My Mom, Evajean Buhl

May 24th is coming, which is my Mom’s birthday.  I would wait to write this until then, but I know that May is going to be a very busy month for me.  If I’m going to write about my Mom, I should do it now while I have the time and the strength of mind to do this properly.

My entire life, I knew I was adopted.  They never made that a secret.  Until my early teens, I didn’t know anything about my biological parents, and I didn’t really care.  I had parents that loved me.  They made it clear that I was special.  That I was chosen.  I felt loved and spoiled, and that was enough.

In my teen years, I acted out a little.  I didn’t show proper respect.  I didn’t clean my room when asked.  Honestly, my teenage rebellion was exceptionally mild.

But I did have a smart mouth.  Upset with the way I was talking back, my Mom decided to drop an ounce of truth on me.  She let me know that my biological mother was alive, she knew who she was, and that maybe I should be a little more thankful for the family I had.

My Dad was not present for this conversation.  I don’t think he would have let it get that far.

Knowing that my biological mother was out there did not do good things for me.  But I’m not writing this to talk about me, or the psychological stress of holding onto that particular truth.  I’m writing this to paint a picture of what my Mom was like.

She loved her children, but she was careless with them.  She said things and did things that were outright brutal, not realizing what sort of effect her words would have.  The flaws in her humanity expressed most with regards to her children, of which she had many.  All of them left her before they finished High School, except me.  The youngest.  Maybe she had mellowed by the time I was born.

I’m not writing this to bash her.  I would be a really terrible person to besmirch her character all these years after her death.  My words are meant to paint a realistic picture, revealing some of the flaws, so that the beauty she did possess can be appreciated.

My Dad died October 31, 1988.  It is easy for me to remember the date, because it was Halloween.  I can remember the year, because he’d been present when I bowled my first 200 game on October 10, 1987, the day after 10-9-87.  He’d been a part of a special moment for me, and he died a year later.  It gives me an easy way to remember.

Shortly after my Dad’s death, my Mom left her stable job at the Medford Medical Center and became a consultant.  She traveled all over the country, working in different hospitals.  It was like I’d lost both parents, that year.

Again, this isn’t about me, and it’s not about my Dad.  This is about my Mom.  On the face of it, I thought my Mom had chosen to leave the job in Medford, and had chosen to go off without me.  I’d been fighting with my Mom, so it didn’t hurt my feelings at the time.  I wasn’t quite 16, and I wasn’t ready to take care of myself.  I didn’t have the skills to deal with the responsibility.  I didn’t think well of my Mom for leaving me, but I also didn’t hold it against her.

Many years later, I found out that she hadn’t left Medford by choice.  She’d been fired.  Going to work every day, walking within sight of the place where her husband had died, she hadn’t been able to work effectively.  They let her go, and she shouldered on.  She didn’t burden me with that ugly truth.  A decade after her death, I discovered the truth in one of her old briefcases.

I know pride played a part in her keeping that secret.  But I also know that she tried to protect me.  This is an example of the kind of strength she possessed.  She took the pain of the death of her husband, and the pain of losing a job, and she kept it away from me.  She shielded me from her pain.  If she had someone else to talk to, someone to help her deal with what she’d gone through, I don’t know who it would be.  To my knowledge, she took it all on herself and pushed on.

I grew up, and I grew more distant with my Mom.  At one point, I had to move back in with her in Sacramento.  She tried to “mother” me when I moved in with her, and I rejected it.  I walked away from her a lot.  I was 19, and had spent enough time on my own that I couldn’t appreciate her trying to take care of me like that.  It was at this point that I started to learn how to block her.  I learned that if I rejected her help and her gifts, she couldn’t use those things to guilt me into doing what she wanted.  I began to make it a habit to reject things from her, no matter how much I may have needed her help.

In 1993, I left Sacramento for the second time, joining the Air Force.  In 1995, I married Melissa.  In 1996, Bryanna was born.  In 1998, Chris was born.  1999, I returned to Sacramento, got a job in IT, and bought a home.

By that time, my Mom lived in San Bernardino.  She’d had health problems all the time I’d been in the Air Force.  She had an addiction to prescription medication.  She had suffered through angina, tuberculosis, and towards the end, a minor heart attack.  The last place she lived was an assisted living home in Riverside.  At one point, she’d been in the hospital so long that I’d needed to go down to Southern California and pay her bills, and get her household in order.

At the end of 2001, the hospital she’d been in for months transferred her to what was effectively a retirement hospital.  They gave her a different doctor.  She had bed sores, from being in bed so long.  She was weak, and often drugged, and she didn’t have anyone stopping by to visit her.

Melissa and I went to her.  I started to see something in myself when I looked at her, but it wasn’t clear.  Not yet.  She saw me, and she smiled.  She was so happy to see me.

