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Christmas in Hollis – Tales of an Italian Superhero

I’m not sure if my grandmother was born on a Sunday, but I know that was her name. Her name was Domenica, which translates to “Sunday” in Italian. Her friends knew her as “Maggie” or “Madge”. I never even thought to ask why. I knew her as “Gram”.

If you ask most people how they remember Maggie, the response is often negative. You’ll hear stories about her being irrational and demanding. You’ll hear about the time my father returned home from the Vietnam War and many of his possessions were missing/sold/gone. You’ll hear about her blind hatred for her step-mother and her apparent inability to relate to her own daughter. You’ll hear about an ungrateful woman full of bitterness and impatience. That is not my story… and most people know better than to argue with me on this subject.

hollis argue italian girls

I’m a worrier. I was born serious. I was a serious child. I’m a serious adult. I’ll be a serious elderly person. The world, if it remembers me, will remember me as… Serious. Maggie was also serious, precise and deliberate. I’ll save the details of the serious child-Marie discussion for a separate blog. Or, let’s face it, a series of blogs. Back to Gram…

Gram listened to me. In a world where people don’t often pay attention to unaffectionate children, she paid attention to me. She made it her mission to embrace my nature and to point me toward a life of self-sufficiency. For those who know me, mission totally accomplished. Probably to an extreme. I tend to be a bit… productive.

hollis productive woman

hollis productive cartoon

Gram would often take us to interesting, out of the way places. She took us to fish hatcheries to learn about fish farming and to learn about forestry. She also took us to “the brook”. I have no idea where this brook is. It’s in Berkshire County, MA, USA somewhere. It was a typical New England Brook. Rocky shore. Clear running water. Minnows. Trees. We ate egg salad sandwiches on the rocks and waded around in the brook.

If there were ever other people around, it was usually another family or a couple of teenagers drinking Genesee Cream Ale listening to the radio. This time, there were two men in their 30’s. No swimming gear. No fishing poles. No picnic baskets. They were staring at me as if they were waiting for something to happen. Gram came over to us and said, “Girls, everything is ok. We might have to leave. If I say something, you obey.” She had never used the word “Obey” before. I noticed she was side eye-ing Beauregard and Jimmy-John (Pretty sure these were totally their names). Something wasn’t right.

About 2 minutes later Gram (who was calm, beautiful and, of course, serious) started walking sideways toward us. She was walking calmly in a way that she could see us, and our unwelcome guests, at the same time. Calmly and deliberately, she stepped into the brook. She picked up Sissy in one arm and me in the other. B and JJ sprang into action.

They were probably 100ft away and started running toward us. “Girls, stay calm and do as I say”.

With two lanky primary school children in her arms, Gram ran at what felt like a gazelle’s pace. At first B and JJ were so close that I could smell them. I could see their calloused hands reaching forward as if they were trying to propel themselves faster. I looked down and saw Gram’s legs outstretched and strong. Huge strides on an uneven terrain of oddly sized rocks. Wet and dry land. Tree limbs and rusty pieces of metal. In her bare feet. “Don’t look back”. I didn’t. She didn’t. Sissy didn’t. I failed to mention that in order to get to the brook you had to walk down a very steep hill with a winding dirt path. So steep that it was hard not to fall forward on your way down, and hard to catch your breath on the way up. No time for the path now. No time to catch your breath now. Like an Italian Superhero she flew up the rocky slope. I could hear rocks falling down the hill behind us.

Hollis Italian Superwoman

We finally reached the road. “Almost there”. I see the blue Dodge Horizon in the distance. Tilted at a right angle half on the paved road and half on the dirt path. I hear her shoes fall from her fingers and hit the ground. I hear panting and footsteps of B & JJ but can’t tell how close they are. I obey and don’t look back. “I’m dropping you now. RUN”. We fall to the ground and run. These were the days of unalarmed, unlocked cars. Her right arm reaches out and grabs sissy by the back of the shirt, shoving her through the open driver side window. I open my door, jump in and curl into a ball. Driver door slammed. Key into the ignition and the car starts. Tires burn out leaving skid marks from the driver’s side tire. The acceleration slams my door shut. I sit up and look out the back window and see B & JJ bending down, hands on knees, exhausted.

Hollis Dodge Horizon

Gram, serious and calm. Her hands gripping the steering wheel so tightly that her knuckles looked like they would pop out of her skin. Her right leg pressing so hard on the gas pedal trying to make the piece of shit engine go faster. “It’s over girls.” Wet bathing suits. No shoes. Calm Gram. Life continues as usual.

I was confused, but not shaken. I wasn’t shaken because she wasn’t shaken. She behaved how I now behave. Behavior that is often mistaken for unemotional or cold. In reality, it’s just serious. We went to the Friendly’s take-out window for ice cream. None of us wearing shoes. Life went on.

hollis italians forgive

Gram in a nutshell:

She took me to see every breakdancing movie that came out. Ever. She was obsessed with gang wars being resolved by dance battles. This knowledge hasn’t come in handy in real life…. Yet… (I’ve got my cardboard slab ready to throw down)

Hollis breakdancing

She felt it was important that I could find my way around by myself. She would tell me our destination and I would have to tell her how to get there. I now have a keen sense of direction and no fear of getting lost.

