I kind of forgot to talk about the rest of our DC weekend trip.

Saturday was kind of the big touristy day. We stopped at the White House visitor center, then walked over to see the national Christmas tree and from there got a good view of the White House itself.

Personally, my favorite memory of visiting the White House was when we went once when I was a kid and my grandfather said, “Look, I see Bill Clinton in his gutchies!”

From there, we took a drive down Embassy Row and past the national cathedral, then stopped in front of the Capitol and had a little bit of time to check out the botanic gardens.

That evening was probably my favorite part of the whole trip–we had a nice dinner at Mount Vernon, then got a neat Christmas-themed candlelit tour of the grounds and building, where everything focused on what the Washingtons and others at the time did for Christmas.

But it was about then that I was starting to feel like some of our fellow travels were…uppity?

When we were first on the bus getting ready to leave Friday morning, my mom was texting one of her co-workers, who was joking about creepers being on the trip, and I believe it was she who made the comment that bus trips can be weird because of who goes. I was by far the youngest, and my mom and Lisa probably fell somewhere in the middle, with the bulk of the other travelers being older. I started overhearing snippets of complaints, and while I’ll grant that I kind of thought we’d get more of certain places like the cathedral and capitol, I also get that logistically, this might not be doable with a big bus group and when people are still, you know, working or otherwise going about their typical business in these buildings. I think when you travel anywhere, it’s easy to forget that people actually live there and while you’re on a leisure trip, everyone there is trying to go to work or school or run errands.

People also seemed to think that the trip organizers had a lot more control over things than they really did. They can plan all of this, sure, but dinner being served is the responsibility of the staff, or the time of a tour is determined by the staff. I heard one woman sound absolutely mortified that we’d been waiting 10 minutes after dinner for our Mount Vernon tour, but like…it wasn’t hard to figure out that the place was packed with other tourists and that the individual groups people were going in was running really behind.

But hey, I had a good time.

Our hotel was pretty close to a casino and we kicked around the idea of going, but we were kind of worn out at the end of both Friday and Saturday. I was hoping to squeeze in a massage at the spa, but their hours and our weekend itinerary didn’t mesh.

After breakfast Sunday, we had one last stop at the Museum of the Bible, which was the one part of the trip I was really not into–and not just because they were found recently to have fake artifacts. I’ve had a rocky relationship with organized religion since my teens, and I kind of figured this was not gonna be a museum I was gonna like. I think I expected, like, a sort of creationist, revisionist look at things.

To be honest, I was wrong. The museum was more interesting and informative than I thought it would be, but it’s not perfect, and even my mom, who was more interested than I, had some complaints. The focus was a little odd–I said it was like they managed to have too much and not enough at the same time. Some exhibits feature old Bible after old Bible, and while it was cool, admittedly, to see these super old, intricate, and beautifully designed Bibles, they were a lot of them, and it got to the point where we were kind of tired of looking at…Bibles. And then there were total missed opportunities–or we didn’t see them somehow–to explain things like how these old Bibles were made.

But I did get my in-laws a Christmas-tree ornament in the gift shop, and their café had great lattes and super cute, delicious cupcakes.

The more religious people in the group seemed to have enjoyed it far more than I, which is fair. I’m kind of glad I didn’t hate it, honestly, because no one really wants to have a few hours in a museum they’re dying to get out of.

And from there, we went home.


Friday night was a very, very typical pre-Halloween Friday night for me–after missing it last year, partly because I think it was in a different town, I made my triumphant return to The Rocky Horror Show live onstage, complete with bold makeup and bright-pink fishnet tights. I laughed, I shouted until I was horse, and I did the Time Warp. A good time was had by all.

On Saturday morning, probably around 11:15, I stopped for gas on my way to get my hair dyed and was scrolling through Twitter when the news broke–a shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. At the time, the death toll was four but they were pretty clear they know that number was gonna go up. When I was sitting in friend/stylist Emily’s chair an hour or so later, it was eight. When I was driving home an hour or so after that, it was 11, and almost all of my programmed radio stations had stopped playing music altogether and were instead playing news broadcasts and press conferences.

I only lived in Pittsburgh for six months, but I’ve spent my entire life hovering nearby. I grew up about an hour south, went to college at a University of Pittsburgh branch campus, and after those six months on Mt. Washington, I moved to another small city about an hour away. I’m far enough removed that I don’t feel like it was my community itself that was harmed, but I’m close enough that it hurts. I’ve teared up reading the news. I’ve seen my Facebook feed turn into nothing but an endless timeline of shock and grief and my notifications a string of people marking themselves as safe. Seeing the city in the national news is weird, and seeing it the national news for this reason is heartbreaking.

