Blog Archives

Giving Up or Letting Go?

I love podcasts. I seriously don’t know how I once managed to get through walks in the woods with my dog, regular household chores and long car drives without them. They are amazing. I can be productive AND entertained AND informed by just popping in my wireless earphones and going about my business.

I especially like the ones in which I feel like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation with good friends. The hosts don’t pretend they are perfect and sometimes talk about some of the same struggles I often face. These aren’t polished productions with professionals who guarantee they will provide the best advice about how to improve our lives, our budgets, our families, and whatever else self-help gurus talk about. I don’t need anyone telling me my life would be so much better if I just did “this” – whatever the latest, shiniest “this” is.

The podcasts that I prefer don’t have origins in board rooms with the primary purpose being to create productions that ensure shareholders and CEOs get even wealthier. My favorite podcasts started out in basements or at kitchen tables or in living rooms in which the hosts just want to tell stories or talk about something interesting. They don’t need fancy productions or perfectly polished delivery. They just need to be relatable, and relatable they are.

Just this week, the hosts of a podcast I regularly listen to were talking about New Year’s resolutions with a twist: instead of trying to do something new or better you choose something to let go. (This wasn’t the primary content – it was just a conversation the hosts had before they delivered the primary content. Again – I’m not into self-help as entertainment.) They weren’t discussing giving up something – like junk food or drinking alcohol or watching too much television. They were talking about something completely different.

Up until then, I’d never thought about how giving up and letting aren’t the same thing. Giving up can be good (I’m giving up candy) or it can be bad (I’m giving up trying to write the great American novel.) Letting go is about lifting a self-imposed weight that drags you down.

Giving up is about making a sacrifice, like people do during Lent, or about failure. It’s rooted in negativity and requires regular, conscious, decision-making. It’s about trying to maintain control in a chaotic world. Letting go isn’t about sacrifice at all. It’s about choosing to not think or worry about something that generally serves no helpful purpose.

I love this perspective because, like many people, there is so much I need to let go of: automatically feeling like I fall short when I compare myself to others; worrying that I could have done a better job raising my kids; ruminating over past decisions; obsessing about people who have treated me poorly or about people I’ve treated poorly. None of that is helpful to me or anyone else. It serves no purpose other than to create obstacles to appreciating all of the things I do right and enjoying life to its fullest.

In 2023, I’ll do my best to let go because I am at a point in my life that I don’t want to give up things I love (like podcasts). Besides, giving up seems to be more about what you show the outside world you can or can’t do. Letting go is about the stories we tell ourselves. This year, let’s all tell ourselves some great stories.

Superficial

I absolutely love when a fictional character says something that completely resonates with me to the extent that I’m still thinking about it days, or even years, later. For example, I don’t even remember which Scott Turow novel I was reading or which of his characters made the observation that teenage relationships teach you how to break up not how to stay together. The concept rang so true to me that I still reference it.

More recently, my husband and I were watching Three Pines, the television series based on Louise Penny’s books featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. During one episode, the detective tells another character, “Grief is love that has nowhere to go.” That simple statement captured the essence of grief in such a meaningful way that I know I will remember it forever.

But no quote has ever rang as true as one in the most recent Peter Robinson novel when his character Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks makes the observation that “Superficial people have superficial morals.”

(I’m going to make a brief side note here: Peter Robinson is one of my favorite authors, and I actually got to meet him at the National Book Festival in 2008. Unfortunately, he passed away just a few months ago, and his final novel will be released this spring.)

The statement about superficial people having superficial morals was a reaction to how some people are quick to judge other people’s relationships based on some shallow moral code. No truer statement could have ever been made. Shallow morality is a moral code rooted not in love and compassion but in judgement and fear. Ironically, most people who spout shallow morality don’t think they are superficial. Many think they are spouting a gospel that can not be questioned.

