Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Remembering Sonya: The Origin Story of a Beautiful Friendship

A year ago today, I lost the best friend I have ever had, Sonya Bastian, after a long fight with lung cancer. She was just weeks away from her 42nd birthday.

I remember quite vividly the first time I met Sonya. It was the summer of 1990. I was with some friends, shopping in the Oregon District, when I spotted my old friend Jasmine sitting on a little grassy hill near the overpass. I had known Jasmine since second grade; we’d been neighbors and best friends back then, but drifted apart when my parents moved. By sheer coincidence, we both ended up in what was called “the Dayton punk scene” and re-connected. By then, we’d each had new best friends, as kids will do. I’d heard a lot about her bosom buddy, enough so that when I saw her that day, I immediately thought: That must be her. Sonya Bastian.

She was wearing a long, black dress and gorgeous boots with fishnet stockings. Her hair was jet black and cut in a bob, her face adorned with perfect Goth makeup, her long, black nails holding a clove cigarette. She looked beautiful, very much like Siouxsie Sioux, whom I adored. She was talking with Jasmine, and suddenly put a hand on her midsection and threw her head forward in what I would later think of as her signature laugh.

I hated her almost instantly.

It was the kind of hate that’s practically a major food group in young teen girls: pure, unadulterated, drama-fueled envy. Given the circumstances, it was just inevitable. She was the best friend of the girl who had once been my best friend. She had once dated the guy I was then dating, and he always spoke of her as if she were what we’d now call a perfect Manic Pixie Dream Girl. His father even talked of her as if he wished she was still dating his son. Another guy I had once had one of those quintessential unrequited high school crushes on never noticed it because he had his own unrequited crush on her. So I was already pretty biased against even the idea of Sonya Bastian long before ever laying eyes on her.

And when I did finally lay eyes on the famous Sonya Bastian, I went from minor bias to full-blown jealousy in record speed. She seemed to be everything I wished I could be. I had always been a tomboy, and rather unremarkably plain. My older brother once accused me of having embraced the punk look because it was the only way I could get any attention on my appearance, and there’s probably some truth to that. Deep down inside, though, I wanted to be goth...but I simply couldn’t pull it off. I didn’t have the talent necessary to do the makeup properly, nor did the look suit me at all. On the rare occassions when I tried to dress in the goth fashions I loved, it looked like a very poor attempt at a cheap Halloween costume. I was, to my occassional disappointment, the kind of girl who was best suited to a punk rather than a goth aesthetic: more Joan Jett than Morticia Addams.

But Sonya could not only pull that desirable goth look off, she did so perfectly, managing to make it look both glamorous and effortless in the process. I remember looking her, and then at myself, in my tattered cut-off jean shorts, torn black tights, a “Die Die My Darling” Misfits t-shirt ironically borrowed from a mutual friend, and my older brother’s old Army combat boots. Next to Sonya, I felt scruffy, boring, invisible.

There’s an old movie from 1980 that HBO would play on Saturday afternoons called “Midnight Madness,” and it was a favorite in my family. In it is a scene in which the antagonist, Harold, asks his father to stop comparing him to the film’s hero, Adam. He begs his father to just “see me as I really am.” The dad then looks at Harold from toes to top and says, “Blech.” That’s how I felt as I compared myself to Sonya the day we met: she was Adam, and I was Harold.

Our relationship did not improve after this, due to an incident engineered by my ex/former abuser/stalker, and compounded when I tried to help a mutual friend get back into a relationship which unbeknownst to me had been toxic. The latter occurance led to the first phone call we ever had, and boy did she let me have it! It was the first time I got to see how fiercly loyal and protective she was, when it came to the people she loved. It wouldn’t be the last.

The last time I saw Sonya before moving to Oregon was much like the first: jealousy-inducing. It was at a nightclub called The Palace. She was dancing, looking gorgeously goth. She was the mother of two children at that point, and yet looked as fierce as ever. I can still see her dancing, in my mind’s eye. The song was New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.” I still think of her every time I hear it.

A few years later, I joined a group on MySpace for punk parents. In that group, there was a mother identified as Sonya from Dayton. I quickly realized she was the very same Sonya I had a not-so-great past with. As I became more and more involved in the group, I began to feel increasingly in the wrong: I was anonymous to her, but she was not anonymous to me. It was time to come clean. So I sent her a message, telling her who I was and offering to leave the group if my presence there made her uncomfortable. After all, she had belonged to the group first. It seemed only fair.

Her response: “I don’t have time for high school drama. We were kids: I was a little shit, you were a little shit. How have you been?”

We began regularly messaging each other on MySpace, then chatted via AIM, and finally exchanged phone numbers. The very first time we talked on the phone in ages, she apologized to me for the incident with the ex. As it turns out, she soon realized he was manipulating her, and the guilt had eaten away at her for years. He had played on her extraordinary sense of loyalty and protectiveness, then betrayed her (AKA his regular MO).

My response: “He was a master con artist, and you are far from the only person who’s apologized to me over the years for believing in him. I don’t hold it against anyone. Besides, we were kids: I was a little shit, you were a little shit.”