She knew that I didn’t enjoy life. She knew I was capable but that I just had no desire to enjoy it. I felt it was unproductive. One of the ways she countered this tendency was to bribe me to enjoy myself. I would be allowed to stay up late, or to try on her clothes, or watch soap operas if I would enjoy myself for 30 minutes. She chose to do this by taping songs from the radio and playing them back on a small, portable tape player. She played the music loud. Very loud. No breaks. I had to dance the entire time. Not move my feet around. Not move my hands around. DANCE. I had to dance my ass off for 30 minutes. It was an order. It was also amazing.

I really dislike sports. I refused free Red Sox Tickets so many times when I worked in Boston that my boss asked me if I was crazy. I explained to him that sitting through a sporting event for me was akin to him having a crying baby held in front of his face, and asked if he wanted free tickets to that. No… no he didn’t. Gram was one of the most dedicated NY Yankees fans I’ve ever seen. She took me on a tour bus to the Bronx to see a game once. This was her happy place.

My grandfather was a stone mason by trade by a guitar player by heart. Gram played saxophone. In their basement was an oil tank covered in signatures from people having partied with them over the years. I loved that oil tank and wonder if the current residents have painted over the signatures.

Natale / Ned / Grampa (Added bonus, Natale means Christmas in Italian)

She complained about housework constantly. Her house was spotless. You could eat off the bathroom floor. Her complaints to me weren’t just annoyance or regrets over life choices, they were direction. Don’t be like me. Be something more. Do not do housework. Ask my husband, I don’t do housework. I should, but I don’t. Blame Gram????

Gram loved Bruce Springsteen. She would lecture me on his music with detailed explanations about why he was the best musician, and best human being, on the planet. “The Boss” really understood life, apparently. She was very interested in pop culture and fashion. I knew all about which dresses Nixon’s daughters were wearing and how Nancy Reagan was a fashion nightmare even though she meant well. Poor thing.

She taught me that health is our most important asset. She hiked every day. She also loved to eat (and loved forcing others to eat… a lot… and then eat again). She taught me about balance. Ok Marie you can eat a Jim Dandy for dinner but then the next day you’ll want to just have a salad. Don’t deprive yourself or life isn’t worth living.

Hollis Jim Dandy

For those not from New England, USA.  THIS is a Jim Dandy.  Hellll yea.

Hollis nonna food

She taught me which plants you can eat and which plants could heal you. She taught me how to survive in the woods to the extent that I always felt being stranded in the woods was something inevitable… I’m still basically waiting for it to happen.

Gram learned as much as she could about rap music. She loved Run DMC. She bought me the Christmas in Hollis 45 record. We played it constantly. To me this was all very normal. In hindsight I re-think the scene. Me in my black, leather jacket, red nails and Metallica T-Shirt. Eating piles of pasta with poppy seed rolls. My grandmother in her Madonna-esque, but very appropriate, black outfit and thick silver, short, modern hair. Listening to Christmas in Hollis over, and over and over and over. When RUN DMC and Aerosmith later decided to collaborate, this was basically a national holiday for us. All very normal…

Hollis Album Cover

hollis aerosmith

Yassssssss

She must have told me a THOUSAND times to “Work in Computers”. “Computers are the future”. “You’ll never make it if you don’t know computers”. Yup, she nailed it. In 1981, she knew.

She was a fierce democrat. This isn’t uncommon for Italian immigrants, especially during this time. I would post the photo of us at a Mondale/Ferraro rally but my sister would stop speaking to me. Let’s just say we didn’t look our best that day (or that decade if I’m being honest).

Waste NOTHING. I swear this woman’s garbage on the curb was the size of my fist. She would find a use for everything, and if someone was wasteful I had to assume they were basically going to hell. Quickly. And we would be judging them as the descended.

hollis italian tupperware

She drove fast. She told it like it is. She did not GAF. She really didn’t. Except when she did. And when she did GAF it was about me. So she gets her own blog post, and she gets me punching anyone in the face who tries to tell me she wasn’t amazing. My often irrational, demanding, ungrateful, bitter and extremely loyal Italian Superhero.

Gram / Domenica / Maggie

 

Jesus was a Republican

Since I left Facebook (best decision I’ve made since quitting smoking, both were bad for my health), I generally get my news from Twitter where I follow several news organizations on all sides of the globe and all sides of the political fence. Wait, a globe is round, therefore it doesn’t have sides… and a fence only has 2 sides… never mind.

I don’t follow any extremist websites of any kind because I don’t drink Kool-Aid unless I mix it myself.

