Daily Prompt: Make Up Your Mind

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Think of a topic or issue about which you’ve switched your opinion.  Why the change?

I have changed my mind about the George Zimmerman trial more times than I can count.  I still don’t know what I think, and I keep changing my mind because I don’t know which information to believe.

I am a white woman who grew up in a white neighborhood in a white suburb of a predominantly white town.  I have no idea what it is like to be black, and I never will.  It’s impossible for me to fully understand what it’s like to be the victim of racism.  I have no idea if I’m supposed to say “Black” or “African American” or “That lady over there in the green blouse” but I know that whatever I say it’s going to be judged as offensive to someone.

I don’t want to be called a racist.

I want to believe that Trayvon Martin was innocent.  That George Zimmerman was an angry, swaggering wannabe vigilante who shot a helpless child in cold blood.  That Zimmerman was 100% responsible for everything that took place that night, and that Martin was 100% innocent.

To think otherwise makes me a racist, right?  A Bad Person.

But we have been so manipulated by the Media that it is impossible to know what to believe.  Like most Americans, I’ve heard this story and that story and a million tiny “facts” that are actually fabrications, until the only thing I know is that I don’t know.

The photo we all see of Martin is of a much younger, more innocent child, not an accurate depiction of the seventeen year-old man-sized individual who died that night.  Innocent or not, plastering the news outlets with that little-boy picture is a blatant attempt at manipulating public opinion.   At making him seem child-like and guiltless, small and unable to defend himself.

I don’t know the truth about who did what that night, but I know that picture is a lie.  And that makes me angry.   If he was an innocent victim, why try so desperately to mislead the general public?

I’ve heard tales of the 9-1-1 tape being edited for broadcast by news stations intent on making a bigger story.     I’ve heard that Martin’s only injury was the fatal bullet wound, while I’ve seen the pictures of Zimmerman’s bloodied head and face.  And yet I’ve heard claims that there are pictures of an uninjured  Zimmerman walking into the police station, suggesting that he was beaten after the fact in a different altercation.

As a white person, I am afraid to voice my doubts.

I feel like I have to be angry about the Zimmerman verdict or risk being branded a racist.

The truth is, I really believed he would be found guilty.  Not because I believe he is guilty, but because I thought the jury would be afraid of the consequences of a verdict of Not Guilty.  I remember the riots after the Rodney King verdict, and I worried that the same thing would happen in this case.

Was the verdict a result of racism, or was it a result of six jurors who made a decision based on evidence alone?  I don’t even know if such a thing is possible, especially since Zimmerman was basically tried and found guilty on Facebook and in the court of public opinion long before this ever came to trial.

I am disgusted that one of the jurors has already done interviews and signed a book deal.  This strikes me as a terribly opportunistic move.  She should be ashamed, as should the bottom-feeders who have taken advantage of her thirst for fame and attention.

But what about the people on Twitter and Facebook who are calling for the death of the jurors and Zimmerman?  What about the folks fanning the flames of racism and hatred?  If there is more violence as a result of all of the exaggeration, hatespeak and outright lies, who is responsible?  Whose fault is it?

People, it’s not okay to protest racism by advocating more hate.  More violence.

Just because I am white, don’t assume I am a racist.  Just because I am questioning some of the stories circulating about Zimmerman and Martin, don’t assume that I think Martin was in the wrong or that Zimmerman was in the right.  I wasn’t there, and I don’t know.

And neither were you.

Black or white, we are better than this.  We are smarter than this.   We need to stop letting ourselves be spoon-fed by news media whose only agenda is the next big story.   We need to ask questions and not automatically believe every rumor, every bit of gossip, every inflammatory bit of anger-inducing crap that is posted on Facebook or shared on Twitter.

Black or white, we need to think for ourselves.

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Of Porcupines and Ducks

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My mom used to call them “Prickly Days”.  Those days when one of us was just feeling defensive or particularly put-upon, when our response to everything was a snarl or a snap.  A conversation on one of those days might go as follows:

Mom:  Good Morning!

Me: What’s that supposed to mean?