She laughed. I laughed. And thus began the greatest friendship of my life: by two women agreeing they were little shits as teens!

We also soon learned that we were eerily alike far beyond shitty adolescence. “We’re basically the same person,” she would say. It was likely the reason we didn’t get along when we were kids: we were just too much alike. That was anathema to two teenagers in the punk scene...just admitting to ourselves that we were so much alike would have been utterly unthinkable. Ah, the fragile ego of youth!

But as adults, it no longer felt like anathema...it felt like kismet instead.

She was surprised when I told her how jealous I had been of her, because when we’d first met in the Oregon District that day, she had been jealous of me! After all, I’d been the first best friend of her best friend, I was dating the guy she still inexplicably had some feelings for, and while I was envious of her dancing, she was envious of my singing.

This lead to an epic conversation I recorded in my journal later that same day:

Me: YOU were jealous of ME?!? Why?
Sonya: All I ever heard was, “Have you heard Angel sing?” Ugh, it was too much!
Me: Umm...you know my last name is Singer now, don’t you?
—long pause—
Sonya: That. Is. Fucking. HILARIOUS!

We laughed so hard, we nearly choked.

There were ways, of course, in which we were not alike, but that never seemed to matter. Issues that would have torn other relationships to shreds was never an obstacle for us, for reasons I could never hope to adequately explain. We were polar opposites when it came to politics and religion, for example. Yet it never mattered. We were still “basically the same person.”

As the years went on, that incredibly unlikely friendship grew stronger and stronger. The closest equal in pop culture can be found in the show “Boston Legal”: She was Denny Crane, and I was Alan Shore. The Female Flamingos. Different, but somehow the same. And just as fiercly devoted and loving. I never lacked a companion, a confidante, or a defender, with Sonya by my side.

The woman whose beauty I was so jealous of came to call me “Pretty Lady.” Every conversation we had, every voice mail she left, always started with, “Hey, Pretty Lady! It’s me again.”

I called her “Dear Heart.” I ended every email and message and email with, “I miss you, Dear Heart.”

And so I can think of no better way to end this post than to say:

I miss you, Dear Heart.

Always.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Trump: The Diva Unleashed

It has become increasingly obvious that Donald Trump sees the Presidency as being no different from his reality tv days. When you think of his time on the campaign and in office, it's pretty clear that he doesn't think of himself as a politician, he thinks of himself as a superstar. And not just any superstar: Trump is a Hollywood Diva. And like any true diva, he can't abide being told what he can and cannot do by anyone...and this includes his newest babysitter, General John Kelly.

When you look at Trump's candidacy and presidency through the lens of a B-level boob tube star, a lot of what he does suddenly makes sense. Trump's Divahood is why he:

*Refers to his military staff as being from "central casting"
*Is obsessed with ratings and crowd sizes
*Is fond of frequently and wholeheartedly ranting to his "fans" on social media
*Focuses entirely on himself, no matter what, in order to protect/promote his brand
*Is fond of fan merchandise, even wearing it frequently himself
*Spins negatives into positives, and if that isn't possible, labels it as tabloid-like "fake news"
*Feels the need to keep holding rallies about the election nearly a year after the election
*Cannot accept blame for any failed projects
*Uses his platform of leader of the free world to promote his and his family's business ventures
*Treats staff & Secret Service officers as his personal gophers and errand-boys
*Thinks nothing of having White House aides carry his wife's designer luggage en route to an area ravaged by a hurricane and horrific flooding
*Thought a photo opp and looking at a map in Houston counted as "firsthand outreach" during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey
*Considered negative press, personal grudges, and tv personalities he dislikes as being more Tweet-Worthy than cop shootings, Charlottsville, and Hurricane Harvey
*Doesn't want to risk alienating any segment of his fanbase, regardless of how repulsive their words and actions turn out to be
*Is obsessed with stopping leaks to reporters, despite a long history of cultivating gossip news coverage himself under pseudonyms
*Frequently 86's publicists when his popularity wavers, as it couldn't possibly be his fault
*Hates any form of media that criticizes him
*Considers himself to be too busy to read more than one page of daily itinerary per day made up of short, Twitter-like sentences, plus plenty of photos and graphs
*Blames staff and/or "fake news media" for any and all mishaps
*Never hesitates to say/tweet nasty things re: people who don't fawn over him
*Refused to host the White House Correspondence event that he attended as a guest in the past
*Believes his fame entitles him to treat women like objects
*Feels entitled to expensive perks that he doesn't pay for
*Has a wife who considers the role of FLOTUS to be a unique marketing opportunity despite refusing to live in the White House and instead staying at Trump Tower at the taxpayer's expense and the family's gain
*Has no understanding of what it is like to be poor or middle-class in America
*Isn't at all concerned that his nearly weekly trips to his golf resorts have left the Secret Service without funds to pay the highly-skilled agents whose job it is to take a bullet meant for him
*Hasn't bothered with the many job positions he's required to fill, as he's apparently run out of friends, family members, and people he wants to impress or do business with to hire
*Prefers to surround himself with cronies and family members, even hiring them for jobs they aren't even remotely qualified to do
*Has nearly Gwyneth Paltrow-level batshit health claims (such as believing exercise is unhealthy because it depletes your body's "batteries")
*Was obsessed with his old tv show and repeatedly denounced its new host and ratings, because he apparently has nothing better to do
*Enjoys writing sweeping memos and executive orders as a way to reap benefits for his donors and his own projects
*Is an afficianado of weird conspiracy theories such as his home being wiretapped on Obama's orders and climate change being a Chinese hoax
*Isn't concerned with issues that don't affect his brand and/or the all-important ratings
*Doesn't seem to have noticed the difference between "tv ratings" and "job approval"
*Viciously mocks those who question or oppose him, or might be seen as more popular than himself
*Puts a weird amount of emphasis on catchphrases and sound bites
*Doesn't consider Camp David to be good enough for his precious and frequent vacation time, having declared it being "boring" and only using it after public complaints (perhaps because trips there won't benefit his businesses and brand)
*Is enraged when his "tremendous" ideas are shot down by Congress or the Supreme Court to the extent that he actually questions why the checks and balances system that is one of the essential linchpins of our democracy even exist
*Blocks and bans his critics or citizens who ask questions he doesn't like on social media
*Uses aggressive handshakes in an attempt to prove he's the biggest star in the room
*Brags constantly about his achievements and popularity
*Refuses to take security briefings in favor of watching five hours of television daily
*Photo ops and cable news mentions are crucial to him (this is a guy who once showed up at a charity fundraiser uninvited, stole an actual guest's chair at the head table, had tons of publicity photos taken, and then left abruptly without giving the charity a single dime)
*Makes sweeping declarations and promises he has no intention of keeping, because the promises will be page one and the lack of follow-up will be page 5
*Views the media as the enemy, complete with memes that seem to be promoting violence on reporters and sweeping statements hostile to the American ideal of freedom of the press
*Uses speeches to complain about his perceived mistreatment by the press, even at ocassions where that is inappropriate (ie the Boy Scout Jamboree and the Phoenix rally after Charlottsville)
*Feels he deserves frequent holidays and breaks to luxury resorts he owns, complete with Secret Service and White House staff on hand to tend to his needs on the taxpayer's dime
*The scripts written for him are good, but his ad-libbing is a mess
*Had fake Time Magazine covers hanging up in his resorts
*Still focuses so much on winning the election, as if it were a Primetime Emmy Award
*Pretends to be a philanthropist in speeches and interviews for publicity, despite not even donating to his own foundation in more than five years and charging his own son's charity to use his facilities for fundraisers for children's cancer hospitals
*Surrounds himself by staff--and family on staff payroll--that will applaud his every decision, no matter how disastrous or self-serving, and fires anyone who won't follow suit
*Throws tantrums when he doesn't get his way of the sort you'd expect from seriously-out-of-touch Hollywood Diva or an over-exerted toddler up three hours past bedtime
*Is reportedly about to lose a member of staff whose star he created, Omarosa, because senior staff is concerned about her frequent attempts to "rile him up" by bringing him negative press coverage (AKA "covfefe"), that without fail triggers a temper tantrum in the Oval Office and on Twitter
*Likes best those who will publicaly and enthusiastically support him, and never cease to tell him how beloved and great His Divaness is.

Trump's presidency to date is best described as The Larry Sanders Show character Hank Kingsley with worse hair. They both spent years isolating themselves from the real world, dedicated only to furthering their brand and padding their wallets. It's been going on for so long, Trump/Hank doesn't know how to function without the "star treatment."

And just like Hank, Trump has a long history of stamping his name on any piece of shit product that comes his way (Trump University, Trump Steaks, Trump Vodka, etc.) Also like Hank, Trump reportedly has staff screen his mail and give him only the truly fawning, hero-worship examples. And just this past week we learned that Trump had hired a man whose sole (and very well-paying) job was to research, print out, and screenshot positive reports and mentions of the Orange Diva Supreme in the media (or lacking that, photos of himself "looking powerful"), to be delievered to him twice per day. We only know about this job because this employee is the latest in what is perhaps the most recognizable and consistent bit of Trump's now-legendary Divahood: when under fire, fire under you.

That truly is the single biggest proof that Donald Trump doesn't see himself as a leader, but as a star: his now-infamous and shockingly frequent firing of staff when his "ratings" get low or they try to reign in his lunacy. After all, firing people made him the huge star he has convinced himself he is. It worked wonders with his popularity on his last job, so he thinks it surely it will work similar wonders now in his new one. We're talking about a guy who tried to trademark his catchphrase, "You're Fired!" (and bitterly complained when his application was denied). The fact that all the "tremendous" shit-canning of staff in the White House isn't garnering the same adoration as it did on "The Apprentice" is clearly mystifying to him...much like the job of POTUS itself.