Part of me isn’t surprised–southwestern Pennsylvania isn’t known for its diversity and tolerance, particularly the area where I grew up, so much so that a coworker from that same area messaged me pointing out the last name of the shooter is common there and it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn if that’s where he was fro. But part of me is surprised because a violent, anti-Semitic Pittsburgh isn’t the Pittsburgh I’ve ever never known, and because of that, I knew that the city would really come together in the aftermath. The anecdotes are uplifting–people opening their homes to reporters covering the shooting, people cooking for the police, singing at vigils, huge turnouts at blood drives, massive amounts of money raised for the synagogue and victims, though admittedly not all from this area. As I write, the Pens are playing with patches on their uniforms that say “stronger than hate.” People are sharing slogans saying hate can’t bring down a city of steel and images that replace the gold diamond of the Steelers logo with a gold Star of David.

I love Pittsburgh. The only reason I don’t live in the city itself is mostly timing–when my housemates all decided to go our separate ways, I just couldn’t find an apartment in the city that I could afford at the time. But I spend a lot of time there. I go to concerts there (I’ll be there Thursday), I see shows, even go to the movies sometimes. It’s been a difficult few days for everyone, especially the victims and their families above all, and I hate that this happened and that there are people out there who support the shooter or support similar acts. This is a very sad, hateful chapter in our history not just as a city but as our country and I’m eager for it to be over, but I know it will end. It would be nice to say a lot of uplifting things about moving on and putting it behind us, but the unfortunate reality for those who were there is that this is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Still, I want to close with optimism.

So like I said, I love Pittsburgh. I look forward to more fun nights out with friends and family, and I know this does not and will not define the city.

When Priests Are Also Assholes

So, obviously, the wedding day was hectic. At rehearsal, I’d expected to pay the choir, organist, etc. because at some point, that is what I’d been told, but none of them were actually there. So while I was sitting all done up waiting for my cue to go down the aisle, I was writing out checks to whoever I needed.

I forgot a check.

I remembered just a tad too late–after we’d left after the ceremony–that we still owed the church $150. “Whatever,” we thought, “we’ll take it to the office next week.” And we kind of forgot about it plus had other things going on, and on top of that, getting to the church office before it closes is tough. It closes at 4, and typically, Paul works until 3:30 and that’s when I’m just getting home, but lately, I’ve been working until 4, 5 the past two nights specifically. Paul can be home within 15 minutes, but then you have to truck it up to church fast. So it just wasn’t working out, and we had the post-wedding chaos of returning alcohol and mixers and taking care of anything else we needed to. The church check, honestly, slipped our minds, but the business manager did remind us. I asked him the best way to get it to him, he took a couple days to reply, and by then, it was the weekend. Paul even asked me in the pew this past Sunday if we could put it in the collection basket, and I said no, it has to go to the office. That or we could mail it, but why waste a stamp when we can just walk it up?

I’m not thrilled about the fact that we weren’t prompt with it. It’s one of our shared faults. I won’t deny we dropped the ball on that one, or that I should’ve replied to the business manager to let him know we’d be taking it to the office. However, the way it got handled after that is…unfortunate.

The main priest at the church e-mailed me this morning–not the one who actually performed the ceremony as he was transferred in July and came back for the wedding, but the main priest in charge at the parish now. When my phone pinged, I thought, “Oh, fuck, he’s probably not happy, better shoot a text to Paul to tell him to take a check up.” And honestly, all either of us needed was just a little prod. If you want to argue we shouldn’t need that, fine, whatever, but people forget things, shit happens, and that was honestly all it took to jog my brain right to, “Tell Paul to take a check.” So I’m expecting displeasure but otherwise civility, and what I got was pretty rude.

In retrospect, it’s not that bad, but it’s…not great. It’s a bit much under circumstances, especially between a priest and parishioner. The basic gist of it is the business manager forwarded our correspondence to the priest, who said, “I am disappointed that you continue to delay this process. Your casual manner in dealing with the payment due to the Church is ill-mannered,” and as a sort of PS, “This is the first time in 45 years I have had to send a ‘Second Notice’ regarding a Wedding.”

I won’t touch his questionable use of capital letters.

For starters, I take issue with the business manager going to the priest at all. To me, that’s something that should be a last resort, something you do when we’re not responding at all or we keep saying, “Yep, we’ll bring it tomorrow,” and failing to do so. I feel like the business manager couldn’t handle it himself and went whining to the priest, when all this whole thing needed was a simple, “Hey, you still owe us.” That’s a whole bitchy e-mail chain avoided right there.

