Update on My #MeToo Post (or how I am coping)

Back in 2018, after years of suppressing and not wanting to acknowledge what occurred, I finally decided to write what happened to me. Now, it may come as a shock, but not everything that occurred has been told. Some of it I probably won’t tell for a while (because legalities and all that), but some of it I can elaborate on.

When I had a neighbor/babysitter parade me around naked, telling her son that he would someday marry me, what I did not mention is that his sister, who was a teenager at that time, would then take me to her bedroom, molest and sexually assault me. Now, remember, I was 8 and she was a teenager. So, it is no wonder that I often still have issues regarding my sexual identity. Because, on the one hand, I do find myself attracted to women, I also wonder if it stems from what occurred then. Now, I sometimes will state that I am bisexual, and sometimes I don’t because, quite frankly, I don’t know. I don’t know if I will ever truly know. It should come as no surprise to anyone that anything of a sexual nature is something I struggle with and will probably always struggle with. Now, currently, I have been dating a wonderful man for over a year and while he doesn’t know of everything that has gone on in my past, he does now that I have been hurt. So he’s never pushed me and he’s let me just be comfortable with just being together (often, we fall asleep watching a film but then, we are both 40 and up). And you know what? That’s also perfectly fine. Sometimes it’s nice to cuddle, talk, and just be able to be comfortable with another person because that certainly feels more intimate than anything else. Now, the babysitter in question is dead. I have not shed one tear for her death and expect that I never will. Her daughter is still alive, but I don’t think she lives in the state and I hope I never see her again. Occasionally her brother, because he is still around, will send me friend requests on Facebook. I just delete and move on. And the reason I am so willing to move on from this part of my past, is because it’s the one I have worked through the most and I truly can state that it no longer bothers me. But if I ever met the son in person? I’d probably slap him.

As to the academic advisor, Helene Siebrits is still teaching. She is currently at Ohio State and she is the main reason that when I was applying to PhD programs, I just stopped. I found out when I was applying to schools I was interested in and I just couldn’t finish my application anymore. She has connections to many schools from people she has worked with through academia or professionally, plus students she has treated well. It would be impossible for me to be involved in any PhD program without coming into contact with her at some point. I had excellent letters of recommendation and the department at Ohio State was keen to meet me. But I couldn’t. And I don’t know if I will ever go on for a PhD. Because she was scarring. She inflicted injuries that are soul crushing. On a weekly basis, she would have me in her office, in Urbana-Champaign, and politely tell me that my existence was a mistake. People like me had no right to exist. People with depression had no place in Theatre or Academia. These were the weekly mantras I was forced to endure as Helene would drum into my head how utterly pointless my continuing existence was. Then the Costume Shop manager and the other Costume Professor, would do the same thing to me every other week, couched in terms of gentility (the other professor) and flat out disgust (the manager). It was a constant stream of being pointed out how ugly I was. How wrong I was. How I did not fit in. They spread a rumor that I was Autistic, but I apparently also slept with a professor for good grades/to get into the school. I purposefully sabotaged my grade in a class I was getting an A in to end up with a C JUST to dispel this rumor and I shouldn’t have. This professor that I supposedly slept with was Peter Davis. I never slept with him. I liked him, as a professor. I thought he was a pretty nice guy. But he also has a tendency to flirt with attractive students who are undergrads, which always made me uncomfortable as a student. I told him, in the Fall of 2009 what was going on-he didn’t care. He acted like he did, but he really didn’t. It took me years to figure out he is a narcissistic asshole and because I didn’t flatter him enough, I wasn’t worth his time (nor worthy of being moved from Costume Design to Theatre History because I did try to switch and while the Graduate School was all for it, it just wasn’t to be).

I was told to not socialize with any of the other Costume students. If I was seen socializing with them, or they found out, they would punish me. And I was punished. I was punished for hanging out with the Theatre History students. While the other Design grads avoided me like I had the plague, the Theatre History grads were the only ones in that entire department that didn’t give two fucks what Helene thought and have supported me and continue to support me. So, my loyalty always is to them FIRST because they kept me from killing myself. But my punishment was probably illegal. I had to work in the shop, but unable to log hours. So while the others worked 15-20 hrs a week in the shop, I was made to work twice that. Doing everything from cleaning the area, to cleaning the bathroom, to being loaned out to other departments. I’m fairly certain the other departments had no idea that I was doing all of that work without compensation. But any and every attempt I made to tell anyone in a position of authority within that department was met with silence. The only Design Head who gave a fuck was the Sound Guy. And he was going to put a stop to it. Then he died. And it was unexpected. And the abuse continued.

I routinely was called into “meetings” with the costume heads (Helene and the other two ladies) and yelled at. It was a constant stream of abuse. Helene would call me up and tell me that there had been a change of plans for homeroom on Fridays and to not bring my watercolors. Only for me to show up to class and have no watercolors when everyone else was going to paint. She did that all the time. She did it in order to verbally abuse me in front of the others. When we had projects and she did one on one evaluations, she would destroy my work and I would have to start over. So, when others got 2 weeks to work on a drawing for her, I had 4 days. Only once did I outsmart her. I never showed up when we were doing a project that required us to fill in shadows with dots. It was the only time I purposefully didn’t show up because I knew she would have destroyed my work and I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t keep seeing work I had done be torn up and told to start again, but given so much less time to complete it. Because, of course, I would have to work those extra hours without anyone knowing and would have even less time to finish. I had no life. I was depressed. And even the psychiatrist I was able to see on campus confronted Helene and she told him, in person, that it would be better for everyone in the Theatre Department if I would just kill myself. He came to her office and in front of me, she admitted to him what she thought of me. Just think about that. The head of the Costume Program openly admits she wants a student to kill themselves because it would be better for the entire department.

I don’t know why she wanted me dead. I still don’t understand. But I do know Helene is a racist. She is white and from South Africa. She was equally cruel to other Asians in the Theatre Design program. And I mean awful. One was gradating the year I arrived, but Helene would berate her for no reason. In front of the others, and often in front of me. She would do this in front of other professors and not one told her to stop it. The other was a girl in the Scenic program. Helene hated her as well. And yes, this is something I have longed to write and tell because it’s a problem that needs to be addressed in Academia. No supervisor has the right to treat students as if they don’t matter. Now, I loved designing Costumes. I still dream about fabrics and styles and they way fabric drapes or sounds when it moves. I have always loved dressing up. Next to Austen (and Kermit the Frog and David Bowie), costumes have been a huge part of my life for years and years. But my interests in History, English, and Theatre don’t end because I no longer do any costuming. Because I am a writer, I tend to do costume character sheets first when creating a character (so, the knowledge I gained has still worked out well). I focus on how they dress to figure out how they moved. And from that, how they act, speak, and everything else falls into place. And instead of an MFA, I got an MA in Costume Design. And, you know what, that’s just fine.

At the end of that first year, I was stripped of all financial aid and my graduate assistantship. The reason given was my grades. I petitioned the Gradate School for clarification. I was told that having and maintaining a GPA above 3.0 (mine was 3.4) was not grounds for being removed from any graduate program. I should mention I was put on probation the first semester for crying. An undergrad slapped me because I told her she had to show up for her duty on Wardrobe Crew on time instead of whenever she felt like it. She slapped me, threw me up against a wall, and threatened to kill me. I was put on probation. She was never punished. To this day, I have no interaction with her on Facebook and refuse to applaud anything she’s done when it comes up on my news feed from mutual friends. Oh, and per the Graduate School, the academic probation was also illegal. The probation and removal of financial assistance were both in violation of the Graduate School at UIUC. So, for clarification, Helen Siebrits illegally placed me on academic probation, then illegally removed me from my assistantship and barred me from the program per the Graduate School at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Crying is not an acceptable reason to place someone on academic probation. Crying is not an acceptable reason to remove someone from their assitanstship and bar them from the program. And yes, I did fight to stay. The Graduate School was behind me 200%. Everything was in my favor. I had the grades. The probation was not an acceptable reason, and when Helene tried to change it to me having depression, that was also deemed as an invalid excuse. The final thing I had over Helene is that I refused to sign away my rights to my assistantship and sign an agreement to be removed from the program. I never signed these forms which are a requirement by the Department and the Graduate Student BEFORE funding can be taken away. I never signed it. I still had funding taken away. Because, unfortunately, the final say was with the Department Head. He was leaving and didn’t care. He was moving to Texas and a different school. His replacement? He also didn’t care. They gave the excuse that I was physically unable to sign the forms and everything was taken away. I could have appealed and I probably would have won. But I just couldn’t handle it all anymore. Instead, in an act that can only be described as petty, Helene Siebrits destroyed my file, containing my letters of recommendation to the program. While the Graduate School has a record that they were received and they did exist, my file is gone. And I mean everything as in all hard copies. They cannot find my transcripts. They cannot find anything related to me and the Theatre Department. The last person to have the file was Helene Siebrits before it all was gone. And while I will be found to have attended the school and was in the program of MFA Costume Design (and I can and do have a copy of my official transcript), any and all mention of my name and the shows I worked on were removed from the department’s website. I am, for all purposes, erased from ever having existed at that school.

I stayed another year, taking classes I wanted to take. History classes, Ballet, Art. I worked 20 hrs a week in the Music and Performing Arts Library, and also did tutoring on the side for extra income. I was put on food stamps and went to a food pantry twice a month. I survived. I left that school with a 4.0 GPA and went to Kansas State, where I maintained a GPA above 3.2 and ended up with a 3.7 GPA (other schools, it would be considered Cum Laude, but for some stupid reason, the Theatre Department there doesn’t allow such honors to be bestowed on their grad students, only the undergrads). But you know what, I’m ok. I have taken more history classes than the average non-history major (if I could ever transfer those credit to another school, I’d have enough for an MA in History, which is scary). I had fun working at the library (I always do, to be perfectly honest). I enjoyed Kansas State. Didn’t particularly like the costume teacher nor her shop manager, but then they focused on the grad who got the assistantship while I was just the backup. Whatever. At the time I was hurt but now, I could care less.

No matter the abuse I suffered BEFORE grad school, being abused by your professor (and head of the program) IS soul crushing. Because it is. You cannot imagine how many similar stories of abuse I have read and heard from others, in all fields of study, that have traumatized generations of academics. I know people, who like me, just couldn’t continue anymore. Because the abuse, the lack of understanding of mental health issues, is an ongoing problem we need to talk about. Googling “abuse by a professor” brings up pages of examples. And how sad is that? What I experienced is not unique nor is it uncommon. There are so many examples of other grad and undergrad students being abused by professors and academic advisors. This is a culture of abuse that goes back centuries and needs to have it’s #MeToo moment too. And while the treatment I got at Kansas State was better, being ignored and forgotten that you even exist in the program is just as harmful (Thankfully, I was able to retain the Drama Therapy professor as my advisor and Sally Bailey is the best and sweetest advisor anyone could hope to have).

Academia has long needed people to stand up and talk about the abuse. It’s time we really push this narrative forward and start holding those accountable. And yes, just because Helene Seibrits has worked for people of color (and worked with them), doesn’t mean she still isn’t racist. She told me, on a weekly basis, to kill myself. She called me a Kaffir to my face, every week. Kaffir is, well, it’s a very derogatory and racist word meaning I am not white. She referred to me as the Kaffir, on speakerphone, to my psychiatrist AND a person from the Graduate School in my presence. She yelled that I was better off dead because I didn’t deserve to live. Was she ever aware she said this to not one, but 2 people? Probably not. But she was never punished by the Department and I know, because I was told, the Graduate School did issue a complaint against her on my behalf. They found her actions to be racist. But remember, no matter what the Gradate School dictated, it was up to the Theatre Department itself to rectify this issue And they never did. And in case you are wondering why I am focused on Siebrits, it’s because she is still probably abusing other students. She moves around every few years and my concern is that there are others like me who she has abused in the past and will abuse the future. She should not be teaching. She should not be a member of United Scenic Artists Union Local 829. She should not be allowed to hurt others. Because I was very close to killing myself when I was there. I almost didn’t live to see the end of that first year. That’s how much abuse I suffered under her. She is toxic.

How close is too close? My mom was on the verge of coming down, packing everything up, and taking me to a mental hospital for suicide watch. She lived over 3 hours away. Instead, I allowed my psychiatrist to check me into the Pavillion Foundation over Spring Break in 2010. He did this because he felt the Suicide Prevention Team at UIUC would not be adequate. I was there 5 days. I got help. I completed their outpatient program and continued to see my psychiatrist at UIUC the rest of that year, staying over the summer to continue treatment and the next year as well. THAT is the result of non stop emotional abuse.

Its’ important that I write about this because I, at least, had some help. I had the vet grads in my building who knew something was wrong. I had my theatre history friends who could tell that all was not well with me. I had a doctor that fought for the right to call Helene in front of a representative of the Graduate School because he wanted her hatred of me heard by someone in a position of authority. If I didn’t get the help, I would not be here. And that is a fact. I would have not been here to finish my novel. I would have not seen my brother get married. I would have not had the joy of seeing my niece grow up and seeing my nephew. Everything from Spring 2010 to now has been a gift because it was so easily lost. But mine is not the only tale. How many did not make it because of the abuse? They believe 50% of PhD students end up dropping out. Around 20-30% of Master’s do the same. They know, only because some come forward to talk about it, that around 8% think about suicide. And those are the ones that talk about it. And how much is from abuse? Probably a lot of it.

As for John Ortberg, it’s complicated. I have been lucky to talk and find support from Daniel Lavery, Ortberg’s son. I have had people who initially did not believe me in 2018, now believe me because they have realized that there is abuse at Menlo & Willow Creek Church. Friday, I make a statement to the South Barrington Police Department. And I am scared. I am terrified. Because last time I spoke to a cop about sexual abuse, I was 11 and the guy did zero time. But this isn’t about abuse and sexual assault has no statute of limitations. Will anything happen? I don’t know. Would I like something to happen? Sure. I want to know why. I want to know why those who knew this was happening helped. I want to know why Orberg did this to me. I want to know why Ortberg III was allowed to do what he did (and why his dad is ok with it). So, yeah, it’s a lot to deal with. I can’t tell you why anyone sexually abuses or sexually assaults a child. I can tell you that it’s extremely hard to come to terms with and I don’t know if it will ever be ok. Because you lose something when it happens.

