog, who had no name, outsmarted my father, and got to stay for a little while.

Thoughtless Gestures of Love

A story for you, written in 20 minutes
3:06 a.m.

We drove from my Mom’s house to my Dad’s house. This was my Friday night. Headlights going down the highway in the rust polka-dotted, old geo-prism. My sister wasn’t with us. It was just me and Dad and NPR. I passed the time by road ogling for an hour fifteen.
I think he was trying to bring up a woman’s issue. I was in 8th grade. About to be a real teenager. About to be in High School. He brought up the importance of self-confidence for young women. He didn’t mean me specifically. He meant, young women as he knew them, as the idea ideal. I said, “I have like zero self-confidence.” I’m not sure if I was joking or not. Self-confidence isn’t something someone tells you how to acquire, they just seem to measure. My Dad turned his head from the highway to look at me. He usually spoke to you like he was a recording, and when you were talking he was only on pause. But this time, he seemed to look at me. I knew I’d done something wrong.
From where he drove, I was his little girl. He didn’t get to spend enough time with me. I was just growing up so fast. I seemed happy enough. I talked about my friends. I was good. He had nothing to worry about. I made my grades. Not the grades he wanted, but the grades I worked for. He wasn’t sure about my school. The history teacher seemed to have his facts and opinions too close together. But I’d be fine. Grades don’t matter till high school. I seemed to care.
He must have read a book about this somewhere. Mom told me once he was so nervous about being a Dad he read those books. A good student till the end. A student of black and white in print. And this self-confidence thing, now that was something bad. He had to fix that. That couldn’t go on. Self-confidence was very important for young women. I was a young women. He had read this is important. He must have decided he knew he could improve my confidence.
On the way home, we stopped at the library. I picked out a couple movies. At the checkout counter he said, “these are for you.” He handed me a stack of books. I walked out to the car with them piled in my arms. I read the titles once we were half-way home. They were themed. Improve you self-confidence, how to be a better you, how to love yourself the teenager, find the good inside everyone.
Right then, I think, no I know, I saw my Dad for his faults. First time. How did he not know this wasn’t how to fix me? How did he not know his own daughter well enough to know when he did something to upset her. Worse, when he upset me, why didn’t he care? He never should have told me there was something wrong with me or my confidence. He never should have given me a book. He never should have tried to fix me. I learn through talking. Why didn’t he talk to me instead of past, over, and to my sister? I put those books down. In one of my first acts of teenage rebellion, I never touched those books again. He condemned me with a library card. If he would have said anything to me, I would have been better off.
He scared me. In retrospect, he might have asked those questions, and I probably wouldn’t have answered. I was just nerves. I worried whatever answer I gave might not be the right one, and I’d get a lecture, or he’d raise his voice. So I started not telling him. He couldn’t hurt me that way, if I didn’t tell him something might be wrong. I can’t be fixed if I won’t tell you anything important. So I stuck to safe topics. I learned to have non-issue opinions that would keep him talking. No one could tell me something was wrong with me. I’d be perfect in the middle of the road, normal. You can’t suggest to the perfect.

For the Mother Who Holds

I’m silent. I let you make me silent. I don’t have money. I depend. And I don’t have the strength to be on my own. And you took my words. How I say what it is I feel. I’m not a quiet person. I laughed years ago. I let you do all this. It was me. I’ll hate you for this far longer than I’ll hate you for forgetting I’d grown. You took this. You made me think I gave it. That it shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I shouldn’t ever go against you. I left myself in a box. I thanked you for letting me stay. I can’t ever be here again.

A Thought on My Parents

If I have children who meet my parents, they’ll never know them as I knew them. Those people are gone. They’ll not recognize the soft, cuddly, chubby Mom I grew up with, who wore few bras and had short curled hair. They won’t know my father with these strange eye magnifying glasses. He hasn’t said it yet, but I’m waiting. I wait for the phrase, “I’d like to be able to play with my grandchildren.” They won’t know them without the pains in their knees and backs. They won’t know them without those added years of I-could-have-done piling on guilt from time. They’ll only know the wrinkles, never to see how beautiful my Mom could be. And then they’ll die while my kids are in college, and my kids will care. But not really, they never really knew them before their minds went. Never had the chance. The kids were too young. They had me too late. It’s too late to know them.

That might not be bad after all. Maybe I can dull all they the messups they did to me through a filter for the next ones down. If they never meet the originals, they can’t spread the fire of self-hate they gave to their children. If I can’t see them, I won’t be them. I have a chance to be better for me and mine.