As for what the priest actually said, I take issue with that, starting with the implication that I’m intentionally not paying them or dragging this thing out for, what my health? Entertainment? What, like all I do is sit around at home thinking, “Huh, how long can I drag this out?” I feel like I was being spoken to like a child, like I was being reprimanded, and on top of that, like the priority is money. We owed them. I get that. They have expenses to cover, and the diocese is evaluating which churches to close over the next year or so. But it comes off a certain way when your e-mail reads like a Catholic version of, “Bitch better have my money.” Frankly, with his word choice, it felt like he was attacking my character and had zero compassion or understand regarding, you know, life.

So I sat and stewed over it at work–it came in about quarter ’till 11, I was stuck there until 5, got home at 5:30, and that whole time, I was fucking pissed. I felt like he took a tone with me because he’s a priest and he thinks he can. Terra thinks he didn’t think I’d respond. My sister-in-law Emily thinks if he’d been communicating with Paul, he wouldn’t have used that tone at all.

So with the help of my mom, I crafted a reply. I mostly used her as a proofreader and Bitch Editor–you know, someone to look at it and say, “This sounds good, this is too much, use this word and not that one.” And the basic gist of that was just about what I said here, just more concisely and worded very directly and concisely. I apologized for the delay but said I hoped he understood that it’s a busy time and we lost track of some things–he clearly didn’t, or else he wouldn’t have sent that e-mail, but hey, I figure he deserves his own smidge of passive-aggressive condescension. I went on to say that despite this, the tone of his e-mail was disrespectful, condescending, unacceptable and uncalled for, that it was particularly disappointing coming from a priest and going to a parishioner, that it made it seem like all he cared about was the money, that I didn’t appreciate his unwarranted criticism based on how he interpreted the situation, that the business manager should have communicated with me directly rather than involve him, that I felt it was blown out of proportion over a relatively small amount of money.

There was a time when I never would’ve sent that e-mail and would’ve let it go–deleted it, sent the check, felt shitty, and moved on, but man, fuck that. I’m not gonna let a priest be an asshole to me about 150 bucks. Sure, I’m dreading getting a reply and I freak out a little every time my Gmail pings and I’m having worst-case-scenario imaginings of him making his sermon about me, but shit, I’d rather make it clear that I won’t be spoken to like that than just take it. I mean…really? Of all the ways you could’ve said we owed you money, that was what you chose?

I need to call my shrink, but that could be weird because he goes to that church. Whatever.

Look, based on everything I’d heard from other people who went through Catholic marriage prep, I expected the whole thing to be kind of dumb and boring.

I didn’t doubt its usefulness to a degree–while I knew it covered things that most couples discuss before getting married, I also knew that not everyone does that and that for some couples, this absolutely would be the first time they faced questions about finances or having kids. But Paul and I kind of pride ourselves on being this smart, rational couple who’s just about covered all of that, especially since by the time we’re actually married, we’ll have been together for seven years. When you go from college to the early days of careers where you’re not making much money and the job maybe doesn’t even last and ultimately move in together, you get a pretty good idea of your opinions on these things and how compatible you are. Seven years can throw a lot of shit at you, and you learn a lot about each other in the process.

I’d also heard about a lot of religious aspects to it that I wasn’t really interested in.

But the whole thing kind of surprised me in the end. I don’t doubt at all some of the sillier stories I’ve heard, like couples being told to “keep Jesus in the bedroom,” but I came to the conclusion that the church I went to, where we joined and will be getting married, has a pretty good program going.

It kicked off on a Friday night with a talk on family planning, which usually isn’t the opener but due to scheduling, that’s how it worked out. Having gone to Catholic school, I’d actually learned that already, and to be honest, I’m totally okay with the entire concept of natural family planning. I get why the church promotes it. Where they lose me, though, is their stance on birth control, and when I later read through some of the handouts we’d been given on it, I was rolling my eyes a lot.

Saturday was the big one, with a day full of talks from various married couples in the church on everything from finances to communication. And for the most part, I was right–we were going in pretty well-prepared, although I appreciated the fact that so much of the information was practical and not religious. I told Terra that later, and she said hers hadn’t been like that at all, which I think is kind of unfortunate. Even if I wasn’t sure it was for me, I do have to give the Catholics credit for doing it, and to be honest, I think divorce rates might be lower if everyone did some sort of marriage prep like this. Like I said, we may have discussed almost all of these issues ahead of time, but we’re not indicative of everyone. Some of the handouts we got were useful, too, like one where we answered questions about how we handle money. It’s a good thing to know going in.