Basically, I want answers. I want to know why Helene Siebrits is allowed to teach when she should not have the opportunity to abuse another student emotionally. I want to know why Willow Creek allowed abuse to happen from so many people in charge, for years. I want to know why Menlo reinstated Ortberg in 2020 when it’s clear he should not be in position of power. I want to know why the Theatre Department at UIUC allowed the abuse to happen, when there was evidence happening in front of their eyes. And yes, it’s a lot of questions that I have, but these are questions I need answered to be able to move on. I had some trolling recently, on another post (well, several) that have caused me to not sleep very well these past few days. I spent 40 minutes in the shower crying today because sometimes the memory of what happened at Willow Creek is still painful. And there are things that happened that I have never told my mom because I can’t. I can’t burden her with my pain.

So, I am coping. I am doing better than I thought I would be, but not here I want to be. Is this an issue I will revisit again in he future? Probably. Besides Ortberg, I still on occasion, have flashbacks to the abuse Siebrtis did and because it is fairly recent (still) it’s also a bit too close to the surface. Those are my main two scars and the ones that haunt me the most because there has been no closure for me. The abusive babysitter is dead. She can’t touch me. The neighbor who sexually molested me is dead. I have no issue being in my front yard anymore. Because I have closure on those parts of my past, I have healed from them. But Ortberg? I don’t know how long it will take, but I do want closure. And for Helene? I definitely want answers there. Because I was not the only person being abused by her at that time. And all of us deserve answers from her and from UIUC.

Re-Editing, Re-editing, and Re-editing

For roughly almost all of last year, I did not work on my first novel at all. One, it was hard because COVID had all of us hunkering down and stressed out that trying to do anything that required a lot of concentration was just pointless. This doesn’t’ mean I wasn’t working on any writing projects. I did many blog posts that were dear to my heart (and a few of those that I started researching last year will finally be completed this year because, yes, I DO take my time with researching and writing these posts). Plus I did more research (general) into the 19th C for the other 5 novels (6 Austen variations because there are 6 completed Austen novels). Then I decided to do some research into Faerie Tales (because I had once scribbled an idea back when I was 15 that I do think may be fun projects). I also adopted another cat (Parker) as companion to Henry. Met a wonderful guy (and still going strong over a year later), watched a lot of films, read a lot of books. Gained a bit of weight (as did we all I imagine). But now, I am back on board with re-editing my novel. Egads!

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney | Austenprose – A Jane Austen Blog
JJ Fields as Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey). Courtesy of Pinterest. Also the namesake of my cat, Henry.

So, what’s it like to come back to a novel that once was all consuming, read it, and discover that there are parts you no longer like? A bit weird, to be completely honest. In a way, I feel closer to Jane Austen (who famously re-wrote her novels over and over again, over a period of years) and other writers, both departed and contemporary. We must, after all, be our own worst critic and our most fervent admirer. Re-reading my own novel is surreal. There is no other way to describe it (unless we want to say it’s a bit like schadenfreude, except we are taking our pleasure from our own misfortune). There are parts that I immediately know must be cut because they do nothing to advance the tale. There are parts that can easily be condensed and explained in a sentence or two instead of paragraph after paragraph. In some ways, I was much more into describing than showing, which is a fault most (academically trained) writers probably have. This is why we edit.

Jane Austen Manuscript Chapter 10
Jane Austen’ editing process. Courtesy of the British Library.

Both Cassandra and Henry Austen made statements in their later lives regarding Jane’s writing process. It should come to no surprise that she had outlines and knew how she wanted each of her noels to end (I do that as well). But like most writers, even she probably acknowledged that after writing and editing the first time, sometime things have to be changed because what you thought may have been a good choice (like a name or even an ending), just doesn’t work as well. It seems Jane was forever rewriting her novels into newer drafts, editing them, changing them, chipping way at the excess until she deemed them to be ready to be published. And that is all I am doing as well. Since the age of 19, I had outlined and had these thoughts of re-working Jane’s novels in such a way as to include a bit more history (because we are so removed from her time, we forget some of the most basic knowledge her audience had, we no longer have), but in a way that is fun and gives us the endings we want, but in a different way. Now, in my naivete, I did write a fan letter to Jane Odiwe when I was 19, wanting some advice from an author I admired about whether or not my idea would work. Now, not to besmirch Odiwe (for I do admire her for her storytelling and her love of Austen), imagine how shocked I was when her “Searching For” series started coming out and I realized my fan letter from all those years ago, when I had stupidly written her an outline of my idea, became her reality.

Searching for Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe
Courtesy of Amazon

Then, I read it. Well, not all of them, just the one regarding Captain Wentworth because it was the one I had foolishly outlined for her in that letter years ago. Dear Reader, hers is enjoyable, but nothing like mine. Other than taking the name (because I did give her the title of my novel as Searching for Captain Wentworth), and the premise of time travel (which, thankfully, I abandoned when I was 21 and opted for another route), I know my novel will not suffer nor (hopefully) be compared to hers. Now, I do not blame Jane Odiwe. After all, a fan letter from over 20 years ago (to which I never received any reply and please recall this was early in the age of emails and twitter did not exist), to which she may have read (or had been read for her and to her), probably installed a nugget of an idea that inspired her. For that, I am humbled because what she ended up writing is nothing to what my plans have become. While hers has involved time travel, and not much accuracy in terms of history, they are sweet pieces of fiction and, dare I state, love letters to Austen herself. While my concept is more about fleshing out some of the characters and giving a bit of background, with some fantasy and witticisms thrown in for good measure. The hard part, of course, is the whole getting of an agent. Because my original title was stolen, I had to change mine. And because it sounds similar to Odiwe’s, some agents refuse to read even the first chapter.

Inside Out in the Office: A Closer Look at Anger
Anger from Pixar’s Inside Out. Courtesy of Pixar/Disney

Does this anger me? Of course! I’ve also gotten comments such as I seem to write English fairly well for someone with my name (because people with Arabic names can clearly not understand the complexities of the English tongue), or I had no right to be writing Austen (because it’s only the domain of….whites?). I’ve even had agents state my novel is too ambitious (and too much like Austen), I should consider throwing in sex scenes instead of wanting to keep it sex free. The audacity of it all (because while Austen did not show sex and her novels are really sex-free, she did include romance and sensuality, which I have striven to retain). Having not touched it for a year, I am more determined than ever to edit it (again, for it seems to be the 6th or 7th time now), really make it as good as I can, then query agents again later this year. Yes, I expect I will have more rejection letters than acceptance. Yes, I still struggle with HOW to query successfully because no matter how many blog posts and tips (and hints) agents have given, none of them have worked for me.

3 Ways to Get a Literary Agent - Keller Media, Inc.
Courtesy of Keller Media

There is, of course, the more modern route which is to self publish. My boyfriend has self published 2 novels and 1 collection of short stories (and no, I have not read them). I will most likely self publish my poetry (literary agents for poetry is almost non existent and I’m sure the competition is even harder). I do plan on sending poems out to online journals and other publications to get some in print, because I do think having some of it out there would be a good thing. I have, over the past 2-3 years, have sent them to online magazines and journals with no response, but hopefully that will change. Of course, I have also, technically, self published a few poems here on this blog (and a few on Poetry.com-remember that old site? Those poems are long gone, in terms of online presence as I do have them written down). And I did get one or two published in my college days (and one in my high school days as well). So, I have no issues with going this route for poetry. But for the novels? Perhaps I am a bit old fashioned but I really do want to try and find an agent. I know so many books on Amazon are self published (it seems so many go this route and the offerings can be incredible to god awful all in one book that has to be split into 3 or more). And while that is an option, I want the agent for the simple reason that I want to see my books in stores. I want to see them in libraries. I want this little bit of myself to outlive me in print form (my immortality, as it were). Would it be nice to know that 200 years from now, my works could inspire others? Of course! I’d be pleased if my works inspired someone even 10 years down the road!

So, back to editing. That dreaded business for which others have worked with professionals. And yes, a professional editor would probably be very helpful. Yet I want to work the story to the best of my ability FIRST, then sending it off to an agent (hopefully). And then, if an editor is brought in, I would not mind. I see professional editors as that final step in polishing a work. My novel is still a bit rough, so to speak, and I want to be able to smooth it out and have that knowledge that I did so before even thinking of handing it off. Because what I know I can chip away, an editor may also chip away, or they may chip away more than what I think should be done. While I always am astounded with the stories coming out with people who wrote and then found an agent, and saw their book published all during the lockdowns, that is not normal when it comes to the literary world. For one thing, having these tales out and about make it seem as if writing a novel and getting signed to an agency is extremely easy ad those of us who struggle MUST be lacking in some way. This is simply not true. For a novel to have been written, queried, signed, then published in the span of 10 months tells me (as it should others) that the novel is probably very rough or very short and most likely (and I hate to write this), but not well written. Most novels take 2 years MINIMUM from when they are accepted to when they are published. Sometimes more IF one does not have an agent is is looking for one. In other words, this is not a fast sprint to the finish line. This is carving Michelangelo’s DAVID.

Why Tom Holland's Spider-Man/Peter Parker Is The Worst One Yet |  Moviedash.com
Tom Holland as Spider-Man/Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming (and yes, the inspiration for my cat, Parker/Peter Parker). Courtesy of MCU/SONY

Like any long term anything, patience, fortitude, and stamina is key. Now, with the whole COVID thing, I know my Depression & Anxiety have gotten worse, which means my attention span is not the best.

Red squirrel - Wikipedia
Red Squirrel. Courtesy of Wikipedia. And yes, my attention span has sometimes been THAT short.

HOWEVER, with things improving, and hopefully some medication tweaks, my attention span will be much improved and I can edit for longer periods of time rather than doing half a chapter a week. Naturally, editing on a computer screen is also not ideal, but I am determined to do this more choppy edit on the computer first. Then I may consider getting it all printed out and doing a more traditional edit like Austen did (and that I did my second time around too). So, I am basically trying to tell you, Dear Reader, that if you are also in a similar boat as I am, and struggling with writing or editing, take a break. Walk away for a bit. It seems a bit daft, but it helps. It truly does. I do believe not looking at it for abut a year has made it easier for me to make those bigger edits that the novel needs to be a better, more cohesive, story. We do, after all, tend to get very attached to our writings and it’s hard to look at it objectively when the struggle, the effort it took to bring it all about is still so fresh. IF you are doing a dissertation (as I have friends who are currently doing this), walking away for a long period of time is NOT doable. Sadly. BUT (and this is vitally important), walking away for a day or two does help.

Pin on Writing Superboards
Found on Pinterest

Witting is a process and when you first get everything down, like any parent, you think it’s a masterpiece and utter perfection. Dear Reader, it is not. And that can be very hard to understand as well as being very hard to accept. Now, I did do 2 edits back to back after I first finished the novel over 2 years ago, walked way, then came back after a mere 3 weeks and did, I believe, 2 or 3 more edits. It was not enough time for I was still too much attached to certain passages and characters to be objective. But now, having given it nary a glance for 10 months, I can be more harsh, more critical of my own failings and work. It’s much easier to remove one or two entire paragraphs, condensing it to 2 or 3 sentences when I am not so adamantly attached to them. What I am trying to stress, of course, is editing is hard. It’s a lot or work, and it’s not going to be easy. DO edit after you first finish. I found so many typing errors it was not humorous. But then walk away for a least 3-4 months. Then, come back, do another edit. Walk away for a few more months, then come back to edit it again. If I had known this, I do think this novel of mine would be at that stage here I can query an agent. But this is entirely my failing and one I know I will never repeat. Learn from this, Dear Reader, for it’s advice I know I would have liked to have been given and one I have yet to come across elsewhere.

As for Jane Odiwe, I wish her no ill will nor any regrets. My fan letter was so long ago that she probably had no memory what I wrote when she started writing the “Searching For” series. And I am completely at peace with that You have to realize that there are so many people writing Regency type novels out there that anyone who is able to stand out, even a bit, is a credit to those of us who are dabbling in this genre. While mine are more fantasy variations with historical underpinnings, there are variations out there doing “what ifs”, mysteries, sequels, etc. If you ever Google it, there are more variations, sequels, and themes on Pride & Prejudice than any other Austen Novel. And while I could have gone the route of doing P&P first, I wanted to focus on Persuasion because it is the novel (besides Northanger Abbey) that I love the most. Both of those novels are also the least adapted (film & TV wise) and have the least variations, which is a great pity, is it not? For we have Wentworth writing the best love letter in all of Austen and Tilney, who knows his muslin (and smirks quite often). So take heart. Keep typing or writing away (I wrote mine out first on paper, roughly a third, then switched to typing). Keep researching (if that’s your thing). And keep dreaming.

A Mary Anning Appreciation Post

WIN tickets to new movie Ammonite | The Senior | 2259
A Film loosely based on the life of Mary Anning released 2020.

