Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Being Alone: It’s All About Percentages

It’s official. I’ve had an epiphany.

After one marriage, one wedding (not a marriage – long story), a few couple-of-month relationships, a multitude of first dates and some good, old-fashioned therapy, I’ve come to a life-altering conclusion, in the form of percentages. Which is weird, because, well, MATH. But anyway, here goes.

I have discovered that, on average, 75 percent of me is pretty darn content being single.

This is a huge deal. Seriously. Not pining for a significant other is a new thing. Realizing I’m OK is a really, really new thing.

See, other than cohabitating and being married for a total of 11-ish years, I’ve never lived with anyone – and it occurred to me that I’ve never really WISHED to live with anyone. I mean, I thought I wanted to be married when I was in love, but somehow there seemed to be a difference between “sharing my life with someone” and “living with them”, if that makes any sense at all, and it probably doesn’t.

I don't mind not coming home to, "Hi, Honey, how was your day?" I really don't. I don't mind sleeping alone because I still stick to one side of the bed (even before my dog and cat occupied the other.) I even don't mind not having that given "date night" on the weekends. I mean, sure, sometimes I get lonely – usually holidays when I know a lot of couples are out, or when there’s something going on that I think would be fun to do with a significant other – but hey, I’m sure there are plenty of married people who sometimes wish they were in my shoes, so does it really matter whose grass is greener?

OK, so, back to the percentages. So, 75 percent of me is good with this alone thing. So that leaves … let’s see … carry the one … 25 percent of me that wishes I had that “special someone”.

But here’s the problem. While percentages are a logical way to figure something out on paper, they don’t always work out in real life – just like a partnership is never going to be 50/50 all the time. Sometimes it’s 60/40. Sometimes it’s 90/10. You gotta roll with that.

So, say I find someone, and I think, “Hey! I like this guy! I want to be around him and do stuff with him and go on dates and have adventures, blah, blah..." Oh, and obviously he needs to think so, too. So we hang out on the weekends and maybe once or twice during the week and more times than not, I start feeling unsettled because in my mind, he's starting to get all up in my 75 percent.

That’s when I put on the brakes. That’s when I run like a spooked horse. When someone tries to creep too much into my “alone” time, I get nervous – say like when you’re on a plane, and the seat next to you is empty, and a lady with a screaming baby starts walking toward you, and you pray to GOD that she doesn’t sit down next to you, and when she does, you want to just jump out the emergency exit.

That’s me – when I get over 25 percent. And I just now realized this. And I understand that this is MY THING. I own this little neurosis, I really do. But is it such a bad thing?

Maybe I just haven’t found the right guy with whom I either want to share some of my 75 percent, or who only wants 25 percent of me. Maybe it’s because I need more therapy to get my percentages in better balance. Maybe it’s because I’m selfish and self-absorbed. Maybe it’s sour grapes due to a long string of first and sometimes second dates that either turn out with no callback or so many callbacks that I want to turn off my phone. Or maybe - just maybe - I prefer to be alone. The percentages seem to reflect that.

I recently visited a good friend and we had some great talks – you know, those deep and meaningful ones where you can get all insightful with each other and not feel stupid. He said something that was so profound to me it has literally changed how I view any relationship I may have. It was, “You teach others how to treat you.”

*Drop the mic*.

That’s brilliant – and what I had been doing completely wrong for so long. Before my percentages discovery, I was searching for this elusive person to complete me, and in that quest invariably and inadvertently let him set the tone and just accepted it. If he didn’t text during the day, he was probably busy. If he didn’t offer to pick me up, he was probably just trying to be sensitive to my nervousness (which in one case extended to the ninth – and last – date.) If he seemed distracted, he had something obviously more important on his mind. If he liked sexting and I wasn’t down for it, it was because I’m too much of a prude. If he drank too much when we went out, he was just trying to have a good time. When I was away from my phone for an hour and saw seven missed calls, it was just because he missed me. When he didn’t understand why I couldn’t go out on a night I had my kid, I was obviously just too hung up on my own mom guilt. Whether a guy liked me or not, I found an excuse, telling myself that it was me – that I was the problem. I needed to not be so sensitive. I needed to be more open-minded. I should like him more. I should like him less. It was exhausting, and perhaps is one of the catalysts for this whole 75 percent thing.