Donald Trump really seemed to think playing President was just another role that would result in huge ratings and brand enhancement. He's already admitted to not realizing how much work is involved in being the leader of the free world, and how "complicated" it all is. As time goes on, his complaints about the work involved as POTUS grow more and more frequent. It surely doesn't help that as of yet, he's not made much of a political impact. His campaign promises have gone ignored or are torpedoed outright. His executive orders (which he thought gave him some sort of untouchable and unilateral power, similar to the dispatches of a CEO) are routinely overridden by Congress or the courts, much to his chagrin. This is the man who insisted and continues to insist that he is the only man who can make America great again. But the only thing he's done thus far is prove someone else should have been casted for this role.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

New DX, New Tool: How "Ziggy" Helps Me Control My Diabetes

I've had MS and MS-related trigeminal neuralgia now for more than 20 years, and it's been almost 14 years since my original R&R MS was updated to secondary-progressive. And over the course of the last three years or so, I have started to experience what we in the support group world refer to as "disease hoarding" or "diagnosis collecting."

What is diagnosis collecting? It refers to a trend that happens in many if not most people with chronic and progressive illnesses. As the OG/DX* disease progresses and inflicts a greater and greater amount of damage to your battle-weary body, you end up gathering more and varied health issues. The number of things you list under "diagnoses" on medical forms starts to grow; you know you're truly collecting when you run out of room and have to finish the list on the back of the page!

As the disease progresses, the MonSter invites more and more unwanted guests to couch-surf in the home that is your body: Monster Babies eager to join together to do battle with you. Sort of a "Gotta Catch 'Em All" situation, only with more medications and less Pikachu.


My latest acquisition in my own personal disease hoard: Type II adult-onset diabetes.**

I recently submitted a review for an app I absolutely could not have coped as well without: the MyNetDiary Pro. I call it "Ziggy," in reference to the device used on the 80's tv show "Quantum Leap."

First, a brief descripton of Ziggy: it is a very easy way to track your blood sugar, diet, nutrtional needs, exercise, and weight, while also providing encouragement and community support.


Here's how it works. ***
First: the blood sugar recorder. It will indicate if your sugar is too high by highlighting the number in yellow, and in pink for too low. It will also tell you what time you tested, and what your daily averages are.



Here's how diet is recorded:


This is an analyis of the day in question (a weekly one is emailed to you):


And the day's highlights:


Daily nutritional info:


Now that you have a good understanding some of what Ziggy has to offer...here's my review (posted in App Store) of the MyNetDiary Pro****:


"A MUST-HAVE FOR THE NEWLY DIAGNOSED"

I was diagnosed 18 months ago during a hospital stay for an unrelated illness, and the hospital sent a diabetic info nurse to educate me on my new-found disease. As I waited for "Nurse Jenny" to arrive, I felt confident that I already knew most if not all of the information she was going to share with me, as I have/had several relatives with diabetes, including my father.

Wow, was I wrong! A lot of what I thought were the facts about diabetes were either outdated or just plain incorrect. The things I assumed were necessary and the things I assumed were off-limits were off by a country mile. I didn't know how I was going to remember all of that information, particularly because I have MS and thus my memory isn't always picture-perfect. As a result, after only a few minutes of Nurse Jenny's presentation I felt quite overwhelmed with it all.

After sharing these feelings with the nurse, she recommended this app as a "must-have for the newly diagnosed" and "worth every penny." And she was absolutely right. I don't know how I would have gotten through the last 18 months without it!

This app helps me to keep abreast of what I have eaten, what my blood sugar is, how many calories I have burned every day, even how much water I have drank. The breakdown of daily vitamin/mineral/carb counts are extremely helpful, as are the helpful summaries letting you know how well you did that day. I can even use it to check if a food is ok for me to eat or not, which is especially helpful when dealing with foods that don't come with nutritional values.

The only thing I would like to see changed are the Charts. As it stands now, it consists of a very basic graph with dots representing the individual blood sugar levels results, plus an info key representing the percentage of results that were too high, too low, and in the normal range. These dots are not connected with lines, and I really wish they were, thus making a true line graph. Because the dots are often very close together, it's hard to see the ebb and flow of the testing results data. Being able to better visualize the pattern would be tremendously useful in adjusting diet/exercise/medications. In lieu of that, a pie chart would be an acceptable alternative. Both would be great, especially given that the page is titled "Charts" whilst having only a singular option, and not the plural.

Other than an upgrade on the Charts section, I cannot think of a flaw or significant drawback to this app. I have recommended it both in person and online many times. It is amazingly helpful, especially when first learning just how this diabetes stuff actually works. It helped me not only learn how to navigate this disease, but also gave me the confidence that I could treat and control the disease; 18 months later, and still not insulin-dependent! Thank you so much to the creators of this app; I sincerely don't know how I would cope without it.