And funnily enough, my shrink and his wife ended up giving two talks, which were my favorites. Sure, I could be biased, but his personality and probably his job as a therapist make him well-suited for it. One of our biggest, most useful takeaways actually came from one of his talks, and it’s a nightly exercise where you each list something you appreciate about the other, new information you may have, any questions you may have, any complaints or requests for change from your partner, and your hopes for the future. Things like that sounds kind of hokey, which again, I think that contributes to break-ups and divorces. Everyone talks about relationships being work, but not necessarily about actively doing exercises designed to address issues. Still, though, I thought it could be something useful for us, and Paul expressed interest in doing it, too. It’s turned out to be pretty good–it forces you to tell your partner something you appreciate every day, which makes them feel loved and valued, and it gives you an opportunity to bring up any issues, which has been more useful for Paul than it has for me. I’m far more likely to bring something up as soon as I’m bothered, but he’s far more likely to keep things to himself. Doing this every night, or at least most nights, actually encourages him to bring things up, and it’s probably stopping arguments before they even start.

The whole thing went faster than I expected to, especially for being something like six hours long. We got a nice little catered lunch, which included wedding soup because duh, and then when we were free to go, Paul and I decided to head out to the mall.

So at least in the church’s eyes, save for one more compatibility quiz we’ll have to do, we’re prepared for marriage.

Paul decided he wanted to go to church Sunday morning–late Sunday morning. The good thing is the church up the block has like five masses every Sunday, so an impromptu “I’d like to go to church” isn’t a big deal. And I don’t mind going with him on occasion, but I have made it clear that he shouldn’t expect me to go all the time, especially when he starts staying with me while he works a few minutes away. Which, by the way, starts in a few days, really. He starts Tuesday morning, so I’d better enjoy these last few days of having my apartment solely to myself while I can. I’m glad to have him come in, but I am bracing myself to get a little irritable and miss my alone time. I’ve been living alone for about three years now.

Anyway, church. We haven’t gone in a while, and apparently in the time we’ve been away, they extensively remodeled the church. So much so that we just happened to catch their first mass back, which featured the Knights of Columbus in a procession with feathered hats and swords, the bishop, and an altar blessing, all on Palm Sunday.

Now, I didn’t realize an altar blessing is a big fucking deal. We Catholics will bless anything, so I was thinking this would be one of those deals where there’s a brief prayer in the middle of mass and we otherwise go on with our Sunday. NOPE. It’s a whole long ordeal. That ends with inviting the entire congregation to go up and kiss the altar, which I felt weird about doing as just a casual churchgoer–especially there, when I’m only in every few months. But nope, Paul insisted. We’ll probably never attend one of these again, he said. Again, it’s a big fucking deal. So he grabbed my hand and I could’ve easily resisted and won because no way would he tug at me for more than a few seconds before giving up, what with being in a church and having people behind him waiting to go up and all.

So I went up and did it. I kissed the altar. And it was about as weird an uncomfortable as I thought it would be, and I probably should’ve resisted Paul more.

On top of that, Palm Sunday mass always runs a little longer because for some reason, that’s when the church does its reading of Christ’s crucifixion as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, the reading of Jesus’ entrance with the palms. I always thought it was because the church assumed it was the best way to make sure people actually heard it every year instead of counting on them to go to mass basically every day of Holy Week. Speaking of, happy Holy Week!

We also saw my therapist there.

In the end, that mass lasted 2 1/2 damn hours. Killed my whole damn day, since it started just after noon. By the time it ended, I decided we ought to just jump in my car and do my grocery shopping, but of course Paul was hungry, because how could anyone not be? So we grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at Max & Erma’s, then did my grocery shopping. All while still smelling like church incense. I could still smell it on my hair in bed that night.

I’ve had a busy week.

From Friday through Wednesday, I was making about an hour-long drive every day, first from my place to Paul’s, then from there to my parents’ on Saturday, back to Paul’s Sunday, then back home Monday.

I never updated my address when I moved out of my parents’ house and my mom pretty much told me not to bother until I move into a permanent home–because I can assure this apartment sure as hell isn’t permanent–which means I have to drive back over to vote in elections. I almost sat this one out and even though only one of my candidates won, I’m glad I didn’t. People in the state are obviously pretty displeased with Corbett–that’s why he got beat by Wolf and became the first governor in decades to lost reelection–and I didn’t think he stood a chance of getting reelected, but I didn’t want to count on that and skip voting. Which seems like a decent number of people don’t bother doing in this country, which is sad. I understand being cynical about the candidates and the process, but you’ve got the ability to at least try to make something happen. Use it.

At the same time, I was thinking about it, and my parents set a good example. I always remember them making it a point to vote on election day whenever they had the time, and I remember them talking about it pretty openly, though I don’t remember much discussion of the candidates. And I have to give my dad credit because as much as he’s a total, stereotypical Fox News-loving bigoted Republican goon, he’s told my brother and I since we were 18 that he didn’t care who we voted for, but we would vote.