It can, and should, be. In fact, I suggest that everyone ask the following questions before dropping a judgement bomb:

  • Do you believe that a relationship can be immoral even if both partners are of age and are not hurting each other? If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you use fear and scare tactics as a justification for judging others. For example, do you tell others that trans individuals are stalking potential prey in bathrooms or that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles. If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you spout passages from the Bible out of context or without considering that some passages even contradict each other. If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you think that you have to be a Christian to be a moral person? If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you blindly follow your brand of Christianity, its rituals and its dogma without question or challenge. If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you protect your own and circle the wagons to protect others who think like you even if you know they are hurting others? If so, you might have superficial morals.
  • Do you make sweeping judgements about other people’s difficult decisions, such as whether to terminate a pregnancy, with no understanding why the decision was made or the consequences of other options. If so you might have superficial morals.
  • And finally, do you believe that whole groups of people are less moral than you are and therefore need to be treated differently – whether it’s Muslims or Mexicans or African Americans or refugees or immigrants? If so, you definitely have superficial morals.

The bottom line is that morals should never be used to make us feel superior to other people. In fact, they should instead be used as an opportunity to learn about, care about and love people who are completely different than us. They should make our world and experiences bigger not smaller. They should be based on inclusivity not exclusivity. And most of all, we should recognize that they are subject to change as we have new experiences, meet new people and learn more about the science behind human behavior. To me, superficial morality isn’t moral at all.

I know not everyone will agree with me. I don’t care. As the late, great Leslie Jordan (who like Peter Robinson passed away in 2022) said, “What other people think about me is none of my business.” Thank you Leslie and thank you Peter for your moral guidance.

The Challenge

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts the other day, and the hosts were bubbling with excitement about having just received their 2022 year in review from Spotify. Since I had just received (and of course shared) my year in review from the language app Duolingo, I realized that these reviews are just another marketing tool to suck us in so we share our results while providing free advertising.

Because they are intended to make us feel good about ourselves, these fluffy, feel good, reports don’t capture a realistic snapshot of what really happened over the course of the past year.

I’m always up for a challenge, so I decided I’d try to create my own (realistic) year in review.

Here’s my best shot with the disclaimer the following may or may not be based on valid data:

Hours I spent listening to true crime podcasts: 836

Hours I spent cleaning my house: 12

Phrase I said the most: “The day I don’t make a mistake is the day I’m dead.”

Phrases I never said, “I’d like to live in Florida.” and “I think Texas would be a good place to live.”

The number of times I went to Google to make a diagnosis based on my symptoms: 18

The number of times I went to a doctor to get a diagnosis based on my symptoms: 0

Pounds I lost trying to get healthier: 8

Pounds I gained from stress eating: 10

The number of times in conversation I said, “I have a story about that:” 422

The number of times in conversation someone said “Trina always has a story:” 421

Minutes I spent doom scrolling the internet: 3,523

Minutes I spent reading serious literature: 0

The number of times I’ve stopped my car in the middle of the street and gotten out just to pet a neighbor’s dog: 43

The number of times I’ve stopped my care in the middle of the street and gotten out to help a neighbor: 0

Tears I shed from dealing with a narcissistic bitch who was gaslighting me: 2,530

Tears I shed from laughing so hard I cried: 3,403

The number of times I’ve said “I feel like I’m a bad mother:” 46

Number of children I have: 2

Number of children who are college graduates: 2

Number of children who have been arrested or gone to jail: 0

Number of children who are gainfully employed: 2

The number of times I’ve fallen down while walking the dog, or going down the stairs, or carrying something heavy: 19

The number of black eyes I had: 1

The number of bruises I had: 1,748

The percentage of words that I uttered that many people would consider inappropriate or swear words: 18%

The percentage of times I regretted not telling someone I loved them: 0.

(If I love you, you will know it – especially if you are a dog.)

This year I’ve learned that sometimes justice isn’t possible, and you just have to walk away from a bad situation even if it means also walking away from unachieved goals and people you care about. I’ve learned that if you are a genuine person who cares about the underdog, you will attract genuine people who care about the underdog. And, most importantly, I continue to learn not to take myself to seriously. I’m the only person who has to spend 100% of their time with me. I might as well enjoy that time.

So here is to 2022 and an even better 2023. Here’s to the people who listened to me cry and rant and to the people who I never want to see again but who have taught me important life lessons. And here is to you. I hope you are your own best friend and that you take care of yourself regardless of what others think. It’s a challenge we can all continue to pursue.

