Friday, June 24, 2016

The Apparently Cognitively Demanding Art of Naming a Child

When I was in third grade and lived in the northern California community of Fairfield, I had a friend named Brooke. Brooke was an only child of two moderately eccentric parents.  Brooke's mom was a part-time English teacher for the local high school district. Her father was a pharmacist at a local drug store. Brooke's parents and their aberratons could probably make up an entire abnormal psychology dissertation, but I'll save the dissertation for another occasion. I'll just discuss the birth of Brooke's baby brother tonight. 

Brooke's father, Mr. Pierce,  made himself and his strangely contentious tendencies known in our community in multiple ways, but one way in particular, which happened when I was still living in his community and was still a close friend of his daughter, stands out in my memory.  The Pierces had their second child -- a boy --  in December of the year Brooke and I were in third grade. Despite being in the Pierce home frequently, I had no idea Mrs. Pierce was expecting a baby. The baby was born about six weeks before his due date, which might have explained why Mrs. Pierce did not yet look like a beached whale, but I'm still not sure how they managed to keep all of us so thoroughly in the dark. Mrs. Pierce taught high school students, and even they were supposedly surprised by the addition to the Pierce family.

I didn't see Brooke at all during Christmas vacation. Then Brooke came back to school after Christmas break with her exciting announcement and with spread-eagle action shots of her mom pushing a kid out of her nether regions, followed by the obligatory breastfeeding photos in which Mrs. Pierce was nude from the waist  north. Our teacher, Mrs. Cole, was seated at her desk as Brooke held up each photo from her baby brother's  "birth story" and  couldn't see as Brooke held up the pictures for the children in the class. Mrs. Cole was in the process of completing and submitting her master's thesis that semester and took every available opportunity to rest on the district's dollar. Eventually she lifted her head off her desk for long enough to notice the class' s too-rapt attention to what Brooke was sharing, and wandered over to have a look for herself. The sharing session was abruptly halted. Mrs. Cole very likely had to field parent phone calls that evening concerning the rather explicit photo-sharing opportunity, though I don't recall anything every coming of it.

What I do recall was that, as she was helping Brooke to gather the photos, which she held in her desk for safe-keeping for the remainder of the school day, Mrs. Cole absently asked Brooke what her parents had named the new baby boy. "They haven't decided yet," Brooke answered.

Not too many days later, Brooke was especially excited as the class filed into our classroom. "Mrs Cole!' called out eagerly, "May I share?"

"Do you have any pictures to share this time?" Mrs. Cole asked with understandable apprehension.

"No, I just want to tell everyone something," she said as Mrs. Cole let out a sigh of relief.

"My mom and dad thought of a name for our baby!" she blurted out. "We're going to name him Adam!"

"Very nice," Mrs. Cole said absently.

The next day, Brooke half-dragged her feet, half-stomped them as we made our way into the classroom. Mrs. Cole asked her if anything was wrong.

"My dad said we can't name the baby Adam," Brooke responded.

"Why?" someone in the class asked.

"Because it's from The Holy Bible,"  Brooke explained. "He doesn't like any names that are from The Holy Bible."

"Didn't he know yesterday that Adam is in the Bible?" someone in the class asked. 

Brooke just shrugged.

A few days later, Brooke was once again enthusiastic as she arrived for school. She again asked to share with the class. "No pictures, right?" Mrs. Cole asked before granting Brooke permission to share.

Brooke once again took her place at the front of the classroom. "We found a name for our baby," she declared. "We're going to name him Todd!" 

One of the boys asked if there was anyone named Todd in the Bible. "Not that I know of, " Brooke replied. I remember not being particularly fond of the name Todd, but was relieved nonetheless that the poor child was finally getting a name.

The next day Brooke was once again less than cheerful as she entered the classroom. She didn't even wait for permission to address the class.  "We're not going to name him Todd, either," she muttered.

"What's wrong with the name Todd?" Mrs. Cole asked.

"Too many drug addicts are named Todd," Brooke explained. Mrs. Cole stifled a  laugh. Mr. Cole was named Todd.

A week or so later, Brooke was once again visibly excited as school began. "We found a name!" she enthused.

"What is it this time?"  Mrs. Cole questioned her.

"Jeremy!" she announced.

The next morning Brooke wore a frown as the  school day began. someone in the class asked, "Did your dad find something wrong with the name Jeremy?"

"Yeah," she snarled. "Too many black people are named Jeremy."

"Really?"  Mrs. Cole queried as the walked over to the white board, picked up a dry erase marker, crossed Jeremy off the bottom of a list of three names and left blank the space for the reason as she glanced nervously at Michael, the sole African-American student in our class. I hadn't noticed the list before. I didn't know when she started it.

The next name to be added to the list, if I recall correctly, was Franklin. Franklin was crossed off because Brooke's dad thought too many communists were named Franklin. Chad was added then removed because too many Okies were named Chad. Justin was axed because almost every homeless guy Brooke's father had ever met was named Justin. Bret didn't survive the cut because it was a very common name for male hairdressers. Too many homosexuals were named Evan. (One little boy asked what a homosexual was. "Someone who is gay," I gladly contributed to his knowledge base as Mrs. Cole cringed.) Too many criminals were named Nathan. A disproportionate number of religious zealots were named Stanley. Too many Canadians were named Jeffrey or Geoffrey. Too may welfare recipients were named Aiden. Too many child molesters were named Caleb. Too many Catholics were named Anthony. Too many truck drivers were named Keith. Too many pimps were named Jerome. (I doubt anyone in the class other than Brooke knew what a pimp was, but we all sensed it was a good idea to leave that one alone.) I remember Mrs. Cole saying "I saw this one coming from a mile away" as she crossed Kevin off the list because it was too Irish. 

Mr. Pierce's list of prospective names and the reasons for rejecting them the next day, in and of themselves, comprised an entire course in sociology. One night at dinner as I was sharing the latest name and Mr. Pierce's reason for rejecting it, my mom mused aloud that she suspected that Mr. Pierce was sober in the morning when he or someone else in the family came up with the name, but then threw the name out for the first reason that popped out once his blood alcohol content reached 0.24. In retrospect, there was probably more than a shred of truth to her theory, although, considering Mr. Pierce's line of work,  a substance even more potent than alcohol may have been the operative agent. My dad didn't say much of anything as I recall. He and Mr. Pierce had once bonded over a bottle of Atomic Fireball whiskey, which they took turns passing back and forth and pouring into their fruit punch as they sat through an especially tiresome class presentation of an obnoxious parody of Snow White. My dad was one of the few adults in the community to whom Mr. Pierce spoke voluntarily.

The list grew so cumbersome that it practically took over our entire front white board. (When Open House was held the last week of April, Mrs. Cole discreetly papered over the part of the white board containing the list with a display of our Mother's Day haikus, but Brooke enthusiastically tore our haikus from the wall the next day as she came in with her latest name addition to the list.)  When the list reached the point that Mrs. Cole could no longer put our daily oral language assignment on the white board, she carried a long strip of turquoise butcher paper from the office, which she attached to the wall next to the front white board. The children with decent printing (every girl in the class except I and one boy in the class named Ian) took turns transferring the names and the reasons for their eventual rejection onto the butcher paper. By the next-to-last day of school, the list extended from the ceiling almost to the floor. There was room for one more name if it was printed in tiny letters.