When Ammonite was being talked about, I was excited. I am someone who has a yen for Dinosaurs (well, anything Paleontological to be perfectly honest), so a biopic on Mary Anning, the first [well-known] female Paleontologist, was excellent news! Then the premise was released and my heart sank in disappointment. Now, I have nothing against promoting Queer History and having it represented in the media (Gentleman Jack is a great example of Queer History done right), but I also feel it hurts the progress the LGTBQ+ Community when it is added for no other reason than to cause debates and it focuses the attention of the person on their genitalia (and what they did sexually or not) instead of their accomplishments. For example, Bohemian Rhapsody was touted as a Freddie Mercury & Queen biopic but shied away from any outwardly depiction of Freddie Mercury’s sexual preferences that weren’t heterosexual (notice the focus was more about his relationship with Mary Austin, with his band-mates taking second place, but very little mention was made over his male lovers or his partner, Jim Hutton). It would have been better, considering how much Freddie Mercury continues to influence the LGBTQ+ Community to show his same-sex relationships (both good & bad). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody. I was thrilled that they got Rami Malek to play Freddie because it matters that a person of color play a person of color. And while I was happy he was nominated, and then won, it wasn’t as groundbreaking as I had hoped it would be. I wanted to know what parts of his personal journey helped shape him and his music. I mean, we know this happened but I would have liked to have been shown it. However, Rocket Man showed Elton John’s sexual preference as being part of who he is and how no one who truly loved him, cared who he slept with. We saw that he had relationships that were good and ones that were bad. And how they shaped him to be the man we see at the end of the film. Plus, we saw how the choices he made, both good and bad, influenced his music and his future relationships along the way. It was a biopic done right (especially the way they handle the incorporation of the music because it just worked so well).

Elton John Compares 'Rocketman' With 'Bohemian Rhapsody' - Variety
Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocket Man (2019). Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Courtesy of Variety.com

Mary Anning did not have a sexual relationship with Charlotte Murchinson. They meet, briefly, in Lyme Regis and corresponded over the years. This film, instead, tries to depict these two as star cross lovers torn apart by Society. Unless we want to infer that Mary was a female rake who could easily seduce a woman, make her fall in love, and then break her heart in a mere matter of weeks, we have problems with this film. Instead of celebrating the awesome story of a woman who contributed greatly to the field of Paleontology (Anning) and woman ho also contributed to the field of Geology (Murchinson), Director Frances Lee decides to focus on a “what if” sexual relationship. Thus boiling down any contributions these women made to science down to their sexuality. It is a form of erasure, in a way. Instead of looking at these women as intelligent scientists, Lee equates them as sexual creatures FIRST with some inclination towards scientific thought. Anning found the first intact Plesiosaur skeleton (think Loch Ness Monster). In 1811, when Mary was 12, she and her brother found a skull, which was roughly 4 foot long. She went on and found the rest of the skeleton a few months later. This ended up being an Ichthyosaur. The Anning family were known to sell fossils to collectors and to museums, so for the children to have found a specimen would not have been unusual. But what is most unusual is by 1820-1825, it was only Mary who was finding and selling the fossils, her brother having been apprenticed out (the father passed in 1812). She uncovered a Pterosaur in 1828 in the cliffs of Lyme Regis and this was first Pterosaur found outside of Germany at this time (Pterodacytylus macroynx). Mary excavated a transitionary fossil between sharks and rays/fish called Squaloraja in 1829. Anning was a self taught Paleontologist, Geologist, scientific illustrator, and Anatomist. Her discoveries have been long thought to have inspired Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Mary Anning was recognized as one of the 10 most influential women scientists in Britain in 2010. Yet his film does nothing but consider all of these accomplishments as being less than important than who she may have slept with.

Portrait of a woman in bonnet and long dress holding rock hammer, pointing at fossil next to a spaniel dog lying on ground.
Mary Anning & Her Dog (Circa 1830s-1840s) attributed to Mr. Grey. Courtesy of National History Museum
Mary Anning (1799-1847)
One of the many scientific drawings done by Mary Anning. Courtesy of UCMP.Berkely.EDU

Of course, the reason Francis Lee has decided to portray Mary Anning as a lesbian is solely based on the fact she remained unmarried and there is no evidence she had any relationships (heterosexual or homosexual), which must mean she was hiding something. By tying her scientific contributions to her sexuality, Lee has, perhaps unintentionally, equated any woman’s contributions to Society as being sexually motivated. It may come as a shock, but contributions to Art, Science, History, etc are not necessarily tied to what we do in the privacy of our own home. Now, if her sexuality had been an influenced, say, her scientific interests then yes, I would have applauded it being shown if done right.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, and if the location sounds familiar, it was featured in Jane Austen’s Persuasion as the location of The Cobb where poor Miss Musgrove hurt herself. Lyme Regis (located in Dorset) is known for it’s plentiful shale deposits, which often contain fossils. Many tend to be small (like ammonites and other creatures), but sea creatures have been routinely found in the cliff facings as well. It was a popular (but waning) seaside resort town (Brighton having taken it’s place as the primary go-to area, with Bath being secondary). But, if you recall from any previous posts regarding Austen herself, in 1799 England was at war with the US. Her life, like that of Austen, was a life revolving around War coupled with the restrictions placed upon her by Society due to her sex. Because there is no writings (family or otherwise) to indicate she was ever in love, the conclusion must be she was a lesbian. The truth was she was one of 2 children (out of 10) who survived into adulthood. Her father died when she was fairly young and she and her brother, Joseph, took up the fossil hunting trade to generate an income. Odd how any man who was not married during this same period is not automatically labeled as being a homosexual (the hypocrisy of it all and yes, I am LOOKING at you Horace Walpole).

drawing of side view of a long thin skull with needle like teeth and a large eye socket
An 1814 drawing by Everard Home for the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society depicting a Temnodontosaurus (originally Ichthyosaurus) skull found by Joseph & Mary Anning in 1811

Gera Lerner in her 1975 article in Feminist Studies asked how do notable women in history get written about, stressing the emphasis on how historians (in the 1970s) disregarded contributions of women overall: “Women of different classes have different historical experiences (5)”. Lerner also points out how women were viewed in the 19th Century were based on extensions of their normal duties. Education of the poor was seen as an extension of teaching children in the home. Which is still an issue we continue to face today. They “conducted their lives (5)” according to the male-dominated accepted role for them. Austen, being a writer, was acceptable because there were other women who were writing, and being published. Women writing primarily for women is fine because it doesn’t change the dominance of men in Society (especially since Austen’s brother Henry made the publishing deals, so while she wrote the books, he controlled hat happened to them). And yes, Mary Anning did fit into this role in her own way. She worked in a family run business started by her parents for extra income. Continuing this work as a means of generating an income after he death of her father would have been deemed as an acceptable position for a young girl and her brother because they had such a large family. Continuing to go this route when her brother was apprenticed elsewhere would have also been socially normal considering they were not part of the middle class, but were the working poor. Not being married, I have to state, was not an unusual occurrence for women at this time. Mary was one of 10 children. Her mother not only buried her husband, but eight of her children. Compare to the Austen Family, who had all he children survive into Adulthood (being middle class and having better access to food and medicine). Mary may have decided it would be better for her to continue to support her mother with fossil hunting than trying to find a husband and slip into extreme poverty (which was always the threat of any working woman, including Austen herself). On top of that, she had much less education than Austen and everything she did was primarily self-taught, whereas Austen had the support of a large family, that included members of the Aristocracy. Plus, I must point out that since this was a time of war, women outnumbered men so it would have been perfectly normal for there to be unmarried women over the age of 30 at this time (The Civil War in America produced a similar effect).

Sketch of house with two large front windows on either side of a front door and next to the steps leading up from the street to the door are two partially open cellar doors
June 1842 sketch of Mary Anning’s home in Lyme Regis by W. H. Prideaux and Edward Liddon. Courtesy of the BBC

When a generation of men have been killed, there will be a generation of women who will end up living alone. Mary died of Breast cancer in 1847 at the age of 47. She had not been welcomed into the Scientific community because she was a woman, but later generations have remembered and thought fondly of her. It is surprising that when she died, the Geological Society at that time spoke about her contributions, which is good, but also a bit sad it took her passing to get a bunch of men to acknowledge her importance to Science.But we must also remember is she had no male advocates who had the wealth, and influence, to see she was acknowledged better and more widely.

print of the Ladies of Llangollen
Sarah Ponsonby (left) and Lady Eleanor Butler, known as the Ladies of Llangollen, who were in a “Boston Marriage.” Lithograph by J.H. Lynch, 1830s. Public Domain

Mary and Charlotte meet briefly in 1825 ( a few weeks) and Mary meet her again in London in 1829. They corresponded as late as 1833, possibly up until Mary’s death in 1847. The relationship in the film Ammonite seems to be inspired by the relationship Mary Anning had with Frances Bell, who really did exist. But when Frances came to Lyme Regis to learn how to find and clean fossils from Mary, she was 14 and Mary 24. I highly doubt Mary saw Frances as a lover (unless we want to label her as a pedophile, which we don’t). Frances died young, at age 15 and Mary was, understandably, upset. Mary considered Frances one of her truest friends (possibly because they had a love of fossils). She may have considered Frances as her own personal protegee, seeing herself in a younger person. Instead, the film moves the actual time of the mid 1820s to 1840, but also makes Charlotte younger, naive, and incredibly stupid. It’s a slap in the face to any woman with a working mind.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2014-07-05-at-11.01.45-580x384.png
‘The Light of Science’ a satirical cartoon by Henry T De la Beche (1832) featuring Charlotte Murchison. Courtesy of Trowel Blazers


Charlotte Murchinson was born a full 11 years before Mary Anning in 1788 (but is portrayed much much younger in the film). Her father was a general and her mother was an amateur botanist. Charlotte married at the age of 27, which was considered fairly late in life, to a solider .They traveled Europe, where she made observations of the different geological features and botany. She had amassed a fossil collection of her own that was so diverse, leading men in the field of Geology would often use her specimens in their publications. While her husband focused on Geology (and became a member of the Royal Geological Society), Charlotte seemed to be more interested in minerals. She persisted and won the right to attend geological lectures at King’s College in 1831, which had been closed to women at that point. Charlotte was well traveled and her insights no doubt helped her husband in the field of geology She was no idiot as and was not the simpering weakling that she is being portrayed as. For any woman to demand to sit in on Geological lectures that are closed, and to have won the right to sit in on them, was no weak woman. She is also shown in the film to be incredibly stupid, bordering on extreme naivete, which is really gross.

Anne Lister - Wikipedia
Anne Lister by Joshua Horner, circa 1830. Public Domain

Besides Charlotte, Mary did have other friendship with women who were scientists as well. Mary Buckland being one such woman and Elizabeth Philpot the other. Instead of showing that Mary Anning had been surrounded by likewise minded women, Lee combines all these female friendships into one, but adds sex. I would have been much happier of the film was more about Mary befriending an unknown woman (a fictional character, if you will) and teaching her how she did what she did, or explaining how she hunts fossils, and develop that into a relationship (and possible Boston Marriage). It would have been more interesting, for me at any rate. Instead, we get a rough and not very feminine Mary, pissing in full view of the public, wiping her hands on her skirt, then handing a Cornish Pasty to Charlotte. So, Mary is being portrayed as “Butch” to counter the femininity of Charlotte (which is a sad troupe). She would ever have relieved herself in that way-she would have gone off a bit for privacy as any of us would do. Plus, there is an ocean, consisting of water, right there, to wash her hands off. Literally a body of water. And since she lived in Dorset, a Cornish Pasty IS NOT appropriate. Hand held eat pies did exist, but do be so specific as to a Cornish Pasty-just no. And let us also address that for a seaside town that was known to have a population of Black people, nary a one is ever seen. Lyme Regis was a popular seaside resort that was replaced by Bath (then Brighton), which means people from all classes (and yes, this includes Black people) lived there year round since before 1800. Especially since it was tied to Sailors and the Navy, which employed many Black people at this time. But, I must not forget that the director of this film is a man, who views the women in the film with the gaze of men. And if we want to portray her as a lesbian, then I would have no issue with it IF it were done with a little more finesse. Mary spent more time with Elizabeth Philpot and Mary Buckland than Charlotte. If a relationship would have occurred, I would have found it much more believable to have been either of these women than Charlotte because they were there longer, and also were the stronger relationships in Mary’s life. They even could have, because Mary really was found of Frances in real life, aged Frances up to be in her twenties and used that as a passionate, real-life relationship which ended in Frances’ death at a young age from something like pneumonia. Because that feels more true to the person who was Mary Anning, but also more true historically. And I would have had the guts to not only show Lyme Regis as being diverse, but would have made Frances not white. But then, I am wanting to make the film for women, and women of color, and not for the male gaze.

Out of the deep | Oxford University Museum of Natural History
A Plesiosaur hunting. Courtesy of Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Christobel Hasting stated “Note the wide eyes, the tumbling ringlets, the peaches-and-cream complexions of the protagonists. Then look at the narratives that posit same-gender sexuality as a source of inevitable pain and struggle” as a reoccurring theme in all Lesbian period dramas. Hastings, in this article (and it’s well-written, I highly recommend it) also discusses the erasure of POC from these pieces, which also erases them from the narrative overall. Now, when I first wrote and published this blog, I did not include any commentary on this and it is clearly a mistake on my part and I fully take on this blame. I truly wanted to focus on just how awful they portrayed Mary Anning (and Charlotte) that I neglected to think how it might be perceived to use a piece discussing the erasure of people of color and not address it. And yes, I should have and that is why I am editing this to include this discussion. Because, Dear Reader, I am not perfect and I want to own up when a mistake has been made (I also had to delete a comment and my response because the a troll trying to imitate another person then sent some truly awful email to me via this blog and that’s just vile and caused some serious metal health issues for me).