So I did, and I’m optimistic for the future of Pennsylvania with Wolf at the helm. Maybe our priorities will be in the right place and the people will all benefit.

I went back into the area yet again Wednesday for Paul’s youngest brother’s confirmation n the Catholic church, and I only went because Paul asked me to. I guess a confirmation is technically a big deal because it’s when you sort of officially join the church and affirm your beliefs, but when I was a kid, they did ours at the same time as our First Communion. And the whole point is that you’re supposed to be old enough to understand what you’re getting into and make the decision for yourself, but we all know these kids are raised Catholic and generally don’t have much of a choice–it’s expected of them, and breaking out from under your Catholic parents when you don’t believe in the church anymore even as an adult can be rough.

The bishop was there, and I have to give him credit for starting off sounding like he really knew how to talk to the kids on their level without being condescending or too childish. And then he ruined it with what was easily a half-hour-long homily. I should’ve timed it. The service itself ran close to an hour and a half, if I recall correctly, and it wasn’t even a full mass. A full mass would normally run about an hour. So the bishop managed to take a shorter mass with fewer parts and make it longer than a full mass. On top of that, he played the “Catholics are persecuted” card, albeit more lightly for the younger audience, but that’s a really popular topic in local churches these days. They seem to think people disagreeing with them is oppression, and it’s irritating and misleading. Especially to kids like, say, Paul’s brother (and the rest of the siblings, though not so much now that they’re getting older), who have a very opinionated but ignorant mother who’s gonna reinforce that message. I’m just lucky I haven’t yet had to explain to her that I stopped going to church in college and lost interest long before that. Pope Francis, though, is changing things. I don’t know that he’s gonna get me back in church, but I have to give him credit for trying to set a good example and recognizing that the church needs to make some changes.

Finally, Thursday I got to sit my ass home, and it’s been my usual, uninteresting routine plus work for the rest of the week. I’m working Saturdays all month, so Paul’s currently over and on my couch with a headache, and we plan to see a movie tomorrow.

Friday Five: Rebel Rebel

Before we begin, let me say that I typically didn’t rebel solely for rebellion’s sake–I had a reason for it.

  1. In what ways have you rebelled against your upbringing? The biggest one is probably religion. I was raised Catholic, and although my mom’s not super devout or super religious, there was a level of expectation for me to follow it and it didn’t happen. I remember losing interest in middle school, and the older I got, the more boredom shifted into distaste for a lot of the church’s teachings and policies, continuing up to now. I remember in high school, interestingly enough, that we used to do these AIM chat rooms in the summer to keep in touch–before social media really existed–and I mentioned once how I didn’t foresee myself keeping up with Catholicism as an adult when my mom couldn’t force me to go to church, and Leah did accuse me of doing it out of rebellion and not because of my actual opinions. Wrong. I think my dad also had this hope of raising two Republicans, and that failed. He also tried to get Brandon and I to be super prepared, like preparing clothes and things the night before, and neither of us ever really took to it.
  2. In what ways have you rebelled against your schooling? I went to Catholic school until I got to college, so it was very similar to my upbringing. In fact, I think Catholic school kind of helped turn me off of Catholicism because the teachings and reasons for them didn’t make sense and really started to feel like they were designed to control rather than uplift and enlighten–not that religion tends to always do that. Funnily enough, Paul once was a tad buzzed at an auction at my high school and started talking to our freshman religion teacher, telling him he knows a lot of people who came out of Catholic school abandoning the religion and he didn’t, which he felt was due to that teacher. I do have to admit he was one of the best in the school and went farther than just telling us what the church taught–we had real-world applications and discussions on why the church believed some of what they did and why they might be wrong. The problem was that teaching didn’t continue throughout, and it became very easy to say, “This is ridiculous. I’m out.” Another thing was the fact that I majored in writing–math and science were pushed heavily in elementary school and although English was valued much more in middle and high school, it’s not exactly something people want you to try to make a career of. In a way, this was a rebellion against my parents, too, because very few people want you to major in writing, really. I’ve said before that people want you to be well-read and articulate until you want to do it for a living.
  3. In what ways have you rebelled against American culture? Majoring in English, which is the double whammy of not just choosing a slightly unconventional career path but also choosing one I loved (and the added bonus, though this doesn’t count as rebellion, of actually knowing that’s what I wanted to do within my first year of college). I’ve also been really drawn to countercultural things since my early teens, which is more subtle now, but it still tends to manifest itself in what I like to read, listen to, watch, and even how I like to dress. Not that I dress super weird (most of the time), but even jeans and t-shirts aren’t what girls tend to wear. My youngest cousin, when she was little, once asked me why I dressed like a boy because I wear jeans and t-shirts and her sisters were a little more girly and and a little more mainstream. I’m a vegetarian, too, which is especially frowned upon in rural Pennsylvania. And I swear a-fucking-lot, which seems common yet frowned upon. And so help me God, when I’m in a position to dye my hair pink or purple…
  4. Is it possible to rebel against yourself? I don’t know that I’d call it rebellion, but I think self-sabotage is very real. I think as far as actual rebellion goes, it’s probably more like people trying to change or do something different and struggling with it. I think it’s highly possible to lash out against something you’re doing or thinking, but I think a lot of this stems more out of unhappiness and frustration then anything else.
  5. What’s your favorite song about rebellion? Probably either Bowie’s “Rebel, Rebel” or Green Day’s “Minority,” because it’s so damn catchy with great attitude. And I don’t think this really counts as a song about rebellion, but I really love Bob Geldof’s “The Great Song of Indifference.”