On the penultimate day of third grade, Brooke arrived with one more name. She seemed especially excited as this one rolled off her tongue. "Robert is on both sides of the family. William is on both sides of the family. Harrison  was my mom's last name before my parents got married. Pierce is our last name!" I recall Brooke being as proud of the compromise that her family had reached in composing this masterpiece of a name as she might have been if they had come up with the Magna Carta or the quadratic formula. 

Mrs. Cole said something to the effect of "Don't get too comfortable with the name. There might be too many Quakers named Robert William Harrison Pierce," as she knelt on the floor to print what would be the final name submission. Much to Mrs. Cole's and to many of her classmates' surprise, Brooke didn't announce a repudiation of the name when she arrived at school the next morning. I'm not sure at what point the name became legal, but Will, as he was called by the family, is now thirteen years old and is still Robert William Harrison Pierce.  

Brooke took the butcher paper list of all of her brother's potential names home with her on the final day of school. Mrs. Cole was concerned that Mr. and Mrs. Pierce might be offended, but Brooke assured her that it her parents were not easily offended. If Will were born today, he would probably have an entire Facebook page dedicated to his potential names and with anyone in the cyberworld who had an opinion weighing in with it in the "comments" section. Alas, as he had the misfortune of coming into existence even before MySpace, the saga of his name is memorialized only on butcher paper and now in this blog.

Interestingly enough, Robert William Harrison Pierce is only one of two children I know who had teeth in place well before their parents got around to naming them. My parents' friends the Ratzlaffs took almost five years to come up with the name Michael for their little boy. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Graphically Violent Fiction

The content of fiction is essentially without inherent limitations, at least as adult authors are concerned. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America protects any person's right to dictate the content of any work he or she creates. In practice, this carte blanche extends only to adults. Constraints to content may also be enforced by anyone who wields control over any given forum through which any given work may be presented: a publisher generally publishes what the publisher desires to publish, or the owner of a website chooses what may appear at the website, for example. Furthermore, a minor's right to freedom of expression extends only as far as the minor's guardian allows it to extend. For the most part, however, as long as the creation of a work of fiction is neither an act of plagiarism nor of libel, the author's will reigns supreme.  Just because anything can be written in the name of artistic license under the banner of fiction, however,  does not mean that anything under the sun necessarily should be written.

I'm rapidly approaching a chapter of my life in which leisure time will become a distant memory. Any extra time that I'm fortunate enough to find will probably need to be devoted to sleeping, studying, or taking care of absolutely essential business. Consequently, I've been trying to spend almost every spare minute in these past few days either practicing one of my musical instruments or reading.
I've used a few gift cards as well as my Kindle Prime account  to access and read nearly forty books in the the last seven days.  Not everything I've read this past week would impress an internship/residency interview panel. In fact, some of my recent reading material has been the literary equivalent to junk food or worse.  Even with my very relaxed standards at the moment in terms of what Kindle books were worthy of my time, a particular Kindle book has caused me a bit of concern. I will not  name the book or author, or provide too many identifying details here, as I don't want the author to google himself and come across my blog. I'd really prefer to stay off the person's radar screen. If you're interested, feel free to email me or to otherwise ask, and I'll be happy to be more specific.

The book that is bothering me me tells the story of a young man who went through an LDS temple ceremony and was bothered by parts of of the temple ritual.  Other forces as well seemed to be conspiring against the young man. He dealt with his cognitive dissonance by returning to the LDS temple [a year to the day after his initial visit] and shooting everyone he found there.  The descriptions of the action in this shootout in the temple are every bit as graphic and sensational as one might imagine.

I'm not trying to serve as the arbiter of what should or should not be written or published.  Moreover,  LDS temples are far from my favorite places in the universe. I suppose that, on some level, perhaps I can understand why,if a fantasy mass murder has to happen somewhere, an LDS temple would be as good a venue as any.  Nonetheless, I'm not sure it's prudent for modern fiction to feature mass shootings. With terrorism hate crimes of all sorts happening almost everywhere a person looks, and likewise with the inability of some perpetrators of crimes to come up with original ideas for their acts of violence, it might be better not  to provide such challenged individuals with ready-made plots for the Lifetime movies in which they hope to be featured posthumously. 

When I described the movie to my mom, she talked about attending an educators' conference of some sort at which a presenter addressed the topic of graphically and explicitly violent student writing and artwork.  It was all the more ironic after the fact, my mom said, that the presentation was happening just before 10:30  (PDT, one time zone away) on April, 20, 1999. As Dr. Anita Archer of San Diego State University was discussing explicitly graphic student writing, Klebold and Harris were opening fire on the students and staff of Columbine High School. The timing really couldn't have been any more eerie. If that were to happen today, someone would be accessing news on a phone almost as it unfolded. In 1999, though, phones with Internet access were in their early stages. It was extremely unlikely that anyone at that central California event had one.

Dr. Archer told the school personnel something to the effect that a common thread among perpetrators of heinous crimes was that many if not most of them had written disturbingly violent material as students. (Klebold and Harris both had histories of including explicit violence in their writings for school assignments.) Dr. Archer told the educators, among other things,  that they should not allow student writing or artwork graphically violent in nature, and that it should be turned over to proper authorities if it was submitted.

While schools have far more latitude than does society in general in banning graphic violence in written work or artwork, some discretion is obviously in order. Going so far as to say that no one can ever be hurt or killed in any story written at school or for school purposes would be a mistake in most instances. Allowing unlimited explicit violence would be erring equally in the opposite direction. An educator with an IQ approaching 90 should be able to find an acceptable middle ground.

I have no idea what the author of the story described earlier hoped to accomplish with his account of the young man exacting revenge at a Mormon temple. In a perfect world, a person could write a work of fiction with a disconcerting plot. It would be fiction, after all. Writing a work of fiction in which an event takes place shouldn't have to be considered one and the same as condoning the happening of said event.  On the other hand, the world we live in is anything but perfect.  

Stephen King writes all sorts of stories in which characters behave in a deviant manner and commit bizarre crimes. I haven't noticed a lot of psychos imitating the stories of Stephen King in real life.  Perhaps it's just crimes with shooting sprees about which many of us are extra-sensitive now. I only know that if I were a seventh-grade English teacher grading that story as a writing assignment, I would be most uncomfortable. And if it's not OK for a seventh-grader to write it, is it really any more OK for an adult to write it?  Where do we draw the line?


Friday, June 10, 2016

Red Alert!

I wouldn't ordinarily wake people up just before 4:30 a.m. to make an announcement (I know I'm not actually waking anyone up by posting a blog, and that you don't all have alarms set to sound as loudly as sirens at any time a new post appears on my blog so that you  can all run to your computers or grab your phones to catch every word as soon as i hit the "Publish" button, but please humor me in this moment, as my present level of distress is so intense that I deserve to be humored right now), but this one is big. REALLY big.