While I praise Gentleman Jack for its honesty, it IS one of these white period dramas written. But here Gentleman Jack succeeds it’s (dramatized) the real life story of Anne Lister and her relationship with her wife. Now, of course, the series could diversify the cast (and I would love it) because there was diversity in England at that time. It would be an easy thing to start to include and I think many of us would be thrilled by this. Now, previously, I had not included any commentary on that in this originally, but that was clearly a fault of mine because we should also address the erasure of any person of color in this narrative of period drama. As I am also aware that it’s an area that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Its perhaps easier to make Queer History more palatable when the primary target audience are white conservatives (and possibly male). And hey, I get it. It’s easier to drum up sympathy for two white women in early Victorian England, then, say, two women in India or Africa or South America. Because it doesn’t seem to matter, which is really sad. Plus, setting it in the mid 19th C is all too easy. It’s a bit lazy, to be perfectly honest. Most view the 19th C as being an era of sexual repression to begin with, so tossing in any aspect of LGBTQ+ references makes an easy sell. So, yes, this film also lacks basic diversity. And I mean basic. Most period dramas showcasing the 19th century seem to leave out any person of color unless it revolves around the Civil War. Now, Hasting’s article went onto state that this way of filming period Lesbian dramas is done for a reason. That reason being filmmakers are pandering “to the male gaze, and preserve the patriarchal status quo.” Which is something I was probably aware of, but hadn’t really considered that this one way of pandering had to dominate everything at this point in time. Maybe because I had thought with more diverse filmmakers, things would get better (they are, but doesn’t it seem to take forever?). Because the 19th C lesbians are always white. There are always pretty ringlets, big petticoats, soft pale skin. And that seems to be a setting for the male porn gaze than anything else (because, let’s face it, minority representation in LGBTQ+ films is extremely rare to non-existent). After all, we are still dealing with dick jokes in the MCU (so, perhaps filmmakers are catering to teenage boys?)

COVID-19: Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is postponed | Lyme Regis Town Council
Ammnites on Lye Regis Coast. Courtesy of Lyme Regis Town Council

Now, for some reason (well, I know WHY but it’s still irksome) a person, using the name of someone who commented, then decided to send me emails that were truly vile. And I mean downright nasty that it made me cry and not sleep for the past three days. Right now, after spending 40 minutes crying in the shower, I am very close to losing it. And yes, that is scary. Friday is going to be an extremely hard day for me. I am gong to make a police report because of a post I made last year regarding John Ortberg. And yes, I am stressed out about it. There are things in the blog I did NOT make public because some of it is just too painful. When I made the decision to have the knowledge go public earlier this year, I knew there would be a backlash. I knew it. I had dealt with some of it last year, and even some the year before. But now, it’s not something anyone can be prepared for. I’ve gotten emails stating that I am a liar. I’ve had weird comments made on blog posts from when I first started (like 2 years ago) show recently. And the emails-they are the hardest. Now, wisely, if someone emails me off of this blog, it goes to a inbox on this site and sends a copy to my personal account. o, unless I respond from my personal account, you don’t have access to my email address (it’s worth paying the $100 yearly fee for this feature). But the emails range from sending me porn links, to accusing me of being a Qanon conspiracy theorist, to commenting on my whiteness (and not being a person of color), to things that are really not meant to see the light of day. Ever. And it’s currently hard for me to function. I have panic attacks. I am severely depressed. I cannot get my antidepressants because the doctor won’t write a new prescription unless she sees me AND she cannot see me for 3-4 months. I cannot work BECAUSE of the PTSD and Panic Attacks. So, fair warning, if you comment on this post, or email me, do not be shocked if it takes a long time for me to approve the comments. And this is me, the writer removing her mask, saying hey, right now I am really not OK. But I am trying.

2.3 million project for the Cobb at Lyme Regis- or it could face collapse |  Bridport and Lyme Regis News
The Cobb at Lyme Regis. Courtesy of Bridportnews.co.uk

“And sometimes, I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in”

Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility)

Resources

Britiaicca.com

Unicversity of CAlifornia-Berkely (Paleontology Department)

Placing Women in History by G. Lerner. Feminist Studies, VOl 3 Issue 1/2 (Autumn 1975)

Introduction to Sociology, Chapter 12 (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality). Available on Opentextbc.ca

Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender by Mari Mikkola (2008 & 2017). Available on Plato.Standford.edu

Vanity Fair review of Ammonite (09/2020)

True History of Ammonite (Smithsonian Magazine August 2020)

LGTBQ+ Films: “It’s time for Lesbian love stories that aren’t white period dramas” by Christobel Hastings for Stylist.co.uk

Oxford University Museum of Natural History

Oceansofkansas.com

Lymeregistowncounsil.gov.uk

Newspapers.com

The Confederate Flag: A Heritage of Racism

Not that long ago on Facebook (yes, some of us are still on that cesspool of a platform secretly hoping someone like Oprah will one day buy out Zuckerburg and peace will reign once again on that platform), a friend shared a post I had found regarding the Confederate Flags and the history regarding the usage and different designs. Chad (not his real name, but close enough) decided to white mansplain that the Confederate Flag and the Confederacy was a great thing for People of Color (POC), that is was a southern state which first freed a slave, and Confederate Soldiers automatically were granted freedom if they moved to the North. I know, that’s a lot (and I mean A LOT) of compressed BS to unravel.

When I asked Chad regarding his sources, he first stated that he was a lawyer (his profile doesn’t indicate this at all, but he well could be one) and he was basing this on some law history classes and a website he said was called “American War Museum Chronicle”. Now, if you Google this, it will direct you to a website for looking up potential website names. In other words, it doesn’t exist. Now, there is an American and War Museum, but they only go back to 1917 to the present times. Disregarding all of that, let’s take a look at the actual flags themselves.

Confederate Flags: HIST 1416 American Military History Summer 2016 ...
Infograph courtesy of HIST 1416: American Military History Summer 2016 (W. Butler, Instructor) from BARTonline

Now, the image we most associate with the Confederacy is the Army of Tennessee and it’s technically a battle flag, not the actual flag of the Confederacy. The top three images are the three flags of the Confederate States while the bottom two are battle flags and were only flown during battles, skirmishes, etc. So those waving the battle flags about in today’s society either have no idea that the flag they are waving about is meant for actual battle, not the back of a pickup truck.

Official Flag Of The Confederacy | ... Confederate Veterans ...
Image courtesy of Pinterest
Pin on War Between The States
Image courtesy of Pinterest

Now, while I knew there were variations, I had no idea, until researching this specific topic, that battle flags in of themselves had a wide variety of designs. Unlike the Union, which primarily just used the American Flag, the Confederacy seemed unable to settle on one basic design. Now, I have not done much visiting of Civil War Reenactments, but from images that I have seen, it seems the main battle flag that is widely used in the Tennessee one, which is probably why we’ve come to associate that particular flag with the Confederacy and not one of the official three flags they had. Remember that Battle flags are not the same as flags pertaining to a nation.

ZFC - National Treasures - Union Civil War Flags 1861 to 1865
Union Battle Flags courtesy of flag collection dot com

The Union Battle Flags (known as the Stars & Stripes) mainly stuck with a more uniform appearance. Other than the placement and size of the stars, the overall appearance is not too dissimilar to what the US flag looks like today. In other words, the battle flag was meant to appear close to the national flag. Now, onto Chad’s assertion that the South was the first to free a slave. Vermont, which was not yet a state in 1777, was the first Independent US territory to abolish slavery within it’s borders. Pennsylvania was the first US state to abolish slavery in 1780. Neither of these is a Southern State. Juneteenth, for which Chad declined to acknowledge, is important as it was on June 19th, 1865 in Galvaston, TX that Union Army General Gordon Granger announced due to Federal Law, all slaves in Texas were free. This is important as these were amoung the last slaves to be freed after the end of the Civil War. Any slave that was in the Confederate Army was forced to do menial tasks and was still a slave, unlike Chad’s belief that these slaves chose to fight for their oppressors. Let that sink in for a moment-the Confederate Army used slaves to do the basic everyday chores needed to keep an Army running and people like Chad assume this mean they were “willing” participants. Oh honey, slaves were never willing to be slaves. Technically (because I must be as accurate as possible), the slaves were considered part of the Confederate Service, not the Army. The early wins of the Confederacy would not have occurred if not for the use of slave labor in maintaining agriculture and industrial standards for the South. Slaves forced to repair and maintain forts, repair railroads, build ships, and do everything in order to free white men so the white men could serve in the Army. Once many slaves heard of the proclamation by President Lincoln that they were free, enough fled to Northern States to make a large enough impact on the South’s economy as to make their victories a thing of the past. Many of these freed souls did join the Union Army (which also had it’s issues), BUT they were paid for their labor, they were free, and fighting for a cause they truly believed in.

A circa 1830 illustration of a slave auction in America.
A 1830 engraving depicting a Slave Auction, courtesy of TIME Magazine

Chad also asserted, quite boldly with an air of pomposity I found sad as it was ridiculous, that the Civil War was not about Slavery. I’m sorry to inform Chad and anyone with a similar lack of intellect, but the Civil War was very much about Slavery. Without the institution of Slavery, the South could not function. Slaves planted the crops, raised the livestock, harvested the fields, built the homes, made the clothes, made the food, raised the children of their owners, etc. Without Slavery, agriculture and industry in the South simply could not function.

Gospel of Slavery: The 1864 pro-abolitionist children’s book.
Excerpt from an 1864 Children’s Abolitionist Book courtesy of Slate.com

Slavery is free labor. There were no standards of how one was to treat a slave. Different owners could feed them well or starve them. They could be dressed or be forced to work in the nude. They could be with their families or be sold off on a whim. They were raped. They were beaten. They were seen as property, not people (the basis of the 3/5 of a person that’s in the Constitution is about this-Slaves were considered 3/5 of a person). No white man (or woman) could be tried for the murder of a slave because it wasn’t illegal. Let that sink in-the murder of a human being would be ignored simply because of skin pigmentation. The North had mostly banned Slavery and the movement of Society in the 1860s was heading towards abolishing slavery overall. The South could not bear the thought of transitioning towards having to pay people wages for what they were getting for free. While this is not every little tidbit regarding as to why the Civil War occurred, it really was about Slavery (which was all about Economics) in a nutshell.

Cross Stitch Pattern by SoEasyPattern on Etsy

Sorry Chad, but any depiction of the South’s flag (which are images of traitors) as symbols of pride are naught but fragile egos trying to hold onto thinly veiled images of racism and oppression and calling it “heritage.” Other than historical sites, blogs dealing with history, reenactments and museums, I firmly stand by the belief that all images of the Confederate Flag are only flown to tell people that you are a racist, misogynistic willfully ignorant supporter of traitors and should be dealt with by being laughed at and ridiculed at every opportunity. EVERY OPPORTUNITY. Oh, and here’s a Major in the Union showing you some serious shade ;D

In 1865, President Lincoln appointed Pittsburgher Martin Delany the first African American major, the highest rank of any black soldier during the war. #BlackHistoryMonth
Major Martin Delany, Pittsburgh 1865. Th Highest ranking African American Union Solider.

Sources:

http://www.warmuseum.org/america-and-war.php

https://bartonline.instructure.com/courses/2269/pages/confederate-flags

https://nationalpost.com/news/world/southern-discomfort-a-history-of-the-confederate-flagictorie a thing of the past.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/06/150626-confederate-flag-civil-rights-movement-war-history/

Bathing During the Time of Austen (or how I survived without a Shower for a week)

There’s this misconception that prior to the Victorian Era, people didn’t bathe. I myself am guilty of this false reasoning as I recall, at the tender age of 12, writing down in a notebook that “people smelled” when I started my journey of researching the 19th Century. In my current notebook (I occasionally rewrite everything with updated notes and information), I have kept the ubiquitous “people smelled” line to remind myself not only of how far I have come, but just how easily we can be led to the wrong conclusion. Yes, people smelled prior to the Victorian Era. In fact, people still smell today (it is, after all, one of the five senses). Of course, I am being a tad silly and what we truly mean by “smell” is bad odors.

Image
A Lovely period Regency Bathing room in the Chateau de Valancey, France. Photo taken by Anna M. Thane (@Anna_M_Thane) 2019

As the above photo shows, people during the Georgian & Regency Era did have rooms solely devoted to the art of bathing and maintaining hygiene. So it IS a fault (clearly) to believe people did not clean themselves. A majority of this, I feel, comes from adaptations (both TV & Film) of period pieces. Especially films of my believed Classic Era were they showed Kings & Queens arguing about bathing more than once a year (I kid you not). So little of them show bathing, we tend to have this blinded perception of people being utterly filthy. I distinctly recall having professors inform us that the use of incense in Catholic services was done because people smelled. This may be true for those who were poor and couldn’t bathe on daily basis, but the use of incense for religious reasons is as old as religion itself. So maybe, just maybe, the Catholic Church was using incense because it’s kind of the norm. Another example is the concept of indoor toilets. Many people accept that they had ancestors who used chamber pots. In fact, chamber pots are a very common thing one finds in modern period romance novels (I myself reference it once or twice-it seems very hard to not mention them). And we know that they did exist and were used. Yet, indoor toilets (yes, you read that correctly) have existed for hundreds of years and predate our modern bathrooms.

An illustration of a Medieval Era Garderobe, aka an indoor toilet. Courtesy of Pinterest.

The Garderobe is a fairly basic indoor toilet. A hole leads to a pit where the waste is collected and people do rake it (and remove it as needed). Yes, dear reader, there were people who’s job was literally shit and piss. This is really no different from campsites that have outhouses (yes, they still exist), to people who have a self-contained septic system in their yard. Yes, chamber pots (and other such devices) were used for things such as emergencies, invalids, and convenience, yet we must stop with the nonsense that they did their business out in the open. Of course, when traveling, one had no choice BUT even then, there was an attempt at modesty and privacy.

Now,what does this have to do with my week long shower-less regime? The bathroom was undergoing a renovation (new tiling) and that meant no access to the tub and shower for about a week. I am not someone who can go without bathing for very long (unless I absolutely must due to being hospitalized or very ill), so I decided it might be nice to try my had at bathing Regency style in a way. The first day, I used a bucket of warm water, a washcloth, and basically sponged myself off. I must also state I had the day off, so I wasn’t concerned with my hair (though I did run the washcloth through it as well). Did I feel clean? Well, yes and no. I can inform you that I did feel refreshed and less grimy, but I did not feel as clean as I normally would.