Melissa and I made plans.  She would never go back to her assisted living home, so we needed to close that out.  We rented a truck, packed her things, and started moving her to Sacramento.  We’d find a place for her there.  We’d make sure she was close to family.  We’d take care of her.

The hardest part of moving her stuff to Sacramento was gathering her cats.  One came along easily enough, but Max was a terror.  When my Mom had her heart attack, Max protected her, intimidating the firemen that came to help her.  Max, the big white cat without claws, was a problem.  I wound up putting on oven mitts and a jacket as armor to grab him up.  We put him in the cat carrier, put the cat carrier in my Mom’s old car, and started driving to Sacramento.

I didn’t see my Mom again.  While driving north on I-5, my Mom’s condition worsened.  She died before we had a chance to go back.

My Mom was a hard woman.  She was about 5’6″, but her presence made her seem at least 6’1″.  People always swore that she was a tall woman.

My Mom was fiercely competitive.  It’s a quality that I share with her, often to my detriment.  She used to play Scrabble with me, with her 40 years of experience and vocabulary.  She’d crush me, then cackle.  To this day, I still don’t like to play Scrabble.

The Summer after my Dad died, I traveled with my Mom to Washington D.C. where she had a contract.  I stayed in the hotel most of that summer, played on my computer, wrote stories, and she worked.

We drove across the country to get there.  My Mom talked while she drove.  At one point, about a day away from Indiana where we’d meet up with her oldest daughter, Helen, she started talking about family history.  She wasn’t really thinking as she spoke.  It had started with her talking about Helen and her children, then went on to Sue and Ginger.  But she kept going.  She talked about Leslie, and how Leslie had been pregnant in 1972.  Leslie, that I had met a couple of times, but didn’t really know.  Leslie, that had two daughters that were younger than me, but no children that were my age.

I put the pieces together.  Leslie had to be my biological mother.  After meeting Helen, I took her aside and put the question to her.  I didn’t mean to put her on the spot, but I didn’t really have a choice.  She handled it well.  She told me, yes, she thought Leslie was my biological mother.

I have complicated familial ties.  Cheryl is my sister, though she’d biologically be my aunt.  Then there is Jennifer, that is my biological sister.  She needs a brother way more than she needs an uncle, so I think of her as my sister, too.

Then there is Helen, Sue, and Ginger.  Helen is awesome.  I don’t know Sue very well, but she seems nice.  Ginger seems to hate me.  Are they my sisters, or are they my aunts?  I think of Helen as my sister, but I’ll leave the actual relationship to them.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, to me.  They’re family, and that’s enough for me.

Again, this is about my Mom.  Ginger and Sue recently asked about how my Mom died, and I didn’t have good details.  When my Mom died, I’d been in the process of making sure that she wouldn’t die alone.  Yet that’s exactly what happened.  She’d been a hard person to get along with, and in the end, when she needed someone to be there and help keep an incompetent doctor from screwing up, no one saved her.

My Mom loved bowling, greasy food, and cigarettes.  She didn’t exercise.  She had high blood pressure, and was on blood pressure medication most of my life.  Her doctor should never have taken her off her blood pressure medication, but he did.  Consequently, her blood pressure got out of control, her condition destabilized after spending most of a year in a hospital, and she died without any of her many children around.

My Mom died in January, 2002.  I can never remember if it was January 11th or January 12th.  There is no cool memory trick for me to use.  I don’t have a great memory to draw upon to provide a reminder, the way I have with my father.

My Mom died before I learned to be a good son to her.  That’s something I will have to live with and learn from the rest of my life.

It’s a bit of a downer, but that’s the true, abridged story of my life with my Mom, Evajean Buhl.  She loved her children, but she didn’t know how to show it in a way that didn’t push them away.  I can trace all of my hard edges to her.  My stubbornness.  My competitive drive.  My strength of will.  For better or worse, I learned those things from her.


The Positive Effect of Discomfort

I’m not completely satisfied.  I could be referring to my weight, my job, my writing, politics, or even my blog.  I’m not completely satisfied with any of those things.  Not too long ago, I talked about how I’m having a difficult time enjoying other people’s writing.  Nothing is perfect, except maybe my pickiness.

This kind of constant discontent has its drawbacks.  When I reach the end of a project, I don’t feel as though I’ve truly finished it.  There is always something I could have done a little bit better.  During band practice, I get hung up on the wrong notes, ignoring all the notes I played well.  Being unsatisfied all the time with my work, my writing, and my music means I’m never really comfortable.

But this kind of discomfort can lead to good things.  I’m constantly looking to try to improve.  I work harder, trying to make my code more efficient.  I tweak things, experimenting with ways to improve myself and my craft.  Some experiments pay off.  Some don’t.