*OG/DX sounds like the name of a rockin' all-wheelchair AC/DC cover band!
**Don't even try to pretend you didn't read that in Wilford Brimley's voice. I'm on to you. Diabeetess!
***These are samples I created specifically for this blog post, for educational use only. They are not necessarily representative of my actual personal data.
****This is one of those apps that is absolutely worth buying the "Pro" version.
--Disclaimer: I was not paid nor solicitated to write this review by any person, business, etc.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Innocent Bystander: How DaddyOFive Caused Me to Forgive My Stepbrother, and Myself

I'm sure most of you are already aware of the Internet Shitstorm Supreme that is the "DaddyOFive" YouTube scandal. If not, here's a quick summation (I've provided links with more detail, sources and pictures at the end of this post, as indicated by asterisks)




♦️In June of 2016 a man named Mike Martin and his wife Heather began uploading "prank videos" to YouTube under the name "DaddyOFive" (*1). The Martins' five kids consisted of Heather's three sons from a previous relationship (Jake, Ryan, and Alex), and Mike's two kids from his previous relationship (Emma and Cody). The videos were quite popular, and at their height the Martins had in excess of 750,000 subscribers and millions of views...views that were monetized via commercials. As the views piled up, so did the money, and eventually, the scrutiny. A number of YouTubers began to express concern about these so-called "pranks," including the popular news channel run by Philip DeFranco (*4). After DeFranco's video exposing DaddyOFive, many others followed suit, including a YouTuber named "Joy Sparkles BS," (*5) who apparently helped to get legal representation for Emma and Cody's birth mother, Rose Hall, (*3B) who was awarded emergency custody (*1B). Rose claims Mike had falsified records in order to gain custody of the kids after abandoning them for 7 years. She allegedly first contacted police about the videos late last year, but was told the videos were "corporal punishment" and they could not take action (*9B). It is unclear from my admittedly small amount of research at the date of publication whether or not the biological father of Heather's sons will take similar actions.♦️


 




I'd read a great deal about this Shitstorm, and watched some videos about it from a wide variety of sources, including DeFranco and Joy Sparkles. Most decried MonsterDad Mike and Stepmonster Heather as horribly abusive wastes of proper oxygen (*2). Others insisted the videos were "just pranks" and that the kids were "in on it." (*8) The Martins themselves admitted that "sometimes" Cody's reactions to the pranks were real, and sometimes they were "exaggerated"...a claim they would later, in the second of their videos addressing this scandal, retract and replace with the claim that all the videos were completely fake. 


First and foremost: I don't like pranks in general, with the exception of harmless but clever ones in the vein of Improv Everywhere (*11). I tend to agree with GradeAUnderA (*10) that most of them are fake as hell and should be viewed with suspicion. And as an abuse survivor myself, I've grown weary of people yelling "Abuse!" when it isn't warranted; for example, I've long been a veteran of Cafe Mom, where anything from letting a 10-year-old play football to feeding kids frozen veggies can lead to accusations of abuse and neglect. But in the spirit of fairness, I decided to watch some of the videos myself, with an open mind, and draw my own conclusions. 


I got a lot more than I bargained for. 




I started at the beginning, with the first "prank," which opens with Heather giddily telling viewers that she and Mike had come up with a great plan to prank Cody with what she calls "invisible ink" (it's actually disappearing ink). 



 



She poured some of the ink on the carpet, which was strewn with Uno cards. So far, not too bad. I expected them to wait somewhere out-of-sight until Cody went into his room and discovered the mess, and then they'd yell SURPRISE or GOTCHA or whatever.


 




This is not what happened. Instead, immediately after pouring the ink, Heather begins to scream for Cody. Cursing at him at the top of her lungs, she begins to pummel him with accusations, with Mike joining in on the "fun," reducing him to tears and panic as he denied any involvement. One of his stepbrothers attempts to intervene, to no avail. 



Finally, after what feels like an eternity of accusations and berating, they declare "it's just a prank, bro!" They refer to the stepbrother as "just an innocent bystander." No one is laughing at the joke...except for Mike and Heather.


 




I had to stop the video. It was too emotional. Too...familiar. Heather's yelling was too reminiscent of my own Stepmonster, and Mike's cruelty too similar to my father's. The more I watched, the harder it became. The split-second smile on Cody's face when told he was going to his Nana's house instead of to Disney World with the rest of the family (*6); the bruises from being punched and pushed into furniture; Heather referring to Rose's kids as "gingers" and "little shits"; Cody's frequent, desperate pleading to be left alone. I knew how all these felt. I knew what it was like to be derided for looking like my mom, how it felt to be singled out, what it was like to be called a "crybaby" for not taking the abuse in silence. I knew how it felt to be publicly humiliated for my father's amusement..and I know how high the likelihood is that far worse was happening when no one was looking. 


 


The Martins addressed the scandal twice on their YouTube channel. The second video is all that remains on the official "DaddyOFive" channel, as they deleted all the "pranks" (in vain, as many people downloaded and re-posted them). They are two very different videos, and yet, very much alike. 


In the first of the two videos, they claim the people concerned over the childrens' welfare are "haters," directing the kids to agree that they are treated well and enjoy the "prank videos" and all the extra stuff they can buy because of them. They insist that it is the "haters" who are causing "[the] children drama," simply because "they don't get the humor."  


 




I have absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that THIS video was, indeed, scripted...and the kids were, in fact, acting for the first time. It was completing unconvincing. 




 




The second video to address the controversy was made after Emma and Cody were removed from their care and the Martins deleted the "prank videos" from their channel. In it, they attempt to apologize for the "pranks," calling the scandal the "worst week" of their lives. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind whatsoever that THIS video was, indeed, scripted...and the parents were, indeed, acting for the first time. 