Jesus Kool Aid

I wouldn’t call myself a devoted religious person. I attended church when I was very little for a brief time. It was the Episcopal Church. I remember it as welcoming, friendly and open minded. In Sunday school we discussed general principles like The Golden Rule and, what we would refer to today as, Global Citizenship. I also remember them giving us lilacs on Easter Sunday which I thought was pretty amazing. Someone would just GIVE me a flower! For free! To this day I plant lilacs outside of my window wherever I live. I never thought about why until this very minute, but there seems to be a connection there.

Jesus Episcopalians

I find religion fascinating for many reasons. I’ve mentioned before that I recently started teaching an Arabic Business Strategy class and have learned a great deal about Islam and the Muslim philosophies in that endeavor. It’s truly intriguing. I’m equally fascinated by Catholicism and all other world religions. I’m interested in how/when they formed. What their basic principles are. How their members view the religion. How outsiders view the religion. How religion brings peace as often as it brings conflict. That last part is the most compelling to me. The more I learn about world religions, the more I want to know.

I also find “Faith” in general to be one of the most interesting things about religion. I don’t have faith in anything. That’s not an attempt to be shocking; it’s just the reality of how I live my life. I do believe that everything happens for a reason (even though it’s REALLY annoying when something bad happens to you and someone says that). I do believe there is more to existence than what we see, physically, in front of us. But, if I see someone with a “faith” tattoo, it’s a good general clue that we will likely never drink bourbon and watch Netflix together. Unrelated: I also really like Faith Hill’s music, but I don’t think that counts.

Jesus Faith MLK

What fascinates me is the blind “faith” of devout religious people. Over the years I’ve found MANY people who will tell me that they have complete faith in Jesus, or whoever their god is. That they trust in “his” judgment and direction. These people seem much happier than I ever will be, to be honest. If I’m being really honest, I’m generally not what I’d call a happy person. I think temporary bouts of contentment are probably my best case scenario. Hence, my interest in those with “faith” because this seems to make them very happy.

That said, in 100% of the times I’ve asked, those same faithful people have always disagreed with at least one portion of their Bible or their Koran etc. I find it hard to understand how you can have blind faith in “the word” and then have well BUT not ABC because XYZ.

The XYZ is many things. Well, I don’t believe in stoning children when they speak out of turn because that portion was written in a different time. A different time? Don’t the rules of god apply at all times? If not, how do we know when to let stoning children drop off the list? How do we know it’s cool to use birth control now without going to hell? Was there a memo? In my experience the general response is that “the church” has decided…

Jesus Cool Story Bro

I’ve asked these questions of Pastors and Rabbis and students. As always, there is no definite answer. Cafeteria Catholics seem to be a symptom of our evolution. I’ll get in line for Jesus. I’ll slide my tray down the line and grab The Golden Rule with a side of Not Laying with my Neighbors Wife, but I’ll leave the stoning children and no birth control on the shelf. Jesus won’t mind because XYZ. Talked to my minister and he’s all… it’s cool it’s just birth control, but don’t be gay because that one is still hell-worthy. I’ll let you know if it gets dropped off the list.

Jesus cafeteria

Jesus H. Christ, what was my point?! (I obviously left blasphemy on the shelf today too… my bad). I can’t find anything in 27 years of religious philosophical conversation and research that indicates that Jesus was a Republican. The Republican claim on Christianity is entirely confusing. There is this sense in the current political climate that the GOP upholds Christian values, with an undertone that the Dems are trying to destroy it.  Huh?

So for the sake of argument, let’s say that Jesus doesn’t mind now if you don’t stone your kids or if you let your wife speak before she’s spoken too… he’s all good with that now because XYZ. Let’s say he cares about the big stuff like abortion, divorce, sex before marriage, using birth control and being gay.

I would argue that Republicans get divorced, have sex before marriage and use birth control. In theory I suppose they are less likely to have an abortion, and perhaps are more likely to oppose gay rights/gay marriage. Republicans also seem more likely to oppose immigration from Middle Eastern countries and to oppose Islam/Muslim religion.

Here are a few Jesus GOP related spoilers for you:

  • Jesus was not Republican
  • Jesus was Middle Eastern. Yup, not only was Jesus brown, but if he were alive today he would be under the U.S. travel ban. Just a reminder, the people that the GOP doesn’t want in the country are the same nationality as Jesus, who is the person that you say you will follow faithfully. (Hint: You aren’t following Jesus and you’re not hiding it well)
  • Jesus was a Jew. Wait… what? Now that’s a head scratcher.
  • One of Jesus’s main jams was that the worse a person’s situation, the more important that it is to help that person. Americans love to act as if HOW the person got into a bad situation matters. You know who it doesn’t matter to? You guessed it, your buddy Jesus. Turn away the poor, the sick, those in need and you are telling Jesus… Nope! Sorry dude I’ll follow you in theory but this actual following you is SO HARD! By the way do you know where the cafeteria is?