Serves Pitcher and Wash Bowl. Divine! Courtesy of Pinterest
Ceramic Bathtubs
Minoan Ceramic Bathing Tub, Minoan Palace of Knossos. Courtesy of JSTOR

Now, I am not so fortunate as to afford to use Serves porcelain in my experiment. My basin was a nice, gray plastic bucket. My pitcher was an old plastic cup measuring utensil. My washcloth, I felt, was at least an attempt at the homespun feeling as it was a crocheted one. Soap was some liquid Ivory (meat for bathing, not the dish one). Not feeling quite so refreshed from just the quick sponging off, I decided to up the experience by using both hot and cold water. I donned a bathing suit, went outside, and rinsed off with warm water. Washed and rinsed with cold water (a la hose). Washed and rinsed my hair with the hose, then dumped the rest of the warm water over myself. It felt like camping, in a weird way and I did feel fairly clean. Also, cold. Was this closer to how Jane Austen must have bathed? Well, perhaps.

egyptian-princess-bathing
19th C Woodcut of an Egyptian Relief depicting a Lady being bathed by servants. Courtesy of Pinterest.

Showers (well, showering), has existed since forever. Ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians had indoor bathing rooms where servants would “shower” them with jugs of water. Ancient Greeks were the first to have public showering rooms (look up the Ancient Greek City of Pergamum). The Romans, of course, followed suit with their own bath houses as well. Yet what we would consider the runner up to the modern shower was patented in 1767 by Englishman William Feetham ( stove maker) and featured a hand pump. Around 1810, a much more “modern” version emerged and as to who invented it, it’s hard to say as there are disputes.

Ancient Greek Shower
Anciet Greeks Showering on Pottery. Courtesy of Pinterest
Pompeii residents were screwed before the volcanic eruption
A Public Bath at Pompeii. Couretsy of Pinterst
Life Magazine Image of an 1810 Shower. They describe it as being 12 feet in height with a pump for moving water from the bottom to the top (and to be used continuously) to shower. Courtesy of Life Magazine & Pinterest.

Now, my few days of donning a bathing suit and bathing outdoors was no where as elaborate as using the 1810 Shower, but it did feel closer to what Austen herself must have been used to. Not to say that she used a contraption like that everyday. In fact, she may have never used one. Yet it is possible that she did do something similar to what I had done in my quasi-attempt at cleanliness. Now, I must admit that once the tiling was done, I was told I could use the tub, but not the shower and could use the hot water faucet again. Dear reader, I felt like I was n Heaven!

The first appearance of the shower or "rain bath" in New York ...
A NYT Advertisement for a Shower from November 11, 1914. Courtesy of The Bowery Boys

I felt so much cleaner sitting in the tub, using the hot water as needed to bathe (and shave my legs). I felt my hair got much cleaner not having to be blasted by the cold needle spray of the hose. Or at least, I felt warmer, hence, I felt cleaner. Now the new shower head is not as elaborate as the Kennedy Needle model, but it does a decent job. But I have to admit that I felt more understanding of what it must have been like for Austen (or anyone living before the 20th Century) to bathe.

Bathing (or the ability to bathe) is a convenience we take for granted in our modern society. Bathing requires access to clean water, the ability to heat said water, soap (or similar cleaning items), not to mention time and means to do so. For my part, knowing what I know about the time it took to heat water up, to carry it, etc, it’s most likely Austen did a full bath (like in a tub) once a week but sponged off daily. She may have even sponged off more than once a day. I can see any genteel lady sponging off before dressing for dinner or before a ball. I can definitely see any person doing so after riding a horse. Hair washing probably didn’t occur more than once a week. There are people today who don’t wash their hair on a daily basis, so it should come as no surprise to think Jane didn’t do so. Hair washing probably took more time and effort than washing the grime off of one’s body. After all, they didn’t have our modern shampoos, conditioners, hair dryers, and towels.

Degas bather
Woman in Bath Sponging Her Leg (1883) by Edgar Degas. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I imagine for most people, bathing was closer to Degas painting than anything else. In fact, for most people around the world, it’s probably how they bathe as modern plumbing does not exist everywhere and probably never will. And that’s the most important item I want everyone to take away from this posting. People have, for centuries, found a way to bathe. Whether it meant going to the pond, river, ocean, waterfall, or using a small pitcher or water, people have always found a way to keep themselves clean. Bathing is not this foreign concept nor is it a modern one. It’s clear period films and shows have done us a disservice by not showing us the daily habits of people. By not showing us, we’ve been taught to think of our ancient ancestors as these dirty, smelly, filthy bunch when in fact, it’s all a lie.

Now, I’m not going to lie. I would never trade my modern shower and toilet for what Austen had. I thoroughly enjoy being able to have hot water on demand. I completely rejoice that my waste is flushed away and no one has to rake it. I am very much at ease in our modern bathroom. Now, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind having a nice claw foot bathtub and a stand alone shower someday (who wouldn’t). I may even want to indulge in trying a Kennedy Needle Special ;P! But in all seriousness, what I have discovered, about myself primarily, is that when it comes to bathing, we all find a way that suits each of us. I have showered outdoors. I have used an outhouse. Yes, it’s weird but it’s only weird because it’s not part of our daily lives anymore (for the most part). For some, outhouses and outdoor bathing is still the norm and there is no shame in this. So yes, Kevin Costner showering under a waterfall in Prince of Thieves IS accurate. Colin Firth jumping into a pond after riding a horse is perfectly acceptable. Kirsten Dunst being sponged off in Marie Antoinette every morning is actually historically accurate. And that’s kind of fun to know.

From One Writer to Another: Dear JK Rowling

Dear JK Rowling,

Can I just refer to you as JK? We are Peers and, therefore, equals. Now, you may not consider me an equal, but I am. I too am a writer. I may not have had the success that you have, but I have published poems outside of this blog and am still querying an agent for my novel. Regardless of our individual successes, we are peers and like it or not, I must write to you. You recently did an open letter asking for the abolishment of “cancel culture” and got some notable names to sign it. I do not agree with your opinion. It reeks of extreme white privilege and a need to justify oneself for hurting others. In other words, you went FULL KAREN and asked to speak to the head manager of Society.

Now, before we get into the letter, I want to take a look back at your legacy, because it IS your legacy, like it or not.

I was in College when your books first started getting noticed here in the States. Having always loved language and the works of Tolkien , Shakespeare, and Maya Angelou, your first HP book was recommended to me by an English Professor. I was charmed by the simple tale of Good vs Evil. It fits very easily into the Joseph Campbell Mythos format. I have no qualms about stating that I did purchase your first HP book and subsequently the others as they were released. As a mixed WOC, I saw myself in Hermione. She was very clearly written in the first 3 books as having features of mixed parentage (overly frizzy/kinky hair, big front teeth speaks of someone who is African & Asian based on those stereotypical descriptions). Hell, I thought Mudblood was clearly a nod to being called “colored.” And you tended to use very base stereotypes for the other non-whites in the novel. The Patel twins are described as being silly, into fashion & boys (which, is NOT typical of Desi girls unless all your knowledge stems from watching one Bollywood film for 5 minutes). Cho Chang’s very name smacks of Asian stereotype. So yes, right from the start I had an issue with how you portrayed POC. Yet I still read the books, still purchased them, still enjoyed them. Tolkien never really has any POC in his works and I still enjoy them. I do feel it’s perfectly acceptable to read authors who don’t have everyone represented because it’s a slice of their view of the world. Just like Nella Larsen’s Passing is more about the African- American community and the restrictions placed on them by society. It may not be a novel for everyone, but many can read and enjoy it and not be African-American.

Then the films of HP came out. And Hermione was white washed but given full on kinky overblown AFRO hair. The Patel Twins were made even more ridiculous and Dean Thomas was made black as a token character. You know what would have been nice? Showing a professor or two being of color. No where in your novels does it state all the professors are white. No where. Heck, I would have been thrilled if one or two of the professors was of color, as I am sure many fans would have been as well. Your insistence on using only British actors and actresses didn’t bother me, but the insistence of only using white ones for adult roles did. In fact, there’s hardly any non whites in the films at all, and that’s just heartbreaking.

Then once the films came out, you started re-conning the hell out of your own creation to try and make things fit. For instance, you insisted there was A Jewish student there and they were allowed to celebrate Jewish Holidays. Great. But no where in your novels did you show any holiday being celebrated at Hogwarts besides Christmas. I read nothing showing Hanuka, Eid, or even Holi being celebrated. Even a line or two would have shown this. Then you were insistent that Dumbledore was gay. Ok. Great. I have no issue with Dumbledore being homosexual. It would have been nice to know if he had a long standing partner BESIDES Grimwald. Like a note in his will, a picture in his office…something to hint he had a significant other at some pint and had a healthy relationship.

Then you introduced America’s version of Hogwarts and totally ripped off Indigenous People’s beliefs, but so goddamn BADLY. Like, you DO have access to a library, right? I’m fairly certain Edinburgh has a University and a library (not to mention professors) who would have been pleased as punch to help you with constructing an American magical system that didn’t completely feel like Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Then you HAD to make Nagini a female Asian character who, get this, transforms into a huge snake. Did you really have to resurrect the whole Dragon Lady? Like what level of FUCKERY made you think it was perfectly acceptable to do this? Those of us who are Asian/Arab/Desi/Middle Eastern/SE Asian and female, we already have to deal with the stereotypes that we are sexually repressed, sluts, exotic, airheads, and little girls. We really did not need the Dragon Lady to come back.

Now, I’m going to talk about the main issue as to why you wrote the “let’s cancel cancel culture” letter: transgender people. Your insistence that women who don’t menstruate aren’t women. Well, JK, hate to go all biological and sciencey on you, but not all women menstruate. Before puberty, females don’t menstruate. So, by your “logic”, my three year old niece isn’t really female because she doesn’t menstruate. My mom doesn’t due to having a hysterectomy, therefore she isn’t female either. Women who have gone into menopause are also not female by your reasoning. And I myself must not be female because I did not always menstruate on a regular basis due to medical issues. Then there are women who are born without ovaries or have ovaries that just don’t function properly. I guess they aren’t women either. I guess women who are pregnant aren’t women because they don’t have periods while pregnant. Nor are women who use IUDs as they stop having regular periods for 3 to 5 years.

You cannot (and I must stress this) CANNOT base someone’s gender solely on whether or not they menstruate. You and Margaret Atwood can kiss my ass because this isn’t Gilead and I refuse to be labeled as female solely on the basis of whether or not I have a period because no where did you ever insist that men have to be capable of producing sperm to be considered men. And why is that? Is it because it never crossed your mind? Or are you going to be insistent that only men who have penises are actual men, thereby making men who have suffered injuries to that region and may not have one anymore as gender less. See the issue JK? Equating a gender on sexual organs is stupid because what exists below my waist (or anyone’s waist) is none of your goddamn business. TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN. TRANS MEN ARE MEN. They have always existed and will always exist. This is not up for debate here

You come from a background of extreme white privilege. You really haven’t had to suffer nor deal with issues like this of us who are not white and those who struggle with their gender and sexual identity. You barely struggled when it came to finding an agent to publish your book. You queried a handful of people and got an agent right away. That is extremely rare in the publishing field. Stephen King, whom you’ve decided to unfollow, was rejected over 70 times for “Carrie”, which is a masterpiece of horror and suspense. He has struggled to be heard and has always tried his best to learn from his mistakes and listen. Listening is so important here. Clearly it’s a skill you seemed to be lacking in. Your refusal to listen, learn, and accept you were ignorant on the subject of trans people shows how out of touch with reality you are.

You are upset because there’s a whole generation of trans people who sought solace in your books and have now decided that you aren’t worth supporting anymore. They aren’t cancelling you. They have decided to remove the toxicity that is YOU from their lives. Now, I won’t be destroying your books nor will I get rid of the DVDS. I’ve already paid for them and you’ve already been paid by them. But when my niece is old enough and wants to read them, I want her to ask me questions as to why she, a mixed child, has no representation in your books. I want her to ask the same thing regarding Tolkien. Or why Shylock is such a problematic character. I want there to be an open dialogue. I want her to know that it’s perfectly fine to read Austen and ask questions about the lack of representation. Because there is nothing wrong with asking and finding out. You are not being cancelled JK. People just don’t want to deal with your toxic bullshit anymore. This isn’t repressing your right to free speech. You can say whatever you wish to say on any subject. I won’t stop you. Go ahead. This doesn’t mean I have to listen to it.

Freedom works both ways JK. You have to freedom to not accept Trans people. I have the freedom to accept Trans people, support them, and be an Ally to all members o the LGTBQ+ Community.

Now, I’m not saying my novels are perfect and represent everyone. But I am trying to represent a few. I have written people of color back into Austen. I have members of the LGTBQ+ community in them as well. Are there a lot? To be perfectly honest, there are not. But the mere fact that I am trying speaks way more about my character, my integrity, and writing style than anything else. My novels won’t be perfect. But at least some one of color can pick it up and find a character like them. And a kid struggling with gender or sexual identity may find some resonance with a character that I wrote. Even if for a little while. I would rather try to put history and facts back into Austen and make it engaging, then complain to the manager that life is unfair. Though I will state it takes balls to complain about life being unfair whilst living on an Estate in Edinburgh, being a multi-millionaire, being British and living in Scotland. But hey JK, you do you.

Sincerly,

SZJR

The Cult of Karen & Chad: Extreme Privilege

To be a “Karen” is to be, generally, a white privileged cis woman. While it is a slang term, it’s been the inspiration for many memes and gifs that multiply almost as much as cute cat video on YouTube. Chad is the male counterpart. However, I have firmly come to the conclusion that both terms are more universal as I have come across many Karens and Chads (in person and online) over the past two years. Now, I have considered calling WOC who act this way “Candace” after the ubiquitous Candace Owens. And have thought Kayne really needs no explanation. Yet, both are merely just a Karen and a Chad beneath it all.