I have an acne blemish on my forehead. An honest-to-God pimple has dared to invade my heretofore unviolated skin.  It's the real deal -- a zit measuring nearly one millimeter in diameter.

i woke my dad up to demand an Accutane prescription. He said no. (I won't share his precise wording because I've thus far managed to maintain a more-or-less PG13/TV14 rating on this blog, but suffice it to say he denied my request.) When I refused to be so easily dismissed, he got his lazy butt out of bed to find a prescription pad and to scrawl out a prescription for a weaker retinoid, which he insisted was still the dermatological equivalent to treating a hangnail with chemotherapy, but he knew that sleep for him tonight  would have  been a lost cause if he had not written me a script for something

Retinoids used for treatment of acne reduce inflammation and inhibit pore-clogging. In the event that anyone feels the need to log onto WebMD or Wikipedia for the purpose of  acquiring and sharing the knowledge that retinoids are Vitamin A-based, are used for multiple skin conditions including but not limited to wrinkles, age spots, and types of skin cancer, and have been known to be associated with birth defects when used by pregnant women, please keep in mind that I've completed two years of medical school and could have authored the Wikipedia article myself if I had felt thus motivated.

I drove to a twenty-four hour pharmacy and had the prescription filled, and have applied it to the nasty excrescence, which is not a whitehead but, left to its own devices, could easily have turned into one before dawn. I also ordered express delivery of basically every product that the Proactiv company markets. I'm declaring nuclear war on acne. If I had an important event tomorrow, emergency remedies exist to wipe out a single zit in less than twenty-four hours, but since I don't have to leave the house, I won't demand such extreme measures just yet.

I am accepting any and all expressions of sympathy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Book of Mormon in Real Life, People Who Drink Wine, and the Best and Worst of TV

I am so amazingly in vacation mode that my brain is on vacation as well. I'm functioning with what little IQ it takes for a person's autonomous body functions to be  more or less in order plus still maintain the physical ability to manipulate the TV/DVR remote. A friend from med school is here with me. If the truth is to be told, she's functioning not much if at all higher mentally than I am tonight, and we really haven't even had much to drink. OK, I  haven't had much to drink. She's had plenty. 

We're watching some of the greatest and worst TV we can find on any source, including HULU, Netflix, old borrowed or stolen DVDs, and YouTube. In a few moments I'll announce our personal awards for the very best and worst TV has ever had to offer.

But first . . . my mother very graciously offered to accompany a couple of Mormon missionaries this Sunday while they sing some lame-ass song about the Mormon religious bullet point du jour, which is The Atonement. I'm not making light of The Atonement, really. It was a very gracious thing for Jesus to have done. I just think the Mormons are a bit confused about it. I think they even believe it happened in the Garden of Gethsemane (Is that in the Middle East, or is it in Missouri like the Garden of Eden is?) as opposed to on the cross. Regardless of how literally or figuratively a person takes any of this, what would have been the point of Jesus dying such a horrific death on the cross if he had already atoned for the sins of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane? I don't get it.

Anyway, back to my mother and the eighteen-year-old mishies. . . when they were supposed to practice with her this evening, they totally no-showed. I don't know if they realize that my mom was offering them for free what she normally charges something like two-hundred dollars per hour. (I'm talking about her piano accompaniment, by the way. My mother is not a whore,  and you need to get your mind out of the gutter if that was the direction in which your mind was headed.)  So my mother sat at the piano and practiced for about thirty minutes  -- not their lame-ass song, incidentally. She, or I, or probably even my brother's cat Ashley Madison could have played that stupid song in its full arrangement with just one hand (or paw) while blind-folded and wearing earphones blasting Black Sabbath, but instead something by Bach, which, if I recall correctly,  was The Goldberg Variations. After thirty minutes, my mom got tired of waiting for the Mormon missionaries, so she opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass for herself. (My visiting friend also helped herself to a glass of the wine.) By the time the mishies got around to calling a couple of hours later to say they "forgot," my mom and my friend had polished off the bottle and were midway through a second.  Suffice it to say that my mother was not at her most circumspect when she took their phone call. C'est la vie.

I shall return to the main topic of this post, which is my friend Wendy's and my television awards. The worst TV series in history, we're pretty certain, is 7th Heaven.  The casting is horrible, the acting is worse, and the writing is worse still. 

The worst reality series, while most are bad, is probably anything with the Duggars in it. It was heinous before we knew there were perverts and victims right before our eyes pretending to be wholesome and mentally healthy. Once the real scoop was dropped like a bomb, even watching commercials for it became unbearable.

The worst food show is anything with Bobby Flay in it. I'm pretty sure it is physically possible for a person to contract an STD just from watching Bobby Flay on TV.  That's the story my cousin used to explain his STD, anyway, and he's sticking with it.

The best rerun to watch when you're drunk or stoned is something from the Law & Order genre. There's so much crossover between actors who played perps in one show, victims in another, then cops or ADAs in another that you think you are drunk or stoned when watching it even if you're not. You have to be drunk or stoned to be able to delude yourself into thinking Angie Harmon is anything but an aging model or perhaps a crash-test dummy, besides. Has the woman ever had an acting lesson in her life? Where did they find her?

The best TV courtroom show is Judge Alex. No explanation is necessary. Just watch it when it becomes available in reruns soon.

The stupidest yet most compelling medical drama or whatever it is ever to be televised has to be House, M.D. The entire premise on which the show is based is so utterly asinine that it's pointless to try to justify the show's existence except that the acting is incredible and the writing is even better. It is also the source of my nickname (Cutthroat Bitch), which sticks to this day.

The greatest sitcom episode in history is the Greg Pikitis episode of Parks and Rec. If anyone ever erases it from my DVD either at home or at the condo, I may be forced to commit premeditated execution-style murder.

My mom left her cell phone in my room. The Mormon missionaries are still texting her. I thought they were supposed to go to bed at 11:00 or something like that.  Maybe they're texting her from their beds. They probably have serious hots for my mother in a sick, sordid, "Mrs. Robinson" sort of way. I don't know if I should leave well enough alone or text the missionaries back pretending to be my mother.

a still shot from the famous Greg Pikitis episode of Parks and Rec

Monday, June 6, 2016

I should have just taken the easy way out and read OH THE PLACES YOU'LL GO.

Did I ever share that speaking in public is, for me, about as high on my list of Things I Want to Do as is transporting a hornet's nest from California to Utah with my bare hands? If I didn't, it's just something that slipped my mind, because it's the absolute truth.

I  mentioned about a year ago that the high school from which I graduated had asked me to speak at its commencement ceremony  this year. It's a tradition for my alma mater to pick a student from the graduating class of five years earlier who would seem five years after graduation to embody the qualities for which the high school's administration would wish for its current crop of graduates to strive. The choice of a graduate speaker is tough at best, as we're at a point at which most of us are either barely embarking on careers or even still in school of some sort. The choice can be political. For whatever  reason, local community leaders are competitive in regards to whose offspring has been invited to speak at graduation and whose hasn't. 