When I think about, “You teach others how to treat you”, I realize, I rarely did that in any of my past dating escapades, nor in my last long-term relationship. It was always me who felt like I had the problem because I couldn’t adapt to the other person’s vision of the relationship, or lack thereof. And aside from the fact that I completely own my end of relationship mistakes and issues, I think the big thing was that I was trying to even out my percentages - which isn't possible in most relationships, let alone any I'd have.

Since this revelation I’ve cut off ties with two guys to whom I’d been casually talking – one for quite a while, actually. He’d text me every day, or every other day, and hint that “we should go out” but never actually asked me out. We had great conversations and I just figured, “He’s taking it slow” or “He’s been hurt before.” I know. I’m an idiot. But once I implemented this whole “teach him how to treat me” philosophy, i.e. letting him know I was tired of the texting thing and was he ever planning on asking me out because this was kind of weird and I couldn’t believe I’d gone along with this for so long, he avoided the question. It was then I realized he wasn’t taking it slow – he was a douche and I was playing a game I didn't even WANT to play. So I told him that wasn’t how I wanted to be treated and to go f*ck himself.

OK, that was probably harsh, but it felt really, really good, because he really was being a douche, and I really hated being treated like that. I was being strung along – and letting myself be strung along. I thought that because someone was showing interest in me, I should be thankful, and figured, “Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.”

Wrong. I’m a chooser, and for now, I choose me.

Again, this may come off kind of like my sh*t doesn’t stink, but you have to understand where I was compared to where I am now. I was searching for this person because society says you need someone in your life in order to be happy, and being alone is something about which people feel sorry for you. How many times have I heard, "So are you seeing anyone?" Ugh. Really? I know - people are just making small talk and trying to be nice, but sometimes I just want to say back, "No. So how's your marriage?"

Here's the deal. I understand these percentages may change with time, and as long as that change is authentic and of my own volition, I’m OK with it. Sure, maybe someday I’ll come upon that person who I don’t mind creeping into my 25 percent and causes me to gladly revise my numbers. But for now, teaching MYSELF how I want to be treated and feeling really, truly OK with being alone has made me realize that my cup is three quarters of the way full – and that makes me happy.

I saw this video quite a while ago, and while I related to it in SO many ways, I felt so wistful to get to where this woman was in her life. Take a look – this is a great example of the realization that "alone" isn't always a negative word; sometimes it's a choice that once made - even at just 75 percent - can bring you great peace. As she says, and I truly believe, "... if you're happy in your head then solitude is blessed and alone is okay."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

To Mr. Trump, with Sincere Thanks

Dear Mr. Trump,

I have never been one to be well-versed when it comes to politics. I'll be the first to admit that up until the past year, I would've been like one of those people in those "man on the street" interviews who gives a deer-in-headlights look to questions like, "Who's our Secretary of State?" or "What is the electoral college?" or "Who is Vladimir Putin?"

I knew about issues on a high level from headlines I read on Facebook or Yahoo or perhaps MSNBC if it was on at the gym - at least enough to acknowledge if asked. But I would be the last one you'd want to have an intelligent conversation with at a party about any of them. It's not that I'm an idiot or that I didn't care; I just didn't pay attention, and all of it seemed so far removed from me that I figured  it was "someone else's" problem.

That's all changed. And I have you, Mr. Trump, to thank.

Before you, I really didn't know the difference between the popular vote and the electoral college. Well, now I do - not only because of the fact that Hillary won the popular vote handily yet the electoral college was in your favor, but that you've BEAT IT INTO OUR HEADS AD NAUSEUM since then.

Before you, I didn't know much if anything about the President's Cabinet. I didn't realize that you could hand pick them like celebrities for The Apprentice - based less on skill and experience and more on their bank account and star power. I never knew who the Attorney General was. Now I know exactly who he is, and what he is - and isn't - supposed to do, like lie under oath about conversations he had with Russia during the Presidential campaign. I didn't even know what the big deal was with Russia until the campaign and the allegations, and now I'm learning all kinds of stuff about sanctions and (former) National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and why Putin is always shown with his shirt off riding a horse. And of course I knew that being a bigot wouldn't be a big check in the plus box to getting a seat on the Cabinet, but apparently it's not a deal breaker.