The Boston Aftermath

I read a quote online somewhere in the midst of the chaos surrounding the Boston bombers which, paraphrased, basically said Twitter is useful as a tragedy is happening or just after but by 12 hours later, it’s a mess.

I found out the bombing happened on Facebook. I got home from Facebook and there it was. In the moment, it was full of nice, thoughtful posts about praying for Boston. If anyone was suspicious or scared, they didn’t really say, but naturally, whether we acknowledge it or not, a bomb going off anywhere puts us all on edge. 9/11 gave violence a different context–a bigger one.

The anti-Muslim sentiment fortunately wasn’t too common, but it was still there. It’s always there. I think I beat some to the punch on Facebook and just reacted to it on Twitter, but here’s something that should surprise no one–racists don’t like being called out on it, especially when they obviously can’t justify it and resort almost immediately to personal attacks, laying blame, and what at least look like (failed) attempts at public humiliation. Really, what’s humiliating is to publicly blame an entire religion for the acts of a few people. You know how they tell college kids not to do things like post pictures of themselves underage with beer or tweet about being high or get naked on the internet anywhere ever because it could ruin careers? I’m pretty sure potential employers–or even potential friends are lovers–are really put off by someone calling an entire religion trash. You’re basically saying, “Things might get really awkward if someone who’s not a white Christian interacts with me.” We won’t get into the fact, too, that saying things on the internet opens you up to criticism. It may be your Twitter feed or Facebook page and people can certainly choose not to look, but if you’re making it public, you’re inviting people in, and you may not like what you present to them. We also won’t get into the fact that calling someone on this isn’t forcing beliefs on them.

All anyone is doing is continuing a cycle of hate. By the way, people don’t like it if you point that out, too.

Hate is taught. Hate happens for all sorts of different reasons. It will always exist, often without good reason. Certain groups of people hate each other, some hating America. And because they hate us, some people in this country decide to hate them, too. Sometimes you have people like me saying, “What’s the point of all this, and what good is it really doing?” but most of the time, those people seem to be hard to find.

That has to be a miserable, isolating, and scary existence.

It certainly ignores a lot. For starters, no one has met every single member of a religion. It’s not possible. And every single one has violent extremists, but that doesn’t mean their actions have widespread support. To act like every single one of them is the enemy is to deny that. Even with the Boston bombers, the attacks have been denounced by their family, their friends are confused, and Muslim religious leaders and even Iran denounced it and separated themselves from it. To fear and hate Muslims because of two bombers in the midst of other Muslims denouncing them is to deny them entirely, which either makes you very stubborn or very ignorant. We won’t get into the quote on my Facebook feed today discussing a correlation between intelligence and conservative values, though I have noticed there’s a lot of denying facts going around that viewpoint.

What I find especially frightening is that in every person I’ve seen displaying this animosity, their language and behavior suggests they truly believe they’re taking some sort of moral high ground but generalizing and villainizing–or even worse, they see this as a twisted form of patriotism. They cry self-defense, but this goes back to ignorance. It ignores the good people–the many good people–out there and denies that this is bigotry, no matter how you spin it. It simultaneously denies the bad, too. You can kick out every single Muslim in this country if you want, but you’ll still be left with tons of equally violent, fanatical Christians killing in the name of their god or their version of morality. A problem isn’t solved–one is just ignored instead.