To the high school's credit, the administrative panel who makes the choice as to whom to extend the privilege of speaking at the commencement ceremony hasn't been overly exclusive. Two years ago, the guy who spoke was a community college graduate who had founded and funded a nonprofit organization that filled in some of the gaps of social services in existence for foster children aging out of the foster care system. Higher education isn't something at which to be scoffed, but in all seriousness, I could join my father's foundation, and we might someday achieve our ultimate dream of finding a cure for lymphocytic leukemia, yet I'm not at all certain that what we would have accomplished in doing such would have been greater than or even equal to what the guy who helps foster children in transitioning to adulthood does on a daily basis.

One of the very last things I really want to do with my free time is to deliver a speech of any kind anywhere. Yet there is a concept  known as obligation.  I received a quality education from my high school, and perhaps I owed it to them to show up and to say a few words on behalf of the graduating class, not that it mattered to any of the graduating seniors in the least if I did or didn't. Someone else would have shown up to speak had I not done so. In the end, I did what I thought was the right thing to do, and I showed up. I suppose maybe it did matter to the graduates that it was i who  came because I used up only five of the ten minutes allotted for my speech, so the grads escaped the confines of their ceremony and were free to party five minutes earlier than they otherwise would have been.

To me, the very idea if choosing someone just five years out of high school to speak to graduates is a ludicrous idea. People of my age and experience level little of substance to share with kids just leaving high school. And, for that matter, the administrators could end up making themselves look foolish, as they did four years ago, when the person they invited to be the alumni speaker less than a year later ended up in federal prison for having used his computer and printer to manufacture counterfeit cash. 

I tried to get Matthew to deliver the speech for me. He said he'd go there with me, but that  he was not giving the speech this time. If they had wanted him, he said, he would have been the one they invited.

I could have told funny stories about high school, but the stories I might have told would probably have been no more or less funny than the ones the with which graduates themselves could have come up. (For those of you who are grammar purists who have a nearly anaphylactic allergy to ending sentences with prepositions, I wish to ease your minds by reminding you that "come up with" is not technically a prepositional phrase, but, rather a phrasal verb.) i could have preached at them about everything people in their age group were doing wrong, but I'm only five years ahead of them in school and only three years older than most of them; my age group is guilty of the very same sins.

I chose to tell the graduates just a very little bit about college and university that they might not yet have considered. I asked for those who planned to become preschool, elementary, or high school teachers to raise their hands. Out of the eight-hundred or so graduates, probably ten raised their hands. Then I asked that the two people on either side of those had just raised their hands to raise their hands along with those of the prospective teachers, then shared that, statistically, odds were that the actual number of teachers would be closer to the number of hands raised the second time than the first.  I mentioned that not everyone who goes to college, or even everyone who completes his or her originally planned degree program, will end up working in that field. For whatever reason, when life doesn't work out as it has been planned, many people end up as teachers. If life works itself out in such a way that one finds himself or herself doing the very last thing many people ever thought they would do, which is to teach, one has the obligation to be the very best teacher he or she can possibly be. The fact that it may not be a career choice but instead may happen by default  will not be the fault of the future students, who deserve and need the very best teachers they can possibly have.

I condensed everything else into five bullet points, some longer than others but all relatively brief. (I'm mildly hyper-thyroid; those of us who have thyroid functions in the high ranges tend to talk fast.) In the end, I wrapped it up in four minutes and fifty-four seconds from the first word to the last. I received a standing ovation, more because of the brevity of my speech than because of anything else, i'm quite sure. Last year's speaker exceeded his allotted ten minutes by an additional six.

Bullet Point #1 consisted of my opinion that the guy I would consider to have achieved more than any other graduate in the history of our high school (and we have Nobel prize winners among our alumnae) only went as far as junior college. We can all earn PHDs, but ultimately someone has to remove trash from the streets and repair broken  refrigerators. Education is a good and noble thing, but neither should any of us be education snobs.

Bullet Point #2 was that that while college is supposed to be a time of broadening one's horizons and exposing oneself to new and different ideas, college or university success is also about a series of hoops through which one must successfully jump if one wants to earn the piece of paper conferring a degree. In each course of somewhat subjective subject matter, every professor has something he or she wants to hear. The job of the student is to figure out what it is that professor wishes to hear and to tell it back to him  or her in every paper and on every test. A student can make every course a battle ground and can butt his or her head against a wall in a twice-weekly basis and  can walk away with a C at best in every course, or can make the system work for himself or herself. It's a personal choice, but an easy one for anyone with common sense  One will have a whole lifetime to practice the Shakespearean principle of being true to thine own self. For now, take the grade.

Bullet Point #3 was  that conversate is not a word that is even spoken, much less written, by educated people. Its popular usage sprang from the clientele of Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, and Judge Alex. 

Bullet Point #4 was that anyone who planned to attend college had the option of affiliating with a Greek system or not doing so. To pledge or not to pledge is another  entirely personal choice, but one should not be so foolish as to operate under any delusion  that fraternity or sorority membership would in any way make a person better than he or she was without fraternity or sorority affiliation or superior to anyone who did not have such an affiliation. 

Bullet Point#5 was that however rough a day, week, or year anyone is having, chances that are someone else is having it even rougher. Sometimes you don't know who that person is, but if you open your eyes just a bit, you will see. Offer a kind word. Offer a granola bar or a meal if a fellow student is hungry and still waiting on funds. No one expects anyone to empty his or her bank account for anyone else's benefit, but a piece of fruit or a package of ramen noodles won't set a person back very far. Sit by the person in class that no one else usually sits near. Help to explain a difficult concept to a struggling student. Don't be the asshole (I didn't actually say asshole, BTW) who asks deliberately confusing questions in class just to show off when others in the class are doing everything they can to understand even the basic subject matter. Above all, be kind to others whenever one can. I've never once regretted any act of kindness I've committed.

I'm just hoping now that I don't end up on Youtube. I didn't say anything profound enough really to merit such a posting, but then, I've seen a whole lot of stuff on Youtube that wasn't particularly profound.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The test is finished!

Have a LifeSaver . . . It'll make you feel better.

Security concerning the USMLE is tight, and so I cannot say much here about it. I had a bit of trouble with vomiting before and during the test. Because I tossed my small breakfast before the test, I knew when the waves of nausea began to hit as I was preparing to enter my testing room that I needed accommodation in the form of a wastebasket into which to upchuck. The monitor initially dismissed me with an "Everyone here feels that way. Get over it." I promptly hurled into the trashcan that was at his feet. There wasn't a great deal left in my stomach, but there were just enough gastric juices remaining to impress the monitor.

The monitor/proctor's first course of action was to attempt to get me to reschedule and even said he was reasonably certain the rescheduling fee (not cheap, by the way) would be waived since I had vomited in the presence of a testing center supervisor. It reminded me a bit of middle school, when a kid had to barf in the presence of an adult to be considered sick enough for a parent to be called. Even physical evidence of the vomitus itself wasn't sufficient. For all the school health aide knew, it could have been a can of Dinty Moore beef stew that a kid opened and poured at some opportune location in order to get out of school.