 



As a result, the second video was no more convincing than the first. Their apology is especially suspect given that they blame Philip DeFranco, accusing him of conducting a "witch hunt" against them:


     "I'm sorry this all got out of hand. It wouldn't have ever got this out of hand if it wasn't for that DeFranco guy starting all of this, doing all of this to my family. He's responsible for this." ---Mike Martin



 




They also posted an apology on the "DaddyOFive" Twitter feed, and asked for help from their fans:



 



 



 


It's hard to accept these apologies when you've seen the videos: Cody's X-Box being destroyed in front of him; Mike instructing his stepson to slap Emma as part of a "game"; Ryan being taunted with homophobic slurs; Jake being pelted with eggs (Mike objects to this one...not because it's cruel, but because it's "wasting" the eggs); Cody being told he is being put up for adoption. It's plainly obvious that Cody, who is reportedly a special-needs child, takes the brunt of the abuse, with incidents including Cody being slammed into a bookshelf, punched in the arm by his dad, and body-slammed and having eggs thrown at his head by a stepbrother. One of the videos was even titled, "Using Cody for Target Practice!" Whole videos were uploaded to document Cody "ruining" something for the family. 



 



In one particularly disturbing video, Cody attempts to escape by hiding under his bed, only to be pulled out by his ankles while he screams at his tormentors to leave him alone. In one, Cody asks his parents, "Why do you need the camera?!? You don't need the camera for this!" He is, as usual, derided for standing up for himself in an attempt to just make it stop. 


The videos get more and more extreme as they get more and more views, making the Martins more and more money. They even sold merchandise to their fans, doing all they could to rake in the dough at the children's expense.



 




Although I watched several more videos in an attempt to discern whether or not these "pranks" were in fact abusive (they are), I kept thinking about that first one. Something about it would not let me go.


I soon realized what it was: I was not identifying with Cody. I identified with the stepbrother, the so-called "innocent bystander." Cody was my own stepbrother, "Thomas." And when I watched them again from that perspective...I felt as raw and dejected as Cody must have felt over and over again. 



For many years, my father was married to my stepmonster. He had four kids by my mom; she had six from her first marriage to a man I never met or saw even once in 18 years. We didn't have a happy childhood, which is an understatement as big as the Grand Canyon. Mike Martin is a rank amateur compared to my father. The hell we went through, I wouldn't wish on my very worst enemy. It played heavily in my decision to move as far away as I could without hitting an ocean. I had to grow up exposed to that toxic environment. My kids didn't. 


Thomas was a few years older than me. I didn't like him most of the time. I resented him for what I perceived as making bad situations worse. When my father would go off on one of his tirades, Thomas would defiantly tell him to stop, to leave him alone, to back off. My father called him "mouthy" and a "smartass." His "lip" never failed to escalate the abuse, and the rest of us--the innocent bystanders--often paid the price. Just witnessing it was a special kind of hell, even in those instances when the escalation didn't pull others into Dad's wrath. We'd despair when Thomas "talked back," and we blamed him for Dad's predictable reactions. He'd be getting the brunt of the abuse, and like Heather's sons, we would be upset with him! I couldn't begin to count the number of times I silently pleaded with him to just shut up so it could be over already...and the times I verbally begged him to "let it go." 


And for that, I owe him an apology. 


Watching Cody beg, plead, and demand to be left alone, for it all to stop, was a revelation. Nothing he said was wrong. In fact, he was incredibly brave to vocalize his needs, to stand up for himself when it was clear nobody else could or would. I saw Thomas, and saw that Thomas, like Cody, was right. And in his siblings, I saw myself: desperate for it to stop, or at the very least, not get any worse; fear that as it worsened, I and my siblings would be pulled into the eye of the storm along with him; and resentment towards him when we did. By the time Thomas left home at 16, I was torn between hating him and envying him for his escape. I have felt guilty about those feelings, but now, thanks to this Shitstorm Supreme, I realize that just as Thomas wasn't to blame, neither am I. 


In the remote possibility that you ever read this, please know how sorry I am. My anger and resentment were misplaced, a direct result of that horrific gaslighting and abuse we were subjected to. I didn't learn to stand up for myself until you were out of the house, and maybe if I had paid more attention to your words instead of my father's reactions to them...I would have done so much, much earlier. I never realized until now how big a part you played in my own attempts to draw a line in the sand...and eventually, at the first possible opportunity, to escape. When you left, I thought you were a horrible big stepbrother to abandon us like that, when really you were just trying to save yourself while you still could. Something I myself would do several years later.


There are some well-meaning people in my life who, upon hearing that I am completely estranged from most of my siblings, express with some urgency the belief that surely we can all put the past behind us and be a family again. The problem with that--a problem that no doubt Cody and Emma will understand all too well--is that we were never a family in the first place. 


My father took his parenting philosophy from the ancient Roman axiom: divide and conquer. We were all conscripted against our will to be spies against each other, to throw each other under the bus to save ourselves (something Stepmonster was quite adept at), and to view each other with distrust. And because it was far too painful to blame our own blood parents, my mom's kids blamed Stepmonster, and my stepbrothers blamed Dad. In truth, they were both culpable. There was more than enough blame to go around. 