The Place You Belong

I hated feeling like a stranger in my own life.

Thankfully, I rarely experience that feeling anymore, but it used to creep into my psyche like an unwanted encounter with a mean girl from high school. I did my best to present as confident and competent, but I actually felt like a pretender and an invader in the lives of people who really belonged.

I have, after all, spent my entire life living in places where I don’t have a family connection. Or so I thought. Because sometimes, one tiny piece of information can change everything.

For me, that small shift was seeing a headstone at a park where I walk my dog on a regular basis. The last name on the marker is Mowen, which is my great-grandmother’s maiden name. Initially, I just thought this was interesting. After all, I live in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, wedged between Northern Virginia and Maryland. My dad grew up in Massachusetts, my mom grew up in Michigan, and my family moved several times when I was a child. I didn’t grow up around any extended family.

This is probably why I embraced genealogy with a passion and became the family historian. When my grandparents passed away, the treasures I inherited might have had little value for many people, but to me the old photos, ledgers, deeds, and birth certificates are priceless. I’ve done a DNA test, convinced my parents to do a DNA test, and spent hours trying to figure out the puzzle of my family tree. What I never expected was to randomly stumble upon a headstone of a distant relative.

And yet, I did. After logging onto my laptop and doing some simple research, I determined that I was indeed related to the Mr. Earl C. Mowen, who is memorialized by a simple marker on a forest trail in Poor House Farm Park. Granted, the relationship is rather distant as Mr. Mowen and my great-grandmother had the same grandparents.

My great grandmother’s family is actually from Washington County, Maryland, which is only minutes from my house. I have ancestors buried in cemeteries in nearby Hagerstown, and a few geographic locations actually bear the last name of some of my ancestors.

While all of this is fascinating, it shone a light on something even more important: having a family connection to the area where I now live hasn’t affected my feelings about being a stranger in my life. I rarely feel that way anymore not because I have historical ties to this area but because I’ve been able to build my own life. Instead of being a stranger, I’m a main character surrounded by people who accept me, and care about me, and support me even though we don’t share the same DNA or childhood memories. I don’t have to pretend or feel like an invader.

I can create the place where I belong.

What We Didn’t Say

Shhh.....

The conversation with the two strangers started with a puppy. It was an adorable, soft, fluffy, three-month old Husky with bright blue eyes that drew me to it like… well… like any dog draws me to it.

In all honesty, it could have been a mangy mutt, and I would still have stopped my bike ride to say hi. I do, after all, always carry dog treats when I am out riding my bike.

The puppy was trying to catch a quick nap while the person on the other end of its leash was engaged in conversation with a woman working in her yard. I interrupted the conversation to first ask if I could pet the puppy and then to ask all of the important questions about the puppy.

Neither the puppy’s owner nor the woman with whom he was speaking seemed to mind. In fact, their interest turned from the puppy to me.

“How far do you ride?”

“Where do you ride?”

“Don’t you think some of those roads are dangerous?”

The last question prompted a discussion about how some people can be complete jerks.

“Someone once threw a whole cup of iced tea out of their car window at me,” I told them. “It hurt because it was hurtling from a moving car, and I know it was sweetened because it was so sticky.”

“Yeah,” the guy said, “People can be real jerks. I was out jogging once, and someone yelled then through a raw egg at me. It hit me right in the chest.”

We were all silent for a moment before he said, “I had to just turn the other way. There’s no point in confronting people like that. It just makes the situation worse.”

We continued to talk about how confronting angry and rude people isn’t worth the effort. What none of us mentioned, or even acknowledged, was that the stakes were different for the the man.

That’s because the other woman and I were white. The man was black.

If the conversation had been with friends or even acquaintances, we would have addressed the issue of race. But when the man mentioned having the egg thrown at him, I didn’t ask if he thought the perpetrators were racist. When he said he didn’t engage with hateful people because he might land in jail if he got in a fight, I just nodded. And when he said that his wife doesn’t want him to let the dog out at night because the neighbors had threatened to call the police if it barked, I joked that all my neighbors have dogs that bark.

I didn’t raise the issue of racism, but I could feel it hanging in the air like a storm cloud full of rain. And even though it was obviously there – heavy and dark -we acted as though it didn’t exist.