Karen | Know Your Meme

The typical Karen image courtesy of Knowyourmeme.com (the image is actually of Kate from Kate plus 8, who seems to exemplify the term Karen)

I’ve come across a slew of Karens whilst working with my uncle in his shop (a convenience store for us Americans). I should note that the shop deals primarily with minorities, yet this doesn’t mean that there are non-minorities who visit daily. Once such Karen is always insistent that she should get free cups of ice simply because she sends her kids to the shop multiple times a day. Now, a free cup of ice now and again is not a big monetary loss. However, when one person comes in and is taking 4 to 5 cups of ice four to seven times a day, every day over the course of  year, it’ not only a large monetary loss (each cup costs, on average, 30 cents out of our pocket, on top of the water and electricity it takes to generate the ice), it’s also wasteful because the cup, being plastic, is thrown out and not recycled. This, I would state, is an example of Karen behavior. The Chad version of this is to take a cup of ice, but throw the money we charge for this item on the counter and complain we are ripping him off while making suggestions that I should be willing to engage in a little hanky-panky. Yes, the Chad behavior combines the rudeness and privilege of the Karen, but mixes in the assumption that being male makes them irresistible to any female in a five-mile radius of their good self.

Controversial national 'white privilege' conference coming to ...

Image from Madison.com of a real honest to God conference (seriously, this is not a joke); the ultimate gathering of Karens and Chads.

Now, online dictionaries deem that a Chad is a man in his early 20s to mid 30s. Usually white, it has now been associated with Neo-Nazis, Incels, and just truly awful men. While a Karen is a woman in middle age, Chad is more of the frat boy persona. I feel that this is unfair. Regardless of age, any person can be a Karen or a Chad. And while it has been aligned with white privilege, the past few years have shown me that this cult like attitude has spread (and has always existed) across the racial divide.

Dress code for 18yr frat boys : uofmn

Image courtesy of Reddit (no, really) showing how a frat boy (or Chad) should be dressing.

Most people can agree that a Karen is a woman who is demanding and is used to getting her own way. Some examples of this are women who demand to speak to a manager over every little thing. Women who demand sale prices after the sale has ended or special treatment because they deserve it. Women who even think they should be able to do anything they want because Society somehow “owes” them. This, to me, is the true definition of a Karen. None of these behaviors are regulated specifically only to white culture. Many of us can recall seeing women of all backgrounds and levels of society who exhibit this behavior. Having worked in retail, bartending, waitressing, and even as a teacher, I an assure you, dear reader, that Karen knows no color lines, no monetary barriers, nor is confined by any known border that exists. Karen is everywhere and we’ve all suffered her wrath.

Let's Agree to Agree Wallpaper by JoeGPcom on DeviantArt

Artwork by JoeGPcom courtesy of Deviant Art

Likewise, Chad is not just a glorified Frat Boy. Chad is an overpuffed man who thinks he is the ultimate example of manhood and, therefore, entitled to everything and anything he can possibly think of. Lets face it folks, we all know at least one Chad. We’ve all met at least one Chad in the past year, if not numerous times in our daily lives. Chad can be an obnoxious high school student trying to buy smokes or booze illegally because he wants to or a man in his fifties making sexually suggestive remarks to a younger woman because her being pleasant MUST mean she wants him (she really doesn’t).

So, why write such a post? Firstly, because I’ve noticed an uptick in obnoxious boarding on vile behavior ever since the outbreak began here in the US and Europe starting around January to February of this year. People online becoming truly heinous with deciding to “educate” others on all sorts of topics such as medical advice, body shaming, and even sending death threats because a parent deleted a child’s Minecraft game. This post stems from an experience I just had recently (and recently, as in today).

I was part of George Takei’s fan group on Facebook. Had been a follower and fan for years (what can I say, I love Star Trek). While a rule of this fan group is no trolling, over the past few months the trolling has gotten excessively worse. The Comic Sands article was posted. I read it after coming off of a late shift and made the comment that while the punishment was excessive, it seemed equally, if not more so, for people to demonize the parents for deleting what is, in effect, a video game. I was bombarded with numerous comments from the parent destroyed the child’s artwork (because a game is art now), to I should be thrown out and abandoned like the bitch I was. I even was privately messaged on Facebook and Twitter with images of people holding a printout of my profile picture, with red X’s on it, hold guns to my image, and even one person had a knife sticking through it. Every single person who sent it to me has been reported (please give me a modicum of sense here) and a majority of them were white. Notice I said a majority of them, but not all. I had an African American woman inform me that I needed to be taught a lesson (yes, she actually private message me via Facebook). I had someone who I am going to assume has some Hispanic or Latino background (I am basing this on his name, which is Spanish sounding, and from the fact it stated his hometown was near or around Mexico City) inform me he would be only too glad to teach me and my niece a lesson sexually because we needed to learn our place (my niece is under the age of 3). Now, my profile on Facebook is private. But, as we should all be aware, anything we post to any online database can be found.

Angry Mob Illustrations, Royalty-Free Vector Graphics & Clip Art ...

Royalty free image courtesy of iphoto.com

I was appalled, scared, and most of all, disgusted by this trolling shark frenzy which was occurring. Over a video game. Let this sink in-a video game. During this time where people are dying (children, the elderly too), people are out of work, going hungry, etc, the riotous mob came for me, and for anyone, who couldn’t fathom why these parents were receiving death threats over a game. Are people that much entrenched in the Cult of Karen & Chad that deleting a video game is now seen as priceless artwork along the likes of the Sistine Chapel? A game ranks higher on being vitally important than life itself? This cult of extreme privilege is a cancer on our modern Society. No one should think that having access to a video game (which is not a free game, but costs money) is a right that cannot be taken away. Sorry Karen, Chad, Swedish Karen, Mexican Chad, Candian Karen, German Chad, Karen-Candace and Kanye-Chad, but I don’t think a video game is as important to existence as actual existence at this point in time. Thanks for telling me to go back to whence I came (please, Swedish Karen, you might want to brush up on Biology 101 and how birth works). Sorry Mexican Chad, but I have a boyfriend who won’t want to bugger my three year old niece. Sorry but not sorry Karen-Candace for sending your information to the FBI as I do think threatening to shoot me is a bit much for not thinking Minecraft is on par with Michelangelo’s David. And to all the other Karens and Chads I have neglected to mention, I do hope, that in time, you realize that there is more to life than the privilege of  playing a video game. But, like any cult, blind willful ignorance and mass idiocy will no doubt continue to reign as they induct newer and younger members into their cult of extreme privilege.

 

Sources:

https://madison.com/ct/news/local/writers/pat_schneider/controversial-national-white-privilege-conference-coming-to-madison-in-march/article_bdc7052c-92b8-11e3-ae53-0019bb2963f4.html

https://www.dictionary.com/e/slang/karen/

https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/the-day-i-deleted-minecraft-a-letter-to-my-son

https://www.comicsands.com/parent-deletes-minecraft-world-punishment-2645886872.html

 

Gastric Sleeve: One Year Reflection (well, close enough)

Image courtesy of nashvilleweightloss.com

May 14, 2019 was the day I had my Gastric Sleeve Surgery. This was performed at Good Shepherd Hospital by Dr. C (who is awesome). Like many people who struggle with their weight, this was not an easy decision. Like I had mentioned in my previous blog post (New Year: Who Dis), I researched and really looked into what any weight loss surgery would entail. My mother, years earlier, had lap-band done (different doctor from mine). And while, at first, it seemed to be working (as in, she lost weight), too many issues started coming up and she easily regained the weight (plus more) not to mention having terrible heartburn and other issues (such as vomiting on an empty stomach-Dr C. removed her lap-band this year). Lap-band was and still is touted as an acceptable weight loss surgery. There are still doctors who are willing to perform it and places that still consider it as being viable.

Lap band

Image courtesy of Tijuana Baritrics

The pitfalls, however, are that lap-band has a high failure rate. According to NCBI, the failure rate is 13.2% at 18 months. That percentage goes up dramatically as time from when it was put in continue (to a whopping almost 40% at 7 years). Gastric Sleeve (and Bypass) have a failure rate of less than 5% at 2 years, with 16% at 7 years. Now, like I had mentioned in a previous blog, “failures” for Gastric Sleeve range from gaining 15 pounds to having a baby. Yes, a woman getting pregnant after having this surgery is considered a “failure” by every study that I have been able to come across and read, which I find ironic and very misogynistic considering that fertility issues (including PCOS) are considered acceptable reasons for having these surgeries. And anyone who has seen a pregnant lady can attest that most women gain at least 15 pounds, if not more, during a normal pregnancy. I feel that pregnancy after surgery should be seen as a success, not a failure. Also, gaining muscle mass (muscle weights more than fat), is also a failure. We really should, as a society, rethink the whole BMI chart as it doesn’t take into consideration body structure. The Perelman School of Medicine (University of Pennsylvania) stated in an article from 2013, that the BMI is inaccurate because it doesn’t take into consideration body mass, body shapes, bone density, overall body composition, and the basic differences between the sexes as one chart is used for both sexes, meaning that the height and weight for a petite white female will not work for a petite white male.

BMI charts are bogus: real best way to tell if you're a healthy ...

So, what does this mean? Well, any good doctor will use is as a guideline, not as absolute truth (as in you MUST weight this amount). Especially when one keeps in mind the BMI chart (yes, the standard one) was invented/complied in the 1830s. Diets (as in what we eat), activity, and also heights of people have drastically changed in the nearly 200 years since it was created. There are variations of it, tailored for men, women, and children, but the basic data used still stems from this initial chart from the 1830s. See why so many of us get frustrated by this chart? Now, in all honesty, at 330 pounds and being 5’8″, I was obese. I was extremely obese. I knew it at the time and I accept this fact. But I do find it laughable that according to the chart, a healthy weight for me would be between 120 and 150 pounds. Based on my bone structure, and very wide hips, that weight range would make me look sickly. Not to mention that I would be, in Dr. C’s opinion, underweight and unhealthy. Now, my goal weight is between 165-180 (I’m shooting for about 170-175). The chart states that this weight range makes me overweight. Now, keep in mind that insurance companies still adhere to this chart and they also compile statistics for those percentages when it comes to failure and success rates of surgeries. So, I would be considered a “failure”, yet my doctor would consider me a success (FYI, he currently hails me as a success because losing over 50 pounds in the first year is a success in his eyes). So, that’s where I do take any failure rate with a slight grain of salt. Now, lap-band does have a high failure rate only in that there are so many health issues which arise with it. These range from the basic improvement of the person’s health (i.e., losing weight) to increase of heartburn symptoms and even a twisted band (yes, those things can twist and shift about in there). This doesn’t mean every lap-band surgery is going to fail nor do I believe every single one will fail. My personal opinion, based on seeing how it affected my mother and from research, the cons (such as increased heartburn, vomiting on empty stomachs, etc) outweighs the pros (weight loss). To me, this made lap-band surgery a non-viable option (and one my surgeon doesn’t do nor recommend because of these issues).

Now, Gastric Sleeve & Bypass have both fans and haters too. There are people who have written about the failure of their surgery and why they regret it. And I get it. This is not an easy decision to make and it’s not easy changing how you not only look at food, but how you eat and cook. And I do not want anyone to think I am bashing or poking fun at those who do regret this. I feel for them and I wish they had the support I have been lucky (and I feel very lucky) to have had in terms of research and making this decision. I only want to point out a few alarming issues some of these people have in common so those who read this and have questions, can be better informed. One such trend is the belief their life is going to drastically change like some pseudo Hollywood film makoever.

Everything We Know About a Possible Princess Diaries 3 Movie | E! News

Anne Hathaway in The Princess Diaries

The sad reality is that most of these miraculous Hollywood film makeovers are simply excellent makeup and costume designers who can transform a relatively attractive person (usually white and female) into being slightly to overly unattractive, in order to have a “makeover” in the film and be revealed as drop dead gorgeous. That’s not real life and while I enjoyed The Princess Diaries, I did cringe at the obvious ugly ducking to swan troupe being used. This troupe is overused and harmful to our Social Psyche. Another trend is the need to rush into having this surgery by flying abroad (generally Mexico) and having it performed there due to cost. The average cost of Gastric Sleeve & Bypass is $23-30K, Lap-Bands average around $14-16K. Compare this with the low (incredibly low) cost of $3-6K for Sleeve or Bypass and $2K or less for Lap-Band. Some sites state they can perform surgery (after receiving payment) anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. So, if one is desperate and feeling like they HAVE to do this, waiting a month does seem like a better option than waiting 6 months to a year. I get it too because once I made the decision to go an speak to a surgeon, I really couldn’t wait to have the surgery. Yet I am so glad I was forced to wait. And I waited abut 2 months more than I should have due to a hold up (waiting on the psychiatric letter took 2 months longer than expected). Yet I don’t regret this whatsoever. I researched for at least 3 months BEFORE going to see Dr. C and continued to research after meeting him. I have two binders full of information (one was given to me by the surgeon, the other I started and is full of recipes and meal ideas, plus any information I deemed important to have on hand this way). So, while I was more prepared than most, I still wasn’t fully prepared.

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So, why Mexico? The main factor is probably based on finances. The low cost of surgery in Mexico is meant to draw in people who are desperate to lose weight. And unlike the standards set by insurance companies here in the US, Canada, and Europe, Mexican Bariatric centers will take anyone-including those who wouldn’t qualify under insurance guidelines. What? Yes, anyone. There are stories and photos of men and women who underwent surgery to lose as little as 20 pounds with no underlying medical problem. People who wouldn’t qualify because they didn’t have any of the main health issues which would deem such a surgery as being medically necessary. These factors (and this is not a definitive list, but the general accepted ones) are Diabetes (Type 1 & 2 though there seems to be more Type 2 who undergo it than Type 1), PCOS, High-Blood Pressure, Sleep Apnea, Asthma/COPD, Acid Reflux Disease, limited mobility issues, and other Endocrine related diseases. This is by no means all the health factors by which insurance companies will approve of such a surgery, but these are the basic ones that tend to help build a case for surgery. Which makes it excessively frustrating when people are choosing to undergo surgeries (most seem to get lap-band or sleeve in Mexico) to loose 20 pounds or less. Listen, these surgeries are not meant for those who just want to shed a few pounds. It shouldn’t be seen as a “quick fix” nor an inexpensive option to constantly yo-yo dieting. These surgeries are meant to help those of us who cannot (and I cannot stress this enough) lose weight through diet and exercise alone. 