The reaction to violence has, in some cases, been more violence. Some who blame Muslims have sought some out and physically harmed them. How is this going to solve anything? It contributes to a cycle. You hate them because they hate us because you hate them. Dialogue and understanding in this case are certainly too idealistic to realistically expect, but this hostility isn’t helping anything. Even by speaking up in defense, you open yourself to almost equal amounts of hatred and misunderstanding. A man on Twitter told me to move to Iraq or Afghanistan and insisted I was clueless and knew nothing about how the real world works. Nevermind the fact that 26 people died in an elementary school a few months ago at the hands of a white Christian and his religion wasn’t discussed, and nevermind the fact that my dad was almost literally blown up by Muslims and yet I don’t blame the entire religion for that.

Fortunately, we do have a silver lining. For those paying attention and listening, they didn’t see Islam as the enemy anymore when relatives spoke out–they realized you can’t generalize and reconsidered their beliefs. Many others would do well to follow suit. Otherwise, we have no hope of making progress as a nation.

The Angel Ladies

My mom and I have always been fascinated by psychics. Brandon has a kind of fringe interest in it, and my dad just completely dismisses all alleged psychics as frauds who are using probability, the power of suggestion, and trickery.

My mom has seen a few psychics, some she thinks were frauds, including one she thought picked up on her desires at the time and told her what she wanted to hear (she wanted to live on a beach, psychic told her she would, my mom lives in Pennsylvania). Meri and I gave in to a palm reader in Pittsburgh who told us all sorts of things, like she’d have four kids and I’d marry a man in a suit. She got a few things right–Meri is no longer dating the guy she was then and some conflict friends were involved in did get resolved in the timeline she predicted, but I wasn’t actually impressed.

But my mom also used to see an astrologer, Claire, and I used to love when she would come back and tell me what Claire told her. I still love hearing about things Claire told her, especially things I’ve forgotten about. In an early session with Claire, my newly single mother was told that she’d be married within one or two years. It happened. Claire also predicted both Brandon and I, as well as my dad’s deployment. My mom even suspects she knew my grandfather was going to die–she’d mentioned heart problems she thought my maternal grandfather would have shortly after my paternal grandfather had a heart attack while visiting someone else in the hospital. Claire also told my mom things about Brandon and I. The one that stands out most to me was when I had a heavier interest in pursuing music or theater–Claire told her my star sign (I’m on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer) meant I would be a good performer and that my mother shouldn’t stop me from pursuing it. My interest shifted to writing.

My Aunt Regina was the one who heard about the Angel Ladies, two women in Pittsburgh who claim to communicate with the Other Side. She was pleased with her reading, although I can’t remember the details. I remember, though, they knew things about my grandparents they just couldn’t have known.

That’s common–they know a lot of things they couldn’t–too much to be frauds. And they didn’t know anyone’s names or anything about any of us before any of our readings, so they weren’t looking us up.

Aunt Gina had them at her house. You can book them for an evening, and they’ll do private sessions about a half-hour long each. I went straight from work on a Friday night. I was nervous but excited, and I knew a lot of other people cried during their sessions. My mom’s coworker Tina was there, had just finished her reading, and was impressed by what they knew. My mother was in hers at the time. I ate some soup and waited. My mom came out crying but pleased. I forget most of hers, too, but they talked about my grandparents. She was disappointed that they talked more about me than Brandon, and this focus on one child is what’s led other relatives to not share their readings with their kids. Brandon didn’t really care, though, and went for his own reading anyway a few weeks later.

As for mine?

They were set up in my aunt’s little private living room, smaller, cozier, and separate from the larger family room that ended up being a waiting area for everyone else. They had three chairs pulled very close together, a table, and incense burning. One was taking a bathroom break, but I sat with the other and she immediately started listing names. I didn’t recognize any but said I didn’t know a lot about my dad’s family. She told me they were strong with me anyway and follow me. She also knew they were German and later that my mom’s side has Polish.

I started recording about then, so I have everything on tape–at times strangely garbled and distorted, and I used this same recorder in an animal shelter full of barking dogs for an interview. Sure, I couldn’t hear over the dogs in some sections and lost some good stuff, but I don’t remember the sound quality itself actually being poor.

Moving on.

I can’t give them too much credit for some things. They did know my mom was there, although they didn’t know initially she had gone before me. Interestingly, the first woman started by asking my name and when I told her, she said, “Did you just tell me that before?” I hadn’t. But when she asked if my mom was there and found out my mom was her previous client, she said, “That’s why I know your name.” They knew my job, too, but they’d also heard that from my mother, so I can’t let them have it.

When the other one came in and started, they noted very quickly that my grandmother was “on the other side.” Now, both of my grandmothers are dead, but I didn’t want to give too much away, so I just said, “Okay.” Later, one of the ladies said, “But you don’t know which one I’m talking about.” That hit me.

They chatted a bit about the spirits in my aunt’s house, then opened with a prayer.