Nauseated or not, I didn't push myself this far to skip out the morning of the test and prolong the agony for another three to twenty-six days. I know my rights, or I at least pretend really well to know my rights. I was determined to take that damned test today. With my gastritis limited to my oral cavity, the test was doable. 

The testing center goons first had to determine that I was not risking anyone else's health with my presence. It's never a great idea to be around anyone who is throwing up, as fluids from the healthiest of bodies are germ-laden. Still, I was not carrying any more contagious germs than was the average person. Mine were just flowing out of me a bit more freely than were those of my co-test-takers and proctors.

A testing supervisors paged a physician's assistant who was on-call with the center. He (the PA) concluded that I had no fever and no evidence of norovirus or any other "stomach flu" type of bug. He said that if I was to throw up nearly constantly, however, I would have to give up on  the test for the day. I requested his definition for throwing up nearly constantly. He said that what I did in the privacy of the bathroom on my breaks was my own business, but I was allowed only three more incidents of vomiting in the testing center. At the sign of the fourth episode of puking, I would be forced to leave. I made it with about two minutes to spare. Not thirty seconds after exiting the testing center building, I was tossing cookies into an area overgrown with foliage.

The PA didn't want to prescribe anything for me (although he gave me lots of Lifesavers to suck on and water to drink), but I convinced him to call one of the many doctors who have treated me so that one of them could tell him that I can take Zofran safely. He made the call, and about thirty minutes later, someone arrived with the tablets that dissolve in one's mouth. Without them, I don't think I would have kept my throwing up incidence to the maximum of three episodes.

One might wonder why in hell I wanted to continue with a test when I was too ill to hold down any food. Have you ever had one of those days where, despite whatever might be wrong with your body, you knew your brain was working at maximum capacity? I totally had my mojo, mentally speaking, today. I suspect I could take that test ten times and not score as well as I probably scored today. We will not get results until three to eight weeks from today, but I'm not worried. If anything, I may have over-scored. If you do too well on a medical test (MCAT, USMLE), sometimes interview panels for programs get the idea that you're too cerebral to relate to the population in general and are thus not good physician or surgeon material, at least for their programs, except in cases of rare specialties (neurosurgery et al) where eccentric-to-abnormal behavior tends to be the rule rather than the exception. 

My MCAT was higher than was comfortable for some of my interviewers. On the other hand, I have what my dad describes as  a "gift" of not coming across as tremendously intelligent when I speak. It sounded more like an insult than a compliment when my dad said it, and it probably was intended as such, but I get from where he was coming. With my dad, it's very difficult for him to disguise his high intellect when he talks unless he's drunk, and even then, he usually just just sounds like an exceptionally bright drunk. My mom, on the other hand, is almost as intelligent as my dad, but doesn't have to make it obvious when she speaks that she's operating on a higher plane than about 98% of the people around her. She can speak "academese" with the best of them, but she can also sound like a typical soccer mom if such is her intent, though such is not usually her intent. Perhaps in some way it's a form of  dialectical giftedness to understand and to be able to converse  both in academic and in less formal language -- to cross seamlessly from one linguistic world to another --  to be able to turn the Nikola Tesla vocabulary on when needed or off when the vernacular is more useful or appropriate. Then again, maybe I sound stupid because I am stupid, and my test scores and grades are all fallacies.

Soon enough, I'll be going through the interview process again -- this time for an internship/residency position. I'll then find out if my scores are high enough to pose a problem for me (to me it sounds like a lovely problem to have; I'll
be happy to have a decent score, period) and if my common manner of speech is either sufficient to put the panel at ease concerning my supposed humanity (what other than human -- unless it's sub- human -- could I possibly be?) or so lowbred as to convince panels that I'm not suitable for the practice of medicine. As with so many other things, time alone will tell.

Ready or not, test time is coming.

This is a bit of pre-test anxiety reduction, although this is actually Megan abusing the hotel bed. Perhaps she feels that she's releasing anxiety in me vicariously. She didn't break any lamps, by the way.

I should be asleep, as I need to report to the testing center no later than 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, but sleep is elusive tonight. I'm at a hotel  because even if one has friends or family residing relatively near a testing center when taking a test of such magnitude, one would be unwise to sleep anywhere that is much more than a five-minute walk from the testing site if one had any choice whatsoever in the matter. The hotel is 1.5 blocks from the testing center, and I don't even have to cross a major street to get to the center from my hotel.

I have company. My friend Megan is occupying the extra bed in my hotel room. Her fiance, Jared (the guy who has my name tattooed on his arm) is in a king-sized bed (he's 6'7")  in an adjoining room. If I were not present for this little menage-a-trois of sorts (minus the sex, of course; the night before the most important test of my life is no time to do something so stupid), God only knows what the sleeping arrangements might be. Both Megan and Jared participate at least marginally in religions that frown upon pre-marital sex. Then again, a whole lot of babies (including Jesus, if we choose to be really technical here) have been conceived before marriage by people whose religions denounced pre-marital sex. It's none of my business what they do, and I'm certainly not about to judge them. At them same time, I'd prefer not to wake up at 3:30 a.m. to find that Megan is missing from the bed in my room and that sounds of consummation of carnal impulses of every sort imaginable can be heard through the walls or the closed door of the adjoining room. Do whatever you want, Megan and Jared, but just not when you're with me, or at least not tonight of all nights.

I brought a travel alarm clock. My cell phone has an alarm clock. Megan's and Jared's do as well. We're setting the travel alarm clock and all cell phone alarms for 6:10. My aunt from Santa Barbara is also calling at 6:10. As a back-up, I've pre-set the hotel wake-up call service for 6:15. (The posthumous voice of Mr. Rogers can heard requesting of the children, "Can you say OCD, boys and girls?"

In an interval of less than sixteen hours, this phase of my life will be history. Let us hope it is good history, like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and not bad history, more like the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

P.S. San Diego is lovely this time of year. It was such  stroke of genius to have scheduled the test for the San Diego center.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Phone Sucks!

I've never owned a decent phone in my life. There was a time when it was for good reason, but for now, it's just that no one ever wants to waste the upgrades on me. I'm going tomorrow to buy a new one. I don't give a rat's ass who doesn't like it. I will pay for the phone and the plan myself. 

Anyone who doesn't like it has my blessing to jump over Salto de Tequendama Falls.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Poster Child for Morton Salt

I woke up early this morning after minimal and restless sleep with a bit of a hangover, or at least a headache. The headache may have been from lack of sleep rather than from having imbibed excessive alcohol. I wouldn't know the difference.

The reason I woke up early was that I had set my alarm for 7:15 a.m. because I had committed to play piano, organ, and violin for a wedding scheduled for 2:00 at the chapel in Yosemite Valley. In theory, if one believes any of the Internet driving direction services, the trip could have been made in three hours and fifteen minutes. It simply does not do, however,  for a musician to walk into a wedding chapel fifteen minutes after the scheduled start of the wedding because traffic was bad. I always allow extra time to the extreme  for traffic problems.