Mom:  Just . . . good morning. 

Me:  You always loved (insert random sibling) more!  Stop picking on me!

Prickly.  Like an angry little porcupine.  Don’t touch. Don’t speak.  Don’t try to smooth things over.   Just walk away.  Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

Lately, it seems as though the entire world is having “Prickly Days” and they are using social media to express themselves.  I have to wonder if it doesn’t sometimes take an extreme effort to be so very offended by every tiny, seemingly innocuous comment made by some random celebrity, and then spout off about it online.

For example, look at the reaction to Justin Bieber’s recent comments in the guestbook at the Anne Frank House.  He wrote:  “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.” 

Now, that was a really stupid thing to say.  It comes across as a bit of self-promoting fluff that trivializes everything that Anne Frank went through.     But is it bad enough to warrant the hate-filled ranting and raving, the angry demands for a public apology?

Let’s face it; he’s a kid who said a dumb thing.  If people can just calm down for a moment and stop being angry long enough to consider the intent behind his vapid scribble, can anyone really, possibly believe that he truly intended to be so disrespectful?  Or did he just have a stupid moment?

A less notorious–and far less stupid –example of this rush to be offended involves my current celebrity crush.  On February 7, Randolph Mantooth posted the following Tweet:

“I swear! There’s some ignorant, intolerant, crazy ass people in the world 2day & they all seem 2 B on Facebook & Twitter.”

Oh, come on, is anybody really surprised that I follow him on Twitter?

Personally, I think it’s a pretty funny Tweet.  I rather agree with it most days.  I clicked “favorite” and moved on after a good chuckle.

But a few weeks later, he had to address the issue in his blog on his site, Route51, because apparently people were offended by the comment.  It was interpreted as an insult against anyone without a high school education.

Just how hard do you have to squint to see that in his comment?  How much effort does it take to be offended by that?

In a post titled “What I Said” Mantooth defends himself by saying:

“If you read the tweet, you’ll know I never said anything about anyone’s education. . . . Look…. One of the smartest people in my life only made it through the 8th grade. …My father! With only a high school education, my mother successfully raised 4 kids as a waitress… by herself!”

Again, let’s look at the intent behind the words.  Does anyone really believe it was his intent to criticize the educational background of anyone, anywhere?  Or was it more likely the off-the-cuff comment of a man having a frustrating day?

The incident that prompted me to speak up about this outbreak of Let’s-Be-Offended-By-Everything-Syndrome is something that happened yesterday.  In response to the horrific events that took place in  Boston, actor/comedian Patton Oswalt posted some touching words of hope on his Facebook page.  I was never really a fan of his before, but I am now.

In six brief but eloquent paragraphs, Oswalt talks about the bombs and reminds us that the people committing these atrocities are “not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet” and goes on to point out that videos of the carnage show more people running toward the injured than away from the danger.

In the final paragraph, Oswalt says:

“So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’ “

Now, how in God’s name could anyone possibly find that offensive?  But looking at the comments people have made below his words of wisdom, is enough to shake one’s faith in humanity.

Some criticise him for using profanity.  Okay, so I probably wouldn’t have opened with the f-bomb; but Oswalt’s word choice has the desired effect of grabbing our attention.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I know I dropped the f-bomb, as well as a lot of other foul words, as I watched the events unfold on TV.  I can’t think of a better way to sum up what happened in Boston than with his words:  “Boston.  Fucking horrible.”

Worst of all are the idiots who blast him for being overly patriotic, for over-simplifying the situation, or for using the situation for political means.

He did none of those things.

He reached out to the rest of us to offer encouragement and reassurance that the world is, after all, not such a terrible place.    He did a good thing; his intent was to offer hope and comfort.  I think he succeeded, but even if others don’t agree, they should at least manage to not be offended.

When I was a kid and I would come home crying because someone had been picking on me yet again, my Aunt Marian would tell me to “toughen up” and “let if roll off, like water off a duck’s back”.  God, how I hated those phrases!  I wanted to feel the hurts and wallow in my anger;  I wanted to go right on being a prickly porcupine and take offense at every little thing.  I didn’t want to be a duck.