Jesus Carter

Here’s my point (yes I’m FINALLY getting to what might be a coherent point…) Republicans do not hold the Christianity Card. If the basic premise of the Christian religion is to sacrifice for those in need… I would argue that Christianity is a bipartisan concept.

—————–

The opposite of Jesus’s message, is Nationalism. I repeat, the opposite of Jesus’s message… is Nationalism.

—————–

Jesus Nationalism

 

Acoustic or Electric? “The Voice” Auditions.

You should know that once a year-ish I’ll be doing a shameless plug for my 14 year old daughter.  This is no ordinary “my kid is awesome!” post… She is, but this is different. Keep in mind when you watch these videos… She’s FOURTEEN.  We need help deciding which “voice” she goes with for her audition for “The Voice”.

Here are two of her most recent performances, one is VERY electric, a cover of “Zombie” by The Cranberries at a live show (the end is my favorite part).  The other is VERY unplugged and recorded last night in our dining room, a cover of “A Team” with acoustic guitar.  She taught herself to play guitar over the last 3 months.

Auditions for the voice within the next 12 months.

Trying to decide which “voice” to go with for auditions… her acoustic voice or her electric voice…  Which do you prefer?  The first is a link to the Zombie performance because I can’t seem to figure out how to get WordPress to let me embed both.  The acoustic is embedded.  #ISuck

They review her YouTube channel as well, so please subscribe to help her chances!  ❤

Link to LAB Rocks Zombie Electric Cover that her Mother Can’t Figure Out How to Embed Because She’s Incredibly Old and Incompetent

 

Everything is Totally Fine

You know when everything is not fine?  When someone says everything is fine.  If someone says they are fine, or tells you that something you did was fine, run.  Run like the wind.

everything dog fire

For the last few months, I’ve had my everything-is-fine face and everything-is-fine reaction down to a science.  I’ve always walked the earth with RBF (resting bitch face), but I do consider myself a friendly person.

Fine-and-deflect is the tactic for 2017.  “How was your weekend, did you guys end up going to out to dinner?”  Me: “It was fine co-worker person, and yours?”.  Lather, rinse and repeat.

everything dog fence

So far my blog posts are falling into two categories: State of Life At the Moment & The Life and Times of Marie Christine.  Now, the State of Life At the Moment posts are not deliberately political, but given the current.. you know… world.. it’s nearly impossible to avoid.  Reason for stating this: My blog is not intended to be political… but such is life at the moment.

As it were, everything is not fine.

I just heard that we are supposed to get an evil amount of snow over the next couple of days.  As some of you know, and as my friend James recently put it… where I live we “go to war with winter” every year.  We live in the city, on a very busy 3 lane road.  That road has a sidewalk that we are required to maintain.  That maintenance includes snow removal.

Picture a city with frequent multi-foot snowfalls.  Picture a busy 3 lane city street.  Picture gigantic state-owned plows for 12 hours straight putting snow from 3 lanes of roadway onto a sidewalk already covered in over a foot of snow.  At times, the snow is over Not-Tom-Brady’s 6ft tall body.  The snow is heavy, ice filled and almost immovable.  We can’t hire anyone to deal with it, because there’s nowhere for them to put the snow.  We go to WAR with this snow.  Update: Our snow blower is broken.  Not-Tom-Brady just went out to buy 3 shovels.  My 14 year old daughter, or “the tall one” as I call her, will be shoveling as well.  Welcome to the jungle baby….  Everything is fine.

everything snow

When considering that DJT could leave this earth for the 5th circle of hell, leaving Mike Pence as the leader of the free world, I refer back to something my mother told me a couple of months ago that she’d heard somewhere else.  “Donald Trump is the rapist and Mike Pence is the judge who let him go free.”  This is obviously deeply disturbing, but at the same time, I think I’m ok with the judge if I have to pick between the two.  That said, some of you might be familiar with this week’s latest real-news revelation that falls into the “everything is fine” wheelhouse.

Apparently VP Pence has been quoted as saying that he will not eat alone with any woman but his wife.  He also avoids events that serve alcohol if his wife is absent.  He cited his Christian Faith as the reason.  Now… I’m not as versed in Christianity as some but I’m pretty sure that Christians are totally allowed to eat dinner with non-spouses and are definitely allowed to drink alcohol.  It would seem that our potential future president is unable to control himself, sexually, when his wife is not present to police him.  Sadly, I will still take “the judge” because “the rapist’s” impulse control is even worse. Everything is fine.

everything limerick

Paul Ryan.  I expected more from you.  Your existence used to give me hope that there was a chaperone at the frat party.  Now, not so much.  Duuuuuuuuuuuude COME ON.  I had no idea that you would turn into this person, or is this who you always were? Everything is fine.

everything ryan

Hey poor people, did you try selling your iPhones? 

North Korea just threatened John McCain for calling Kim Jon Un “crazy fat kid”.  Everything is fine.