I didn't know who the Secretary of Energy was, or that best case scenario he isn't supposed to forget that in 2011 he proposed to abolish the department he now leads - or that he can't just say he's down with the existence of global warming just to get the pick.

I didn't know who the Secretary of Education was, or that it's evidently a luxury to have someone in that position who either worked at, attended, or sent her children to public schools. Or that she's basically a scam without a plan, a voucher plan to divert money spent on public education  - which is guaranteed for all students - to private schools.

I never really paid attention to what the vice president did, or believed. Now I do, since the current VP thinks that homosexuality can be reversed with conversion therapy, that abstinence-only education should be taught in schools, that agencies like Planned Parenthood should be defunded for providing abortion services. and who doesn't believe there is wage discrimination against women and blacks.

I certainly never knew about immigration and deportation. I didn't know it was possible to ban citizens from Muslim countries and refugees from entering the United States, or to threaten to separate women and children, let alone build a freaking wall 2000 miles long and up to 55 feet high. I mean, at least Mexico's going to pay for it, right?

What I did know, but never really appreciated until now, is that the President was someone for whom you had respect, whether you agreed with all of his policies or not. Now I'm sure there are people who didn't respect past Presidents, but overall, the Office of the President is something we should respect. Because America. Kind of like standing for the National Anthem. But I digress.

I respect Barack Obama. I voted for him, not only because I wanted to see the first African-American president, but because overall, I agreed with his views I read about (insert my own political knowledge disclaimer from above here.) And honestly, he seemed like a good guy. In fact, I was OK with Obama being a role model for kids, back when that "ANYONE can be president" moniker was so popular. Now that's changed. "ANYONE can be president" means, literally, ANYONE, even a narcissistic, slimy businessman with no government experience who probably didn't even really want to BE president; he just liked the game. I feel so sorry for parents who have to try to explain you to their children. "OK, kids, America made a big  mistake and we just have to hold on for at the most four years then you'll be able to have pride in our President again," or, "Kids, Mr. Trump and the First Lady - that's not really how a husband and wife or mommy and daddy should be with each other, but let's see what the Obamas are doing right now."

You know, Michelle Obama seemed like a very poised yet approachable woman - and she turned out to overachieve in that respect and so many others. I mean, who wouldn't want their little girl looking up to her? She could hold her own with world leaders then turn around and get her groove on with James Corden. She was the people's First Lady, in my opinion. Now Melania? Gosh, every time I see her I just feel so damn sorry for her. She's that trophy wife who probably married you because you promised her the moon and made her life comfortable but she never EVER thought she'd be doing this whole First Lady thing. It's obvious by looking at her that she'd rather be holed up in her (ivory) Trump Towers apartment taking care of her son (who I feel sorry for as well). So fess up. Once you figured out you were really going to win this thing, did you sit Melania down, point a finger at her and say, "DON'T SCREW THIS UP FOR ME, MEL, OR I WILL RUIN YOU"?

(Melania, if you're reading this, RUN - don't walk - right out of that White House and take your son with you. You made a mistake - we all do. It's OK. And you won't be alone - there are millions of us out here who are strong enough to have your back and teach you what it's like to stand on your own two feet. We'll help you out, Sista.)

Oh and speaking of women, I never knew that in this day and age it was possible to have a president who would set us back about 100 years when it comes to women's rights. I mean, it's pretty obvious you think women are second class citizens. Now granted, when you were talking to Billy Bush about grabbing pussy 15 years ago, I'm sure it never in a GAZILLION YEARS occurred to you that you'd be President someday. BELIEVE ME, it didn't occur to any of us either. But the fact that you were elected President IN SPITE OF all of all your comments about and view on women makes me absolutely want to "rise up" like those millions of women did in the Women's Marches all over the world just after your inauguration. And that movement continues, which is really, really cool. So watch out - because if according to you it takes 10 women to do the work of one man, well, we already have you beat - handily.