Because I was to provide background music when the band was not playing  at the reception as well, part of the compensation was a room Saturday night (tonight) at the Tenaya Lodge.  My total compensation was to be higher than it normally would both because of travel time and because I was not acquainted with the bride or groom or anyone in their respective families. it was a business deal brokered by the mother of the bride, whose older son is an upcoming fourth-year medical student at my school. I was to be paid a total of one-thousand dollars in cash prior to the start of the ceremony in addition to my hotel room. I don't typically require written contracts for such engagements because i usually know some major member of the wedding party well enough to trust him or her, and I'm usually not traveling hundreds of miles to the venue. In this case, I drew up a quick contract (relying on internet forms but running it by my attorney aunt in order to be prudent; she said it appeared iron-clad except that she would have required a 50% deposit). The contract was signed by the bride's mother. A provision of the contract was that cancellation made in writing (certified delivery)two weeks in advance of the event would result in nullification of the contract. A cancellation of less than two weeks but equal to or in excess of a week would require 50% payment. Cancellation with less than a week's notice would require full payment.

Two days ago I received and automated confirmation of the engagement from the wedding coordinator. This morning, headache-y though I may have been, I made myself look as presentable as possible and made the nearly-four-hour-one-way drive to "The Little Brown Church in the Vale" in the heart of Yosemite Valley. i was early, so it didn't cause me undue concern to see no one from my particular wedding party anywhere near the premises. Another wedding was in full swing. as that wedding party exited and moved on to its reception site, I began to grow apprehensive about the lack of presence of the bride, groom, the bride's mother, or anyone else I'd met who was slated to participate in these nuptials. 

Twenty minutes before the wedding was slated to begin, I looked for someone who appeared to be in charge of the facility, but I found no such person. I called the first of my two contact numbers, which went immediately to voice mail. I called the second number, which connected me directly to the bride's mother. 

"The wedding was called off three weeks ago!" she exclaimed.

i let her know as politely as I could that no one had informed me of the change in plans. "It was the wedding coordinator's job to do that!" she insisted.

I reminded her that my contract had been with her and not with the wedding coordinator, and if there was some sort of arrangement between the two of them that made it the wedding coordinator's responsibility to inform me, she would be free to seek reimbursement from the wedding coordinator, but that I expected to be paid by her, the bride's mother, and expected prompt payment.

"That's not going to happen!" she declared.  

"Then I'll see you in court," I countered.

"We'll see about that!" she huffed. "My brother is a lawyer!"

"Ma'am, this will be small claims court," I told her. "I don't think legal representation is even allowed there."

"We'll see about that!" she huffed again. 

"Or you can just pay me the one-thousand-dollars you owe me, " I countered,  - "and I'm not even asking for free lodging, to which I'm entitled. You make the call."

She hung up on me.

As if I don't have enough to do with the USMLE coming up (it appears I'm going ahead with it though I'm not optimistic), I have to file the documents to sue someone in small claims court. It's probably not even worth the thousand bucks to me, but I hate the idea of being stiffed. How  I wish Judge Alex were still on the air.

I'm still feeling flashbacks. It sucks.

where the wedding that did not happen should have taken place

So Very Alone

Have you ever had a time when you really needed someone -- anyone -- and you sent out messages but mostly didn't call because it was too late to call the people you were comfortable calling, and NONE of the people to whom you sent SOS messages responded? One person said she sent a number, but it wasn't in my PMs or emails, so I have no idea who she might have sent it to. The rest didn't even respond. I don't think even God gives a rip what I'm feeling right now.

Did you ever call a suicide hotline? This was my second time of calling one. The lady manning the hotline told me in so many words that I was wasting her time and that while she was wasting time talking to me, a person with a REAL problem might be trying to get through. She hung up on me.

My mom is in Catalonia. My dad is in Argentina. They're no help.

Some would say, and some do say, that my problem isn't a big deal and that I'm making much ado about nothing. That may be true, but when the guy from the exmormon site said that while he wouldn't have personally assaulted me in high school, he totally sympathized with the people who did hurt me - with the girl who stepped on my not-quite healed fractured leg, with the other girl who burned me with a cigarette, with both girls who banged my head on the bathroom floor, with the guy who had apparent intentions of raping and/or orally sodomizing me but since he was unable to complete the act, kicked me hard in a very private place and caused both a hairline fracture and soft tissue damage, and who also kicked my ribs hard enough to break two of them and lacerate my left kidney. It hurt me to the core of my existence to read this supposedly mature man's comments that his sympathy was with my attackers. I don't know what he's doing in an exmormon forum. His "blame the victim" mentality belongs more in the mainstream Mormon church. Does that man really think that just because he finds my writings obnoxious(which no one ever forced him to read) , that I deserve to be on the receiving end of such a vicious attack?

This is dredging up memories like it just happened yesterday. I can feel the places where I was kicked. My head hurts where it was pounded into the tile bathroom floor by the two girls who assisted the thug. I feel the cigarette burn on my thigh. I know it's not rational to feel the pain, or even the terror that accompanied it, but I do feel it all again just like it happened all over again tonight.

My brother is out with friends and apparently thinks it's a good night to stay out all night or at least until the wee hours of the morning. I am hidden in the closet of the master bedroom (I may be lying about where I am hiding just in case the attacker, who is no longer incarcerated, chooses to show up and attack me again tonight); we have an alarm, but sometimes alarms don't work.

I thought I had friends who would be here for me. I know I would have  been there for them. If Claire were here, she would at least call me. Claire is gone now, though, and there won't be another Claire. I even called Claire's parents and left a message, but no one bothered to call back. I guess I don't matter to them much anymore. They've moved on. I gave up a an entire day of studying to provide music for Meredith's parents' wedding. Neither they nor Meredith could be bothered with returning my call. I may need to rethink the status of my real-life friends. It is probably better to have no friends at all  than to have friends who are only your friends when they need something from you. And it's not as though I call on them frequently with crises. The last real crisis with which I bothered them was the attack six years ago.  I cannot blame those whose acquaintances exist through online communications and phone calls. While I may call them friends, they have their own real-life families and friends and problems of their own. 

Chances are that I will still be here in the morning. I'll then decide if I'm in any condition to take the USMLE or even if I ever want to take it. I could just become a busker playing violin or cello on the street.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Is anything worth it?

I'm considering quitting medical school. What is he point of it? What if a person I'm charged with patching up is one of the ones who believes my attackers had every right to have their way with me and to injure me both inside and out? Do I want to help such a person? Do I want to go to so much effort, give up so much sleep, work ridiculous shifts, study, and generally give up any semblance of a normal life so that I can help many people who do not deserve my help?

I have more money in the bank than I'm comfortable disclosing. I could live a very hedonistic life for a few years.  It won't last a lifetime, but my parents probably won't let me starve afterword. I can probably stain slides in one of my dad's labs or teach piano or violin or do weddings and funerals once I no longer have enough money to support myself. Perhaps that is the way to go. Being a doctor is a noble pursuit. I don't feel all that noble anymore. I also feel drunk.

One cannot please everyone, but sometimes the way a person expresses his displeasure is so hurtful that it makes a person want to give up.