Number of new jobs in coal: 0

Jobs created in government positions for:  Ivanka, Ivanka’s Husband Jared, Kellyanne Conway’s Husband in the DOJ.  Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  Everything is fine.

Russia.  Seriously y’all I don’t know what’s going on, but everyone agrees that something is.  Investigate.  Report.  Handle.  I must admit “The Americans” is one of my favorite prime time shows right now.  But I don’t like it enough to be all.. yea Russia it’s cool…  Everything is fine.

everything boris

The BBC reported more than 3,600 cases of measles in Italy and Romania and 17 measles related deaths.  Anti-vaxxers, stop being D-bags at the expense of the health of your children and the children of others.  Your selfishness will be your legacy.  Everything is fine.

I recently started teaching a class that includes Arabic business strategy. If you want to become completely disillusioned with the state of humanity, I suggest you start teaching in depth study of the 22 Arabic nations. My flask from my prior blog post is now coming in handy.  I used to think my race relations teacher at UMASS was an alcoholic… now I know why.  Everything is fine.  #Yemen

everything spiral

We did recently have a slight glimmer of hope amidst the land of half empty glasses.  Democrat and Republican leaders stepped up to shoot down the repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act, once it became clear that 24 million people would lose coverage.  Now mind you, I’m one of the people who now pays twice as much for health insurance and has half the coverage.  Even from this vantage point I still know that innocent Americans should not die so that I can have a lower copay %.

everything guurrll

To those who disagree, what happened to “Take Care of Our Own First?”  If you mean that, then prove it by supporting healthcare coverage for “our own”.  If you don’t, then STFU for real and stop saying that. What you mean is Take Care of Our Own First As Long as It Doesn’t Affect Me.   Put down your hot pocket and shut it.  Everything is fine.

everything covered

I’m going to be putting my house on the market in a month or so.  My realtor (Hey Dave!) and I discussed the approximate value of the house.  He’s more optimistic than me about what we can get for it.  I’m trying to think positive, but I’m Gen X so that’s not really my jam.  So, if it sells for something between what he thinks it’s worth and what I think it’s worth… after realtors fees and paying off the mortgage, I will have about $150 to spare.  With that much leeway, what could go wrong?

Then when I sell I should easily be able to find the perfect home, in the perfect location, in my price range and have a closing the same week as my house sale closing.  Right?  If not, it will probably be incredibly easy for me to find a temporary rental for 2 adults, 2 children, 2 dogs, a cat and a beta fish.  This should be very easy… and remember I’ll have that $150 to handle any unexpected expenses.  Stay tuned!  Everything is fine.

everything house

This has been a message from the Gold is From Aliens broadcast system.  Stay Tuned for less political, but still likely sarcastic and pessimistic, upcoming posts from the life and times of Marie Christine.

everything yell

The Redneck Police

Let me start off by saying that I have a self-imposed blog rule.  I do not talk about my parents, or childhood, except in passing… on this blog. I don’t say anything good about it that would make my mother (who is reading this right now) feel awkward, and I don’t say anything bad about it that would make her feel regretful or sad.  It’s very unlikely that my father is reading this, but the same rules apply.   

Now let’s begin the story of the ever looming Redneck Police.

When I graduated from college, I moved to Norfolk, VA. I had been to Virginia Beach to visit a boyfriend who was in the Navy at one point, and thought hey… why not?  They have a beach, it’s nowhere near my hometown, and it’s not so far South that I won’t fit in… so I grabbed a college friend, and we went.

I got a job as an underpaid financial products sales-rep during the day, but worked at Morrison’s Cafeteria at night.  Sadly, Morrison’s Cafeteria paid more.  I had waitressed at Friendly’s Restaurant during college.  This was different.  In a cafeteria style setting the customers would get their food, and essentially I would refill their drinks and bring them extra napkins.  There was no assumption that I would receive a tip, so I was forced to get creative and make them feel as though I had earned one.  I’m a hustler, I did well there, but it was not fun.  It was, often times, humiliating.

imposter waitress

One evening, a very Southern man and his family came in for dinner.  I engaged them in conversation and refilled their drinks and napkins quickly, essentially securing at least SOME tip, even if it was just a dollar.  The father asked me if I had considered college, and I replied that I had recently graduated.  I turned and saw a teenager across the room drop her entire tray of half eaten food on the floor, and walk out.  As was required, I went over and started to clean it up.  Beef stew does NOT come out of a carpet easily, Plus, who puts a carpet in a cafeteria?