I never knew that we could come so far as a country that we FINALLY elect an African-American president, only to COMPLETELY do a 180 and SOMEHOW invite a racist, womanizing, narcissistic shell of a man like you to run our country. To put it in language you can understand, it's kind of like Obama was the really nice boy we all dated, but we dumped him for you, that kind of dirty, rough around the edges guy, only to find out that you beat the shit out of us while our nice ex is kitesailing in the British Virgin Islands with Richard Branson.

I never knew that, although a lot of America is trying REALLY, REALLY HARD to give you a chance, you'd blow it even after you were given a speech that was all but gift-wrapped and tied up with a bow. Now, I have to be honest. You didn't fool me. As a writer, I've penned my share of articles, speeches and quotes for other people - stuff they never wrote. They just signed off on them and BOOM - the words were attributed to them and they sounded like rock stars.

You didn't write that speech. I mean, I know every President has a speechwriter, but I doubt you even had any involvement in that speech, which is why you were shown practicing it in the car on he way to address Congress. It didn't even SOUND like you - or the you we currently know. Someone with a great thesaurus had your back and threw you a bone that you, in turn, threw at all of us. We bit, but not 24 hours later, we were left with only a bad taste in our mouths.

I didn't vote for you, Mr. Trump, and sadly, I don't respect you. But I have to thank you. Because of you, I'm paying attention now. Because of you, I truly care about what happens to the people of this country, and the people who want to call this country home. And I want to tell you - I'm watching you. And so is America. Because here's the deal. We the People are the ones who will prevail. You'll run this country amuck like some three-year-old toddler on a sugar high, and we'll come in right behind you and clean everything up so when guests arrive we can say, "Oh, this place? It always looks like this!"

Thank you, Mr. Trump, for making me care, and for making me realize that you are temporary. We the People are permanent, and we will prevail.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

"So help me God": My week on a federal jury

You know that kind of sinking feeling you get when you open up that official envelope and you see "Summons for Jury Service"? Yeah, well I had that same reaction recently. Except this time, it wasn't for "regular" jury duty. This was FEDERAL jury duty, and the accompanying letter said, "You are on-call for the month of November."


Yep. I had to call in every Wednesday to see if I had to report the following Friday. Each week I listened to that recording with utter dread. And each week the voice would say I was "deferred until next week." By Friday, November 25th, I thought I had it made - but no. The recording told me to report Tuesday morning to the federal building downtown.

UGH. There goes my week, I thought. What am I going to do about work? My kid? My appointments? All the errands I had to run? I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS.

I begrudgingly entered the federal building on Tuesday morning, shoved everything I had through the metal detector, locked my phone up in a little post office box (no computers or cell phones allowed - just SHOOT ME!) and went into this room where about 40 or 50 people sat looking about as enthused as I was.

Soon after, we were given instructions and shuffled into the courtroom and all sat down where the onlookers usually sit. Now I was getting nervous. Before me were two tables of three very serious- looking people; lawyers, I assumed, and one very scary looking judge.

We each passed around a microphone and had to stand up and answer a series of questions about ourselves for the judge - mostly to find out if anyone had any "great hardship" they were experiencing by being there. After we all were finished speaking, he let three of them go. RATS. We were then told that 12 of us at a time would randomly be ushered into the jury box and asked another series of questions. When my name was called in the first 12, I didn't think much of it because I figured there were still 30 or so more eligible jurors.

Again we passed the mike, said our names and answered more questions. The judge then huddled with the attorneys, who had since introduced themselves very formally, along with the plaintiff, the defendant, and a clerk. Three from our jury box were let go and three more from the remaining were called. This occurred probably four more times, until the judge said, "Well, it looks like we have our jury." WHAT???? What about the rest of them???? "The rest of you are discharged," the judge said.

Well this sucks. I felt a pit in my stomach as I realized my whole week had just gone down the drain. How was I going to manage this? No computer and no phone? What if my kid got sick? How was I going to deal with these 11 strangers for four days??? And why can't everyone just follow the rules so none of this has to happen????