This is actually Lawrence Singleton, who raped a young woman and cut off her arms, leaving her for dead. He is one mental image I have when I think of Elder Old Dog. After all, he condones violence.

My Uncle Scott alluded to my most recent blog at . It was through no action of mine that he referenced my blog. The blog was not linked. He can't link my blog on that site apparently, which is fine with me, as I never, ever, wish to have any association with that site for as long as I live.

A regular poster there, who calls himself "elderolddog," opened his remarks by stating to my uncle, "I don't like your niece." I can live with this. Not everyone will like me, nor will they like everything I write. It's real life and how things work. The guy went on to say that what I had posted was essentially much ado about nothing, which is his prerogative. Then he crossed the line by saying that while he personally would not have assaulted me, he had sympathy with my attackers and understood why they would have done such a thing. Other than my uncle, not one person to this point has written a word in support of m)e. I suppose at RFM, if you are an established poster who is generally well-liked, you can say just about anything about anyone. (NOTE: my uncle reported the comment, and a moderator had the decency to take it down.) 

In that attack od six years ago, about which I do not like to give details, I suffered, a re-fractured leg when one of the assailants deliberately stepped on a healing broken tibia and fibula. I was not orally sodomized or raped only because the attacker failed to maintain his erection when I vomited at the sight of his exposed male organ. I suffered a cracked pubic bone from being kicked there. My kidney was lacerated and two ribs were cracked from a kick directed at my ribs and kidney. I was all of fifteen when this happened. And Elder Old Dog sympathizes with my attackers.

I have been a regular reader but only a very infrequent poster at RFM, otherwise known as,.  I plan to have nothing whatsoever to do with the site again. If Elder Old Dog's opinion of me is shared by many other posters there, I surely won't be missed.

Right now I am in a mode in which I somewhat hate the entire world.

This is Charles Manson. His image, too, comes to mind when i think of Elder Old Dog. I don't plan on thinking about him much in the future because I have more important things on which to allow my mind to dwell. Still, at the moment I am hurt by his vile words.

Cliques, Outsiders, and Ways of Excluding the "Undesirbles" Even After High School; BYU Implications

This isn't Jillian, but it might have been for all her social interaction at BYU.

I doubt that any of us completely dodged the cliquish behavior that existed as early as kindergarten but sprang into full bloom in middle school, and by high school took on a life of its own.  From what I could tell, it existed in the boys' world as well, though it was more of a jock or wealth or "bad boys" empire, and except for the relative minority who were truly picked on.  (Bless those who truly were victimized,  and may their tormentors one day discover just how is is to be on the other end of it.) I'm not referring for the most part to true bullying here. We know bullying existed from before the time of Jesus and continues to thrive in some arenas, but I feel that we cheapen or otherwise inflate the meaning of the word if we describe it as bullying each time a person looks in an unkind way at another or spouts the most benign of insults. There was and still is bullying, but, more commonly, the caste system is alive and well in virtually every high school in the U.S., despite what teachers and administrators may choose to believe.

i was among the lucky few. I attended a high school where academics were considered important by most of the student body. This in itself caused me more than a few headaches when I took  senior AP classes as a freshmen; the seniors were less than thrilled about the idea of competing for grades with a freshman who looked more like a sixth-grader. Still, no one in the classes poked fun at me for achieving high scores on tests and papers. They simply would have preferred that I take my high scores back to the freshman classes they felt I should have been enrolled in the first place.

My high school had a bit of the reverse of the typical high school caste system. Good looks will be smiled upon in most settings, but the classic beautiful but brainless male or female was derided at my school much as the classic geek might have been at a more typical school. Excluding the intellectually impaired probably wasn't any more right than picking on a kid who dressed funny, but there was at least the rationale that in a student body with a mean IQ of 130, it was difficult for the average student to find sufficient common ground with the beautiful dimwits, sometimes more lacking in common sense than in actual gray matter, though among those I knew falling under the description, there seemed to be a dearth both of  academic prowess and of the native variety of intelligence that allows most of us to find our respective ways out of paper bags without the necessity of anyone guiding us.

My high school had its cliques, but each clique probably considered itself the most important clique, so there wasn't  a great deal of clamoring for inclusion into any one group or heartache when exclusion occurred.  I loath to dwell on this topic because it does not define who I was at the time it happened or who I am now, but I was assaulted once at school. That wasn't the action of a clique, though. It was a very poor collective choice on the part of three individuals and of a fourth who chose to involve himself in a act intended to intimidate me and/or my family after the fact. I suppose I could even call it bullying, but it wasn't; it was assault. I'll leave it at that.

Most people in high schools across the country experienced more of the tiers of cliques, with many students secretly wishing to ascend to the mutually-agreed-upon upper echelon clique, and others being unceremoniously toppled from their tops spots. Meanness was a bit more rampant under such settings. I hesitate to use the term "mean girls" (while I loved Tina Fey's movie of the same title) because my understanding is that some of those for whom it fits wear it as a badge of honor. I'd rather refer to them as sociopaths-in-training and hope that most of them miraculously snap out of it before bona fide adulthood hits them.

One thing I found funny about cliques beyond high school is that the queen bees and big men on campus moved on to universities expecting their status to continue. What many of them learned, usually the hard way, was that no one really cared much about that sort of thing at the university level. A few like-minded snobs found each other and joined fraternities and sororities, but for every un-pledged university student  derided by a frat or sorority member, there were probably two Greek system people mocked for their perceived senses of self-importance by the general population.

I wrote in an earlier blog of my experience in an undergrad class where I was told by a sorority member on the first day a class met that I could not sis in a particular seat because it was reserved for a Delta Gamma.  When the professor entered, a male student unaffiliated with the Greek system asked the professor if it was correct that certain seats were reserved for members of fraternities or sororities. The professor's face turned red. He then announced that we would sit in assigned seats, designated alphabetically, for the entire quarter. Universities are great places to find one's own community of like-minded individuals, or at least those with enough in common to socialize. For the most part, those who reigned in the cliques of high school soon found their former social systems to be obsolete. Note: this was my experience at a liberal University of California campus. Had I attended Amherst, I might have found the clique systems of high school to be thriving at the university level. I've heard the same spoken of BYU, although the criteria on which clique inclusion is based would probably be considered very different than at  a more upper-crust east coast or even southern school.

Where does this leave us now, with most of us being beyond undergraduate education, and many of us being well past the strictures of academia in general? Did everyone miraculously grow past the need for a caste system in which we would attempt to climb or claw our way to the top? My observations have led me to believe otherwise.

Note: If religion bores you, skip the next three paragraphs.

For many, the need for social upward mobility is found in the very last place it should be found, which is in church.  In my own Catholic parish, most of us show up to mass, greet a few people, and then leave. Most of us are not impacted by cliques. This becomes less true if one's children attend a parish's local school, where social hierarchy rears its ugly head in such a way as to make high school cliquism seem friendly by comparison. There are also the various Catholic societies in which members vie for leadership positions. It really comes to a head when the Catholic parish sponsors queens and their courts for particular festivals -- usually ethnic in nature. The politicking that goes on to have one's daughter named Queen of the Festa makes anything Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump has said or done appear civilized by comparison.