The trick is to draw energy from the discontent, to motivate positive change, while holding back the negative feelings.  This is easier to do in some areas of my life than others.  For example, it is easy for me to forgive myself when I don’t write a program perfectly.  I’m still improving as a programmer.  All I have to do is look at code I wrote a year ago, marvel at my own stupidity, then pat myself on the back for doing better now.

It is important to keep trying to improve.  I haven’t lost weight as quickly as I have in the past, but I’m still sticking with my diet, and I’m not beating myself up on the evenings when I eat some candy or drink a beer.  I still haven’t finished the second draft of the book I’ve been working on, but I’m still showing up at least one night a week, and I’m putting in the work.  I may only get one paragraph written or edited in a week, but it’s progress, and I’m not giving up.

The biggest danger I run into is when I really buckle down to try and do something better, but I’m unable to see the improvement.  This happened last night during band practice.  I’d been playing fine, and there was this one challenging section that I thought I was nailing.  But I wasn’t.  And I couldn’t see what I was doing wrong.  I just had people around me informing me that I wasn’t getting it right.  It didn’t matter how gently or sternly they put it.  All I could feel was the wrongness, and powerless to do anything about it.

These times will happen.  And handling these disappointments is one of the things I’m working on improving.

I guess what I’m saying is that being a little bit uncomfortable can lead to making things better.  While there are times when you may have to settle for what you have, settling is not how things improve.  It’s when we rebel against the status quo that we try to make our environment or our lives better.


We Need to Handle Rape Better

I recently read that Toby Turner, YouTube celebrity, has been accused of rape on Tumblr.  The story showed up in my news and YouTube feeds.  It is a Bill Cosby story all over again.

When the Bill Cosby story hit the news, I didn’t want to believe it.  I tried to keep an open mind, but it was difficult.  I grew up on Cosby.  I also didn’t care for the Trial by Social Media that surrounded that whole situation.

So here it is again, this time with Toby Turner as the accused.  He’s a lesser known celebrity, but this is the same sort of trial outside the courts.  No lawyers.  No due process.  Just the story of two individuals, and people divided over which one to believe.

We need to do better than this, both for the victims of rape, and for those that stand accused.

First, we need to protect the victims.  We need to make them feel safe and secure.  We need to believe someone when they say they have been raped, and give them whatever support and treatment they deserve.  If it is counselling, or privacy, or medical treatment, or all of the above, we need to give them what they need.  No second guessing.  No victim should ever be subjected to further shame or humiliation after such a difficult trauma.

We need to make sure that rape victims can go to the police.  This means changing our culture.  A victim should not have to fear repercussions for reporting the crime.  A victim should not have to fear further embarrassment.  The seriousness of what they’ve been through should never be dismissed.  We should be treating victims of all crimes with compassion, but rape victims especially, so that they can report the crime and begin the legal process for bringing the rapist to justice.

If a rape victim chooses to go to social media instead of the police, we need to continue to believe them, and give them the support that they need.  It’s difficult enough admitting to something like that.  We don’t need to make it more difficult by dismissing their pain.  We need to show rape victims compassion, without judgement.  It is not their fault.  They haven’t lost their honor, or their innocence.  They are the same person they were before.  They’ve been made to suffer something no one should suffer, and they deserve to be treated with respect, humanity, and love.

However, if a rape victim chooses to go to social media and not the police, we also need to be careful how we deal with the one that is accused.

This is the difficult part.  I just said that we need to believe the victim, and give them what they need.  Does that mean that we need to believe them when they’re accusing someone publicly, and they are seeking justice through social media?

No.  Social media is not a court of law.  Social and news media is not a place of evidence or due process.  Social and news media is not the place where we should mete out justice.

When we crucify people like Bill Cosby and Toby Turner in the press or on social media, we create a culture of divisiveness and hearsay.  We create situations where people siding with the accused attack the accuser.  I have no doubt that people supporting Toby Turner are attacking his accuser right now.  She does not deserve that.

When someone accuses someone of rape on social media, we need to focus our attention on the accuser and give them help and support, rather than focus on the accused and destroy them.  No harm will come to anyone by supporting the accuser.  If the accuser is lying, they’ll get some attention they may not deserve, but it won’t hurt anyone.  On the other hand, if the accuser is lying and you destroy the career of the accused, then you’ve perpetrated a gross injustice against someone innocent.  The kind of damage that is irreparable.

One other point before I close this uncomfortable post… when we write blog posts or news articles passing on the story of the accusation, it is vital that we be accurate and fair.  Cherry-picking details in order to make the story bigger should be criminal.  For example, the article from PerezHilton.com that I linked at the top mentions Jaclyn Glenn coming forward and corroborating April Turner’s story.  It is a little misleading.  Jaclyn Glenn did mention that Toby pressured her into the things, but she also made it clear that she didn’t think Toby was capable of rape.