I felt as though raising the issue would be akin to handing each of them a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker only to be handed an “all lives matter” one in return. I just didn’t have the emotional fortitude.

The issue of race shouldn’t be political because there should only be one view of it: it shouldn’t exist and when it does, we need to acknowledge and address it.

And yet, just like during my conversation with strangers yesterday, we often dance around racism as if ignoring it will make it go away.

It won’t.

I honestly don’t know that actually raising the issue during that particular conversation with strangers would have been appropriate. What I do know is even though no words were said, it WAS part of the conversation.

And here’s the other thing I know. That puppy? The one that brought us all together for a short period it time? That puppy loved getting attention from all of us and had no concept of race.

Maybe that’s why I like dogs so much.

The Difference Between Like and Respect

I was having dinner on a friend’s deck with a group of like-minded women when we got the news: Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died.

We all reacted differently even though I’m certain we were all feeling the same way. One of us burst into tears. Another just sat silent while a third stood up and started clearing dishes. Me? I cussed. I cussed because Notorious RBG was a role model and a heroine. I cussed because I know what is at stake. And I cussed because some people I know will see her death more as an opportunity than a reason to  mourn.

The following words are for those people: I may like you, but I can’t respect you.

I like you because we might laugh together or share common interests or talk about our children.

But I can’t respect you because your vision of what our country’s future holds for those children isn’t one of diversity and inclusion and equality.

I can’t respect you because you believe your narrow definition of Christianity is the only legitimate religion.

I can’t respect you because you can’t discern the difference between journalism, opinion pieces and fake news.

I can’t respect you because you share information on social media that validates your opinion even if when the information is a complete lie.

I can’t respect you because you support political candidates and listen to pundits who claim that liberals aren’t real Christians.

I can’t respect you because you are a one-or two-issue voter who makes decisions at the ballot box based on dogma rather than on the scope and impact of a variety of policies on people’s day-to-day lives.

I can’t respect you because no matter how many times someone has tried to explain the difference between “gun control” and “taking away your guns,” you choose to listen to propaganda from the NRA,

I can’t respect you because you are voting for politicians who care about money more than they care about the well-being of people.

I can’t respect you because you think patriotism is marked by saluting a flag rather than by honoring the first  amendment.

I can’t respect you because you throw around the word socialism when what you are really saying is that you don’t want your tax dollars being used to provide services for people you have decided are “undeserving.”

And most of all, I can’t respect you because you are supporting politicians who have shown general disrespect and even criminal behavior toward women.

I know these words will offend some of you, and now you probably won’t respect me. I don’t care.

I’m 53 years old, and I’ve fought hard to become a strong, opinionated woman who cares about minorities and immigrants and the poor and people of different faiths.

I’m writing this because even though there are a lot of people I don’t respect right now, I couldn’t respect myself if I left these words unsaid.

Also, I’m fairly confident that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would approve.

The Criminal

My soul hurts when I think about the incident at a local church. Apparently, the minister provoked a member of his congregation with a sermon about racism. The individual was  so offended, he actually left in the middle of the service. As he walked out, he loudly muttered, “George Floyd was a criminal.”

This happened in a Christian church.

I may not be a Biblical scholar, but the last time I checked, the Christian church is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. You know, that guy who taught about mercy, forgiveness and taking care of each other? I’m fairly certain that Jesus wanted us to interact kindly with all human beings – not just the people we like or respect or who make us feel comfortable.

I know that’s not always easy, and sometimes I feel as though it’s almost impossible. But labeling someone a criminal and then using that label to rationalize their mistreatment hurts all of us. That’s because we are all connected.

No one lives and shares that message more loudly and bravely than Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle is a Catholic Priest who founded Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention and rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. I had the privilege of hearing him speak a few years ago, and his words resonated. Like him, I am incredibly fortunate to have a job in which I can learn from people who others might dismiss.