I highlighted Catholicism because that is what I know. Similarly, i understand the LDS structure. In the LDS system, there is a clear line of ecclesiastical authority. A man who used to be just your annoying next door neighbor who habitually left his trash cans in your driveway not just on trash pick-up day but for the following two days may suddenly become your bishop -- the man who holds the keys to your temple recommend and right to attend your offspring's temple marriage ceremony, who assigns "callings" or jobs, and who wields entirely too much power over you. The positive side of this is that what goes around often comes around. You or one of your best buds may become HIS bishop five years later. This is Karma in its purest form. The women of Mormondom have their cliques as well. High family income combined with outward appearance of adherence to church doctrine usually elevates a woman and her cronies to the upper echelons of Mormon cliquedom.  There are official positions denoting power and prestige as well. Auxiliary leaders (Primary, Young Women's, and Relief Society Presidents) are granted high status just by virtue of the positions they hold; by osmosis, their close friends, who are usually their official "counselors," also fall into these esteemed cliques. If a woman's position rises beyond the local ward or congregation level to the stake [similar to diocesan] level, her stature goes up like stock with insider-trading value  An unofficial but very real leader of LDS Female Cliquedom is the wife of the bishop. Depending upon the dynamics of her relationship with her husband and the forcefulness of her personality, she may be merely an adjunct clique leader, or she very well may be running the entire ward from behind the carefully tatted curtain. Whatever you do, do not underestimate her power.

I don't mean to leave the Presbyterians, Baptists, Jews, or anyone else out of this discussion,  but I know so little about them that it would seem futile for me to comment. Suffice it to say that most likely they operate in cliques in their churches as well.

But what of the more than 50% of the U.S. who no longer actively participate in organized religion, not all of whom, if statistics are to be believe, have grown beyond the need to assert their superiority through the pervasiveness of cliques? Some hold leadership positions in the PTA or the Garden Club. Some join Lions, Kiwanis, and Rotary clubs under the guise of serving their communities, but really just engage in puffed-chest versions of jousting for power.  Some sign on with PETA. A few are even in the Flat Earth Society. 

I'm convinced, however, that the single greatest source of displace cliquish aggression, particularly among young females who haven't totally outgrown their sociopath-in-training ways, can be found in the blogs around us. If you doubt the veracity of my words, pick a random blog - particularly one authored by a mommy (I shall refrain from singling out Mormon mothers here, though if the shoe fits, wear it,  Betty BYU!) Look at the adorable pictures of her offspring that the author has posted. Read the words of the blog, which may range from sincere desire for self-improvement to "see just how wonderful my perfect family is." Leave a comment. Word your comment carefully to let the blog author know that you are an admirer from a distance who has no desire whatsoever to look the author or her family up in real life and stalk them. Compliment her, share common ground. do all of this in just a few short sentences.

Then watch the troops rally 'round the wagons. Do not expect your comment to be acknowledged even to the extent of being asked not to read or respond there again. If the blogger herself does not go private, chances are that some of her friends and regular commenters will do so with their blogs even if you've said nothing that alluded to them in any way.  Keep in mind that you did not suggest that you knew this person in a past life. You didn't make personal comments about her body parts. You didn't offer unsolicited advice. Still, you've become a pariah. You have invaded the invisible boundaries of a clique without a proper invitation.

My Aunt Jillian, who was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attended BYU for her undergrad years on a student-athlete scholarship, then attended the affiliated law school because she  had remaining scholarship money that could be used only at a BYU-affiliated institution. Her undergrad majors were combined English and mathematics, but she picked up a multiple subject teaching credential along the way. Because of the number of Advanced Placement classes she completed in high school, she had space to complete a double major along with an unrelated credential prior to graduating.  She had a few friends with whom to socialize among her teammates, and even in the math department, where being a Molly Mormon was not quite the norm. Once she met her future husband, she had a ready-made social life, so being an outcaste in the English and elementary education departments wasn't as painful as it otherwise might have been. In the elementary education department, she felt that she stood out like a gangrenous thumb. She was Cuban-American, raven-haired, and olive-skinned . Nearly everyone else was some shade of blonde even if not naturally so, and those who weren't blonde sported fair skin. She found herself frequently slurred as a  "Lamanite" -- a reference she didn't understand until her first semester of Book of Mormon class. (What was meant was that she supposedly descended from the evil brothers in the Book of Mormon -- who were cursed with dark skin through their own iniquity.  She was Catholic, and while she didn't wear her religious medals to class or carry around her rosary, her Catholicism served to further distance her from the predominantly LDS student body. She said she never felt that she had anything resembling a friend in the entire elementary education department, though there was a particular young woman who spoke kindly to her at those times when she would be sitting alone while others chatted before classes or seminars began.

Aunt Jillian randomly came across this woman's blog not too long ago. My aunt reintroduced herself, expressed appreciation for the kindness the other woman had extended back at BYU, and shared a bit of commonality in the current lives as experienced by the two of them. The other lady had twins. My aunt was just about to give birth to her second baby who would be less than nine months younger than her first-- not proper twins, but sometimes referred to as "Irish twins."  The other lady never responded. It's conceivable that the blogger had no memory of my aunt. If such were the case, a polite, "I'm sorry that I don't remember you, but I thank you for your kind words" would have more than sufficed. I of all people understand the importance of not leading on a potential stalker, but my aunt seemed hardly to fit the stalker prototype.

A year later, my aunt left another comment, thinking perhaps she had caught the lady on a bad day before, this time on Instagram. Her response validated something the woman had complained about, and the comment highlighted how adorable the lady's twins were. This was the comment that caused the lady's "friends," some of whom are "friends" on the Internet only and had never met the woman, to surround her with comments to her and each other, clearly blocking my aunt out of the conversation. My ant is a shy person. One wouldn't think an attorney would be reticent, but sometimes people are very good at compartmentalizing their lives. She says and does what is needed in the courtroom (or did, at least, before she was home with her babies),but in her personal life, she doesn't stand up for herself and seldom makes an issue of anything. 

An ironic aspect to this is that the blogger had recently posted about a message from a member of her high school graduating class who was reluctant to attend the class's ten-year reunion because he had felt ostracized and bullied while a high school student. The woman expressed a great deal of remorse for not have noticed that this young man had been bullied and for not in some way standing up for him. She wondered how she could raise her own children to do the right thing and to stand up for the one who was being mistreated. I would suggest to her that a good start would be not to treat my aunt as though she is a non-person even if she doesn't have the all-important LDS asterisk after her name.

My aunt will probably never again donate cent to any of BYU's annual fundraising drives. She'll likely never contact another person she knew at BYU.
I may have been assaulted, but I was actually the more fortunate of the two of us. I sustained bruises and a re-fractured bone, among other injuries too delicate to mention in this forum. I have a a scar or two to remind, me, but I can and have moved on. It's a bit harder to move on from being ostracized when one is thousands of miles from home and family, and the cliquishness continues even years after the fact when one makes an overture toward very casual friendship.

Right. We totally swallow this.