I felt a tap on my shoulder, looked up and saw the Southern man from earlier.  I stood and asked him what he needed.  He put his hands on my shoulders, paused and stared at me for a moment.  I said, “Are you ok? What can I do for you?”  He said something I will never forget.  He said “Marie.  You don’t belong here.  You need to stop cleaning up after rude customers and start the rest of your life.  Quit this place.  Quit and never look back”.  I looked over his shoulder and saw his wife, nodding in agreement.  He squeezed my shoulders, and walked out of the restaurant.  I still remember exactly what he looked like and what he was wearing that evening.  He also looked and sounded like Morgan Freeman, and somehow that makes the advice much more powerful for real. That is the day I decided to elude the Redneck Police and take control of my professional life.  2 weeks later I moved to North Carolina and got a job as a paralegal.  I’m skipping a short stint at a sewing factory when I first arrived… but trust me, you want that to be its own blog story.

Imposter Over it

Fast forward to the next 20 years of my adult life. In 1997 I started working as a claims adjuster at a Fortune 500 Insurance Company in Warwick, Rhode Island.  Fast forward a few years later and I was managing a team of complex claim adjusters at a Regional Insurance Carrier in Central, Massachusetts.  Fast forward to me running all Claim Management at one of the world’s largest retail companies.  Today I’m an adjunct Economics Professor at a Private College and a Strategy Director at a large insurance carrier.

I hope to be adding to this progression in a couple of years: Assistant Vice President of XYZ.  I feel confident that this is on the horizon.  Yet, I’m still an imposter.

Imposter Syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.   What does this mean?  How does it apply to me? How might it apply to you?

Impostor Cartoon

There is even a debate on the spelling of “Imposter” vs. “Impostor”.  Both are correct.  “Impostor” is more widely accepted, so I chose to use the underdog.  The imposter of the imposter choices, if you will.

Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent in woman, and even more prevalent when crossing over social classes.  My bosses and colleagues over the years have expressed nothing but confidence and appreciation for my work ethic, work product and friendship.  I have no evidence that I’ve ever disappointed any of them in any professional way.  I would also argue that I’m one of the most confident people you’ll ever meet. Yet I still, at times, feel like an imposter.  Why?

I’m currently surrounded by co-workers who were seemingly born and bred for success.  Their stories are almost identical to each other’s, even though their personalities are very different.  They don’t appear to even realize how similar their backgrounds are.  You’ll often hear them talking about having struggled as children with parents who were perhaps middle or upper-middle class.

I nod in acknowledgement as they re-tell the horrors of only vacationing locally or having a job during high school. They usually have very deliberate, and readily available, examples of not having everything handed to them, even though it essentially was.  It doesn’t mean they aren’t hard workers or good people, but there’s a lack of perspective on the reality of the experience of being in another social class.  Just as other social classes lack the perspective on having resources or proper guidance and what that might be like.  Overall I would say that the middle class and rich can never really understand how the struggle feels and evolves for the working class. The working class can never really understand that the middle class and rich have struggles as well, just different ones.

I avoid talking about myself in most work situations, with the exception of a very select few (who are probably reading this right now). Even then I try to keep it to a minimum whenever possible.  It is what it is… “normal” means something different to everyone,  as does “struggle”.

Impostor Maya Angelou

The vast majority of my friends from childhood did not go to college. I, personally, always assumed that I would go, and I did.  I got a B.A. in Sociology and went on to get an MBA.  I don’t see my high school friends very often, but when I do I try to downplay my job and my education to the point where it’s probably ridiculously obvious that I’m doing so.  I truly care about them and want them to know I’m the same person.  But, it is what it is.  I’ve never believed that you need college to be smart, or successful.  But I always knew that I would go to college, to give myself as many options as possible.

My first day at a real corporation was on January 17th, 1997. I felt very proud wearing my professional dress and heels, walking into the building.  I met my training class and immediately realized I was not with “my” people.  People talked about graduating from Brown University or Salve Regina and their family vacation homes in Newport. They asked questions about being taken off their parents’ health insurance (health insurance?!!!! I get health insurance?!!!!) while I asked questions about how health insurance works.  They lived in condos in the city, and in Westerly near the beach.  I lived in a basement apartment in Pawtucket, in the parking lot of a working factory building, with 2 roommates and a dog that we hid from the landlord.        

I participated but was, for some reason, assuming there would be more people like me there.  There weren’t.  At UMASS there were all kinds of people.  Rich kids who couldn’t get into better colleges, poor kids on scholarships, people from other countries…  A lot of us working toward the same goal, a degree.  Not here.  This was a group of people born with resources.  People born with the assumption of a white collar future, and health insurance! I made friends and did well.  3 friends I made there (Lisa, Stacey & Cyndi) I still speak to today and cherish their friendships and opinions.  One of the 3 is a black woman, which was as close as I could find in the group to another person not from the exact mold. Years later the two of us left on the same day to go to another company together.

20-ish years later I’ve come to understand that being an outsider isn’t a bad thing.  I actually believe that it’s an asset.  That said, it’s VERY hard to find like-experienced people once you’ve crossed a line like that.  Walking into the building with my dress and heels back in 1997 I didn’t realize I was passing through an invisible portal separating one life experience from the other. It’s probably even harder crossing in the opposite direction.

imposter portal

It’s best not to try too hard to find our counterpart portal-jumpers.  We tend to gravitate toward each other seemingly driven by some unknown force.  Once the realization hits that you have this common life experience it does reduce the amount of times a day you question your decision to cross the line.  You create a sort-of secret society of people who have infiltrated the system.  It’s one of the strongest bonds I’ve seen in a professional setting.

Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not one to pretend I’m someone I’m not.  I’m not a new person.  I’m just me.  I’m the same person I was in 1985 in high school as I am in 2017.  I’m the person who drinks cheap beer and smokes generic cigarettes in a 2 bedroom apartment with 9 residents AND am also the person who eats lobster and drinks bloody marys in downtown Boston. I’m both of those people, but also an imposter in both of those situations.

This is a fairly accurate pre and post-portal depiction, sans black hair.

For the most part, both of those groups of people continue to accept me.  I like to think it’s because they recognize that it’s possible to be both of them at the same time.  I think it’s really the assumption by both groups that I’m strictly theirs. I won’t say it’s easy, because honestly it’s not.  You’re in a constant state of feeling like you’re betraying one group or the other just by simply existing. You belong everywhere and you belong nowhere… and there’s no going back. 

I’ll be at a party and feel like people are staring at me because my earrings are expensive or because I’ve had a manicure… or maybe they “KNOW” that I went to grad school. I’m in a conversation thinking “Please don’t ask me what I do for work.” I’m an imposter there.

The elevators of the tower I work in will open and I’ll begin to step off the elevator in my suit, as my co-worker complains about the contractor for her beach house working too slowly or not meeting her expectations.  I’m an imposter there.  I’ll start to feel faint and look to the left and look to the right.  I’m looking for the Redneck Police.  They will tap me on the shoulder and say the same thing the Morgan Freeman doppelganger said at Morrison’s Cafeteria in the summer of 1994.  “You don’t belong here.” … “It’s been a nice ride lady, glad you enjoyed it, but the jig is up.  No time to pack a box, just leave.  We don’t want your non-beach house having a$$ up in here.”

As of today, the Redneck Police haven’t shown up.  I’ve learned that they are a figment of my imagination, and the imagination of those like me… and that there is a real term for this: “Imposter Syndrome”.  As a middle aged woman I tell the women I mentor and the men and women who will follow in similar footsteps… you are not an Imposter. Be strong. Stick together. You belong everywhere. Infiltrate the system, and take it over.  It’s up to you.  If you can’t trust Morgan Freeman’s doppelganger, who CAN you trust?!

I’m Part of the Problem

I’m part of the problem, and you probably are too.

There are an increasing amount of forums available for people to express their opinions.  I stopped using Facebook at the end of 2016 because these opinions became a bit unbearable, but that’s a story for another day.  I’ve been using Twitter, which is much more informative and less pretend-reality, which is nice.  It’s not perfect, but it gets me my info fix for the day and I can move on… without having to see someone’s 15th post about their ambiguous state of mind, or photos from a romantic dinner with two smiling people who can’t actually stand each other.  I don’t miss the “Having a terrible day!” posts, followed by “What’s wrong?”, “Are you ok?”

problem internet

Sharing opinions is good. Sharing opinions is necessary.  How will we ever evolve if we don’t have a diverse input of thoughts and information?  We express our opinions.  We mean it.  We truly mean it.  But then what?  What happens after we express our opinions?  I would argue that we can do better at what comes next… but will we?

Let’s start with some of my basic opinions and then we’ll move to why I’m part of the problem:

  • All human beings have equal value.
  • Basic healthcare is a human right.
  • Red is the best color in the spectrum, hands down!
  • Judge not lest ye be judged.
  • “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” –Madeleine Albright
  • No child should ever go hungry.
  • King crab legs are the best meal on earth.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.
  • The government has no business making decisions regarding reproduction.  Period. (no pun intended)
  • Six Feet Under had the best series finale I’ve ever seen, or ever will see.
  • No earthly human has the right to sentence someone to death.
  • Police Body Cameras should be mandatory.
  • Corporations should pay a lower tax rate. (Wait, aren’t you a democrat? Yep)
  • Common Core works, whether you understand why or not.
  • Gold is from Aliens (obviously)
  • Brock Turner is not a person, he’s an epidemic.  Parents: don’t raise Brock Turner.
  • The “bailouts” in 2008 were necessary and pretty much saved our economy (Yes, still a democrat).
  • Charter Schools and School Choice represent a gentrification of the public school system, creating an unequal and biased system for public education.
  • If you’re sitting on a bus and there’s an elderly person standing in front of you, give them your seat. (this falls into the “Don’t be an a$$hole” category)   

So, now that I’ve catalogued and declared these opinions as mine…  What do I do?  I FEEL like I do a lot.  I’m a teacher.  I’m a mentor.  I’m an activist.  I’m a parent.  I’m a strategist. I help others. I make sacrifices.  I listen.  I often put others’ needs before my own.  I volunteer.  I treat others as I would like to be treated.  I’m respectful.  I compromise.  I think before I speak. I think before I act. I consider the consequences of my actions.  Wow… I’m pretty amazing! …Or am I?

problem victor medal

This is me and Paralympic Gold Medalist Stefani Victor.  I’m an advocate for people with disabilities.  See!  Here’s sort-of proof that I’m a good person!!!! And yes, that’s totally her gold medal she’s holding and it’s really heavy and shiny (and from Aliens obviously).