This whole story with Toby Turner is troubling.  If he did it, then he deserves to be punished.  Whether he did it or not, his career is probably finished.  That is a real shame if he is innocent.  And realistically, there isn’t anything he can do about it.

We can do better than this.  It starts with making it easier for victims to seek justice via the proper route: the police.  The alternative is anarchy, and creating a culture that is toxic for both the victim and the accused.


Too Much To Do Paralysis

I’ve just finished playing with the Rancho Cordova River City Concert Band at an event dedicated to supporting veterans.  We passed the hat to raise money to go to Semper Fi.  We played with the River City Choir.  There weren’t many people in the audience, but the performance went very well!

Now I’m home, trying to figure out what to do.  I’ve written before how critical it is that I manage my time well, because I just don’t seem to have enough of it to go around.  This afternoon is one of those rare times when I don’t have anything specifically planned.  I can choose to do what I want.  So what do I choose?

It’s times like this that I face a kind of strange paralysis.  I can choose to do just about anything, but I often wind up choosing to do pretty much nothing.  It’s all because there is so much that my mind tells me that I should do.

Here’s a list of things I feel like I should do, in no particular order:

  1. Edit The Repossessed Ghost
  2. Work on some new story
  3. Work on programming projects for work
  4. Work on a programming project for fun
  5. Clean the garage
  6. Go for a long walk, even if it is raining
  7. Work on the laundry
  8. Finish watching Season 2 of Daredevil
  9. Play a game
  10. Please, just do something other than sitting around, watching YouTube

So many times, I wind up sitting in front of my computer, doing the thing I least want to do.  It feels like I’m letting myself down, and wasting what little time I have.

I know why this happens.  I’m legitimately tired, and I need to do something mindless for awhile.

Every week I maintain a packed schedule full of long hours.  Many of those hours are spent dealing with and interacting with people.  I’m not antisocial, but that type of interaction wears on me.  I need a break sometimes.  I need to do something mindless for awhile, so that I can recharge.

I drive myself hard all week.  When I reach a break in my schedule, the urge to keep pushing is strong, but not as strong as the need to just sit and catch my breath.

Well, those are the excuses, anyway.  I’m not the only one that goes through this.  I’m human, just like everyone else.  Today, I’m settling the paralysis by writing about it.  Examining it.  Sharing it.

Maybe I’ll find something else to do that isn’t on the list.


They’re Both Qualified

This is the part of the political dance that I hate.  The sparring, where good people are forced to tear each other apart like gladiators.

If you haven’t been following the recent news, Hillary Clinton was asked if she thought Bernie Sanders was qualified to be President.  The interviewer asked several times, interrupting her and leading her on.  She didn’t actually say that Sanders isn’t qualified.  Instead, she hemmed and hawed over it, leaving it open for interpretation.

Apparently, Bernie Sanders got some memo that said, “Hillary says you’re not qualified!” And so he responded, citing the same points that he’s cited before about her connections to the banks, and how a candidate that is in someone else’s pocket is not qualified.

I’ve lost a little bit of respect for both candidates from this exchange.

First, let’s start with what it takes to be qualified to be President.  Taken from PresidentsUSA.Net and the Constitution:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

So, there you go.  Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are qualified.  They meet the age and citizenship requirements.

I also meet these requirements.  Sadly, so does Trump.  The only one running for President right now that doesn’t meet these requirements is Ted Cruz, since he was born in Canada.

So, both Bernie and Hillary are qualified.

When Hillary was being interviewed, she shouldn’t have played coy.  She should have just said, “Of course he’s qualified.  The real question is if he’s the better candidate or not.  I don’t believe he is, and I also believe the voters will side with me.”

That would have put an end to the question, and it would have shown respect for her adversary while at the same time projecting confidence.

But let’s say that, put on the spot, she chose to dance around while thinking of a proper answer.  Fine.

What Bernie should have done was check the facts first.  I’m sure one of his staffers came to him with the news, probably out of breath from running.  The staffer panted out, “Did you hear?  She says you’re not qualified!”

Instead of flying off the handle like he did, he should have checked for himself.  When you get news that is just a little bit ridiculous, exercise incredulity.  That way, you don’t set yourself up, the way Bernie set himself up.

Both candidates screwed up.  I want Hillary to be more direct when answering questions, and quit constantly playing the politician game.  And I want Bernie to take a breath and be more thoughtful instead of reacting on second hand information.  If either of these two are going to be President, they’re going to have to learn these lessons in order to be effective.