There is the woman experiencing homelessness who once proudly told me she was featured in a documentary about women in prison. She was, and I’ve since watched it. I’ve had her bags of medication for various mental illnesses in my office. I unintentionally taught her to beg in Spanish when she asked me how to say “I’m hungry” and “I need money” in Spanish. She recently stopped by the office to tell my coworkers and me that she had a place to live.  When I opened the door, I had to firmly tell her she couldn’t hug me because of COVID 19. I don’t call her a criminal. I call her a fellow human being.

There is the man who showed up in our office lobby loudly declaring “I just got out of prison and I don’t know where to go for help.” He had grown up in foster care and is functionally illiterate. He is demanding and difficult, but he was also sweet and helpful. He’d give staff cards and help clean our offices. After he went back to jail for rape, he still called the office on a regular basis. I don’t call him a criminal. I call him a fellow human being.

There is the young man with no place to live because his family kicked him out. Before COVID-19, he would stop by the office almost every day to make a cup of coffee. Occasionally, he would use the shower and do his laundry. He was always polite and followed the rules. When my co-workers and I hadn’t seen him for several days, one of us would look on the jail site. His mugshot would be there, and his charges ranged from battery to robbery. He stopped by the office last week to ask for a tent. I don’t call him a criminal. I call him a fellow human.

These individuals, like thousands of others, have stories to tell about what they have endured and survived. These individuals, like thousands of others, don’t have the support, resources, and connections that many of us do. And these individuals, like thousand of others, are so much more than a label or a criminal record.

Do I believe they should be held accountable for their actions? Absolutely! But I also believe that I should still care about them.

As Father Greg Boyle says, “There is no us and them, only us.”

I care about us.

The Racist In Me

My kindergarten school picture

Nearly fifty years later, I don’t clearly remember my first day of kindergarten, but I know I was miserable and complained that I didn’t fit in.

What I really meant was that I was the only white student in my class.

That didn’t last long.

On the second day of kindergarten,  Mike Donahue switched classes and joined mine.

I have a few other memories from that year: sitting on the floor at the feet of an elderly tribe member who taught us her native language; participating in the annual root feast; wearing the wing dress my mom had sewn, and being chased and taunted when I was walking home from school. My tormentors, a group of older children, told me I didn’t belong and I needed to move off of the reservation.

The next year I did. I started first grade in a classroom full of white students like me.

When I was younger, I used to tell people that, because of those experiences, I knew what being a minority felt like and that I had experienced discrimination.

I didn’t and I hadn’t.

When I complained about being the only student with my skin color, my white, well-educated parents stepped in to ensure I had a friend in my class. When I lived in a place with a very different heritage than mine, my professional parents bought a house elsewhere among people with similar backgrounds.

In other words, what I actually experienced as a child was white privilege.

I’m still experiencing it.

I guarantee that no one has ever clutched their purse a bit tighter when they’ve seen me in a  parking garage. No one has ever called the police because I look suspicious when I’m walking my dog in their neighborhood. I’ve never been patted down or had my car searched when I’ve been stopped for speeding.

But I have been the person who has clutched her purse a bit tighter when she’s seen a black man in a parking garage.

And I absolutely hate that.

My parents raised me better. They taught me not to judge people by the color of their skin. My education specifically addressed prejudice. I am a licensed social worker whose professional ethics are grounded in fairness and equality. My children and friends, who are all strong advocates for diversity, expect more from me.

And yet, I’ve had those moments when my immediate reaction is to clutch my purse tighter.

Living in a racist society has influenced my reactions, but, I am still responsible for them. I am responsible for acknowledging them and I am responsible for changing them.

America should be too.

People Who Don’t Like Dogs (And Other Warning Signs)

My husband told me to write this.

Well, he didn’t tell me to write these exact words.

I was complaining that I can’t relax because I can’t stop thinking, and he told me that I should write. When I said no one wants to read about what is currently going on in my head, he suggested I discuss the weather.

Since today is stormy and perfectly reflects the thoughts cycling around in my brain, his suggestion wasn’t very helpful.

Here’s the thing: the devil on my right shoulder wants me to write about the people who I prefer weren’t in my life right now. The angel on my left shoulder is telling me I can’t always control who is in my life nor can I control their behavior. I can only control my reaction to them.