Do Different People Really Need Radically Different Diets?

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I’ve been on a diet practically all of my life. I recall at the age of 8 or 9 a doctor recommending my mom start me on a diet as I was a bit too chunky for my age and height (thanks to that blasted BMI chart). I have been involved with Weight Watchers at least 3 times in my life, Jenny Craig, Overeaters Anonymous, Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Alli (those pills you can by OTC), Slim Fast, Nutrisystem, HMR, Sensa, Mediterrean Diet just to name a few. I have had doctors lecture me about my weight. I have had nutritionists lecture me about not eating well. I could not lose it by normal means. This doesn’t mean those programs, diets, etc don’t work because I know people who are very successful on WW, and I know people who are doing well on Noom. There are people who do well on Keto and others who have been successful using Jenny Craig. The simple truth is not one plan will work with everyone and not everyone can lose weight by traditional means. We are all individuals and are all diverse. And that should be OK. As a society, we need to accept that there are other factors which lead to obesity and not just eating too many calories. 

So, yes, I do have an issue with those who seek out surgery because they think this is a quick fix and an easy way of shedding a few pounds. I take a modicum of malicious glee in how many of them regret undergoing the surgery in as little as a few hours post-op. Now, having one’s stomach butchered, not stitched correctly, and other glaringly obvious bad surgical errors (due to the rapid turn around in Mexico as they are in the business to make money, not provide healthcare) are issues which enrage me as no one should have to endure botched up surgeries. That, sadly, is a case of getting what you paid for. Surgeons in Mexico do not have to undergo the strict training (and ongoing training) that exists elsewhere. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t reputable Bariatric surgeons in Mexico. There are people, with the underlying medical conditions, who go to Mexico and have decent outcomes. It’s a case of not knowing who is going to be reputable and who isn’t. This is why I do think, until stricter standards are installed in places like Mexico, one should look for a good surgeon that is covered by their insurance. And in case people comment on here that this doesn’t help those on Medicaid and Medicare, I regret to inform you that both Medicaid and Medicare do cover this surgery as well. They use standard guidelines as to what medical conditions would qualify and go from there. 

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For those who do have medial issues, one alarming reason they flock to Mexico is they don’t want to follow the insurance (and surgeon’s) prerequisites for having the surgery. Like any basic College course, one cannot sign up for English 201 if one hasn’t had the 101 course. Think of these requirements as building groundwork. One such requirement before approving the surgery, which seems to be prevalent, is being enrolled for a minimum 6 months of physician guided diet & nutrition program. Basically, you see a nutritionist affiliated with the program or hospital every month for six months-a whopping total of 6 visits minimum. And most doctors (Dr. Nowzaradan on My 600 lb Life, for a prime example), will expect a certain amount of weight to be lost prior to getting approval. It seems cruel but there is reason for this: they want to see if you can follow directions. Many people struggle with following basic rules.Now, I have been fairly good before and currently, but I do screw up.

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One such rule I had was no soda (pop depending on the region of the US). I had my last Coke Zero in October 2018. I have not had any since. Now, if I let one go flat, I probably could tolerate it. I have bought these packets (sugar free of course) which promise to mimic the taste of soda (Root Beer, Cherry Cola) when added to water. Instead, I added the root beer (along with some root beer extract-yes, it exists) to a vanilla protein shake (and ice). It isn’t exactly like a root beer float, but it tastes similar and it satisfies that particular craving. Now, if Vernor’s could come out with a similar powder, I would be most happy (the mark of a true Michigander is whether or not you can tolerate Vernor’s Ginger Ale). 

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 I had been seeing a nutritionist for Diabetes previously and had this requirement done (in a year, I had gone from 330+ to around 300, which helped prove to the insurance company that I could adhere to a plan and was willing to change to improve my health). I was lucky that I had this recent medical history already in place. At the same time, my A1C numbers kept going up, and medication was changed from Metformin (which made me sick to my stomach the entire time I was on it, which was years) to insulin and Victozia. No lying, but the thought of daily injections scared me until I did it for a few times and felt better. While I was feeling better, I grew increasingly frustrated as the insulin went from 15 to 30 to 60 to 80 units in the span of a year. While a side effect of insulin is weight gain (and weight loss with Metformin), the opposite actually occurred in my case. My weight went down as I grew to be more active and eat a healthier diet. Yet instead of the weight loss improving the A1C, it kept getting worse. I am one of those rare people that cannot tolerate Metformin, can tolerate insulin and yet be insulin resistant at the same time (insulin resistance means you require more and more insulin to keep blood sugars in check). 

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So yes, I really did need this surgery.  I didn’t want to keep having to increase the insulin in order to keep it under control. My greatest fear was having to take 100s of units a day to stay alive. A unit is the standard way of measuring insulin and I have not found any information that this is referred to as anything else. The average insulin pen (regardless of kind) holds 300 units. I don’t know how much a vial holds, but I suspect it’s a similar amount. Yet this is a digression of the tale. I was on 80 units at the time of surgery (along with 1.8 units/dosage of Victozia), which means I needed 3 insulin pens a week. And yes, it was frightening to be on such a high dose. But, within 2-3 months of having the surgery, I was off of insulin completely. My last A1C was at 5.9 (it was 10.3 before surgery).  I currently am only on the 1.8 dosage of Victozia and I am hoping that will lessen with time. Even if I am ever completely off medication for Diabetes, I will always have to check my blood sugars, have my A1C checked, and be careful of what I eat for the rest of my life. And you know what, I don’t mind a bit.

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This surgery has given me a new lease on life. I can easily keep up with a rambunctious not yet three year old niece and will be able to keep up with her forthcoming sibling. I enjoy exercising at the gym (sadly, on hold due to COVID). I enjoy shopping for clothes for myself, a task I used to dread. I still enjoy food. God knows I still love to eat. Food is something we cannot ever stop needing, which makes obesity harder to deal with than drug addiction. One can avoid drugs and alcohol, but one can not avoid food. But know I really, and I do mean really, take a closer look at the nutritional label. Things I used to eat and thought were healthy turned out to be as unhealthy (if not more so) than things we all consider to be bad for us. Talenti Sorbet, for example, should be healthy. After all, it’s fruit that’s been blended, perhaps with some juice, and frozen. Talenti also adds over 30 grams of additional sugar. Eating Ben & Jerry’s is healthier in this instance because B&J has actual protein in it. And that’s scary, sad, and incredibly eye opening. So not only do I have to make sure I eat more protein and less carbs (basically I eat a low carb-high protein diet that is similar to KETO, but not quite), I have to look at the amount of sugar that’s included, trying to avoid harmful fake sugars (laxative effect), but also try to have a balance that includes fruit, vegetables, dairy, etc. Do I always succeed? Some days I do really well and others not so well. There are products some patients love that I cannot tolerate (taste, etc), and some that I enjoy and others don’t. And this is perfectly normal. Even though I know people who have had the same surgery, or similar, to mine, we are all still individuals with different tastes. 

The point of sharing all this is very, very simple. People, even people who have known me and my struggle to lose weight for years, think having Bariatric Surgery is a quick fx and an easy out. There are people, high profile too, who blast those of us who have undergone such a procedure. This is wrong. Bariatric Surgery isn’t like having an elective plastic surgery to do a face lift. One, for the most part, can live with having wrinkles and laugh lines. Such things do not, and I mean this wholeheartedly, DO NOT improve anything other than one’s ego and vanity. I’m not talking about plastic surgery that has to be done for medical reasons (because that does exist and valid medical reasons are VALID for a reason). Weight loss surgery is done because it improves the life of the patient who will otherwise suffer ongoing and worsening medical issues. This is a surgery which is done to save lives because it does.

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Without this surgery, I knew I would probably not live past 50 without having issues such as blindness, limb amputation, etc. Now, I feel like I can live to be 100. I am happy. My depression is better. My anxiety is better. I no longer have to take medication in order to sleep because of my anxiety. I don’t have to take medication to help the depression medication work better. I’ve gone from 3 pills for Depression to 1. Two medications for Diabetes to one. I used to take 10 prescriptions a day. Now, I take half that. I used to go through a rescue inhaler a month (at the bare minimum). I haven’t had to refill my rescue inhaler in 7 months. I still have it and carry it. But now I don’t feel chained to my asthma. So, if you are considering having this done, talk to a doctor. Reach out to the various support groups that are out there. Research, research, research. If you decide to go for it, I am happy for you. If you find you cannot, but want to try a different program to lose weight, I am happy for you. No matter what, I am happy for you because you are the one making the decision. I only want to share my experience and my reasoning. If this ends up helping one person, then I am glad.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16839478

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265215

https://www.businessinsider.com/bmi-is-bogus-best-way-to-tell-if-youre-a-healthy-weight-2016-9

https://www.bariatricpal.com/topic/346977-why-getting-sleeved-was-the-biggest-mistake-of-my-life/

https://www.obesityhelp.com/forums/amos/5250564/Gastric-sleeve-biggest-mistake-of-my-life/

https://www.gastricsleeve.com/forum/showthread.php?t=52900

https://www.abc15.com/news/region-phoenix-metro/central-phoenix/weight-loss-surgery-in-mexico-might-not-be-as-safe-as-advertisede

New Year-Who Dis?

It’s been a long while since I’ve last done any writing. My long standing HP laptop of 11+ years finally gave up the ghost. I had prolonged it’s life by using a USB mouse and keyboard (as both had long since stopped working circa 2014). It was a powerhouse of a laptop and even had one of those ancient things called a DVD/CD Burner & Reader with a glorious 17″ screen. Yes, dear reader, I loved this laptop. So I started to look for a replacement and had found one in another HP (this one geared towards gaming BUT it had more memory and better RAM than those geared towards writing). So I waited until my tax refund came in only to have it all confiscated by the US Dept of Education to pay off loans (previously owned by Navient) that were on deferment until January 2021 (or so I thought). Now with the virus and all it entails, I waited for my stimulus check and with that, headed to get the laptop I wanted only to find that practically everything out there had been bought up. The only ones left were three versions of ACER, the more expensive HP ($700 versus the $300 one I wanted is a bit much right now), a Lenovo touchscreen, some other inexpensive/unknown name, and a Samsung Chromebook. I like Samsung. I’ve had a few other of their products. And at $200, it was cheaper, decently priced, and most of all, the last one left. I bought it and it’s taken me all of a week to sit down and write this new posting (getting used to typing on an actual laptop is a bit weird, OK?).

Since last year, many changes have occurred. Some for the best and some not so good. May 2019, I underwent Gastric Sleeve Surgery. My biggest weight (pre-surgery) was probably 340-350lbs. I had been 300 when surgery was approved and had lost an additional 12 to be 288 the day of surgery (the pre-op diet is a killer, but worth it). Now, 6 weeks ago, I was happy to report that I was 215. Today, I am at 229. Yes, I have gained 15 lbs in 6 weeks. I am not alone in this regard as many of us are stressed out, bored, and eating more comforting things, like sugary and carb laden items, because of the stress. Some are turning to drinking-heavily. Some are turning to smoking. We all have our triggers and we all have our go-to methods of self soothing. I tend to turn to things that are crunchy-salty (think crisps, pretzels, nuts, popcorn) and also sweet (cookies, donuts, chocolate, etc). I am also very tired and stressed as there are currently three of us running a 24/7 store at the moment, which means sudden blood sugar drops and lack of energy have made me turn to things that can give me a quick boot of energy. My coffee has gone from using a protein shake as creamer with some stevia to sweeten it to using regular creamer, hot cocoa, and stevia. Now, I worked this morning, and will be working this evening (yes, a split shift) and instead of coffee this morning, I opted for mint tea with one stevia packet. Oddly enough, I tend to drink tea as it is, sometimes a little lemon or honey. Rarely anything else (splash of milk if it’s an Earl Grey). But I had over brewed the tea bag, so as it was a tad bitter, a little stevia made it bearable. Plus it gave me that hint of sweetness I have been used to having lately.

Now, I could have cried, gotten more upset, and possibly turned to food over the realization that I have gained weight. Not to mislead, but I was upset. It’s been something I have suspeted for at least a month as pants are a little more snug and bras seem to be a bit fuller than they should be. My face looks a little more round than I want it to be. And you know what? That’s ok. Losing all the weight that I have is a major accomplishment. This globl pandemic is something none of us expected to occurr. I went from working out 3 to 4 times a week to not being able to work out at all. Now, I have been able to increase my steps. I went from doing a little under 2K to averaging 5K 3 times a week at the onset of this pandemic. I now easily do 7-8K a day. I am happy with that and hope I can keep walking 8K a day after everything returns to a more normal state of existence. I do credit the increase in walking with not gaining more weight, so I do know if I stick to  more rigid eating plan the increase in walking will start to show in a loss at the scales. So, to day, instead of curling up in a ball of defeat, I went and purchased two 12 packs of high protein shakes (30 grams protein), along with three 4 packs of like items (mainly, different flavors). Now, I do have some unflavored protein powder on hand, but haven’t really experimented with it. I have, to great success, added a scoop to a batch of homemade vanilla berry Chia seed pudding in the past. It’s something I plan on making again tomorrow (or Saturday) as it’s filling, high in protein and fiber, and low in calories. The most I should be eating is between 4-6oz a meal and I should be at 1000 calories or less until I reach my goal weight. Having looked at my food tracker (I use 2 different ones, Baritastic & Fitbit), I have been averaging closer to 1600 calories a day, which would be fine IF I was working out still and burning twice that a day. I am still learning and will own up to eating more than I should. But I will do better because acknowledging one’s mistakes is key to rectifying this issue.