They gave me lots of names–Seth, a cousin’s name. They got Michael, which is Brandon’s middle name, but Michael has also come up in discussions of my guardian angel. They knew my great-grandma’s name but strangely kept talking about her as if she’s already dead. My mother said they did the same with her. This makes me nervous.

They picked up on my dad’s mom almost immediately, too. She died when I was almost two years old, so I don’t remember her, but I was really hoping to hear from her. I inhaled sharply when they brought her up. They told me she knew my grandfather had another lady after she died and said it wasn’t a big deal, though in retrospect I’m not sure if they meant his current wife, the woman he was seeing at the same time as this wife, or a possible affair he was having. He did have at least one. Later on, they picked up his dead sister, but they kept getting things wrong about her. That said, she did during childbirth. They also picked up on an alcoholic in the family, but addictions don’t follow me.

They knew my maternal grandma’s name, too–Eleanor–and said she was beautiful. She was. Apparently, she also said I should have taken up piano. “You could’ve done that,” she said. There’s still time. She also says I could use my creativity more–we’ll get back to that. They knew I dream about her sometimes–and whenever I dream of either of them, that’s them communicating with me–and said she tucks me in at night. I wish I’d remember this when I have bad, hard nights.

They talked more about my job and mentioned a New York connection. The company doesn’t have offices in New York, but they see work taking me there or moving me in general and said, “The house that you live in is not here.” They also saw a California connection, including a possible move to Los Angeles and working in production. They actually called Los Angeles my “first stop.” They also were picking up offices in four different states–technically, we’re in three but bought out a smaller company in a fourth state.

Within the first five minutes, they brought up marriage. I didn’t mention Paul, but they did later–and they knew we’d been together for two years at that point. “What are you waiting for?” my grandma says, but Pap Pap said we’ve already discussed it and are just waiting. We’re going to get married, we’re going to have a boy and a girl, and they see me living in a cottage, perhaps in a past life in England. He wants to marry me bad, he’s crazy about me, I love him, and they were relieved that we’re not living together–grandma would be upset. Pap Pap would be, too, but Pap Pap doesn’t come through much for anybody and wasn’t really brought up until I asked them what he thinks of Paul.

Paul also has a good intuition, they said, and I should listen to him if he feels strongly about something being good or bad (he’s already kind of proven himself here). They also said he’s a dreamer. Paul also comes from a good family, but Grandma isn’t too sure about his mom–she says she’s “odd,” “hard for her too read,” “not always friendly,” and that I don’t know how to take her even though she’s a very nice woman. This will become relevant later when I talk about the epic frustrations and pain she has caused me.

They say Paul’s a hard worker. They also say he’s not where he wants to be (he’s not) and talked about job prospects. They gave us advice, which we followed, but it has yet to land him anything. Pap Pap thinks he’s wonderful and likes his determination to do better, and the fact that Pap Pap was a machinist and Paul’s involved in that field is a compliment to Pap Pap’s energy. He’s not lazy, and if he were, Pap Pap “would’ve kicked him out of” my life. Pap Pap also knew his grandfather.

As for Pap Pap, he was like a father to me, especially according to him. Funny considering I think of him as one of my strongest and best male role models I ever had. He also said I don’t put up with much. They knew I’d cut my hair, which Pap Pap doesn’t like, but they say I’ll grow it long again and will have it long when I get married.

The fact that my dad and I don’t get along is “his stuff,” not mine–his personality and how he looks at things. He’s very opinionated, even when he’s not right. I shouldn’t feed into it, but Pap Pap told them I do anyway.

They told me lots of other things. I’m healthy. I have a lot of angels around me. Spirits from the other side help me so that if I want something and visualize it, it’s attainable, and I’ve already proven this in my work by already accomplishing things I was afraid I wouldn’t. I get goodness and calming energy from my mom’s side. They picked up something to do with special-needs children, and the only thing I could think of is some kids Terra has worked with. They said I’m my mom’s best friend. I have a good heart and light around me, and as long as I keep that, no one can interfere with my energy. I try to love everyone. I tell it like it is, and Grandma likes that. Sometimes when I look at the sky and think it looks heavenly, it’s my grandfather giving me a sign, especially because he’s with me when I drive. That’s when he can get my attention–he can’t do it at work, he says. Grandma thinks my friend Bobby is cute. I do remember her liking him when we went to prom. They knew about Pap Pap’s skill at gardening and said he’ll pass it on to me if I ask him, plus I’ll be a “back to nature” girl.

As for that creativity? I have a lot of it, with lots of colors around me, and I have a gift for writing. Pap Pap thought my college manuscript was very good and I could and should make a living writing, which is the long-term goal. They say I’ll publish a book.