It is no wonder that they want nothing to do with anyone connected to my father, and that we felt the same about their mother. I didn't attend their mother's funeral in 2006; they didn't attend my father's in 2010. 


There can be no reconciliation. There is simply nothing there to reconcile. We are not a family. We are, at best, former prisoners of war. 


From the bottom of my heart, I hope Cody and Emma thrive in their mother's custody and get the help they will need to break the cycle of violence. Therapy helped me tremendously. I hope and pray it will help them, too.




If you or anyone you know is suffering from abuse, please call:


 








*LINKS:



*1: Washington Post articles:


*1A: Full story:


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/04/25/the-saga-of-a-youtube-family-who-pulled-disturbing-pranks-on-their-own-kids/?utm_term=.a636d2fb41ae


*1B: The Martins lose custody of the two youngest children:


https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2017/05/02/these-youtube-parents-pulled-disturbing-pranks-on-their-kids-now-theyve-lost-custody/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.e8d9e09b83fd


*2: A.V. Club article:


http://www.avclub.com/article/full-story-horrible-youtube-family-abused-its-kids-254327




*3: "Good Morning America" Interviews:


*3A: The Martins:

https://youtu.be/AGxDRZ8yOQk


 


*3B: Rose Hall with her attorney, Tim Conlon of The Custody Place:


https://youtu.be/Nd6Y2qHQhNg


 



*4: Philip DeFranco's videos on the Martins:


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=fvoLmsXKkYM

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jfpzCsXGxQg

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RdNSKxFAk-U


 



*5: Joy Sparkles BS videos on DaddyOFive:


http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5WFr0eFfKeILmImBg0tB1iZDejHqoXfC



*6: Video "A Small Detail Everyone Missed":


https://youtu.be/l_cv0hgXECg



*7: "The Bigger Picture: A YouTube Documentary":


https://youtu.be/eyJF_XF_FVQ



*8: DaddyOFive fans and detractors:


*8A: Fans defend DaddyOFive on Twitter:


https://mobile.twitter.com/mikemartin1982/status/853985891009925120


*8B: Reddit commenters discuss DaddyOFive:


       https://www.reddit.com/r/DeFranco/comments/669st1/actually_intelligent_comment_about_the_daddyofive/



 


*9: Nick Monroe's impressive journalism on this topic:


*9A: Article on the legacy of DaddyOFive:


https://nickmonroestuff.wordpress.com/2017/05/05/the-legacy-of-daddyofive/amp/


*9B: Copy of police report:


https://mobile.twitter.com/nickmon1112/status/860555517684580352


 


*10: GradeAUnderA on prank videos:


https://youtu.be/95flK-IZDYg

https://youtu.be/4uWGCHx9vqo



 



*11: A real--and delightful--prank video, by Improv Everywhere, in which they put out a casting call for men of all shapes and sizes, synchronized their watches, and take off their shirts to mock Abercrombie & Fitch's infamous male models:


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jdeBp8J0rqs



 

Saturday, May 06, 2017

A Message

All you have to do is call.

We love you.


Friday, April 14, 2017

The Virtues of Being a She-Wolf

One of the things I love about the Internet: even when the MonSter is out to make me bedridden, physically miserable and mentally bored out of my skull...I can have the cure for that last illness delivered straight to my door. Being too ill to hit a bookstore is no longer an obstacle to my never-ending book obsession. 


I am particularly grateful for this when I find myself stuck between a very specific rock and a hard place...the rock being a nasty attack of the trigeminal neuralgia and other MS-related ailments. And the hard place? Having nothing new to read to help get my mind off of the war my autoimmune system is waging against me.


And so there I was, in that precarious and unfortunate position: with pain at an 8 on the 1-10 pain scale, and I had turned the final page of my latest literary acquisition just last night: Elizabeth Norton's wonderfully enthralling biography, "Elfrida: The First Crowned Queen of England." 


Who is Elfrida, you might ask? Well, she is the latest leading lady in this "Royal Women I Know Next to Nothing About" phase I've been in these last few months.



Prior to reading Norton's book, the the only things I knew (or thought I knew) about Aelfthryth (called "Elfrida" in the book as a modernization) were: 


A) She was the second wife of King Edgar the Peaceful.

B) She was the stepmother of King Edward the Martyr and the mother of King Ethelred the Unready.

C) She ordered and participated in her teenaged stepson's murder in order to put her own 10-year-old son on the throne...and install herself as Queen Mother, quite possibly the highest position of power a woman could aspire to in the tenth century. 


Both and are correct...but C? That one is no longer the fact I once assumed it was, thanks to Norton's incredibly enthralling and well-researched book. It's one of those books where you feel disappointed when it ends, as it so skillfully envelopes you into this ancient world. It does what all truly good books, films, plays, and television shows do: it leaves you wanting more.


Even if I hadn't been left wanting more when I finished "Elfrida" last night, I most definitely would have (and did) this morning, when I woke up after almost four hours of fitful sleep by intense pain in my face, head, back, legs and feet. Oh, cruel MonSter and your devilish timing! What was I to do now?!?