So, why write about this? Because I reached out to a fwe people in an online Bariatri support group (I was part of three, ow only 2) and I was bombarded with notifications that I needed to see my Surgon and look into getting a revision done. Now, I’m not going to bash anyone who’s had to undergo a revision surgery. There are many reasons as to why someone goes from lapband to sleeve, or sleeve to bypass, or lapband to bypass, etc. Lapbands are not really done anymore due to complications that occur, one being that the band itself can twist and can cause serious gastirc pain. So, yes that is a valid reason for having the lapband removed and possibly undergoing a different baritric surgery afterwards (some do this at the same time, others wait for the body to heal). And I have read blogs and postings from others who regret ever underoing weigth loss surgery. It happens. Not everyone is mentally prepred for all this is going to entail. You must hange the way you eat and look at food for the rest of your life and that is scary. Now, I love to research so I did a lot of research. By a lot, I mean I have two or three Pinterest boards full of information, not to mention 2 binders (one given to me by my surgeon). I have topics ranging from information to meal ideas to hints, to notes taking in meetings, to little tidbits sch as products that are good r ones that I tried and hated. It’s a journey and I was determined to do my best. And I do feel that I am. Now, getting back to the group that I have left. Many in the group (I will not snitch) felt that any weight gain less than a year out from surgery indicated that my surgery was a “failure” and I needed to either have my stomach made smaller (a revision of the original surgery) as my stomach has clearly stretched out (I doubt it as if I drink 6 oz of water too fast, I will vomit) or I need to undergo bypass because I am gaining weight. Now, I am not aware of anyone is aware of this, but it’s perfectly natural for weight to fluctuate. I know the week before my period, I start to feel bloated, my breasts swell up and hurt, and the scale will go up 2-5 pounds (I should also mention that it’s THAT week for me, so 15 pounds may only be 12 plus 3 from this). It’s something that I have had to get used to (as well as having HORMONES, CRAVINGS, and, uh, NEEDS) that I have never experienced before. Unlike most of my fellow females out there, I have never had  regular cycle from the start an never really experienced things like PMS as others did. A month after surgery, I started. And yes, people in this group thought I was joking and made fun of me for it. It’s nothing to be laughed at as one of the main reasons women undergo Bariatric Surgery is PCOS and other hormone/weight related issues. I was always diagnosed PCOS (most women, FYI, are diagnosed with this) but my Endocronologist conducted a test that proved while I didn’t have PCOS, I was borderline. She also is the one who brought up having this surgery and has been really, really, awesome (I see her for Type 2 Diabetes and for birth control).

Now, weight gain after sugery is also fairly normal. My goal weight, according to the BMI chart (which is laughable in how inaccurate it is) says for my height of 5 feet 8 inches, I should be between 125-145 to have  normal BMI. Now, this chart doesn’t tkae into considertion body shape, especially bone structure, hips, and geneti disposition. My surgeon and I agree that an ideal weight for my height and body shape would be about 165-185, which according to the BMI chart would still make me overweight. Of course, at 125, I would look skeletal and not at all healthy. My goal is to hit about 175. Why 175, you may ask? Because almost every paper and medical study I was able to read (and get access to thanks to friends at universities who sent me PDF of medical journal articles), it’s common and normal for Bariatric patients to gain 10-20 pounds one to two years after reaching a goal weight. Now, a few studies from Europe concluded that gaining more than 10 pounds was considered a “failure”. Some of these same studies also felt that women who got pregnant after surgery were also “failures” because they gained weight during pregnancy. One of the guys whom my surgeon touts as a success story would be considered a failure be cause he gained probably close to 30 lbs since reaching his goal weight. Yet his weight gain has been muscle, not fat and I think he looks better now than he did when he first reached his goal weight.  That’s one area I feel should be studied more and that’s people who have undergone the surgery, and then have gone on to do things like build muscle, and toned, etc., as all experts will agree that muscle weighs more than fat. So if I reach my goal weight, but then build muscle and tone, yes I may go up in weight, but I may also go down in size and will also be healthier, and happier, than I was before surgery.

I don’t think it’s a failure. When you reach a goal weight, it’s a feeling of success. Many people have actually dropped close to 5-10 pounds after reaching their goal weight (so, they are under the goal weight) until they stabilize. Remember, to lose the weight, we tend to be on a strict 1000 calorie diet (60-80 grams of protein, under 100 carbs daily). And being on this kind of eating plan can last as long as needed until the goal weight has been reached. For some, it’s about 16 months. For others, it can last 30 months. Some choose to stay on it forever. My surgeon has state once a goal weight is reached, you then increase your food intake (yes, you start to eat more) until you are at a maintenance level. For me, that is probably somewhere between 1200-1600. And when I was working out so much, eating 1200, or even up to 1300 wasn’t too bad. Now, eating closer to 1600 is not good, but I am only human and I am still LEARNING.

So far today, I have consumed 840 calories, had 24 oz of water (plus the shake gives me a total of 35 fl oz out of 64 needed), but I have also walked 3500 steps and burned 1700 calories so far today. Now, if I can keep my calories under 1400 today, I can try to keep it under 1200 tomorrow, then work my way to being between 900-1000. Yes, it’s hard. I’m still stressed out. I miss going to the gym but I am going to look into some workout videos on Amazon Prime that I can do. I miss my boyfriend (yes, I met a terrific guy at the end of January/beginning of February and I am very happy and very much in love; he’s also super super supportive, a writer, and loves classic films). We fit together very well and I miss being able to just be with him (he suffered an AFIB attack 2 weeks back, so out of concern for his health, I have stayed away because he’s slightly immune compromised at this point in time. But you know what? I’m ok with this because I realized when he had his attack that I couldn’t imagine my life without him and knew that I loved him. And that means we must deal with this little inconvenience (and that’s all it is, an inconvenience) for a short while.

So, life has been a series of ups and downs since I last posted. Mainly ups, but few downs. Besides gaining a little wight, and losing my laptop, I broke a tooth that needs a crown. My Fitbit Charge 2 broke completely, so I purchase the Inspire HR (same features and cheaper) The lilacs are starting to come out. The grass is green and flowers are blooming. Henry is a year old (the new kitteh) and roughly 14lbs (he’s a chonky ginger boi). My niece will be three this year and she’ll soon have a little brother. Close friends of mine are also expecting their second, so life goes on. Yes, this epidemic is horrific. Yes, we are all stressed out. But we can survive, we can learn, we can be kind.

Prior to May 2019, the most I weighed was 350lbs. My A1C was over 10. I was on 80 units of insulin a day. I was taking a pill to help me sleep and another to deal with anxiety on top of the antidepressant. I had to take Iron and Vitamin D supplements because of an ongoing deficiency. I was a size 24/26 dress size, 44/46DDD Bra Size. I routinely had hospitalizations due to Asthma and Diabetes issues.

As of April 2020, My weight is 229lbs. My A1C was 5.9 and I am no longer on insulin, only on Victozia. I take 2 Flintstones Chewables plus 2 Calcium gummies a day along with Biotin (for hair loss, which is common after any major surgery). I only take an antidepressant. I have only used my inhaler twice this month (both times due to strong bleach smells). I wear a size 16/18 top, 12/14 bottoms, 40DD bra. Last fall was the first fall I can remember not having to go the ER for a bad asthma attack. I still am prone to Anemia BUT no other issues. I can keep up with an active 3 year old.

So, take care. Stay safe. And for goodness sake, it’s OK to be human. It’s OK to make mistakes.

Grief (Part 1)

In January of this year, I lost my Grandmother. It was hard and sad but I find myself not overly grieving over her death, which comes as a shock to many in the family because I was close to her. Was being the operative word.

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Grandma Yarrington & I; I think I am about 1 or 2.

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Uncle Joe & I at a family reunion, probably about 2000. His wife, Arlene, had passed away at this point.

Two years ago, my Grandmother was dangerously sick and was placed in Hospice. Her kidneys and liver were not functioning and many of us thought she was near the end. A lot of grieving was done. But she bounced back and refused to let go. She went home to her trailer and refused for a nurse or nurse’s aid to come in and see to her well being. I should mention that she was notoriously stubborn. She went on dialysis and it seemed to do well for her. The two aunts who are close by are extremely inept and fought over every little thing to do with her health. One convinced my grandmother to give her power of attorney, which devastated my mom as she and her brother had it. My mom is a nurse and one would logically think she would be the nest person to handle medical issues. One would think, anyways. But these two aunts are inept and cruel, not to mention just all out exasperating. Both barred me from contacting my grandmother and they did, in turn, isolate her from the other grandchildren as well. To be fair, my grandmother was not particularly close to any of the grandchildren except for my bother and I. And I believe one of the reasons for this was because we lived in Illinois, not in Michigan, so we were conveniently distant from the day to day issues and anxiety that arose all the time. Grandma’s love was conditional.

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Grandma Weld (my Grandma’s Mom), and I in December 1982.

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My father and I at the same event as the previous picture.

It’s really sad to write this, but her love was conditional. When we were all little, she loved all of us and delighted in having the grandkids over for things like have ice cream or cookies, etc. But as we all got older, because my brother and I weren’t around, she grew distant from the others. Because they grew up and were no longer children. they had  thoughts and feelings that were not in line with her thoughts and feelings. And that’s hard to accept. I noticed that about 5 or 6 years ago, things began to drive my Grandmother from me. While she normally liked talking on the phone with me every week, she started to not want to talk to me. I would write letters and got no response, which I accepted since her hands weren’t as steady as they once were, but not being able to talk to her was hard. Now, I loved my Grandma. I really did and I still do. Nothing will ever change that. But Grandma wasn’t perfect. She was stubborn, quick to anger and slow to forgive. She was not a reader, so never understood my passion for books. Now, her husband, my grandfather, was a reader. It was something instilled in him by his mom, Edith. My grandfather died when my mom was a teenager so any information I have on him as a person came from my Uncle Joe, his brother.

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Dadi and I, 1981.

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My mom and I, 1981.

When Dadi died (my father’s mother), Grandma resented that I mourned her. Dadi is the one who gave me my name. She came over when I was born and spent months taking care of me. Like myself, she was a poet and was published (and well known). She knitted and loved me. And I loved her. I still love her. I am more like her than I care to admit with my short, fat fingers, my love of the Arts, and the poetry. Grandma resented that. So, the fracture betwixt us started when I was 12. She also resented that I grew close to my Uncle Joe.  In College, I would call him every week just to talk. Now, he didn’t always answer, being hard of hearing in both ears he would take out the hearing aids when he wanted quiet time to work on a crossword puzzle or when reading. He taught me how to fish. He and Arlene, his wife, loved Elvis (who doesn’t) and they just were a happy, loving couple. He was the closest thing I had to a grandfather on my mother;s side. I miss him a lot.

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My brother & I in front of the Giant Chicken that, sadly, has been removed in recent years. It used to be outside of a Fried Chicken Restaurant in Michigan.

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Grandma and her second husband, Turk. Both loved each other but were both stubborn. They divorced but still saw each other. He loved her until the day he died. This was taken on January 25, 1975.

But that’s not to say my Grandma was all terrible and ugliness. She thought it funny that I have a thing for Paleontology, so would often send me clippings of new Dinosaur or even findings in Egypt. She taught me to sing “Hey Good Lookin'” by Hank Williams by the time I was three and I still can sing it because I have it memorized. It’s also a very inappropriate song to teach a three year old, but I guess I was cute singing it. She taught me how to make very fine stitches when hand-sewing. She encouraged my drawing and musical skills like singing. Grandma had a led foot and could flirt her way out of a speeding ticket. She enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics because she used to ice skate. She used to bowl and be very good at it and I remember her taking me and teaching me to bowl using her ball. She liked the Beach Boys and Elton John. Grandma always had canaries growing up. She had a few finches later on too. She also had a thing for penguins because “they are always well dressed.” She also had a thing for Garfield the cat. Other than birds, Grandma wasn’t an animal person, but she loved our one dog Beethoven (he adored her) and thought our cats were funny. Grandma loved butter pecan ice cream, cherry cordials, and fruit Mentos. So, it’s not as if I don’t have any good memories.

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My Grandma, Doris Weld, summer 1943.

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Grandma, aged 75, in AZ on a Harley. She developed a taste for them in her late life.

Grandma also had a little girl (or young lady) ghost in her trailer. Apparently the spirit liked it when I visited when I was little and would touch my teddy bear (which I still have). Mainly, the ghost would sit on her feet, wake her up, and then go away. Now, I’ve never seen the spirit, but it was always a running joke that when her trailer became too crowded with all of her stuff (she was a hoarder), the ghost decided it was too crowded and left. Grandma also once made me promise to “take” the ghost with me when she died. I don’t think it’s possible and since I’ve never seen the spirit, I cannot “take” it with me. She also made me promise to write her eulogy. I believe she feared that no one would want to speak at her funeral. So I did write her one. I didn’t get a chance to deliver it and that’s OK. A pastor and my Uncle Bill spoke at her funeral. My aunts didn’t dress her int he outfit she wanted to be buried in, which I am still upset about. She didn’t look peaceful, but then the toxins in her body made her stiff and it wasn’t easy to prepare her. Yes, I spoke to the funeral staff to thank them. They did their best with the makeup as my one aunt refused to give them any of Grandma’s makeup. She also refused them to allow them to do her nails, which I think would have been nice. But I cannot change what happened.

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Teddy and I, 1982. That bear was already 20 yrs old when I got him. I still have him.

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Teddy at Camp Innisfree (Howell, MI) in 2012. Still here. Still a bear.

I’m trying not to sound flippant but no matter how much it upsets me over things like her clothes, the nails, the makeup, the fact remains she was passed caring. And I had to accept this. Now, I feel guilty over not mourning her as much as I think I should. But i also realize that when she was sick two years ago, I truly mourned her and have been for close to two years. I mourn the closeness we once shared that just disintegrated. I mourn the fact that she didn’t like it that I grew up. I mourn that she never got to see Vivienne in person, never made it to my brother’s wedding. I mourn that she never really appreciated all that my mom did for her. I mourn that I can no longer call her just to chat.

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Grandma on her 75th Birthday wearing the earrings I got her. This was the outfit she wanted to be buried in.