I’m still part of the problem.  I write this blog not to punish myself or to implore anyone to live their lives in a particular way.  I write it to remind myself, and perhaps someone else, that we are all part of the problem.  Before we point the finger at someone else, figure out if we need to point it at ourselves first.

problem italian face

Just a few of ways that I’m part of the problem…

I go to a private hospital.  I live in the city.  I live in a part of the country where medical care is readily available.  I would argue that I live in one of the best places in the world if you’re a sick person.   If I get sick… if my family gets sick… we don’t take our health insurance card and go to the state or public hospital and support them and the community.  Nope.  We pull up to the private hospital, park 3 feet from the door in the expensive parking garage, and we walk into the giant atrium.  The atrium greets us with an array of delicious food options, and a tranquil waterfall.  Legit guys there is an actual, huge, real waterfall in the lobby.  Most days there is also some sort of entertainment… perhaps a young man playing acoustic guitar or someone playing piano.

Why do I do this?  Less crowded.  Cleaner.  Shorter wait.  No people asking me for change.  No riff raff.  Right?  No riff raff. But wait, aren’t all humans equal to all other humans?  Shouldn’t we all be at the same hospital?  You’d think so from my opinion list, but when the rubber meets the road, I pay more to avoid things that I don’t want to deal with when I’m sick.  I’m part of the problem.

Problem text and drive

What makes a “bad” person, a “bad” person? Who decides which indiscretion is worse? Who decides what an indiscretion is? (insert flask reminder here)

I go the gym several times a week.  My kids often come with me and use the indoor and outdoor pools.  The gym is also a Tennis center, but we don’t really take advantage of it.  How is this part of the problem?

The gym I go to is expensive.  It’s right outside the city in a fancy-pants suburb. There are at least 5 gyms within 10 minutes of my house. I live in a very populated area.  I pay about double for MY gym even though I don’t play tennis… which is basically what this gym is all about.

Why do I do this?  Less crowded.  Cleaner.  Shorter wait.  No people asking me for change. No riff raff.  Seeing a trend here?  I can tell myself it’s because I have two jobs and very little time, and this is more convenient… or I like the pool, or the family that owns it. All of those things are actually quite true… but at the end of the day… I pay more to avoid things I don’t want to deal with because I’m part of the problem.

problem paxton fitness

See, at least I can watch Tennis while I run. Note the lack of people around. 

IRONY ALERT: If I’m being honest, the people at the gym are super nice, and at the beginning of a class, or when I first step on a treadmill, they smile and make small talk.  We laugh and share stories about past classes or complain about how out of shape we are.  Then, inevitably… and because I absolutely hate sweating, I take off my long sleeved gym shirt and am wearing a fitness tank top… exposing a very pretty, but very gigantic half sleeve tattoo.  At this point, I become the riff raff.   The longer I go to this gym, the more they get used to me… if you will.  But it’s always fun to see their look of confusion.  Wait, isn’t this gym expensive enough to weed out the half-sleeves?  Nope. I thought this half-sleeve was one of us… I’ve been duped! I can only assume that I’m not “that nice lady from the gym”, but rather “That lady with the half sleeve” or “She must be from Worcester”…But I digress.

problem half sleeve

As I mentioned, I live in the city.  I love my city.  We have amazing restaurants and so much to do in the way of entertainment.  We also have a rich history, beautiful architecture and very cool people that I feel I belong with.  It’s one of my favorite places on earth.  I have two daughters.  One is 14 and one is 9.  My 14 year old goes to school in an affluent suburb outside of the city where her father lives.  My 9 year old goes to another suburban public school in a different town, under the city’s school choice program.

Problem diner

Wait, didn’t I just say that school choice is basically the anti-christ of the public school system? Yes, yes I did, and I honestly believe that.  I can tell myself that the suburb she goes to is NOT affluent (it’s most definitely not… working class, diverse, all that), and that she’s a sensitive kid who struggles with being too hard on herself who would not thrive in a school with gang violence.  These are true statements.  That said, what makes HER so special that she should get a pass and contribute to the demise of public schools?  I do, I suppose. Anyone can apply for school choice, but does everyone know they can? Does everyone know how? …This makes me a hypocrite and an opportunist, does it not?  I’m part of the problem.

What to do now that we know we are part of the problem?  Try to be better people?  We like to say that we do “the best we can”.  Do we?  Does anyone really do the BEST they can?

Problem better person