And right smack dab between my right shoulder and my left shoulder is my head with all those thoughts blowing around like the gusts of wind currently rattling the windows. Since my brain is centrally located in the neutral position, I guess I should feel safe sharing some thoughts about the types of individuals who are currently setting me on edge – people I don’t trust.

I don’t trust people who never challenge authority. History provides dozens of examples of what happens when people blindly follow the leader rather than do what is right. When people are more concerned about protecting their status than they are about protecting those who are most vulnerable, I will never be able to trust them,

I don’t trust “suck ups” and “brown nosers.” Anyone who uses a significant amount of time and energy trying to impress those in power is doing a disservice to people who actually have integrity. If your words and behaviors don’t provide any evidence of your personal values, I can’t trust you.

I don’t trust people who don’t like dogs. According to my baby book, one of my first words was “doggy.” When my mom took me to the library as a toddler, I gravitated to the books with pictures of dogs.  The worst moments of my life have always improved when I’ve been able to wrap my arms around a nonjudgmental furry friend and sobbed uncontrollably.  And yes, I do have human friends who don’t like dogs, but they’ve had to earn that friendship and my trust.

I don’t trust people who have college degrees but still don’t use proper grammar or punctuation. I understand language is learned, but going to college requires a lot of reading and writing. It should also involve professors who demand the use of correct grammar. If you leave college still using mismatched verb tenses and confusing “wonder” and “wander,” you either didn’t truly earn your degree or there is something significantly wrong with your education.

And finally, I don’t trust people who try to buy my friendship or my approval. I don’t need gifts or flowers or disingenuous compliments. If someone has to give me something in order to validate the relationship, it’s not valid at all.

As I was writing these stormy thoughts, I realized my husband’s suggestion was actually a good one. Because as I went through my list of the types of people I can’t trust, I realized something really important.

In all of the aspects of my life over which I have control, I have surrounded myself with people whom I do trust. My friends are social justice advocates who always question authority. They are the people who call me out when I say or do something stupid and allow me to do the same to them. They are the people who give me the gifts of time and understanding. They are people who want to build a better world for others rather than for themselves. And yes, for the most part, they are also people who love dogs.

The Problem


Every time I think I’ve dealt with the most difficult person I’ve ever met, God laughs. And then another difficult person enters my life.

And  every time I’ve struggled with the chaos and hurt that person leaves in his or her wake, I tell myself the same thing:  “I’m supposed to learn or gain something from this situation. One day, I will look back and tell myself, ‘Oh that’s why that happened.'”

And up until now, I’ve been right.

But recently, I’ve had a hard time believing myself and in myself. This time, I’m fairly confident that even God isn’t laughing,

You see, I’m dealing with the most narcissistic and manipulative person I have ever met. And no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump (who I’ve never actually met anyway). However, I still respond when people ask if dealing with this person is like dealing with Donald Trump.

My response is, “it’s worse.”

That’s because most people recognize that Donald Trump is a narcissist. Those who support him obviously don’t care, but at least they recognize who and what he is.

Not so for the individual that I’m currently forced to deal with. In fact, this person is so good at manipulation that I was almost a victim of their false charm and gaslighting.

A part of me wishes I had been.

If so, I wouldn’t be so angry and frustrated,  I’ve wasted too much time dealing with the narcissist’s efforts to manipulate. I’ve wasted too much energy being flabbergasted that people in positions to stop the path of destruction actually believe the narcissist instead of those who are complaining. And I’ve lost too much sleep  searching the internet for ways to deal with a narcissist.

Unfortunately, all I really learned is that calling out a narcissist only makes the situation worse.

I didn’t have to Google that nugget of information. I learned it the hard way.

That which brings me back to what I’ve always told myself, “Eventually, you will look back on this situation and recognize how much you learned and why you needed to learn it.”

In the meantime, I have to find humor in how ridiculous the situation continues to be and to find solace in the fact that I have a great support system. Just the other day my husband sent me a text message reminding me to channel my inner Stuart Smalley. “You are good enough. Your are smart enough. And doggone it people like you.”

He only forgot one thing, but it didn’t come from the mouth of Stuart Smalley.  Instead, it’s from that great philosopher anonymous.

“I’m thankful for all those difficult people in my life. They have shown me exactly who I don’t want to be.”