We took our oath and went into the jury room and it was evident we all felt pretty much the same way. After some idle chit chat, another clerk came in - who would pretty much become our best friend over the course of the next four days - and gave us the lowdown on how things would go. Charges would be read again (the judge had read them first thing, but I don't think any of us were listening, really), then there'd be opening statements, witnesses for the prosecution, witnesses for the defense, closing arguments and then jury deliberation/verdict. Ugh. This sounded interminable.

We filed back in to the courtroom - everyone was standing. We thought we had to stand, too - for the judge - but it turns out they were standing for us. Wow. OK. We were seated and looked at the judge - very menacing and tall sitting up so high in his black robe. When he spoke, I was surprised. His words were kind, gentle but firm, with a dry humor - all done in a way that made you have immediate respect for him. He seemed genuinely sincere in his appreciation that we were there, and it was only then that I began to realize the gravity of our responsibility as a group.

As the opening statements progressed, we got our first real understanding of what the case was about. Unfortunately, though necessary, the first day also included more than 40 documents being entered into evidence, which took FOR-E-VER. Like - all day forever. Even though we got an hour lunch, I was completely exhausted when he let us go for the day. The funny thing was, during breaks and over lunch, my fellow jurors and I started to get to know each other. We couldn't have been more diverse - it was genuinely a random sampling. But everyone seemed nice, and since we weren't allowed to talk about the case, we slowly began to find out about each other.

The second day we returned - all with the thought that if this day was anything like the previous, we were going to need a hell of a lot more coffee. We filed into the jury room again and heard the prosecution call his witnesses, who all seemed like very reliable, intelligent individuals even though it was pretty obvious they'd been coached as to how to answer certain questions - not as far as the answers themselves, but things like, "I don't recall", versus "I don't know". And there was no talking over one another or the court reporter would jump in (I wouldn't in a million years want her job).

Then things got cray. The defense attorney had his shot at the prosecution's witnesses and it was GAME ON. This guy looked like some lawyer from the Old West - all he needed was one of those bolo ties, a pair of boots and a big cowboy hat. He was big, loud, and exactly the stereotype when it comes to lawyers. He cross-examined and said things like, "DID YOU NOT..." and "SO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING IS..." - in fact, I was just waiting for one of the witnesses to break down and yell, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" But surprisingly, they all remained extremely calm. Evidently their lawyer had prepared them well for this guy. I, on the other hand, was ready to climb over the jury box and smack him. I kept wondering, "Does he know that I can see through how he's talking in that condescending way - trying to make the witness second-guess and twist his words around? Because I totally can." I'm not saying he didn't make good points - he did - and that's his job - but WOW. I wouldn't have been able to handle that had I been on the witness stand.

The next two days were spent on witnesses, cross-examinations, breaks so the counsel could discuss with the judge, objections, approaching the bench - just like in the freaking movies. There we were - 12 strangers - lined up in this box, seeing the justice system played out before our very eyes in front of what appeared to be the calmest most impartial judge I've ever met (and I've met like maybe two, so that's not saying much.) But I had MAD respect for him, and I started to see that not only did he have an incredibly important job day in and day out, but I did too, if just for a week.

And during this week, my 11 new friends and I had formed this weird bond. We knew each other's names, joked about likes and dislikes, and had all these little inside jokes that only jurors who had been together in a tiny little room for three days could have. As I looked around the room I thought, "I like each and every one of these people."

Thursday morning, I arrived in the jury room exhausted and still upset from a personal issue the night before. All of them expressed concern and were so very kind. They were the first ones to tell me that if I felt I couldn't continue, there were two alternates and I should just talk to the clerk. But ironically, I wanted to stay. I wanted to play this out - to hear how it ended - to be a part of the process. In fact, it turned out to be a welcome distraction and I was able to focus on the trial for the rest of the afternoon. Towards the end of the day, I wasn't sure if my family emergency was quite finished so I talked to the clerk and told him my concerns. As we entered the courtroom after our last break, I was called up to the stand, where the judge said quietly, "Ms. Kennard, if you do not feel you can continue, it's OK. Do you feel you can continue?" I said yes, I did. At the end of the day, the clerk handed me two phone numbers - his and the judge's cell phone number - in case I was unable to report the next day.