Then I grew up.

Folks, it’s time to put on the grown-up undies and stop being so easily offended by every little thing.  It’s fine to get angry.  Be angry that someone set off bombs at the Boston Marathon.  Be offended by acts of terrorism.  Get pissed off because we have to be afraid of another Oklahoma City or 9/11 or Boston.

But don’t waste your time being offended over the tiniest of issues.

Is it worth getting worked up over a thoughtless comment made by some bubblegum  teen idol?  Or because of the irritated tweet made by a man who has spent forty years using his fame to support  and promote EMS workers everywhere?  Is it even humanly possible to take offense at the touching words of hope offered up by a man who stopped being a comedian long enough to reach out to his fellow human beings?

I have one thing left to say.

Quack.

Pretty Pretty Shiny Shiny

Question:  How many people with ADHD does it take to change a light bulb?

 Answer:  Let’s go for a bike ride!

No matter how much I want to write my novel, I struggle every day with focus.  I am so easily distracted that it is a major effort for me to keep my mind on the chapter I am writing.  I start thinking about the next chapter, or about the short story I want to write, or about the fabulous book I just read, or about the pretty cardinal on the tree outside my window, or . . .

In the wise words of my nephew, it shouldn’t be called ADHD.  It should be ADOS:  Attention Deficit Ooh Shiny!

Now that I have all of this free time, I’ve been doing some research into things like writing software and writing networks or websites.    I’ve joined Romance Writers of America, which has provided me with some fabulous online classes and discussion groups to improve my skills.    I have my blog here on WordPress and I just started a Twitter account, although I freely admit to being utterly clueless about things like Tweets and hashtags.

#OverMyHead

All of this technology begs the question:  Is it really helping me write my novel, or is it just a whole new bunch of shiny objects?

A few weeks ago, I splurged on a program called WriteWay.  It’s sort of a template for organizing one’s thoughts while writing.  A writer can set up note cards for characters and chapters or even scene-by-scene diagrams.  There are places to plug in research and new ideas and comments.  It is incredible.

In theory, anyway.

In reality, I’m starting to realize that it’s just another distraction so far.   I have spent so much time setting it up and learning my way around that I haven’t really accomplished anything.    Well, that’s not entirely true.  It has really helped me in two ways.

It has helped me really define my characters in much more depth.  I always thought it was silly to come up with all kinds of background information for my characters if that information wasn’t going to be part of the actual story.   Really, is it important to know the Hero’s birth order or favorite song?  Does it matter that he’s allergic to peanut butter or that his father abandoned the family when he was only two years old?

I’m exaggerating, of course, but I have learned that it really does help me to know my characters better.  If I can’t see them as fully-developed three-dimensional people, how can I make anyone else see them that way?

Now my character Evan has a reason to fight for his grandmother’s house, as well as a very good reason to avoid falling in love with Tara.  And poor Tara has become far less pathetic.  Her quirkiness now has a cause beyond Let’s-Make-Her-Interesting-For-No-Apparent-Reason-Syndrome.  And there is a villain now, although for the life of me I can’t come up with a name for her.  She’s a Barbara, no doubt about it, but I have a Barbara in my life who is nothing like this character and who would probably be supremely offended.

The other lesson I have learned from WriteWay is that I am nowhere near as prepared to write this book as I thought I was.  I know the beginning and I know how it’s going to end, but everything in the middle is just a big ol’ melodramatic muddle.  With a couple of very awkward sex scenes in which I tried really hard to find synonyms for “erection”.

In the long run, I think this is going to be a big help, as soon as I stop being overwhelmed and start buckling down.   I’m the kind of person who needs direction, and I am hoping that this will give me that direction.  Otherwise, I’m afraid I’m just going to continue meandering helplessly from scene to scene without ever writing the actual story.

I’d like to hear from other writers about WriteWay or other writing software programs.  What do you think:  distractions or direction?  Worth the money, or a useless extravagance?

And what the heck am I supposed to do now that I’m on Twitter?