But then, to my joy, the doorbell rang, and a beautiful new book about yet another queen who was possibly maligned by history fell into my eager and very grateful hands: "The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily" by Nancy Goldstone. 


I know even less about the subject of my latest purchase, Joanna I, than I did about Elfrida. In fact, I know only enough to recognize her as one of the rare women of the Middle Ages/Medieval period who challenged the conventions of their society that demanded women remain in their male-appointed place and leave power and politics, war and law, and even literature and music, in the hands of men. Women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Empress Matilda, Queen Boudica, Isabella of Castile, Queen Regent Amalasuntha of the Ostrogoths, Christine de Pizan, Hildegard of Bingen, Isabella of France, Jeanne d'Arc, Matilda of Tuscany, Empress Theodora, Saint Ludmilla, Aethelflaed Lady of the Mercians, Olga of Kiev, Edith of England, Michitsuna No Haha, and Emma Queen of Franks. Women who deserve to be every bit as well-known as their male counterparts, like Alfred the Great, Henry V, Hannibal, Saint Benedict, Charlemagne, and Richard the Lionheart. 


It is said by memes and t-shirts everywhere that "well-behaved women rarely make history." And like most cliches, there's some truth to it. Some of the historical women I named above were amazing, and some of them were disastrous. Either way, they made history...and were likely to be labeled by the men who overwhelmingly were in charge of writing those histories as a "She-Wolf." 


It was meant as an insult, but I think we should re-claim the term, and make it a badge of honor. In centuries of male-dominated wolf packs, sometimes a She-Wolf would emerge and reign supreme. 


I will now, hurt and exhausted, gladly curl up with my new book. The MonSter I fight in real life can't triumph over the She-Wolves battling in the pages within. Into the world of Joanna I of Naples, Jerusalem and Sicily I go. I wonder what I will learn this time?




 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

For Those Left Behind: The Horror of Vandalized Cemeteries

I woke up yesterday morning and proceeded in my routine as I usually do: pray; read my daily Bible verse; check blood sugar*; take morning medications, read the news.

And what I read shocked me...and frightened me;

https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2017/02/26/us/jewish-cemetery-vandalism-philadelphia/index.html

In short: a Jewish cemetery was once again vandalized, An occurrence which, while not quite becoming terribly common...is nonetheless not unheard-of in Trump's America.

So why the shock and fright? This one was in Philadelphia. The city in which my mother-in-law was born, raised, and educated. The city where, while both studying at Temple, my in-laws met, fell in love, and were married. And the city where, not even a decade ago, her elderly parents died and were buried.

My in-laws are Jewish, and my mother-in-law's parents were buried in their beloved hometown.

Worse, my mother-in-law recently underwent a serious surgery which required a hospitalization and from which she is still recovering, and in a good deal of pain. Should her patents' graves be vandalized, it could, in her current state, be enough of a shock to send her right back to the hospital. She is a kind and good-hearted woman, and loved her parents deeply. It would devastate her.

So I quickly looked up the obituary for my husbad's Popop, who died shortly after his wife. And sighed with relief to discover it was not the cemetery in question.

Hard upon the heels of that relief, came the sympathy. I knew that somewhere, someone else's daughter-in-law was finding out the opposite. Somebody's spouse, child, friend, was desperately trying to figure out how to break the news to loved ones. Those somebodys were devastated. They were struggling to understand why this atrocious crime was committed, who did it, and would they ever be brought to justice.

And like me, they were wondering how many more times it was going to happen in a country where its prejudiced underbelly now feels emboldened and encouraged to perpetuate such atrocities. All over the country, millions of somebodys are wondering what will be next. Where will they next strike. And above all: how bad is it going to get,

It seems every new day brings us stories of disgusting rhetoric on social media, of horrible crimes committed; people attacked, marginalized and traumatized based on their skin color, their religion, their sexual/gender identities, their disabilities, their  ethnic backgrounds and countries of origin. Sometimes, it's only their perceived minority status, with people attached because they appeared to be Muslim, they looked like an illegal Mexican, they were suspected of taking a penis into a female restroom. Increasingly, the headlines that read as if this were 1957, not 2017.

Vandalizing cemeteries has always been a cowardly and sick crime, compounded exponentially when hate is the motivation. It is an attack on people's grief, on their losses. We are none of us immune to loss and grief. We have all lost people we have loved. I've lost two in little over a year myself. It's a pain that we all share, with which we all should be able empathize. It is part of the human experience.  Which is why those who perpetuate these kinds of crimes are generally reviled by society. It's abhorrent, morally reprehensible act that dehumanizes the criminals who partake in it. Possibly they are amoral or sociopathic, and lack the ability to empathize or acknowledge that others have genuine feelings. Maybe their hate has consumed their humanity. It's not something I understand, or want to understand.

I want what I think most Americans want: to have the graves of loved ones respected and untouched, to allow those we have lived and lost to Rest In Peace, and to allow us a safe and honored place to memorialize and mourn our dead. To have others treat our grief as we would treat them and theirs.

Is that really too much to ask?








*I was diagnosed with type II diabetes last year. I will make a post on it sometime in the near future.