I WAS able to report, and woke up feeling both anticipation and dread. Today was the day we were going to decide a man's fate. What an awesome responsibility. I was humbled - as were the other 11 - and we were all well aware of the task that awaited us that day. None of us had slept well the night before.

The last day was by far the worst day. During the defense's closing arguments where he talked about the character witnesses who had testified to the trustworthiness and loyalty of this man, the defendant suddenly broke down and sobbed. Big, heaving sobs that you could tell he was trying to control but just couldn't. His wife, we assumed, who was the only person who had been in the audience each day, sobbed as well. At that point, the judge ordered a break and my fellow jurors and I walked back into the jury room. You could have heard a pin drop.

When we returned, the defense continued with closing statements, the prosecution rebutted, they went back and forth for a bit, and it was all over - for them. Our work had just begun.

After the judge gave us explicit instructions, we were ushered into a larger deliberation room. Security personnel with earpieces stood outside - we were not allowed to speak to them nor them to us. If we had a question for the judge, we had to write it down and have the foreperson sign it. We were not to leave the  room until a verdict was reached. We elected a foreperson and tried to figure out how to begin.

At first we were all talking at once - we hadn't been allowed to talk to each other about the case at ALL, and we all had opinions and tons of questions. Most of us had taken pages and pages of notes. We finally decided to go through each count one by one and figure out what we DID agree on, then deliberate on what we DIDN'T.

Of course we agreed on most of the obvious things. But after taking an early poll, we weren't unanimous. It was then that our work really begun. What we had to do was explicity look at the charge, and the definition of the verbiage in the charge, as provided by the court. And let me tell you, what you THINK something says isn't always what it REALLY says. For instance, there is a HUGE difference between "knowingly" and "intended to". Words like this were what we deliberated about for the next two hours. Incredibly, there were no fights. Everyone was respectful. For the most part, we took turns and everyone was heard.

But there was one thing we had in common. We all felt badly for the defendant. We all agreed that this would hang heavy on our hearts for a very long time. He WAS a good man, we determined. A good man who had broken the law. Finally, we reached a unanimous verdict: guilty on all counts.

We each signed each count, and the foreperson alerted the security guard that we had a verdict. The clerk came in and retrieved it and told us a bell would ring when it was time to go back into the courtroom. As I looked around the room, everyone looked like they were about to get sick. And when that bell rang, I felt like I was going to lose it, too.

We filed into the courtroom and I couldn't even make eye contact with the defense. The judge stood up and read each charge, and after each one said, "Guilty". The defendant had no emotion but you could see the disgust on the defense attorney's face. I would have been disappointed not to see it. After the verdict, the judge asked the defense if he wanted the jury "polled", which meant he wanted to hear from each of us - I'm assuming just in case any of us were on the fence and wanted to change our minds. Each of our names was called, and each of us had to say the word, "Guilty." I felt that word catch in my throat.

And that was it - or so I thought. We went back to the jury room to retrieve our things; noticeably subdued. At that point, the judge walked in and asked if we had any questions - like, said we could ask anything. So we did. And he was forthright, kind, and very, very human in his responses. One juror told him, "If I ever had to be locked up with 11 people for a week, I couldn't ask for better people than this." And that was true.

I left the federal jury experience very differently than I had gone into it. I almost felt embarrassed for being so disgusted that I had been called. Yes, I missed a week of work, had to juggle appointments and reschedule meetings. However, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the magnanimous duty I was able to carry out. It was a learning experience, and it made me realize that everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and to be presumed innocent up until the very end. I hope the defendant knows that he did get a fair trial. We were an impartial jury. We did deliberate and take everything into consideration. And our verdict was unanimous, not by talking anyone into it, but by figuring out the facts through discussion and the language of the law.

So next time you get that piece of paper in the mail, try to feel a little proud - especially if it's federal jury duty. It is our responsibility, and it is not only a privilege of living in the United States of America, it is truly an honor to serve.